Zen for Ten 33: The Hit

After a longer-than-expected hiatus, Storytelling and Sound is back! Today’s guest is my friend and colleague Tom Andes, with whom I was in workshop twice at the Kenyon Review Writers Workshops. Tom is an outstanding writer and workshop mate, and I’m delighted to feature his work today.

Tom’s writing blends crime fiction with a rich, descriptive literary style that gets the reader inside his characters’ minds and immerses us in the settings he creates. Today’s post features an excerpt of his short story “The Hit,” which first appeared in Xavier Review and was reprinted in Best American Mystery Stories 2012 and Great Jones Street.

“The Hit” gave me a bit of a challenge in terms of finding the right musical pairing. I went into video-making mode with one soundtrack in mind, and decided within a couple of minutes that my idea wasn’t going to work. The music had to have the right quality of tension and darkness to fit with Tom’s writing, but at the same time, it had to allow for give-and-take with the story and had to match the lyricism as well as the forward drive of the narrative.

Ultimately, I settled on two preludes by Dmitri Shostakovich, a twentieth-century composer with a fascinating story of his own. Shostakovich spent his life in Soviet Russia, under Stalin’s rule. He was held up by the government as an iconic representative of Soviet art and culture, but at the same time, was considered suspect and potentially dangerous throughout his career. Artists and intellectuals were believed to be dangerously “Western” in their ideas, and their ability to connect with large numbers of people, and therefore potentially initiate rebellion, made them frightening to Stalin’s paranoid mind. Shostakovich lived in an atmosphere of impending danger, always half-expecting to be arrested, and had a packed suitcase ready in case he had to run.

The two preludes in the video, No. 14 in E flat minor and No. 10 in C sharp minor, both exemplify the darkness and uneasiness in which Shostakovich lived. In both, though, there are also moments of great lyricism and beauty. This mix of light and shadow made them, I felt, a perfect musical pairing for Tom’s work.

Enjoy the video and learn more below about Tom and his writing. To read the complete “The Hit,” which I highly recommend, visit Great Jones Street and sign up for an account. As always, thank you for visiting the blog!


About Tom:

Tom Andes headshot

Tom Andes’ writing has recently appeared in Great Jones StreetFree State Review, and Guernica: A Magazine of Global Arts and Politics, and was anthologized in Best American Mystery Stories 2012. Reviews and interviews with writers and musicians have appeared in the Los Angeles Review of BooksThe Rumpus, and elsewhere. He lives in New Orleans, where he makes a living as a freelance writer and editor, plays music, and teaches for the New Orleans Writers Workshop, which he co-founded. You can find more at tomandes.com.


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.

Readers! Like what you see here? Be sure to subscribe and never miss a post.

Storytelling and Sound fans: if you haven’t done it yet, don’t forget to check out music-inspired To Love A Stranger!



Zen for Ten 32: dear Petrov

Today’s guest on the Storytelling and Sound series is award-winning, internationally published poet, fiction writer, and essayist Susan Tepper. I’m delighted to have the chance to feature six of Susan’s beautiful prose poems in today’s post.

When I read these pieces, I fell in love with them immediately. The lyrical, rhythmic language, the evocative imagery, and the deeply felt emotions captivated me. The poems previously appeared in 2015, in the first volume of the poetry collection Aeolian Harp Anthology, published by Glass Lyre Press, and are part of Susan’s collection dear Petrov. 

They are set in nineteenth-century Russia during a time of war. I’ve paired them here with excerpts from Sergei Prokofiev‘s Tales of the Old Grandmother, not only because it seemed right to go to Russian music, but also because Prokofiev’s blend of darkness and lyricism partners beautifully with the writing. I first learned the Tales when I was in high school. Over the past several years, the suite has become one of my favorite pieces. Much of Prokofiev’s piano repertoire is flashy and technically demanding, but the Tales are gentle, introspective miniatures that ask for a different kind of skill from the performer.

I’m especially excited to feature Susan’s work today because her new story collection, Monte Carlo Days and Nights, is forthcoming next week from Rain Mountain Press. Enjoy the video, learn more below about Susan and her work, and check out the link to her newest collection. As always, thank you for visiting the blog!

