Blogging the New CD: E is for Ender

Fifth in a series of blog posts about the songs on my new CD, Distorted Vision.

E is for Ender — Andrew “Ender” Wiggin — the boy genius turned military commander in Orson Scott Card’s novel Ender’s Game. Faced with the disorientation of zero gravity during Battle School, Ender devised a simple way to orient himself and his troops during the battle “game” — he began thinking of the objective (the gate by which the opposing force would enter the Battle Room) as “down.” Thus, in the Battle Room, “the enemy’s gate is down.”

The enemy lurks in the endless sky
And gave us no choice but to win or die
But justice will not be denied
The enemy’s gate is down, the enemy’s gate is down, down, down

“The Enemy’s Gate is Down”

Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card.

The novel Ender’s Game got me back into reading science fiction after a long hiatus.

When I was a mid-grade captain in the USAF, stationed at Vandenberg AFB, one of the lieutenants in our unit suggested I read Ender’s Game. For several years almost all of my off-duty reading had been either school- or military-related, and I did little pleasure reading despite having been an avid science fiction reader before college.

Reading Ender’s Game, I realized what I had been missing.

I still had other reading to do, but gradually I added more science fiction and fantasy to my off-duty reading. My wife and I began reading some SF&F classics to one another on long trips — Starship Troopers on one trip, for instance, and then when our children were old enough that they would listen we read The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and the Harry Potter novels.

Gradually I also added more Orson Scott Card novels to my shelves. I don’t remember how long it was before I realized that I had first encountered his fiction in Omni magazine, back when I had been one of that magazine’s earliest subscribers.

When I was stationed in Greenland, for a brief period of time I was part of an online writing group that OSC sponsored on his website. I learned a good bit from the experience, and during that assignment I wrote my first novel. (After many rejections I got an offer on it from a small publisher, but did not proceed with the deal — a story for another day.)

In 2003 I attended OSC’s writing workshop at UNC-Greensboro, where I found out a lot of what I had done wrong in that first novel. Then in 2004 he selected me as one of the students for his Literary Boot Camp, held that year at Southern Virginia University in Buena Vista, Virginia. I learned so much during that week that I still haven’t put into practice, but I have seen some small success with my short fiction since selling my first story in 2007 and making my first “professional” sale in 2010.

So not only because the novel got me back into reading SF&F, but because it rejuvenated my long-comatose dream of writing and publishing my own stories, being able to do a song based on Ender’s Game meant a lot to me. (Where that dream morphed into writing and publishing songs, I’m not sure; I guess I needed another hobby.)

Anyway, in the song I wanted a martial beat to capture the battle feel and I tried to compose words that would reflect the difficulties of fighting an implacable enemy in order to protect those we hold dear.

There are times when you fight, win however you can
The price you pay is your soul … piece by piece by piece
It’s a pittance to offer, for your fellow man
To guard those we love and treasure while they peacefully sleep

And in the final chorus, I change the focus from the determination we must have to face the enemy to the price we pay in doing so.

The price of freedom is always high
We pay it when we kill, and we’ll pay it if we die
But we pay it for the futures of those we left behind
The enemy’s gate is down, the enemy’s gate is down, down, down

If I’d been more forward-thinking, I would have written and released the song to coincide with the release of the movie. But my sense of timing has never been that good.

Anyway, whether you’ve read Ender’s Game (or seen the movie) or not, and even if you can’t relate to the feelings expressed in the song, I hope you like “The Enemy’s Gate is Down”!


One final note: Both the first chorus and the second chorus include subtle, if not downright obscure, homages to renowned science fiction authors. Can you pick them out?

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Blogging the New CD: C is for Christ’s Hard Sayings

Third in a series of blog posts about the songs on my new CD, Distorted Vision.

Some people reading this may be averse to anything that even hints at Christianity, its tenets or its practices. That’s okay. But even people who do not follow Christ can often recognize and sometimes appreciate things he said.

Consider “Turn the other cheek,” for instance. Many people might recognize that sentiment without knowing that Jesus said it, or without knowing how subversive it was at the time.* Like many of the things that Jesus taught, however, it’s easier to say than it is to put into practice. To apply it to a recent situation in science fiction and fantasy fandom, had more people been able to turn the other cheek the great Hugo Award Fracas of 2015 might have resulted in fewer hurt feelings and fewer damaged friendships.

