The Music of Lion's Blood by Steven Barnes
February 18, 2003
About three years ago, I was deeply occupied with the writing of Lion's Blood. I came to feel that the basic concept behind it was almost outrageously controversial, and that I would be able to use every ounce of creativity I could muster to increase verisimilitude, to overcome a reader's natural tendency to say "It's only a book, its only a book..." which would severely compromise my goals for the project. It occurred to me that one way to do this would be the deeping on the slave culture, to give the reader the sense that they had existed before the book began, and would continue to live after the covers were closed. What if, I thought, I could create some Irish slave songs: spirituals, work songs, etc., that would carry their culture and express their emotions in a way similar to the way such songs did in the American South?
I had been introduced to Heather Alexander by a mutual friend, Sonia Lyris, and thought that Heather might be absolutely idealshe was talented, a dynamite performer, a songwriter, and we had made, I thought, a good personal connection. This was essential, because Lion's Blood is an incredibly personal project, and I needed someone I could trust.
I sat Heather down at Portland Orycon in, I think November of 1999, and described the project, asking her if she might be interested in writing two or three songs for me. Little did I guess what I would unleash!! As she began to produce songs and demos of songs, and let me listen to early tapes, I realized that I had triggered something extraordinary, and was completely blown away by her willingness to embrace my alternate reality whole-heartedly. Because of the way I write, I was able to offer Heather a very early draft of the book long before the work was completed. As a result, I could actually listen to her music AS I was writing the final text!
Beyond any doubt, this contributed to the quality of the work. Having my own sound track was phenomenal, and an experience few writers have had.
One of the reasons this was important was the fact that so many of the characters were not of my own ethnicity, and I demanded of myself an acceptance of their humanity that surpassed anything I had seen white writers doing with black charactersI'd be damned if I'd succumb to the very emotional/cultural trap so many otherwise exemplary authors had fallen into. Heather and her family read early drafts, came back with comments and suggestions, and were an ideal audience.
Wonderful as listening to INSH'ALLAH: THE MUSIC OF LION'S BLOOD has been, even more gratifying have been the times when Heather and I performed on stage together: she and her band Uffington Horse performing while I read sections of the book related to the song. Just last weekend we did this in Pasco, Washington for a packed audience, and got a standing ovation.
Heavens. What a thrill! I am incredibly grateful for Heather's care and talent, and the fact that she was willing to contribute to the most important project of my life. I don't really think I can put into words how wonderful I think her work is: but luckily, Heather's music speaks for itself.
Copyright © 2003 by Steven Barnes
Unless otherwise stated, this interview was conducted at the time the book was first published, and is reproduced with permission of the publisher. This interview may not be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the copyright holder.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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