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If you know Leesa’s stories, you know they have a way of playing out like some of your favorite songs: they’re happy and sad, comforting and heartbreaking, all at the same time. And they become forever etched into your soul. These are the songs that inspired Leesa as she wrote the stories in the collection.

Click the titles to give them a listen.

“We Found Love” by Rihanna

The high school girls in the lead-off story “Skee Ball, Indiana” are listening to this on their way to a skee ball tournament. It’s a sparkly, glittery song that lifts the darkening night. And it’s an excellent lead-off song for my entire collection. Finding love in a hopeless place.

Story: “Skee Ball, Indiana”

“Wild Heart” by Stevie Nicks

My character, Violet, has a wild, wild heart. She just does whatever she wants. I’ve written three stories about her in this collection. She’s also a singer. So when she runs off from her husband and kisses another man, I can see her singing this to herself on the way home. Her hymn.

Story: “What The Fireworks Are For”

“Hold On, Hold On” by Neko Case

The second Violet story is called “Hold On, Hold On” because of this song. Neko’s songs hold such mystery. She’s a lovely storyteller. At a very important point in the story, Violet fantasizes about saying the words “hold on, hold on” aloud. And Neko has such beautiful, minor-key songs with endings that just kinda show up unexpectedly and tremble there like ribbons in the wind. That’s what I was trying to do with that story.

Story: “Hold On, Hold On”

“Ride” by Lana Del Rey

There’s a third Violet story and my novel-in-progress is about her, too. This Lana Del Rey song is one of Violet’s heartsongs.

Story: “Cheap Beer & Sparklers”

“Flower” by Liz Phair

Phair’s album Exile in Guyville is basically a life instruction manual for the girl in my story “Back When Exile in Guyville Was The Only Album I Listened To.” She bases her decisions on WWLPD (What Would Liz Phair Do?) This song is bawdy and crazy and beautiful and strange.

Story: “Back When Exile in Guyville Was The Only Album I Listened To”

“Chained and Bound” by Otis Redding

This is the song the characters from my story “Whiskey & Ribbons” dance to in the kitchen. My character Dalton is chained and bound to his best friend’s widow, Evangeline. He’s never said these words aloud to her but this song is playing and the snow is falling and falling outside and Otis is singing the words in Dalton’s heart.

Story: “Whiskey & Ribbons”

“Touch the Hem of His Garment” by Basia Bulat

I chose the Basia Bulat version of this because in my story “Hem”…it’s the female character, Merit, who mentions the Bible story from the gospels to the other character. She’s trying to lift his spirits, reminding him that sometimes a tiny thing can be a not-so-tiny thing. I love Jesus and I love hymns.

Story: “Hem”

“Ladies Love Outlaws” by Waylon Jennings

There is a story in my collection called “Ladies Love Outlaws.” I’ve always loved that. And it’s true. And so is this: outlaws touch the ladies somewhere deep down in their soul.

Story: “Ladies Love Outlaws”

“Heart to the Husk” by Jeffrey Foucault

When he sings please tell me something I wanna know… where does love go? It sounds like everything I’ve ever written/everything I will ever write. Every story, forever.

“You Remind Me of Something (The Glory Goes)” by Bonnie Prince Billy

In my story “Kitchen Music”… as they’re in the process of breaking up, my character is thinking about the happy times she’s had with her boyfriend. When they would crank the radio up and open the kitchen windows on Sunday afternoons. In this song he sings and dancing goes on in the kitchen until dawn to my favorite song that has no end.

Story: “Kitchen Music”

“Scarlet Begonias” by Grateful Dead

There is a story called “Kentucky Sugar” and in it, my character is sleeping with the woman who owns the landscaping company he works for. She’s a hippie; her front porch smells like Nag Champa. In the original version of the story… which has now been whittled down… they drove around in the early morning… going out for coffee and muffins and she would always be listening to Grateful Dead. This song reminds me of spring and romantic things. Everything I wanted the story to be until it turns into a rough-and-tumble fistfight sorta thing. For the rest of his life, anytime my character hears this song, he thinks about this girl.

Story: “Kentucky Sugar”

“Un Jour Comme Un Autre” by Bridgette Bardot

I’ve written a story about an American man named Sam who’s fallen in love with a French woman. They have a daughter. One morning they are having figs and coffee and hot chocolate in their small Parisian kitchen and the warm wind is blowing the yellow curtains up and out. This French woman, his wife, Margot… she plays this song for him because she knows he will love the trumpet and she’s right. This is the morning before he confronts her about the affair he knows she’s having. That trumpet is so sexy and sad.

Story: “Un Jour Comme Un Autre (A Day Like Any Other)”

“Sinnerman” by Nina Simone

This is the second Sam story in my collection. Years later. He’s kinda spilling out at the edges, not making the best decisions. He listens to a lot of Nina Simone. In this song, sometimes Nina doesn’t even sing, she just makes these gorgeous, soul-deep begging sounds. These are the sounds the Holy Spirit makes for Sam when Sam doesn’t know what prayer to pray. The story is written from another person’s point of view, but it’s Sam’s story. He’s the sinnerman. We all are.

Story: “Sinnerman”

“Ode to Sad Clown” by Joe Purdy

Joe sings it’s not that I’m not sorry, Lord. It’s just that I’m not strong. Cuz when that woman looks at me I can’t remember right from wrong. This is the song for the last story in my collection called “Wayfaring.” The man is leaving town but a couple of nights before he leaves, he reconnects with a woman from his past. The guy in my story is called West although I never mention his name…he’s a character from another story in my collection. He’s a jerk. He wants to do better. Later. He’s removing himself from Kentucky, heading towards New Mexico, like maybe that’ll help. And maybe it does. Maybe it doesn’t, either. Joe is singing to himself in this song and in “Wayfaring”… I’ve written it in second person because West is basically talking to himself. He’s sad. This song is sad. He’s working on it. He’s not giving up.

Story: “Wayfaring”


“The Chain” by Ingrid Michaelson

Because it is Evangeline’s song from “Whiskey & Ribbons.” And if you come around again, then I will take the chain from off the door. So pretty it almost hurts to listen.

Story: “Whiskey & Ribbons”

“XO” by Beyonce

Because this song sounds like the bright sticky-sweetness of all of the best parts of a relationship. I love you like ex oh. You love me like ex oh. You kill me boy, ex oh.

“Beautiful War” by Kings of Leon

Love don’t mean nothing unless there’s something worth fighting for. It’s a beautiful war. Some lyrics/a song for the collection in its entirety.

“Heart of Gold” by Neil Young

I mention Neil Young a couple of times in this collection because I love Neil Young. His songs remind me of how I want my stories to feel. And on the same level as the first song in this soundtrack… Neil singing “I’ve been a miner for a heart of gold” kinda lifts everything. He’s trying. We’re all trying. Every Kiss a War. Sure every kiss is a war, but we’re still kissing… we’re warring, we’re loving, we’re screwing everything up, we’re fixing things. We’re trying. There are cracks, there is light. We get our knees dirty, we scavenge.



Mojave River Press | Amazon | iBooks

Read two stories from the collection here at Little Fiction:



a story-by-story playlist 
for LEESA CROSS-SMITH’S debut collection