Happy Birthday to Us!

by the TUAS Editors

It’s hard to believe but yes, we’ve been sharing your true stories for a whole year. Happy 1st Birthday to Tell Us A Story! And thanks for sending us your stories.

first-birthday copy

To celebrate, the editors of Tell Us A Story decided to sit down and chat about their experiences running the blog this year. Pull up a chair and have some cake with us, won’t you?

 Allyson: So where did you get this brilliant idea to start a true story blog?

Amanda: I don’t know if it was brilliant but…I got tenure last spring [nota bene: Amanda teaches film studies at East Carolina University] and as a reward to myself I wanted to start pursuing some non-academic writing projects. Once I didn’t have to worry about fattening my tenure file, I felt this freedom to do a wider range of writing. I love hearing people tell stories so I thought creating a venue for storytelling would be rewarding. 

So why did you agree to do this with me?

Well, I was also looking for some outlet for my creative energy. I haven’t written anything since I was got pregnant with Tristan back in 2006. I really wanted to get back to that.

You haven’t done any writing for your job as a high school English teacher?

Not really. I wanted something that was more creative, more in the realm of what I like to write. I thought the blog was a good idea.

So, if you had to pick one story that epitomized what Tell Us A Story is, or what it’s trying to do, what would you pick? What story made you say “That’s why I’m doing this. This is what I had in mind”?

You know what? I have two picks. And I say this not because I think these were the best stories we published all year but because I feel like they illustrate what our blog does really well. The first one is “Houston Insomnia” by Stephanie Dickinson (first published November 22, 2013). The series of stories in this piece  — about living in Houston, teaching in a special needs school, and doing all these drugs — Stephanie just describes it all in such a vivid, beautiful way. And then Coral created those images to go with the piece — I felt like her art really enhanced the experience of the story.

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Image by Coral Staley

My other pick is “Who I Was and How I Came to Be” by Will Brooker (first published March 26th 2014).  Will really worked with the archival materials — he saved all of these clippings and scraps of paper and wove them into his prose. They images weren’t just tacked on, they were clearly part of the narrative. Blogs are really flexible in terms of visuals and so I’m glad he exploited that.

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Will Brooker’s accompanying photograph

So those two stories are examples of something that I think Tell Us A Story has done really well. What about you?

I would say that I really loved “That Easter” by Leonore Wilson (first published September 4, 2013). I loved the dreamlike quality of it and the message within it was beautiful. That’s the sort of writing I’ve always enjoyed. 

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That was a lot like a poem, I can see why you were drawn to it [nota bene: Allyson has an MFA in poetry].

Yeah, very poetic prose. My second pick is one we didn’t totally agree on and that’s “Blacky” by Holly Gross (first published September 18, 2013). That story brought me to tears. There’s this girl who grew up in less than ideal circumstances — clearly she’s in a family with some kind of abuse and they’re struggling with money — and because they can’t afford to go to the vet, she has to watch her cat die, and the maggots…

You’re really macabre, Allyson.

I am. It’s kind of like the cat version of “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas” by y Ursula Le Guin. You should read it, it’s really good. Also those paintings of Blacky were great.

The author's daughter, 9, paints the Blacky of her mother's memories.

The author’s daughter, 9, paints the Blacky of her mother’s memories.

I did like that her daughters based their paintings on their mother’s memories of the cat. That’s a nice idea — the transmission of memories…

I was also really excited to publish “Chapter 50 from Country” by Shelby Stephenson (first published February 26th 2014).The writing was great but I also liked the fact that Shelby is from an older generation, and the perspective that brings. His generation is not a generation of blogging and online journals so I like that we have his work featured here. Also, as someone who has lived in North Carolina for the last 7 years, the poem felt very familiar to me — it’s very much a North Carolina text.

Photo of Shelby and Linda by Jan G. Hensley

Photo of Shelby and Linda by Jan G. Hensley

I find that very interesting — we’ve had a lot of success with stories that have focused on particular regions of the country, or specific locations within those regions.

Right, like “Pipe Dream” by Randall Martoccia (first published July 17 2013), which is about a head shop in our town, remains our most read story. The stories from my high school (here and here) and yours (here) also generated a lot of traffic. I think we’re still figuring out what niche we’re filling–and that may be what it is that we’re doing, telling highly local stories.