The truth is that Jesus said some things that are difficult to understand and difficult to embody. As a result, the practice of Christianity is sometimes hard to accomplish.

Follow me, and learn to fish for human souls
Follow me, leave your family and your home
Follow me, I don’t bring peace, I bring a sword
Follow me, and let the dead bury their own

“We Want the Easy Road”

Some of those things are hard to figure out, and some are hard to do, on top of the basic problem of dealing with doubt and uncertainty day by day, and of trying to make the most of whatever measure of faith we may have. This song, then, is primarily about dealing with the difficult things that Jesus said, the things he said that fly in the face of the way we think the world works or should work, and above all else the one thing he said that can confound us whether we ignore it or we try to obey it. And that was simply, “Follow me.”

What are we to make of the things he said? At times during the song you get some of my reactions:

  • “It sounds so good, you knew it would, all the pleasant things you said”
  • “It sounds so odd, these words from God, so we ignore the hard things you said”
  • “It sounds absurd, these things we heard — all those crazy things you said”
  • “We close our ears, don’t want to hear, are we sure that’s what you said?”

And as the good things he said transition to odd things, to things that sound absurd, and to things that we may not want to hear, I conclude that quite often we want the easy road rather than the straight and narrow, the wine and the bread of communion rather than the sweat and sacrifice of service.

A loaf of bread...
“We want the easy road, the wine, the bread.” (Image: “A loaf of bread…” by James Lee, from Flickr under Creative Commons.)

Whether you are a believer or not, whether you have ever even thought much about who Jesus was or what he did, I hope you can find something to ponder in “We Want the Easy Road”. And if you like it, go ahead and share it with others who might like it, too.

*If you want to know more about how turning the other cheek or going the extra mile would have been subversive acts, drop me a line.

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Blogging the New CD: B is for Baen

Second in a series of blog posts about the songs on my new CD, Distorted Vision.

Shortly after I finished up my first album I started writing a tribute song about Baen Books. I’ve been quite pleased to work as a Contributing Editor for Baen for many years now, and I’m equally pleased to include this song on my new album.

We’ve got Weber, Drake, and Ringo, and Correia and Bujold
Some of the finest stories that you’ve ever been told
Lackey, Flint and Kratman, Spencer and Van Name — look for the
Dragon and the rocket ship, on the books we call Baen

“The Books we Call Baen”

One of the tricky things about this song is that I used an existing tune, and one that Firefly fans in particular will recognize: “The Hero of Canton.” Since “Baen” is pronounced “bane,” it seemed natural to adapt the phrase “the man they call Jayne” into “the books we call Baen.”

The difficulty came when I started trying to fit the names of various authors into the chorus. If perhaps you don’t recognize all the authors’ names in the chorus, they’re David Weber, David Drake, John Ringo, Larry Correia, Lois McMaster Bujold, Mercedes Lackey, Eric Flint, Tom Kratman, Wen Spencer, and Mark Van Name. It was a fun challenge, though, and I like the way it turned out!

Also, if you’re not sure what I mean by “the dragon and the rocket ship,” take a close look at the Baen logo:

In the negative space of the plume of that launching spaceship, you’ll see the profile of a dragon. Thus the logo itself captures both the science fiction and fantasy sides of the publishing house.

Using an existing tune caused me some additional problems. Since I hadn’t written a parody of the original song, I needed to get permission to record the new song, and that proved to be quite the adventure. “The Hero of Canton” was written by Firefly producer Ben Edlund, and I tried several different avenues of trying to get in touch with him — trying to send a message via the man who played Jayne, Adam Baldwin, for instance, and asking Sean Maher (who played Simon Tam) when I saw him at MystiCon in Roanoke. I began to despair of success, but in May I finally achieved a breakthrough in contact. Even though Mr. Edlund said he wasn’t completely sure he could grant me the right to record it, he gave his blessing to the effort — and that was enough for me.

