Sometimes when I’m writing, I’ll have a song on repeat in my head because that song embodies the character, the situation or maybe a meaning I never realized until I paid attention to the lyrics. Basically, that song is trying to tell me something.
To me, songs are stories or poems set to music. There isn’t a decade that hasn’t produced notable songs, despite what some aficionados may claim. It’s just that some years or decades are more prolific than others.
As I work on book four of my Baxter Family series, Quinn’s journey has made me look back on the other characters from the beginning. I decided to see if any songs I know and love could come close to capturing even a piece of each character’s journey. Here’s what I came up with:
When I thought of songs for Virgilia, I thought of Tina Turner immediately. Both women had some tough circumstances and found their happiness in the process. Break Through The Barrier is from the Days of Thunder soundtrack; that’s the racing movie with Tom Cruise. I never saw the movie but the minute I heard this song, I fell in love with it. It’s basically pushing through all obstacles to get the goal. Proud Mary is another great theme song. Originally written by John Fogerty and performed by Credence Clearwater Revival, This song is about doing what you need to do, knowing it’ll get you where you want to go. That’s exactly what Virgilia did in taking that maid job with the Baxters. It just happened that she wound up meeting Cass and being the catalyst for unearthing family secrets.
Time of the Season is about a young guy sowing oats. While Cass is mindfully preparing to be a part of the family business, he’s also a rich kid who’s out to enjoy life and play around. There’s nothing wrong with that. It just so happens that in the process of that, he met this girl who got his attention and that was that. He’s young, in love, nothing thinking about what can happen in life…until it happens. After this life-altering event, he’s not as carefree as he used to be. He’s more focused on protecting his family. He’s living his life as if he’s in danger because he is. He’s forced to check out everyone even more closely. It’s a burden that makes him more serious but in private moments, the old Cass peeks out.
Readers get a glimpse of Julian’s war with himself and his life. You know that the relationship with his wife is more like a Faustian compromise than a love gone tepid over the years. He’s a man who’s learned to deal with the hand he was dealt and that means, at times, full-on war.
But in a moment of recognizing his son’s lot in life, how Cass & Virgilia have this shot at love, you sense Julian’s envy. When I wrote about Julian in Book 3, I kept hearing the song Everything I Own streaming in my head. That’s his background theme. It’s always there even in times of war to remind him that at the heart of the life he has to live is the love he had to break.
Joan is a woman who’s become comfortable in the role she created for herself. She became Julian’s wife and the social aspect of that was alluring. She became the woman who didn’t have a need for love after being the woman who craved it from him. There was a time when she thought that it was possible for two people who were thrown together by circumstances neither controlled could be more than just cohorts.
But over the years, she’s learned differently. While she never came out and admitted it to others, a part of her loved Julian and was hurt by him for years. You Keep Me Hanging On, for Joan, is about that time when she wanted to be free of her marriage and of Julian. But when she realized it wasn’t possible, she decided to own the role of Joan Baxter. She’d become the socialite wife of a wealthy businessman and would allow no one to forget that. She didn’t need love because she had something far more valuable: social currency.
Grayson’s full story doesn’t really come into view until Book 2. But his introduction in Unchained Hearts shows he’s got a lot of demons riding him. Toy Soldiers is a great song because it’s about the ravages of drug use. At some point he’s taught that he needs to stop and learns how to do that once and for all. But for the remainder of this story, readers see him turning the page and starting a new life that’s freer of the influence that’s responsible for his abuse.
Nicknamed, the Forgotten Baxter, Quinn’s the youngest and most vulnerable, at least in Cass’ eyes. Joan’s disinterest in Quinn make’s Virgilia’s interest more important. Virgilia fills the hole left by her parents and brothers. Virgilia’s role helps Quinn to develop her love of theater and to learn what it’s like to have someone care for her. Giving the gift of attention is what Nature Boy is all about. Quinn’s great imagination is the inspiration for Sailing. That song has a dreamy, transcendent vibe that makes it easy to lose yourself with it.
Milly’s role is a smaller one here but her interaction with Virgilia shows that she’s having a tough time breaking free of the chains she’s always been shackled with. Virgilia, by contrast, is unapologetic in her modernity, which casts Milly as a holdover from the Jim Crow era. In a way, Milly’s reflecting on the life she’s had, taking stock of what was taken and trying to survive under Joan’s thumb. She has nowhere else to go and the past is gone. I think the combination of Reflections and Let It Be speak to her struggle to be at peace with this new freedom.
Kyle is like Virgilia, which is not surprising. She revered her mother. Never really questioned her because she believed they were all each had. Kyle learned that being tough and smart was her legacy She also thought that she had to go it alone, because her mother did it. But upon learning about her mother’s secret life, she can’t help but feel hurt and even betrayed. She saw her mother as this solitary woman who built this amazing life without the benefit of love only to find that she had one of the greatest love stories running. The fact that her mother held back so much of herself from her made her question things. With Brandon, she has a lot of questions about the life she wants to lead as opposed to the life she thought she had to live.
Brandon always held on to the belief that what happened with his parents was his fault. As far as the Baxter name, he never really felt worthy enough to use it. He’s always felt on the outside staring in. He feels as if he’s got to earn the Baxter name, so he works hard to prove he’s not a slight. In meeting the woman he loves he feels he’s got a chance. But when he loses here, he lives with the knowledge that life can change in an instant. His second chance is something he’s got to hold on to.
She is what Kanye says she is. Her financial plan is a man with enough money for her to live the life. When she meets Brandon, she doesn’t know who he is but she likes him. She feels he’s got potential. The thing is she likes him too much and thinks she can use her tricks to manipulate him. She’s not used to hearing the word no and when she does, she takes a more sinister direction. Emotions take over when rejection becomes a reality. When she realizes the real story, she’s even more terrible.