Janet Bolin on Storytelling
- By: Jessica Faust | Date: Jun 07 2011
Publisher: Berkley Prime Crime
Pub date: June 7, 2011
Agent: Jessica Faust
Author Web/Blog links: www.threadvillemysteries.com/
Storytelling is an art that probably predates campfires, but why do some people become chroniclers of the truth, while others (and this includes me) . . . um . . . embroider the truth to make a good story, or at least a story that we like better?
I have a theory. The tendency to tell stories starts in childhood.
Take me. I ran up to a friend and tried, “I saw elves under the forsythia bush this morning.” This was not, of course, true, but it seemed like it could be. Would she believe me?
Her eyes opened wide. She breathed, “What were the elves like?”
Her willingness to fall for my blatant lie (notice I’m blaming her, not myself) propelled me toward a life of being less than truthful. I weaved outfits for the elves, built them tiny mushroom-shaped houses in magical forests. I gave them families, pets, gardens, and most important of all—missions they had to carry out.
And my friend always went along with me, asking, “What happened next?”
I happily created dragons, giants, sea turtles, elf-devouring plants, and/or flying furniture that, together, would make it nearly impossible for my poor beleaguered elves to accomplish their goals.
I started believing that the tales I spun were about real worlds, which meant that I wasn’t quite telling falsehoods.
My friend, now my best friend, listened and asked questions for days, weeks, months. I was lucky (depending on how you view the word “lucky”). She listened for years. She played minor parts in our elf reenactments while I took on all the major characters. I draped her in the brown dress-ups, and I donned the pretty (with dress-ups, “pretty” tends to be relative) green outfits.
I created whole worlds and at least one pint-sized person begged for more. What astonishing power!
After a while, I discovered that I couldn’t stop telling stories.
You believe me, right?
My best friend grew up to be normal (though perhaps a bit more skeptical than most), with a normal career. I grew up to become . . . oh, wait. Writers don’t exactly grow up, do we?
What about you? When you were a child, did you make up stories and games for your friends? What do you think compels people to lie for a living . . . er, sorry . . . what do you think compels people to write fiction?
Dire Threads, Berkley Prime Crime, June 7, 2011
What a fun story. And, yes, my childhood was full of whimsy. Who wouldn't want our make believe worlds where we're in control
I think I'm different. My fascination with fictional worlds is more about jumping into somebody else's skin for a while, trying out a different life. It started young, I LOVED acting. I'd do it in my room on my own (loser!) – having pretend fights with pretend people, dying dramatically across the homework on my desk. As I got older (and cooler) I did it through proper drama classes rather than improvising in my bedroom mirror.
I also love people watching…sitting somewhere and watching everyone around me, trying to imagine who they are, what they do, what their relationships are with the people they are with. Like "maybe he's mad at her cause she told him this morning she fantastizes about his best friend…"
When I write, I'm somewhere else…in that characters world. I see it all, I feel it all, and I have some sort of control over what happens in there.
OMG!! YES. I did make up stories for friends. The days play would be centered around the stories. Do you remember when you first realized other people didn’t have stories in their head? I still find it odd as I can’t understand what their brain is doing. How boring it must be for them. LOL!
I used to create songs to sing. I also convinved my sister that the old freezers, out in the laundry room, were filled with dead bodies. We lived in an old house with a decrepid barn that had us terrified of the dark. It was great for a vivid imagination but a frightening place to live.
Great story! I had an imaginary friend who listened to my stories. Talk about a captive audience…
Donna and Sandy, you both mentioned control. Eeek! We were little liars *and* control freaks!
Sandy, I can relate to falling dramatically across the homework. There were an amazing number of ways to not finish homework . . .
Rita, they don't have stories going on in their heads? Oh.
Enewmeyer, I convinced my sister (and myself) that the lights across the river were coming to get us. We were terrified!
Joyce, what a great thing for an imaginary friend to do!
