What Makes A Storyteller?

Susan/Sarah here….

And Susan/Miranda said…

>>I think that the storytelling impulse is something we’re all born with, long before books and reading enter the picture. We all want to explain things that happen in our lives, or understand them, or escape them, and stories remain the best way anyone has discovered for doing this. Whether we whisper stories to dolls, or read them to children, or exchange them in a blog on the internet, the real power of storytelling itself never changes.

Fantastic quote, Susan/Miranda, and it got me thinking about that storytelling impulse.

What shapes us to become storytellers in the first place? What early influences come along to start that yearning in us? I’m convinced we’re each born with the spark of something unique, some ability or inclination that can bring us satisfaction and direction in our lives, whether it’s art, writing and storytelling, acting, math (yeah, I hear some people are born mathematicians!), or nurturing, analyzing, healing – the list goes on, and can be archetypal. And I think each of us has our own individual mythic base and power. Maybe that’s part of our inner connection to myth and story. We could go on about Joseph Campbell, et. al., delightful stuff — but I’ve got a deadline and I’m going to ramble off in another direction here….

For those of us here who aren’t storytellers, but avid audience, drawn by the power of a good story, what shapes that, too?  Some are compelled toward story and some aren’t. I got to thinking about how I got hooked…

The power of Story, that "story soup" that Tolkein once talked about, got hold of me early on, maybe from the very first.

1420424 I remember a favorite, tattered fairy tale book that I kept throughout childhood (I think I teethed on that thing) – and I still remember the pictures in it. Besides that one, there were so many favorite storybooks that I loved as a kid: fairy tales, Greek myths, Norse myths, Arthurian legends, Tolkein, all of it. And for me in particular, the illustrations helped bring the stories to vivid life for me–Rackham, Dulac, Neilsen, N.C. Wyeth, others–give me a good book of fairy tales with great pictures, and I was in paradise (and stayed quiet for hours, which my parents, with three other little girls to raise, probably appreciated).

For me, it wasn’t just the books and pictures, though they were portals to magical places in the imagination. I was lucky to have a couple of natural storytellers in my everyday surroundings.

My great-grandmother, who was French, lived nearby; we could walk to her house after school, and if we were very good, we could stay overnight at her house, do some baking, and listen to stories (and sometimes hear her argue in French with my other grandmother, who was Canadian French; they would dispute the pronunciation of French words <g>). In the evenings, she would sit knitting, and begin to tell stories of her childhood in France in a large family; we’d hear about life in rural France, the pranks and adventures of six siblings, and her adventures crossing to America with her older brother and their young twin sisters.

Chalmerslegend1864 These were funny, clever, and sometimes poignant stories (the day they sold their beloved cow and the children stood in the dusty road crying and waving while the cow mooed–that had me in tears every time!). I would beg to hear more, and though she would say it was getting too late and I must go to bed, she could usually be talked into just one more story, usually a favorite (the time the cook chased her around the ship to get a kiss and her brother came to her rescue! The time her brothers snatched pears from an orchard and the visiting bishop saw them and dragged them to confession! And the pears weren’t ripe and one brother’s loose front tooth came out!). Lovely, funny stories from a dear and charming woman.

My older sister had a gift, too, though her stories were fabricated, hilarious, and supremely silly. We would stay up late whispering and giggling while she made up one story after another (one continuing goofy theme involved tricking the bratty neighbor kid into jumping into a pool filled with jello). And then I would make up a story for her, while she dissolved giggling under the covers.

I’ve always thought that those early, simple, delightful experiences – books I truly, madly, adored, and my family members who made storytime such a treat, brought out the storytelling impulse in me. From an early age, I was absorbing the elements of good storytelling, what Tolkein called "the Pot of Soup, the Cauldron of Story."

