Interview from the Void: Chris Morris by Donny Swords

It is my honor to introduce Christopher Crosby Morris.  His passion to connect with life, and its people, and to be an honest, true voice that shines out is an extremely valuable blessing.  I have had the opportunity to interview Janet Morris his extraordinarily talented wife already.  I knew Chris’ responses would be very informative.  I had no idea how insightful of an interview I was in for.  I am humbled.  Chris Morris possesses fiber, that something which took years of practice, and years of pushing beyond mastery to possess.  His writing- no matter the medium, whether you prefer audiobooks, music, or written prose challenges and moves the mind into directions not often pursued, but well worth the journey.  I have been listening to Chris narration of the Sacred Band available on audio lately, and as a singer who has studied formerly under one of the greatest voice instructors of all time I have to say that I would not be able to deliver so much substance, such enriching quality in my deliveries, even using my characters. In short, Chris Morris is astounding.  Keep reading to begin finding out why.

Hello, thank you for agreeing to the interview.  Would you tell us a little about yourself?
A must have! Click Here.My pleasure. My consuming passion is voice in all its aspects, but especially as it manifests in storytelling, both in prose and verse, literature and song. Metaphorically voice represents many things, even the sum of a life. Voice is a double-edged sword we learn to wield to our benefit or detriment. Most recently I’ve assumed the task of narrating our prose catalog and am thrilling to offer publicly what has heretofore been a private but seminal feature of our writing process.
 
You write as a team with your wife Janet Morris.  When did you first become drawn to writing, was it before or after you met her?
Before. Since childhood I’ve enjoyed arranging words to varied effect. In my youth I became a marvelous liar, more because of my fascination with discerning and fabricating what people wanted to hear than from mischievous or malicious intent. When Janet and I met our first collaborations were songs, many of which I still perform today — they are that good. She wrote stories from a very early age. A lasting part of our attraction was and is a shared desire to precisely express what life is showing us, and that means capturing those observations in story form. The difference — or complementarity — between us is that she is expansionist in her portrayals and I am reductionist.
 
You are a musician, when did you start playing?  What instruments do you play?
My older sister and brother proved miserable piano students, so our parents decided that Christopher could do without. Unbeknownst to me (and thankfully so), I was spared the disadvantage of entering musical life through the doorway of percussion. I’m a baritone and baritones seldom wow anyone vocally until the instrument develops, usually in one’s mid- to late twenties. Therefore my public school music teacher, Ms. Hutton, smiled commiseratingly and showed me to a seat with alto boys whose glee club lot was to huff and puff in support of the shrill girls reciting rote melodies. I loved it: anonymity and license to experiment with pitches against a preprogrammed backdrop of boys droning away predictably. In short, I sang, and still sing, first and foremost. And I utterly believe that all music in the human bandwidth derives from controlled breathing.
Guitar started for me at age eleven and is my most satisfying lifetime tool-oriented skill path, several times requiring me to experience the miracle of starting over in order to thoroughly master basic aspects. At this point I am pretty deeply into creating digital models of guitars impossible to achieve in strictly analog settings; I use custom built guitars with Graphtech’s Ghost hexaphonic sensors fed to Roland’s VG99 effects unit, then into a Yamaha board (with my vocal mic) and out in stereo to one of two twin Bose tower monitor systems (L1 and/or L1 Compact) so I am always in the same sound field as any listener. This all stems from wanting a bigger – not louder – guitar sound. I “build” a guitar for any song that needs something a little different and now have twenty or thirty pretty amazing guitars dial-able from one setup. Can’t wait for you to come check it out, and we be jammin’ man.
 
To me the guitar is a universe of possibilities, which is the same with writing.  Do you ever feel limited by people’s expectations of you and your crafts?
I could spend an hour on your first statement here, but will answer the question bit first. No, I no longer feel constrained due to others’ irrational calculations of what comprises art. I say ‘no longer’ because every creative must ascend from the pit of self-doubt into the light of self-knowledge and mastery through determined focus and practice. In his autobiography Miles Davis stated the gospel: “The most difficult thing a musician can do is sound like himself.” And, as you said in that first sentence, it’s “…the same with writing.”
 
