I believe that one telling characteristic of a person is the music they enjoy. So how could I not feel the same way about my characters? I think about what songs they like (and their favorite foods and favorite sorts of entertainment) as I am getting to know them early in the process of creating my novels.
Teddie likes country music (and cowboy boots and Tex-Mex food). With the help of a young woman with musical tastes similar to Teddie’s, I was able to put together my character’s own distinctive list of favorite songs. The following nine are woven into her story.
- “Texas Kind of Way” by Cody Johnson
- “Heads Carolina Tails California” by Jo Dee Messina
- “You’re Gonna Miss This” by Trace Adkins
- “Get Out of This Town” by Carrie Underwood
- “Everywhere” by Tim McGraw
- “That’ll be the Day” by Buddy Holly (a song for Maurice)
- “One Way Ticket – Because I Can” performed by LeAnn Rimes
- “Laughed Until We Cried” performed by Jason Aldean
- “How Can I Help You Say Goodbye” performed by Patty Loveless
When my books appear on Kindle, I link the song title in my text to the chance to purchase it on Amazon. My other electronic versions are distributed through Smashwords where no such link is allowed. I’ve tried various other approaches and I’ve finally found the one I like best. For every song, I’ve located a live performance that I think shows a little of a the personality of the singer and the band. I’ll admit that I’ve had a lot of fun seeking these out. Often the quality of the video isn’t as good as the more glossy clips, but I’ve picked each one for a reason.
I have removed the references to the music in the paperback version, but both the songs and their context within the story can be found below. Interested readers who do seek out these links are encouraged to support the artists and websites.
What follows is
- a short excerpt from each chapter that contains a reference to music,
- my favorite video of the song and why I chose it.
- links to places to buy the music and/or learn more about it.
At night, Teddie took refuge from all the strangeness. The collage of colors and faces and smells that permeated her world now by day subsided into the comforting greys of darkness. She lay in her bed and thought of how much she missed boots. Western boots, on her and others. Pickup trucks and country music and bar-b-que and dead armadillos in the road. Now wasn’t that stupid? Pine trees and Tex-Mex food and front lawns and churches everywhere even though her family didn’t belong to one. It was her world, and she missed its familiarity.
Luckily she had been able to keep her MP3 player, and sometimes she thought that the music was saving her sanity. She fell asleep that night crying softly and listening to the song “Texas Kind of Way” while she smelled the musty non-flower smell of her mother’s geraniums in her head. And that was the night that she starting sleepwalking.
Enjoy this video of Cody Johnson performing the song live.
You can purchase this song at Amazon.com.
Teddie knew that she should have called Amy before she went over to the office, but she was so excited to have a pass to leave school and be allowed to go off somewhere by herself that she didn’t want to wait. The constant monitoring and need to stay in groups was one more thing that she hadn’t considered before she left for India. She knew it was for her own safety, but some days the whole arrangement made her feel claustrophobic, and she yearned to get into her very own little pick-up truck, all by herself, turn her music up loud, and just drive. The famous country song about heading anywhere, “Heads Carolina Tails California” played in her head over and over as she lurched along the crowded, narrow street in the over-packed bus.
The employee at Amy’s small office was apologetic when she saw how disappointed Teddie was that Amy was gone. “She is chasing a lead on Usha and she is very excited. She made me promise to tell no one where she was going, for Usha’s own safety.”
“Can you even give me a direction she went?” Teddie begged, hoping maybe she could somehow intercept Amy.
“No, but she has left the city. She will not be back until tomorrow.”
As Teddie left, it occurred to her that the school expected her to be gone for a while and she could go shopping. Or go to the park. She could even, maybe, visit some of the little art galleries and street stands set up by local artists along Nehru Road. The last idea sounded especially appealing, and there was a city bus that would drop her off there. Maybe playing hooky for just an hour would improve her outlook.
Enjoy this heartfelt version of Jo Dee Messina performing “Heads Carolina, Tails California” at the Country Rendez-vous Craponne in France in July of 2009.
You can purchase this song at Amazon.com.
3. “You’re Gonna Miss This” performed by Trace Adkins
It was the last week of school before the Christmas break started on Friday, December 16. Each of the girls was almost done with end-of-semester tests and papers, with only a couple of more deadlines left. Michelle had mixed feelings about her three-week trip back to the U.S. during the winter break, and Haley was determined to talk her parents into letting her come back to India for the next semester. Since August, Teddie had been counting the days until Sunday the eighteenth when her parents would arrive from Texas, brother Zane from Chicago and Ariel from London. The Zeitman reunions tended to be lively affairs, and if it happened at no other time during the year, they all five always managed to be together at Christmas.
