In addition to being a professional author, I am an award-winning singer/songwriter and an active member of the filk community. This is both because I love music, and because I have always specialized in acquiring way too many hobbies. This FAQ page addresses basic questions about my music, the people who make music with me, the filk community, and the albums which I have released.
You can find more information about my music by exploring the pages linked off the Music menu. There are many great resources on filk out there on the Internet; I recommend Debbie Ohi's Filk FAQ and Nick Smith's Filk 101. And, of course, feel free to ask any questions you think I've missed.
1.1. Wait, you write songs?
1.2. What kind of songs do you write?
1.3. Where can I get your songs?
1.4. Weren't there some other albums?
1.5. Why can't I buy your albums through your website?
1.6. Why do you only offer physical CDs?
1.7. Which comes first, the lyrics or the melody?
1.8. How do you write parts and make them fit together?
1.9. When you post a song, is it done?
1.10. What is your current favorite song to perform?
1.11. Do you have any plans to attempt a song-a-week endeavor?
1.12. Who does your arrangement?
A: Yes! I've been writing songs and poetry for most of my life, and started working seriously on my lyrical composition while I was in high school. I've just never stopped. After doing it for a few years, I actually started to figure out what I was doing. I write my own music in addition to writing my own lyrics, although I require the assistance of someone who actually knows how to do musical transcription if I want to get chords or sheet music set down.
A: I write all kinds of songs, from serious love songs to sultry ballads about mad scientists and educational songs about epidemiology. The fastest description for my style of music is "filk" (there's more about this further down in the FAQ). It can also be described as "geeky folk music," or just plain "modern folk music."
A: I have three albums currently available. Red Roses and Dead Things (2009), Wicked Girls (2011), and Stars Fall Home (2013). You can order them from CDBaby.com. Just search for my name, or follow the links from my albums page.
A: Yes. Pretty Little Dead Girl (2006) and the original version of Stars Fall Home (2007) are out of print.
A: Honestly? I don't have the time to ship them. Mailing a box of CDs to CDBaby once a month is a lot easier than trying to fulfill X number of orders every week. People don't like to wait longer than they absolutely have to. Doing things through CDBaby.com means they don't have to.
A: I don't have the rights to distribute my cover songs digitally, and they're very important to the albums on which they appear. Apart from that, however, there is the matter of cost. I don't make any money from my music—it's purely a hobby—and in order to justify printing physical CDs, they have to remain my primary distribution method. Hence the physical-only nature of my music. This may change in the future, but right now, there is no plan to begin MP3 or other sound file distribution.
A: I tend to get lyrics and melody at the same time, and they tend to be very tightly intertwined with each other. The exceptions are the songs I originally wrote as poems, before realizing they actually wanted to be sung.
A: I tend to "hear" songs in my head as I'm working on them, and that often includes parallel lyrics or second vocal parts. The trouble with this, as Vixy will happily tell you, is that the people inside my head don't have to breathe. So I'll usually write my lyrics out and then sit down with somebody to try and figure out how everything fits together. Much of "Sycamore Tree" was pieced together when I called a friend in New York, taught her the melody of the chorus, and then made her keep singing it over and over again until I had the alternate lyrics nailed down.
A: It's done in the sense that it has lyrics and a tune, and I could sing it without accompaniment if asked. It's not done in the sense of "it could be performed, with instruments, right now." For guitar chords, I need to go to a guitarist. Paul Kwinn, Tony Fabris, and Jeff Bohnhoff are generally tapped for this particular chore, although I've been known to bat my lashes at whomever happened to be closest at the time.
A: "Wicked Girls." It's fun to sing, it's melodically simple enough that I can sing it no matter what else I'm doing, and when it works, it's magic. I'm very proud of that song, and I'm thrilled that people have started to perform it independently of me.
A: I actually already have, several times. I did something called "Iron Bard," where I wrote songs based on prompts that people provided, and I've written a lot of songs, very quickly, based on pendants made by Mia Nutick. I don't plan to do a "record a song every week" endeavor any time soon, simply because I don't have access to that kind of recording equipment.