About Susan:

Susan Tepper headshot

Susan Tepper is a twenty year writer and the author of six published books of fiction and poetry. Her seventh book, a collection of linked stories titled ‘Monte Carlo Days & Nights’ will be released by Rain Mountain Press, NYC, in November 2017.  Tepper is an award-winning writer with hundreds of stories, poems, interviews and essays published worldwide.  Her author/book interview series ‘Live at the Algonquin’ NYC, features the best of the Indie books and their authors.  For more please visit the author’s website at www.susantepper.com


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.

Readers! Like what you see here? Be sure to subscribe and never miss a post.

Storytelling and Sound fans: if you haven’t done it yet, don’t forget to check out music-inspired To Love A Stranger!



Zen for Ten 31: Stranger, Father, Beloved

Today’s guest on the Storytelling and Sound series is Taylor Larsen. Taylor’s debut novel Stranger, Father, Beloved was released July 2016 by Gallery Books, an imprint of Simon and Schuster. It was chosen as one of Huffington Post‘s Hottest Reads of the Summer for 2017, one of the New York Post‘s Summer Must Reads, and one of Ploughshares‘s Best Books of the Summer.

Taylor and I met at the Kenyon Review Writers Workshops in the summer of 2017, and collaborated on a combination performance and reading, in which we paired sections of her novel with short piano pieces I performed. That collaboration inspired the Storytelling and Sound blog, and I’m delighted to feature Taylor and her luminous and beautiful novel today.

Stranger, Father, Beloved has elements in common with my own To Love A Stranger: both are stories about personal identity, the struggle for self-acceptance, and the ways in which our secrets affect the people we love most. The common themes in our work made it doubly fun for me to collaborate with Taylor. I paired an excerpt from the first chapter of her book with three short pieces by Frederic Chopin: Preludes in E minor, B minor, and A Major, respectively. The lyrical, atmospheric writing made Chopin a clear choice for musical accompaniment. I love this particular passage from Taylor’s novel as it speaks so directly and honestly to the effects of chronic anxiety, and how the outdoors can provide healing and relief.

Enjoy the video, and learn more below about Taylor and her brilliant debut novel. As always, thank you for visiting the blog!

About Stranger, Father, Beloved

When Michael James sees his wife Nancy chatting with a stranger at a party, his intuition tells him that he’s watching her with the man she should have married. He quickly begins a campaign to replace himself within his own family with this other man—who, to him, is worthier, better, and kinder—all so his faithful wife Nancy, his beautiful teenage daughter Ryan, and his young son Max can live the lives they deserve.

While Michael pursues this man’s friendship, Ryan goes through a period of sexual awakening and rebellion and distances herself from her family, and the quiet, weak Nancy becomes increasingly befuddled and frustrated by the behaviors of her husband and daughter. As tension and uncertainty build in their home, the James family slowly unravels.

About Taylor: 

Taylor Larsen Head shot 3

Taylor Larsen is a graduate of Columbia University’s MFA program in fiction writing. Taylor has taught fiction writing at Columbia University (as part of CAT) as well as literature courses for Pace University. She currently teaches and does manuscript consulting for The Sackett Street Writers Workshop and Catapult. Taylor is an author at Gallery Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster for her novel, Stranger, Father, Beloved, which released in July of 2016. She is a co-editor for the literary website, The Negatives.  Her stories have appeared in Joyland and Windmill: The Hofstra Journal of Literature & Art. Her essays have appeared in The Huffington PostBustleLiterary HubThe Negatives, and Women Writers, Women’s Books. Originally from Alexandria, Virginia, Taylor currently resides with her family outside of NYC.

Connect with Taylor online:



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.

Readers! Like what you see here? Be sure to subscribe and never miss a post.

Storytelling and Sound fans: if you haven’t done it yet, don’t forget to check out music-inspired To Love A Stranger!

Zen for Ten 30: Fall In One Day

Today’s guest on the Storytelling and Sound series is Craig Terlson, whose novel Fall In One Day was released May 2017 by my own publisher, Blue Moon Publishers, and has received a terrific reception. In this week’s video, I’m reading a short excerpt from the novel and have paired it with J. S. Bach’s Sinfonia in G minor, No. 11.

About Fall In One Day:

In the summer of 1973, fifteen-year-old Joe Beck lives in a small Canadian city near the U.S. border where he watches dark-suited politicians lie on TV during something called Watergate. So when his best friend Brian goes missing, Joe has a hard time believing that adults ever tell the truth.

