TRACKED: Reverend Matt and Low's "Blue-Eyed Devil"

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. 

The Track

As much as I love the Soul Coughing original of this song, with it’s bright guitars, sardonic tone, and punchy bass, I’ve long found this version to be more compelling. Low’s version of this tale, a song about the “god among salesman,” is a complete different character study. Smooth, slow, mournful, and a touch creepy, it feels more complex and evokes a whole different set of emotions than the original. It’s perfect to fit Reverend Matt Renault. On the surface, he’s a salesman of a sort. He sells a new destiny to the ignored, the excluded, and the failed. With all of his smooth talk and his intricate plans, he’s a suave force of malevolence. A song like this fits him and his slow, meticulous, and dangerous ways. 

The Character

Reverend Matt Renault has been many things in his life. A former altar boy with a grasp on the power of religion, he originally felt called to Seminary school. His mastery of theology was beyond question, but very quickly his teachers realized he was too skilled at twisting its meanings into manipulating his own heretical understandings of life and God. He had an eerie talent for using the forces of religion and faith to manipulate people. It didn’t take long for Matt to realize his potential was being wasted and drop out of Seminary school to find more fruitful endeavors. The agents of Hell were quick to approach with an offer, eager to turn Matt’s talents with words and manipulative flare for religion into something they could use. His skill was particularly well-suited to Summoning, the art of calling Demons from Hell itself and binding them to his will. Very quickly, Matt found himself able to call and control some of Hell’s mightiest creatures and even converse with the Pit Lords themselves. 

Eventually recruited by the Goetians, an elite group of Hell’s servants composed of mortals like Matt and devilkin who could trace their lineage to the Pit Lords themselves, he had a radical idea. Why not copy the model of active fundamentalist churches, but turn it on its head? Building a Hell church with active outreach programs to disaffected youth, loners, and social outcasts could yield an endless stream of angry recruits that could hide in plain sight as it masqueraded as any number of “normal” churches. It didn’t take long before the Goetians saw the virtue in his proposal and decided to fund it. One of Matt’s mentors, a talented Sorcerer, even helped design the church to be a veritable fortress of arcane defenses in case they were ever exposed. 

Over the years, after recruiting and carefully grooming a handful of talented and powerful acolytes, his following and his church have grown into something dangerously special. With his honeyed words and talk of better lives, Reverend Matt has built quite the force of adepts and soldiers ready and able to fight for Hell all under the roof of what looks to be a normal church. And under that church? He’s built something even more dangerous. It started with an idea from his Goetian mentor, a construction from the middle ages called a Possession Chamber. While his mentor perished after completing the first phase of it in a summoning gone wrong, Matt has remained determined to make the Chamber a reality. Able to pull Demons directly from Hell to infest the souls of anyone placed in the Chamber, Reverend Matt has constructed the ultimate factory for Hell’s sleeper agents to hide in the bodies of others and terrorize all of humanity. 

That is, once the Chamber is finished. Matt witnessed his mentor die, then over a dozen more talented enchanters follow suit as they try to complete the design. Hell’s power is not easily controlled, nor are its bloodthirsty denizens. As the number of enchanters that Reverend Matt can lay hands on begin to dwindle even as the design inches ever closer to completion, he finds himself in a strange place. His cult of acolytes is ready to act, to help Reverend Matt ignite the world and knock the forces of Heaven back from their dominance over humanity. The only problem? Their best weapon may never be complete. His last ditch hope before he falls to truly desperate measures is the name of one last enchanter he’s discovered - an obscure graphic designer named Derek Watts.

TRACKED: Nathaniel and Jimmy Cliff's "One More" (PROPHET OF CHAOS)

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”

The Track

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. 

The Character

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.