A: This will vary according to the song, and according to the performers available. Many of my instrumental arrangements have been strongly influenced by, if not entirely created by, the guitarists and engineers I've worked with. I do most of my own vocal arrangement, but Vixy has been instrumental in shaping many of my songs.
FILK IN GENERAL
2.1. What is filk?
2.2. Where does the word "filk" come from?
2.3. Is all filk parody?
2.4. Is all geeky music filk?
2.5. What is a Pegasus Award?
2.6. How did you get into filk?
2.7. What style of filk do you consider your music?
A: There have been a lot of attempts to define "filk," and a lot of arguments have risen from those same attempts. It's a big whirlygig of fun. To quote Nick Smith, "The simplest definition is that filk equals science fiction folk music. It is a mixture of song parodies and original music, humorous and serious, about subjects like science fiction, fantasy, computers, cats, politics, the space program, books, movies, TV shows, love, war, death...you get the idea." Basically, filk, as a term, covers a wide variety of topics and genres.
To make things just that extra little bit more confusing, anything that is written by a self-identified member of the filk community, or "filker," is considered to be filk music. So even though many of my songs could easily pass for contemporary country or pop music, they're filk in the eyes of the filk community, because they were written by a filker. Confused yet? Well, so are we.
A: It was a typo. Seriously. At some point in the late 1950s, Lee Jacobs was trying to write "folk music" in a fanzine article, and he hit the "i" by mistake. The word "filk" was born, and was embraced as a way of distinguishing the folk music coming from the science fiction community from the folk music coming from outside the community. Karen Anderson is generally credited with actively adopting the name and making it ours.
A: No. A lot of filk is parody, don't get me wrong, and some very excellent parody albums have come out of the filk community. But a lot of filk is original. I write very few parodies; almost all of my lyrics are set to entirely original tunes.
The big exception to my fondness for original lyrics and music is the annual Pegasus Award Remix, in which I rewrite all the nominees on the Pegasus Ballot to the tunes of all the other nominees. If you explore my songbook, you'll find a lot of parodies tagged as coming from that particular exercise.
A: Again, no. Geeky music made by someone who self-identifies as a filker is filk; geeky music made by someone who doesn't self-identify as a filker is not filk. So my geeky music is filk. Weird Al's geeky music isn't. It's a classification thing.
A: The Pegasus Awards for Excellence in Filking are given out every year at OVFF. Votes are cast by the filk community, and the results are announced at the Pegasus Banquet. I tied with Dr. Mary Crowell for the Best Performer Award in 2007, and won the Best Lyricist/Composer Award in 2008. I have won three Pegasus Awards for individual songs: Best Mad Science Song, for "What A Woman's For," in 2010, Best Badass Song, for "Evil Laugh," in 2011, and Best Song, for "Wicked Girls," in 2011.
A: I discovered filk as a teenager, partially through the fabulous novel Dream Park, which includes some examples of actual filk songs (did you know that Larry Niven is a filker?), and partially by attending science fiction and gaming conventions in the San Francisco Bay Area. It's easy to stumble over filk if you go to the right cons. I already loved folk music and musical theater; filk was love at first sight for me.
Q: Do you consider your music more in the comedy fantasy side of filk, or more in the serious medieval madrigal fantasy style of filk? Or somewhere in between, in the folk-gone-somewhat-awry territory?
A: I'm all over the map, honestly. I tend to think I'm in the "folk-gone-somewhat-awry" category, but I write as much funny stuff as serious, and some of it is really difficult to categorize. Stars Fall Home is mostly serious...except for "Country Song," "Evil Laugh," and "Pretty Little Dead Girl." Red Roses and Dead Things is mostly comic...except for "Dear Gina," "Silent Hill," and "Causes and Effects." I enjoy being hard to predict.
