‘Road trips require a soundtrack; so do some novels’
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 my guest is Foreword Review finalist Linda Collison @LindaCollison
Soundtrack by Paul Simon, Audioslave, Kid Rock, KT Tunstall, Gwen Stefani, Tom Petty, Matt Campbell
Without a soundtrack a road trip is just humming tires, cacophonous thoughts and monotonous dialogue. Long drives require a soundtrack. So do some novels.
I studied music in high school and wanted to be a musician. Music is eloquent when words fail. In a parallel life I’m a rock star or a concert pianist, but in this life I write. Because I can’t sing. Still, music resonates in my bones and melodies are a time machine. My tastes are catholic: baroque, classical, American jazz and blues, pop, classic rock, alternative rock, hard rock, metal, experimental, folk, bluegrass, sea shanties and show tunes – all have been my muse.
I don’t always play music when I’m at the keyboard working on a novel, but typing is only the tip of the iceberg; much of the writing process occurs when I’m dreaming, driving a car, or doing the dishes. Music affects my stories in ways I can’t even know.
Music plays a big part in Looking for Redfeather, a literary coming-of-age-on-the-road novel. But it ain’t Jack Kerouac’s road trip! I wrote the first draft during National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) 2007 – the year in which the story is set. It took six years for the edits. Paul Simon’s, I’m Workin’ on the Rewrite comes to mind… In October it was finally published, winning acclaim as a finalist in Foreword Review’s Book of the Year Award.
Looking for Redfeather is set in June of 2007 in the Great American West. Fifteen-year-old Ramie Redfeather hitchhikes out of Cheyenne, Wyoming, bound for Denver, Colorado, 100 miles away. He’s looking for his Apache father, a blues musician playing in a bar called Ziggies (a real blues bar). Ramie’s never met his father and he’s got a bone to pick. Ramie also has to be back in two weeks, for his court date. In his pocket, a cheap MP3 plays Audioslave’s Cochise. The album by the same name, released in 2002, expresses Ramie’s unresolved anger about his absent father.
Meanwhile, a bug-splattered Cadillac Eldorado with Maryland tags is rolling through Cheyenne. The guy behind the wheel is 17-year-old Charles Sweeney, who, until recently has gone by the rather unfortunate nickname Chuck. But Chuck has re-invented himself as Chas and he’s left his Maryland home in a stolen car. Technically, he didn’t steal the car – he borrowed it from his grandmother. Without permission. He has also taken six dusty cases of vintage wine from her wine cellar, which he does not intend to return. Chas’s identifying song is Kid Rock’s Cowboy. He is fleeing his ‘so-called life’ back east. because they’re ‘all brain-dead’. Actually, his mother really is brain dead; she exists in a vegetative state following a drug overdose. His father is on house arrest, and Chas feels the need to escape the prison that is his life. He hopes to experience the great American road trip, envisioning a 21st century On the Road, or Easy Rider without the crash ending. Just south of Cheyenne, he stops for a hitchhiker. It’s Ramie, thumbing his way to Denver. Together, they go looking for Redfeather.
Sixteen-year-old old Faith Appleby has learning disabilities but she has been given an amazing voice. Believing her voice is her only chance for success, Faith changes her name to Mae B LaRoux, buys a fake ID with money she nicked out of the church collection plate, and leaves her conservative Christian home in Baton Rouge, guitar in hand. Her plan is to win the Breakout Blues contest at the Austin Music Festival but she gets on the wrong bus — the bus to Denver. LaRoux’s identifying songs are KT Tunstall’s Big Black Horse and a Cherry Tree and Bobby McGee. She also admires the badass attitude Gwen Stefani exudes in Hollaback Girl.
Ramie and Chas manage to sneak into Ziggies but Redfeather, the scheduled entertainment, is a no-show. Ramie’s father has disappeared again. But Mae B LaRoux shows up, looking for a gig. The three teens connect, heading out on the road to get LaRoux to Austin in time for the contest, looking for Redfeather on the way. Tom Petty’s music, especially Saving Grace, captured our mood and motivation.
A lot can happen in two weeks – and across 2000 miles – to change the course of a teenager’s life. Especially in a borrowed Cadillac with like-minded friends and a trunk full of Grandma’s wine.
I write because I can’t sing. Lucky for me, my sons are musicians. My youngest son, Matt Campbell, wrote a theme song, Outlaw Trail, for his mother’s road trip novel. Check out the entire song list for Looking for Redfeather on YouTube.
Linda Collison’s writing has received awards from Honolulu Magazine, Southwest Writers Workshop, the former Maui Writers’ Conference, and the National Student Nurses Association. The New York Public Library chose her first novel, Star-Crossed, to be among the Books for the Teen Age – 2007. Linda began freelance writing while in college and was a scriptwriter and director of marketing for a small video production company in Cheyenne, Wyoming. She loves to travel by foot, fast car, or sailing ship. Her experience as a voyage crew member aboard the H.M. Bark Endeavour, a replica of Captain James Cook’s 18th century ship, led to the Patricia MacPherson Nautical Adventures: Barbados Bound and Surgeon’s Mate, published by Fireship Press. Her latest book, Looking for Redfeather, was a finalist in Foreword Review’s Book of the Year 2013. Linda blogs on her website and you can tweet her on @LindaCollison