When I played onstage I got instant feedback as to how I was doing.  I often find it difficult when I release a book and it gets less attention than I’d hoped.  Does your perception of what you feel will or won’t be received well change when you consider your fan base?
Buy Music
No, nor should it for you. This is a variant of the last question, but with a putative contrast between two, on the surface, apparently different art forms. Beneath the surface however they are so closely related as to be nearly identical: they are both listening sports, simultaneously involving the sources and receivers and overlapping the roles of each. Anything you can say of one has an obvious parallel in the other, the biggest difference being in rate of transmission.
One of the glories of human consciousness is that we can hear ourselves hearing ourselves. Shakespeare was the first to portray characters listening to their own inner voice, “the invention of the human” as Harold Bloom calls it. In both music and literature you are your own first audience and, if you like what you hear, by any and all means do not hesitate to proceed for want of external approbation. They are your audience, not your judges. Disregard this truth and that way lies madness.
 
Get your copy here Does a really good review feel as good as a standing ovation at a gig, or are they apples and oranges?
Glad you asked. Distrust both. If you pin your self-esteem to them and their approbation or lack thereof, you are lost. As Heraclitus said, “He who is praised to the skies lives a life of fantasy.”
 
You and your wife Janet are a team, how does that dynamic play out when you are developing a novel?  When it is underway?
Our novels develop from conversations reaching a point where further elucidation will best be accomplished by the exploration of personality(ies) in our case, fictional heroes — living their way through circumstances embodying the challenge under consideration. Our working definition of a hero is one who struggles in service to an ideal; if we run out of ideals we may write a different sort of book, but that protagonist would most likely be struggling to find out what happened to all the missing ideals … hmmm.
When the book is under way it’s buckle up time, the blessed state, because (and this is hard for many of our writer buddies to accept) we honestly don’t know everything that’s going to happen. The way to find out the details is to go where only the characters can take us. By that time we are way onboard and strapped in and boldly going we know not where, but headed for a climax we’ve seen but not yet lived. Fun or what? Is it real? For us and the characters, you bet. Does it have that precious quality of feeling true to life? Yup. That’s the reward of the collaborative arrangement; it imparts a binaural, binocular, bi-conscious view of uncertainty, which we and a host of readers find magnetic.
 
When you edit do you have a process?
When Janet began drafting (typing, mind you) High Couch of Silistra I would read her day’s output (and still do) aloud, because sound is primary to my apprehension, especially if analytics are involved. When I draft we do the same. Although it might seem laborious, this actually saves time and speeds up the rate at which we achieve publishable work. Linguistic anomalies can be heard by the ear and missed by the eye; our editing voice benefits from two sets of each. I’m frequently amazed at how much a slight alteration of pitch or emphasis can inform the net effect of syntax. If we have a passage that wants to be heard a certain way it’s incumbent on us to nail the punctuation so the experienced reader ‘hears’ it.
 
Since you began as a published author, how have things changed?
It might be easier to list what hasn’t changed, but for those tuning in late there’s: lots more slush being published and given away; increased ability of content providers to call the shots at every production level; no more meddling middle-folk; no more security of the reasonable advance for a multi-book deal; lots more transparency; even more slush being published and given away; piracy; more feedback from readers and trolls; general confusion as to what intellectual property is and how to preserve ownership of it; still more slush being published and given away; genre-fication whelping a litter of niche-of-a-niche-of-a-niche popularity contests; ability to purchase emblems of legitimacy bestowed for a price by formerly powerful arbiters of taste such as Kirkus; global reach to millions of readers; yet more slush being published and given away, or did I say that enough?
 
One of your recent projects was narrating the audio book “The Sacred Band”.  Could you tell us what it takes to accomplish such a feat?
Like anything worth doing, it takes tenacity and focus. Because it was a first-time project The Sacred Band audio book involved a learning curve which added time and cost. I’m a team player and narration has a solitary aspect to it; I’m getting accustomed to it, but I was grateful for the technical assistance of a good friend who babysat me as I got this first one recorded over a period of a little more than a year. If I narrated full time it might now take me only eight or nine weeks. I’m working in Adobe Audition and can handle everything up to but not including audio-post mastering chores (adding noise reduction, some compression and normalization processing before converting to Mp3 for submission). I am an ACX.com (Amazon>Audible>ACX) user and have no plans to market outside their considerable infrastructure; I’d recommend them to beginners because they’ve done the homework necessary to service all the stakeholders in a project. ACX is also a good place to listen to samples of what other production teams are doing and obtain a reference point of view as to what constitutes a finished product. ACX costs nothing to join; they’re compensated from what Audible gets from sales of your book.
 