3.1. Where was Pretty Little Dead Girl recorded?
3.2. Where was Stars Fall Home recorded?
3.3. Where was Red Roses and Dead Things recorded?
3.4. Where was Wicked Girls recorded?
3.5. Do you ever have to cut songs before an album is released?
3.6. Did you actually record any of the cut songs?
3.7. How do you decide what to record?
3.8. Do you have plans to eventually record all your songs?
3.9. Why do you keep recording cover songs?
3.9. Are there any people who appear on all your albums?
A: It's in the title of the album. Pretty Little Dead Girl: Seanan McGuire and Friends Live at OVFF 2005. The album was recorded by Mark Peters, the amazing sound engineer on duty for my Toastmistress concert at OVFF 2005. That was my first "real" filk concert, and nobody really knew what to expect. I'm pretty sure that whatever they expected, it wasn't what they actually got. I enjoy being surprising.
A: Stars Fall Home was recorded primarily at Flowinglass Music in San Leandro, California, although tracks and portions of tracks were recorded at various locations around North America and the United Kingdom. (Seriously. Debbie Ohi's flute track for "Dorothy" was recorded in Toronto, Canada; Mich Sampson's piano on "Downhome Aphrodite" and "Take Advantage of Me" was recorded in England, as was Mike Whitaker's electric guitar on "Take Advantage of Me." Steve Macdonald's vocals and Gwen Knighton's harp, both recorded in England. And pretty much all of "Evil Laugh" was recorded in Seattle, Washington, along with the flute line for "Still Catch the Tide." We were geographically diverse.)
"Earthquake Weather" and "Four Color Love" were recorded at Mystic Fig Studios, under the steady hand of Jeff Bohnhoff. All mastering for the album was done by Kristoph Klover, at Flowinglass Studios.
A: Red Roses and Dead Things was recorded almost entirely by Jeff Bohnhoff, at Mystic Fig. The exceptions are Michelle "Vixy" Dockrey's vocal track on "Dear Gina," which was recorded in Seattle, Washington, and Tom Smith's vocal track on "Another Mad Science Love Song," which was recorded in the mysterious wilds of the Midwest.
A: Wicked Girls was recorded almost entirely at Flowinglass Music, in San Leandro, California. Some backing vocals for "My Story Is Not Done" were recorded in Seattle, Washington.
A: I've had to cut songs from each of my albums. The concert that was released as Pretty Little Dead Girl ended with an encore performance of "Yellow Brick Road," by Kris Delmhorst; that isn't on the album, since live performance and commercial recording are very different. Stars Fall Home was originally going to include a song called "Continental Divide," which had to be cut due to recording quality issues (it was replaced on the final album with "Follow Me Down", and was included in the 2013 reprint). Red Roses and Dead Things was supposed to include a studio recording of "Vampire Slayer Blues," but we scrapped that in favor of recording "Dear Gina." And Wicked Girls was originally going to include the song "When It Falls," but it was cut in favor of "My Story Is Not Done."
A: It depends on the album. Pretty Little Dead Girl was designed to be a good concert, not necessarily a good album; we got lucky, and it turned out to be both. Stars Fall Home was a constant exercise in picking and choosing, and half the album was actually written while the other half was being recorded. (The only songs I was always certain would make the cut were "This Is My Town," "Sycamore Tree," "River Lies," and "Still Catch the Tide.")
Red Roses and Dead Things was conceived as the mad science and horror album, and we decided what to record for that one by literally making a big list of my mad science and horror songs, then winnowing from there to get a good mix. My one hard-and-fast rule was that I wouldn't record anything that wasn't already written the day I went into the studio, and I wound up breaking that for "Dear Gina," which was just too good to leave off.
Wicked Girls was the first album intended from the beginning to have a focused theme, and while the exact songs wobbled slightly during the assembly process, the theme of the album remained consistent.
A: I would really love to, but I don't think there are that many hours in the day. Even if I could afford that much studio time, I couldn't spare that much time away from my keyboard!
A: I have recorded four cover songs to date. "Still Catch the Tide," by Talis Kimberley, on Stars Fall Home, "Writing Again," by Brian Gundersdorf, and "Tanglewood Tree," by Dave Carter (both on Wicked Girls), and "Small Mended Corners" (on Ghosts of the Sea). All of these are songs that are incredibly dear to me, and important to my life. I wanted to sing them, because they meant so much, and I wanted to share them for the same reason.
