Undercover Soundtrack

The Undercover Soundtrack – Linda Collison

for logo‘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.

profile picI 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.

Looking for Redfeather BOYA 10003076_10203553731672707_1146057099_nA 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

Undercover Soundtrack

The Undercover Soundtrack – Jennifer Scoullar

‘An enigmatic contradiction; fragile but powerfully emotive’

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 Australian environmental fiction author Jennifer Scoullar @pilyara

Soundtrack by Geoffrey Gurrumul YunupinguHugh McDonald, Sara StorerKT Tunstall, Paul Kelly, Archie Roach, Natasha Bedingfield

I love an eclectic range of music – rock to folk to soul. But with my new novel Brumby’s Run, I was drawn to the music of the Australian outback. The novel is set amongst the hauntingly beautiful ghost gums and wild horses of the high country, and I wanted music that would bring me close to my setting.

Songs from the land

To begin with, I immersed myself in the music of Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu. This unique Aboriginal man sings songs about identity, spirit and connection with the land. Born blind, Gurrumul grew up as a member of the Gumatj clan on Elcho Island, off the coast of tropical Arnhem Land. He speaks little English. His sound is an enigmatic contradiction, fragile but powerfully emotive and it affects me in a way no other artist does. The transcendental beauty of his voice was a perfect inspiration for writing about the wild Australian alps.


Music helped with characterisation too. One of my characters is an indigenous man named Bushy. Several songs allowed me to flesh him out – helped me picture him in my head.   The first is Diamentina Drover. This song was written by Hugh McDonald of the band Redgum, and is a bush classic. While on a train ride up to Brisbane in Queensland, Hugh met an 80-year -ld man who explained how he had worked for 50 years as a drover on the Diamentina River, and he wrote this song about him. The second is Buffalo Bill by Sara Storer. Storer is a storyteller par excellence. Her songs paint a vivid and realistic portrait of life in the bush – a sweet country sound with a subtle steel in the lyrics. The simple but poignant words and melody of these two songs were perfect catalysts for  my imagination.

Another character, a feisty young woman named Charlie, was partly inspired by KT Tunstall, in particular her song, Black Horse and a Cherry Tree. (Okay, I know … she’s Scottish) Tunstall says the song is about having to dig incredibly deep to find out who you really want to be – perfect for Charlie. I also love the acoustics and her super-gutsy performances.

Paul Kelly, Australia’s master singer-songwriter, was a constant soundtrack in the latter stages of the manuscript. Many wonderful Brumby welfare organisations are drawing attention to the plight of Australia’s wild horses. I’ve dedicated my book to them. Songs like Kelly’s From Little Things (Big Things Grow), capture the sense of this swelling grass roots movement. I’ve included a link to Archie Roach and Sara Storer doing a wonderful cover of this ballad.  In addition I listened to a lot of songs about horses. To finish I’ve included a link to Natasha Bedingfield’s Wild Horses.

Jennifer Scoullar has always harboured a deep appreciation and respect for the natural world. She lives with her family on a property in the southern Victorian ranges. Her house is on a hill-top, overlooking valleys of messmate and mountain ash. Horses have always been her passion. She grew up on the books of Elyne Mitchell, and all her life she’s ridden and bred horses, in particular Australian Stock Horses. Her first published novel Wasp Season, is an environmental thriller. Her second published novel Brumby’s Run was released by Penguin Australia on July 2 2012. Jennifer is on Twitter as @pilyara