Loyal as a Book #6

David Beckham, Paul Gascoigne, and the fates of the famous

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A Letter From Gandhi to Hitler

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“Totally unoriginal, feebly plotted, instantly forgettable.”

Why do we need art?

Christmas in a Siberian labour camp, with Dostoevsky

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About Us

(The story of Misfit Press is inextricably linked to the story of Misfit Incorporated, which is inextricably linked to the story of AJ and Melissa Leon. These fascinating stories have been told at length on many other occasions – in newspapers, on TEDx stages, during numerous interviews and chance meetings in wine bars. If you want to explore the weird and wonderful company that is Misfit Incorporated, peruse our site. For the full backstory, check out this video interview.)

Misfit Press itself was established in 2014, with the publication of AJ Leon’s The Life & Times of a Remarkable Misfit. The little-known backstory to The Life & Times is that it was originally slated to be published by a major American publisher, who headhunted AJ after noticing the popularity of his blog, The Pursuit of Everything. About a third of the way through the writing of the book, AJ began to get twitchy about the compromises involved in traditional publishing: uncompromising editorial pressure, a lack of say on issues such as design and artwork. Not long later, AJ bailed on the contract, and decided to publish the book himself. The Misfit team created and ran a Kickstarter, aimed at raising $15,000 to cover publishing costs. By the time the fundraising had run its course, pledges totalled more than treble that amount. With the excess funds, AJ and Misfit decided to go one better than just publishing a book, and also founded a publishing house.

Since its founding, Misfit Press has steadily flourished. In 2015, we took under our wing Wolftree, the finest arts journal in the American Midwest; we released our 2015 Anthology, featuring the finest creative work we encountered over the preceding year; and The Life & Times of a Remarkable Misfit continued to find readers across the globe. In 2016 we published Destination Shakespeare, the debut poetry collection from esteemed Shakespeare academic Paul Edmondson; and we have more Shakespeare-related publications in the works for 2017, including Shakespeare On The Road, a tale of a Shakespearian adventure across the US.

Last  year was a big growth period for the Press, and there is lots more on the way for 2017. As you’ll see from our Forthcoming Publications section, over the next twelve months we will be publishing Saya Sayama: Three Years in Myanmar by incredible photojournalist Spike Johnson, a photonarrative account documenting a unique moment in Myanmar’s history: the violent shift from General Ne Win’s fifty-year dictatorship to the country’s first steps towards democracy. Also imminent is Tangentially Reading, featuring some of the most insightful, shocking, touching, and hilarious moments from the first 200 episodes of Christopher Ryan’s much-loved podcast, Tangentially Speaking.

These are exciting times at Misfit Press. To keep up to date with everything that’s going on, follow us at our blogFacebook, Twitter and/or Instagram. Into the future, we will always continue to work in the fashion we do right now: with authors we like, on projects that matter, in a way that leaves writer, reader and everyone in-between satisfied. We will also never renege on our One-for-One pledge; for every publication we ever sell, a child in India will receive money towards prescription eyeglasses, via the Misfit Foundation.

Why do we need art?

Kris Faatz (rhymes with skates) is a pianist, writer, and teacher. Her debut novel To Love a Stranger was a finalist for the 2016 Schaffner Press Music in Literature Award, and her short fiction has appeared in journals including Kenyon Review, Reed, and Glassworks. She holds Bachelor’s degrees in music and engineering from Swarthmore College and a Master of Music from the Peabody Conservatory. When not at work, she can often be found reading or exploring the outdoors. Kris lives in Maryland with her husband Paul and cats Alafair and Templeton, who, like cats everywhere, know who’s really in charge. Visit her online at krisfaatz.com, where she blogs about music, writing, and storytelling of all kinds.


Why do we need art?

This isn’t where this blog post was going to start. My first novel, To Love A Stranger, will be released in May 2017. I was going to talk about it and the way it brought my two passions, writing and music, together. I still want to do that, but after the events of the past few weeks, it seems important to start with a bigger issue.

In the wake of the US presidential election, it’s been hard to process what’s happening in this country or find the energy for concrete next steps. Like a lot of people, I’m disappointed with the election results and afraid of the future, but I also know others who feel differently. In such an intense time, artists like me can be left with the feeling that we can’t offer much to a world in chaos. Next to the big questions, like What’s going to happen to us all?, we feel insignificant.

As a classical pianist and fiction writer, I’m on a rocky and impractical life path. I’ve stayed there because stories and storytelling have always been a refuge for me. Over the past few weeks, I’ve been thinking a lot about how both art forms might matter now, especially when we as people need so urgently to connect and communicate with each other.


