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
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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!

Sneak Peek! Mailboat IV: Chapter 1

Warning! The following excerpt from Mailboat IV contains spoilers. Catch up on the rest of the series now! 


Rain trickled along the black visor of my service hat in two glistening streams that pooled in the center, grew, thought about falling, then fell. One by one, the droplets struck my hands, clasped in front of me, and soaked into my white gloves. I ran my fingers along the brim, stopping the never-ending flow for a moment, and focused my attention on the young woman under the black canopy singing “Amazing Grace” in crystal tones while strumming a worn guitar.

The casket—closed—was white with gilded scroll work. It dazzled even in the rain, as if the angels had ripped down the pearly gates and torn up the streets of gold to build it. As if nothing less would do for their beloved, fallen saint. Bill Gallagher. Our chaplain. The man who had saved hundreds of lives by throwing himself over a boy and his bomb. I’d never be able to erase the image of carnage. I still couldn’t believe what Bill had done. In the microcosm of time between him spotting the bomber and him flinging himself over the boy, he’d made up his mind. Thrown aside life and everything it had to offer. Sacrificed himself for his town and the people he loved.

I hoped the angels had lined his casket with their own feathers to cradle his broken body. I hoped they greeted him with harps and a crown of glory.

He deserved it.

I flicked my head to shake off another droplet and turned my eyes to Bill’s family, standing under the black canopy. His wife Peggy. His three children by birth. His four children by adoption. The seven of them grown with partners and kids of their own, an army of grandchildren.

Two kids stood center front, Peggy’s hands on their shoulders. A boy and a girl, maybe six or seven. They were Bill and Peggy’s last two foster children. With the tragedy that had struck her life, Peggy could have easily picked up the phone and asked social services to re-home them. No sooner asked than done, the kids would have been out of her house within twenty-four hours. To re-home them so quickly, the kids  probably would have been split up. Given the unpredictable path of foster care, they might never have seen each other again.

But clearly Peggy hadn’t called. There they stood with the family as if they were blood-born and not someone else’s forgotten children. Bill wouldn’t have had it any other way. Once a child entered under his roof, that child was forever a Gallagher, in spirit if not in name.

The young woman with the guitar strummed the final chord. Her voice trailed to silence. Rain thrummed on the canopy and the coffin. Chief Wade Erickson stepped up to a microphone and raised it several inches to match his height. His navy blue uniform sported five gold stars, signifying him as the highest ranking official in the Lake Geneva Police Department. His eyes traversed the crowd—friends and family in black, police officers in navy blue.

“We are gathered here to lay to rest our brother, Bill Gallagher, a beloved pastor, chaplain, friend—” his eyes traveled to the family “—father, grandfather, and husband.”

Peggy smiled with soulful gratitude and hugged the children closer.

Wade turned again to the crowd, his jaw working emptily for a moment. “But beyond that, Bill was… the bravest man I have ever had the honor of knowing.” His eyes went hollow, haunted. As if the shock of Bill’s sacrifice hit him as hard as it did all of us. Wade soldiered past the look of emptiness, found his words again. “He was a man so full of love for his fellow creatures, whoever they may be, that he willingly laid down his life for them, with no regard for his own.”

The chief’s open vulnerability triggered my own. A lump rose in my throat, choking off my windpipe. My memory flashed back to one of my last conversations with Bill. Relentless love. That’s what we’d talked about, this insane concept he’d introduced me to. A love so resolute, nothing could force it to back down. Not fear, not rejection, not even a boy with a bomb.

“Am I capable of relentless love?” I’d asked that night.

“We all are,” Bill had replied. “If we want to be.”

And the very next day, I’d gone and decided I wasn’t. Like a coward, I’d started filling out apps for other departments. Other jobs I could work when my temp patrolman’s job in Lake Geneva ended. Places far away from Bailey Johnson, the foster girl I cared about beyond explanation. From Monica Steele, my ex, whom I still loved with all my heart.

But not with relentless love.

That had been before the bomb. Before the fear of losing Bailey and Monica had become horrifyingly real. Bill’s selfless act of love for complete strangers shamed me from beyond the grave. Was I too weak and afraid to love Bailey and Monica as relentlessly as he had loved this town?

Bill had also challenged me to quit dwelling on myself, on my lead-weighted feelings of worthlessness and shame. In a nutshell, he told me to focus on getting shit done. Being there for Bailey despite my fears and probable incompetence. Figuring out what it really was Monica needed, then either providing it for her or getting the hell out of her way so she could get it done herself.

I fixed my eyes on the casket and drew a shaky breath. Bill had had a way of shedding a spotlight on things that made them so simple, the path laser clear. Was there any hope I could hang onto that light, even without him around to make sure the battery was fully charged?

I heard his voice in my head. Yes, you can, Ryan. If you want to.

“Let’s pray,” Wade Erickson said. “Heavenly Father…”

I tipped my chin toward my clasped hands—but not before glancing down the military-straight row of my brothers and sisters in blue. Monica Steele stood at the far end next to her partner, Detective Sergeant Stan Lehman. She looked amazing in her tailored, navy blue dress uniform, her gold insignia and badge shining, her glossy mahogany hair twisted in a tight bun at the base of her neck, below her service cap. She was a solid wall of poise and determination—but also feminine elegance—a lethal combination of elements a man would be crazy to mess with.

That’s what I’d always loved about her. Her strength. Her will. This woman could take care of herself. And yet, once upon a time, she had permitted me into her life. To love her. To stand beside her. To see her vulnerable side. To be her husband. Her lover. She set me on fire like no one else ever had or ever would.

“…in Jesus’ name,” Wade concluded, “Amen.” And I realized I’d forgotten to pray to anyone but the goddess at the end of the row.

“Amen,” the crowd muttered.

“Amen,” I joined in.

Feet stirred, but for a moment, no one spoke, no one moved. Finally, Peggy Gallagher stepped toward the casket. Laid a single red rose on the lid. Laid her arm across her entombed husband. Whispered. Wept. Then walked away.

Her children and grandchildren were next, laying their roses on top of Peggy’s until they’d built a pyramid of red and green. Brothers and sisters hugged each other. Cried.

Last of all, Bill’s final two fosters children stepped forward. With down-turned faces, they hesitated. But Peggy smiled and encouraged them forward. Standing on tiptoe, the boy nestled something orange, red, and fuzzy amidst the flowers. When he stepped away, I saw what it was. The knitted lion hat Bill had worn while playing with the children. Perhaps the one item these kids most associated with him. With his love. His relentless love.

Don’t let me down, Ryan, his voice whispered through my head again. You can do this.

As the crowd began to break up, re-arrange itself, converse in hushed tones, I looked toward Monica. Lehman had left. She was talking with Steph Buchanan, one of the telecommunicators. Without me really telling them to, my feet carried me toward Monica—as if they’d known all along what to do and had just been waiting for my head and my fears to get out of the way.


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