Kate Farrell, author of Story Power, was recently interviewed by fellow Mango author Nita Sweeney, author of You Should Be Writing- read the interview here.
Author Interview – Kate Farrell
I interview authors to find out what makes them tick. This author interview features Kate Farrell. Kate and I met while volunteering at the San Francisco Writers Conference for the Women’s National Book Association of San Francisco. Another Mango author, Kate is a dynamic storyteller, teacher, librarian, and all-around fun woman. I hope you enjoy getting to know her as much as I have.
Nita Sweeney (NS): When and how did your writing journey begin?
Kate Farrell (KF): I didn’t consider myself a writer until I received a grant to teach storytelling forty years ago. I was immediately asked to write a how-to book on the art of storytelling for a wide audience of adults: teachers, parents, librarians. Faced with this daunting challenge, I moved to a remote valley in the Eastern Sierra for a six-month writing retreat, not only to write the book, but consider the entire storytelling project—its scope and brand.
Armed with a portable, manual typewriter, erasable paper, and my background as a teacher and librarian, I wrote the manuscript chapter by chapter. I’d bundle the typed pages and ride my bicycle to the only photocopier in the town of Bishop, CA, keep the copy and mail the original at the post office across the street to San Francisco, unedited.
When I returned to the city, my work was published almost verbatim, along with the storytelling project’s name and scope, Word Weaving: A Storytelling Workbook, 1980. This first book has since been archived in historical collections in public libraries and as an educational resource. It became the basis for teaching the statewide project throughout California public schools.
NS: Why do you write? What motivates you?
KF: My motivation is to share the universal nature of stories and the timeless art of storytelling. In that sense, I see myself more of a storyteller than a writer.
NS: Plotter or pantser?
KF: Plotter. In nonfiction, I work from an outline; in crafting personal narratives, I use a storyboard. Well defined structure is essential in the oral tradition; nonfiction requires clarity in developing key points from general to specific.
NS: What’s your biggest writing struggle and how do you handle it?
KF: When writing personal narratives, I often doubt that my own experiences have value for others. I hope to communicate something universal that enhances others’ lives. At the same time, good stories don’t tell, but show, requiring skill in the use of detail and imagery. To overcome my doubts, I revert to technique. I use a storyboard or simple outline to delineate the narrative arc. I consider the conflict at the heart of my story and determine if others can identify with both the central conflict and its resolution.
For nonfiction, I fight fatigue since the work is fleshing out an outline with compelling language that engages the reader. Imagining the reader sitting across the desk does help, but the best motivator is an absolute deadline, chapter by chapter.
NS: What is one thing about writing you wish you’d learned earlier?
KF: In nonfiction writing, I wish I’d learned the basic components of paragraph structure.
NS: What’s the worst writing advice you’ve ever heard?
KF: To use adverbs, especially with attributions in dialogue.
NS: Do you write by hand or on a computer?
KF: Both. I find writing by hand more relaxing. When crafting a personal narrative, I frequently use a storyboard and sketch out the scenes with stick figures and key words.
NS: What are you currently reading?
KF: To escape from contemporary society and as a Jane Austen recommended spin off, I’ve been reading the Regency romances of Georgette Heyer. My favorite is The Corinthian; I’ve read it three times for sheer hilarity, situation comedy, and historic interest.
NS: Is there a book you couldn’t finish? Why?
KF: I generally prefer historical fiction, so when confronted with any novel written in the present tense, I put it down. I typically cannot read present tense fiction, in first, second, or third person POV.
NS: What book couldn’t you put down?
KF: Cara Black’s new book, Three Hours in Paris, is a hunt for a covert operative in Nazi Paris, with vivid scenes, lively characters, pulse-elevating suspense. This book actually reminded me of Nancy Drew mysteries, such an intrepid heroine!
NS: What advice would you give writers starting out?
KF: Develop voice by imagining your reader next to you and speak directly to him/her as you write.
NS: Some writers struggle with the emotional side of writing. Do you have any tips for them?
KF: Focus on the purpose outside of yourself: to entertain, inform, or reveal. Connect with supportive writers to increase confidence and for encouraging feedback.
NS: What would you like readers to know about your most recent writing project?
KF: This how-to book on the art of storytelling is a culmination of my lifelong passion. It brought me full circle back to the first book I wrote forty years ago.
Story Power: Secrets to Creating, Crafting, and Telling Memorable Stories. Mango Publishing, June 2020.
Storytelling is a powerful and engaging art, now enjoying a comeback, touted by business experts and public speakers—from branding to TEDx. Kate Farrell, a masterful storyteller who founded the Word Weaving Storytelling Project and trained thousands in the art, has now released a new book, Story Power: Secrets to Creating, Crafting, and Telling Memorable Stories, to share the essence of the art with everyone who has a story to tell. In the book, more than twenty skillful contributors with a range of diverse voices, show you how to tell an unforgettable story.
NS: Has your writing life turned out differently than you expected? If so, how?
KF: It took me the longest time to realize that personal narrative had replaced the folktale in the oral tradition, even though The Moth and TED talks became popular twenty years ago. However, by 2005, I began to write personal narratives for my local writers’ club anthologies. With the help of experts in the field of memoir, I slowly learned the specific skills required in the genre and edited award winning anthologies. Still, I was not fully convinced of the universal nature of these personal stories until I attended the Moth Story Slams and observed their impact. These personal efforts continue to be works-in-progress. I’m excited to be part of the new direction in the oral tradition.
NS: What’s next for you writing wise?
KF: I’m writing my memoir with elements of folk and fairy tales, using the devices of magical realism combined with real life experiences. The working title is ONCE: Memoir of a Storyteller.
NS: How can storytelling help during the holidays this year?
KF: During the holidays this unusual year of social distancing, often separated from families and loved ones, take the time by phone, letter, or online to tell personal stories. Remember the good times, the gatherings, and those beloved friends and family who have passed away with a vignette or an unforgettable tale. Story Power can help you to create and craft these precious stories. The book makes a great gift for those who are journaling or recording memories during these challenging times. Prompts, exercises, and examples will stimulate your creativity and how to share.
NS: Mermaids or Goddesses?
NS: Toast or bagels?
NS: Ocean, mountains, or forest?
NS: Leggings or jeans?
NS: Dogs, cats, fish, guinea pigs, or horses?
Secrets to Creating, Crafting, and Telling Memorable Stories
Stories are everywhere. The art of storytelling has been around as long as humans have. And in today’s noisy, techy, automated world, storytelling is not only prevalent—it’s vital. Whether you’re interested in enlivening conversation, building your business brand, sharing family wisdom, or performing on stage, Story Power will show you how to make use of a good story.
A Journal of Inspiration & Instruction to Keep Your Pen Moving
Writing Inspiration from Incredible Authors. Gathered by Brenda Knight and writing coach Nita Sweeney, author of Depression Hates a Moving Target, You Should Be Writing provides you with writing wisdom from a variety of accomplished authors.
Writing Practice on Every Page. This journal is a must-have for writers everywhere. With quotes from a diverse group of historical and modern authors to use as creative prompts on every page, you’ll be able to bring your writing inspiration with you wherever you go. You’ll find plenty of great advice, such as Toni Morrison’s encouragement, “As a writer, a failure is just information. It’s something that I’ve done wrong in writing, or is inaccurate or unclear. I recognize failure—which is important; some people don’t—and fix it.”