Listen to Michael’s playlist for LAST WORDS and read a synopsis below of why each song made his list.


1. Beggar in the Morning, by The Barr Brothers

I first encountered this song at a time when I was struggling with the character of Markus Novak, had questions about him, and for whatever reasons, this song helped bring him home to me. “Steady woman, won’t you come on down, I need you right here on the ground. I’ve walked the outskirts of this town, been terrorized by what I found…” felt like Mark’s internal and external struggles in the novel captured in two lines. Strange as it sounds, even the faint echo of the barking dogs in the opening instrumental gave me an anchor in the book.


2. Leave Me in the Dark, by Walking Papers

Title alone should explain why I was drawn to this one! The Ridley Barnes theme: “I was raised on a shoestring, I was thrown to the wolves, I cut my teeth on minor chords, I was trampled under hooves. If love is blind, baby, you can leave me in the dark.” (Also, props to the drummer in this band – he’s great)


3. Live Oak, by Jason Isbell

I was disappointed when Isbell left the Drive-by Truckers, but now acknowledge it was certainly the right move. His growth as an artist has been dazzling. Live Oak is its own story, but it has my theme line for the novel for so many characters: “There’s a man who walks beside me, he is who I used to be, and I wonder if she sees him and confuses him with me.”


4. Shrine, by The Cave Singers

In a twist I’ll be forever grateful for, I discovered a wonderful band simply by being drawn to their name. This is one of the more intoxicating numbers, and made me think of Julianne Grossman.


5. Lonesome Dreams, by Lord Huron

To repeat my repetition: I’ve been digging this album. This one was for Ridley Barnes: “And I search all day and never find anyone…I’ve been dreaming again of a lonesome world where I’m lost and I’ve got no friends, just the rocks and the trees and the lonesome dreams in a room that never ends.”


6. Devil Winter, by Jus Post Bellum

My editor, Josh Kendall, gave me this album, which offers a bit of insight into how well he knows my process. This absolutely gorgeous album is a storytelling piece about the Civil War, though I bent the lyrics to mean what I wanted them to for Ridley Barnes: “It’s been a long, long winter, there is a darkness in my mind, and a flickering of flames don’t keep the devil out of the night….I pray they were not lying about a good Lord up above. Cool my mind, cool my mind, it is the killing time.”


7. Start A War, by The National

This one served as my go-to song for the stretch where Mark returns to Garrison. “Walk away now, or I’m gonna start a war.”


8. Ohio, by Patty Griffin

What a haunting voice! “My blood is the water and it’s darker and deeper than time…” raises the hair on the back of my neck when she sings it. I decided this was Sarah Martin’s voice. In reality, this song is a beautiful storytelling piece about the Underground Railroad’s final stretch of escape to the north.


9. Beach House, by The Cave Singers

Drawn again by the name of band and also the name of the song (Mark parts from his wife, Lauren, to meet her at a rented beach house on Siesta Key, only to never see her alive again).


10. Even the Darkness Has Arms, by the Barr Brothers

A mellow tune with a haunting line that made me think of Ridley’s time in the deep caves with Sarah Martin: “Even the darkness has arms, but it ain’t got you. Baby I have it, and I have you, too.”


11. Don’t You Look Back, by Augustines

Thanks to these guys for reappearing under a different name (formerly We Are Augustines) when I needed them. I loved this one mostly for the musical energy, but how great is this line: “This kiss ain’t got no hope, but I’m gonna get it right.”


12. I Need My Girl, by The National

Nobody but nobody can out-brood The National when they decide to brood, by God, and here this great band is brooding the hell out of it. Mark Novak certainly needs his girl. He was feeling this one, maybe a little too much. “I’m under the gun again…but I am good and I am grounded….but I can’t get my head around it…I need my girl.”


13. Old Mythologies, by The Barr Brothers

“It’s probably now that I need you the most, when I’m one half child and the other ghost, and one of them wants to pull you close, and the other let you go.” Mark’s song for Lauren.