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.
Q: So wait, you write songs?
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.
Q: What kind of songs do you write?
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."
Q: Where can I get your songs?
A: I have two albums currently available. Red Roses and Dead Things (2009), and Wicked Girls (2011). You can order them from CDBaby.com. Just search for my name, or follow the links from my website albums page.
Q: Weren't there two other albums?
A: Yes. Pretty Little Dead Girl (2006) and Stars Fall Home (2007) are currently out of print. I may be reprinting Stars Fall Home sometime in 2012.
Q: Why can't I buy your albums through your website?
A: Honestly? I just 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.
Q: Which comes first for you, the lyrics or the melody?
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 that they actually wanted to be sung.
Q: How do you come up with all the parts and make them fit together in things like "Sycamore Tree" or "Fly Little Bird"?
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 actually have to breathe. So I'll usually write all my lyrics out and then sit down with somebody to try and figure out how everything actually 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.
Q: You write songs in several genres. Which genre is your favorite? How do you decide?
A: Songwriting is a very organic process for me—I mean it when I say that frequently, songs get written because I just start to walk and sing at the same time, and then, at the end of the walk, I transcribe whatever came out of my mouth. So I rarely decide what genre a given song is going to be before I get started. That said, of all the songs I've written, the ones with a strong modern folk feel are usually my favorites. Not always, but often.
Q: When you post a song, is it done (as in written) or done (as in has music, and is ready to perform)?
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.
Q: How do you remember all of those songs?
A: I have no idea. How do I remember something on the order of seventy verses for "Tam Lin," while having trouble keeping track of my house keys? The mind is a mysterious thing.
Q: What is your current favorite song to perform?
A: Absolutely "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.
Q: Do you have any plans to ever attempt a song-a-week endeavor, even for a short time, something akin to Jonathan Coulton's Thing A Week or Tom Smith's iTom?
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 my friend 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.
Q: Who does your arrangement, instrumentally? Who does your vocal arrangement?
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 very instrumental in shaping quite a few of my songs.
Q: What is filk, exactly?
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.
Q: Well, where does the word "filk" come from?
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 promptly 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.
Q: Is all filk parody?
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 entirely 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.
Q: Is all geeky music filk?
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.
Q: That makes no sense.
A: That, too, is part of filk. Also, that wasn't a question.
Q: What are your three favorite filk conventions?
A: This is a difficult question, because every filk convention is very different, and they all have wonderful things to recommend them. I'm definitely attached to the Ohio Valley Filk Festival (OVFF), which is often viewed as the "WorldCon of Filk"—it's the largest of the filk conventions, and it's central enough that it draws filkers from all over the world. It's a very good convention if you want to learn a lot about filk, very quickly.
Conflikt is the (purposefully misspelled) filk convention of the Pacific Northwest, and has managed to earn an eternal place in my heart by being the first convention to invite me as a solo Guest of Honor (Conflikt II in 2009). This is still a very young convention, but it's also very welcoming and inclusive. Finally, if I'm limiting myself to three, I'm going to have to go with the UK filk convention. It's held every February, and the name changes every year, but it's always a wonderful time, and it's an amazing opportunity to meet filkers from all over the world.
I've honestly never been to a filk convention I didn't adore. I recommend them all, inasmuch as I can—I haven't actually been to all of them, but I've heard wonderful things about each and every one.
Q: You mention winning the Pegasus Award. What's that?
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.
Q: How did you get into filk?
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." And Red Roses and Dead Things is mostly comic...except for "Dear Gina," "Silent Hill," and "Causes and Effects." I enjoy being hard to predict.
Q: Where was Pretty Little Dead Girl recorded?
A: It's sort of in the title of the album. Pretty Little Dead Girl: Seanan McGuire and Friends Live at OVFF 2005. The album was actually 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.
Q: Where was Stars Fall Home recorded?
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 entirely at Mystic Fig Studios, under the steady hand of Jeff Bohnhoff. All mastering for the album was done by Kristoph Klover, at Flowinglass Studios.
Q: Where was Red Roses and Dead Things recorded?
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.
Q: Where was Wicked Girls recorded?
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.
Q: Do you ever have to cut songs before an album is released?
A: I've actually had to cut songs from all four of my albums. The concert that was eventually 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"). 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."
Q: Did you actually record the studio version of "Vampire Slayer Blues" that was cut from Red Roses and Dead Things?
Q: How about "When It Falls"?
A: Again, no.
Q: You write a lot of songs. How do you decide what to record?
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 assembled 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.
Q: Do you have plans to eventually record all your songs?
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!
Q: Why do you keep recording cover songs?
A: I have recorded three 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). All three 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.
Q: Are there any people who appear on all of your albums?
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 three 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." Finally, 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."
Michelle "Vixy" Dockrey. Vixy provides the majority of the backing vocals on all three 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), and "Oh, Michelle" (Red Roses and Dead Things). And yes, "Oh, Michelle" was written for her. But she deserved it.
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 and all recording done in Seattle.
Amy McNally. Amy plays fiddle on all three 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, naturally enough, Vixy & Tony, and I appear on their CD, Thirteen. Amy does not yet have a CD of her own, but appears on an increasing number of other people's projects, and enhances them all with her presence.
Q: Has "Wicked Girls Saving Ourselves" been recorded?
A: Yes. It is the title track of my fourth album, Wicked Girls (2011).
Q: Is the actual name of the song "Wicked Girls" or "Wicked Girls Saving Ourselves"?
A: The actual 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.
Q: In "Wicked Girls," who is the Jane referred to in the chorus?
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.
Q: When I heard you do "Wicked Girls" live, some of the lyrics were different. What gives?
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.
Q: Wait...who are the girls in the original bridge?
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 definitely 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).
Q: What is the song "Dear Gina" based on?
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.