As an avid reader, crazy mad for stories, books, genres of all sorts, I kept on absorbing those elements. And when I had kids, from the time they were babies, I read to them every night, and often during the day. That gave me the chance to revisit all the wonderful stories, myths, legends, and books that I had loved as a kid. The Mom was sometimes more eager for reading hour than the busy kids: – Oh c’mon, don’t you want to hear another chapter of Babe? How about you, there, baby boy-–let’s read another Max the Rabbit book! –Maybe later, Mom <big sigh>).

When my boys were older, the oldest was a crazy-mad reader, the middle one less so, the younger still willing to let Mom freely indulge herself among the kids’ books. The reader was okay on his own, surrounded by huge TBR piles, and I gave the middle guy tapes to listen to: myths, legends, King Arthur, Tolkein, Japanese and Celtic fairy tales, all of it, everything I could find. He insisted he didn’t like reading, and didn’t want to be read to – but he loved those tapes. And I felt better knowing that he was still going to absorb those mythic elements that I think are so essential to the human psyche (the pay-off on those tapes came unexpectedly one day when he was a teenager… his girlfriend had the flu, and he sat on the phone with her, telling her a story from King Arthur to lull her to sleep…and beautifully told it was, too. And P.S. he’s crazy for reading now!).

Stories, and myths, and legends are not just entertainment, not time-wasters. We gain something on an inner level when we hear a good story, well told, well-framed: we’re learning, exploring, feeling, thinking, experiencing — even if we just think, hey that was a great story, and move on quickly to the next one. 

Stories are part of the fabric and weave of the human spirit. They embody and express qualities that we all explore in life–hope, fear, joy, sadness, love, courage, all of it. Storytelling has been an essential part of human social activity for eons, from the myths told by shaman to the Celtic myths of the seanachaidhean or the Norse myths and epics recited by the skalda poets – those very tales and legends, remembered and handed down for ages, and their modern incarnations in genre and general fiction, are still important today.

As fiction writers, especially genre writers, we are still an active part of that great storytelling stream, that story soup, still dipping into that great mythic cauldron. There may only be a few basic story types and a handful of elemental themes at the foundation of the stories we hear and the stories we tell, yet they still give of themselves, endless and fresh, and we still benefit from them. The cauldron is never empty, and we can partake of as much as we like.

So what about you all? Where did the power of storytelling first find you, and how has it helped you to become the writer, or reader, or person that you are today?

~Susan/Sarah

27 thoughts on “What Makes A Storyteller?”

  1. Susan/Sarah, that was a really great post. I loved the bit about your son telling his girlfriend the King Arthur story over the phone to cheer her up.

    Reply
  2. Susan/Sarah, that was a really great post. I loved the bit about your son telling his girlfriend the King Arthur story over the phone to cheer her up.

    Reply
  3. Susan/Sarah, that was a really great post. I loved the bit about your son telling his girlfriend the King Arthur story over the phone to cheer her up.

    Reply
  4. You were so amazingly fortunate to be brought up in a storytelling family! My family had unhappy stories and would not tell them, so I had to make up my own. Which, I suppose, may be the key to my preference for fantasy over reality.
    But I have an old poetry book tucked on my bookshelves today. I hated the poems as a kid, but adored the pictures. I learned how to pick out my letters in that book (as evidenced by the heavy underlining!) and sounded out words. So no matter the story, books are wonderful places for children to play.
    I wonder if today’s children have an advantage or a disadvantage over us with their wealth of reading material?

    Reply
  5. You were so amazingly fortunate to be brought up in a storytelling family! My family had unhappy stories and would not tell them, so I had to make up my own. Which, I suppose, may be the key to my preference for fantasy over reality.
    But I have an old poetry book tucked on my bookshelves today. I hated the poems as a kid, but adored the pictures. I learned how to pick out my letters in that book (as evidenced by the heavy underlining!) and sounded out words. So no matter the story, books are wonderful places for children to play.
    I wonder if today’s children have an advantage or a disadvantage over us with their wealth of reading material?

