My writing has always leaned on music. Whether inspiration, mood, or energy to keep me going through the many hours of drafting and editing, it can be an important force and fuel for what I do. These tracks in particular were especially crucial, helping me build or refine a character, a scene, or a whole story arc.
Nathaniel and Jimmy Cliff’s “One More”
To me, “One More” is about a lot of things. It evokes so much, from the repetitive perseverance of the lyrics and that rousing chorus to the weary but belligerent horn line, all staccato brass in a way that meshes perfectly with the banging piano chords. It’s smooth, but there’s a rawness and tension there that fits the subject matter of the song perfectly. Particularly in this case, the Alternate Take, the instrumentation and vocals really weave together to form an expansive mix that reaches out to you.
This track was something I played dozens of times (maybe more) while I was writing Prophet of Chaos. I had trouble at first solidifying the character of Nathaniel, my homeless drifter of a Prophet, but it was “One More” that crystallized both him and to a large degree the book itself. When I originally conceived of this book, Nathaniel was a mentor figure to the other characters. His “versions” of the future were what guided others to action. That arc never quite fell flat, and Nathaniel always seemed to want to bust free from the narrative straightjacket I’d put him in.
Jimmy Cliff’s anthemic track helped me see what I needed to do. It helped me see beyond the mysterious mentor I had originally conceived Nathaniel as to a fighter. Almost a revolutionary, Nathaniel was someone who’d lived a life of taking dangerous risks to help others, often at great personal cost to him. But he’s someone who feels he has to keep going. He’s always got one more task in front of him, one more life to save, or one more sadistic evildoer to stop. He always has more to do, even when he’s got almost nothing left to do it with. “One More” helped me see that Nathaniel was hero material, flawed as he was, and he could bring the world-weary struggle to the forefront in a way that would enliven the entire narrative. If there was a theme song not just for Nathaniel the character, my Prophet of Chaos, but for the entire book, this would be it.
Nathaniel is a powerful wizard of sorts. He can bend people’s minds to his influence, read their thoughts, distort their perceptions, even see their futures. With power like that, why would he ever live as a homeless drifter? The reasons for it and the man himself are complicated. At a young age, he realized his powers of mentalism and what they could bring him. He did what any foolish young man would do. He used his powers for ill-gotten gains: stealing, manipulating, and scamming tourists on St. Croix, where he was born and raised. Eventually, it all fell apart.
You see, Nathaniel wasn’t just a scammer and a thief. He was gay. All of it was too much for his thin-skinned father, who cared far more about his reputation and the homophobic opinions of his neighbors and family and than about his son’s emotional well-being. The two grew estranged and Nathaniel left St. Croix. A series of hollow misadventures and crueler lessons led him to understand his powers were for a greater purpose, that he was wasting them on his petty crimes. The gift of Prophecy was growing in him, he could see futures, “versions” of his life and others that he could twist and derail with a few choice acts. He could turn tragedies into triumphs, disasters into miracles.
He knew what he had to do. Nathaniel wandered all over the Islands, then the US to prevent wrongs and set rights on a massive scale. Those acts and his powers put him on more radars than he could’ve imagined. He made friends and allies with every person he saved, every hero he created with a few choice pieces of information that placed the right person in the right place at the right time. He created far more enemies, though. Increasingly, he saw the dangers to himself, his friends, and his lovers appear in his own dreams. Versions of everyone and everything he held dear set upon by vicious killers and dangerous zealots. He had to keep a lower and lower profile, dodging and evading the swelling list of people that wanted him dead. That’s Nathaniel’s weariness, his toil and his conflict as he pushes forward again, into one more deadly situation that could set humanity on a bloody path if he can’t stop it. And this one might be his most important one of all.