A: Yes! I am incredibly fortunate in that I have a lot of good friends who are willing to make music with me. Some of them have been on all four of my official recordings. They are...
Paul Kwinn. Paul is the primary guitarist on Pretty Little Dead Girl (and sings on several of the songs). He's the guitarist for several tracks on Stars Fall Home, and sings on "This Is My Town." He's on Red Roses and Dead Things as one of the minions on "Another Mad Science Love Song," and the maddened cackle at the end of "Maybe It's Crazy." On Wicked Girls, he plays on "The Snow Queen Dreams."
Michelle "Vixy" Dockrey. Vixy provides the majority of the backing vocals on all four of my albums, as well as being one of the Rosettes for both recorded versions of "Pretty Little Dead Girl." You can hear her most clearly on "Sycamore Tree" (Pretty Little Dead Girl), "Earthquake Weather" (Stars Fall Home), "Oh, Michelle" (Red Roses and Dead Things), and "Wicked Girls" (Wicked Girls).
Tony Fabris. Tony plays guitar for tracks on both Pretty Little Dead Girl and Stars Fall Home, sings the male vocals on "Sycamore Tree" on both albums, and sings the lead vocals for "Oh, Helen" on Red Roses and Dead Things. Tony is also the fabulous recording engineer responsible for any recording done in Seattle.
Amy McNally. Amy plays fiddle on all four of my albums, serves as one of the Rosettes on both versions of "Pretty Little Dead Girl," and provides one of the harmony lines for the version of "This Is My Town" on Stars Fall Home. Amy is amazing. Everyone should have an Amy.
I'm lucky enough to perform with Paul, Vixy, Tony, and Amy on a fairly regular basis, and will usually try to have at least one, if not all four, with me for any "official" concert appearances. Paul's musical group, Puzzlebox, has a CD of their own available. Vixy and Tony perform together in the Pacific Northwest and at filk conventions around the world as Vixy & Tony, and I appear on their CD, Thirteen. Amy's first CD, Hazardous Fiddle, is available now.
QUESTIONS FOR SPECIFIC SONGS
4.1. Has "Wicked Girls Saving Ourselves" been recorded?
4.2. Is the name of the song "Wicked Girls" or "Wicked Girls Saving Ourselves"?
4.3. Who is the Jane referred to in the chorus of "Wicked Girls"?
4.4. When I heard you do "Wicked Girls" live, some of the lyrics were different. What gives?
4.5. Who are the girls in the original bridge?
4.6. What is the song "Dear Gina" based on?
A: Yes. It is the title track of my fourth album, Wicked Girls (2011).
A: The name of the song is "Wicked Girls Saving Ourselves," but that takes a long time to say (or type), so it gets shortened a lot.
A: The Jane referenced in the chorus of "Wicked Girls" is Jane Banks, from the Mary Poppins books. She was originally intended to have a verse of her own, but it didn't happen.
A: Every time we perform "Wicked Girls," we change the bridge around to match up with the names of women whom we know will be present. If we don't know anyone, we default to the original...but let's face it: filk is a small world. We always know somebody.
A: The original bridge goes:
Mandy's a pirate, and Mia weaves silk shrouds for fairies,
And Deborah will pour you red wine pressed from sweet poisoned berries.
Kate poses riddles, and Mary plays tricks,
While Kaia builds towers from brambles and sticks...
Mandy is a dear friend of mine who loves pirates, piratical things, and being pirate-y. She's a wicked girl, no question. Mia is the proprietress of Chimera Fancies, the handmade jewelry line that originally spawned the phrase "wicked girls." Deborah is the one who suggested I write the song "Wicked Girls Saving Ourselves" in the first place.
Kate is one of my best friends, and often acts as my unofficial PA. Mary lives in Alabama, and is one of the most beautifully wicked girls you've ever seen. Kaia is the daughter of one of my friends from high school, and she actually does build those towers (and is ecstatic to be in a song with Tinker Belle).
A: Nothing. I had an idea, I wrote a song, "Dear Gina" was the result. It is entirely self-contained, and has no direct ties to any other story.