I am not the fan of country music that my character Teddie is, but there is one song in her story that skyrocketed into my list of favorite songs as I was writing this book. A good bit of how much we like music has to do with our own circumstances, doesn’t it? I wrote c3 at a time when my husband and I were contemplating a major move from Texas to one coast or the other. I was lobbying for Oregon or Northern California, he was pushing for something along the coast in South Carolina. New Mexico became the compromise that neither of us quite wanted. Then we started talking about the mountains of Western North Carolina and everything seemed to come together.
It’s not surprising that “Heads Carolina Tails California” by Jo Dee Messina became my theme song for a few months. In the end “heads” won for us, but I will always think fondly of the Pacific coast, and of the restlessness in this song.
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. Below it is an excerpt from c3 with the part of the story that refers to this song.
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.
I moved to Texas in 1989. I didn’t particularly like country music then and I still don’t. But the seventeen year old hero of c3, Teddie, loves listening to the stuff. Each of my books has a nine song soundtrack that reflects the taste of its main character, and for this book I needed to find nine country songs that I actually liked and that fit well into my novel. I wasn’t sure that it was even possible.
Lucky for me country music turns out to be a much wider genre than I realized, slopping over into rock and folk with some fun stuff around those edges. Even better, I had help from from a country music fan who knew my tastes and kept feeding me possibilities. Before long, I found more country music to enjoy than I expected. I don’t think that I’ll ever listen to a lot of it, but I have to admit that each song that I ended up using spoke to me in a certain way. Some told stories I appreciated and some made me feel stronger and a few brought tears to my eyes in spite of how silly that made me feel.
All nine songs I picked live in my playlists now, though in the end I developed a clear favorite. The 1996 hit single that launched Jo Dee Messina’s career, called “Heads Carolina Tails California”, made it into the book about the time that my husband and I began talking seriously about leaving Texas. We’re nomads at heart and we’ve been here a long time. For the last couple of years we’ve considered Oregon and New Mexico and Northern California and North Carolina. I put the song into c3 to tie into Teddie’s desire to get out of Darjeeling. However, the truth is that I played the song over and over for myself as well as we struggled with our decision. I even thought of suggesting some sort of coin flipping ceremony to my husband, who occasionally is oddly open to ideas like that.
Time passed, c3 got finished and published and d4 is in the works. Our plans somehow gelled and we made our selection, no coin toss needed. It’s “heads” for us. Carolina won, after we spent a week in the Asheville area this summer and felt like we had found a home. We’re off house hunting there in a couple of months. Meanwhile we are packing stuff up here and starting the home selling process. It’s not quick when you’ve gown roots as deep as we have, but we’re as exhilarated as Jo Dee is here as she sings the song live.
Isn’t it funny that it doesn’t matter what the genre of music is? In the end your favorite songs are always the ones where the lyrics seem to be speaking directly to you.