catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 6, Num 16 :: 2007.09.07 — 2007.09.21


The Story

For this story, I use my own voice because I want a conversational transition from when I read actual stories.  So much is on my voice: I am aware of breaths, time, intonation.  When I read books the first or second time, I have to find the voice or I won’t be able to communicate the book.  And that depends on if it’s well written. If it is, you just go with it and let that character take you.   Books can be well-written and not have a strong voice but I have a harder time of communicating those. For my story, I use my own voice so it seems more ordinary and intimate.

My mother is an elementary school librarian, half book nerd, half storyteller. When I once asked her in a James Lipton-style interview what profession other than her own she would consider pursuing, her response was immediate: acting.  Now if you knew my mother this would be the obvious choice.   She has the ability to bring to life any part in the church Christmas pageant or the bit character in a summer camp skit.   Often I imagine my mother with little third graders huddled at her feet.  Between the book stakes, they lean in as if to fully grasp each word as she brings to life the adventures of the fiction shelves in squeaky voices and guttural bellows.  These images are so vivid as they blend with my memories of bedtime books and long car rides.  Late into my teens I was thrilled when my mother asked if she could practice a reading on me.

The story she is referring to is her story, which she thought up all on her own.  I have only heard it once, though I have cajoled her into telling it a half dozen times to my various friends.  It took place about this time of year when the leaves start to change and the air gets crisp.  She tells it every year during the week of October 31 to unsuspecting fourth graders.

How did you come up with the idea for your story?

I knew I wanted to tell a scary story in the fall, but I didn’t want to include the occult or anything demonic.  And I knew that very often good stories contain an element of truth. That’s why mine contains actual people that I went to school with, Carrie and Lou.  And the Eastern Shore [of Maryland]—many of the students have been there, they know it.  I say, “Maybe some of your moms go antiquing.” They nod their heads. Very often the scariest stories are the ones based on the familiar, the personal.    In my own reading and my own experience for a good story you need to form an atmosphere.  Even the students who know what’s coming will sit back and enjoy the story.

What’s the best reaction you’ve had to your story?

Every year I get good reactions.  Some of the best are when they jump up out of their chairs and run for the door, some fall out of their seats, cry, or say they are going to tell their parents.  That’s when it’s really fun. [a small chuckle] Maybe that’s sadistic. Or days or weeks later, some will say, “Don’t tell that story again.”

I know how these kids feel; even as my mother was reminiscing during this interview I could feel the anxiety building.  Ten or so years ago when she went back to teaching and wanted to practice her story I knew it was only a tall tale, like the millions of tall tales told at family gatherings by my various relatives, but I still freaked out.  Clenching the inside of our Volvo at the intersection of Joppa Road and Paring Parkway, I knew my mother was sane, I knew that Lou and Carrie were not in institutions, and I knew there couldn’t have been an antiquing trip to the Eastern Shore because my mother wasn’t living in Maryland at that time the story began.  But some instinctual part of me still wanted out of the small vehicle with the crazy woman in it.  Every year I ask her how it went.  She relishes in telling about John or Kyle or little Caitlin who claimed to almost pee their pants. I sheepishly giggle.

Have you ever received a call from a parent?

Never. I don’t dissuade them from telling their parents and sometimes I encourage them to tell them as long as they don’t have a younger sibling or friend around for whom it would ruin the story.  I think that it has nothing to do with the occult helps, except the gold dust gives a hint of that, but their parents don’t mind.  It crescendos so subtly… “It looked like they left in a hurry, there were still dirty dishes on the table.” Nothing is ghoulish or demonic.  In fact I have a couple teachers who like to come and watch the response of their students, I have one who comes every year.  Though that has a little bit of a damper on the reaction, it is better when she sits in the back and is unseen. 

Now how did you become a storyteller was it just something in the family? Your Dad, your brother, and sister are all good talkers and fibbers.

I never really thought about it that way.  I am much better at telling others’ stories than my own.  But my dad, my brother, and my sister are good at crafting new stories. They are so much funnier then I am. Yeah, though our family does like to tell stories.   I remember you use to ask us separately to tell the same story to hear it from another perspective and I am sure they were all different.

When I asked my mom for tell the story to me again for print she seemed to hedge as if she knew that it would loose its punch written down.  It wasn’t until then that I got the essence of what she describing in our conversation; the intangible atmosphere created in the word and intimacy of face to face.  With any good story it’s about the moment, the zeitgeist, the magical dust in the air that pulls you in and makes it so much more than just words.

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