writing

Why Is Storytelling SO Important?

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I’m a storyteller. Most of my friends are storytellers; playwrights, poets, novelist, singers, songwriters, and artists of all mediums.  We all tell stories for different reasons, and yet for the same purpose, storytelling aids us in understanding the world around us.

Storytelling predates writing. The most primitive forms of storytelling were usually oral expressions. Storytellers come in many forms, with many voices and tools, from poetry and literature to graffiti and fine art. We need storytellers, artist and writers, to elicit passion and emotions, especially in dark times when we can so easily avert our eyes from troubling events like a cultural revolution, rebellion, social injustice, corrupt politicians, police brutality, the imprisonment or genocide of an entire people.

Though the ancient origins of storytelling have vanished into the mist of time, the importance of storytelling and those who tell stories has not. From cave dwellings to the recontours of Native Indian lore, families and cultures with strong narratives and passionate tellers, thrive in their collective story.

Think about times spent sitting around the kitchen table with your family – your witnesses on this journey – as they tell and retell all the often cringe-worthy memories of you as a child, or their experiences during the Great Depression, or whatever the family stories are. Think how bonding that is/was, how it informed your sense of who you are and where you come from. At my grandma’s house, all of us crowded into the yellow-vinyl kitchen booth, drank weak Folgers coffee, my aunts’ chain-smoked Salem cigarettes, and talked like ‘mag-pies’ grandma always said. And at that jam-packed table every story started with “I remember that time you….”

Capturing and retelling the stories of our collective history is vital to understanding our existence on this planet – trust me, when grandma is gone, you’re gonna wish you took notes, and you’re gonna remember with heartache and joy, every story she ever told you. Our stories are important.

Storytelling is vital to the human experience. It allows us to digest information with greater ease by more effectively linking that information to our feelings and then our thoughts. Generally, once we’ve felt something, we don’t forget it. I recall years ago, seeing the movie, Dead Man Walking, and how when my friends and I left the theater we talked about the death penalty, I recall feeling very differently about that controversial topic after seeing one man’s poignant story.

One of the reasons I wrote my novel, Return to Sender was to reiterate the history (lest we are doomed to repeat it), and the stories I grew up with as the child of a Korean War veteran, about the atrocities of the brutal North Koreans against their own people, and most especially against their own orphans. A topic as timely today (sadly) as it was in the 1950s. In my novel I paid tribute to the most haunting aspect of the Korean War for both my father and my father-in-law; the slaughter of innocent children by their own people. Having these precious photographs of many of these children made their stories personal to me.

There are certain aspects of history that resonate deeply with all of us. For example, my talented neighbors, Jan and Chris Hopkins, who make a great mead (home-made wine), but who are also internationally recognized, multi-award-winning artists, illustrators and storytellers. Their most recent creative endeavor of depicting the WWII internment of the Japanese in America, was motivated by Jan’s desire to learn more about her cultural identity. As a child of detained Japanese Americans, there was a lack of information about her family legacy and the ordeal of internment that they endured. Jan needed to know her story, so she and Chris have set out on a mission to share their stories through visual arts. Their joint exhibit at Everett’s Shack Center for the Arts starts June 21st thru September 2018.

Chris is a historian through his art. His paintings tell very specific aspects of the American story that resonate with

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him on a soulful level. He captures moments that harken back to moments like this young Japanese-American woman who is pregnant, alone and just ‘relocated’ to an internment camp – what does the future hold for her and her unborn child now that her country (America) has turned on her? It is important to humankind to keep those stories alive so they never happen again.

Chris also painted an entire series of over 60 paintings of the Tuskegee Airmen which travels the country in art shows, like locally at the Shack Center in Everett. The Tuskegee Airmen series portrays the adventures of the first African American fighter pilots, their crews, families and legacy.

As an illustrative historian Chris has captured this pivotal moment in time; At the onset of World War II, the segregated US armed forces declined to train African Americans as pilots until a lawsuit opened the door. The Army Air Corps acquiesced to an experiment training pilots at Tuskegee University, Alabama. In March 1942 the first class of African-American aviation cadets earned their silver wings and became the nation’s

TUSKEGEE AIRMEN

first black military pilots. Between 1941 and 1945, Tuskegee trained over 1,000 black aviators for the war effort. Chris started his Tuskegee Airmen series as part of his work for the Northwest chapter of the Air Force Art program. Over the years, the series evolved beyond the Air Force Art program to become a personal mission and passion for him. Every one of these paintings tells us a vital part of our history; who we were, who we are now, how far we’ve come, and sadly how far we have to go.

