Posts Tagged music

‘Concentration, energy, imagination, comfort’ – Stephen Weinstock

for logoMy guest this week is another returner to the series, which is rather appropriate as the concern of his book series is reincarnation. He is a composer, pianist and dance accompanist for musical theatre with the UC Berkeley, Princeton, Juilliard, and the ‘Fame’ school. Last time he guested here he wrote about the hidden structures that tell stories. This time, nearly a year has passed and he finds himself questioning the role music is now playing in his writing life. So this is a slightly unusual Undercover Soundtrack, one of questions rather than statements. Nevertheless, you can expect some stirring musical choices. He is Stephen Weinstock and he’ll be here on Wednesday with his Undercover Soundtrack.

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The Undercover Soundtrack – Tawnysha Greene

for logo‘Close your eyes and listen with your hands’

Once a week I host a writer who uses music as part of their creative environment – perhaps to connect with a character, populate a mysterious place, or hold  a moment still to explore its depths. This week’s guest is fiction editor and creative writing teacher Tawnysha Greene @TawnyshaGreene

Soundtrack by Harold Arlen, EY Harburg, Yann Tiersen, Ludovico Einaudi, Michael Nyman, Alexandre Desplat, Hans Zimmer

My narrator is hard of hearing like myself, so many of the scenes including music in A House Made of Stars are ones in which the music is felt rather than heard. For example, the narrator’s cousin earns a part in The Wizard of Oz, and as she practises her songs in her room, the narrator and her deaf sister watch, hands placed on the stereo to feel the rise and fall of the music.

Tawnysha Greene Author PhotoSimilarly, as I wrote these scenes, I played Over the Rainbow by Harold Arlen and EY Harburg on my laptop and turned the music up loud, so that I could close my eyes and listen with my hands to feel the same notes the characters in my novel did. This way, I could be closer to my narrator, a girl who struggles through poverty and abuse and who wishes for a better life for her and her family.

While writing the majority of A House Made of Stars, the music I listened to was usually instrumental. One of my favorite musical collections was The Most Beautiful Soundtracks (No. 2), and guided by these songs, my novel began to take shape. The following individual songs from this compilation were especially helpful — Comptine d’un autre été by Yann Tiersen, I Giorni by Ludovico Einaudi, and The Promise by Michael Nyman. The quickness of these pieces, especially The Promise and the way the notes would domino into one another helped me with the pacing of my novel, because I wanted each scene to tumble into the next so that the story’s momentum would be constantly moving forward as the narrator and her family’s situation become more and more dire.

However, in some cases, it was necessary for me to slow down the scene and concentrate on smaller details. My narrator is very observant and what she lacks in hearing, she compensates in what she sees and understands. The song Childhood by Alexandre Desplat played on repeat while I wrote these scenes, and the way the song is composed is appropriate for the realisations the narrator makes during these instances — Childhood is slow with distinct piano keys forcefully played one at a time in a way that causes each note to be almost jarring. Similarly, during the moments in which I chose to listen to this song, the narrator makes discoveries about her family — read in a diary hidden underneath the stairs and glimpsed through the wooden slats of a bedroom closet — moments that are jarring for her as well.

Regardless of the scene, music served as a catalyst for the general mood of A House Made of Stars, and towards the end when I wrote the last act in which the narrator and her family are homeless and starving, I listened to Hans Zimmer’s To Zucchabar. The duduk’s haunting melody is accompanied by isolated drum beats in the background, an interesting progression from the pronounced notes of Childhood, because these notes are more subdued and allow the duduk’s voice-like melody to take center stage. The music is appropriate for this final leg of my narrator’s journey, because she, too, is finally finding her voice and speaking for herself and her family against all odds.

AHOUSEMADEOFSTARS_front_coverWhen I wrote the last scene, I did not play just a single song. I played all of them. The compilation of The Most Beautiful Soundtracks (No. 2) sounded in the background as I wrapped up the story with my narrator looking up into the night sky. By then, she was all those songs. She was the drum beats, the piano notes, and the duduk’s melody as she reached for the stars and made them her own.

