Archive | Storytelling

The Real Man In The Blue Moon

Today’s post by this month’s featured author, Michael Morris | @MichaelMorrisBK

Michael Morris

Man in the Blue Moon is my fourth novel and it is my most personal.

When I was five, my mom and I fled my abusive biological father. We moved into a trailer in the backyard of my maternal grandparents’ home. For me, their home was a sanctuary and I spent a lot of time with them. Every evening my grandmother’s widowed sister would join us for supper. While the meal simmered on the stove, the two sisters would sit at the table and talk about local news that never seemed to make the newspaper or the ancestors who came before me. Most of the time I’d sit in the hallway, eavesdropping on their tales, picturing the scenes I heard as movies in my mind.

My grandfather was a 'talker’ and whenever he’d enter the room, he’d join in the conversation, disputing some of the women’s stories and adding details to others. Hands down, he was the best story-teller I have known.

One story from my grandfather’s childhood has long fascinated and haunted me. In 1920 when my grandfather was ten, he and his older brother were sent to pick up a delivery that was arriving by steamboat down the Apalachicola River from Bainbridge, Georgia. Since their father owned a mercantile in a crossroads community, such a request was not unusual. The boys were always being sent to Apalachicola, the county seat, for deliveries.

After the dockworkers in Apalachicola had loaded a crudely constructed box onto their wagon, my grandfather and his brother traveled back home guessing what was inside. My grandfather bet his brother that it was a grandfather clock.

Back at the family store with the box now unloaded from the wagon, my great-grandfather used a crowbar to pop the lid open. My grandfather was so scared at the sight he saw that he stumbled and fell backwards, tearing the seat in his britches.   A man, soiled with filth and caked with mud, climbed out of the box.

The man who had been nailed shut inside the box was shipped during the night to his cousin, my great-grandfather, for safe keeping. The man was on the run for supposedly killing his wife and her lover. Even though the court had exonerated him, the wife’s family sought vengeance. They had made it known that they would hunt him down and kill him.

My grandfather and his brothers were instructed not to ask any questions and if they were asked by the people in the village, they were told to simply say that the visitor was a worker their father had hired. After about three months, my grandfather awoke one morning and the man was gone. He had moved on.

Man in the Blue Moon is dedicated to the memory of my grandfather, Curtis Whitfield. He died last year but because of his storytelling, his story lives on in the pages of this novel. My grandparents were not wealthy people but because of them I have a rich inheritance. They gave me unconditional love, a sense of who I am and where I come from and a love of storytelling.

MAN IN THE BLUE MOON is our November book club selection. If you haven’t picked up a copy there’s still time to get one before we discuss the book later this month. And don’t forget to enter this month’s giveaways.

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The Power of Story – Part Two

On Tuesday we heard from Jonathan Gottschall, author of The Storytelling Animal and how he believes our attraction to Story is rooted in science. But today we have a different take on the subject. Speaker, storyteller, and author Steven James believes that Story is embedded deep within the realm of faith. Although best known as a novelist (i.e. the bestselling Patrick Bower series), Steven’s new book is STORY: Our Journey of Heartache and Grace from Eden to Evermore.

The Ceiling Fan Principle by Steven James | @sjamesauthor

There’s a Jewish saying, “God created man because he loves stories. ” I don’t think that’s the only reason God created the world, but I like the saying. We live multi-storied lives, and I believe he wants to be a part of them every step of the way.

After elementary school children return to school after break, teachers will often give them an assignment to write about “what they did over summer vacation. ”

The papers end up being lists of things that happened: I went to camp and I went swimming and then I played video games, etc . . .

One time I was doing a residency at a school after summer vacation, teaching the students about storytelling and writing and I said, “Please don’t tell me what you did over the summer. But could someone tell me about something that went wrong? ”

A 4th grade boy raised his hand and said, “My cousin came over and we were seeing who could jump the farthest off the bunk bed. ”

“What happened? ” I asked.

“Well, he went first and got pretty far and I said, 'I can get farther than that.’ ” The boy paused. He was a natural storyteller, and by then the whole class was leaning forward.

“So did anything go wrong? ”

“I jumped off the bed, he said, “and the ceiling fan was on. I got my head stuck in the fan and it threw me against the wall! ” The whole class erupted in laughter. This kid really was a natural storyteller.

Now, if I would’ve said, “Tell me about what you did over vacation, ” he might have given me a report: “I played with my cousin. ” But when I asked him to tell me about what went wrong, he told me a story.

Great storytellers know that the entire story pivots upon the struggle of your main character and what he is trying to achieve, overcome, or accomplish.

I think that the same is true in our lives. We face difficulties and struggles and our lives are disrupted. We try to get things back to normal, but we don’t succeed—in the end lives move on to a new kind of normal: a son dies, a spouse leaves, we lose a job, our computer crashes, and on and on.

We live in a fractured and imperfect world, which means that we are entering and leaving new stories every day.

It’s exciting, it’s challenging, but I remind myself that God wants to be a part of my story.

Even if that means I have to deal with getting my head stuck in the ceiling fans of life.

