Music: My Forgotten Ticket to Another World

As I write this, Mailboat IV is in our wake and Mailboat V is on the horizon. (It should be out summer of 2022!)

And here is where I make a wee confession. I didn’t work on Mailboat V at all during this last month of September. In fact, I worked on something as vastly unlike the Mailboat Suspense Series as possible. (It’s a secret for now. I’ll probably tell you about it later.)

But why would I do such a thing? Why would I work on a different project when I know all of you are clamoring for the next book in the Mailboat Suspense Series? When it’s my bread and butter? When it’s still so important to me to finish telling this story?

There were so many reasons to break away: To get my brain out of the well-worn rut that I’ve been working, writing, and walking in for the past ten-ish years. To remember things I’ve forgotten. But most importantly, to come back even better and stronger for Mailboat V.

And it worked. I re-discovered something I’d completely forgotten. Something that is going to help tremendously as I begin writing the second half of the Mailboat Suspense Series.

I’d forgotten about music.

Music has always been important to me. My favorite stuff is anything of Celtic origin, particularly if it was written before the 20th century (or at least sounds like it was). Folk and acoustic music in general is also amazing. And a cappella.

As a girl, I actively collected recordings of Scottish and Irish music. I listened to it constantly–while doing my chores, while stitching something with needle and thread, or while doing nothing at all.

And while I listened, story ideas would come to me. My body became my characters’ bodies. What they saw became what I saw. My lips would move as I spoke the words they said. I left my own world and entered theirs and I learned their personalities and their stories scene by scene–all facilitated by music.

Somewhere down the line, I quit collecting music so actively. And shortly afterwards–though I didn’t notice it happening–the story ideas quit arriving as organically as they used to. I had to fight for them. Beg for them. The work was harder and significantly less fun. I had no idea what had gone wrong.

And then I devoted this last September to writing something that was decidedly NOT Mailboat. (Like, not even the same genre.) I had no idea what I might discover. All I knew was that I wanted to actively destroy the parts of my rut that had become too repetitive and thus encumbering.

Entirely by accident, I re-discovered music. One day, YouTube offered me a musical duo I might like. (The Hound + The Fox.) I listened. It reminded me of what I was writing in my side project. I created a new playlist. I found similar artists, similar songs. The playlist grew.

The best music sparked moments when I was no longer ME. I was Kieran. I was Holly. I was Jack. I was Klaus. (Characters from the side project. You have been officially teased.) Adventures unfurled before my eyes. I saw moments out of the story I’d never known about before, but now they were suddenly and firmly canon. I rushed to write it all down.

One day, YouTube suggested a song by one of the groups I’d followed (Voiceplay). I loved the song, but it didn’t really fit the tone of my side project. Actually, it was bizarrely perfect for…


(The specific song was True Colors.)

As I listened, the same magic happened. I was suddenly Ryan. I was Bailey. I was Tommy. A scene began to play out before my eyes. Something I’d never seen before–and never expected. (It was a little stunning, actually.) But I could see how it fit into the story. How it pushed the conflict toward the climax. It might even become canon.

(If you listen to the song, I want you to picture Ryan speaking the words to Bailey, and you’ll start to get a hint of what I saw.)

And that’s when I remembered that music is the bridge that transports me to my fictional worlds. This phenomenon wasn’t some strange, one-off thing that was happening for the side-project. This was just how I explore my own stories.

It’s October now. My month of working on the side project is over. (But is it? I can still write the side project on the weekends! LOL. Only an author would take a break from working by… working, but on something else.)

I’m glad I took the time off. I’m so grateful for what I learned along the way. Mailboat V gets to move to the front burner again. And that’s going to start with building a new playlist–one that will carry me away to Lake Geneva; one that will help the characters live and breathe before my eyes; one that will help to reveal the details of what happens next.

So, all aboard! This ship is setting sail again! Mailboat V is expected to come ashore in Summer 2022.

Check out today’s bestsellers!

Take a Podcast Cruise With Me!