Tawnysha Greene received her PhD from the University of Tennessee where she currently teaches fiction and poetry writing. She also serves as an assistant fiction editor for Cutthroat: A Journal of the Arts and is a regular reader for the Wigleaf Top 50 series. Her work has appeared in PANK Magazine, Bellingham Review, and Necessary Fiction among others. A House Made of Stars is her first novel. Find her on Twitter @TawnyshaGreene, on her website and on Facebook.

GIVEAWAY Tawnysha is excited to sponsor a giveaway of A House Full of Stars. To enter, simply share this post – and then comment here to let us know. The more platforms you share on, the more entries.

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‘An expectant silence, a connection to something greater’ – Kathryn Craft

for logoI have been looking forward to sharing this Soundtrack with you. I’ve known the writer for a number of years on social media as we’ve moved in the same Venn diagrams, but when I saw the pre-publicity for her latest novel I had to approach her for this series. One of the hallmarks of these posts is that they are deeply personal journeys, and this novel is perhaps an ultimate example – it’s based on true events, the suicide of her husband. Do you recognise her already? If you’re in our Venn diagrams, perhaps you do. Before I confirm her name, let me say a little more about the music. This Soundtrack is a series of songs that reached out of the radio at the right time, to comfort, add perspective or share a moment; to make it possible to create a novel out of such a happening. She is Kathryn Craft, and she’ll be here on Wednesday with the Undercover Soundtrack to The Far End of Happy.

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‘His voice brought me back to where I began’ – Joni Rodgers

for logoMy guest this week returns for her third appearance on The Undercover Soundtrack. And it’s for her first novel, which she’s reissuing in a director’s cut, after reclaiming the rights. Plotlines and characters have been reimagined according to her original vision, and music was vital to recreating the book in her mind. Indeed, the story began in music, as she initially didn’t even realise her idea was destined to be a novel. She relates in her post how she’d sit on a gantry with guitar and writing pad, imagining a stage play with songs.  But then the back story began to take shape, and the subtext, and before she knew it, a novel was born. She is NYT bestselling author and ghostwriter Joni Rodgers, one of my partners in crime at the Women Writing Women box set, and she’ll be here on Wednesday with the Undercover Soundtrack for the novel she contributed, Crazy For Trying.

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The Undercover Soundtrack – Nadine Matheson

for logo‘Everyone walks around with their own theme tune’

Once a week I host a writer who uses music as part of their creative process – perhaps to tap into a character, populate a mysterious place, or explore the depths in a pivotal moment. This week’s post is by Nadine Matheson @nadinematheson

Soundtrack by Nina Simone, Jimi Hendrix, Tom Odell

Personally, I’m not committed to one genre of music. I will listen to anything and writing the story of The Sisters was also an opportunity to look back at my history with music. There is a scene where Lucinda is shopping in Portobello Market with her manager and she picks up a Jim Reeves album. Now, Jim Reeves was a 50s/60s country singer and my dad would play him on a Sunday morning and then move on to soul or reggae while my mum would be playing David Bowie or reminding me about the giant Marc Bolan poster that she had on her bedroom door when she was teenager. That’s how eclectic my own musical journey was and it was an important part of my own journey when writing this book.

3L3A6406 copy 2In my head, I think that everyone walks around with their own theme tune. I like to think that Jimi Hendrix’s Crosstown Traffic or All Along the Watchtower is being blasted out of speakers every time I enter a room or walk down the street. The same warped principle applies when I begin to write. The idea of writing in complete silence fills me with dread and when I’m planning my book’s I always play All Along the Watchtower. The start of the song is about formulating a plan and that there has to be an escape. That’s how I feel about the process of writing a book. There has to be a way out of this story I’ve created. There has to be an end.


The underlying theme of The Sisters is transitions and the effects of misunderstanding. Just like a good book, music is both transitional and emotive. The first character that I could see as a fully rounded person was Lucinda and the only singer that I could hear in my head was Nina Simone and one of my favourite songs Don’t let me be misunderstood. As I began to write Lucinda, I had an immense dislike for her and I initially thought that she was one dimensional but I kept playing Nina Simone’s Don’t let me be misunderstood.

I kept replaying that song because not only did it become the character’s mantra but it also reminded me that this was a character with many facets and not the resident one-dimensional baddie of the book. There is a scene in The Sisters when Lucinda says that she wants her music to be stripped back – that is Nina Simone’s reminder to me that for Lucinda to make her transition, I had to show her vulnerabilities. A favourite quote of mine from Nina Simone is ‘Sometimes I sound like gravel and sometimes I sound like coffee and cream.’

