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Click the song titles to hear the tracks.

Story: Ain’t Like the Movies

Song: “White Rabbit” by Jefferson Airplane

We start the collection with a song by an American rock band from one of the all-time great American films, Platoon. The movie is playing in the background during the climax of this little story. And, though to a much less dramatic degree, “Ain’t Like the Movies,” like Platoon, explores themes of change, passage into adulthood, loyalty, and moral integrity.

Story: To Abdo, With Love

Song: “99 Red Balloons” by Nena

“To Abdo” follows the relationship of an Army Colonel’s daughter and her Syrian pen pal, and her attempt to reach him via a note tied to a balloon. “99 Red Balloons” is an anti-war song, and even though it’s from the 80s, the lyrics can easily be about the conflict in Syria or any other across the globe: It’s all over and I’m standing pretty / In this dust that was a city / If I could find a souvenir / Just to prove the world was here. And the image of Nena standing in this awesome black leather vest over a white sweatshirt and letting go of one red balloon in the wake of fiery devastation is a nice visual for this story.

Story: Sculpting Sand

Song: “Casey Jones” by Grateful Dead

“Sculpting Sand” is about the father of a young man, Casey (who was named after the Grateful Dead song playing when his parents met), and Casey’s three-year-old daughter who has a heart defect. Casey has sunk into drug abuse and trouble with the law, and his dad wants to warn him, You better watch your speed, but there comes a point where there’s only so much a father can do to help his boy finally become a man.   

Story: Kinda Sorta American Dream (read it here)

Song: “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” by Bruce Springsteen

There were a lot of Christmas songs to choose from for this story about an unemployed auto worker who’s sent by his mother-in-law to Santa Clause School. I couldn’t pass up this holiday classic by The Boss, though, and his gravelly voice over the sound of sleigh bells. Americana at its finest. 

Story: It Takes a Village

Song: “Tryin’ To Reason with the Hurricane Season” by Jimmy Buffet

This story follows a young couple who has moved to Florida to start fresh after a string of miscarriages. The couple learns that, as paradisiacal as Florida can be (and you can imagine them sipping on margaritas as you listen to this song), there’s no way to avoid the hurricanes. Squalls out on the gulf stream / Big storms coming soon.

Story: Hold On  

Song: “Touch Me” by The Doors

Come on, come on, come on, come on / Now touch me, babe. No better lyrics for a story that takes the reader into a futuristic snuggle house for the lonely and disconnected.

Story: The Uncounted

Song: “All These Things I’ve Done” by The Killers

This story is about the mother of a lost Marine, and explores the burden families have to carry (mothers, wives, children) when soldiers go off to war. When Brandon Flowers screams out, Yeah, you know you gotta help me out, it guts me. There’s also a part in the story where the mother recalls her son talking to her about all the horrible things he’d seen and done during his tours in Afghanistan. “The son you knew died over there,” he tells her.  If you can hold on / If you can hold on, hold on.

Story: 1600 Closest Friends

Song: “Blue Fear” by Armin Van Buuren

This is the perfect “cool” song for a dude who isn’t all that cool anymore and who may never have, in fact, been cool. In this story about Facebook and a reunion between old friends, the protagonist, Sam, digs this CD out to play at his backyard barbeque in hopes of impressing his still-hard-partying chum.

Story: Red Clay

Song: “Big Money Big Cars” by Killer Mike

Meera, a young Indian-American woman, listens to Killer Mike through her earbuds as a private taxi drives her through the lush Mexican countryside to the ranch of her married boss/lover, Gustavo. I can imagine her rapping, I make big money, buy big cars, everybody know me, like I’m a movie star, and feeling like quite the bad ass, on her own in a foreign land, even though deep down she’s completely freakin’ out.    

Story: Kingdom Come 

Song: “Part-Time Lover” by Stevie Wonder

“Part-Time Lover” by Michigan’s own Stevie Wonder makes a cameo in this story about the hard-luck owner of a failing Motown hotdog joint.

Story: Toys in Closets

Song: “Pink Houses” by John Mellencamp

“Pink Houses” by the all-American John Mellencamp is a song about the American Dream and economic inequality. In a Rolling Stone interview, Mellencamp described it “as really an anti-American song,” adding that, “The American Dream had pretty much proven itself as not working anymore.” I thought it was fitting for a story about a Ukrainian immigrant who’d struck it huge by posting toy unboxing videos on YouTube and a Latino single mom toiling away as a nanny to three white kids. Ain’t that America, home of the free, yeah.

Story: Blue

Song: “Fuck ThA Police” by N.W.A.

This song from 1988 is one of the original protest songs against racial profiling and police brutality. Quite apropos for the year 2015, and for this story, “Blue,” about a young African-American cop/new dad and the police shooting of an innocent black kid in Chicago.  

Story: Catching Fire

Song: “Firecracker” by Ryan Adams

This flash piece was inspired by my old college roommate who lost his life prematurely. His philosophy could be perfectly summed up by Ryan Adams’ lyrics: Well, everybody wants to go forever / I just want to burn up hard and bright.

Story: Savior

Song: “It’s the End of the World as We Know It” by R.E.M.

“Savior” is about a middle-aged IT specialist’s attempt to build a survival community in preparation for the Mayan Apocalypse. On a deeper level, it’s about mortality and growing old and having meaningful relationships in this life. What better song to ring in the end days? And I feel fine.  



Tailwinds Press | Barnes & Noble | Amazon | IndieBound

Read some stories by Steve Karas here at Little Fiction:




a story-by-story playlist for steve karaS’ debut story collection
“i just want to burn up 
hard and bright”

“This is Americana in all its buzzing splendor — the reaching and breathing and believing and hope. [Karas’] writing is brilliantly tight even when his characters are restless and wandering. Kinda Sorta American Dream is observant and thoughtful, and I have no doubt this is his first of many books.”     — Leesa Cross-Smith, author of Every Kiss A War