Zen for Ten 27: Night Roses

Today’s post features my short story “Night Roses,” first published in Peacock Journal and featured in the journal’s 2017 print anthology. I’ve paired the story with George Gershwin‘s second prelude for piano.

“Night Roses” is one of my “Zelda Fitzgerald stories,” which I admit a little cautiously, because Zelda has been featured so exhaustively in biography, fiction, movies, TV, and more. She fascinates me, though, as a woman who lived in an unparalleled time and had a kaleidoscopic and chaotic life that’s difficult even to imagine. At the same time, her struggle with mental illness resonates deeply with me.

A lot of us are familiar with the basic lines of Zelda’s story: how she was an archetypal Southern belle; how the Northerner, Scott Fitzgerald, met her and was swept off his feet; how the two of them took New York by storm in the Roaring Twenties and became the defining faces of the Jazz Age (a term Scott himself created). We also know about her illness, which was diagnosed (maybe misdiagnosed) as schizophrenia; how she spent years in and out of mental hospitals, receiving all kinds of often ineffective and sometimes harmful treatments; how she and Scott became estranged and lived on opposite sides of the country; and how she outlived him and ultimately died in a fire at the Highland Hospital in North Carolina.

What I find most compelling about Zelda, though, is the image of a woman who always pushed, as hard as she could, against the limitations of the world she lived in. Women in the 1920s and 1930s were supposed to be housewives and mothers. Scott seems to have wanted Zelda to live in his shadow, and seems to have discouraged her from trying for an artistic career of her own (she had a remarkable number of artistic talents: dancing, visual art, writing). She was never satisfied to be his satellite. Though her struggle to build and sustain something of her own may have contributed to her mental illness, she never gave up on it, or gave up on her own clear sense of who she was.

“Night Roses” came out of one of the Zelda-and-Scott legends. When they were first married, with Zelda a fresh transplant from Alabama, they lived in New York City and became a much-admired, much-followed beautiful couple who lived the wild Jazz Age lifestyle to the fullest. Zelda apparently threw herself into this new life with enthusiasm. At the same time, though, given her later struggles, I find it easy to imagine a young woman who felt rootless and lost in a world so different from the one she had always known. The particular legend behind “Night Roses” is about a time when Scott and Zelda, driving through New York in the middle of the night, stopped at a fountain in a square and jumped in. The legend describes this as another example of their larger-than-life personalities and how joyfully they seized on every experience. In “Night Roses,” I’ve imagined something a little different: a woman who is trying to escape the world she’s found herself in, a world which doesn’t fit her, though she doesn’t fully realize that yet.

I’ve paired this story with Gershwin’s music because Gershwin was, of course, also an iconic figure of Zelda and Scott’s time. The piece I’ve used here, the second of his three Preludes for Piano, is one of my favorite piano solos.

As always, thank you for visiting the blog! The next post will feature one more excerpt of my own writing, and then continuing through the fall, I’ll be welcoming other writers to contribute. See you in two weeks!


Night Roses, as originally published in Peacock Journal

Writers! Would you like to contribute your work for the Storytelling and Sound series? (You provide the words, I provide the live reading and the music.) Email me at kris@krisfaatz.com for info.

Also see my new online course on revising fiction. Spaces available now: registration through 9/8!


Zen for Ten 26: Fly Away Home

In today’s post, I’m continuing with the mix of reading and music, this time featuring my short story “Fly Away Home,” first published last year in The Bookends Review. This piece also won an Honorable Mention in Glimmer Train‘s Short Story Award for New Writers competition.

I chose this particular story in response to the events in Charlottesville this past Saturday. No response feels adequate in the face of such difficult times in our country, when hatred and division so often seem to have the upper hand. I wish words could do more. Like so many of us, I wish I felt sure that beauty, and art, and creative expression, can be valuable tools in our times. Words and music are my tools, though, so I’ll use them as well as I can.

“Fly Away Home” is one of my music-inspired stories, written after listening to works by legendary jazz saxophonist Charlie Parker. He is, of course, the “Bird” referenced in the story. If you’re familiar with his life and work, I apologize for over-simplifying his family relationships; I wanted to highlight his relationship with his stepdaughter Kim, and also to focus on his experiences as a black musician facing the racial prejudice of the 1950s.

Writing a piece like this, which is mostly done through Kim’s point of view but also partially through Parker’s own, brings up the challenge of telling a story that belongs to a person of an entirely different background and set of circumstances than mine. Cultural appropriation is a sensitive issue and a tough one to tangle with. In this piece, I can rightfully claim connection with Kim, a young white girl. Readers might wonder, though, how I feel comfortable writing through Bird’s eyes. This question has come up in some of my other stories, too, when I’m using the viewpoints of characters whose experiences I’ve never had myself.

I feel strongly that writing, storytelling, creating fiction, exists at least in part to build bridges. When I work, I don’t only want to tell stories based on my own experiences or the experiences of people like me. I want to reach across those borders. I think we as writers can also grow as people when we do this. In these times especially, I think that kind of growth is necessary for all of us.

I don’t claim to know what Parker thought and felt. I think, though, that we can all, on some level, relate to loneliness, isolation, and frustration with life’s challenges, sometimes such drastic frustration and isolation that we look for any escape valve we can find. In the end, each person in the world has his or her own story. We can either accept the differences between us as barriers, until we each sit alone in a box, or we can try to reach across and see through someone else’s eyes.

In this week’s video, I’ve paired with “Fly Away Home” with the second movement of Beethoven’s Sonata Op. 14 no. 1. This is a new piece for me, and I’m loving the learning process. I’ve done a strange thing musically, here, by splitting the piece up into three parts. From a musician’s standpoint, it feels weird, but those sections seemed to complement the writing, so I went with it.

As always, thanks so much for visiting the blog. Be sure to check back again in two weeks, for the next words-and-music feature.




Zen for Ten 25: guest post

Storytelling and Sound, with its new words-and-music format, will be back soon! Meanwhile, it was an honor to have this guest post featured at the wonderful book blog The Quivering Pen. Writing about one of my all-time favorite books, and the influence it had on me, was a delight. The post also gave me a chance to share memories of one of my favorite places in the world: the small town of Berwick, Pennsylvania, in the Pocono mountains, where my grandparents lived when I was a child. For many years, Berwick was an enchanted place to me. I didn’t start writing this post with the idea of talking about those memories, but when they made their way onto the page, that was clearly where they belonged.

Many thanks, again, to David Abrams at The Quivering Pen for this feature. As always, thank you for visiting the blog!