Because I was writing about sisters who were in an R’n’B band in the 90s, I made a conscious effort not to listen to any music from that time period, that the sisters would have been playing/singing. I think that would have pigeonholed the characters and not allow them to grow.


There are lot of misunderstandings in The Sisters and the classic syndrome of people covering up how they really feel. When I was writing a scene that involved the sisters finally acknowledging what was going on both internally and with their own relationships I would play Tom Odell’s Can’t Pretend. It is haunting but when you listen to the lyrics it’s not the end of the world, as if all hope is gone. There needed to be a strong sense of authenticity in The Sisters and while writing the book, I chose music where there was a clear complexity in the lyrics. I wanted to show that life isn’t a glossy manufactured package and that there is always more to us than what you first see when we walk into a room.

Nadine Matheson’s The Sisters was published last month. She has also contributed to the sci-fi anthology No Way Home. When she’s not writing, Nadine works as a criminal lawyer. Her crime novel Key Positions was shortlisted for the City Uni/David Higham Associates Crime Writing Competition 2014. She is planning another sci-fi short story as well as working on completing her crime novel. Find her on her website, Facebook and Twitter @NadineMatheson.

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The Undercover Soundtrack – Jake Kerr

for logo‘Music was solace, understanding and escape’

Once a week I host a writer who uses music as part of their creative environment – perhaps to connect with a character, populate a mysterious place, or hold  a moment still to explore its depths. This week’s post is by award-winning science fiction author Jake Kerr @jakedfw

Soundtrack by Crosby, Stills and Nash

Jake-Ellen Datlow pic-fullWhen I was 10 years old I had two passions in my life: Music and reading. I was never that good at producing music, so I did the next best thing–gathering up all the 45 RPM records I could, stacking them on my cheap plastic phonograph player, grabbing a laundry clip, and then pretending I was a DJ. Similarly, I wasn’t very good at writing, so I would write reviews and commentary about the books I read. I would discuss what I liked about the stories, what the writer did well, and all the things that I didn’t like and how he or she had failed. I would type these up on sheets of paper, staple them together, and then collect them in a drawer.

I wasn’t really a DJ, and I wasn’t really a literary critic. And I definitely wasn’t a musician or a writer.

Such is how dreams are born.

At the age of 27 I was hired to move to Los Angeles to write a column about music and the radio industry. I told all my friends: ‘I’m not really a DJ playing music, and I’m not really a writer or writing about stories, but I have achieved this amazing thing of merging my two dreams into one: I’m writing about music and DJs.’

It took about six years before I realized that this wasn’t really my dream. Music wasn’t something I wanted to do. It was part of who I was. I lived through music, where it would provide me with solace, understanding, and escape. But I didn’t want to actually create it or write about it. I experienced it. It was me. But I needed more from books. I did want to create. I did want to write the books, to tell the stories.

Such is how dreams are formed.

So I live the dream, and I write the stories. But make no mistake: The music is still there. Sometimes it is the soundtrack to what I’m writing, inspiring me even as it sets the tone and attitude of the words forming in my mind. Sometimes it is the source of the scene I’m writing, providing me with raw material that I never would have experienced otherwise. And sometimes it is the story. But the role of music in my dream is always there.

The song is the story

This is happening right now. I am writing a story for the third volume of Hugh Howey and John Joseph Adams’ Apocalypse Triptych. As I began thinking of the story I wanted to write, the song Southern Cross by Crosby, Stills and Nash was playing, and I immediately realized that this particular song was the story. There are lines in that song that are both heartbreaking and yet oddly hopeful. The more I thought about it, the more it integrated with my ideas for this apocalyptic story. It didn’t just set the tone of the story; it was the story.

So I put the song on repeat and started writing. The song, with its gentle rhythms and bittersweet lyrics took me exactly where I wanted to be for my story. The melancholy, the hope, the dream, the freedom—it was all there.

