I’m supposed to be better than this. I’m supposed to have a tenure-track job teaching music history to undergrads, writing papers about Bach, and proving to kids like me that you can work your way out of Harlem. I’m not supposed to be following a rock star around the country, fetching his mail, making sure his groupies are of age.
I’m definitely not supposed to be sleeping with said rock star, who claims to be the Greek God Dionysus. At first I thought it was a load of crap. Nik’s fans might think his music captures their hearts—and souls—but I knew better. Until one of Nik’s orgiastic concerts gets out of hand and I don’t know which is worse: that he might be a god after all, or that he has a body count.
Nik doesn’t care what I want or what I should be. He wants to tear down the world I’ve built, warping all I am, until his music is all that’s left of me. I can’t let him do that. I shouldn’t believe in him. I’ve seen what happens to the people who believe in him.
But I can’t get his song out of my head.
May 13, 2011
Departmental commencement is a robes-and-hoods occasion, and it’s far too hot for the honor. Hertz Hall is air-conditioned, at least, but it’s also packed, and I’m sitting too close to the front and the middle to catch more than the faintest artificial breeze, filtered through five hundred people or so, none of whom are here to see me.
“And one last round of applause for the UC Berkeley Music Department Class of 2011!” the chair commands, and of course he’s obeyed. I’m not immune. “Now, for the graduate program, beginning with those who have completed their master’s.”
The eight master’s recipients are packed in on the left side of my row, and filter out into the aisle. They aren’t giving us our bona fides today, or even tomorrow at the main ceremony. Photo ops and pageantry, that’s compulsory, but the real document comes in the mail in three weeks. I find it amazing that people still do the calligraphy by hand.
Tomorrow will be hours of sitting in the sun with only a ridiculous tam hat for protection, waiting for thousands of undergrads to receive their fake degrees; today means something, to me and the people I’ve toiled beside for the past seven years. Knowing Uncle Paul, he probably thinks tomorrow is the more important ceremony. Then again, he’d texted, Will contact you on Friday when I arrive, which is today, and there’s been no word since, so it looks like he won’t make either. That’s the most recent message in my queue. I’ve been checking for the last fifteen minutes. It’s bad enough that I’ve got my phone in my lap during my own PhD acceptance. I shouldn’t check it every five seconds like I’m waiting for water to boil.
The applause never quite dies down, only swells and diminishes for the clearer sound of the chair reading a name, a field, honors or no honors. They’re almost through calling the master’s. There’s a chance that Paul hasn’t texted me because he’s expecting me to be polite and not answer. He might be here.
“And it also is our privilege to honor four new PhDs,” the chair says, and that’s my cue. First in line: the alphabet has always been on my side. I hold on to my phone but hide my fist in the billowing sleeve since I can’t reach my pocket through the robes, sidle into the aisle, and file down to the stage. “Please welcome, Doctor of Musicology, Anthony Brooks.”
The acoustics of the concert hall are built to send sound out from the stage, not up to it, but applause is always an exception. It starts just before I make it to the short flight of stairs up to the stage and ascend. Despite the handshaking and the genuinely proud smiles, it feels like a rehearsal.
My phone buzzes at center stage. Thank goodness it’s in my left sleeve, and Professor Taruskin is shaking my right.
I wait until I’ve made it through the receiving line and the next name has been called to look out at the audience. It’s always easy to spot Paul in a crowd like this, where almost everyone else is white or light-skinned. By extension, it’s easy to spot when he’s not here, and doesn’t take me long to ascertain it. He’s not.
In the relative obscurity of my seat, I check my phone again.
Work emergency, it says. I won’t make it out tomorrow either. But you have my congratulations and my respect. Call Sunday.
Well, at least I have other people to applaud for.
1. If you were to describe your e-book/book in only one word, what would it be? Unreal. For all connotations therein.
2. What would you say inspired you to write it? I’m a sucker for Faustian bargains, and the idea of telling a ‘what shall it profit a man?’ story set in the music industry near and dear to my heart was too good to pass up. I’ve always believed that you should write the stories you want to read, and I’d never seen one like this before, so I knuckled down and told it.