Recapture the mystery of God’s story

With stunning imagery, powerful poetry, and real-life drama,  Story  is an inspiring journey from the creation of the world to eternity and everything in between. Consummate storyteller Steven James threads together familiar scenes from Scripture that will awaken your faith and inspire you to live in the reality of Christ’s sacrifice. As he untangles the intricacies of the whole story of the Bible, you will rediscover the majesty and the mystery you’ve been missing.

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The Power Of Story – Part One

At She Reads we’re fond of saying that Story is the shortest distance to the human heart and there may be no group of people more devoted to finding and discussing great stories than we are. With that in mind, we thought it would be fun to look at Story from two different perspectives this week: science and faith. First up is  Jonathan Gottschall, author of The Storytelling Animal.    On Thursday we’ll hear from speaker, storyteller, and award-winning novelist Steven James.

The idea for The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human  came to me with a song. I was driving down the highway on a brilliant fall day, cheerfully spinning the FM dial. A country music song came on. My usual response to this sort of catastrophe is to slap franticly at my radio in an effort to make the noise stop. But there was something particularly heartfelt in the singer’s voice. So, instead of turning the channel, I listened to a song about a young man asking for his sweetheart’s hand in marriage. The girl’s father makes the young man wait in the living room, where he stares at pictures of a little girl playing Cinderella, riding a bike, and “running through the sprinkler with a big popsicle grin / Dancing with her dad, looking up at him. ” The young man suddenly realizes that he is taking something precious from the father: he is stealing Cinderella.

Before I knew it I was blind from tears, and veering off the road to mourn the day—still more than a decade off—when my own little girls would fly the nest. I sat there for a long time feeling sad, but also marveling at how quickly Chuck Wicks’s small, musical story ( “Stealing Cinderella “) had melted me—a grown man, and not a weeper—into sheer helplessness. How odd it is, I thought, that a story can sneak up on us on a beautiful autumn day, make us laugh or cry, make us amorous or angry, make our skin shrink around our flesh, alter the way we imagine ourselves and our worlds. How bizarre it is that when we experience a story—whether in a book, a film, or a song—we allow ourselves to be invaded by the teller. The story maker penetrates our skulls and seizes control of our brains.

The Storytelling Animal uses insights from biology, psychology, and neuroscience to try to understand what happened to me on that bright fall day.   It’s about the way that stories—from TV commercials to daydreams to the burlesque spectacle of professional wrestling—saturate our lives. It’s about deep patterns in the happy mayhem of children’s make-believe, and what they tell us about story’s prehistoric origins. It’s about how fiction subtly shapes our beliefs, behaviors, ethics—how it powerfully modifies culture and history. It’s about the ancient riddle of the psychotically creative night stories we call dreams. It’s about how a set of brain circuits—usually brilliant, sometimes buffoonish—force story structure on the chaos of our lives. It’s also about fiction’s uncertain present and hopeful future.  Above all, it’s about the deep mysteriousness of story. Why  are  humans addicted to make believe? How did we become the storytelling animal?

Jonathan Gottschall teaches English and writes books at the intersection of science and art.  His work has been featured in outlets like  The New York Times Magazine,  The New York Times,  Scientific American Mind,  New Scientist,  The Chronicle of Higher Education, Nature,  Science, BBC Radio and NPR.  His blog,  The Storytelling Animal, is featured at  Psychology Today.  Jonathan lives with his wife and two young daughters in Washington, Pennsylvania.

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Literary First Love – Michael Morris

Today’s post by author, Michael Morris | @MichaelMorrisBK

“My wound is geography. It is also my anchorage, my port of call. “

Twenty-three years after stumbling across The Prince of Tides at the library in my hometown of Perry, Florida, I can still recite the opening lines by heart. It is a novel that I love to revisit.

My mom and I fled an abusive household and took refuge with my grandparents. While my mom went back to school to learn a trade to support us, my grandparents went to work on me. They gave me unconditional love, a sense of where I come from and a love of storytelling.

I did not grow up in a family of readers. The Prince of Tides is one of the first novels I read that was not mandatory for school. The suffering of the characters and their secrets of abuse spoke to me, as did the coastal landscape which becomes a character itself in the novel. For me, the heart of the novel is the complexity of the human experience and the hope for redemption. Tom Wingo begins a journey to New York, believing that he will help his sister who has attempted suicide. He ends up freeing the demons of his own past.

Like many writers I had a high school English teacher who encouraged me to write. It was the first time I’d been told I could do anything well related to academics. So I decided that I would major in public relations and write press releases and video scripts — believing that writers lived in New York or Paris or if they were from the South they were eccentric alcoholics who lived in run down mansions. That really was my world view. Pat Conroy helped to change all of that.

The Prince of Tides presented real characters in a time and place I knew well. While I’m not from South Carolina, I am from the Panhandle of Florida and the beautiful scenes of marsh, shrimp boats and the rhythm of coastal tides were my world. So too were the hurts and hopes of the people in his novel. Reading it for that very first time, I felt that I had finally found art that was accessible.