Teddie knew that there would be nice hotels, and fancy meals out, and presents her mother would have insisted on hand carrying all the way over. Then Zane and Ariel would go back to their lives as grown-ups, and Teddie would go back to Texas with her parents and be a regular junior in high school. She’d get to wear her boots and jeans to school again, drive her truck to any fast food restaurant that struck her fancy, and get to blare her country music as loud as she pleased while she did so.
But the country song she heard in her head as she thought about it was “You’re Gonna Miss This.” Damn.
Now that the prospect of all those wonderful things was so close, she wasn’t nearly as excited about it as she once had been. A piece of her now was of Indian spices and silly, British-looking school uniforms and brightly colored weaves and noise and bodies closer together than any Texan would like. She enjoyed the strange way her classmates made English sound so exotic. A part of her looked at Junga every day, and even though she wasn’t going to climb it herself, a piece of her was of the mountain. She didn’t know how to say it plainer. A part of her had nestled into Darjeeling and gotten comfy, and now wasn’t so anxious to leave.
To me, this song is the very best of teary-eyed country music wisdom, schmaltzy and absolutely true at the same time. I went with the official video here because, well, because it’s not a bad idea every so often to make sure that your tear ducts still work. Find a tissue and enjoy!
You can purchase this song at Amazon.com.
4. “Get Out of This Town” performed by Carrie Underwood
Darjeeling stayed dreary and cold as school started, and for days on end the beautiful mountains could not even be seen. Teddie spent a lot of time avoiding the other students at the school so she would not have to answer their questions about Michelle, even though her slightly drafty dorm room was not the refuge she would have liked.
Haley spent most her free time in the room as well, using the impressive array of workout equipment that her father had insisted on sending back to India with her. She had weights and ab straps, rotating push-up bars and some sort of cardio jump device, and she used them all like her life depended on it. Teddie supposed it kind of did. However the net result was that the dorm room was generally filled with Haley’s grunts and groans, and it was now starting to smell like a locker room too. Teddie went out and bought some fruit-scented air freshener.
She tried doing the few exercises that Lhatu had left her with, but compared with Haley’s workout, they just seemed silly. Lhatu’s one week of waiting dragged on to two, and Teddie found herself spending more and more time curled up in her bed under the covers. She wanted to go home. She was supposed to be home, dammit. She found “Get out of this Town” on her MP3 player and started to listen to it over and over until it became her personal anthem.
You’ll feel like you’re exactly where Teddie wants to be; in a front row seat in this country-western bar in Green Bay Wisconsin as you watch this homemade video of Carrie Underwood performing her hit song live.
You can purchase this song at Amazon.com.
5. “Everywhere” performed by Tim McGraw
As Teddie worked her way through the relaxation and concentration exercises, she was all too aware that this would be her first conscious travel attempt over any distance. It was sort of like that first time you take off driving all by yourself.
To keep from being nervous, Teddie let her mind play a soothing song, and found that she was humming “Everywhere,” the country music tribute to a man who loved to travel and yet saw his stay-at-home ex-girlfriend in the crowd wherever he went. That was funny. Over the last couple of months it had seemed like she’d seen Michelle everywhere she looked. Must be a common thing when you missed someone.
Teddie thought sadly of the used black and white two-tone pick-up truck setting in her folks’ driveway. She’d only been able to drive by herself for four months before she’d headed to India. She thought of all the places she and Michelle had driven in it before they left and all the places they hadn’t yet gotten a chance to explore. She felt a little pang, and then there she was. Standing outside her truck in the blazing sunlight. Of course. It was daytime in Texas. Her folks were at work. Her truck looked fine. She touched its faded paint lovingly but she couldn’t feel it like she could in the solid world. “I’ll be back in a few months,” she mouthed the words. Then she added, “Now I want to go to my friend Michelle.”
Right away she began to move quickly, speeding down the sidewalk and then down streets and she thought, “Wait, I know this route. I’m on my way to Michelle’s house.” And sure enough, Teddie found herself on Michelle’s front lawn, baffled. Had Michelle come home? She hesitated, feeling odd about invading the Tran’s privacy. She told herself sternly that her friend’s safety was at stake. The outside wall of their house was harder to penetrate than the walls at Usha’s convent, instead of merely tickling her, it left Teddie with a feeling of passing through some kind of unpleasant mush as she went through it. Ick.
Inside it was deserted. Both Trans were at work as well, and Michelle’s room showed no signs of having been disturbed any time recently.