With a new book release (Mailboat IV) comes a flurry of promotional activities–including appearances on blogs, podcasts, the radio, and Zoom events! It dawned on me that I have a stack of interviews full of juicy behind-the-scenes info, and I thought you’d enjoy a little cruise.

Thanks for supporting both me and these amazing sites! If you love it, feel free to share it.


A Novel Way To Love Lake Geneva

The Loving Lake Geneva Podcast
An Aelieve Website Homepage 02
What’s my favorite thing about Lake Geneva? Listen to the podcast to learn the answer to that question, as well as other cool things about this unique lake and the Mailboat Suspense Series!

Listen to the Podcast

Book Chat with Danielle Lincoln Hanna

Online Book Event with the Milwaukee Public Library

Learn a few facts you didn’t know about me and the Mailboat Suspense Series, and hear my recommendations for more mystery and suspense novels with heart!

Watch the Recording

Danielle Lincoln Hanna: “Mailboat Mysteries”

Main Street on Prairie Public Radio

My books contain a lot of facts, mixed with a lot of fiction. Which is which? Listen here to learn what I know about abusive relationships and the foster care system. (PS, I’m from North Dakota, and this is one of my favorite programs!)

Listen to the Interview

Meet Author Danielle Lincoln Hanna

The Lake House Lyn Blog

Lake House Lyn

Read Lake House Lyn’s review of Mailboat IV, then browse the rest of her site for ideas on how to be a warm host and cozy up your home–Lake Geneva style!

Read the Blog

What’s all the buzz about? Here’s today’s bestsellers so you can catch the wave!

The American Orphan Train Movement, the History of Foster Care, and How It Was Never Designed for the Children

Currently, I’m hammering away at Mailboat IV, trying to get it ready for the August 1st release and August 20-22 book signing tour. This week, I devoted some time to reviewing what I know about the foster care system in the United States, since our main character Bailey, is a foster kid.

Guys, it’s kind of like watching a car wreck and not being able to look away.

On the one hand, you have a lot of beautiful people who are opening their homes, hearts, and lives to kids who aren’t their own. You also have hard-working case workers, therapists, and CASAs (Court Appointed Special Advocates–lawyers for children) who are doing amazing things to help kids, and their stories are inspiring. You also find stories of adoption that are straight-up tear-jerkers.

But just hop over to YouTube and type in “foster care story.” Warning: only do this if you think you can handle the myriad tales of abuse and neglect that happen to children in the foster care system. (And for a perspective on Southeast Wisconsin, here’s an amazing 25-minute documentary that’s a real eye-opener.)

This week, I went on a mission to understand how abuse within foster care is happening–when the system itself exists to save children from neglectful and abusive situations. And it finally dawned on me to look into the history of foster care and adoption. (I always find a little historical context goes a long way in helping to understand the present.)

That’s when I learned just how closely the orphan trains of the 19th and early 20th century were connected to modern-day foster care. In fact, they’re considered the foundation of today’s foster care system.

What are the orphan trains? I’m glad you asked. I hear a lot of you like history. I do to. And I can’t fit the half of this research into my next novel, so here it is:

The Orphan Train Movement

If you’re not familiar with the orphan trains, they’re a fascinating bit of history–and there’s an entire genre of historical fiction dedicated to them!In a nutshell, a minister in New York City named Charles Loring Brace noted that there were some 30,000 children living in the streets–children he feared would grow up to become thieves and prostitutes without intervention.

Meanwhile, railroads and settlement were expanding across the continent. Families moving west needed help on their new farms and ranches. Brace had a solution.

He loaded children aboard trains and sent them West. The kids lined up on the platforms, tallest to shortest, and farmers and townsfolk could take their pick.

The orphan train program was a smash success. Brace expanded into other cities, and between the 1850s and 1920s sent some 250,000 children west.

Once I understood that modern-day foster care was formed out of the orphan train movement, I understood why abuse is so rampant in foster care.

It has its roots in child labor.

