How Mark Z. Danielewski Scored The Fifty Year Sword

By Jason Boog Comment

Mark Z. Danielewski published The Fifty Year Sword in the United States today, creating a digital book version of his intricate ghost story alongside the print edition.

The iBooks version features music from pianist and NPR From the Top host Christopher O’Riley. In an email interview with GalleyCat,  Danielewski explained how his relationship began with the pianist and how the created the digital book. Read his response and enjoy O’Riley’s piano work in the free Spotify playlist below–it makes great writing music.

Follow this link to read Danielewski’s advice for making enhanced digital books. The author will make a few book tour stops with O’Riley, reading the book along with the music. Follow this link to see the stops on the tour.

Danielewski offered some advice for all writers thinking about adding music to their digital books: “Have a clear vision of what you want to accomplish and give to your readers.  Be creative and flexible when technical limitations force you to rethink what you had originally desired. Understand that there may not be a market for what you are making yet, but that you are a part of developing the experience and the market.”

The novelist summarized: “From the beginning, [eBook producer Lillian Sullam] and I agreed that we would only use those elements which complemented the themes of the story. We also agreed to keep taking the various platforms to their limit. My father taught me to imagine first and then — and only then — turn to technology to realize it. And that’s pretty much how I still work. I’m not about to spend this sliver of life keeping up with technology. Let’s all do technology a favor and make it keep up with us.”

Danielewski explained how he met the pianist: “I met Chris years ago on Myspace. He sent me a note. I figured he was a fraud. Then he sent me tickets to see him play at Hollywood Bowl. We’ve been friends ever since. Chris is not only well-versed in the language of cinematic music, he’s also one of the best readers I know. This combination allowed us to “spot” the book in the same way composers “spot” a film. We addressed major sequences, explored melodic options for characters, introductions, transitions, and finally we determined how all the themes would need to progress.”

He added: “Chris worked tirelessly. And quickly. Already on tour — I think he’s always on tour — he’d pop into Los Angeles and we’d sit around his piano and keyboards. I’d read aloud a section, he’d play. And when he was away we’d Dropbox files, call each other about changes, new inspirations.”

He continued: “What really stands out though — aside from Chris’ immense talent — is his endurance. Thanks to an ARC Grant from the Center for Cultural Innovation which facilitated Chris’s participation on a five-city tour for The Fifty Year Sword (culminating at REDCAT in Los Angeles) we began to see how the music not only fit the staged reading but the book itself.”

He concluded: “That, however, meant not only writing and rehearsing but taking the next step and recording the clips. Pantheon Books helped us extend the deadline but I remember reading the last version — my only job was to finalize it — when I realized that the final blood sequence still needed three rising moments of music. It was midnight in Los Angeles. Chris was in Ohio. I woke him up. Told him what I needed. Not a whisper of resistance. He recorded the three pieces and got it to me a couple of hours later, just in time for [eBook producer Lillian Sullam] to unfinalize the final and get those clips in.”

Writing Music from Christopher O’Riley

Christopher O’Riley – Everything In It’s Right Place
Christopher O’Riley – Karma Police
Christopher O’Riley – Let Down
Christopher O’Riley – Fake Plastic Trees
Christopher O’Riley – True Love Waits
Christopher O’Riley – Rider on the Wheel
Christopher O’Riley – Pink Moon
Christopher O’Riley – Fly
Christopher O’Riley – Parasite
Christopher O’Riley – River Man
Christopher O’Riley – coast to coast
Christopher O’Riley – let’s get lost
Christopher O’Riley – i didn’t understand
Christopher O’Riley – speed trials
Christopher O’Riley – i better be quiet now
Christopher O’Riley – Scriabin: Prelude In B Major, Op. 11, No. 11
Christopher O’Riley – Scriabin: Prelude In G-Sharp Minor, Op. 16, No. 2
Christopher O’Riley – Scriabin: Fragilité, Op. 51, No. 1
Christopher O’Riley – Scriabin: Etude In F-sharp Major, Op. 42, No. 3
Christopher O’Riley – Scriabin: Prelude In B-flat Major, Op. 11, No. 1
Christopher O’Riley – Scraibin: Feuillet D’album, Op. 45, No. 1
Christopher O’Riley – Radiohead: Punchdrunk Lovesick Singalong
Christopher O’Riley – Thom Yorke: Cymbal Rush
Christopher O’Riley – Elliot Smith: Tomorrow Tomorrow
Christopher O’Riley – George Harrison: Within You & Without You/ Blue Jay Way