    Reply
  6. You were so amazingly fortunate to be brought up in a storytelling family! My family had unhappy stories and would not tell them, so I had to make up my own. Which, I suppose, may be the key to my preference for fantasy over reality.
    But I have an old poetry book tucked on my bookshelves today. I hated the poems as a kid, but adored the pictures. I learned how to pick out my letters in that book (as evidenced by the heavy underlining!) and sounded out words. So no matter the story, books are wonderful places for children to play.
    I wonder if today’s children have an advantage or a disadvantage over us with their wealth of reading material?

    Reply
  7. Good topic!
    And as for your question: They are at a disadvantage.
    Loneliness creates creativity!
    My mother worked, so my older brother and sister were forced to babysit for me.
    So my sister woud read me books, and my brother woud read me comics and tell me stories.
    When they weren’t around, I’d tell them to myself.
    Soon, I was helping the teacher at rest times, telling my brother’s stories. When I ran out of them. I made up my own.
    When my sister started dating, and my brother realized how much he hated baby sitting, I made up some more.
    Now, I can’t stop.
    I used to feel ill-used. Because, sometimes, all I coud do was dream.
    But from what I see of the poor kids these days, they have playdates and appointments and lessons scheduled for every waking hour of every day.
    When do they dream?

    Reply
  8. Good topic!
    And as for your question: They are at a disadvantage.
    Loneliness creates creativity!
    My mother worked, so my older brother and sister were forced to babysit for me.
    So my sister woud read me books, and my brother woud read me comics and tell me stories.
    When they weren’t around, I’d tell them to myself.
    Soon, I was helping the teacher at rest times, telling my brother’s stories. When I ran out of them. I made up my own.
    When my sister started dating, and my brother realized how much he hated baby sitting, I made up some more.
    Now, I can’t stop.
    I used to feel ill-used. Because, sometimes, all I coud do was dream.
    But from what I see of the poor kids these days, they have playdates and appointments and lessons scheduled for every waking hour of every day.
    When do they dream?

    Reply
  9. Good topic!
    And as for your question: They are at a disadvantage.
    Loneliness creates creativity!
    My mother worked, so my older brother and sister were forced to babysit for me.
    So my sister woud read me books, and my brother woud read me comics and tell me stories.
    When they weren’t around, I’d tell them to myself.
    Soon, I was helping the teacher at rest times, telling my brother’s stories. When I ran out of them. I made up my own.
    When my sister started dating, and my brother realized how much he hated baby sitting, I made up some more.
    Now, I can’t stop.
    I used to feel ill-used. Because, sometimes, all I coud do was dream.
    But from what I see of the poor kids these days, they have playdates and appointments and lessons scheduled for every waking hour of every day.
    When do they dream?

    Reply
  10. What a beautiful story your post is!
    My grandparents told their stories–
    Let’s see, my grandmother was high furious at her nephew Kenny for digging in England’s census and learning that their mother (Agnes), my great-grandmother, had been previously married in Yorkshire. She’d apparently ran off to America with an agricultural laboror (Samuel), dragging only half of her children with her (my grandmother included)… this, of course, after she’d migrated to Yorkshire from the Isle of Skye.
    Once in America, Samuel (the man my grandmother believed to be her father – and probably was) had written he was an engineer on his job application. He landed a relatively decent paying job as a Roadway engineer, and no he didn’t labor on roads. We have no proof Samuel even went to school.
    My grandmother firmly maintained her mother (Agnes) and her father (Samuel) “exchanged vows” aboard the ship to America, in front of the Captain. (groan) All historians know what a load of crap that was. I wonder if such fibs were how that rumor got started?
    Uh oh… No wedding took place aboard ship. Everyone laughed at my first cousin once removed (Kenny) for that one.
    My grandmother was not laughing at Kenny’s meticulously written-out reports and commentary. She got so mad at him she went digging through several old flimsy shoe boxes and produced brown-edged formally written letters carefully folded in their original envelopes.
    She had me call and read them to him, refusing to let me copy them. The letters were from Scotland and England, all explaining some very sad events that broke-up my great-grandmother’s family. Very private things. The final being a fire, which killed Agnes’s remaining children who waited in Yorkshire for her to send for them once she had settled in America (and she and Samuel had planned to). Agnes never wished for anyone to delve into her life like that.
    My grandmother begged me to bury the letters with her. God help me, I did.

