ORTS: Musings on storytelling–the whys of it and its future

Robert Benchley once said, “It took me fifteen years to discover that I had no talent for writing, but I couldn’t give it up because by that time I was too famous.”

What does a story do for the reader or hearer?

* provide a vivid, continuous dream about a vicarious experience
* present characters and/or situations readers can empathize with, giving them a broader base of “experience” than their own single life can provide
* help us/them make sense of the world by imposing an example structure that conveys a theme or moral
* take us out of our (limited, little, possibly unpleasant) current circumstances and into the world of the characters and the setting–ESCAPE without drugs and while awake
* share a vision: everything that you read which has been read by someone else becomes a chance to discuss and share the vision created, morals taught, lessons learned, howlers caught, and so forth
* exercise your imagination–including visualizing things for yourself, not just seeing the director’s vision projected on your retinas–which could lead to hope, intuition, and the art of dreaming. Purposeful dreaming is extra.

“Stories are light. Light is precious in a world so dark.”–Kate DiCamillo

“There is no mistaking a real book when one meets it. It is like falling in love.”–Christopher Morley

In a country that is so divided, with family often far away or alienated and old modes of community togetherness (such as church meetings, town hall meetings, front porch schmoozing, and so forth) fading, there is no sense of being heard. Writing is a way to say I AM HERE. Reading is the way we hear other voices fairly, in full.

Storytelling is archetypal. It seems a human obsession to hear and rehear or tell and retell stories. Every culture has handed down stories to its children.

Michelangelo said, “I know the creator will go, but his work survives. That is why to escape death, I attempt to bind my soul to my work.”

Why do I write? So that someday after I’ve crossed the veil into the next world, perhaps someone will find and read one of my books, essays, or stories, and I will live again. A non-genre book, or in many cases even passages in a genre book, well, you’re taking a tour of my mind. It’s a way of doing neener-neener to death which eventually makes each of us disappear into the next world and be forgotten by this one . . . except for artists and writers.

“i don’t want to disappear”

“I don’t want to live forever through my work. I want to live forever by not dying.”–Woody Allen

People write because they have something to say, and are weary of being interrupted while saying it. A book is, for all intents and purposes, a dramatic monologue, novels more so but disguised as narrative discourse.

The narrative voice remains, trying to stave off its own death and disappearance, and when it is read again its “maker” will live again, at least for a time. She is instantiated in your vivid, continuous dream as she “tells” you the story. She will be remembered. Jewish tradition says that when the last person who remembers you on earth dies, your spirit no longer takes an interest in this world and turns to other pursuits in the afterlife. The writer tries to keep the link going longer.

“Since man is mortal, the only immortality possible [in this world] for him is to leave something behind him that is immortal since it will always move. This is the artist’s way of scribbling “Kilroy was here” on the wall.”–William Faulkner

“If you asked me what I came into this world to do, I will tell you: I came to live out loud.”-–Emile Zola

I’ve been writing since I could grip a crayon. As soon as I realized, around age six, that books didn’t just fall from the sky fully formed as the Bible and the Encyclopedia Britannica had, I determined to become a novelist. I started with short fiction, which Mama said was “lying,” and immediately forbade. However, I kept at it, despite the disapproval of “storying” (my mother’s word for lying, truth-bending, and fact-twisting.) Teachers thought my writing was great, and I have many dedicated teachers to thank for my continued enthusiasm for the written word.

Things went downhill after I graduated.

I have tried every tactic. Write to entertain, write to the market, write the book of your heart, write something that is the same but different . . . it’s all out there.

I’ve been hacking away at this Big Rock Candy Mountain of “getting a novel published by a legitimate large New York house” for quite some time. Publishing seems to be in its final tailspin. I’m sorry to see it, but they’ve been warned over and over, and they stuck to the 19th century business model without learning from what happened to the music industry, so I conclude that there’s no future in trying to compete for slots that are being held open for zombie mashups and fast-paced international thrillers. I’ve finally come to accept that if my work is to have a chance, I’ll have to create it myself.

Kris Rusch, former SF&F mag editor and published author, seems to recommend that we do this ourselves–put our books out on Kindle and in POD print. Our backlists and our new stuff, as well.


Holly Lisle’s rebuttal:

There’s an article about books disappearing . . . where was that link?


Death of the dog-eared paperback. What will I leave on airport lounge tables for the “Traveling Free Library”?


