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Personal History of Music

A Personal History of Music, Day 28: “Ride the Wind to Me,” by Julie Miller

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Julie Miller feels like secret knowledge, and someone who have to know someone else first to meet. She’s a contemporary of musicians like Sam Phillips, Shawn Colvin and Victoria Williams, all of whom had far higher public profiles in their day. She’s written songs for or covered by some hugely prominent country musicians, including Lee Ann Womack and Emmylou Harris. She’s married to and musically collaborates with Buddy Miller, himself a bit of a secret weapon in country and Americana music. There are all these doors to find Julie Miller, you just have to walk through them.

My own door was through Emmylou Harris’ Wrecking Ball, on which Harris sings Miller’s “All My Tears.” Harris and producer Daniel Lanois turn the song into a haunted, gothic bit of gospel; you can almost hear the Spanish moss hanging off it. When, a few years later, Julie Miller released a new solo album (Broken Things), I was curious to hear what she herself sounded like, when not filtered through Emmylou Harris.

The answer: Not haunted, and not gothic, but still, really, really good. Miller’s voice is a plaintive tremolo, singing poetry, and in “Ride the Wind to Me” that poetry is of the “you’re shattered but you can get better” sort, in which Miller consoles a heartbroken friend, and promises more and better. “Someday your tears will turn to diamonds,” she sings, which is just one of several really excellent bits of lyricism Miller spins. The song is a healing spell, and whoever that heartbroken fellow is, if he’s not in love with Miller by the end of the song, the problem is with him, not her.

Miller is a gifted songwriter and is still at it; she and Buddy are still releasing albums together, and they’re quite fine. That said, Broken Things, released in 1999, is the last album under her name solely; I wouldn’t mind another from her. Having learned the secret knowledge of Julie Miller, I’d be happy to learn more.

— JS

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Big Idea

The Big Idea: Elizabeth Bear

Few storytellers alive can spin a tale like Elizabeth Bear, and in this Big Idea for The Origin of Storms, the concluding novel of a trilogy, Bear digs just a little into the elements that make this particular story the one to tell right now.

ELIZABETH BEAR:

What if you inherited a broken world from your ancestors and had to try to fix it?

Okay, it’s 2022, and maybe that doesn’t sound very much like fiction. But it is the premise of The Origin Of Storms, my new book out this week.

The Origin of Storms is the final volume in the Lotus Kingdoms trilogy and the culmination of the series begun with the Eternal Sky trilogy. It’s about a diverse group of people with an existential crisis on their hands and only one thing in common: They didn’t ask for this, Mom and Dad.

Well, life isn’t fair. And neither are apocalypses.

In the land of the Eternal Sky, the very earth and heavens were shattered and re-knit strangely by ancient cataclysms. As you move from nation to nation, the skies change depending on what rulers and gods hold sway. The Lotus Kingdoms are a microcosm of that broken land—bound together by an Alchemical Emperor, torn apart by his death, and in competition for scarce resources and the “rightful crown.”

But this world is marked by deep history and deeper trauma, by the ruthless choices of prior generations, by intentional obfuscations of past events and terrible crimes. So what I found myself asking, processing, working through as I wrote this book is: How do we stop compounding our own generational trauma, and the evils perpetuated by the people who came before us?

Where do we eke out the space to heal and make room for others to heal, to interrupt cycles of exploitation and abuse?

How do we find for ourselves and provide for others that tiny bit of grace? What do we have to sacrifice in order to free ourselves from the ruins of a world we didn’t make or ask for? How much courage is required to walk away from a broken system and find a better one?

It’s not by blaming individuals for the ongoing evils of systems. It has to be by reforming the systems themselves, or if we don’t have that power, working to subvert them.

I don’t mean to make this sound like a philosophical treatise. It’s an adventure novel! But the title of this feature is THE BIG IDEA, which sort of invites the discussion of deep thematic questions!

So don’t get me wrong: this book is full of escapades. It has a really kickass dragon, a loudmouthed magic pen, a chainsmoking volcano goddess with a bad attitude, necromancers and spies and the undead avatar of a terrifying god (who happens to be one of the good guys, don’tchaknow?)

The Lotus Kingdoms also has the normal things you’d expect from an Elizabeth Bear novel, which is to say queer people, old people, and disabled people having adventures; intricate plotting that (hopefully) comes together in the end with a few surprising revelations; and perhaps a passing acknowledgement of the unreliability of memory and perception. Also a giant messy battle, and a big scary guy made out of metal who hits things really hard once in a while.

It also contains megafauna.

And a volcano. Okay, two volcanoes.

You gotta have a volcano.


The Origin of Storms: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s site. Follow on Twitter.

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