Or below, this modern-day image, social commentary, where a homeless mother and her child sit starving on the steps of the land of plenty, a posh bakery, where inside, too busy to notice, are two girls on their phones. Just as I tell stories with words, Chris uses images, and is a perceptive storyteller of our times, the good and the bad.

 

Regardless of medium or craft, storytelling is significant because it can illuminate moral, ethical, spiritual lessons in non-preachy ways that people can easily contemplate. Great stories engender empathy by helping people relate to someone they may never have connected with before.

Just as important as our intimate family stories are in reminding us where our faith and courage comes from – be it strong Scottish, Jewish, Irish, or French roots – and what our ancestors overcame, it’s also vital to keep historic stories alive so we never forget what our fears and prejudices can become.

What stories matter to you? Tell them.

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” – Maya Angelou

And, big kudos to my neighbor; Art Work by Chris Hopkins Selected for Inclusion in Major Traveling Exhibition Organized by Norman Rockwell Museum – Reimagining the Four Freedoms

In 2017, the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, sent out a call to artists to create works that would reimagine President Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms—Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Worship, Freedom from Want, and Freedom from Fear— or explore the meaning of freedom today, for possible inclusion in the major touring exhibition: Enduring Ideals: Rockwell, Roosevelt & the Four Freedoms. From 1000 submissions, 36 artists were accepted—including two works by local artist, Chris Hopkins—for the contemporary section of the exhibition, titled “Reimagining the Four Freedoms.”

In our time of troubling HOMELESSNESS in a country of plenty, this painting is particularly poignant.

 

If you liked this please share, Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest or Tweet it out. Thanks. Mindy

 

 

 

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Can We Rise Above Our Words?

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Lately, I’ve become especially in tune with the way people describe their relationship with cancer – and trust me, it is a relationship – or the words they use when expressing compassion toward me. It’s very common to hear statements like “You’re battling this disease” or “you’re gonna win the war” or other combat-like metaphors. I, myself even use the term ‘cancer-warrior’ just because I like the sound, and besides, who doesn’t want to be a warrior, right? But in my recent reanalyzing of this relationship with dis-ease, I am reviewing my own language. I’m a writer, words are my play things, I can do this.

I’ve come to realize that being a warrior requires a battle, it is a combative term after all. And therein lies my problem.

I’ve been living with cancer for two decades now. I have had three major surgeries and two minor. I’m down a couple organs and twice have had my throat cut from jugular to jugular – only nicked once – and have lived to tell. Alas, here I am again exhibiting irregular tests, shadowy images on scans and abnormal even ‘aggressive’ tumor indicators. Mine is a rare cancer so there isn’t much study available. As a matter of fact last week I was told that my closely-monitored 20 year old file is a great resource in the search for answers about Medullary Carcinoma – cool, glad I can help. Anyway, I’m tired of partaking in such an adversarial relationship. Besides, maybe all that fighting has added to the struggle. Besides, words are powerful things, and as my gramma used to say, ‘you can never rise above your words.’ So if I can’t rise above them, then I need to raise them to level at which I would like to live.

Cancer, at least my cancer is something I have to co-exist with. Oh sure, it may be like living with a troublemaking roommate I can’t get rid of, but live with I must. It’s in my throat, so I live with a mostly metaphorical knife at my throat, but sometimes that metaphor turns literal and surgical cutting ensues.

For a long time I also used antagonistic, rebellious ‘I’m goin’ to war’ metaphors. But now I’m attempting to alter my orientation from combatting my dis-ease to embracing and partnering with it. After all, we do share the same space, so it follows that we have to learn to connect and peacefully co-exist. HA! As I write this I keep imagining the roommate, Spike (played by Rhys Ifans) in the movie, Notting Hill. It made me smile time and time again when I was recuperating from one of my surgeries a few years ago. It hurt to laugh then, but Spike, cracked me up!

Anyway, I’ve come to realize that I can’t truly heal myself of something I’m not connected to. Have I spent all these years putting my energy into fighting instead of healing, meanwhile thinking the two were synonymous?  What’s that Tony Robbins quote, ‘where focus goes, energy flows’… so true.

Well, I’ve decided to focus my energy and thoughts on healing instead of fighting and that requires a new set of skills and language. Kinda like Hugh Grant’s character, William Thacker in Notting Hill, had to do with Spike. He really had to make peace with his undesirable roommate because they shared the same space. Ultimately they became great friends.