My first version of the song included an extended ending chorus with the names of additional authors, but between the time I wrote it and the time I was recording the song we added several new authors to the Baen family — and since some of them were friends of mine, I didn’t want to leave them out! So began a quick rewrite of that extended chorus in order to shoehorn more names in.

I know I still left out some authors — I hate to think how long the song would be if I tried to include every author in our catalog — but the final chorus now mentions Chuck Gannon, Dave Freer, Michael Z. Williamson, Frank Chadwick, Ben Bova, Sarah Hoyt, Ryk Spoor, Tony Daniel, Sharon Lee, Steve Miller, Jody Lynn Nye, David B. Coe, Steve White, Brad Torgersen, Catherine Asaro, Timothy Zahn, Travis Taylor, Elizabeth Moon, Robert Buettner, Mike Resnick, Eric James Stone, Steve Stirling, John Lambshead, Les Johnson, Anne McCaffrey, Jerry Pournelle, Andre Norton, Larry Niven, Harry Turtledove, and Robert A. Heinlein. And even though I mostly only mention their last names, that’s still a lot of syllables to put together!

As you might imagine, there are a few “in jokes” in the song, but even if you have no idea who Joe Buckley is or what an eARC is, I hope you’ll smile and sing along to “The Books We Call Baen”!


Reminder: I’m playing a concert as part of the Dragon Con Filk Track, this Sunday the 6th of September at 4 p.m. in the Hyatt Regency’s Baker Room. Come out and see me!

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Blogging the New CD: A is for Anti-Candidate

First in a series of blog posts about the songs on my new CD, Distorted Vision.

Since I’m currently a candidate for a real political office — the District “D” seat on the Cary (NC) Town Council — it seemed appropriate to start this series of posts by focusing on a political song. A disclaimer is in order, first: Nothing in this blog post should be construed as having anything to do with the office I am seeking, or with my actual campaign.

This is about the Anti-Campaign.

I’ve been unknown, and rarely sung, I’m an Anti-Candidate
And I’d serve in any office, in any district or any state
But I have a little problem, it’s an introvert’s disgrace
I’d rather rely on social media than to meet you face to face

“The Anti-Candidate Song”

I started the Anti-Campaign during the 2008 election cycle because the idea tickled me: I made myself available as a convenient write-in vote for any office, anywhere. It became a running gag, and now even has its own bumper sticker!

Bumper stickers are $2 each plus shipping and handling. Buy yours on my Bandcamp page.

And every campaign needs a theme song, right? Well, in this case the campaign has two.

The first Anti-Campaign theme song was “I Think I’ll Run for Congress”, which was on my 2013 album Truths and Lies and Make-Believe. “The Anti-Candidate Song” is something of a sequel, and like “I Think I’ll Run for Congress” it pokes fun at politics and politicians.

“The Anti-Candidate Song” plays off two characteristics that the first song attributed to the candidate singing it: arrogance and megalomania. In the first song, I sing that politics

… fits my arrogant, megalomaniacal personality

and in this song I sing

I may be arrogant and megalomaniacal but it’s just because I’m great

I leave it as an exercise to you to decide how much of that is true, and how much is the kind of convenient falsehood which career politicians seem to spin so easily. (And, if you will, how much of the Anti-Campaign as a whole infuses my real campaign.) But I will point out that if you look closely at the bumper sticker in the image above, you’ll see it says, “Arrogant & Megalomaniacal: What could go wrong?”

In the end, even if you can’t quite be sure whether I’m being serious or silly, I hope you find something to smile about when you listen to “The Anti-Candidate Song”!

Reminder: I’m playing a concert as part of the Dragon Con Filk Track, on Sunday the 6th of September at 4 p.m. in the Hyatt Regency’s Baker Room. Come out and see me!

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Next Weekend: Dragon Con! Here’s My Concert & Event Schedule

It’s almost Labor Day weekend, and that means I’ll be heading to Atlanta for another Dragon Con! I look forward to a nice, quiet, relaxing time … with about 60 or 70 thousand of my closest friends!

Actually, since Dragon Con is (so far as I know) the largest general science fiction and fantasy convention in the Southeast, I’m sure it will be its typical exciting, exhausting but ultimately rewarding time. I’m particularly grateful to my friend Alethea Kontis and the folks on the Dragon Con Filk Track who have invited me to perform at various times through the weekend.

