Stories with Winter in Mind: An Interview with Storyteller Jen Lee

Art takes new forms in winter months where cold weather sends reflective souls inside to create and make things new. New York writer Jen Lee talked to me about her latest project, Solstice: Stories of Light in the Dark, an audio collection of stories written with the lonely days of winter in mind.

We've seen a rise in self-publishing with sites like Blurb and Lulu.com as more and more authors turn away from traditional publishing. What motivated you to put these stories in audio form instead of publishing them as a book--either on your own or with a publisher?

I've been thinking a lot about how digital media is changing the way we read. With two small children, the easiest way for me to soak in good stories is to download audio books or podcasts like This American Life onto my iPod and listen while I walk through town, clean my apartment and cook. These stories in particular I thought would be good in audio format--partly because they are shorter than most short stories in print media, and partly because their composition seems congruent with oral tales. I also liked that it doesn't even mess with print rights for any future publication options.

Listening to these stories reminds me of the time in my life when I was young enough to have someone read to me. Who are your favorite storytellers these days? Do you have any particular voice you turn to when you want to hear a good story told out loud?

Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes, author of Women Who Run with Wolves and The Creative Fire, is one of my favorites. I hang on her every word, and I can listen to her stories over and over again. I love hearing Anne Lamott read her stories aloud, and every time I hear a story from The Story Corps project my eyes fill with tears. Hearing anyone tell their story in their own voice is so intimate.

You've entitled this CD Solstice: Stories of Light in the Dark. For some solstice is another day on the calendar, for others it's a holiday to note. Can you tell us a little bit more about your take on solstice and how these stories speak to that?

I watch the way the seasons change carefully, and I appreciate rituals that mark those changes. Watching the cycles of nature gives me insight to the cycles my own body and soul traverse through in the course of the year. For me, solstice is about the departure and the return of the light, and the season of darkness I particularly dread. Stories of comfort and warmth in the midst of shadowy times are what I need this time of year, and in this collection I give them as an offering to anyone who feels the same.

What's your advice for would-be storytellers out there who are energized at the idea of creating a recording vs. publishing a short story in paper form? Feel free to add any blogs or websites that were helpful.

Look into all the options. Audio books and spoken projects can be sold in download form through iTunes, longer works can be serialized in podcasts at podiobooks.com, and making an audio CD is more accessible now than ever before. A friend recommended Radio: An Illustrated Guide (the This American Life comic book) to me, which is available here, and I would second that recommendation for technical how-to's and all the getting started nuts and bolts. Listen to audio stories and pay attention to what works and what doesn't. Most importantly, don't underestimate the power of your own voice.


What's your wish for Solstice: Stories of Light in the Dark?

I'd be thrilled if it made its listeners feel known, understood, and a little less alone. I hope it encourages other artists to take their projects that don't fit into traditional formats and think of some non-traditional ways they could send those gems into the world. Perhaps by taking a risk with a non-traditional format and with using my own voice (despite all the insecurities I feel about it), I may embolden others to do the same.

solstice cover

You can order Jen's CD on her site jenlee.net.

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