“We tell stories in order to live.” ~~Joan Didion
Make It More Vibrant and Active
An interview with Fran Cain by B. Lynn Goodwin
When I learned that Fran Cain was a winner in the California Writers Club’s Literary Review Contest with her story, “Full Moon,” I asked her about her experiences as a writer. She told me this is her first time as a winner, that it’s not difficult to enter, that there’s a fee for submissions, and that the competition had over 300 entries. There were around 28 winners across the categories. You can learn more about their contest at https://calwriters.org/?s=literary+review.
“Full Moon,” which covers a lot of ground without wasting a single word shows imagination and shares some exquisite settings. I choose not to summarize it in the hopes that you’ll order the magazine. Why not support Cain and all the other authors?
In this interview you’ll learn where Cain gets her inspiration and read her advice to short story writers. The 2020 issue will be available before December.
BLGB: Tell us a little about your writing journey. How did you get started and where did you learn to write short stories?
FC: I’ve enjoyed writing stories since I was a little girl. I remember writing my first “book” in grade school. I aced all of my essay exams and papers through college, and I still have some of them. Once I started working in the corporate world, though, business writing took the place of creative writing until I decided to take a creative writing class at the Lafayette Community Center.
I needed to stimulate my creative brain which I felt was starting to atrophy from all those business letters and reports. Taking that one class changed my life in terms of writing. From there, I helped start a critique group called Writers on the Journey. Many years later, we still meet biweekly and help each other with our writing projects and keep each other motivated. I also take art classes and have since left the corporate world. Much of my time now is spent writing and painting.
BLGB: What prompted you to write “Full Moon”?
FC: A lot of the story actually happened. My husband and I were having a romantic getaway on the beautiful island of Kauai. One evening we took a stroll and found an intriguing path to an outdoor elevator. No one was around so we pushed the button and rode to the top. When we stepped out, it was as if we were in a different world–a deserted place with statues that beckoned us to follow long pathways to nowhere. What happens next is fictionalized, but you’ll need to read the story to find out.
BLGB: Where do you go when you need inspiration for a story?
FC: My mind, my observations, events that have happened to me or to people close to me. Sometimes they are simple things. For example, I was hiking in the woods this past week and heard a cow bell. That sparked a story in my mind. I’ll be getting it down on paper soon.
BLGB: Did you know how “Full Moon” would end when you started it?
FC: No. I rarely know how my stories will end, unless they are nonfiction. I let the creative process lead me. Having said that, the first ending may not be the final ending. I will listen to feedback from my critique group, and from my husband, and decide if changes are needed.
BLGB: I love that the first ending may not be the final ending. What is your favorite part of the story? Why?
FC: Well if I told you, you wouldn’t need to read the story! I will say, it gets very spooky and suspenseful. It was great fun to write.
BLGB: Understood. How did you learn about the California Writers Club Contest and what can you tell readers about the organization?
FC: I learned about it primarily from friends in my critique group. This is the second time I have sent an entry. The first time, I felt like I had a good story. But there is a lot of competition being a statewide contest, and so many excellent writers are in the club. I belong to the Mount Diablo Branch of the CWC, which meets monthly, except in summer, and the speaker presentations are always outstanding. I especially enjoy the workshops. It’s like being back in writing class.
BLGB: My compliments on writing a story where every sentence counts. What advice do you have to help short story writers become successful?
FC: One of my biggest challenges is that I am too brief. Case in point, I was allotted 900 words for this interview and at last count, I was far below that. I believe this comes from those many years of business writing where lots of white space is the rule. But I also don’t waste words when I’m speaking. That has been both a strength and a weakness in my life. I tend to expect people to know what I’m talking about. It doesn’t always work out that way.
My advice to other writers is to go back through your draft to check all adjectives and verbs and ask yourself if you can make them more vibrant and more active, more immediate. The answer is nearly always yes. In my own case, if I miss any, my critique group doesn’t hesitate to help point them out.
BLGB: What impact do you hope do you hope your story will have on readers and where / when will they be able to find it?
FC: This story is just for fun. I hope they will find it mysterious and intriguing and enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. Members of the CWC will receive a copy of the 2020 California Writers Club Literary Review as part of their membership. Extra copies may be available on request.
BLGB: Thanks so much for sharing this with us, Fran.
If you’d like to request a copy of the 2020 California Writers Club Literary Review, go to https://calwriters.org/publications/. If instructions for ordering the Literary Review aren’t there, click on the contact button and ask how to get a copy. Be sure to tell them that Fran Cain and Writer Advice, www.writeradvice.com sent you.
Secrets to Creating, Crafting, and Telling Memorable Stories
An interview with Kate Farrell by B. Lynn Goodwin
Storytelling has been around longer than the written word. How can you make your stories more vivid, compelling, and engaging? The tools are in Kate Farrell’s Story Power: Secrets to Creating, Crafting, and Telling Memorable Stories.
According to the Foreword written by Susan Wittig Albert, “author Kate Farrell guides us in the craft of creating and telling unforgettable, true stories for any occasion. She divides her chapters into Creating, Crafting, Telling, Exercises and Prompts. Dozens of authors share their approaches and the result is a rich compilation of techniques and ideas that will turn you into an effective storyteller.
In the interview below she shares the importance of oral storytelling, how she got started, and tips for marketing any how-to book.
