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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
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.
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
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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
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
Aboriginal music, Archie Roach, Australia, authors, Brumby's Run, contemporary fiction, Desert Island Discs, entertainment, Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu, ghost gums, horses, Hugh McDonald, Jennifer Scoullar, KT Tunstall, music, music for writers, music for writing, My Memories of a Future Life, Nail Your Novel, Natasha Bedingfield, Paul Kelly, playlist for writers, Roz Morris, Sara Storer, The Undercover Soundtrack, travel, undercover soundtrack, western, writers, writing to music
- The Undercover Soundtrack is a series where writers - and occasionally other arty folk - reveal how music shapes their work.
- It began as a companion to my first novel, My Memories of a Future Life, and now thrives as a creative salon in its own right. Pull on your headphones and join us.
- If you're curious about the novel that started it all, click the image below.
Kobo featured book, London Book Fair 2013
Seal of Excellence for Outstanding Independent Fiction, Awesome Indies 2013
Underground Book Reviews Top Summer Read 2012
League of Extraordinary Authors Top 10 Indie Elite 2012
Multi-Story Pick of the Month March and October 2012
Alliance of Independent Authors Book of the Month, January 2013
Email merozmorriswriter at gmail dot com
- All content copyright Roz Morris 2011-2021. Nothing may be reproduced without my express permission in writing beforehand. Photography: Bonnie Schupp Photography, gcg2009 and Roz Morris
What is The Undercover Soundtrack?Sleeve notes here
For the soundtrack of My Memories of a Future Life, you'll need Chopin's Sonata in B Minor, Rachmaninov preludes, lashings of Grieg's piano concerto in A minor and The Clash's Rock the Kasbah (they go together well).
You'll also need Samuel Barber's Dover Beach on piano, although that doesn't actually exist so do the best you can.
And the novel's undercover pieces. You can find them here
- What's on their soundtracks? Zip down to the footer and you can search by artiste or composer. See who shares your taste in inspirational music
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- 'My Memories of a Future Life is a poignant story steeped with melancholy, edged with a desperate hope, and twisted throughout with darkness and humor'
- 'Some of the sharpest writing I've read in a long while'
- 'The feel of a modern-day witch trial with a tense romance'
- 'Clever when you think about it afterwards; haunting and engrossing while you're reading'