“Take me home,” Teddie said in frustration. She felt a momentary confusion, as if on some level she was trying to decide if home was across town or across a world. That’s when she realized that she had somehow covered thousands of miles and crossed an ocean and she had no idea of how she had done it. She froze in absolute terror.
There are several decent enough concert videos out there of this song, but the ones I watched all made me feel a little too much like I was in the audience, right there with the crowd noise and the bodies occasionally blocking my view. This acoustic version is a little different. It is performed at a fancy dinner with violins, acoustic guitars, a back-up female vocalist and a couple dancing in the back of the audience. I thought that it all captured the song well. Enjoy!
6. “That’ll be the Day” performed by Buddy Holly and The Crickets
That is how one lovely evening in mid-April Maurice found himself settling on to his couch to try something that had never been attempted. Teddie’s mother Lola was with him to make sure that he remained physically well, but she had sworn to remain mentally removed.
Maurice took a long swig of the sweet iced tea that he loved before he settled back and closed his eyes. Lola offered to put on some music for him while he relaxed and waited for the group in India to be ready. He was a West Texas boy through and through and still didn’t think that most country music held a candle to his favorite musician, Buddy Holly. Certainly not the modern stuff. He smiled as Buddy’s 1958 hit “That’ll be the Day” filled his living room and his mind.
Well, this would be the day that he would ride along in a young girl’s mind as she left her own body behind in the Himalayan dawn. He would join her as she danced into the air to travel through what Olumiji called the abode of light. In this world of waves, she could, incredible as it sounded to Maurice, find a friend a thousand miles away. Then both she and Maurice would desperately look for clues to the friend’s exact location, proving that one never knew what a day would bring.
I was so happy to find to find this wonderful recording of Buddy Holly and the Crickets performing “That’ll be the Day” live on the Ed Sullivan show on December 1, 1957. Go ahead, take a sixty year walk back into time and enjoy!
You can also listen to and purchase this classic at Amazon.
7. “One Way Ticket (Because I Can)” performed by LeAnn Rimes
Teddie returned to her room mid-morning and pushed herself to stay awake through the rest of the day’s classes. Most of her life she’d been a good student, and she was trying to accept the fact that this year would be the exception. While kids back home were already stressing out about college applications, Teddie could only trust that her sense of adventure in spending a year abroad was going to count for something.
She was hoping for a nap before dinner, but Haley was already in the room, happily singing along to one of Teddie’s favorite country songs. Haley preferred pop and rock, but she had slowly warmed to some of Teddie’s music. Right now she was belting out the empowering words to song often referred to as “Because I Can”. It was impossible not to ask what was going on.
“One blogger called it ‘Barbie climbs Everest,’” Haley laughed, “and you know what? Even though I am not climbing Everest, I wasn’t offended.”
“Can I assume that means that you are part of the expedition again?” Teddie asked.
Haley’s wide grin was answer enough. “’Cami girl’—that’s my other name—‘set to climb Kanchenjunga.’ That was the other big blog’s headline. I can’t believe that it is really going to happen. You do know that this means that I am out of here in less than a week?
“What? Why? You don’t climb until May,” Teddie said.
“I know, but I’ve decided that I’ve got to spend more time adjusting to a higher altitude. We’re only at 6,700 feet here, so my dad is coming in a few days. We’re going to drive up to Lachen. It’s only about fifty miles from Gangtok but takes six hours to drive. It’s supposed to be gorgeous, and it’s at almost nine thousand feet. After a few days there we’ll drive up to Thangu at thirteen-thousand feet, and I’ve decided that I’m going to live there until the climb. I’m even going to let my dad do all the last minute coaching and training that he thinks he needs to do, because if I’m going to do this I have got to stack the deck in my favor every way that I can.”
Haley gestured to the pile of schoolwork on her desk. “I’m bringing my schoolwork with me, even though I’ll probably have to take incompletes in everything.” She looked hard at Teddie. “Are you going to be alright here by yourself?”
Teddie had to laugh. “Haley, you are about to go do something where people actually die, and you’re worried about me?”
“Well, there’s a lot going on here too.”
LeAnn Rimes gives this song everything she’s got in this well-made video of her and her band performing it live.
You can purchase this song at Amazon.
8. “Laughed Until We Cried” performed by Jason Aldean
Ariel got word from work that she had to leave a day early for a business meeting in Germany and Teddie was surprised to find herself sad at the news. The night before Ariel left, the two sisters sat together at the kitchen table, laughing and reminiscing, and Teddie realized how helpful it had been to have a relative close by as she went through this. She went to bed with a touching song about reliving family memories called “Laughed Until We Cried” playing in her head.