3. What was the source of inspiration for your protagonist? What about your antagonist? My protagonist, Anthony, takes a lot from the struggling academics and artists I’ve run across in my career. He’s brilliant and angry and determined, but so fixed on the path he’s chosen that he can’t see any exits. So many people I know have been burned by the current state of academia, and are locked into what they call Adjunct Hell–they can’t secure tenure, and they can’t make enough teaching one or two courses at one school so they branch out to others and work hundred-hour weeks for almost no pay and no benefits, just to stay in the game. And that’s if they manage to get jobs at all, since the market is so oversaturated. But where we are is Hell, and it’s not any easier outside the ivory tower, not really. Anthony is definitely a character that grew out of the US Recession and the confusion and desperation of these last several years.
And Nik, the…antagonist? Deuteragonist? Nik is Dionysus, or so he says. I read way too much Mary Renault as a kid and I’ve always loved that Greek Gods are so human and inhuman at the same time. Human impulses but no human rules. Nik is definitely that, chaos personified, well-meaning but childishly cruel. And in my head he’s always been like Trent Reznor.
4. Have you ever been hit by the infamous “writer’s block”? What did you do to escape it? I try to have multiple projects going at once, so if I get blocked on one I throw myself at the other. And they’re not always writing: I sing professionally, and I sew as a hobby, so if I don’t have the headspace to write I’ll whip out some embroidery or find a piano. And if those don’t work, I always get inspired playing video games, so I’ll boot up an old favorite and kill Crimson Blades for a few hours.
5. Your all time favorite book? The Once and Future King, by T.H. White.
6. What made you pick that one above all others? It works on so many levels. For one thing, it’s fun and hilarious, and biting social commentary that’s still relevant a hundred years later, because not enough of the people in power actually sit down and read it. It has beautiful prose, a provocative message, and it takes a story so fixed in the cultural consciousness and tells it in a way that both exalts the original and creates it anew. Basically it’s the perfect fanfic.
7. What’s the longest time you’ve spent working on a project? This one, technically! I wrote the original draft in about three months, but it’s taken three and a half years to find a home and gone through a million edits since.
8. Would you say becoming an author has changed you? In what way? I’ve always written–I’ll admit to spending a lot of time in fandom–but becoming an author of original fiction is different, and it changed the way I think about writing. My wife (who also writes!) says that original fiction must move forward while fanfiction affords the opportunity to build outward without necessarily progressing. When you create original characters, and original settings, you can’t only tell their lives or illuminate their feelings: you have to actually create narrative around them, and circumstances, and consequences. A lot of the criticism I received on my earlier work was basically that it implied too much and didn’t tell enough. I’m sure that’s a direct outgrowth of years of writing fanfic, where I was basically taught not to rehash the canon. You don’t have to describe or justify people your readers already know in fanfiction, but if you don’t do it in your original work it reads as in-jokey and obtuse. So in working on that issue as I writer, I also learned to do the same with people, assume less and make myself clearer.
9. Was there ever a time, during your work on the e-book/book, when you felt like giving up? What made you change your mind? When I was peddling the first draft, I kept a spreadsheet of every agent I contacted. I got a few outright rejections and a lot of radio silence. I knew The Backup was a hard sell–interstitial, queer but not romance, somewhere between horror and magical realism–but I thought that someone out there would take a chance. I actually didn’t hear back from Riptide Publishing for over a year, and started work on another project in the interim. And then when Riptide got back to me, the amount of edits they wanted me to make seemed monolithic. So yeah, I thought of giving up. But people close to me, my wife, my friends and first-readers, all said that they wouldn’t ask me to edit this book if they didn’t believe in it too, and if they didn’t want to make it the best it could possibly be. And as much as I complained during the editing process (and I did complain, a lot), I do think the book is better for it. So don’t give up! Not just writing in the first place, but editing and everything that comes after.
10. What does your day-to-day life consist of? What else do you do, aside writing? I am a working singer and music teacher, so most of my day consists of either teaching or attending classes and rehearsals for whatever gig is coming up. I live in NYC, so I spend a lot of time on trains, which is where I get most of my writing done! There’s something about being in a confined public space that makes it easier for me. When I’m not working or writing, I sew or bake, and since my wife works longer, more regular hours, I tend to be the domestic. Would you believe I actually enjoy doing laundry?
We’ll see how much time I have for my other hobbies after this book takes off, but I do have a few. Thursday is tabletop gaming night, and we’re in the middle of a Mage: The Ascension campaign. I play a lot of video games, mostly JRPGs and puzzle-platformers. And I occasionally get work as a composer as well, though I can’t make a living off it, so I work on music in my spare time. What little of it there is. Oh god, I’m starting to sound like Alexander Hamilton.