Here’s how the convention is shaping up for me:


  • 2:30 p.m. — Meet, Greet, Filk — Baker Room, Hyatt (tentative)
  • 5:30 p.m. — Filk & Cookies — Baker Room, Hyatt (tentative)
  • 7:00 p.m. — Princess Alethea’s Traveling Sideshow with Alethea Kontis, Leanna Renee Hieber, Lisa Mantchev, Delilah S. Dawson, Zac Brewer, and David B. Coe (D.B. Jackson) — A707, Marriott
  • 11:30 p.m. — Open Filking — Baker Room, Hyatt

On Saturday, I should get to be a “fan” for part of the time — go to concerts or panels or the Art Show — and maybe even watch some football when I’m not in the Dealer’s Room (where our Baen Books authors will be signing at the Missing Volume bookstore); and if possible I’ll make an appearance at:

  • 2:30 p.m. — InstaFilk — Baker Room, Hyatt (tentative)
  • 11:30 p.m. — Open Filking — Baker Room, Hyatt

Sunday is my busiest day:

  • 1:00 p.m. — Baen Books Traveling Road Show and Prize Patrol! — art, previews, and free books! — Regency Ballroom V, Hyatt
  • 4:00 p.m. — Solo Concert! — Baker Room, Hyatt
  • 5:30 p.m. — Match Game, a fannish version of the TV game show, with Van Allen Plexico, Melinda M. Snodgrass, and Teresa Patterson — Embassy Ballroom A-B, Hyatt
  • 11:30 p.m. — Open Filking — Baker Room, Hyatt

That’s right: as soon as the Baen Road Show is over, I’ll be giving a concert featuring music from my new CD, Distorted Vision, as well as favorites from Truths and Lies and Make-Believe — and more! I plan to have CDs with me wherever I go, as well as “Anti-Candidate,” “Another Romulan Ale” and “Tauntauns to Glory” bumper stickers, so flag me down if you want one!

If you’re going, I hope we’ll get a chance to chat. If you’re not going, or if we simply don’t find each other, you can always sign up for my newsletter to get the latest info on my different projects.

Have fun storming the convention!

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Release Day! DISTORTED VISION is Now Available!

Almost 2 years to the day since I released Truths and Lies and Make-Believe, here comes my second musical collection, Distorted Vision.

(Album cover photography and design by Christopher Rinehart. Click to go to the Bandcamp page, to listen to or purchase the album.)

Like its predecessor, Distorted Vision is another collection of songs mostly inspired by or referencing science fiction and fantasy, as well as songs about the marvels and misfortunes of life itself. I consider it to be a second helping of “truths and lies and make-believe.”

Where T&L&MB had ten all-original tunes, this new album has eleven songs, including two which use existing tunes. I intend to write a series of posts examining each song on its own, but here’s the running order with a few basic notes:

All the above links go to Bandcamp, which is the only place the album is available at this time. At Bandcamp you can listen to the songs, purchase a download of individual songs or the whole album, and order a physical CD for me to send to you (and, yes, I ship them myself).* I will make the album available on CD Baby soon, and from there it will be available on Amazon and other outlets — and the songs themselves will be available for streaming.

If you never listened to Truths and Lies and Make-Believe,** but you’ve heard me play guitar and are a little leery of how these songs might sound, let me assure you that just like the first album I did not actually play any of the instruments on this one. My friend Mark Minervino was once again the studio musician par excellence, and also engineered and mixed the songs, and my friend Brian Ceccarelli of Talus Music mastered the CD so the sound quality would be uniform. I couldn’t have done this album, or the last one, without them!

So if this sort of thing interests you, or if you’re just curious, or even if you just want to humor me, I hope you’ll give it a listen — and that maybe you’ll find something you like enough to buy! And if you know someone else who might appreciate it, by all means send them a link to the album or to this blog post.

Thanks, I hope you like what you hear, and let me know what you think!

*Note that physical CDs won’t ship until close to the end of the month. Sorry!
**Really? It’s been out for 2 years, and you haven’t listened to it yet?

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The new CD is almost ready! So, offered for your consideration, here’s the front cover:

(Click for larger version.)