This undergraduate haunt stands where Pipe Dreams once nestled itself into downtown Greenville, NC society.

This undergraduate haunt stands where Pipe Dreams once nestled itself into downtown Greenville, NC society.

What about the stories that surprisingly did not do well?

You mean like all of them???

For me, a story like “Meeting Frank” by Shari Barnett (first published October 9, 2013) never got its just desserts.

Yes, I agree! That story was fucking amazing. That story had Pac Man, Frank Sinatra and that photo she gave us? That should have been 1,000 hits right there.

The author, in the famous costume.

Shari Barnett and friend in PacMan and Ghost costumes, early 80s

It’s the story of a career woman in the 1980s, in this new industry of video games. I was really disappointed that more people didn’t read it. Even Mark [Allyson’s husband] said “That’s the kind of story that’s going to go viral.”

I would have thought so, too. Another piece I loved but didn’t get a lot of traffic was “Margaret Atwood and the Stunned Four” by Mercedes Lawry (first published on September 11, 2013) for our “Flash (Non)Fiction Week.”

Yesssss. That was one of our lowest read weeks!

People wanted nothing to do with that week.

I know, and I thought the Margaret Atwood story was amazing.

It really demonstrates how great flash fiction (or non fiction) can be. The final line — “Margaret Atwood had taken note” — just gets me every time I read it. As English majors in college, I think this story really resonated with both of us. It’s this perfect, fangirl response to an author you idolize. I can relate to everything she describes — I would have done — would do — all of those things.

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Read this story, damn it!!!

 

Okay, so last question: what would you like to see us doing with this blog in our second year?

You know, I’d like to maybe see us shift formats a bit, and start offering up more content but less frequently? More like a literary journal?

We actually have enough content to do 4 individual issues a year, but that means changing what is currently our brand: a single true story every week. When we get together this summer, we’ll have to brainstorm ideas for possible ways to change our publication schedule.

What about you? What would you like to see in the next year?

Obviously I’d like to increase our readership. I’d like wider circulation — beyond our social media circles –because that will also bring in a more diverse pool of submissions. For instance, I’d really like to start reading submissions from outside of the U.S. But to do that, we need to extend our circulation.

Yeah, I’d like to see that, too.

Honestly, my biggest goal is to get enough good submissions to keep us up and running through another year. So, Allyson, have you enjoyed yourself this year?

I have! I really enjoyed reading people’s stories, from so many different walks of life, from different places, different socioeconomic backgrounds. It’s been interesting.

Yeah, after reading through all of the submissions we get  [nota bene: we typically accept only 20% of work submitted to the blog] , I find it interesting to see what folks think of as a story worth writing down and sending in, what makes someone say “Yeah, I need to share this with someone else.”

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A NOTE ABOUT SUMMER SUBMISSIONS:

Although we won’t be publishing a new true story until August 6th — we are going to take the summer off to catch up on submissions, relax with our families and friends, and plan for the next year — we will be open for submissions ALL SUMMER LONG!

If you have a true story you’d like to share — or if you would like interview someone you know who has a great story — please send submissions as an editable attachment (no PDFs please!!!), along with images, and a 100 word (or less) biographical statement to tellusastoryblog@gmail.com.  Put “TUAS Submission” in the subject line. Please submit only one submission at a time (unless you are sending poetry).

All submissions must be less than 2000 words and must be based on something that actually happened to you (not to your friend or your cousin or your high school math teacher). We are also interested in very short stories (flash [non]fiction), experimental stories, poems, or plays as long as they are true. When possible, we’d like you to send us a scanned photograph or document that correlates with your story, because those kinds of details are nice.

About the authors

The editors, way back in 1999.

The editors, way back in 1999.

Allyson Wuerth and Amanda Ann Klein met during their first week of graduate school at the University of Pittsburgh when Amanda noticed that, during a teaching assistant training session, Allyson was not busy scribbling notes like all of the other students, but writing her grocery list. Amanda was excited to see that Allyson was planning to buy hummus and soon a lifelong friendship was formed.

 

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