Blog Series, Part One–Tell Your Story, because Your Life Matters

Why You Should Tell Your Story

    I just spent a couple of days with my younger sister, who lives some distance away. It was special to be reminded of happy times when we and our children were young. Later, life brought heartbreak and difficult days to both of us but now, we can laugh again. We’ve lived some stories that deserve to be told.

        My sister raised her family before going back to college and becoming a businesswoman. She lost two of her three adult children. Byron died in his early twenties in a plane crash, along with four other pilots on their way to fight wildfires in California. Cancer took Tami’s life. She left behind a husband and pre-teen daughter. Then my sister’s marriage imploded.
        In spite of multiple griefs and her own battle with cancer, she carried on with her artistic and expert gardening pursuits and is active in the community. Now she is rebuilding her life with a good and caring man. She has a lot to teach others about bravery in the face of heartache.
        Her stories matter. What she did, said, thought, and felt changed her own small corner of the world. Her life has meaning and consequences, and so does yours.

        Each of us makes a difference to someone, somewhere. By telling your own stories, you can continue to affect people’s lives long after you are gone. So, tell your story because your life matters.

    In the next few posts on Sun Breaks, I’ll offer more reasons why you should tell your stories. I’ll also include some “how-to’s.” Stay tuned.

Can you imagine a story behind this picture?

Red Balloons and Christmas Balls

Don’t you love the harmonies God creates in life? He specializes in what people often call coincidences but are really connections that surprise us, make us think, let us glimpse him at work behind the scenes.

    Our last Northwest Christian Writer’s Association meeting seemed full of these delightful connections, as several speakers, none of whom knew what the others planned to talk about, zeroed in on the same ideas. The presenters approached their topics from different directions, with different emphases, yet the meeting had a cohesiveness that would have been hard to plan. Here’s an example:

    Monique led off the meeting with a talk entitled, “The Red Balloon.” She told about walking with her friend and a five-year-old who was carrying a bunch of colorful balloons. Suddenly the only red balloon escaped and floated away. “My red balloon!” the child wailed. In vain, her mother showed her she still had lots of pretty balloons. She sobbed, “But red is my favorite.”

    We’re frequently like that little girl, Monique pointed out. Though God gives us so much to enjoy, we focus on our “red balloons” and if we lose them, we grieve, never seeing the good things all around us.

    Next to speak was Leslie Ann, with a “rubbish writing” exercise to help authors overcome the dreaded “brain freeze”…caused not by cold ice cream, but by the freeze-up of the fluid words and ideas we depend on. She flashed a picture of a decorated Christmas tree on the screen and said, “Take the next three minutes to write what comes to mind as fast as you can.”

    What do you know? There in the center of the tree was one red ball, the only one among all the ornaments. I don’t know if anyone else made the same connection, but here’s what I wrote:

    “A red balloon in the center of the tree. Was this planned? No, it’s a Christmas ornament. Monique’s red balloon represented something loved and lost and took the place in the child’s mind of the much God had for her. The red ball might represent God’s treasure—the much (Jesus)—loved and given up by God for us. How we grieve when we don’t have God’s perspective. How much we miss.”

    Maybe that sounds like rubbish to you. But there’s a kernel of truth there—a connection that I can ponder and expand upon later. And in the exercise I gained a valuable technique for unfreezing my brain when I think I’m stuck.

    God loves to bring harmony out of rubbish. Telling about his work is the joy of the Christian writer.

Disneyland for Writers

The Northwest Christian Writers Renewal in Redmond took place  Friday and Saturday. It’s been several years since my last writers conference, and the publishing world has been moving on without me. Terms like “e-blast” and web site titles and names of electronic gadgets I’d never heard of swirled through the conversations. Instead of sending carefully-printed proposals and other communications via postal service, everything is done electronically (and more cheaply) now.

Publishing itself is changing radically. There’s still a need for print books and magazines, but many companies now publish e-books which cost much less than the same book in printed form. Many writers self-publish their work, either as e-books or in traditional format.

Then there’s marketing. Authors have long done all they can to help their books sell, but now, most marketing is up to the writer. That’s why one hours-long class dealt with public speaking for writers. And that’s why authors need to know about “e-blasts” (communicating with possible readers through e-mail newsletters), web sites, blogging, Facebook posts, “tweets” and other social networking methods.

Many agents, editors, and professional writers shared their knowledge and encouraged writers to perfect their craft.

It was all fun and exciting, if a little overwhelming. When I commented on how there seemed to be a smile on every face, author Peggy King Anderson replied, “This is like a Disneyland for writers!”

The best part is, we weren’t just entertained. We came away with up-to-date new ways of sharing our work and the inspiration to keep on with what can be a lonely occupation.

Manga artist Heidi Alayne

Heidi shows her cousin Annie her latest project.

Haven’t you marveled at the skill with which comic book artists draw the same person over and over? They can draw the character in every conceivable pose, with facial expressions that mirror every possible emotion. They sometimes make hundreds of drawings that are consistent with each other. This is especially impressive when the artist uses a realistic style.

A recent visit with Heidi Wall, a young relative who is an artist and a writer, opened my eyes to the potential of manga-style comics. She specializes in magical realism, in the style of the popular Japanese comic books. (Click on photos to enlarge)

Some of Heidi’s characters 
A panel from a book

For a look at more of her art, go to her website:

The introduction says:

“Heidi Alayne Wall is a graphic novelist and illustrator who addresses the themes of fragility, purity, and destruction, with a particular focus on the frailty of the human figure.  In her work, elements of traditional cartooning are combined with ink wash, gouache, or digitally manipulated photographs to create delicate figures in oppressive environments.  Heidi’s charming and attenuated characters draw influence from both Japanese and western illustration, and each piece has a narrative or mystery behind it.”

Heidi understands how the human body is constructed and how it moves. She says photographs or models don’t really help her make her drawings live. What she must do is act out for herself what she wants to draw, or imagine how it feels to be in that position. Then, she says, her brain tells her fingers what to put on paper. The same is true for facial expressions. If she can imagine the emotion she’s trying to portray, and let her face express it, then her hands can draw it.

She doesn’t like to talk much about plans for her stories beforehand, because talking about it dissipates the energy that should go into the actual work. Many would-be novelists find that’s true. . .they can tell you all about the book they’re going to write, someday. But often, talking is as far as they get.

Every chapter of Heidi’s graphic novels has a beginning, a middle, and an ending that heightens the suspense. There is an overarching theme for each novel or series of novels, just as in non-illustrated fiction, and each contains a beginning, a middle, a climax and an end. The main difference is that comic book artists think of their  stories as if they’re writing a play. The lines go in the dialogue balloons, and thoughts in the thought balloons. The characters’ expressions and actions do the work of narrative.

She believes that writers’ underlying values come out in the stories they tell. She wants to share her values in an art form that appeals to many of today’s readers.

Heidi’s favorite artists in the field are Ai Yazawa, Clamp (a group of Japanese artists), and Paul Pope (an American artist). Inspiration for her story-telling comes from C.S. Lewis, Connie Willis (who writes excellent time-travel stories), and Neil Gaiman, a writer who collaborates with artists.

I learned a lot from Heidi, perhaps most importantly that manga-style novels, an art form I’d previously ignored, can tell stories as memorable and influential as any other novel.