Thursday, August 24, 2017

The Power of a Story

I grew up in a small town with an even smaller library.  For a while, my mom worked there, and through her, I befriended a new librarian who took me under her wing when she discovered that I loved to read fantasy.  Throughout her short stay, she sent books home with my mom for me to read, simply because she thought I'd love them (and I did).  Sometimes they were new releases that she would set aside for me; other times, they were simply books off the shelves (and who knew how old they were...and who cared!).

What a tremendous gift to give a child--stories to feed her hungry soul and stoke the deep wells of imagination within her!  This lovely woman, whose name I can't even remember, played a huge role in turning my heart forever toward the world of fantasy.  How I wish I could thank her.

Amid all those wonderful novels, a certain story niggled at my memory throughout my adult life.  I couldn't remember the title, the author, or even the main storyline.  In fact, there was really one scene that stuck out in my mind, tantalizing and frustrating me because it was all I could remember.

A sister and brother inside a barn.  A Pegasus foal hidden there.  Something evil outside, trying to get in.

Over the years, I tried to find it on the Internet.  Surely, I thought--surely--if I type in "Pegasus" and "brother and sister" and "barn", it'll pop right up on this list-of-forgotten-books.

Nope.  No luck.

Then, a few months ago, I decided to try again.  AND I FOUND IT.

It took me five minutes, and there it was.  And here it is:

The Stolen Telesm by Caroline Baxter was published by Lippincott in 1975.  It is, of course, out of print.  As you can probably tell by the photo, the copy I purchased is an old library book.

I was SO VERY EXCITED to read it.  Suddenly I was ten years old, eager to fall once again into the world where Pegasus was real and children my age got to have a grand, scary, fantastical adventure.

You guys.  The writing was horrible.


Not only that, but the plot was lame.  Point of view jumped erratically between the brother and the sister to the point of distraction.  And the clunky, adjective-heavy sentences went on ad infinitum.

On the back flap, the author bio states that Ms. Baxter wrote this story when she was seventeen.

And Lippincott published it.  Well, huh.

Here's the thing, though, and it's a big one:  When I was a child, I didn't know about points of view or plot arcs or overwriting.  All I knew was that there was a Pegasus foal trapped in a barn with a boy and a girl.  

Now, this isn't a nod of approval toward bad writing for the sake of good story.  I think it's a travesty--really, I do--when someone who's a good storyteller does not hone his craft so that he also becomes a good writer.  (Good story and good writing are two separate things. Sometimes they are mutually exclusive.)  What I'm really saying here is that stories are powerful.

So powerful, in fact, that the best one stick with us for years despite deficiencies of writing.  So powerful that, decades after having read something, a wistful adult will search and search until she finds the long lost treasure.


It's not about lovely sentences or a wonderful premise.  It's about STORYTELLING.  And yes, there is plot arc and character arc and all that really important stuff.  But the ART OF STORY is what will draw your readers in and keep them hooked--sometimes for life.

As for me and my little book?  I passed it on to a sweet young person in my life who happens to be a fantasy-loving bookworm.  She devoured it.  Loved it.  Raved about it.  Like long-ago me, she wasn't bothered by the weak plot or point of view mess.  It was all, "Pegasus! Magic! Scary things!"

She has a steady diet of well-written literature in her life, so I don't think I've ruined her by handing her a book that would certainly never be published today.  I have it under good authority that she has recently started Fellowship of the Ring, so there you have it.  (She's not quite ten. I know for a fact that I was not reading Tolkien at that age. The sad truth is that I didn't know who Tolkien was. But that's a story for another day.)

And there you have it.  We all remember things from our childhood that, upon being revisited, don't come close to living up to our memories.  Like Moon Pies.  And freezer pops.  And Michael Landon as Pa.

But if even one kernel of a story nestles in our hearts and inspires us for years to come, it's worth revisiting, and worth giving credit to, despite its faults.  Go forth and find a story that's lodged in your brain from your own past.  Who knows--it may actually be as wonderful as you remember!


  1. WOW!! Loved that story of long ago & I also do not remember that librarian's name but maybe I could find out her name for you!!!

  2. I love finding a kindred spirit. When I was either in second or third grade, I read a book about a girl living in an apartment in NYC searching for a best friend. I think it was even titled Best Friends. I checked that book out multiple times because the lonely kid I was could relate to searching for a friend, and I was so very fascinated with NYC. I have searched for this book as an adult many, many times to no avail. When I browse antique stores, I look for it in the book section. Hopefully one day I too will find this book that simultaneously filled a void and bloomed my Bohemian spirit. There was hope in finding friends who understand you, and I wasn't confined to living life in a small Texas town!

  3. Love this! I was able to find a couple of my old out of print favorites, Little Witch and The Great Santa Claus Caper (or something like that about mice trying to solve the kidnapping of Macy's Santa Claus). In my opinion, if you can write a story that sticks in a child's heart through adulthood, you've achieved a bigger prize than any NYT best-seller list!

  4. My older sister had a Scholastic paperback about a lost pony, a brother, and a sister. For several years, I read it every time I ran out of my bi-weekly allotment of library books. When I decided to try writing MG, I searched for lost pony books at libraries and used book stores. Finally, the Internet coughed up The Lost Pony last year, and--it's not the model for the perfect plot after all. And Moon Pies are half the size they used to be. Happy writing!

  5. I love these stories of lost and found books! For years and years I remembered a book I'd read as a child about a boy who lived in an electric house that did everything for him (his bed tipped him into the bathtub, a machine fed him, etc.). And then one day the power goes out and when it goes on, he ends up doing everything upside down. I was captivated by this story. Finally found it a few years ago and realized that either a parent read me the book or my memory of the illustrations completely vanished. Because although the story sounds right, the pictures don't match my memory at all, in any way. I think my imagination took over!

    Lazy Tommy Pumpkinhead by William Pene Du Bois, published in 1966.

  6. Yes! I just wrote about something similar in my own blog post today. Someone can write the most gorgeous sentences on earth, but unless the story pulls the reader in, it's almost pointless. Stories can transcend bad writing in many cases!

  7. Love this post. I was a Lonely Doll girl myself and I do have a couple of them from when I was a child. That's a series that also would never be published today. I'm sure we all have a few of those in our memory banks. Now I must go read one again.

  8. What a GREAT post, Authoress! This just made my day. As writers we worry SO MUCH about honing our craft that sometimes we need the reminder that our story may be what stays a young reader one day, not just the way the words were written. Thanks for sharing!

  9. This was so funny. I have also had this experience-tracking down a book from childhood, only to read it and be disappointed. I sometimes think all the writing and critiquing I've done has ruined me as I often find myself shaking my head at books that I should really like, but I just can't ignore the clumsy sentences and/or awkward unrealistic dialogue. But that just makes the joy all the greater when I find that truly wonderful book and they are still out there.

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    شركة المثالية للتنظيف بالاحساء
    شركة المثالية لمكافحة الحشرات بالاحساء


  11. شركة تنظيف منازل بالاحساء

    معنا مع شركة تنظيف منازل بالاحساء لدينا خدمات تنظيف متكاملة بالاحساء والمنطقة الشرقية نظافة شاملة مع التعقيم والتلميع ارضيات وجدران ووجهات اسعار مناسبة وجودة 100% تتوافر فقط مع افضل شركة تنظيف بالاحساء

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