The Value of Stories

Kathleen Delaney, author of Murder Half-Baked and other books, retired from real estate to pursue writing full time. She’s here today to talk about why stories, in all forms, are so important to us all.

Murder by Syllabub, fifth in the Ellen McKenzie series, is available in bookstores now. Purebred Dead, the first in the new Mary McGill series, was released in August 2015 and Curtains for Miss Plym was released in April 2016. Blood Red, White and Blue was released in July 2017.

Several years ago, I lived in a small town in South Carolina. I didn’t move there because I thought the opportunity for concerts, art exhibits, or evenings at the ballet would be on the agenda. I came because they had a good college and a good library in a quiet, small town setting. The concerts and art exhibits were close enough, so was a major airport.

Imagine my surprise when I heard that Gaffney was getting a traveling exhibit put together by the Smithsonian. The Smithsonian? Here? In Gaffney? Yep. An exhibit dedicated to the history of American music. I rushed to see it, thinking I’d be one of the few, hoping I was wrong. I was. The place has been packed, as have been the concerts associated with it.

That same year my grandkids stayed with me over spring break. One day, while we were driving somewhere, my granddaughter announced she had an idea for a book and I was to write it. Oh, no. It’s your idea, you write it, I said. How about if we write it together, was her answer. Sounded good to me, so I asked her the plot. Talk about gory! But, we wrote the story. Sort of. It never got a final edit, but we sure got the plot down and the characters fleshed out.

Here we have two things not connected in any way. Right? Wrong. They are both about story. The history of our country is told in the songs represented in the Smithsonian exhibit, the folk songs, the ballads, the anthems, they’re our collective story, what has made us Americans told in song. That’s one of the reasons so many people have wandered through the exhibit, have listened to the concerts. And, it was story, the joy of making one up, of letting her imagination run wild, that made the telling of that gruesome little tale so much fun for my granddaughter, but there were other things in there besides fun. Ghosts and other scary things were dealt with, and conquered, children were in danger, but were rescued by parents, also by the dog, and in the end, the children rescued the parents. We worked through a lot more than just some exciting plot points in that half-hour, and we had a lot of fun doing it.

Since mankind drew pictures on the walls of caves, we’ve been telling stories, in song, in dance, in drawings, and in—stories. We’ve kept our history alive through stories. We’ve made sense out of scary things, like death and destruction, and chronicled our high points and our low. At first, we told them around a camp fire or listened to them in the town square. Now, we write them down, print them into books or read them on our iphones. The means have changed, but our love, our need for stories hasn’t. They connect us. They  make us laugh, and cry. They take us places we’d never go, introduce us to people we’d otherwise never meet, make us think about things in ways we’ve never thought about before. All through stories.

Story telling–it’s in our DNA.