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  • We've had a very interesting dialogue running on the Cowbirders Facebook group the past day or so, sparked by a comment Sandy Olson made, and by Renee Meijer's college paper on storytelling and Cowbird, that she's been interviewing some of us for. (Did you all know that we have a private group on Facebook, Cowbirders, for those of us wishing to have more interaction with our fellow Cowbird Storytellers? Only requirement to join the group is that you be a Cowbird storyteller).

    The topic of this particular dialogue was, Real Life or Fiction? What's your preference, and why? We've had some great comments on both sides, and in the middle, of that topic.

    I shared some of what I had also shared with Renee in my skype interview with her. My preference, in storytelling, is for stories based in real life situations. I don't have the creative imagination to make up some of the actual occurrences that have happened, or that I have observed, in my life.

    I tried my hand at fiction writing the year before I joined Cowbird. I was all jazzed up and passionate about the concept of the story I had in mind - a fictional account, based on my Great Grandfather's Civil War Diaries, of 2 young teenaged boys thrown into the throes of war, one fighting for the North (based on Martin's experience), and one fighting for the South.

    The story would follow each of them through the war and beyond, telling the story of their lives beyond the war, how they fared in peace-time, how the war experience shaped who they were and how they lived, with the story culminating when they both met back up on the major battlefield of their youths and of the war, at the 75th Anniversary and commemoration of the Gettysburg Battlefield. Martin had actually lived to attend this event, along with hundreds of other surviving participants from North and South.

    I did a ton of research, talked to anyone and everyone about my project, including several other published Civil War novel authors; I had a filmmaker interested in making a film of my story, a publisher interested in my concept and outline.

    I had it all going for me, except for one thing - I'd only actually written 6 pages of the story before I hit the proverbial brick wall. I couldn't write any more if my life depended on it. I completely lost interest in the project. I had no internal energy for it, no fire, the passion dried completely up. I felt like a complete fool, a fraud and a failure.

    Then, like a life raft in an ocean full of water, water everywhere, Cowbird came floating into my world. I climbed up and onto this raft, and there was only one thing I needed to do to stay afloat on it - tell and listen to stories. Any kind of stories would do - favorite oldies, poems, 6 word stories, haikus, whatever floated my boat - and, my boat kept floating, and has carried me around the world and back home many, many times since.

    The art of the story does require creativity and imagination - just a different facet of these than does fiction. He takes old journal entries down from the dusty attics of his life, dusts them off, and breathes new life into them as he spins them into a tale.

    What separates a good story from just a journal entry is creativity and imagination. The storyteller looks at the journal entry, be it actual or mental journal, and finds the thread that links the event to a universal truth, to something in the event that will resonate with others, and then skillfully follows that thread, weaving the story as he does.

    Does he embellish the details just a smidgeon, sacrificing fact for a great story? Sometimes. Most storytellers do. However, I do everything in my storyteller's power to limit this embellishment to a bare minimum, as it is my belief that the universal truth, the thing that will resonate the deepest and most dramatically with the most number of people, is the truth of the actual event. The challenge is how to convey it in a way that is both interesting to the listener/reader, and truthful.

    Especially when the audience is also a bunch of storytellers. More than anyone else, a storyteller can smell bullshit a mile away!

    That's my story, and I'm sticking to it!
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