TB SoL ebook cover 100 dpiIt’s odd. For various rights reasons I couldn’t actually include the song in the story. As a result, no one who reads the story will know of its importance. This is common. For many of us, certainly me, while there is not always this explicit a connection between the music and the words on the page, some kind of connection is always there, and it is powerful. I somehow knew it when I was 10. It just took me many years to understand how to put the pieces together.

After 15 years as a music industry journalist Jake Kerr’s first published story, The Old Equations, was nominated for the Nebula Award from Science Fiction Writers of America and shortlisted for the Theodore Sturgeon and StorySouth Million Writers awards. His stories have subsequently been published in magazines across the world, broadcast in multiple podcasts, and been published in multiple anthologies and year’s best collections. A graduate of Kenyon College, Kerr studied fiction under Ursula K. Le Guin and Peruvian playwright Alonso Alegria. He lives in Dallas, Texas, with his wife and three daughters. His debut novel, Tommy Black and the Staff of Light, an adventure story for teen and pre-teen readers was released in 2014. Find him on Facebook, on his website, find more about Tommy Black here, and tweet him as @jakedfw.

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‘Music was solace, understanding and escape’ – Jake Kerr

for logoMy guest this week describes a journey – of looking for a life path, of circling around it many times until he found where he was meant to fit. He says he thought he wanted to be a DJ because he loved music, and indeed became a music industry journalist. Then one day he started writing stories – and realised this was how he wanted to use the experiences that music gave him. It was clearly a good move as he has been nominated for the Nebula, the Theodore Sturgeon and StorySouth Million Writers awards. He studied fiction under Ursula K. Le Guin and Peruvian playwright Alonso Alegria and is now contributing to Hugh Howey and John Joseph Adams’s Apocalypse Triptych. He is Jake Kerr and he’ll be here on Wednesday with his Undercover Soundtrack.

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The Undercover Soundtrack: Sarah Yaw

for logo‘Music as a space to make sense of life’

Once a week I host a writer who uses music as part of their creative environment – perhaps to connect with a character, populate a mysterious place, or hold  a moment still to explore its depths. This week’s post is by award-winning author Sarah Yaw @SarahYawWrites

Soundtrack by Alexis Zoumbas, Lou Reed, and Lynyrd Skynyrd.

If you’ve ever spent time with kids, you know that they play out whatever event has dominated their recent life. They need the space to do this, to find peace after a new experience. This is how they register and assign meaning to the things they encounter. This is how they create the map of what they know and how they learn to respond to new events in more sophisticated ways. They have context and reference for what occurs. And when life throws them a curve, they play it out and add that curve to their map. In the event of a, b and c, d can also occur. It soothes them. Life becomes known and thus less threatening. Watching my children play recently, I thought how stories and music do this for me. They give me a place to work through experiences so that I can make sense of my own life. Stories and music, in other words, are my play.

YawGet to the heart

In the mountains of northern Greece, there is a religious festival held each year. People attend the festival to cleanse themselves of mourning and rejoice in the fact that they are still alive. This is literal. The person seeking healing will sit in the middle of the sound. The music is played at them. It’s a vibrational experience as well as a melodic one, they say. The music, its vibrations and its intensity, can get into places that words can’t. It helps wash the person free of sadness and loss. Then the music shifts to joy. It becomes a celebration of the life that remains. Follow this link and scroll down to listen to Alexis Zoumbas play Epirotiko Mirologi and you’ll understand how this music gets to the heart.

When I was a very little girl, it was my habit to fall asleep in rehearsal spaces listening to my father play music. He toured the world with Lou Reed, Don Cherry, and his own band The Everyman Band, among others. Here he is playing bass on Lou Reed’s 1975 Coney Island Baby. My parents divorced soon after this. I had no words then to work out my grief; I was too young for the kind of play I watched my children doing recently, but I had all that music, and in that way that music can, it got into me, into my places that needed soothing.

Very internal

What I love about music is that it touches everyone who can hear it and while it is an individual experience—the mourner in Greece is on her knees, wiping out something very internal, very personal—all who surround her are connected by the sound and the experience. There was constant live music in both my parents’ homes when I was growing up. Someone was singing or picking up an instrument and filling my space with vibration. When I was old enough, I chose the clarinet and became Woody Herman’s youngest fan (and the world’s biggest dork). The clarinet is a reed instrument. Controlling the vibration to make pleasing sounds was how I spent my youth. I was an only child. Done alone, play was not as fulfilling as music; music was heard by others, shared and, therefore, not lonely. I excelled as a musician because it was my birthright and because it was all I had. I wasn’t a reader. I rehearsed music for hours on end. It cleaned out my head. It calmed me. I went to it the way a swimmer goes to water, the way a yogi is called to asana, the way a runner seeks a path. Then, I developed tendonitis; I couldn’t play.

