Swan Song


From the Dark Harvest hardcover dust jacket:
On the edge of a barren Kansas landscape, an ex-wrestler called Black Frankenstein hears the cry..."Protect the Child!"—In the wasteland of New York City, a bag lady clutches a strange glass ring and feels magic coursing through her—Within an Idaho mountain, a survivalist compound lies in ruins, and a young boy learns how to kill.

In a wasteland born of nuclear rage, in a world of mutant animals and marauding armies, the last people on earth are now the first. Three bands of survivors journey toward destiny—drawn into the final struggle between annihilation and life!

They have survived the unsurvivable. Now the ultimate terror begins.

From the Pocket Books paperback edition (first edition):

An ancient evil roams the blasted nightmare country, an evil as old as time. He is the Man with the Scarlet Eye, the Man of Many Faces, gathering under his power the forces of human greed and madness. He is seeking to destroy a child, the one called Swan.

From Robert R. McCammon, one of the living masters of horror, comes a stunning tale of sheer fright and power where the end of the world is just the beginning of mankind's ultimate struggle.

From the Sphere paperback edition (British):
In a future world born of nuclear rage, an ancient evil as old as time roams a devastated, nightmare wilderness. He is the Man with the Scarlet Eye, the Man of Many Faces, gathering under his power the forces of human greed and madness. He is searching for a child who has the gift of life, a child named Swan, the child who must be destroyed...

From Robert R. McCammon, one of the greatest masters of horror, comes a stunning tale of fear and darkest power where the end of the world is just the beginning of mankind's ultimate struggle....

Robert R. McCammon Writes About Swan Song

I've always thought that any kind of film based on a book or short story can be a fascinating experience for the author—not necessarily because the film is good or bad, but because it's a reflection of how other people visualize the author's words. A writer creates the word pictures, and then people who weren't directly involved in that creation process have the task of making the word pictures solid. But I think the real challenge of being a writer is to create a mental movie: doing the lighting, the costumes, the casting and makeup, the special effects, the directing and making sure all the props are there on cue. I hope the readers do approach my books as films, that they can see in their minds as they read. The devil, it's been said, is in the details. If the details aren't there, a scene often lacks vitality.

Which is a long way of getting around to writing that the illustrated version of Swan Song has just been published by Dark Harvest, and it was an interesting experience for me to see how an artist visualized scenes from the mental movie I'd created. The details are right. If something was in the scene, it's there in the illustration. So I want to thank Paul Mikol and the two artists who worked on the book, Charles and Wendy Lang, for an excellent job. Paul Mikol promised me Dark Harvest's production of Swan Song would be a quality work, and the Langs added an extra dimension of quality that I feel very, very proud about.

All books are like children. They develop their own personalities as they're written. Some of them are sweet and gentle, others are nasty bullies, some don't want to grow up, others jump ahead so fast they pull you along by the throat. This, strangely enough, has nothing to do with length or complexity. It just is. No book I've ever written has been born in quite the same way, though my work patterns don't vary. Swan Song was a relatively easy birth, in that it flowed smoothly from beginning to end. Stinger was a beast; about sixty pages from the end, I realized I'd made a major goof and had to go back two hundred pages and start from there again. Usher's Passing almost put me under, but Mystery Walk was easy. The Wolf's Hour was really fun to do, probably the easiest birth of all even though it went back and forth between time periods. But my latest book—called MINE—was much tougher, even though the story is simple and straight-ahead. So it's hard to tell what the child will be like until you get into the birthing process. You just have to grit your teeth, hope for the best, and prepare to face the detail devil again.

I was asked to talk about how and why I wrote Swan Song. I'd like to tell you why I don't want to do that.

Swan Song, even though the new hardback version is out and it looks terrific and I hope it does very well, is ancient history to me. I got a letter not long ago addressed to Robert "Mr. Swan Song" McCammon. Now: let me say first of all that I'm really, really glad readers responded to Swan Song, and that the book continues to speak to people about hope in a world where hope seems to be a dirty word. That's great—but I'm not satisfied. I want more. Not more money, not more fame, not movies and "celebrity status." I want more from myself, and I don't plan on letting anybody believe for a second that Swan Song is going to be a laurel wreath on my head.

I'm going to write better books. I'm going to write ones not as good. But the point is, I'm going to write different books. Many people have written urging me to do a sequel to Swan Song. I leave most of my books open for sequels—not so I can write them, but so readers can carry the story line further along in their imaginations. Sequels are never as good as originals, and almost always disappointing. Having said that, I also have to say that I am kicking around the idea of doing a sequel to The Wolf's Hour in three or four years. I would do it because I really enjoyed writing the original, because I would have something different to say, and because I might be interested in doing a series of books that span the continuation of Michael Gallatin's line into modern times. It would not be The Wolf's Hour Part II. Believe it.

For me, writing is a great freedom. I don't use an outline. I don't usually know what's going to happen from one point to another, though I develop what I call "signpost scenes" as a kind of free-form roadmap. Writing is a great adventure, a journey of faith into the unknown. Sometimes it's a night trip, and you lose your way for a while. But when you get to your destination, and see the home fires burning, the joy is beyond description.

I almost gave it up, a while back. I got really tired of hearing things like "the poor man's Stephen King," and that I was "walking on King and Straub's territory," that I was a rip-off artist and a hack with no style of my own. I almost said to hell with it, and for a while I was looking through the want ads trying to figure what else I could do.

When I reached the bottom of that particular pond, I realized there was nothing else I could do besides write. For better or worse, I was married to writing, and I had to keep going no matter what was shoveled at me.

So here we are.

I'm not always going to write horror novels.

The new book, MINE, isn't a horror novel in the supernatural sense, though it certainly is horror in the real world. I may do a fantasy novel next. I have a science-fiction book in the early stages. I'm planning on doing a love story—of a sort—set in the 1600s. I may do a book of the further adventures of Poe's detective, Dupin. Whatever: the point is, writing is the freedom to go and do and be and see, and I have no idea of where the boundaries lie.

As I said before, I might write books that are better than others, but of one thing I'm certain: I won't repeat myself. Neither will I stop trying to become a better writer. Easy to say, hard to do. I know where the want ads are; I've seen their gray solemnity and invitation into a world of locks and keys. I can't live there.

Again, I want to thank Paul Mikol and the Langs for an excellent job on Dark Harvest's production of Swan Song. And for knowing that the devil is in the details.

What's past is preface. We go from here.

Copyright © 1989 by Robert R. McCammon. This essay originally appeared in Mystery Scene magazine, issue 22, August/September 1989. Reprinted with permission of the author.
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