When I started writing seriously, about ten years ago, I fantasized about what it would be like to publish a novel. I started making lists of literary agents long before I had a handful of decent words on the page. In a matter of weeks, maybe months, I thought I could get the book I imagined on paper, and then of course the next step would be to get it out into the world.

At the time, I didn’t know that it would be another five years before I published anything at all. I also didn’t know that I still had to learn to write, period. That lesson happened when two gifted, pull-no-punches teachers laid out what was wrong with my work. This is a mess. Then, while I was still reeling, Here’s how you fix it.

Writers often aim hard and single-mindedly at the publishing carrot because, without that, who are we? We don’t want to put our words down for no one to read. It took me a long time to understand that my work couldn’t fly as it was, but that it was okay: I had a lot to learn and would be learning for the rest of my life. It also took me a long time to recognize that writing a good book, one that could go out into the world, was going to take years.

My novel To Love A Stranger started with a character. I had the picture of a fictional person in my head, and not much else except the idea that his story mattered. I didn’t know what that story was, but my gut told me it was important.


My character, Sam, was a musician. From the beginning, I knew the book was going to draw on the backstage world of the classical symphony, which I had gotten to know during my own musical training. I loved it: the characters, personalities, and passions; the controlled chaos; the tempers and nerves; and then the exaltation when everyone came together to make something magnificent happen. I knew a lot of people had never experienced that world, and I wanted to show it to them.

Music became a huge part of the book, both the orchestra setting and the pieces themselves. Translating the “heard” experience of music into words was one of the most rewarding parts of the writing. Some of my favorite pieces worked their way into the story, including a piano duet I played with my best friend when we were both in junior high. That piece, Maurice Ravel’s Ma Mére L’Oye (Mother Goose Suite), co-opted a big piece of the plot. It was a joy to listen to it again after twenty-some years and remember what it had been like to play. It was a joy, too, to hand the piece over to my two main characters and see what they did with it.

In this video, I play and talk about part of the Ravel, and also a piece by Brahms that worked its way into the plot too. A lot of the book’s creative process happened at the piano, when my brain turned over ideas while my hands were busy.


When I started writing Stranger, I also knew that my character, Sam, was gay, and that this fact alone created huge struggles for him. As a straight woman, I had never lived through those kinds of struggles myself, but I knew Sam had experienced rejection and profoundly painful loss just for being the person he was.

I’ve never been an activist – I tend to avoid fights at any cost – but I knew Sam’s story mattered because of what his sexuality meant and had done in his life. I had to tell his truth, because people needed to meet him and get to know him. It’s hard to hate or fear someone you know. He had to have a chance to change minds.

Writing the book was a years-long process of trial, error, more trial, and lots more error. I got frustrated and overwhelmed as I tried to get Sam and his story on the page. A lot of the time, the whole business felt like a mountain that got bigger every time I tried to climb it. I was never going to make it to the top. I lost my temper a lot, and more than once dissolved into tears and apologized to Sam for failing him (yes, writers are nuts sometimes).

This past February, Canadian indie Blue Moon Publishers found me in an event on Twitter. By then I’d gotten to a point where I didn’t really expect Stranger to see daylight at all. The past several months have been an exhilarating rollercoaster, going through the publication process, and realizing that Sam is going to make it into the world after all this time.


My publisher and I call Stranger “historical fiction.” It’s set in the late 1980s, and it’s funny to think of a time period I lived in as “historical,” but we made sure to clarify the timeframe because one of my main characters is openly homophobic. Readers need to know I’m not talking about the present day, because we’ve moved on a lot since the ’80s.

Haven’t we?

I’d thought that by the time Sam made it into the world – if he did – his story would mostly serve as a reminder of how far we as a society have come. How much more accepting we are of one another than we used to be.

Now, after this presidential election, as the country stumbles and looks for direction, I think we might need Sam more than I knew, even when I first started writing the book and only had an idea and a fire in the gut. People have to get to know him, because with knowledge comes understanding, and understanding takes our barriers down.

As small as we artists can feel in the wake of huge events, I think a broken world needs us more than we realize. Stories, told in words or music or pictures or any other way, let us communicate with each other when we otherwise might not. For anything to get better, we have to build bridges.

Art gives us the tools to build them. That’s why we need it.

1420 words

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Kris FaatzKris Faatz (rhymes with skates) is a pianist, writer, and teacher. Her debut novel To Love a Stranger was a finalist for the 2016 Schaffner Press Music in Literature Award, and her short fiction has appeared in journals including Kenyon Review, Reed, and Glassworks. When not at work, she can often be found reading or exploring the outdoors. Kris lives in Maryland with her husband Paul and cats Alafair and Templeton, who, like cats everywhere, know who’s really in charge.

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