Category Archives: true stories

Write a Letter

To an old friend:

Remember how often we’d write to each other, pen-pal? Your letters stamped from exotic places, arriving in the mailbox on sunny mornings. I would trot down the driveway to check the mail, sometimes disappointed with impersonal printed business, sometimes cheered with a wrapped message that promised to be a delight to read.

Remember how easily the words came in those days, before there was such thing as a word count, a “good story”, structure, and grammar? Pooh. In those days there were books. In those days we told each other true stories, and wide-eyed we’d read them like the most gripping young-adult novel, except- these were real, written just for us, for our eyes only.

We wrote to each other. We wrote freely, as we were moved to. Unsupervised, unrequired writing, pure joy. Before I knew that “it’s” isn’t possessive, and before I knew what paragraphs are good for. It didn’t matter. I learned, and my letters were plenty readable.

For years I wrote to you. You wrote to me. Preferring paper and pen to face-to-face talk, I would wander the hillside like Frederick the mouse, gathering colors and sounds, images of plants in the sunshine. I would bring them back, in my mind, my camera, my words. Forest air in my lungs, forest dirt on my boots, blackberry scratches on my knees, sweat on my forehead. Alone, I would gather words for my next letter, and when pen met paper I would tell you stories of the places I’d been.

Write back soon!

Your Pen-Pal



First there’s nothing in the cold, dark sky. Hollow wind. Distant traffic. Blowing clouds, low to the hills, lit eery red in city’s glow.

Tree branches clink, together, apart. Leaves rustle. Then, all is still.

A prick of fire on your cheek.

A feather on an eyelash.

Turn on the light! Turn it on! Let’s look!

Snow. The first snow is falling.

Crystals from heaven, first cotton flakes, hesitantly whisping to the ground. Disappearing in a moment. Then the skies open. The world’s a snowglobe. Thousands of fluffy flakes dance around you, alighting on your hair, clinging to your lashes, melting on your tongue.


Tonight is cool, after several sweltering days. June fireflies dance in the meadow, and young goldenrods shoot upwards. The grass is still now that the sun has set. It’s silent, until the softest breeze tickles the treetops, sends them rushing like ocean ripples on sand. The breeze blows itself out in a few seconds, and then another gentle breath flows by.

A woodcock flies by in the twilight, whistling its song as fast as its hectic wings beat. The bird is a blur in the distance, barely visible, when another blur joins it. Both dive downwards and are gone. The song is over; a companion is found.

The sky and shadowland are both still. Jupiter shines. First stars twinkle. The fireflies and one lonely cricket are holding back, staying subtle. It’s only June. August is the time for nighttime ruckus, the last hoedown of summer.

Tonight, the soft, dying breaths of wind are prelude to autumn. I’ve heard them before under cold, empty skies, full harvest moon glaring over a barren October landscape. Tree branches clink together. Leaves rustle. I shiver with cold.

But tonight it’s June. And just as February’s sunshine foretells the spring thaw, this night whispers of coming frost.


Natural Enemies: Creating Conflict

top20superscenes-darkknightinterrogation-590Every story needs clash, whether it’s a grand battle of good vs. evil or the more nuanced everyday confrontations when opposing forces collide.

The best stories, in my opinion, blur the line between good and evil. The bad guy is so relatable that you care for them against your better judgement, and the good guy occasionally makes you dislike them. How can a writer accomplish this, and write convincing clash?

First of all, start with two people who are fundamentally different from each other. (Whenever two people are different enough, clash arises.) Pair natural enemies. Think of the classics:

Luke Vader SnipRebel vs. Dictator—Luke and Vader.

Criminal” vs. Policeman—Jean Valjean and Javert.

Order vs. Chaos—Batman and the Joker.

But also think about real-life natural enemies, where it’s harder to tell who’s the good guy.

Environmentalist vs. Third-world Poacher.

Fundamentalist vs. Liberal.

Partier vs. Studier.

Starting with ingredients like these—two opposing forces that can’t coexist until someone changes—is a great way to generate an entertaining and meaningful story.

Introvert or Extrovert: You’re Probably Not What You Think

Introverts are shy people, right? And extroverts love to socialize? That’s not exactly how it is.

I just recently went for my first train ride in 15 years. I was in a new and exciting environment, surrounded by new people, lacking guidance about exactly how to behave and what to do. And, oh yeah, I was the videographer. My purpose was to record the event.


I spent 5 hours in and around the train, riding, waiting, talking, climbing, finding vantage points. I even got to ride in the cab and record the view from there. It was a fantastic adventure.

When I got home though, I was exhausted. Thoroughly exhausted. It took me a day and a half to really feel back to normal again, and I wondered to myself, How could such a fun experience be this tiring?

My answer: I’m an introvert. I’m also a go-getter, and my actions rarely reflect shyness. Introverts aren’t necessarily shy, or unfriendly, or unable to enjoy socializing. Introverts just need time to recharge.

The difference between introverts and extroverts is this: introverts recharge while they’re alone or in familiar situations, while extroverts recharge by socializing or encountering new situations. Introverts are more sensitive to stimuli than extroverts, and they need to recharge when they’ve been overstimulated. Extroverts need to recharge when they’ve been bored and understimulated.

No wonder it took me so long to “recover” from this wonderful event. 5 hours of new experience—thundering, whistling, action-packed adventure—was a lot for my introvert self. But after a recharge, I’m ready for more excitement!

Yesterday’s Stories

If a nation loses its storytellers, it loses its childhood.” – Peter Handke

This Memorial Day, memories came to the forefront of our national attention. Veterans’ stories were told through videos of war and survivors, through dramatic and interpretive speeches and songs, through lasting stone monuments. All of these forms of storytelling help us to remember our history; for many of us, others’ accounts are the only experience we have of war.

I do not want to detract from the significance of Memorial Day. Yet, as a storyteller, I am awed that sharing these historical stories is the greatest honor we can give to the men and women who gave everything.


Sharing true, meaningful narratives is the pinnacle of storytelling, and Memorial Day illustrates the moving power of historical nonfiction. Historical fiction (a paragraph of which I’ve quoted below) also can recreate a past that deserves to be remembered.

Joanna was not long in discovering that Eleanor’s memory was no less remarkably preserved than her small white teeth. It was rare to reach such an age without gaping blank spaces in the mouth and mind; most ancients were reduced to gruel and muddled memories in which time blurred all boundaries. But Eleanor had somehow triumphed over the vagaries of age, just as she’d somehow triumphed over the confines and constraints of womanhood. Her past was very much with her, vivid and precisely drawn, a treasure trove of memories ripe for sharing. And share them she chose to do, in those sultry summer nights when sleep would not come and her yesterdays seemed so very close, just beyond reach.” – Sharon Kay Penman, Here Be Dragons