Making peace, not war may be the best motto in life in general and may serve the overall quality of life whether you’re a patient or not.  Aiming our energy towards the healing process helps us connect with our journey through any kind of dis-ease (illness, mourning, divorce, horrible roommates, etc.). It’s far more empowering than directing energy towards the anger linked with the cancer, which keeps you interlocked in a victim role and feeling you need to fight. Maybe changing the words, the language of war to a language of compassion and self-love is the path that will illuminate this often exhausting and emotional journey. Either way, since I play with words, that’s what I’ll be doing.

Oh, and if you aren’t familiar with these images of Spike, then you have to watch Notting Hill. He’s brilliant! Still laughing.

If you liked this please tweet or instagram it out.

 

Author Survives Parenthood and Writes Tell All

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Now can you think of a book title that would horrify your children (and possibly grandchildren) more than these seven words, Author Survives Parenthood and Writes Tell All??? Not only would it garner immediate interest (fear) from your children, but because people are voyeurs by nature, it would grab the attention of readers, at least enough for them to pick it up off the shelf (old school bookstore or virtual) and give it a look-see.

Seizing a reader’s attention via a snappy title is a first HUGE step for author-kind. With a great title you’ve won the first battle, but there are so many more battles to come. Because next you must have written a great first line (hook) and follow that up with a good premise, plot, and great storytelling.

It’s true, readers judge books by their covers, paying particular attention to the title. Your book title can make or break the success of your book.

There’s a good article on this topic at Authority Pub. Here’s an excerpt I borrowed to make my point. ….According to research conducted by author, blogger, and speaker Michael Hyatt, consumers check out a book in the following order:

Title
Cover
Back cover
Flaps
Table of contents
First few paragraphs of the book’s content
Price…

Note that NOWHERE DOES IT SAY AUTHOR’S NAME.

So, in addition to scaring your children, what should a title do? If you take a peek at the above referenced site you’ll see some good examples of titles, both fiction and non. In addition, a title should intrigue, peek interest, shock, make a reader wonder What? Who? Why? offer help, or offer escape.  There’s a plethora of opinions on what a title should do and how to do it. So do your research and carefully decide what works for your book.

Then after you have your title you can see if you’re on the mark.

LULU has created a free tool that will grade your title based on its probability to be successful. To create it, Lulu and their team of statisticians deliberated over a list of the best-selling titles from 1955 to 2004 and eventually created a super cool tool, the Lulu TitleScorer. Put your title in and see how it scores. I wish I’d of had this when my first novel came out, the title, Return to Sender only scored a 22% probability of success. UGH!

Also, here is a GREAT article on using power words and creating attention grabbing titles. Though the article focusing primarily on non-fiction, it’s all good info to keep in mind when crafting a title that will jump off the shelves.  https://www.tckpublishing.com/how-to-write-book-titles-that-sell/

A good title tells what the book is about. A great title tells what the end destination is. A truly superb title is one that tells the end destination and also appeals to core human desires.”

— Buck Flogging at Archangel Ink

 

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My Author Interview with Edmonds Community College

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Cool, my #Author / #writing instructor #interview w/@EdmondsCC is out, have a looksee…

“Vision Boards to Enhance Your Writing AND Social Media Presence,” Mindy Halleck, June 21st, 2017 from Visual Media Services, EdCC on Vimeo.

What is an author platform and where do you get one?

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Author platform can be challenging to explain, partly because definitions can vary. But by far the simplest description is: your capacity to sell books because of who you are or who you can reach.

What activities build author platform?

Platform building requires consistent, continuing effort over the course of a writer’s career. It also means making enhancements in extending your network, on-line and in person. It’s about making waves that entice other people to you—not about pleading with others to pay attention.

The following list is not extensive, but helps give you an idea of how to cultivate a platform.

Publish or distribute quality work in outlets you want to be associated with and that your target audience reads.

Create a portfolio of work on your own platform—e.g., blog, e-mail newsletter, social network, podcast, video, digital downloads, etc—that gathers quality followers or a community of people who are interested in what you have to say. Have patience because this takes time.

Decide which Social Media Platform is best for you, use it and be consistent, relevant and entertaining. And remember, social media alone does NOT create platform unless you’re a Kardashian, and even they get out and do public appearances.

Speak at and or attend events where you meet new people and extend your network of like-minded peers and audience members.