I think mine started with Barbies (dolls, strawberry shortcake). My friends would only dress them up and fix their hair but my barbies got dressed to the nines to go to the dance because skipper tried to steal Ken and Barbie was taking him back!
Then as I got older and started growing out of Barbies it was making up characters with accents and talking to a mirror.
But I do remember clearly in first grade I convinced a boy that I had a twin at home and every other day we switched going to school and who ever went to school that day would come home and teach the other what they learned. He'd ask me "What was her name?, Which one of you will be here tomorrow?" And I don't even know what possessed me to try to convince him of that in the first place but once he believed it I was loving it!
Absolutely, I made up stories, but we role played. My elementary school best friend and I used to take her little wagon and load it up with sandwiches, a thermos of lemonade, cookies, etc., and then journey around her parents' 200+ acre farm, making up where we were traveling to, who we were fighting or running from. We incorporated fallen trees, streams, stumbled upon snakes into the tale. Fun!
As I got older, I began to analyze the motivation of people as to why I and my high school best friend thought someone would do what they did. That led to people watching and speculation about who they are and where they are in their life's journey.
Now the story ideas flow, the characters whisper, and I try to help them tell their stories.
Oh, I was(am) exactly the same! I can remember telling my neighbor friends that if we spun fast enough down their hill we would enter a magical land. And then I would *act* as if we did. I also told stories of my older brother, George, who had all sorts of fantastic adventures.
P.S. I have one sister. 🙂
Love your blog post, Janet, and I can see why Jessica snapped your work up. Personally, I became Sheena, Queen of the Jungle, for a day or two after that show came on TV, and the rest of the time, I was a heroine of the old west. Split personality.
Thank you for sharing. That was fun! I always liked telling stories, but I was a very quiet child. I didn't talk that much. All my words came out into my stories. I still have four binders full of short stories I wrote as a child about the kids I grew up with. We called ourselves the Kingham Kids. (We lived on Kingham Road!) It's fun to look back at them, and my friends always mention the stories on the rare occasions I see them these days.
What a fantastic story. I clearly remember being 4 years old and announcing grandly to my parents that I was going to be an author when I grew up. I couldn't even read yet. But I'd sit and make books filled with badly drawn pictures (I still can't draw) and random symbols, and then force them to sit through "book readings".
We moved around a lot when I was growing up, and I was always the outsider at school. So by high school, I'd concoted an entire backstory for myself as a visiting alien from Neptune. I had plenty of faux-science facts to back up my story of a hidden race of aliens living beneath the dust cloud on Neptune, and a ready supply of new audience members to entrance with my lies -er- stories.
You are all telling wonderful stories! I'm relating to them all, and laughing. We had such fun as children. I don't think I ever tried to convince anyone I was one of a pair of twins, Tracy, though I'd have liked to.
Betty, my high school best friend and I passed notes about what we thought people's motivation was. "I think he likes you!" We used code names. Luckily for us, no one intercepted the notes – the code names probably weren't as opaque as we hoped.
Jo, I thought a space ship might come from Venus and pick me up.
Thank you all for sharing your stories. They're delightful!
OMG what a great post, and I am laughing reading the comments because they made me remember things I did that I'd completely forgotten about!
I totally did what Tracy did, and convinced a boy in the 2nd grade that I had a twin, and then I'd act out that "twin's" personality the next day. Can't believe someone else did that too! That same year, we had to draw a pic of our family. Mine was boring, so I added all kinds of people, not realizing it would go on the wall for family night to view.
But it didn't start there. In first grade, we got two Hispanic girls in our class who barely knew English and since I was top reader I was put with them to help them. I was so in awe (never met or seen Hispanics before)that I started telling them and everyone else that my parents were Hispanic and that I was an adopted white girl.
Oh…and that just reminded me of an old lady that would walk her dog down our street every day and I'd regale her with stories of how I was really a Cherokee Indian and a rare one with blue eyes and white-blond hair.
Hmmm, seems I had identity issues. Other than that, I'd also make up things to shock my best friend. When she'd complain if I had to go to church, I'd tell her that it was cool because we dressed up in blue spangles and dance around a room. (oh my gosh).