And here’s the back cover:

(Click for larger version.)

The photography and cover design are by my son, Christopher Rinehart.

The album was recorded at Stormghost Studio, Cary, NC, and MKM Studios, Scarborough, ME; engineered and mixed by Mark Minervino at MKM Studios, Scarborough, ME; and mastered by Brian Ceccarelli at Talus Music, Apex, NC.

I’ll be releasing the electronic album later this week, and physical CDs will be available shortly thereafter.

Stay tuned!

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Are You a Science Fiction Fan? Will You be Voting?

If the title isn’t clear enough, and the logo below didn’t show up, I’m referring to voting for the Hugo Awards rather than voting for the Cary Town Council. Being on one ballot was not enough for me!

(In fact, if you want to put me on a third ballot, you can nominate any of my filk songs for a Pegasus Award. Hahaha!)

Hugo Award Logo

But, insofar as the Hugo Awards go, the deadline is fast approaching for getting our votes in, as was recently pointed out by perhaps the biggest name in fantasy literature these days, George R.R. Martin.

The deadline is in fact the 31st of July — one day past the deadline for Pegasus nominations, haha! — and if you’re a member of the World SF Convention you should have gotten your Voter Packet and instructions weeks ago. If you’re not a member but you still want to vote, there’s just a little time left for you to purchase a Supporting Membership* and participate in the process.

In the blog post linked above, Mr. Martin noted that so far more than 2300 ballots have been cast. He asks,

Who are all these new Supporting Members? Are they trufans rallying to the defense of one of our field’s oldest and most cherished institutions? Are they Sad Puppies, Rabid Puppies, Happy Kittens, Gamergaters? Are those dreaded SJWs and ASPs and CHORFs turning out by the hundreds and the thousands? Are these the Neo-Nazis and right-wing reactionaries we have been warned of? The truth is… no one knows. We may get a clue when the ballots are opened and counted, but even then, the numbers may well just say, “Answer cloudy, ask again.”

If you’re not familiar with all the lingo in there, count yourself lucky. And if you’re undecided about voting or what to vote for, bear in mind Heinlein’s admonition:

If you are part of a society that votes, then do so. There may be no candidates and no measures you want to vote for … but there are certain to be ones you want to vote against. In case of doubt, vote against. By this rule you will rarely go wrong.

So, vote! Even if you vote against me.

As for that other democratic process, we’ll have more to say in the coming weeks. Stay tuned!

*A Supporting Membership costs $40, for which you get electronic copies of several of the nominated works (e.g., Best Novel) with which to make an informed decision.

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Amazon Rankings and the Power of a SINGLE Sale

Back in late February, Larry Correia included the Amazon listing for my album in the “book bomb” he orchestrated to generate interest in stories that he and Brad Torgersen recommended for Hugo Award consideration. (For more on how the latter turned out, read this.)

CD Sale
(“CD Sale,” by Jake Johnson, via Flickr under Creative Commons.)

The purpose of Larry’s frequent “book bombs” is to encourage people to buy an author’s work, and in particular to buy it on Amazon because improving a book’s ranking generally makes it more visible to additional prospective customers. Products with higher rankings show up more often in searches and the Amazon system selects them more frequently as recommendations. The idea behind the book bombs is two-fold, then: first, to help authors get paid for their work, and second, to put them in a better position to keep getting paid.

Anyway, since the only thing I had available for sale was my album, Larry included it along with other people’s books, which I appreciated very much. The results were curious to me, though.

Because of the plug I sold a grand total of one physical CD, and no electronic music, but my Amazon sales ranking improved by nearly a million-and-a-half places! Indeed, it hit unheard-of heights (for me) and now, nearly three months later, is still ranked far better than it was to begin with.

I don’t have the exact figures for the earliest rankings, because I wasn’t paying close enough attention, but here’s what I remember (I’ve rounded these to two significant digits):

Date — Sales Rank
02/23 — 1,500,000
02/25 — 30,000 — because of ONE CD being ordered
02/27 — 60,000
03/04 — 200,000
03/17 — 360,000
05/06 — 840,000

I don’t know about you, but that much movement based on one sale seems a little crazy to me. Imagine what would have happened if two people had ordered my CD! It might suddenly have become a bestseller. Of course, it could just indicate how few CDs are ordered from Amazon on any given day.

