Music Creates Magic in the Story


Music is essential to our lives. We use it to change our moods, propel us forward when we need an extra boost of energy, to motivate us, to woo a sweetheart and set the mood, to soothe a broken heart, to comfort when lost, and to give a healing balm during the most challenges times in our lives. We make friends over songs. When I was growing up, my friends and I used to make mixed tapes and stay up all night watching music videos, we made song requests to radio stations at midnight, and later, in high school, my brother and I begged our parents not to throw out the CDs that came with explicit lyric warning stickers. I see my characters the same way–they have worlds of music, too. I create playlists for the characters in my novels. How does music change their moods? What is the role of music in their lives? Are they musicians? Do they sing in the car? Can they “carry a tune,” as my grandparents called it?

I’m like a kid during this stage of crafting a story. I learn new songs, cry through old ones experienced anew, discover a fresh meaning for a tune I’ve never liked in relation to my own life, and notice how music affects the choices we make whether we admit it or not.

Music and food play a central role in the Ballard family, the focus of Poke Sallet Queen and the Family Medicine Wheel, my latest novel. From songs shared during family get-togethers and hootenannies, to town festivals, talent shows, and bands forming during college, music connects people and is one of the guides on the journey of life. We follow our favorite bands and become connected with people over our shared tastes in music. We discover new rhythms and create our own melodies.

I’ve added part of my playlist (some with YouTube links) for the characters of Poke Sallet Queen & the Family Medicine Wheel:
1. Wildwood Flower by Mother Maybelle Carter and the Carter Sisters
2. Rattle My Bones by The Secret Sisters
3. Pretty Thing by Bo Diddley
4. Fever by Tom Waits
5. Tennessee Waltz by Patsy Cline
6. That’s Alright Mama by Elvis Presley
7. Dirty Lie by Bob Dylan
8. Laundry Room by The Avett Brothers
9. Wabash Cannonball by Roy Acuff & the Smoky Mountain Boys
10. Polk Salad Annie by Elvis Presley
11. Wang Dang Doodle by Koko Taylor
12. Karma Chameleon by Culture Club
13. Fortune Teller by Robert Plant & Allison Krauss
14. Live and Die by The Avett Brothers
15. Hurt by Johnny Cash
16. Wildwood Flower by Loretta Lynn
17. Tennessee Me by The Secret Sisters


Join us at Parnassus Books on May 9, at 2 p.m., for the Book Launch of Poke Sallet Queen and the Family Medicine Wheel

NaNoWriMo 2011 Novel: Poke Sallet Queen


When Daydreams Build Foundations

Amazon Cover-01 Most of my ideas don’t materialize. Probably 85-95% of them are only daydreams and nothing more. I daydream constantly. This can be overwhelming for people who don’t know me well…I’ll start building immediately. That’s the way it goes with my writing, too. So, many stories never make it far until they are deleted or made into paper balls for the wastebasket.

My latest novel, just released, Poke Sallet Queen and the Family Medicine Wheel, began as a short story in Barry Kitterman’s graduate fiction writing course. I was writing from my daydreaming head all of this surrealist drivel, trying to emulate writers I thought were considered cool by people who knew these things. Barry invited a guest author, and she asked, “How many of you are from Tennessee?” A few of us raised our hands. For the next assignment, she asked us to write about our place in the world–to consider what we have experienced, and then to write the fiction story for the next class session. I started “Family Medicine Wheel” with the main character, the country midwife Zona Ballard, who was mysterious, witchy, and creative. That was in 2003. Barry encouraged me to revise the story and put it through the workshop with the class. Instead of listening, as a student will who thinks they have a better plan, I chose a different story to put through the workshop, and experienced something like a battle with my peers over this new story. Later, my wounds healed. An experienced professor who works from awareness and kindness won’t let you down. Barry breathed life back into that story and submitted it to the Languages and Literature Department for consideration in the Dogwood Award. The story won Best Graduate Fiction in 2004.

I graduated, started a family, taught college classes in English, and then a friend recommended that I submit the story to a journal, The Round Table, in Hopkinsville, Kentucky. To my complete surprise, not only did they publish it, but they also chose it as the winner of the Robert Penn Warren Award in Fiction. That was 2009.

