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Warmest Regards: Tell me a story

Published November 03. 2018 06:58AM


When I was asked to give a writing seminar to our Suncoast Writers Guild, at first I turned down the invitation.

I didn’t think the writers would get much out of my talk because I mostly do newspaper writing. In contrast, most guild members write fiction.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized I was wrong.

No matter what kind of writing we do, we have something in common.

Our commonality is that we tell stories.

Whether we are writing fiction for a book or writing a short story for a newspaper, we tell slice-of-life stories.

Over the years I’ve found those who have the ability to write stories are also oral storytellers. In other words, in their ordinary conversation they tell stories.

I agreed to give the talk, aiming to make it worthwhile by giving some tips about how to make their writing more compelling.

The vice president also suggested I talk about some of the best newspaper stories I’ve written.

I decided to tell stories about some of the inspirational people I’ve interviewed.

I told them about Chris, the bright and caring guy I met while he was attending a Bridges Out of Poverty program.

We knew he was a single father struggling to support his three children. What we didn’t know was that Chris was homeless. His children were housed in a trailer with a relative while he slept in his car. Then he went into work early to shower before he started his shift as a nurse’s aide.

When hospital workers learned of his plight, they allowed him to sleep in a supply closet while he tried to qualify for housing.

Chris and his children worked to put in the 1,000 volunteer hours he needed while the Bridges program worked to help him meet the requirements for a Habitat for Humanity home.

Through all that, Chris never missed a day’s work.

The day his new Habitat home was dedicated, he was choked up with emotion as he tried to thank everyone that helped him.

With tears of gratitude, he promised to volunteer to help others in the poverty program. It’s a promise he is keeping, giving a haircut to a man getting ready for a job interview and cooking for a mother of five who had the flu.

Come to think of it, all the stories I picked to tell were about people helping people.

I think stories like that are needed now more than ever. When I read the stories on the Internet that rip others apart I know that more than ever I crave stories of people who do the opposite.

In James Patterson’s book, “Tell Me Your Best Story,” he writes about a woman who traveled the country asking everyone she met to tell her their best story.

Some told love stories about how they meet their soul mate.

Some told stories about getting help from others when they needed it most.

One guy told the story of how he came to make his own casket.

Although the book wasn’t all that good, it gave me an idea.

At the end my writing seminar I asked the writers to tell their own stories.

They only had about 30 minutes to write the story so it was asking a lot. But they came through.

One of the stories I liked best was a guy who wrote about the year his family was too poor for Christmas presents. They had no food and no tree until members of a church showed up at their door with food.

As the oldest child in that family, he went into a thrift store with a few coins to buy a present for his mother. He found an old waffle iron that he shined up and gave to his mother on Christmas Day.

Through the years the family brought out that waffle iron every year at Christmas and put it in the place of honor as a reminder of the year they had nothing except each other.

“I still have that waffle iron,” said the writer, “and I still shine it up and display it every Christmas.”

His story reminded me of my bleak Christmas when I was 10 and my mother had no money for Christmas gifts. She had her hands full working two jobs trying to support me and my 2-year-old brother. She told me if I took him to the community Christmas party they would give us each a gift.

My brother was given a plastic firetruck and I received a small toy xylophone. For years I spent a lot of happy moments playing with that xylophone.

I learned early in life we don’t need a lot to be happy. We just have to be content with what we have.

OK, that’s my little story. Now it’s your turn.

Tell me your story.

It doesn’t have to be long, just something that you remember. I don’t care if it’s a few lines or a few pages. Just tell me something you recall.

Or, tell me about something good that happened to you or to others.

I love what I call “feel-good stories.”

I think we all need them.

If you have a story to share, send it to me.

Maybe we can have our own version of James Patterson’s book, “Tell Me Your Best Story.”

Contact Pattie Mihalik at


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