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The unusual places we turn to for help

My infinitely wise co-worker Michael Bourret pointed me to this great piece from WBEZ’s radio program This American Life that his client, Joelle Anthony, blogged about recently. (A big thank you to both of them!) There are two really interesting stories here that definitely deserve another post because of their relevance to publishing. The program breaks each story into an act, and in each, as well as the heart-wrenching introductory story in the prologue, we’re introduced to sympathetic characters that turn to unlikely people for help when they’re in trouble.

The first story is about a teenager, Andy, who had problems with his broken family and fitting in at school, so he decided to travel 1,000 miles—alone—to find his favorite author, fantasy novelist Piers Anthony. He impressively found Anthony’s address by piecing together clues from his books, something only a genuine fan could do. When Andy finally arrived at Anthony’s door, though he wasn’t welcomed to live there—as his great imagination led him to believe—he was met with at truly compassionate man who listened to everything the young boy had to say. And even though he didn’t get what he wanted, Andy left the next day feeling, for the first time, the hope that there was a better world out there for him. I wanted to share this tale to once again illustrate the colossal effect a book can have on readers. I’m sure that the very feeling Andy describes at the end of his story is a reason many of us have chosen publishing as a career path—whether as agents, editors or authors.

The second story beautifully re-imagines the plight of poor Gregor Samsa from Kafka’s THE METAMORPHOSIS. Gregor, having famously transformed overnight from a human into an insect, enlists the help of one Dr. Seuss to make Gregor a human again, or at least a healthy bug. I’m going to hold back on giving any more details on this one, as the letters between the two are such a delight to listen to. I will say though, that I really enjoyed the creative way the authors brought these two unlikely comrades together. A recent post of mine was on re-telling classic stories…but what’s really interesting to me is when writers can create a new story from the bones of others. I’m curious if anyone has read any of these types of stories lately. Anything you’d like to recommend?

2 Responses to The unusual places we turn to for help

  1. D. C. DaCosta says:

    Interesting topic.

    Of course, all stories are simply taking something trite and putting a new spin on it. These examples seem to really go “all out”, don’t they?

    In general, I shy away from reading this kind of tale. To be successful at it, you have to be an expert on the real (or fictional) characters you’re going to mix. Too often, the writer has not bothered to make himself an expert, and so the characters don’t speak or behave “in character” — or they act “out of character” in a way that is unbelievable.

  2. I had to smile at the idea of The Metamorphosis character, in contrast with asking for help from Dr. Seuss. It’s a nice twist and great thought provoker.
    I have many children’s stories, seasonal and other; I know excellent artists, illustrators, and writers. I posted my You Tube link on your Twitter page, but will also leave it here. (The first recording was hilarious, but just couldn’t get the story out with the hopping kids all around me.)

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