    Reply
  11. What a beautiful story your post is!
    My grandparents told their stories–
    Let’s see, my grandmother was high furious at her nephew Kenny for digging in England’s census and learning that their mother (Agnes), my great-grandmother, had been previously married in Yorkshire. She’d apparently ran off to America with an agricultural laboror (Samuel), dragging only half of her children with her (my grandmother included)… this, of course, after she’d migrated to Yorkshire from the Isle of Skye.
    Once in America, Samuel (the man my grandmother believed to be her father – and probably was) had written he was an engineer on his job application. He landed a relatively decent paying job as a Roadway engineer, and no he didn’t labor on roads. We have no proof Samuel even went to school.
    My grandmother firmly maintained her mother (Agnes) and her father (Samuel) “exchanged vows” aboard the ship to America, in front of the Captain. (groan) All historians know what a load of crap that was. I wonder if such fibs were how that rumor got started?
    Uh oh… No wedding took place aboard ship. Everyone laughed at my first cousin once removed (Kenny) for that one.
    My grandmother was not laughing at Kenny’s meticulously written-out reports and commentary. She got so mad at him she went digging through several old flimsy shoe boxes and produced brown-edged formally written letters carefully folded in their original envelopes.
    She had me call and read them to him, refusing to let me copy them. The letters were from Scotland and England, all explaining some very sad events that broke-up my great-grandmother’s family. Very private things. The final being a fire, which killed Agnes’s remaining children who waited in Yorkshire for her to send for them once she had settled in America (and she and Samuel had planned to). Agnes never wished for anyone to delve into her life like that.
    My grandmother begged me to bury the letters with her. God help me, I did.

    Reply
  12. What a beautiful story your post is!
    My grandparents told their stories–
    Let’s see, my grandmother was high furious at her nephew Kenny for digging in England’s census and learning that their mother (Agnes), my great-grandmother, had been previously married in Yorkshire. She’d apparently ran off to America with an agricultural laboror (Samuel), dragging only half of her children with her (my grandmother included)… this, of course, after she’d migrated to Yorkshire from the Isle of Skye.
    Once in America, Samuel (the man my grandmother believed to be her father – and probably was) had written he was an engineer on his job application. He landed a relatively decent paying job as a Roadway engineer, and no he didn’t labor on roads. We have no proof Samuel even went to school.
    My grandmother firmly maintained her mother (Agnes) and her father (Samuel) “exchanged vows” aboard the ship to America, in front of the Captain. (groan) All historians know what a load of crap that was. I wonder if such fibs were how that rumor got started?
    Uh oh… No wedding took place aboard ship. Everyone laughed at my first cousin once removed (Kenny) for that one.
    My grandmother was not laughing at Kenny’s meticulously written-out reports and commentary. She got so mad at him she went digging through several old flimsy shoe boxes and produced brown-edged formally written letters carefully folded in their original envelopes.
    She had me call and read them to him, refusing to let me copy them. The letters were from Scotland and England, all explaining some very sad events that broke-up my great-grandmother’s family. Very private things. The final being a fire, which killed Agnes’s remaining children who waited in Yorkshire for her to send for them once she had settled in America (and she and Samuel had planned to). Agnes never wished for anyone to delve into her life like that.
    My grandmother begged me to bury the letters with her. God help me, I did.

