Story gathering

Published 6:00 am Friday, October 27, 2017

I’ve decided that story gathering is a good thing. After doing it for years, maybe I’m a little slow in arriving at that conclusion.

Don’t get me wrong. I’d love to write a break out, uplifting novel that made the New York Times Best Seller list. I’m not going to quit writing if I don’t.

When I was in the classroom working on book projects with my students, it was always a thrill to have them come in with a handwritten story from an aunt, uncle, mom, dad, or grandparent. Sometimes they simply remembered what they’d been told and wanted to share it with the class. My goal in sub projects was to get generations talking to each other and having face to face discussions.

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I tell you, there is hardly anything better than seeing a person see their name in print for the first time, whether they are 9 or 90.

I have the ability to write complete books on my own. I have written several. But there is something special about gathering stories from real people about their real life adventures, trials, and victories. People are the most interesting libraries around. Everyone has a stack of books living inside about themselves, their mishaps, and their interaction with people they love.

I’m okay with being a story gatherer. It is fun and interesting. People’s stories fascinate me. They are better than watching phony characters on television, and that’s for sure.

It’s true that I don’t make a lot of money from collecting and sharing other people’s stories. If all of the hours of work, travel, designing, and editing were added together, I might make about $.50 per hour. Still, I have to write. Even if it is only for myself and my own entertainment, I have to write.

There are always story ideas buzzing around in my head. I always have book projects on a shelf that are in one stage or the other in completion. Some topics take years to come together and have enough topics for a book. For example, I started collecting stories for Panther Tales and other Creature Encounters years ago. I’ve heard enough stories to more than fill a book. But people often tell me great stories when I am nowhere near a typewriter or tape recorder, and I can’t remember all the fine details after I get home. Some people will tell a great story and then turn around and say, “Now you CAN’T put that one in a book.”

I think the hesitation is because people don’t want to be laughed at. I understand. I’ve been laughed at because of telling about panther tales of my own encounters. The people laughing at me are always ones who have never seen one for themselves.

I know there are enough panther and critter tales to fill up several books in this region of the country. Finding people who are willing to talk is a whole different matter.

If I had the time and cash to support myself, I can’t think of anything more exciting than gathering stories from real live people who have lived through history that most people are reduced to only reading about.

Our people in Appalachia are natural story tellers. I had someone this week say to me that she wasn’t a story teller. I couldn’t believe it! She tells stories all the time and they are always good!

I’m convinced that most people can tell a good story, but they are intimidated about writing it down. My advice is to turn on a tape recorder and record stories while they may be found. For those who are willing to try to write, my advice is to write exactly like you talk. Imagine you are telling your story to a friend and let the words flow.

I believe most people are better story tellers than they realize. I wish every single person would write down their own stories, and stories from elder generations in their own family.

In the meantime, I will do what I can to preserve the beautiful story telling heritage of the region. I’ll take my camera and my notebook, or a tape recorder and save as much as I can.

Reach Judith Victoria Hensley at or on Facebook. Check out her blog: One Step Beyond the Door.