The Power of Story

The power of story.

I believe in this.

Stories tell us who we are. They tell us who we aspire to be. Stories make us better. And I don’t just mean highfalutin literature, but I mean everything from the dime detective novel to flash fiction and genre.


Look, I tried to write a romance novel once. Dismal failure, really. I had this long, convoluted, outline, stock characters, and followed formula to a T. Really, I had the hope to make money. Lots and lots of money. Because, well, I was broke. When I finished the draft, I sent the novel to publisher after publisher. After the first thirty pages, they always wanted to see the complete novel, and I
’d send them the whole enchilada, and they’d write back and tell me that, though the story was good, I hadn’t written a romance. Well, what do you mean? There was kissing and some sex scenes, and even a fight to win the honor of the woman. I mean, riveting stuff. Nobody wanted to publish it.[1] What I didn’t understand was the nature of story. Why it mattered, and why people who read romance read romance. The romance genre is about empowerment[2].

I’ve tried my hand at fantasy fiction as well because I’ve always admired authors such Patricia Wrede[3], Ursula K. Le Guin, and I grew up on Dungeons and Dragons without my parents’ knowledge. Again though, I didn’t really understand why I was trying to write these stories about elves and dragons or why the fantasy genre was even important.  Dave Robison writes on his Mythic Scribes blog that, “With a few rare exceptions, genre [fantasy/science-fiction/speculative] fiction is generally dismissed—even disdained—by ‘serious’ authors and critical reviewers alike.” Yet, many people, such as I once did, miss the point of fantasy. The genre opens to possibilities.
I could go through the entire list of genres: western, mystery, erotica,  whatever. Not really my point though. My point is the power of the story, and how that power has erupted across the Western World, thanks to new technologies and cutting edge companies such as Amazon.  It’s like a new Renaissance really, giving people from all walks of life the opportunity to tell their stories. The best invention since the printing press.


Self-publishing seems to get a bad rap though, especially from, well,
“serious” authors and critical reviewers.

But if reading even the so-called junk—the romance, the mystery, the fantasy—if even that kind of reading works to empower with possibilities, how much more so does the actual act of writing empower possibility within the individual and society at large? Self-publishing, of course, is not a new endeavor, just the delivery method is new, easier, quicker, and more subversive to the vanguard publishers and gate-keepers. Marcel Proust, James Joyce, Deepak Chopra, Gertrude Stein, Zane Grey, Upton Sinclair, Virginia Wolff, Rudyard Kipling, Henry David Thoreau, Benjamin Franklin, Walt Whitman, Beatrix Potter
…..  those are the footsteps of far greater authors that I walk behind and into. And that’s pretty exciting. Pretty scary power.

So Shakespeare be damned[4]. Let
’s dig into all that indie stuff[5]! Write something today.


[1] And now that I have the opportunity to publish myself, the thing will still never see the light of day. It has been shoved into a drawer, and should probably be burned.
[2] Check out Anne Browning Walker’s article on Huffington Post; it’s from 2012, but still a really good read.
[3] I met Ms. Wrede on a now, I am pretty positive now defunct electronic buliten board, if you remember what those are you have a pretty good idea of how old I am. Wrede encouraged me to attend the University of Iowa and learn more about creative writing. If I had known what I was getting myself into, I would have never taken her advice at the time, but I am so glad I did. I should probably get back in touch with her, though I doubt she even remembers me. I was just another fan I am sure. Another electronic blip that came across the screen in the late 90’s. Maybe she has a Twitter account?
[4] Um. Not really. A canon of literature exists that tells us where we’ve been and where we should head. The canon, of course, has been traditionally associated with the British, but that mindset is slowly changing. A way more liberal, global approach needs to be still more fully embraced, but then that raises some amazing issues, like how the heck do you catalog all that information, how do begin to study a world literature. More to the point, when do you stop reading?
[5] Maybe I’m saying this because I myself am an indie author.  I have an alterior motive. Buy my book. No. Actually, don’t do that unless you think you’ll like my book(s). Heck, I’ll give you a free copy if you want. Just email me at stevebargdill@gmail.com with FREE BOOK as the subject heading.

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