I say feat due to your performance.  You are merged with your and Janet’s characters in that delivery.  This summoning of Tempus or whomever is speaking shows a deep connection to your characters.  Do they make you laugh or cry?
I had already read The Sacred Band aloud two or three times before embarking on the narration. We are meticulous about “voicing” our characters and punctuate and format very carefully to emphasize their characteristic speech patterns while still retaining transparency of style. For our first audio project we decided to hire Alex Hyde-White to learn the ropes and see how an accomplished pro would narrate our material. He did a bang-up job with Wake of the Riddler, a shorter TW piece of Janet’s, and immediately caused me to realize what I could bring to our work because of my greater familiarity. I am gratified that you heard the characters coming through because after experimenting with inventing a distinctive sound for each character I opted instead to read with consistently clear articulation and to respect each character’s mood and message within the limits of my voice rather than risk caricature.
They don’t make me laugh or cry. They make me disappear. I miss that when we’re not together.
 
Your music is intelligent and endearing, quite moving actually, were you going for the same effect on the audio book?
Thank you. Yes, in both cases it turns out to be what I do instinctively. After countless attempts to sound “commercial” musically, I finally took Miles’ advice and dared to embrace what comes out of me ingenuously. Being comfortable in one’s own skin is worth whatever effort is required to make it so. It took me decades to get there (hence my remarks about the acclaim of others) but once arrived, I rejoice to possess sheer bandwidth that accommodates a broad spectrum of emotion without disproportion.
 
What is your take on violence in books?
Gratuitous…or not. If a story is merely a vehicle to roll out a train of atrocities, what’s the point except to titillate adolescent sensibilities? Writers of all sorts leverage threats of violence, many to avoid the laborious task of carefully laying out a sequence of events building to a genuine need for overt confrontation. I write for the more experienced reader, and myself, who want a little more justification, realism, and reason to care what happens than a story where hardware and machinery are indistinguishable. No doubt about it, there’s violence in books.
 
Who are your favorite musicians?  Authors?

Ray, Mose, kd, Chet, Tony, Sly, Diana Krall, Tommy Emmanuel, Bill Evans, JS Bach, CPE Bach, Mozart, Davey Spillane, Bela Fleck, Victor Wooten, Nat, Haydn, Corelli, Leadbelly (see video), Lightnin’, Jeff Lynne, Roy Orbison, Dinah Washington, Aretha but she ticks me off, Eddy Arnold, Mitchell Parish (wrote the lyrics to Stardust), Carmichael (wrote the melody to Stardust), Michel Legrand.
Janet Morris, Arthur Clarke, Hermann Hesse, John Milton, Will Shakespeare, Jack London, Will James, Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, Heraclitus of Ephesus, P. G. Wodehouse, Harold Bloom, Homer, Deborah Koren, Mika Waltari, Sam Harris, Roger Penrose.
 
How long did it take to compose the backing track on the Outpassage trailer?
Read Outpassage It took about two days, back in late ’78, culminating in that recording. It’s a song called No Man’s Land, a bedroom demo recorded on a TEAC 10 inch four track reel to reel with Janet on bass, Leslie Kuipers on guitar, Nathan Seely on drums, Ted Lo on ARP string synthesizer, and me on guitar and vocal. It smoked sufficiently that we began playing the Boston fusion clubs around Berklee and generally had a very good time. We were regrouping after moving back from LA in the wake of the MCA album’s short but glorious run, and I still had three quarters of my band to work with and Ted and Nathan eager to jump in. We were listening toMahavishnu and Return to Forever and I was wondering why nobody ever sang over that kind of stuff, plus it was in my “sky high” period when I’d figured out how to build section momentum with circular patterns. The song has some cool cousins I’ll put up pretty soon. What I’m digging now is that shelf life is pretty much irrelevant these days and No Man’s Land has a rabid following on a site called NumberOneMusic.com ; entry level listeners take in Hendrix and Gaga and Norah and Eminem and me all at once and could care less when a piece of music was made or even whether the artists are still alive.
 