Foster Care Was Never for the Children

Not every child who rode the orphan train ended up in a loving home. The reason the orphan train was so popular was because it provided free labor.This was the 19th century. Children, like women and African-Americans, were considered property. Kids were to be seen and not heard. They had no rights. Even natural-born children were expected to be dutiful and obedient, nothing more.

So it isn’t surprising that many kids who took the orphan train later reported that their adoptive parents beat them, overworked them, and generally treated them differently from their own children. Volunteers within the communities were supposed to make sure this didn’t happen, but they were disincentivized from doing so, because where would the children go, if not here?

In perspective, the orphan train existed mainly for the benefit of adults, not kids. It kept unsightly urchins off city streets, prevented homeless kids from becoming adult criminals, and provided labor out West.

And that’s the way the system has always worked–for the adults, not the kids. In some Western cultures in the Middle Ages, it was common for nobles to foster each other’s children, as a means of sealing bonds between them, similar to arranged marriages. The children, of course, had no say in the matter. I’ve heard other tales (more research required) of children of the poor being indentured to the rich. Supposedly, this better provided for the children’s needs–but it was, in fact, both child labor and slave labor.

So these are the shoulders on which the modern-day foster care system is built. To this day, we find the poor, the addicted, and the abused inconvenient. We funnel them into prisons. And what do we do with the kids? Give them to strangers. It’s the only other option.

Child labor has thankfully been outlawed. But that also means there is no great incentive for every-day people to take in foster children. Today, there is a massive shortage of homes for these kids.

That’s why abusive homes–homes like Bud’s in the Mailboat story–manage to slip in. Case workers are overloaded and they’re desperate to keep the homes they already have. Like their 19th-century predecessors, they’re disincentivized to investigate allegations of abuse because these kids have to go somewhere.

Meanwhile, kids today are still disenfranchised. If a child says their foster parent is abusive–and the foster parent says they’re not–the adult is believed, not the child.

How Do We Help the Kids?

I find the entire situation infuriating. My boyfriend Charles can tell you that I storm around our apartment raving after a day spent researching foster care. Fiction about orphan kids is incredibly popular. We love them on the page. But in real life? They don’t get a chance. Their reality is completely unknown and misunderstood. Foster kids are criminalized, as if their situation were their own fault. Meanwhile, we believe that someone else is taking care of the problem.But to a still-large extent, they aren’t.

One of the things that foster care workers constantly ask for is awareness.

Another is more homes. Kids would be trapped in abusive placements less often if case workers simply had more options to choose from.

Meanwhile, I find myself wondering what we can do about the front-end. How can we help families who are struggling with poverty, addiction, and abuse? How can we support them before their household becomes too dangerous for kids to grow up in? As a girl who’s dad died when I was very young, I can attest to how strong the bond is between parent and child, even when the child “never knew” their parent. In my opinion, if we can help prevent kids from leaving their homes in the first place, that would be an ideal outcome.

And that, I think, funnels directly into the issue that’s ultimately closest to my heart: Mental health awareness. So many of the problems I’ve listed above–poverty, addiction, and abuse–stem directly from untreated mental health issues. I think one way to save our kids is to finally acknowledge that so much of our behavior–and misbehavior–stems from our mental health, and that not taking care of ourselves can result in the neglect or abuse of our kids. If we can reform our social systems, our judiciary systems, and our police systems to acknowledge the keystone of mental health, I believe this could be a better world, for adults and children.

My ideas are all half-formed and require piles of more research, including conversations with people who are actually in the trenches. But I hope something in here is helpful to someone. One of my goals as an author is just to get people thinking. To start a conversation. Because conversations are the beginning of change.

Have you ever been involved in foster care or adoption, in any way? I’d be happy to hear about your experiences, good or bad. I’m open to learning.

If not, I hope my little walk through history and modern-day foster care was enlightening and can spark conversations and ideas between you and those you know.

~ Danielle

All Bailey wanted was a family of her own. Instead, she found a body at the end of a pier…