In the meantime, I had other daydreams, and they were becoming another book. A book that I considered my first, as pieces of it were written in another creative writing course taught by Barry Kitterman. So, the book, Multiple Exposure, became Thorncraft’s publishing debut in 2012. I forgot about “Family Medicine Wheel.”

My daydreams for Thorncraft began to grow, and I wanted to help other women authors get their work out to the world. I learned about publishing from my experience as an Editor for Her Circle Ezine, an online magazine that focused on women’s arts and activism around the world with a heavy emphasis on literature and visual arts.

Thorncraft grew with Beverly Fisher’s novella Grace Among the Leavings (2013) and Melissa Corliss DeLorenzo’s novel, The Mosquito Hours (2014). A good daydream doesn’t remain in that realm–it leaves a paper trail.

My friends and family who read “Family Medicine Wheel” long ago, or knew about it, continued to ask if I would ever build anything substantial out of that daydream. Last year, I returned to that world and made a novel out of it by merging it with Poke Sallet Queen, a NaNoWriMo novel draft I wrote in 2011. From its beginnings on paper, that dream has taken 10 years to materialize. Finally, we are here, and I invite you all to celebrate with us at the book launch.

BOOK LAUNCH: FREE & open the public. PARNASSUS BOOKS, Nashville. May 9th, 2 p.m. Click here for Parnassus website:

Book will be available for purchase from Parnassus Books at the book launch. The author will read and sign copies. The author will also donate a minimum of 10% of her royalties from the book launch to Clarksville-based food bank and shelter, Manna Cafe Ministries. Also based in Clarksville, Thorncraft Publishing strives to consider our impact on the world and make it a better place.

Facebook Event page

Poke Sallet Queen and the Family Medicine Wheel advanced praise:

“Reading Shana Thornton’s highly original novel will make you want to get your own family stories to the page. You’ll meet larger-than-life characters like Hoot and Zona, Aunt Cora and Jane, Miss Emy, and Nenny, the matriarch, who rolls her own cigarettes and knows all the secrets of the family medicine wheel. You may even find yourself signing up for a writing class like the one that sets the narrator, young Robin Ballard, to interviewing her aunts and grandmother, tracking down her homeless father, and digging out the family secrets, lost journals, and recipes that make Poke Sallet Queen & the Family Medicine Wheel a most surprising and satisfying fictional family history. (At least, I think it’s fiction!)” –Mary Helen Stefaniak, author of The Turk and My Mother, and The Cailiffs of Baghdad, Georgia

When Robin Ballard takes a writing course in college, she goes searching for answers about her homeless father and wanders into the secret lives of her relatives as they gradually reveal their personal histories. Set in Nashville and the surrounding rural towns, Poke Sallet Queen and the Family Medicine Wheel offers a look into the superstitions and changes of a middle Tennessee family from the 1920s to the 21st century. Based on novel events, homework assignments, old magic recipes, drunken revelries, senile remembrances, midnight songs, some tall tales, some folk tales, and the lost journals, Robin Ballard tells a “true” Tennessee family history.

“When I’m given a book to review, I like to open it up at random and see if what’s on the happenstance page resonates at all. This time I found the heroine Robin Ballard singing Mother Maybelle Carter’s ‘Wildwood Flower’ at a beauty contest she does not expect to win. She is someone I recognize, who trips over a cord as she’s leaving the stage, whose family’s knowledge ‘comes from the dirt’ not from ‘parchment scrolls and crests that open doors.’ This character is humble and honest, and the book refreshingly natural and just different enough. I like it….” -Rheta Grimsley Johnson, author of Enchanted Evening Barbie and the Second Coming

“Vibrant in detail! Meet and fall in love with the characters of Poke Sallet Queen and the Family Medicine Wheel and along the way, learn the secrets of great story-telling.” — Bud Willis, author of Marble Mountain: A Vietnam Memoir

“Shana Thornton has a fresh, unique voice and talent. Poke Sallet Queen and the Family Medicine Wheel is a lyrical tale of love in the lush Tennessee hills, of generations gone by, of people appreciated for simple things as much as the passing on of their history. There is mystery, sorrow, laughter and knowledge in these unforgettable characters. Shana writes a magical story that stays with you long after the final page. As with one of the characters, ‘She knows real magic.'” -Virginia Brown, author of Dark River Road and the Dixie Diva mystery series

Visit Thorncraft Publishing to read more advanced praise and to browse all of our titles and events.