Celebrating the forthcoming release of the new book, The Storyteller, today is Day 4 of the Book Giveaway! Each day for ten days (until October 7), I will post a question and response from the book’s Discussion Guide . Anyone who posts a response with h/her thoughts either on WordPress or Facebook (“Stories That Matter”) will be automatically entered to win a copy of the book when it is released! I will give away 3 copies.

Day 4’s Question

What is a fairy tale?

Discussion Guide

Heroes are part of the collective unconscious; so are fairy tales. In the book, The Storyteller, stories connect both families; stories both save and destroy lives. It was the love of oral storytellers that made Cole’s family vulnerable and ultimately led to heartbreak and trauma. Yet, the stories told by that oral storyteller inspired dreams; the storytellers were beloved because they provided a bespoke experience that the everyday world could not provide. Dusty doesn’t think of them as stories; they are “legends” that are based in fact. To him, these legends are so powerful that they can bring real curses or healings to people; they are not to be dallied with. But for Daphne… She has heard the legends from her father and her mother told her stories, but her mother died when she was four, so she only has sparse recollections. She is eighteen years old when she meets Cole, and she does not know the Disney princesses, she does not know classic stories. When introduced to the story of Rapunzel, she is introduced to fairy tales: stories that inspire dreams.

Our human experience is fairly predictable. We all experience the same emotions; as humans, we share certain milestones: the first word, the first step, the first kiss. We are the same in biology, and in that we have the ability to think, understand and feel a host of complicated emotions. When the phrase fairy tale is said, we conjure images of romance, of a Prince on a white horse, of a clear antagonist. There are heroes and monsters. In literature, though, one element of a fairy tale is that it includes an universal lesson. Beyond the magic, beyond the titles of “prince” or “princess,” fairy tales are meant to teach us.

Perhaps you recall playing doctor when you were little or maybe you really enjoyed dressing up in costumes? Perhaps you imagined bright lights blinding you as you stood on a stage singing before hundreds of people? Perhaps you played with baby dolls and imagined that you were a mother, even though you were only four or five years old? Perhaps you played with trucks, police cars or the like, imagining you were a brave service worker defending the defenseless? Perhaps you used lined paper, like I did, and wrote the alphabet before a captive stuffed animal audience because you were the greatest teacher there ever was? Perhaps, when you played with blocks, you weren’t just stacking rectangles but were engineering the most daring, creative piece of architecture since the Taj Mahal?

For me, stories and books and writing were as critical a piece of life as oxygen. I literally don’t remember my life without stories in them. Some of my earliest memories are of being totally enchanted with the story of Rapunzel; my sister’s favorite princess was Ariel and I remember retelling her that story to help her fall asleep at night. She was my first “fan.” The Secret Garden left me mesmerized, Bridge to Terabitha had me in a puddle of tears. But I would have given anything to have called myself a member of The Baby-Sitters Club: I joined the official Fan Club, I tracked down a poor woman with the name Ann M. Martin and called her in her New York home, only to be gently told by an amused, kind woman that she wasn’t that Ann M. Martin. I talked about Claudia, Stacy and the whole gang daily; I even created my own “Baby-Sitter’s Club” that unfortunately never managed to take off quite like the fictional one did. I was resolute and hopeful when I marched myself to the kitchen, found my mother cooking and proudly proclaimed, “I’m going to write a book!” With her enthusiasm and encouragement, I did so, copying the style of the cherished BSC. From that moment on, with the creation of The Mickey Series, I never looked back. Because writing and stories gave me something precious, something to nourish and energize and help me see past the mundane, often painful experiences of reality: they gave me dreams.

There were other dreams, too, along the way. I used to pretend I’d meet someone like a Clayton Cunningham (and, when I did, I was convinced I was living a fairy tale); I dreamed of being a mother (and then I was and it surpassed the dream). But all of the dreams I’ve guarded throughout my life have had one thing in common: they taught me to actively believe in hope.

Experiences that truly hurt you, events that shake your belief in everything good in the world, are earth-shattering. Some of them are so traumatizing that you might never fully recover from them. In The Storyteller, Daphne doesn’t know how to dream. She only knows how to survive: she focuses on listening to Tully’s breathing, she worries about starving. When she is introduced to Rapunzel, though, she is given a glimpse into something greater than abuse: imagination. Daphne loves the stars and the stories behind the constellations. It is the story of Cassiopeia that sparks memories of her mother and helps her stay alive during the nights she was chained to the tree. Another literary element in fairy tales is magic. Our minds are capable of producing real magic because how else can you explain how, in the middle of intense trauma, I was surrounded by fictional, made-up characters whose stories distracted me to the point where sometimes I didn’t really know what was even happening to me in reality? How else can one explain how people the world over still believe in the idea of forever, of happily-ever-after marriages, despite having had their hearts broken before?

Fairy tales are more than stories. Fairy tales are remnants of innocence, and we all carry some fragments of them with us throughout our lives. It’s what enables us to see beyond the rain and anticipate the rainbow. Fairy tales are powerful because they teach us to dream. They teach us to believe in something better, and they encourage us to stay the course, to not give up. They are powerful representations of our hearts and souls because they hold the key to the core of what matters to us the most. Fairy tales are the stories we tell ourselves when we are alone, they are the whispers of what tomorrow could be.

Unfortunately, our dreams don’t always inspire us to act. One of the greatest lessons of my life, one of the strongest, most real truths I’ve learned is that

Everyone has a dream.

And the reason it’s important to remember that everyone has one is because learning to recognize, nourish and cling to those dreams is because they can lead us out of dangerous situations, out of trauma. They are God-given, and no one is excluded. Sometimes they aren’t obvious: maybe the dream is lead others, maybe the dream is to be parent, maybe the dream is a career path, maybe it’s just to listen, or bake or do any of the creative arts realm. Whatever it is, the dream is our dream because it’s trying to teach us how to use it to do more than survive. We dream because we are meant to thrive, regardless of our individual circumstances.

Life isn’t easy. And sometimes it feels like a constant barrage of attacks. But fairy tales are reminders that our own individual needs and wants matter. Whatever dreams we have aren’t there just to be movies in our heads; they are there to inspire us to be creative, resourceful like Cinderella, brave like Rapunzel, determined like Prince Charming, and unique like ourselves. Dreams are meant to provide us the inspiration to gather courage, to be roadmaps to guide us towards self-actualization and to becoming the heroes of our own lives.

The photo for this blog post is of my birthday cake yesterday. My daughters had the idea for this cake and my mother and sister made it happen. It was truly beautiful (more so than the pictures do it justice) but it was also particularly touching for me because of how big a dream writing is and has always been to my life. Having a story to tell isn’t just fun for me. It isn’t work for me. It is as valuable, as real and as special as a breathing friend. Fairy tales have promoted healing in my life; they opened the door to public speaking which helped me become more comfortable being vulnerable with my story, they have allowed me to say things that I cannot verbalize which has allowed me to heal. Fairy tales have kept me from feeling alone most of my life. They have taught me to believe in people, in men, in happily-ever-afters, in rainbows, in healing, in trust, and in tomorrow. In short: fairy tales inspire dreams and dreams are the sparkly glittery bits that guide our eyes off pain and into possibility.