In spite of the soothing start to the night, she woke up a couple of hours later, filled with worry. On Lawan’s advice she had refrained from traveling in her mist body since the surgery, and she was growing more concerned about Usha by the day. She looked down and saw Usha, and she thought she was dreaming. Then as the absolute silence sunk in, she realized that she had gone traveling without meaning to.
Usha lay sleeping, fully dressed in robes that looked much like Lhatu’s. She was sleeping on a mat in someone’s kitchen. She seemed fine, but Teddie thought that there would be no harm in looking around a little more to make sure.
Teddie entered each room. Usha was in a home with two parents and three children. It was small and simple, but also clean, warm and cozy, and well decorated with children’s art. Teddie was going to go out on a limb and guess that the mat in the kitchen constituted the family’s guest room. These nice people must have taken her in for the night. Teddie felt an odd pang that for all the much-touted hospitality and generosity in her own home of Texas, no one she knew would even dream of providing lodging to a traveling stranger. And sadly, it was often wise that they did not do so.
She tried to see any detail at all that might help her figure out whose home this was. The children’s art, the handmade furniture, even the pile of shoes by the door. It was true, she knew it for a fact. If she could just bring back a picture of any one of these, it could be circulated around and somebody somewhere would recognize this place. Teddie stared hard at each scene, wishing she could memorize and redraw it. What a crying shame that she could not.
She woke up with tears of frustration in her eyes and as she rubbed the water away, she knew it. She simply knew how to do it. She crept into the den where Lawan and Awut both slept, and she shook her trainer awake. Awut took one look at her face and he could tell as well.
Videos taken at a concert can be good or downright awful, and this one of Jason Aldean performing “Laughed Until We Cried” live at Memorial Coliseum in Ft. Wayne, Indiana on October 22, 2010 is one of the good kind. It captures the energy of the crowd and feel of the concert while still providing enough reasonable quality audio and video for the viewer to enjoy the music. Warning, this one might bring a tear to your eye.
You can purchase this song at Amazon.
9. “How Can I Help You Say Goodbye” performed by Patty Loveless.
Teddie was happy that Lhatu and Amy were going to pick her up one last time and drive her all the way to the airport in Bagdogra. She could sense as soon as she got in the car that something had changed between them. Not that it took a rocket scientist to notice them holding hands and giving each other smitten kitten looks when they thought she wasn’t paying attention. She smiled to herself. Grown-ups in love were so sweet.
She’d already said her mental goodbyes to the school and town and the mountains, and taken several dozen more pictures that morning while the old country song “How Can I Help You Say Goodbye” played on her MP3 player and tears welled up in her eyes. Her last final yesterday had gone okay. Her grades might not be great, but she would surely pass everything. The last few nights back alone in the room had left her ready to leave and anxious to get home to those she cared about…
“You know, I guess the year ended a lot better than it could have,” Teddie said.
“Much better than it could have,” Lhatu interjected. “You know that Vanida is working fulltime right now with the lab in Bangkok, and Jampa has gotten an internship with a tour company in Thimphu. They both want to concentrate on what they are doing for a while before they get more involved in c3.”
“About that,” Teddie said. She’d been dreading and rehearsing this next comment, and she hoped deeply that Lhatu would understand. “I think that maybe I need a break too. Like, to sort of be a normal person for a while when I get back home. You know?”
“I know exactly,” Lhatu said. ‘We’re going to monitor the implant in your head, and you will have to let us do check-ups every once in a while. Vanida is going to keep us in much closer contact with the lab, and we’re going to learn more about exactly what those researchers know. We’ll keep you in the loop as we and they learn more.”
“Of course,” Teddie agreed. She had expected as much.
“Basically, I think that you need to take a break too,” Lhatu said. “You learned so much so fast, because you had too. Now, you need to travel outside of your body only occasionally, for fun, only when you want to. Contact c3 Teddie if and when you are ready. We will always be glad to hear from you and always glad to help you.” Lhatu patted her hand with great affection. “But for now, yes, go home, put on your western boots and go places by driving around in your pick-up truck.”
Teddie smiled. “With my country music playing, as loud as I want. It’s going to be a nice way to travel.”
It’s true that my least favorite thing about country music has always been its tendency to be overly sentimental. So when “How Can I Help You Say Good-bye” was suggested to me by my country music consultant, I winced, but I played it through a few times just to try the idea on. Yes, it made me cry, but behind those words designed to easily coax out tears, I heard wisdom about accepting the pain in life. The more I played the song the more the underlying message spoke to me, until soon it made it’s way into the end of my book and onto the short list of country songs I do like. I’m particularly fond of this simple version performed live on television by Patty Loveless.
You can purchase the song on Amazon.