In college, the instructor of my women writers course said: ‘You can take an exam or you can write in the voice of one of the authors we read this semester’. It was the word ‘voice’ that caught my ear. Voice is musical. I may not have been much of a reader or have been all that good at spelling and punctuation, but I understood sound. So I wrote what I heard and this relief came over me. There was all this blocked up teenage, young-adult stuff that had built up since losing music—my sense of belonging, my value, was I lovable? —that I hadn’t been able to move and it started to move and I had once again found the relief of music. And this idea of voice was why. The sound of words, rhythm, dynamic, all of this mimicked the irresistible tension and release of music. The narrative gave me a place where I could explore paths, work through what it meant to be me.


In You Are Free To Go, my first novel, I wrote about a prison. I didn’t know it at the time, but I’d chosen to write about a musicless place. Right before I started writing the book, my marriage to a musician had ended and so did the music. For the first time in my life, I was surrounded by silence. I wrote about a prisoner who was mourning the loss of his friend; I wrote about a town where people wall themselves off from one another; I wrote a narrative with one moment of music: The characters are in a bar, coming together, and Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Freebird is playing. What else? I can’t know the deep forces that drive us to our subjects, but still I have never been alone like I was when I began writing this book, nor as sad.

YouAreFreetoGo-webA friend of mine recently organised the first musical performance in decades in the prison that inspired You Are Free To Go. At the end, a prisoner thanked the performers and said, ‘I haven’t heard live music in twenty-eight years’. My friend, who had just read how the Nazis brought the prisoners their instruments each day so they could perform for each other, said: ‘I think we can do a little better than the Nazis’.

In You Are Free To Go, a condemned man’s death affects countless lives at all strata of society. Yet, none of the story’s characters, in the prison or outside the walls, are given the relief that music could provide to help connect them to each other, soothe their grief, and help them contemplate the ubiquitous desire to understand how we belong in a world that is fundamentally unknowable. And in retrospect, that makes sense. Writing this story, the music was gone from my life when I needed it most. What I had was this book, the joy of writing it, so I used it to make sense of all that silence around me.

Sarah Yaw’s novel (Engine Books, 2014) was selected by Robin Black as the winner of the 2013 Engine Books Novel Prize; her short work has appeared in Salt Hill. Sarah received an MFA in fiction from Sarah Lawrence College, and is an assistant professor at Cayuga Community College. She fell asleep in rehearsal spaces listening to the music of Lou Reed, Don Cherry, and the Everyman Band. She lives in Central New York. Her website is here and you can find her on Twitter @SarahYawWrites

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‘Music: a space to make sense of life’ – Sarah Yaw

for logoMy first guest this year says that when she was very young, she spent a lot of time in theatres, watching her dad rehearse with bands. She would fall asleep to the sound as he played bass for the likes of Don Cherry, Lou Reed and his own band, The Everyman Band. Later she became consumed by music herself, pouring her soul into the playing of the clarinet. Tendinitis cut her music career short and a teacher suggested she write, encouraging her to write in the voice of one of the authors they’d been reading that term. ‘Voice’ – it was that word that started it. She realised that writing was musical, a sequence of rhythm, tension and release – and so her first novel took shape (and went on to win the 2013 Engine Books Novel Prize). She is Sarah Yaw and she’ll be here on Wednesday with her Undercover Soundtrack.

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The Undercover Soundtrack – Jan Ruth

for logo‘Summoning Christmas in July’

Once a week I host a writer who uses music as part of their creative environment – perhaps to connect with a character, populate a mysterious place, or hold  a moment still to explore its depths. This week’s post is by contemporary romance author Jan Ruth @JanRuthAuthor

Soundtrack by Katherine Jenkins, Sarah Brightman, The Pogues

Christmas music; what’s the first track that springs to mind? It’s usually always Slade, that staple of commercial radio and drunken office parties. And as much as we may hate this stuff being regurgitated every year, it wouldn’t be the same without it, such is the power of music and the way it can ‘set a scene’.

