"I can't stop thinking big ..."
That's a line from "Caravan," the first single from Rush's album Clockwork Angels - and I think they're definitely words to live by.
I've always drawn writing inspiration from music, and in particular from the music of Rush. My first novel Resurrection, Inc. (1988) was closely inspired by their album Grace Under Pressure, and that novel also led to a long-standing friendship with Rush drummer and lyricist Neil Peart. Over more than twenty years, I can point to dozens of my novels and stories that bear a clear Rush influence (and even, occasionally, a little bit of lyrical inspiration in the other direction).
Neil and I wrote an original dark-fantasy short story together, "Drumbeats," but we have always wanted to collaborate on something MAJOR, find a way we could tie together our imaginations, throw our ideas into the magic creative machine - and at last we got the chance to do it right with Clockwork Angels: The Novel.
The music in the Clockwork Angels album tells a wonderful steampunk story, perfect for fleshing out as a full novel, with intriguing characters, fantastic settings, and a world so big that our optimistic and intrepid main character, Owen Hardy, just can't help feeling small.
Neil started talking to me about the story several years ago while he was in the early planning stages of the album. We discussed the plot and the songs as they developed. One day when we met for lunch in Santa Monica, Neil's enthusiasm was plain as he described how he envisioned artwork and sets, Broadway shows, ice ballets and even a novel. My wife Rebecca, herself a bestselling author, immediately asked, "Who would write the novel?" Neil gave her a surprised look. "Well, Kevin of course."
It took a while for all the pieces of the story and album to come together, with Rush touring, and my book tours; Neil and I finally got down to serious business in August 2010, when the two of us climbed a 14,000-ft mountain peak in Colorado and brainstormed all the way (in between heaving breaths). There may not have been much oxygen at that altitude, but there was certainly enough inspiration.
After that hike-in between two shows of the Rush Time Machine tour-I collated the notes we had talked about, and Neil continued to work on the songs. The blueprint had been sketched; now we just needed to add the details and do the construction.
We built the characters, the adventures, the ideas, sometimes with a dozen e-mail exchanges per day. (Neil is himself an accomplished writer, with books such as Ghost Rider, Traveling Music, Roadshow, and Far and Away.) As the album came together and I was armed with the lyrics for all the songs, I wrote more detailed outlines.
But it wasn't until I got the rough tracks of the songs-with Neil's drums, Geddy's vocals and bass, Alex's guitars-that the story really came alive in my head, like Dorothy opening her black-and-white farmhouse door to reveal the Technicolor Oz. Suddenly, Clockwork Angels became real.
Then I actually started writing the novel, with Neil's careful feedback, scene by scene, chapter by chapter. We also had input from artist Hugh Syme, whose beautiful illustrations added even more ingredients to the mix. As Neil read each draft I sent him, he came up with insightful suggestions and additions, new characters, new twists. My knee-jerk reaction was usually to balk at the extra work, the rearrangement, the new chapters or scenes and then, usually less than five minutes later, I would realize that what Neil suggested was indeed an excellent addition, and the way the story should be.
Clockwork Angels: The Novel was an immensely satisfying experience for both of us. We did our best to bring our "A" game to this book, and I hope you fall in love with the story as much as I did.
After all, we can't stop thinking big ...