Red Litten World is out the door. The third adventure of Waldo Bell is now in the hands of you, my incredible readers. This puts us halfway in what I currently expect to be a six book series. (You can find out more at bellforgingcycle.com – hints abound.)
Since many of you have been asking, I thought it’d be fun to start a series of blog posts where delve into some of the decisions I made with the world building of The Bell Forging Cycle. It’ll be a space to offer a little more insight into places, people, and cultures of the Territories and share a little more of my process.
First up… the jazz saints.
If you’re a longtime reader, there is no doubt that you have noticed that Jazz often plays a subtle role in each book. It’s the background notes of Lovat. It’s the sound emanating from the radios, it’s the crackly voice behind the static. Film noir is often punctuated by Jazz, and I wanted that same feeling of noir to punctuate The Bell Forging Cycle.
Throughout the series, you’ll find that the jazz musicians of our yesteryears are treated like saints within the Territories. (How Jazz came to fulfill this role is an ongoing mystery.) They carry titles with their names, often born of religious themes. Over the generations since the Aligning their songs have shifted from that of entertainment and are treated as something closer resembling today’s hymns or canticles.
I thought it would be fun to chronologically explore some of the songs that show up within the books. As I do, I’ll go into more details explain why I chose them, and why I thought they fit in the world. First up…
Gloomy Sunday – Billie Holiday
Mentioned: The Stars Were Right – Chapter Two
Of course, it’s Billie Holiday who get’s the distinction of being first. Early in The Stars Were Right Wal hears the noodle cart vendor whistling the first few bars from this iconic ballad when he’s on his way to meet Thad. In a lot of ways I picked this because it sat the mood, Lovat is a damp gloomy place most of the time and especially in the lower levels. I figured it’d be fun to use a song as haunting as this like this to really amp up that feeling.
I Waited for You – Miles Davis
Mentioned: The Stars Were Right – Chapter Eleven
I’m a big fan of cool jazz, and there’s no one cooler than Miles Davis. Referred to as “Brother Davis” by Wal, I wanted to have a song that worked for the scene where Wal waits to meet Hagen. The fact that Wal recognizes the song also hints at his inner workings. He’s not someone who goes on at length about Jazz and its musicians, but he clearly is able to recognize particular songs even instrumentals. I liked that, it was a little detail about his personality that wasn’t too overt.
Take the A Train – Duke Ellington
Mentioned: The Stars Were Right – Chapter Nineteen
Okay, I am cheating here a bit. I don’t actually mention the title of this track, Wal just hears a maero whistling a tune he recognizes as coming from “Saint Ellington”. In my mind those that song will always be Take the A Train, or in Wal and Hagen’s case I guess the A-monorail.
A Hard Day’s Night – Count Basie
Mentioned: Old Broken Road – Chapter One… sorta.
Okay, so I’m kind of cheating twice. In the bar scene during the opening of Old Broken Road. Wal mentions very briefly that an old jazz number is playing on the piano. In early manuscripts, I had called it out as a “W. J. Bassy number” but ended up cutting it. Look, let me have this one, it’s the only Jazz mentioned in Old Broken Road. (Basie also gets a brief mention in Red Litten World chapter six as well.)
[!] Note: The next few numbers are mentioned in Red Litten World. While they’re not exactly spoilery, you might want to hold off reading further until you’ve finished the novel.
West End Blues – Louis Armstrong
Mentioned: Red Litten World – Chapter Four
After the events on the Broken Road, we’ve returned to Lovat with Wal. It’s fitting the first jazz number mentioned comes from Pops himself. I wanted the perfect song to fit the tone of this scene and West End Blues was it. It helps set the mood, and pairs well as Wal trudges through the cold.
Body and Soul – Coleman Hawkins
Mentioned: Red Litten World – Chapter Seven
During the events of Red Litten World, the city is celebrating the winter festival of Auseil. I wanted something that would work as a slow holiday tune, but I also wanted to explore the idea of transient change within music. I like that this jazz standard had taken on some unknown connotation and as become a yearly tradition for the people of Lovat and the Territories. Coleman Hawkin’s tenor saxophone works perfectly. You can totally hear this playing as the downtempo track during a band’s set at a holiday party.
Saint James Infirmary – Louis Armstrong
Mentioned: Red Litten World – Chapter Three, Twenty-Four, & Thirty-One… sorta
This song shows up a lot in Red Litten World, and in some ways it’s an anthem for the events surrounding Wal, but it’s not the Saint James Infirmary that most folks would recognize. In fact, the infamous Infirmary in the title isn’t mentioned at all. The lyrics are very different from anything Louis Armstrong sang as it has evolved and been bastardized over the generations that have come since the Aligning. As a result, we have a song that though it might be familiar in tune is different lyrically from the original version.
So, those are the seven tracks I’ve envisioned as being within the series so far. Who knows what the future hold and what other jazz saints may show up. Generally these aren’t things that I plan, the right song just seems to appear when I need it. If you’d like to listen to these I’ve made a playlist featuring all seven songs, you can play it below.
I hope my readers find these little details fun. I’ve always enjoyed layering extra meaning into my work. You can be assured this just scratches the surface of the world of The Territories. If this is something readers enjoy, I’ll continue putting together more posts revealing a bit more of Wal’s world and the details therein.