10006080_744474255636887_7058848615728028062_oThe brief – to myself – was three, longish-short stories set in my usual comfort zone of Snowdonia, North Wales, UK. I wanted to make them all very different from each other, and I’ve chosen four pieces of music which I feel sure heavily influenced my dormant festive muse.

I started my Christmas selection back in July and it was a tall order to find the mood when the sun was beating down on the parched Welsh mountains. This is where music plays a massive part, well, that and mince pies. I relied quite heavily on baked goods as husband objected to Christmas music in high summer, and even considering earpieces there’s always a certain level of wailing-along to contend with. So, an empty house, a dangly piece of bald tinsel and plenty of icing sugar…

Rudolph the Brown-Nosed ReindeerRejoice by Katherine Jenkins
Rick isn’t looking forward to his lonely corporate Christmas, but it’s the season of goodwill and magic is in the air.

An off-beat love story, with all the hierarchy of the Christmas office party to contend with. It’s time Rick wore his heart on his sleeve, or is it too late? Lessons in love from an unlikely source, in this case, Rudolph. This story has its wry fun, but Rick-the-Reserved is in major denial. Oh, he’s the tall dark sensitive sort but there’s a limit to self-preservation and he’s in danger of losing what’s under his nose. Rejoice is one of those tracks that seems to become richer with every listen, rather like peeling away the layers of doubt and indecision – something my main character needs to examine. Rick would do well to listen to the lyrics of this track and take some of them to heart. Above all, it managed to transport me to the snowy forest in the story. Can you hear the snow dripping and the fire crackling in the grate?

Jim’s Christmas Carol Angel by Sarah Brightman
Santa and Satan pay a visit. One brings presents, the other an unwelcome presence.
Paranormal reality? Jim’s played with fire and it’s time he got his comeuppance, but from who?

Paranormal isn’t something I seek out to read, let alone write, but Sarah Brightman’s track Angel was one of the triggers for this story. Jim’s Christmas Carol isn’t a serious tale, it does have an element of farce about it, but Brightman’s track (and especially the video) is interesting in that the words and the imagery can be interpreted in many different ways, a bit like Jim’s Christmas Carol. And a lot like our kaleidoscope of beliefs when it comes to religion, guardian angels and all things paranormal.

Home for Christmas – The Pogues: Fairytale of New York (You WILL sing, and you will tap your feet.)
‘Deck the halls with boughs of holly. Fa la-la la-la, la-la la-la. Tis the Season to be jolly…’
Romantic-comedy. Pip might accidentally find her true vocation, but the folly of her fibs are about to catch up with her…

The local village play, Deck the Halls, not only saves Philippa Lewisham from herself but promises an entirely different direction for New Year. She’s something of an old-fashioned girl, hiding behind a carefully fabricated facade of career-driven feminism – but she’s very much a fun-loving party-girl too, who’s perhaps lost her way a little.

Home for Christmas Cover LARGE EBOOKI love the drunken fun of the Pogues song. It never fails to make me feel Christmassy, and lots of scenes in Deck the Halls take place in the village pub and the old school hall with a jangly old piano. In this story I flirt with romantic comedy and yes it does have a happy ever after, but I can’t bear mushy sentiment in books, film or music, so for me, The Pogues track IS Christmas.

Deck the Halls or Deck the Hall (which is the 1877 title) is a traditional Christmas, yuletide, and New Year carol. The melody is Welsh dating back to the sixteenth century, and belongs to a winter carol, Nos Galan. Merry Christmas! Nadolig Llawen!

Jan Ruth lives in Snowdonia, Wales, UK. This ancient, romantic landscape is the perfect setting for her fiction, or for just daydreaming in the heather. Jan writes contemporary stories about people, with a good smattering of humour and drama, dogs and horses.
Home For Christmas is available now. Full-length novels by her include: Silver Rain, Wild Water, Midnight Sky and White Horizon, plus two collections of short stories. Find Jan on Facebook, Twitter and her website.

The Undercover Soundtrack will be taking a Christmas snooze, and returns on January 7th. Merry everything.

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