Tell us about your publishing house.
Perseid is damning the torpedoes and putting out stuff that is representative of what we grew up wanting to read; we say books for experienced readers, or books worth reading.
 
What inspires you?
My favorite of your questions.
Growth. A starry sky. Acceptance of the greater without diminution or forfeit of personality. Personal truths: the value of distinguishing between what one is told and what one learns from experience. The love of a dog. The suppositions of consciousness turned upon itself. In music the ability to reharmonize melody, steal time (rubato) and imply realms beyond physical scope. Kindness. Exploring Heraclitus’ thesis that all things are reflected in all things. The hunger for truth, beauty and goodness. Sister Wendy.
We live in cataclysmic times, for all I know analogous to all preceding ages. What is unknown to me so overwhelmingly eclipses what is known that my fate is to be inured to the idea that uncertainty is somehow requisite to continuity. I accept. I am human for a blink, a moment in an infinite progression. My moment too is subsumed in eternity and, being part, reflects its whole — harbors the DNA of the eternal — from micro to meta. So, even as a relatively infinitesimal particle I may intake my portion of the entire mystery of mysteries. If I am a moment, so am I eternal. Beyond cool.
And partnership…to host an intellectual life is a high privilege, to share such a life closely, transcendent, to make art of such sharing, nonpareil.
 
For readers new to your novels, which three would you recommend?
 
The Sacred Band (book, e-book, audio book) Click Here.
 Outpassage (book, e-book) Read Outpassage
The Fish the Fighters and the Song-girl (book, e-book). Buy
 
How important are reviews to you?  For marketing?  For sales?
 
Reviews are Rorschachs of their writers, offering subjective accounts of questionable exposure to some work or other. The substance of reviews is of most interest to other reviewers. Although taken for marketing currency, reviews are seldom value added. Creators inevitably fail to accurately calculate the effect of reviews on sales because the study of the relationship is an inexact science at best, at worst an obsession stymieing their creative efforts for lack of prudent allocation of attention.
 
Now advertising is a little different….
I would like to thank Chris Morris for this famously insightful and encouraging interview.  It is good to know the human condition is not wasted on him- but rather seen as an opportunity to grow.  Bravo- Chris!  See everyone next time.  🙂Thanks for reading.Donny  
Chris’ Links: http://www.amazon.com/The-Sacred-Band/dp/B00N1YRVH2/http://www.audible.com/pd/Sci-Fi-Fantasy/The-Sacred-Band-Audiobook/B00MU2VCEO/http://www.amazon.com/Outpassage-Janet-Morris-ebook/dp/B00IDC1E84/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&sr=&qid=http://www.amazon.com/Fish-Fighters-Song-Girl-Sacred-Stepsons-ebook/dp/B007VQIJFY/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1410294833&sr=1-1&keywords=the+fish+the+fighters+and+the+song-girlhttp://numberonemusic.com/christophercrosbymorris/https://www.reverbnation.com/christophercrosbymorris?profile_view_source=profile_boxhttp://www.amazon.com/Everybody-Knows-Christopher-Morris-Band/dp/B004GNEF3A/https://soundcloud.com/christopher-morris http://www.amazon.com/Chris-Morris/e/B008L41JNO/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_2https://www.facebook.com/JanetMorrisandChrisMorrishttps://www.facebook.com/christophercmorrissings http://www.sacredbander.comhttp://www.theperseidpress.com/# http://www.facebook.com/christopher.c.morris.7?fref=ts http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chris_Morris_(author)https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CLqxH_Tx5VA https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7g79LZAgk8w https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2EylzKQa4yghttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BCv4GA5W5eA https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ICAPn0E7NC0 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5SQFmxwfT7ghttp://www.amazon.com/Outpassage-Janet-Morris-ebook/dp/B00IDC1E84/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&sr=&qid=    Where to find Donny Swords stuff:   Donny Swords author ( Facebook )  (Blog) Primal Publications (Facebook )  (Blog) The Indie Collaboration ( web )   Novels & Links

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