Joe learns that Brian left town with his father after Brian’s mother ended up in the hospital. He listens to the news reports for information, but nothing is being said. Eventually, Joe launches his own investigation, using a tape recorder—just like the American president—to help sift through the clues. Feeling that everything is up to him, Joe embarks on a perilous and enlightening journey to decipher a mental institution diary full of secrets about a drug called LSD, and uncover the truth about Brian’s father and save his best friend.

What the critics think:

“Veteran storyteller and local illustrator Craig Terlson’s debut novel is a triumph. Set in the 1970s during the Watergate trials, Fall in One Day is a sharp and insightful coming-of-age story that beautifully examines perception, reality, and what happens to us when everything falls apart.”

– Winnipeg Free Press

“Mystery, conspiracy, overcoming apparently insurmountable obstacles, a cast of believable and likeable characters, and a good dash of humour–all in a Canadian setting–these are the ingredients of Fall in One Day, and the result is a book which engages its readers on many levels and is a most satisfying read. Highly Recommended.”

– CM: Canadian Review of Materials

About Craig Terlson:

Craig_Terlson headshot
Craig Terlson‘s fiction has appeared in Carve, Hobart, Smokelong Quarterly, and many other literary journals in the United States, United Kingdom, and South Africa. He is the author of the novels Correction Line, Surf City Acid Drop, and the story collection, Ethical Aspects of Animal Husbandry. With Fall in One Day, he brings his quirky, dark sense of humour and an ear for the dialogue he heard growing up on the Canadian prairies. His prose possesses a cinematic quality and an eye for detail stemming from his years as a professional illustrator for clients across North America.

Find Craig on the Web:

Twitter: @cterlson
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/craig.terlson?fref=ts
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/2780244.Craig_Terlson


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.

Readers! Like what you see here? Be sure to subscribe and never miss a post.

Storytelling and Sound fans: if you haven’t done it yet, don’t forget to check out music-inspired To Love A Stranger!

Zen for Ten 29: “The Truth About Me”

Today on the Storytelling and Sound series, in which musical and verbal storytelling come together, I’m delighted to feature the work of my colleague and friend Louise Marburg. Louise and I met at the 2013 Sewanee Writers’ Conference and were back in workshop together this past summer at the Kenyon Review Writers Workshops.

Louise’s debut story collection, The Truth About Me, was released earlier this month by WTAW Press. When my copy of the collection arrived, I devoured it in less than twenty-four hours. The stories are extraordinary: wise and incisive, the characters drawn vividly and with great sensitivity, every piece in the collection infused with a wonderfully wry and authentic narrative voice. Each piece is told with subtlety, grace, and great power, and shows an enviable depth of empathy and human connection.

In today’s video, I’m reading the beginning of the title story, “The Truth About Me.” Consider this a teaser to encourage you to get the collection and check out the rest of the story, and its companions!

I’ve paired the writing with two short selections by Baroque-era composer J. S. Bach: the two-part Inventions in F and C minor, respectively. I chose this music because the mood of it suited the story, and also because the story itself – as with many in Louise’s collection – is about dialogue between people as they learn about and connect with one another. The musical structure of the Bach parallels that dialogue. In the two-part Inventions, the pianist’s right and left hands work independently of each other. You can pull out the tune played by each hand, and hear how each tune works by itself and sounds like a coherent melody. Then, when you put the parts together, they trade melodies back and forth and intertwine with one another just as two voices do in a conversation.

Enjoy the video, and be sure to stop by Louise’s website and learn more about her. See you next time!

About the Writer:

Louise Marburg is a graduate of the MFA program in Fiction at Columbia University’s School of the Arts. Her work has appeared in The Louisville Review, Folio, Carolina Quarterly, Day One, The Pinch, and others, and in the Lascaux Prize Anthology. She has been a contributor at the Sewanee Writer’s Conference and a member of the Community of Writers at Squaw Valley. She lives with her husband, the painter Charles Marburg, in New York City. Her new collection of stories, The Truth About Me, was recently published by WTAW Press. Find her at louisemarburg.com


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.

Readers! Like what you see here? Be sure to subscribe and never miss a post.

Storytelling and Sound fans: if you haven’t done it yet, don’t forget to check out music-inspired To Love A Stranger!