    Reply
  13. Susan/Sarah, I love your post! You are a great storyteller!
    The power of story telling came to me gradually. I had a Grandmother and Aunt that would tell family stories about living in Delta, PA. I learned what it meant to be a ‘Flapper’, how to dance the Charleston and how my great-great grandmother lived/survived being married to a drunken train engineer. Some of the stories were funny, many were sad. Most were bitter. But as I sat, hidden in the dark hallway off the kitchen, I learned about family and times I never knew. Much later in life, I had the opportunity to meet a woman who had been in the Nazi concentration camps as a child. Her stories were wrenching. She lost her twin sister to the gas chamber. I also had the opportunity to learn what it was like to live in the aftermath of Gettysburg from a 100 year old woman. Her father had fought and was horribly wounded. She also lost two bothers to the war. She spoke of slaves, how they were treated before and after the war, the first time she saw a car, heard a radio, used a telephone, and watched TV. I listened in awe.
    Pat, I really like what you said about writing fantasy. I have, for the same reasons, chosen that same venue to tell my stories. For as hard as it is to create a believable fantasy world with its own customs, history and stories (right down to coinage and government), I prefer it. There is a freedom there. True escapism, perhaps, for reader as well as the writer. But, IMHO, its easier to learn and explore hard won truths in a world that almost exists. Perhaps that’s why the Greatest Storyteller who ever lived told his stories in parables.
    Nina

    Reply
  14. Susan/Sarah, I love your post! You are a great storyteller!
    The power of story telling came to me gradually. I had a Grandmother and Aunt that would tell family stories about living in Delta, PA. I learned what it meant to be a ‘Flapper’, how to dance the Charleston and how my great-great grandmother lived/survived being married to a drunken train engineer. Some of the stories were funny, many were sad. Most were bitter. But as I sat, hidden in the dark hallway off the kitchen, I learned about family and times I never knew. Much later in life, I had the opportunity to meet a woman who had been in the Nazi concentration camps as a child. Her stories were wrenching. She lost her twin sister to the gas chamber. I also had the opportunity to learn what it was like to live in the aftermath of Gettysburg from a 100 year old woman. Her father had fought and was horribly wounded. She also lost two bothers to the war. She spoke of slaves, how they were treated before and after the war, the first time she saw a car, heard a radio, used a telephone, and watched TV. I listened in awe.
    Pat, I really like what you said about writing fantasy. I have, for the same reasons, chosen that same venue to tell my stories. For as hard as it is to create a believable fantasy world with its own customs, history and stories (right down to coinage and government), I prefer it. There is a freedom there. True escapism, perhaps, for reader as well as the writer. But, IMHO, its easier to learn and explore hard won truths in a world that almost exists. Perhaps that’s why the Greatest Storyteller who ever lived told his stories in parables.
    Nina

    Reply
  15. Susan/Sarah, I love your post! You are a great storyteller!
    The power of story telling came to me gradually. I had a Grandmother and Aunt that would tell family stories about living in Delta, PA. I learned what it meant to be a ‘Flapper’, how to dance the Charleston and how my great-great grandmother lived/survived being married to a drunken train engineer. Some of the stories were funny, many were sad. Most were bitter. But as I sat, hidden in the dark hallway off the kitchen, I learned about family and times I never knew. Much later in life, I had the opportunity to meet a woman who had been in the Nazi concentration camps as a child. Her stories were wrenching. She lost her twin sister to the gas chamber. I also had the opportunity to learn what it was like to live in the aftermath of Gettysburg from a 100 year old woman. Her father had fought and was horribly wounded. She also lost two bothers to the war. She spoke of slaves, how they were treated before and after the war, the first time she saw a car, heard a radio, used a telephone, and watched TV. I listened in awe.
    Pat, I really like what you said about writing fantasy. I have, for the same reasons, chosen that same venue to tell my stories. For as hard as it is to create a believable fantasy world with its own customs, history and stories (right down to coinage and government), I prefer it. There is a freedom there. True escapism, perhaps, for reader as well as the writer. But, IMHO, its easier to learn and explore hard won truths in a world that almost exists. Perhaps that’s why the Greatest Storyteller who ever lived told his stories in parables.
    Nina