And this guy has the credentials from working in big NYC publishing, so I believe what he recommends is good (if only I could afford to have him look at LITTLE RITUALS):


It can be so overwhelming. I remember when I was a kid and all the way up to teen time, I would happily spend Saturday mornings at the library doing research on my various projects (some for school, some for Scouts, some just for me) and reading their collection of “Writer’s Digest” and “The Writer” and “The New Yorker” that went back to the 1920s in bound volumes. (Not on microfiche, on yellowing pages!) Back then, those magazines’ articles aimed at writers were useful and specific, not at all like now. (These articles would actually list markets, and you could write and edit something and send it to them immediately, and you’d have a chance because not every reader would be doing that. Now, if such a mag listed a market, that editor would be absolutely deluged.) Now the popular kids have decided they can write and they WILL write, and they’ve taken away the industry. Before, it was only nerds who were willing to type and retype on an old Underwood typer and mail things out by snailmail who even tried this stuff. The channels are jammed. It’s time for writers to take it all into their own hands. We’ll see if anyone can survive!

After all . . . Mark Twain self-published a number of his books. (True!) Thoreau was self-published. “Self-Reliance” (Emerson) and many of the famous political papers were self-published and distributed way back when. It’s not a completely insane precedent. It does concern me that there’s so much trash clogging every channel, but there always is a big signal-to-noise ratio problem.

All I know is that if doing this will finally take away that little demon screaming in my head and heart, “You’re not good enough until you publish a REAL book!” it’ll be worth it. Perhaps then I could focus on something else. Like how I’m gonna get to DISNEYLAND at LAST! And Big Sur!!

After reading these articles, I’ve started a new project. I will put out a couple of my Kindle titles (which I’ve been tweaking lately) through CreateSpace. I have free invites to do paperbacks there because of finaling in the Amazon contest a couple of times. So that should be somewhat exciting. I’ve just started the process and created the covers. It was distracting, which is good. Somehow I feel this might finally quash the obsessive need to send books out to agents who simply don’t want the sorts of books I write. That could be a relief.

I’ll tweak them once more. It’s never really FINISHED until it’s in print.

Still we beat on, boats against the current.

“How to protect ourselves from calamity and live to die of old age is the everlasting question; and there is no complete answer to it-–not even, pace Irving, in a novel. Those who write may do so in part to stave off fear, disease, death, and the immateriality suggested by any reference to the realm of celestial beings.”

“Art is a lie that makes us realize the truth.”–Pablo Picasso

“There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.”–Benjamin Disraeli

“Sorry. I thought this was the line for the ladies’ room!”


Author: shalanna

Shalanna: rhymes with "Madonna" and "I wanna," and is not a soundalike with "Hosanna" or "Sha-Na-Na." Aging hippie with long hair, husband, elderly mother, and yappy Pomeranian. I've been writing since I could hold a crayon. I started with fiction, which Mama said was "lying." “Don’t tell stories,” she would admonish, in Southern vernacular. “That's all in your imagination!” When grownups said this, they were not approving. So, shamed, I stopped telling stories for a few years--rather, I stopped letting anyone read them. I'm married to a fellow computer nerd who doesn't really like hearing about writing, but who reads sf/fantasy and understands the creative drive. I'm actually a nonconformist/hippie still wearing bluejeans and drop earrings and the Alice-in-Wonderland hair with headbands and sandals. Favorite flavor is chocolate/orange, favorite color is either Dreamsicle orange (cantaloupe) or bubble-gum pink, favorite musical is either Bye Bye Birdie, Rocky Horror, or The Producers . . . wait, I also love The Music Man. Is this getting way too specific and irrelevant yet? Obvious why I don't sell a ton of flash fiction, isn't it? To define oneself, I always say, it is good to make a list. How about a booklist? Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird Frank and Ernestine Gilbreth, Cheaper by the Dozen C.S.Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (all the Narnia books) J.R.R.Tolkien,The Hobbit/LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy Gail Godwin, The Odd Woman F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby J. D. Salinger, Catcher in the Rye (before dismissing it, actually read it) George Orwell, 1984 Kurt Vonnegut, Cat's Cradle Donna Tartt, The Secret History Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn James Allen, As A Man Thinketh Mark Winegardner, Elvis Presley Boulevard James Thurber, My Life and Hard Times The Wizard of Oz, L. Frank Baum Winnie-the-Pooh/House at Pooh Corner, A. A. Milne Peter Pan, J. M. Barrie The KJV and NIV Bible (each translation has its glories)

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