Monday, July 10, 2017

A Storyteller's Mission

Vanessa Brantley Newton giving opening keynote

This past weekend I surrounded myself with writers, artists, and masters in the craft of storytelling. The 2017 SCBWI Summer Conference held new opportunities and growth in friendships that I had never thought possible. Having begun my career as an illustrator, I had struggled to make myself fit into the genres and categories in which such work was needed. I also had stories I wanted to share and no one seemed to be writing them, so I decided to try writing them myself. 

I wrote a picture book about a little coyote that wanted to show up his sister by catching the most fish. I had made a dummy and illustrations and showed this work at the last conference I attended for critique. I revised the manuscript—it was 1250 words—but each time I worked on it, I slowly but surely lost interest. It sucked… I sucked. 

Doubt, doubt, doubt, doubt…

Then fear kicked in. 

Did I really have a story to tell? What was it exactly? It wasn't anything like the cute and humorous things that everyone wanted to publish, but I could feel it rising inside of me, like a dark swell of thunder clouds. Then I realized something. I was trying so hard to be what everyone else was telling me I should be that I was ignoring the voice inside. I needed to do what that stormy cloud was telling me to do. I needed to expose the dark turmoil that nestled inside my heart, to share the passion I had for gut-wrenching, emotional scenes and to communicate the universal themes found in folklore across the world. 

Then I sat down and wrote.

I really wrote. I spent hours, weeks, months writing. And when I finished, I was amazed. I had never completed anything longer than fifty pages before and here I had a 90,000 word novel. I knew it needed work—LOTS of work. But I knew where to look for help. I engaged with the SCBWI community, which I had long been a part of, and discovered that there were others that wrote things similar to mine. Others with similar journeys and similar passions that involved dark and stormy themes. 

So I’m all set—armed with questions and goals for the Summer Conference after revising my manuscript for the tenth time, and I’m ready to share it. Only I’m caught off guard by a deceptively simple question: what is your mission? I floundered trying to answer the question, only because there were so many things that I wanted to say and I wanted to be as honest and as truthful as I could without sounding like an idiot, or worse, a fraud. But when I think on it now, I answered in truth. It might have sounded a little corny when I said it out loud initially, like a blubbering buffoon—but I came back to it, and gave it some thought, and some more meat. 
Here it goes…

My Writing Mission:

I write because I love story. I love how it serves as a mode of communication between people, between cultures, across spheres of influence. It changes and grows with each new telling, incorporating the thoughts and souls of all who shape it, and touches the lives of all who receive it. Story is the great equalizer: heroes conquer insurmountable odds against indomitable enemies, the weak become strong, and sometimes the villain also learns a lesson and changes heart. I want my stories to impart similar messages; to inspire; to make the reader more aware of themselves and of others; to create empathy and help shed light on paths not often taken. I write for children, and those with an open heart, because they have not yet built the walls of knowledge too high around them. They can still grow.

What's your mission?

Monday, January 23, 2017

My Story: Women’s March 2017, Los Angeles

:You going tomorrow?

*strong arm*

:is that a yes? lol

Rain cleared away the city’s grime, leaving sparkling pavement and clear blue skies. The crisp air buzzed with excitement. At the metro station, lines stretched around the block with women and men, girls and boys, toddlers and infants, elderly and handicapped. We were all heading east towards the heart of the city, to the gathering of promise, to the march for women.

I was nervous. I had never participated in a rally before, let alone an international march. The news and friends on social media warned of the dangers of participation: confusion, violence, injury, arrest…  But none of these fears could hold back the pure energy—the will—to fight against a deeper and darker fear of uninhibited power wielding its mighty sword of hatred and ignorance.

We mounted the platform, waiting for the train, and soon it grew even clearer that not only were people lining up at our station but at stations along the entire route. People packed inside each train like candies inside a piƱata, waiting to burst at the right moment. The march had already started.

“Critical mass,” my friend said.

Better to board the first open train, even if it is going the opposite direction. We rode to the end of the line and back again. People at the train stops stared, gaping in wonder at the sheer volume of individuals packed inside the silver tube. Crowds cheered and chanted:

“Power to the people, power to the people right on!”

Energy spilled out into the streets at each stop. More people pushed onto the train when space permitted. Growing hot and anxious, we exited two stops early.

At the heart of the city it was strangely quiet. Hardly a soul on the streets and no more sound than the usual traffic. Nerves on edge, senses tingling, we walked four blocks and to the right. Suddenly, we saw them: signs and banners, pink hats and costumes, women and men marching together toward city hall. The crowd grew thicker, drawing itself around us as we joined the masses.

We march.

Without a sign, we walked, tense and alert. We listen as pockets of cheers and chanting carry through the people like a wave, pushing us on to our destination. We clapped and shouted, carrying the message forward. We will not be silent. We will not lay down our liberties. We will resist. We will fight.

Low men fly high in the air, waving a banner announcing their support of our enemy. Coward. Face the ones you so wish to silence! Face us whom you wish to oppress, to smite with your arrogance and greed! They fly away and the phoenix rises high before us, guiding us to the center, the beating heart of the city, to the ocean of love and unity which brought us here.

At last, we pass the glittering windows of a great building and hear the siren call of our kindred. We stop and drink in the hopeful energy surrounding the stage at the front of city hall. A beacon in the sea of doubt overshadowing the nation—the world. Women of courage and strength mount the platform and call for us to battle, to be strong, and to spread the word of love and unity which is the only way to defeat violence, to banish hatred, to overcome evil. Like rays of the sun, their words warm our hearts and uplift our spirits. Our fears have been vanquished.

We will prevail.