    Reply
  16. I think I’ve already told here the story about my grandfather reading Kipling to me when I was a small child. The next major influence in my life was this:
    http://www.valerieslivingbooks.com/mbh.htm
    I had the 12-volume set, acquired around 1950; and it was WONDERFUL! I spent hours poring over it, the wonderful stories and the pictures based on real art–Greek vases for Homer, Burne-Jones paintings for King Arthur, and the like. Heaven on earth.
    I made up stories myself, but no one was interested in reading/hearing them, so they stayed inside my head.
    Take a look at the last couple of posts on the Crusie/Mayer blog, HE WROTE, SHE WROTE, for the storytelling impulse.
    My grandfather also had some wonderful stories to tell, and I only wish I’d been old enough to record them. I can’t even recall for sure which were the ones who happened to him, and which happened to his father (who was Sitting Bull’s interpreter). I’m reasonably sure that it was Great-Grandfather Savage who was present at the surrender of Chief Joseph Napoleon of the Nez Percé; but I think it was my grandfather himself who waited out a three-day blizzard in a line cabin occupied by the skeleton of the previous inhabitant.

    Reply
  17. I think I’ve already told here the story about my grandfather reading Kipling to me when I was a small child. The next major influence in my life was this:
    http://www.valerieslivingbooks.com/mbh.htm
    I had the 12-volume set, acquired around 1950; and it was WONDERFUL! I spent hours poring over it, the wonderful stories and the pictures based on real art–Greek vases for Homer, Burne-Jones paintings for King Arthur, and the like. Heaven on earth.
    I made up stories myself, but no one was interested in reading/hearing them, so they stayed inside my head.
    Take a look at the last couple of posts on the Crusie/Mayer blog, HE WROTE, SHE WROTE, for the storytelling impulse.
    My grandfather also had some wonderful stories to tell, and I only wish I’d been old enough to record them. I can’t even recall for sure which were the ones who happened to him, and which happened to his father (who was Sitting Bull’s interpreter). I’m reasonably sure that it was Great-Grandfather Savage who was present at the surrender of Chief Joseph Napoleon of the Nez Percé; but I think it was my grandfather himself who waited out a three-day blizzard in a line cabin occupied by the skeleton of the previous inhabitant.

    Reply
  18. I think I’ve already told here the story about my grandfather reading Kipling to me when I was a small child. The next major influence in my life was this:
    http://www.valerieslivingbooks.com/mbh.htm
    I had the 12-volume set, acquired around 1950; and it was WONDERFUL! I spent hours poring over it, the wonderful stories and the pictures based on real art–Greek vases for Homer, Burne-Jones paintings for King Arthur, and the like. Heaven on earth.
    I made up stories myself, but no one was interested in reading/hearing them, so they stayed inside my head.
    Take a look at the last couple of posts on the Crusie/Mayer blog, HE WROTE, SHE WROTE, for the storytelling impulse.
    My grandfather also had some wonderful stories to tell, and I only wish I’d been old enough to record them. I can’t even recall for sure which were the ones who happened to him, and which happened to his father (who was Sitting Bull’s interpreter). I’m reasonably sure that it was Great-Grandfather Savage who was present at the surrender of Chief Joseph Napoleon of the Nez Percé; but I think it was my grandfather himself who waited out a three-day blizzard in a line cabin occupied by the skeleton of the previous inhabitant.

