I hadn’t played for a while. Yesterday, I heard Mom ask Dad if we could sell the piano. I felt an iron lump rise in my throat as I sat on the stairs where they couldn’t see me, tracing my finger through the beige shag carpet.

“We could use the money,” Mom said.

Dad was silent.

“Ryan’s hospital bills…”

“Let’s wait a little bit.” Dad’s voice sounded strained.

That night, I threw my heavy covers off and snuck down the stairs after Mom and Dad were asleep, when our house had been dark for several hours. I tiptoed through our shadowed living room and sat on the hard piano bench, running my hands over the stone-smooth keys.

I wasn’t playing. Wasn’t making any sound. I was just remembering. My fingers came up heavy with dust, and I felt hot pressure building behind my eyes. I rose from the piano bench, rushed back upstairs, and pulled the covers tight around myself when I lay down.

I bit my lip. My chest ached.

I shouldn’t care what they did. They could sell the piano if they wanted. It wasn’t like I used it anymore.

Karli Roth

When she was barely old enough to spell, Karli Roth wrote a dramatic story starring a four-year-old heroine. Why? She was convinced there weren’t enough suspenseful novels with four-year-old main characters. Today, she has taken a lesson from her younger self, and she aims to write stories that resonate deeply with readers. She won second place nationally in the FRA Americanism Essay Contest in 2021, and she enjoys public speaking, theater, and music. As an aspiring novelist, she pens Christian speculative fiction that doesn’t lose its heart in the action. You can join her on this journey at karliroth.com.

Patrick Ryan on “A Piece of Him”

Each year at One Teen Story, we hold a contest for teen writers. We divide the entrees into three different age groups—13-15, 16-17, and 18-19—and we select a winner from each. This year we received more than six hundred entries! Why so many? Because the teens are writing. The published writers of tomorrow are at home working diligently on short stories. It shows in the quality of the work we receive, and it makes selecting winners a great challenge.

We’re delighted to put into your hands the first of this year’s winners, Karli Roth’s “A Piece of Him.” It’s the story of Alli, a girl who’s recently lost her brother, Ryan, who taught her how to play the piano. In her grief, Alli has drifted away from piano playing—to the point that not playing piano has become part of her healing. But when a regional piano recital contest is announced, and her friends encourage her to enter, Alli finds herself rethinking her relationship to the piano, and to music, and her resolve never to play again.

“A Piece of Him” is a swift, heartfelt story that reminds us there are many ways to honor our dearly departed, and finding those ways is part of the grieving pricess. We hope you enjoy Karli’s winning entry as much as we did.

Q&A by Patrick Ryan

PR: Where did you get the idea for “A Piece of Him”?
KR: I wrote “A Piece of Him” shortly after my grandpa passed. His death made me think about how so many things in life can remind us of the people who are no longer with us. It feels like memories of them are everywhere. This inspired Alli’s story. Alli tries to avoid her grief by ignoring the things that bring back memories, but ultimately, she learns that remembering is worth any heartbreak that comes with it.
PR: How long did the first draft of the story take you to write?
KR: I wrote the story in about four days, though I’d had a rough idea for it developing in my head for a few weeks beforehand. “A Piece of Him” seemed to come very naturally, like Alli opened up to me and laid bare her story.
PR: Were there any surprises for you in the writing process? Is the story that exists pretty much the story you first envisioned, or did it change?
KR: The story actually didn’t change much throughout the writing process. Normally, my writing changes, sometimes drastically, while I’m editing it. However, this story didn’t need as much tweaking. I think part of that is because Alli’s story always felt very authentic, since I used my own personal experiences as a background for hers. I also love music, and pulling this love into the story helped me to again write from my experiences in a way that didn’t feel forced, and so didn’t need much revision.
PR: I love the voice of the story. It’s a very personal story with a lot of interiority, and you employ the first person voice so effectively—letting Alli tell her own story. Did you ever consider writing the story in the third person?
KR: Thank you so much! The story came to me in Alli’s voice, so I never really considered writing it in third person. As you said, it’s a personal story, and I think that the first person enhances this personal nature in a way that third person couldn’t. Telling the story in first person also amplified some of Alli’s struggles. It let me write from the point of view of a character trying to hide from the story’s core conflict, which was a really fascinating dynamic to work with.
PR: I also admire the dialogue. It rings true to the ear. Do you read your work aloud to yourself as you write, or after you finish a draft? Do you use the way the language sounds as part of your self-editing process?
KR: That means a lot! I know I at least read Ryan’s lines aloud to myself while working on this story. Yes, while writing, I definitely try to pay attention to how my sentences and dialogue sound. Along with creative writing, I enjoy songwriting, and I think that the poetic nature of songwriting has helped me learn how to construct strong sentences that flow well. Finally, richly developing my characters is a huge asset to me when I’m writing dialogue. If I know my characters deeply, it’s not hard to imagine how they would talk.
PR: What did you do when you found out you were one of the winners of the One Teen Story Writing Contest?
KR: I was sitting in a Culver’s parking lot waiting for an ice cream treat when I got the email. I was incredibly excited! I shared the news with my family members who were with me and called those who weren’t there. Of course, my ice cream tasted even better than usual after that.
PR: What are you working on now?
KR: I’m currently at different stages of editing two speculative fiction novels. The first of these was also the first novel I wrote, which I’ve been working on since I was twelve. This fantasy dystopian story is about a girl who must rescue her brother from a deadly mission he’s been groomed for all his life but doesn’t know he needs saving from. I finished the first draft of the second novel this January, and I am in the earlier stages of editing it. It’s a sci-fi dystopian novel about the only kid in a dystopian society with a conscience. When he is faced with the decision to transform or conform to the world he’s always known, can he trust his conscience and find the courage to stand against his society?
PR: What’s the best piece of advice about writing you’ve ever heard?
KR: It’s so hard to choose just one piece of advice! If I must be selective, though, one of my favorite pieces of advice that I’ve been given is to write with a heart of service. Though I definitely write for myself sometimes—to process and capture feelings—most of the time, my goal is to have others read my work. I write with the hope that readers will be blessed by my words and that somehow, my writing will be a light to them. When I write to serve others, it pushes me to improve my craft and strive for excellence, so that I can give my readers the best experience possible through my writing. I hope to serve my readers in any way that I can, whether it’s by encouraging them, giving them something to think about, letting them find rest and enjoyment, or, speaking as a Christian writer, helping them grow closer to God.