It’s unlikely that I would ever be numbered among the top one thousand novelists in the United States. There are, after all, somewhere between 3.000 and 4,000 novels currently coming to market every day. I simply do the best I can, write for the sake of art and pleasure, and don’t worry about the rankings.
Informed estimates suggest that are perhaps thirty-thousand bagpipers among the three-hundred-twenty million souls living in the US. I’m still well out of the top thousand, but probably rank somewhere in the top fifty-percent of American bagpipers.
However, among people who write novels and play the bagpipe? It’s statistically probable that I make it into the top one-thousand. (There may only be a thousand). There are some interesting correlations between playing the bagpipe and writing prose. However well or poorly I write, it’s likely slightly better than it would be if I were not also a musician.
Bagpipers speak with a unique voice. It’s easy for a casual listener to confuse a variety of brass, string, and non-piped woodwinds for instruments with similar sound. Nobody ever confuses a bagpipe with a cello, a guitar, an oboe, a clarinet or a trombone. (Train wreck? Sometimes, if badly played). As a writer, I endeavor to speak with at least a consistent and recognizable voice, even if it isn’t entirely unique.
Bagpipers play a range of 9 notes, set in an unconventional scale. Our drones consist of three pipes, tuned an octave apart. What could possibly be more suggestive of creating a novel? I like to think of those 9 notes as the major characters. Each character is uniquely enjoyable, but just as in real life there can be a sense of tension as they interact. The drones, in both octaves, represent the plot and subplot. They can be different, but must work together. No matter what direction the characters may spin off, the sense of plot- like the drones of the bagpipe- must carry forward.
The most interesting pipe music has a variety of very, very long notes. Some short notes, too. We can’t raise or lower the volume of our instrument, so we accent the important tones with longer notes, and surround those long, harmonious notes with shorter, faster neighbors. Writers take note. A variety of sentence lengths make writing more interesting. A fair example? The structure of this very paragraph.
Finally a good pipe tune has a recognizable beginning, engaging main portion, and a convincing ending. A featured theme recurs frequently. If there are multiple parts, they seem cohesive rather than a part of some other tune that was wandering around lost and bulled in as soon as it saw an opening. When the tune is over, the listener is aware that something unique, enjoyable, and if not magical at least somewhat arcane has transpired.
One could do worse, as a novelist, than to write like a bagpiper.
Genre: Metaphysical fantasy
Publisher: Starry Night Publishing
Date of Publication: January 26, 2015
Number of pages: 316
Cover Artist: Larry Dubia
The metaphysical fantasy continues in this sequel to Summertime, Book One. Wesley Perkins spirals ever deeper into a world he struggles to understand, inextricably linked to the tragic past of a long dead blues musician, Judah Jones. His closest allies are Jones’ granddaughters. Wesley must endure a variety of forces attempting to manipulate his fate, after being warned about the dangers presented by his own ego.
Meanwhile, in Iberia Parish Louisiana, pilgrims seek a new home in a spiritual enclave established by a charlatan radio preacher. The entire community falls victim to an ancient heresy. Are these disparate universes part of a common, supernatural conflict?
Excerpt Book 2:
Ira lodged Memphis Rail and the Family Jones at the Fairmont Hotel on Nob Hill. Mary Towne retired to her room upon arrival. Vanessa and Redd Wilmott shared a room, as did Wesley Perkins and Rebekah.
Art Abbott and John Flood sought out the Tonga Room and Hurricane Bar. Back in the 1940’s, the Fairmont converted the hotel’s indoor swimming pool to a Tiki bar. The pool became a rectangular lagoon, with a floating stage. A ship’s mast, tropical huts, Polynesian sculptures, and the façade of an Asian house illuminate by paper lanterns instilled a dimly lit atmosphere. Faux thatched roofs hovered over tables around the perimeter of the pond.
A waitress approached their table.
“Tonga Mai Tai, please,” requested John.
Art chuckled. “You really want one of those candy ass drinks served in a phony coconut shell?”
“Make mine a Seagram’s and Seven, please, Miss,” said Art.
John rested his elbow on the table and his head on his fist. “Gonna be a big day tomorrow. Two shows, sold out. Who woulda thought? Even six months ago, we be lucky to sell four or five thousand seats.”
Art shook his head with a shiver. “Yeah, but are you really OK with this? I’m thinkin’ about that incident at Rain Crow. And a shitload of other stuff to boot. I heard you play the sax, once, a long time ago. You couldn’t get a goddam note out of that Wesley Perkins’ horn. What’s up with that?”
“Hell, I don’t know exactly. Seems spooky as shit, if you ask me. For now, I’ve just decided to ride along, ‘cause the money’s gonna be really good.”
“Money? Holy crap man, is all of this reduced to bein’ about money?”
“Well, no. But money’s a big part of it,” said John. “Was a time it was mostly about love. Hell, I’d a paid to drum for The Rail when we first started out. Now days, I’m mostly old, tired, worn out, and ready to give it up and go home.”
Art was ready to change the subject. “Check out that floatin’ stage.”
“Yeah, so what about it, other than it’s pretty small.”
“Ever think there’s this invisible line?”
John shifted to the opposite elbow. “Huh? I don’t follow you, really.”
“Like there’s this invisible line between where we are and where everybody else is. It’s sort of the edge of the stage, if you know what I mean.”
“Oh, hell yeah. Most of the folks buyin’ tickets think that there’s some magical divide. Like we never have to take a piss halfway through a set. Like we ain’t put in fifty hours of rehearsal and made a hundred mistakes for every sixty seconds we have out shit together during a concert. Hell yeah, I get that.”
“So, that floatin’ stage just makes the point more directly. Sort of like there’s this middle ages moat or something.”
The waitress returned with the drinks. “Are you gentlemen staying here at the hotel? If so, we’d be pleased to start a tab and bill it to your room.”
A young woman passed their table. She stopped abruptly, and looked deliberately at the two musicians. She flashed a slow smile of recognition, coupled with a slight nod, before she waved very slightly and continued on her way. Art and John watched her hips shift back and forth beneath a short, tight skirt.
Art sipped his drink. “You see the posters?”
About the Author:
Seattle native Chuck Gould is a writer and musician.
Formerly editor of Nor’westing Magazine and editor emeritus of Pacific Nor’West Boating, he has written over 1,000 articles for recreational boating magazines.
Chuck plays a variety of keyboard instruments, and enjoys the “exercise in humility” attempting to master the great highland bagpipe.