It would take me another ten years until I started writing my own stories — stories inspired by ones I heard as a child in my grandparent’s living room.   But The Prince of Tides first introduced me the power of connecting emotions to beautiful writing, mystical settings and unforgettable characters.

Michael’s latest novel is MAN IN THE BLUE MOON and we’re giving away two copies today! Just leave a comment on this post if you’d like to be entered in the drawing.

“He’s a gambler at best, a con artist at worst, ” her aunt had said of the handlebar-mustached man who snatched Ella Wallace away from her dreams of studying art in France. Eighteen years later, that man has disappeared, leaving Ella alone and struggling to support her three sons.

While the world is embroiled in World War I, Ella fights her own personal battle to keep the mystical Florida land that has been in her family for generations from the hands of an unscrupulous banker. When a mysterious man arrives at Ella’s door in an unconventional way, he convinces her that he can help her avoid foreclosure, and a tenuous trust begins.

But as the fight for Ella’s land intensifies, it becomes evident that things are not as they appear. Hypocrisy and murder soon shake the coastal town of Apalachicola and jeopardize Ella’s family.

Pat Conroy, author of The Prince of Tides, has this to say about Man in the Blue Moon: “Michael Morris has been one of my favorite Southern writers. His new novel is reason for great celebration–a beautifully wrought portrayal of small-town Southern life. Buy it. Read it.”

Michael Morris is a Southern Book Circle Award finalist and the author of the acclaimed novels A Place Called Wiregrass (a Christy Award winner) and Slow Way Home, named one of the best novels of the year by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. A Florida native, he now lives with his wife in Alabama.

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Surrounded By Story

Today’s post by Courtney Miller Santo, author of much-anticipated debut novel, THE ROOTS OF THE OLIVE TREE | @Courtney_Santo

Courtney Miller Santo

There aren’t any skeletons in my family closet. Well, I should say there are plenty, but the bones don’t stay put long enough to gather even a modicum of dust. I grew up surrounded by storytellers and much of their material came from the criminals and screw-ups scattered across our family tree. A good story is better currency than gold. It wasn’t until I was eight or nine that I became aware of the fact that the adults told each other stories that they didn’t tell in front of children.

These stories, often about their own mistakes, embarrassments, and regrets were much more interesting than what we heard sitting around in the living room trying to digest the bounty of a holiday meal. Such confessions were given after the children were in bed. I remember coming out of my room in search of a glass of water and hearing my father talk about his service in the Vietnam War. Nobody noticed me, and so I snuck into the living room and lay on my back behind the couch listening to my parents, my grandparents and other relatives trade stories.

If I were to pinpoint when I decided I wanted to be a writer, it would be the summer I read all of Laura Ingles Wilder’s books, but that day, when I fell asleep trying to figure out which of Grandpa’s relatives had gone into labor in a bar, I discovered the material I needed to do what Laura had done. I still eavesdrop—on strangers and relatives—because unguarded conversation is where we let a little of the truth of our lives out. After I had my first child, I became privy to the adults-only skeletons and discovered what I hadn’t realized as a child. These stories weren’t kept from me because of the subject matter, but because once told they humanized the adults—made them fallible. Children mostly require infallibility (or at least the illusion of it) from the adults in their lives.

My book, THE ROOTS OF THE OLIVE TREE explores the problems that arise when skeletons are kept in the closet and parents, especially mothers, fail their children. So many of the stories in the novel are re-imagined versions of the stories I’ve heard about my own family over the years and I hope that readers find them as fascinating as I did.

We’re giving away a copy of THE ROOTS OF THE OLIVE TREE today. Simply leave a comment on this post to enter.

Meet the Keller family, five generations of firstborn women—an unbroken line of daughters—living together in the same house on a secluded olive grove in the Sacramento Valley of Northern California.

Anna, the family matriarch, is 112 and determined to become the oldest person in the world. An indomitable force, strong in mind and firm in body, she rules Hill House, the family home she shares with her daughter Bets, granddaughter Callie, great-granddaughter Deb, and great-great-granddaughter Erin. Though they lead ordinary lives, there is an element of the extraordinary to these women: the eldest two are defying longevity norms. Their unusual lifespans have caught the attention of a geneticist who believes they hold the key to breakthroughs that will revolutionize the aging process for everyone.

But Anna is not interested in unlocking secrets the Keller blood holds. She believes there are some truths that must stay hidden, including certain knowledge about her origins that she has carried for more than a century. Like Anna, each of the Keller women conceals her true self from the others. While they are bound by blood and the house they share, living together has not always been easy. And it is about to become more complicated now that Erin, the youngest, is back, alone and pregnant, after two years abroad with an opera company. Her return and the arrival of the geneticist who has come to study the Keller family ignites explosive emotions that these women have kept buried and uncovers revelations that will shake them all to their roots.

Told from varying viewpoints, Courtney Miller Santo’s compelling and evocative debut novel captures the joys and sorrows of family—the love, secrets, disappointments, jealousies, and forgiveness that tie generations to one another.

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