11. How do you deal with bad reviews or acid criticism? What would you advise other authors to that effect? Honestly, I don’t deal with it well, so I take pains to avoid even noticing it. I try very hard not to read the comments and ratings unless they’re brought directly to me.
12. Is this title part of a series? Without giving us spoilers, of course, what can we expect from the next e-books/books in the series? Not part of a series, exactly, but I’m definitely tinkering around with other stories set in this world! Some characters who appear in The Backup will definitely pop up in other installments. But you can always expect that blurring of classical and modern, horror and magic, and the power of music and art out of this universe.
13. What do you have stored for us in the future? What are you working on/planning on next, aside this title/series? Just to name a few: Shapeshifters swearing fealty to corporate wage monkeys in San Francisco; wakashudo IN SPACE!; love in the time of EVE Online; rebellious princess and dragon, same person, epic ensues; and too many Freemasons on the dance floor.
1. If you could wish for any one thing, and it would immediately come true, what would you wish for? A multi-apartment townhouse full of my chosen family of kinky geek friends, their fuzzy pets, and an atelier with really good lighting.
2. If you were stranded on an isolated island, what’s the one book you’d absolutely wish to have with you? A blank one.
3. Name your favorite fruit. Pineapple!
4. Coffee or tea? Would you believe I’m caffeine-free? No coffee, only herbal tea and even that rarely. I’m more likely to drink hot water with lemon and honey.
5. Favorite season? Winter
6. How about fav time of 24 hours? Between 9 and 10 PM.
7. Were you a boyscout/girlscout? No, never.
8. Favorite food for breakfast? Blueberry bagels with plain cream cheese.
9. Latest book you’ve bought and read? Finishing the Hat, Sondheim’s lyrics compendium.
10. Do you collect things like stamps, or key chains, or shoes? I collect fancy beads and rhinestones for my embroidery habit. My wife calls them caltrops because she keeps stepping on them.
11. Favorite color, you know you want to tell us! Silver. Pewter, usually, that dark matte gunmetal color that shifts to platinum when you turn your head.
12. Drama or comedy? Yes.
13. Cats or dogs? Bunnies.
14. Dinner by candlelight or a night out clubbing? Candlelight dinner, definitely. I like to be where I can talk to people without shouting.
15. What song have you listened to most recently? I had rehearsal yesterday, so “Come scoglio” from Cosi fan Tutte.
16. What first came to mind after reading question no. 1 of the Fun Facts section? I mean that thing that you reconsidered after giving it more thought 😛 Haha. Well I’d like the Met to call and say they’ve cast me as Susannah in their upcoming season and I’m shortlisted for Salome.
1. Your top secret, uber guilty pleasure is… Well, I guess it’s not a secret now, but: if there is a radiator, I will sit on it. Or the hot roof of a car. Or a warm washing machine.
2. The one thing you’d do anything to avoid/get out of is… taking out the garbage.
3. Your favorite part of a date is… snuggling and being gross with my wife on the way home.
4. You were/are a hardcore fan of… Vagrant Story and the Ivalice Alliance games.
5. If you could have any one superpower, it would be… sonic destruction.
6. The awesomest thing in your life is… my wife. She is adorable. She also told me not to use any of our ridiculous nicknames in this interview and I respect that, but we are newlyweds and we are gross. So gross.
To celebrate the release of The Backup, Erica is giving away iTunes and Riptide credit totaling $50! Your first comment at each stop on this tour enters you in the drawing. Entries close at midnight, Eastern time, on January 30, 2016. Contest is NOT restricted to U.S. Entries. Follow the tour for more opportunities to enter the giveaway. Don’t forget to leave your email or method of contact so Riptide can reach you if you win!
About the Author & Links:
Erica Kudisch lives, writes, sings, and often trips over things in New York City. When not in pursuit of about five different creative vocations, none of which pay her nearly enough, you can usually find her pontificating about dead gay video games, shopping for thigh-high socks, and making her beleaguered characters wait forty thousand words before they get in the sack.
In addition to publishing novellas and short stories as fantastika-focused alter-ego Kaye Chazan (What Aelister Found Here and The Ashkenazi Candidate, both available at Candlemark & Gleam) Erica is responsible for the BDSM musical Dogboy & Justine, and serves as creative director and co-founder of Treble Entendre Productions.
She also has issues with authority. And curses too fucking much.
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