Catharine Asaro's new book Diamond Star follows an interstellar rock star caught between three warring civilizations. In order to punch up her novel, and add a musical accompaniment, Asaro had to become a rock singer.
In a recent interview with the Baltimore book and blog wing of the Examiner, Asaro delved into how she decided to integrate her latest science fiction novel with a themed rock album. Her determination to rock out has given rise to the Diamond Star Project, a collaboration between her and Baltimore rock band Point Valid.
Diamond Star picks up on strands from Asaro's 2001 Nebula-winning novel The Quantum Rose, as minor character Del is promoted to protagonist status for the new book - the fourteenth entry in her Saga of the Skolian Empire series. Del, a wayward son of the rulers of the Skolian Empire, finds his largely successful pursuit of a musical career draws the ire of both his own family and their enemies the rival interstellar empire known as the Eubonian Concord. Things only get worse when his concert tour takes him to Earth, a third civilization that has tense relations with the Skolian Empire.
Asaro joined forces with Point Valid, which is composed of singer/guitarist Hayim Ani, drummer Adam Leve, guitarist Max Vidaver, and semi-departed co-founder and bassist David Michelsohn, to turn the lyrics Asaro wrote for Diamond Star into full songs. The project ultimately grew into a full "soundtrack" for the book. They've been working on the album since 2007, when Asaro first contacted Ani in the hopes of recording "The Carnelians", one of the novel's most important songs.
Regarding her writing process, Asaro explained how music has always played a crucial role:
I've always had a close connection to both rock and classical music. I make up the stories to music, and it inspires new ideas.
The process worked best, according to Asaro, when she and the band were full collaborators. She detailed how she could only write one particular song when, paradoxically enough, Ani started singing it:
Not all the lyrics were finished when we started recording. I was also having trouble with one song called "Emeralds." It was supposed to be done, I didn't like what I had written. On the day Hayim did vocals for that song, I sat in the recording studio on the floor a few feet away and wrote while he sang. So I was literally doing the last rewrite of the lyrics as he recorded them. And finally, they flowed out. He was also able to look at them and make suggestions for phrasing that fit his music better. It was very satisfying for me as a writer to work that way, listening to him do the song while his music filled the studio.
Working on the album has allowed Asaro an opportunity to take her love of music to the next level. She actually learned how to sing in order to better write Diamond Star, and she's currently taking voice lessons and singing in the Central Maryland Chorale. You can also hear her on the upcoming Diamond Star album, along with a bunch of other performers, although Hayim Ani arguably contributed more than anybody, other than Asaro herself:
Hayim and Point Valid wrote a lot of the music for the CD, and I wrote most of the lyrics, as well as music for three songs. Hayim also contributed three original compositions, both music and lyrics. He does the vocals on almost all the songs. I do sing a bit, a solo called "Rubies," and the female vocals on "In Paradisum," "The Sound of Silence," and "Sapphire Clouds." A fellow named Michael Belinkie did the vocals for the Carnelians Finale. And Hayim brought in a lot of his friends to do guest parts, either instrumental or backup vocals. They were all excellent. I like them all. If I had to pick one that stands out the most for me, I think it would be the violin solo by Dina Eagle in "Emeralds." It's haunting.
You can judge for yourself by checking out the YouTube video for their song "Breathing Underwater."