Connect with influencers* and or peers on a new project and or discover creative ways to extend your visibility. *An influencers is a person or group possessing the ability to influence the behavior or opinions of others, via large SM following, podcast audience, etc.

Discover personalized ways to engage with and develop your target audience, whether through content, events, online marketing/promotion, etc.

Platform building is unique to each author

Platform building is a gradual process that must be organic and will be different for every author. There is no checklist you can use to develop a platform, because it will always be governed by:

Your distinct story and or message – Your unique strengths and abilities – Your target readership

I will be teaching a workshop July 15th at Edmonds Community College wherein part of the day will be spent on social media. If you’re local, join us here

If you liked this, please TWEET it out for heaven’s sake! 

Staying Grounded in Basic Storytelling Principles

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This last year I’ve really gone ‘dark’ as they say, which means I’ve been very quiet (and unproductive) on all fronts. It’s been a good break, a needed break so I could recharge and take care of myself, but now it’s time to get back to work.

When I’m struggling with a section in my WIP (work in progress for you non-industry folks), or trying to re-wrap my mind around my story I return to basic tools for guides out of that self-imposed darkness.

Larry Brooks, who if you don’t know him yet, you should – who writes writerly-how-to books is one of the gurus (via his books and blog at Storyfix.com) that I return to over and over again. Not because I’m that stupid (well, not always) but because stories, characters, plots, themes and all the magic elixirs that make up a story world, are fluid, changing, often morphing into something completely different from what I thought I started out to write. So back to the basics I go. If I don’t go back to those grounding basics of storytelling; premise, concept, plot, theme and so on, then I get lost in the words. SO MANY WORDS! And when I get lost in the words it takes FOREVER to finish a project, be it novel, short story or essay.

Oh, and when I said my story could ‘often morph into something completely different’ I meant it. I recently had a conversation with Hollywood script guru, Michael Hague (author of too many books to mention here) who asked me which aspect of my story fascinated me the most, because, he said, that’s where your passion lies and that’s what you should follow. My answer shocked the baggeebies out of me. So, with that answer, which I wont’ share here…maybe later in another post – changed my entire story. After the initial shock, I was happy our conversation happened when I was only 150 pages in.

When a local writer friend, Pam Carter (Writer, Producer and Playwright) asked me about premise,

            From Larry Brooks Workshop materials

I realized during our conversation about hers that I actually needed to re-consider my original premise now that the story had changed so dramatically, and so revisited all my information on premise and concept. Again, back to Larry Brooks

 

who teaches this stuff like hell fire and damnation from a preacher ablaze with the truth. If you’ve seen him live you know exactly what I’m talking about.

So while I press through; re-entering my story world, getting back into a writing groove, editing, re-outlining and all the other blue-collar work a writer does to create a story-world and narrative that will be of interest to readers, I wonder, what tools do other writers return to time after time, and why? Okay, back to work.

Writing, Decorating Scotch & Christmas Volunteering

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Okay, it’s busy around my house in the weeks approaching Christmas, so little time for writing. However, I have completed the first chapters of my next novel, Garden of Lies, and am very happy with it. I had written the first draft, then read it and realized it needed to be written in third person as opposed to the first person I had written in. SO, the big undertaking of rewriting in third is nearly complete. Then I can move on to the the rest of the story. It’s a lot of work so I’m thrilled I realized this when not yet 100 pages in. WHEW!

Aside from that there’s the decorating, the shopping, the baking, the cleaning, the shopping, the wrapping, the 20151212_161550_resized
shopping and the stuffing of stockings. Oh, and then more shopping. What! You don’t decorate your scotch?

And then I volunteer, as I have for nearly 20 years, as an artist for the Salvation Army Toy-n-Joy event. It’s a LONG day of drawing, painting and decorating the stadium before our ‘guests’ arrive to select toys for their children — children who otherwise would likely not have a gift for Christmas. Every year this work makes me feel part of something bigger than myself.  Many years ago before my life was so blessed, I was a mom who could barely afford Christmas for my child, it’s a painful, shame-filled and soul sucking experience. That’s why I so love being a little part of making a child smile at Christmas and helping out another mother who otherwise may feel helpless.

Lend a hand this year, lift a neighbor up, give to the food bank or toy event in your community, visit an elder care home and give the gift of your time, pack food gift baskets for your church or give a teacher some special school supplies to surprise her kids with – whatever kind of opportunity aligns with your beliefs, the point is that there are so many ways to give. Tis the season. Blessings, Mindy