Zen for Ten 28: Chopin and To Love A Stranger

Today’s post features an excerpt from Chapter 4 of To Love A Stranger, paired with two short excerpts from Frederic Chopin‘s Nocturne in B flat Minor, Op. 9 no. 1.

The excerpt from Stranger is told from the point of view of Jeannette Reilly, one of my two main characters. Jeannette has just started working as piano accompanist for the Richmond Symphonic Artists and has met their new director, Sam Kraychek. Jeannette is a shy, withdrawn woman who has overcome a lot to find her first “real” gig as a pianist.

She finds herself immediately attracted to Sam, who, like her, is passionately devoted to music. Her sister Veronica encourages her in this attraction, but Jeannette finds it dangerous and unsettling. She’s afraid to trust another person, especially one she barely knows.

Chapter 4 takes place during a break in a rehearsal Jeannette is accompanying for Sam. Right before the rehearsal, Jeannette’s sister Veronica insisted on giving Jeannette a makeover to make her more interesting to “that boy.” At rehearsal, Jeannette finds that Sam has in fact noticed her; he asks her to come early to the next rehearsal so they can play duets beforehand. Jeannette knows she ought to be thrilled about this, but her past experience has taught her how dangerous it can be to stand out and be noticed, and especially to make herself vulnerable by caring about someone.

During the rehearsal break, Jeannette finds a quiet space to get her thoughts together. At the same time, though, she takes in exactly what her sister has done to her looks. Jeannette’s new appearance brings back past shadows that she has tried to escape from, but can never completely leave behind.

Chopin’s B flat Minor Nocturne is a haunting, lyrical piece, less noticeable for the flashy writing Chopin often used than for a gentle, introspective quality that pairs well with this scene from Stranger.

As always, thank you for visiting the blog! Next time, the Storytelling and Sound series will feature work by Louise Marburg, whose debut story collection The Truth About Me launches this week. Until then!

Don’t have your copy of To Love A Stranger? Get it here.

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.



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!



Zen for Ten 24: Storytelling and Sound Remix

The blog is back! (For now. 🙂 ) Apologies for my long absence, and thank you for visiting again.

These past few weeks have been super-busy. To Love A Stranger‘s launch party on June 10 was a great success (pix and video coming soon!). The following week, I went to the wonderful Kenyon Review Writers Workshops, as a teaching fellow in fiction.

Kenyon was an amazing experience. I first went to the workshop six years ago, knowing basically nothing about writing, struggling with the first draft of what would become Stranger, and overawed by the talents and achievements of the faculty and fellows. It felt surreal to come back this summer as a fellow myself. Kenyon is the reason Stranger was published, and to be received as a friend and colleague there by writers I respect so much was exhilarating. I came home with more confidence than I’ve had in a long time, and with my next project bubbling in my mind.

One of the best parts of the Kenyon week was getting to bring my music along. Music has shaped my writing so much, and though finding the balance between the two professions has had its challenges, it felt deeply satisfying to be grounded in each of them over the course of the workshop. During the week, I collaborated with fellow writer and Kenyon alumna Taylor Larsen, whose debut novel Stranger, Father, Beloved came out this year to great reviews. Taylor and I gave a storytelling-and-sound event of our own, in which she read excerpts from her novel and I played short pieces in between. The combination of music and words got a great response from the audience: the music created a backdrop and emotional context for the writing, and gave listeners a chance to reflect on the story they heard as it progressed.

With that event as my inspiration, I decided to try something a little different on the blog today. This might or might not be a long-running project, but I’d love to do more to combine written stories with music, and weave the two kinds of storytelling together more actively here.

With that in mind, I created my first combination reading/playing video, using my short story “Absolution” which was published this past March in Sinkhole Magazine. I divided the reading into two parts and alternated those parts with the two movements of Ludwig van Beethoven’s Piano Sonata Op. 49 no. 1.

This new video format is still in the figuring-out stages, but if all goes well, I’d love to continue with this idea as the blog’s main focus. I’ll use more of my own work, but also hope to feature work by other writers. In these two solitary pursuits, collaboration always makes things more fun!

The blog will be taking another hiatus over the next couple of weeks, as I’ll be traveling and getting some much-needed outdoor time, but it’ll be back in August on a regular schedule. As always, thanks so much for checking it out. Enjoy the video!

Featured story:Absolution

Featured music: Sonata in G minor, Op. 49 no. 1, by Ludwig van Beethoven