Wow, kinda scary to look back at that now! No wonder we writers are just a little off. LOL!
What a fun friend you must have been! I often had stories going through my head, too, but I never made costumes for the characters. Maybe that's why you're writing textile mysteries involving embroidery. Did you embroider the dresses?
Domestic Diva Mysteries
Congratulations on the publication of your first book, Janet! I'm sure it will be a huge success.
Yes, I made up stories all through my childhood… and have never been able to break the habit.
Sharla, being around you when you were making all these things up had to be very amusing.
Krista, no I didn't embroider the costumes, except maybe with (gasp) grass stains. We had this great set of dress-ups – vintage clothing that I wish I hadn't ruined.
Sandra, all your other fans and I are *very* glad that you never broke yourself of the habit of telling stories!
Great post, Janet!
And congrats on your new release! Hope it flies off the shelves.
Loved this post! I certainly lived in my head as a kid and still do, to an extent. I always had fantasies and silly stories on my mind, but I didn't share them with many people. I thought my imagination made me weird. My best friend was the only one I'd confide in, and we definitely spent time making up stories.
I've not changed much as an adult. And I see myself in my five-year-old; she's got an enormous imagination and is always making up long stories. The difference between the two of is she's way more outgoing than I ever was. She'll share her stories with anyone who will listen!
Stacy, how wonderful that your five-year-old is willing to share stories. I hope that confidence stays with her throughout her life. She's lucky she has an understanding mother. Mine was, too, and encouraging.
Janet, I liked this post topic so much, I linked up to it and blogged about it myself. (and gave you a little shout out!) 🙂
Thanks, Sharla! Is there a trick to leaving a comment on your blog?What am I missing? (Wait, maybe I don't want you to answer that.)
I think my love of storytelling started the same way. I would gather my friends on the playground, and make them play pretend with me. We'd be unicorns or Pegasuses or ice skaters if the Olympics had aired recently. Even if we partook of the more "normal" activities like tetherball, it somehow got woven into the narrative. Any jewelry we were wearing became magical charms of great power in whatever quest we pursued.
When I discovered I could tell stories through writing as well, and that they'd never slip away as a result, I couldn't stop myself.
She's definitely a sharer. She just told a whopper about her, Megamind, and Spiderman at supper:)
Growing up, I didn't tell stories to my friends. But to help me fall asleep, I did (and still do) tell stories to myself. And yes, many of these stories now find themselves in various books-in-progress.
For me, it's because there are characters in my head, and they're beating their fists against my skull and they are SCREAMING at me to let them out so they can live their lives.
Once I let the reins slip, the story takes off and I'm helpless before it. Every once in awhile I can guide, but mostly they do what they want. I have to be content with editing their adventures.
There have always been people in my head (don't worry – not the kind requiring medication) and I'm finally realized that I am happiest when I am writing their lives and making REAL people smile and laugh and cry and beg to read more.
It's an intoxicating feeling, really.
Urk…and I managed to make a typo, too.
That should be "I'VE finally realized".
I wrote play versions of my favorite fairy tales. And then I made family members act them out (though we never actually got to a full production).
Even now the kids and I tell stories every evening before they go to bed. I don't think I'll ever get tired of it.
Kristin, your life on the playground sounds like mine – adding what we were playing to the *real* game – the stories we made up to go with it all.
Stacy, I'm coming to dinner at your house tonight to hear these stories!
Michael, the stories don't end, do they? I write – and read – in my dreams. Should I be confessing this?
HalcyonN, sometimes when I put my characters in predicaments, they demand to be let out. So I put them in worse predicaments . . .
Shakespeare, bedtime stories – how wonderful. I tried to force neighbors to help act out Cinderella. It didn't go well. They didn't want to be cast as ugly stepsisters and have to wear bathrobes for "gowns."
"the stories don't end, do they?"
Sure they do. And that's when I try to get them published!