    Reply
  19. What a wonderful post, Susan/Sarah! And I envy you your family storytellers. I come from stoic Yankees and the conversations tended to run to “Yup,” and “Nope.” Being the youngest, I was alone a lot, but once I started to read, it didn’t matter. I was hooked by Story. And soon I was spinning heroic sagas in my head. A reader is never really alone.
    Mary Jo

    Reply
  20. What a wonderful post, Susan/Sarah! And I envy you your family storytellers. I come from stoic Yankees and the conversations tended to run to “Yup,” and “Nope.” Being the youngest, I was alone a lot, but once I started to read, it didn’t matter. I was hooked by Story. And soon I was spinning heroic sagas in my head. A reader is never really alone.
    Mary Jo

    Reply
  21. What a wonderful post, Susan/Sarah! And I envy you your family storytellers. I come from stoic Yankees and the conversations tended to run to “Yup,” and “Nope.” Being the youngest, I was alone a lot, but once I started to read, it didn’t matter. I was hooked by Story. And soon I was spinning heroic sagas in my head. A reader is never really alone.
    Mary Jo

    Reply
  22. Southern culture has been traditionally a storied culture. I grew up surrounded by storytellers. My parents, children of the Depression, told stories of family struggles; I heard stories of the more distant family past not just from my maternal grandparents and paternal grandmother but from a host of aunts, uncles, and assorted cousins. Church was an important part of my life, and I heard stories there too–Bible stories, of course, but also stories of church history and of community tragedy and triumphs. I can remember ghost stories around campfires and the stories embedded in the songs that my grandmothers sang. I can look around my home now and see a bookcase that was the first piece of furniture my father built, a trunk that belonged to my great-great grandmother, a Bible that belonged to a great-uncle; each reminds me of a story.
    When my nephews married, I noticed that one of the rituals that made the new wife part of the family was the sharing of stories at first family gatherings. I spent today with my five-year-old grandnephew, and a good part of the day involved telling stories about his babyhood and, even more extraordinary to C. J., tales of his father’s boyhood. I take comfort in the continuity.
    One of my favorite quotations is from Flannery O’Connor, one of my favorite writers: “In the long run, a people is known, not by its statements or its statistics, but by the stories it tells.”

    Reply
  23. Southern culture has been traditionally a storied culture. I grew up surrounded by storytellers. My parents, children of the Depression, told stories of family struggles; I heard stories of the more distant family past not just from my maternal grandparents and paternal grandmother but from a host of aunts, uncles, and assorted cousins. Church was an important part of my life, and I heard stories there too–Bible stories, of course, but also stories of church history and of community tragedy and triumphs. I can remember ghost stories around campfires and the stories embedded in the songs that my grandmothers sang. I can look around my home now and see a bookcase that was the first piece of furniture my father built, a trunk that belonged to my great-great grandmother, a Bible that belonged to a great-uncle; each reminds me of a story.
    When my nephews married, I noticed that one of the rituals that made the new wife part of the family was the sharing of stories at first family gatherings. I spent today with my five-year-old grandnephew, and a good part of the day involved telling stories about his babyhood and, even more extraordinary to C. J., tales of his father’s boyhood. I take comfort in the continuity.
    One of my favorite quotations is from Flannery O’Connor, one of my favorite writers: “In the long run, a people is known, not by its statements or its statistics, but by the stories it tells.”

    Reply
  24. Southern culture has been traditionally a storied culture. I grew up surrounded by storytellers. My parents, children of the Depression, told stories of family struggles; I heard stories of the more distant family past not just from my maternal grandparents and paternal grandmother but from a host of aunts, uncles, and assorted cousins. Church was an important part of my life, and I heard stories there too–Bible stories, of course, but also stories of church history and of community tragedy and triumphs. I can remember ghost stories around campfires and the stories embedded in the songs that my grandmothers sang. I can look around my home now and see a bookcase that was the first piece of furniture my father built, a trunk that belonged to my great-great grandmother, a Bible that belonged to a great-uncle; each reminds me of a story.
    When my nephews married, I noticed that one of the rituals that made the new wife part of the family was the sharing of stories at first family gatherings. I spent today with my five-year-old grandnephew, and a good part of the day involved telling stories about his babyhood and, even more extraordinary to C. J., tales of his father’s boyhood. I take comfort in the continuity.
    One of my favorite quotations is from Flannery O’Connor, one of my favorite writers: “In the long run, a people is known, not by its statements or its statistics, but by the stories it tells.”

