One of the most common questions I get in author interviews is “How long have you been writing?”
Well, technically, ever since I was eight or nine, when I penned my first poem. The question, I think, would be better phrased as “How long have you been telling stories?”
The answer to that is: ever since I became old enough to string words into a sentence.
When I was growing up, I was surrounded by storytellers. My father loved to regale me (and, later on, my little brother) with stories about Possum Brown, a mischievous possum who was forever tormenting and tricking a coon hound named Whiskey. I still remember my father squinting his eyes, hunching his shoulders, and proclaiming in a high-pitched voice, “You’ll never catch me! I’m Possum Brown!”
(It was no coincidence that we had a coon hound named Whiskey or that a “Suzanna” or “Adam” would suddenly appear in the story.)
The stories I heard from my godfather and my father’s friends were often not meant for little ears. There were the clean ones about hunting foibles (ask me some time about Butler and the deer in the trunk) but then not so clean ones about stealing and bar fights. The former were told for our entertainment. The latter were told over beer and wine in the kitchen, late at night, when I was supposed to be sleeping.
Then there was my mother. She didn’t verbally tell stories. But she taught me to read and most of the books in our home (cluttering up shelves in every room except the bathroom) belonged to her. She opened up a world of stories that weren’t spoken aloud but written. While my father and his crew of miscreants laughed loud and told louder stories, my mother was quieter. She didn’t tell but shared.
When I began to tell my own stories about things I supposedly did but couldn’t have possibly happened, I wasn’t told to be quiet. I wasn’t told to tell the truth. I was encouraged.
It was the perfect storm, really. In an environment like that, how could I be anything but a storyteller myself? My brother is a mechanic, which is just one more piece of evidence for the “he’s adopted” argument.
However, in the intervening years, many things have gotten in the way of storytelling: school, boys, all the worries and woes of modern life. Even while being a full-time writer, things can get in the way. It’s easy to forget that my main function is to tell stories when I’m also worrying about marketing, social media, and typography.
When Willows of Fate came out, I decided to have a release party/author appearance at my favorite coffee shop, The Clay Pot. I created an event page for it on Facebook and made fliers and tweeted about it and did everything except climb on my roof and shout that this was going to happen.
On the big day (or, evening, rather), two groups of people came to The Clay Pot. One group contained friends who knew that if they didn’t show up, I would be deeply disappointed. The other group contained people who had no clue, at all, that an author was going to be there. They just wanted to drink their lattes and hang out. I’ll leave you to guess which group outnumbered the other.
As the evening wore on and I read from Willows and gave out prizes and answered questions, I remembered something. I remembered something that I had forgotten during the “production phase” of creating a novel, when indie authors fret over typos and cover art.
I remembered I was a storyteller. The group of friends were here because I told a story and they wanted to hear more about it. The group of strangers remained in the building because they recognized I had a story and wanted to hear it.
It was an empowering moment. It was like suddenly remembering I had wings.
I am a storyteller, crafted by a perfect storm of a childhood.