I don’t know if the book rankings bounce around so much, but it seems apparent that if you ever buy things on Amazon — even single things! — you wield a great deal of power.

While we’re on the topic of Amazon, another tidbit you might not know: Reviews affect search results, too. My little CD doesn’t have any reviews there (and precious few elsewhere), so if you’ve got an Amazon account and a few spare minutes, it would be awesome if you’d bounce over to the Amazon page and post a little review. Just a few words about your favorite song, even with only a moderate rating, would make a huge difference.

Amazon is, of course, the biggest kid on the block when it comes to online shopping. But I’ll let you in on a little secret: when people buy my album from Bandcamp, they pay less and I make more money. (You have my permission to share that little secret with anyone who might appreciate the album or the bargain.)

But, regardless of whether you tell anyone about my music; regardless of whether you leave a review on Amazon or anywhere else; regardless of whether you’ve even heard any of my songs or read any of my stories; and regardless of whether you keep up with my nonsense or just popped in here for no particular reason, you have my sincere thanks just for reading this blog post.

If you take nothing else away from this, know these two things: I appreciate you being here, and you have more influence on the success of independent writers and artists than you probably realize. But with great power comes great responsibility, so use your power wisely!

P.S. Yes, this is another post adapted from a newsletter article. That’s just the way it goes.

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Last Day for Pegasus Award ‘Brainstorming’ — Poll Closes Tonight

If you haven’t already submitted your ideas for what songs, composers, and performers should be considered for the Pegasus Awards for excellence in filking, you have until early Friday morning to do so!

Pegasus Award Logo

Unlike other awards, the Pegasus Award cycle begins with a wide-open “brainstorming” phase. (In this respect, the Hugo Awards may have something to learn from the Pegasus Awards; but, I digress.)

The Pegasus awards honor science fiction and fantasy-related music in these categories:

  • Best Filk Song
  • Best Classic Filk Song — a song at least 10 years old that has “entered filk community public consciousness”
  • Best Performer
  • Best Writer/Composer
  • 2015 Rotating Category: Best Adapted Song — “parodies, pre-existing lyrics set to new music (for example, setting a Kipling poem), or other material adapted to filk”
  • 2015 Rotating Category: Best Time-Related Song — “31st wedding anniversary gifts are timepieces. For OVFF’s 31st Anniversary we focus on anything related to time”

Anyone who has an interest in filk music — which most people think of as science fiction and/or fantasy-related music — is considered part of the “filk community” and can participate in brainstorming possible nominees, nominating, and voting. The award by-laws define “exhibiting interest” using examples such as filking at SF&F conventions, attending filk conventions or “house sings,” taking part in related on-line forums, and just “discussing filk and filk related issues with other filkers.”

Speaking of “discussing filk and filk related issues with other filkers,” last week on the Baen Free Radio Hour we released part 1 of a 2-part roundtable discussion about filk. Here’s the link to an MP3 of the podcast. We’ll release part 2 sometime in May.

All that being said, you can probably claim to have exhibited interest in filk just by reading this far in this post (for which, thank you!), and therefore would be qualified to participate in the Pegasus Award process. So if you have favorites you’d like to suggest, fill out the Brainstorming Poll Form. Note that there’s only space for five suggestions in each category, but you’re allowed to fill out as many brainstorming forms as you like. (I filled out two.) But you have to submit your suggestions soon — as in, today! The deadline is one minute after midnight tonight, Pacific Time, or around 3 a.m. tomorrow morning, Eastern Time.

The actual nomination phase to decide what goes on the ballot will start next month, when the brainstorming results are released, and then voting will take place later in the summer. Then the Pegasus Awards will be awarded at the Ohio Valley Filk Fest in October.

So … start your brainstorming! And finish it, quick!

Related Posts:
The Pegasus Award Brainstorming Poll is Open!
In Case You’re Nominating for Any Awards This Year
What Do YOU Think is the Best Adapted Filk Song?
What Do YOU Think is the Best Time-Related Filk Song?

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