    Reply
  25. Susan/Sarah, this is a dangerous question to ask a writer!
    My sister and I were always vivid dreamers, and every morning over breakfast we would tell each other what we had dreamed the night before. We were vastly entertained by our dreams, to the point of exasperation for my mother, who used to complain that we’d get so wrapped up in dream tales that we’d forget the more important things in life, like doing chores and going to school. (g)
    I’ve always been an incorrigible daydreamer and reader. One of my favorite places to hide out and daydream when I was a kid was behind the house. We had a 55 gallon drum of drainage rock–who knows why–and the afternoon sun used to hit that side of the house and warm up the rocks. It was an especially welcome place during the cooler days of fall and even in the winter. I’d climb onto that barrel of sun-warmed rocks and sit with my back against the house and soak up the sun and spin fairytales in my head or get lost in a book.
    Many times I’d hear a member of the family say, “Where’s Sherrie? I haven’t seen her for hours,” and another family member would answer resignedly, “She’s behind the house in her barrel of rocks.”
    I think most writers had their barrel of rocks at one point in their life, and that was likely a source of inspiration for them as it was for me. It was my training ground, little did I know it, for becoming the writer I am today.
    Sherrie

    Reply
  26. Susan/Sarah, this is a dangerous question to ask a writer!
    My sister and I were always vivid dreamers, and every morning over breakfast we would tell each other what we had dreamed the night before. We were vastly entertained by our dreams, to the point of exasperation for my mother, who used to complain that we’d get so wrapped up in dream tales that we’d forget the more important things in life, like doing chores and going to school. (g)
    I’ve always been an incorrigible daydreamer and reader. One of my favorite places to hide out and daydream when I was a kid was behind the house. We had a 55 gallon drum of drainage rock–who knows why–and the afternoon sun used to hit that side of the house and warm up the rocks. It was an especially welcome place during the cooler days of fall and even in the winter. I’d climb onto that barrel of sun-warmed rocks and sit with my back against the house and soak up the sun and spin fairytales in my head or get lost in a book.
    Many times I’d hear a member of the family say, “Where’s Sherrie? I haven’t seen her for hours,” and another family member would answer resignedly, “She’s behind the house in her barrel of rocks.”
    I think most writers had their barrel of rocks at one point in their life, and that was likely a source of inspiration for them as it was for me. It was my training ground, little did I know it, for becoming the writer I am today.
    Sherrie

    Reply
  27. Susan/Sarah, this is a dangerous question to ask a writer!
    My sister and I were always vivid dreamers, and every morning over breakfast we would tell each other what we had dreamed the night before. We were vastly entertained by our dreams, to the point of exasperation for my mother, who used to complain that we’d get so wrapped up in dream tales that we’d forget the more important things in life, like doing chores and going to school. (g)
    I’ve always been an incorrigible daydreamer and reader. One of my favorite places to hide out and daydream when I was a kid was behind the house. We had a 55 gallon drum of drainage rock–who knows why–and the afternoon sun used to hit that side of the house and warm up the rocks. It was an especially welcome place during the cooler days of fall and even in the winter. I’d climb onto that barrel of sun-warmed rocks and sit with my back against the house and soak up the sun and spin fairytales in my head or get lost in a book.
    Many times I’d hear a member of the family say, “Where’s Sherrie? I haven’t seen her for hours,” and another family member would answer resignedly, “She’s behind the house in her barrel of rocks.”
    I think most writers had their barrel of rocks at one point in their life, and that was likely a source of inspiration for them as it was for me. It was my training ground, little did I know it, for becoming the writer I am today.
    Sherrie

    Reply

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