BLG: Tell us what motivated you to become a storyteller. Can you add a reason that’s not already in the book?
KF: As a ten-year-old girl living on the Southside of San Antonio, Texas, I walked to the local public library and discovered the Andrew Lang Fairy Books, each one bound in a different color, like a rainbow. Enchanted with fairy tales from all over the world, I decided to put on a play of my version of the stories for the neighborhood children, and taught my five-year-old brother to take some of the parts. But when the day came for our performance, my little brother hid under the covers in his bed, and I had to take all the parts. It was my first, but not last, performance as a storyteller. I never lost my fascination for folklore and fairy tales, and wanted to share them.
BLG: How is oral storytelling different from written storytelling?
KF: The oral tradition includes folk literature that dates back to the beginning of time from all cultures. The ancients of every culture told stories to make meaning of life, to remember their history, and to entertain. A lot has changed since then, but stories haven’t. Some of the oldest stories ever told are still with us—because it’s in our nature to both tell and listen to them. Today, while many storytellers tell personal stories, their delivery is live, spontaneous, and engaging. The modern art of telling is similar, a performance, in the moment, with live interaction. It creates community and teaches universal truths.
Written storytelling, though it has some similarities to the ancient art, has a fixed text and is meant to be read in isolation, without deviating from the printed word. A printed text can have meaning and impact for the individual reader, but it does not, in and of itself, create community. Further, a literary work can be embellished with multiple literary devices, descriptive passages, and internal monologues, to name a few. Most of these stylistic features would encumber the tale a storyteller might tell, one that needs to move along quickly to hold the attention of the listening audience.
BLG: How can oral stories make people better writers?
KF: The obvious attribute that writers can take from the oral tradition is a sense of voice in their work. By learning to tell scenes aloud, to record them, and listen to the replay, writers can begin to develop their own voice on the page. All of us have a footprint in writing, a subtle rhythm, a cadence, and a rise and fall of emotion. Listening to your own voice, reading your own words, is a powerful way to increase your sense of its presence in a written text, and by so doing, engage your readers. Voice is the quality that brings a text to life, and lifts it off the page—gives a vital dimension to fiction and nonfiction.
BLG: When/how did you realize that you should be sharing your techniques with teachers as well as writers and how did you locate people who wanted to learn?
KF: Storytelling as an effective teaching strategy was my first focus, and I received a generous, long-standing grant from a local foundation. After three years, developing training ideas, research, and materials, the project became affiliated with the CA Dept. of Education, providing endorsement and access to CA schools statewide. Later, I learned the genre of memoir and began to edit and publish anthologies of personal narrative. Memoirists and storytellers have much in common, and both fields are increasing in popularity.
BLG: I like the pragmatic organization of Story Power. How did you select this format and where did your sample topics come from?
KF: I relied on the structure of my previous storytelling books and training materials, in particular, the first one, Word Weaving: A Storytelling Workbook, 1980. Over the 12 years of the storytelling project’s grant, I was able to identify training tools that worked and identify themes of compelling interest.
BLG: It was exciting to realize that I am acquainted with many of your contributors. What were you looking for when you chose them?
KF: After years of volunteering for writing groups, like the California Writers Club, the San Francisco Writers Conference, and WNBA-SF Chapter, I became fortunate to have a network of writer friends. From those, I chose a range of diverse voices: ethnic, racial, sexual preferences, cultural, even political. Knowing the published works of many of the writers and the themes within the book, I approached each person, chapter by chapter, matching authors to themes.
BLG: How is marketing a book like this different from marketing a novel or memoir?
KF: A nonfiction, how-to book for the adult market is a much easier book to sell than a novel or memoir, because its readers are already identified: those interested in learning a particular skill, a targeted market. With good strategies for discoverability, such as meta data, SEO, keyword choices, a robust online presence, readers can find a how-to book by its subject matter. Novels and memoir readers are not so easy to target, so marketing depends on book reviews, tours, the reputation of the author, a strong emotional and literary appeal.
BLG: What advice would you give to a writer who wants to share specific skills she has acquired?
KF: The most important first step is to research the market by looking for recently published, comparative titles; if possible, determine sales figures for those books. In that way, you can modify your approach and target a more specific reader. Next, look for a publisher that includes similar books in its catalog. Finally, develop your own platform in teaching those skills, if not already in place.
BLG: How was writing this book different from your first one, and where can readers learn more about you and your storytelling practices?
KF: My writing process clearly aligned with my first storytelling book, not only in style, but in the exact timing of writing a draft in 1979/2019 with publication in 1980/2020. I worked from an outline, and structured my work so that I could set individual deadlines. I was able to submit each chapter in draft form to Mango, as I once did throughout the summer of 1979 from a Sierra mountain town to a foundation in San Francisco. But in 1979, I worked on a manual typewriter, stuffed the manuscript for each chapter in a manila envelope, rode my bicycle to the photocopier, and mailed the original MS onion skin pages at the local post office.
BLG: Now that’s a story. I remember onion skin typing paper and manual typewriters. We’ve come a long way.
Two recommendations for those of you reading this interview:
Get a copy of the book.
Google Kate Farrell events to find her next Zoom workshop. It will bring her concepts to life.
Whether you’re telling stories to kindergarteners or an audience in a comedy club, Kate Farrell’s Story Power can help you out. Highly recommended!