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Stories of Our Journeys: The First Step Begins With You

One of the projects I am most proud of being a part of is the brand new produced by as part of the . Working with the incredible Kym Huynh, Stories of Our Journeys is a dream come true.

Two years ago, Kym and I talked about the kinds of shows and sites we’d like to produce. Both of us are natural storytellers, but we love hearing and sharing other people’s stories more. We’re both fans of podcasts and shows that feature stories about people’s struggles and courage, and their faith to continue forward in spite of all the obstacles thrown in their path.

Not sure how to do this the way we envisioned, we kept setting it aside only to have it come up over and over again – a sure sign we were meant to do this project.

The magic to bring this all together came out of the blue when the domain name and title of “Stories of Our Journeys” slammed into my head. Our partner Dave Moyer and I ripped it apart from every angle, and it still held up. I bought the domain name, stunned it was available, and we called Kym with the news that we’d finally found a name. He said it was like a punch to his soul. He knew it was absolutely right, telling us that our journey was just beginning.

There is powerful magic in knowing you are on the right path. While things get thrown in your path, and a lot of things were, we blew through each of these with phenomenal motivation and energy. It was a year and a half journey, and the first step was to see if our premise for the show would hold water. It was fairly unique, so we needed to do some test interviews.

Finding the Magic in Humanity

The mission of Stories of Our Journeys is:

…helping you share the story of your path through life. The first step begins with you.

How do you help people tell their stories? We wanted this to be different from NPR’s This American Life or StoryCorps, and similar shows, while retaining the elements that make these shows special. We boiled it down to what defines a really good story.

  • It’s the truth.
  • It’s told from the heart not the head.
  • There is conflict, often without resolution but with resurrection of the spirit.
  • It rings with familiarity: This could be me.
  • They know how to put us in their shoes for a short hike through their life.
  • It’s their words, not ours.

As we prepared for the first batch of interviews, we put together interview question lists, spending hours on Skype and instant message chat, but none of these were right. We had tons of questions, but they weren’t the right questions. More importantly, they weren’t the real questions, the ones that everything flows from.

A series of restless nights hit me, tossing and turning through the night, watching the clock change numbers. After the fourth sleepless night, I finally fell off that cliff into a deep sleep. Two hours later I sat upright calling out, “Who are you?” Scared my husband, but I knew that this was the only question we needed to ask.

“Who are you?” Then shut up. Let them tell the story. Let silence sit there, waiting to be filled. They will fill it, and in the filling, that’s when the truth and heart meet. Let them tell their story. The rest can be cleaned up in the editing process.

Steve Hartman of CBS news describes a good story this way:

The short answer is…I know one when I see it.

It’s almost easier to tell you what’s not a good story idea. Sweet as she may be, you’re grandma’s 100th birthday is not a good story idea. Neither is your giant collection of Star Wars action figures. Nor your prize rutabaga. Been there, told that.

Also, there’s a difference between a good deed and a good story. Someone walking, biking, or even snowshoeing a great distance “to raise awareness” for a particular cause may be a very kind thing – but it doesn’t necessarily rise to the level of a national news story.

First and foremost, a good feature story idea is unique. For example, if your grandma is celebrating her 100th by getting married to her high school sweetheart…I’m listening. If your giant Star Wars collection gets stolen by someone in a Wookie costume and you’ve got it on tape…I’m really listening. Or if your prize rutabaga has markings that make it look like Oprah AND women from across America are flocking to your garden to pay homage AND you’ve got a Dr. Phil musk melon growing right beside her – done, you’ve got me!

These are the stories that the news media thrives on. We wanted the quieter stories, the stories of the 107 year old grandmother who got to 107 by surviving the Nazi takeover of Germany and concentration camps, where she was forced to “entertain” the Germans and impress everyone with the “nice life” the Jews were living in the camps, playing her piano in orchestras and looking happy while losing her entire family, but surviving it all through a quiet determination and passion for music, friends, and life. Alice Herz-Sommer featured on Stories of Our JourneysMaybe our story is the one with the Star Wars action figure collector who worked hard as a financial investor. The story is about the decisions he made to retain his childhood and not turn curmudgeon into his 40s or 50s – the sacrifices he made along the way by not just being but staying “different.” Maybe the story is in all the work and lessons learned along the way to growing that prize rutabaga is the real story, much more interesting than the vegetables’ random likeness to television stars.

Everyone wants to read stories of the rich, famous, and infamous, but our team wanted to hear the real story, a kind of Paul Harvey’s The Rest of the Story. Real people, just like us, facing challenges that life throws at them and sharing how they made it through the rain and the pain.

I instantly knew who our first interview guests would be. As a teenager, my mother taught me that you choose your friends. That choice is a reflection upon you – your decision-making capabilities and your character. Lucky for me, I listened and choose friends that inspired me, motivated me, and taught me how to be me, all the time, a better me. People whom I look up to and honor, especially the ones who know how to kick my ass. I’ve been blessed with a fantastic crop of friends, and I went knocking on their doors around the world.

Our guests tried to turn us down, arguing they didn’t have a story to tell. It took some work, but I knew their stories were worth sharing. We did 10 interviews in less than a month as a test run, doubting ourselves and our project still.

I will never forget Kym contacting me after one of the interviews, crying, barely able to get the words out. “We have something special here, Lorelle. I’m speechless. Luckily, they aren’t.”

The Stories Get Told

A couple weeks ago, we turned the lights on in the shop we call .

Our first test post about that 107 year old grandmother, Alice Herz-Sommer, brought cheers to the virtual offices of Bitwire Media around the world. It was our first step.

Stories of Our Journeys interview with JC HutchinsThe first interview was with J.C. Hutchins, Award-Winning Fiction and Nonfiction Storyteller. I’ll let J.C. sum up his experience:

In March 2010, my friend Lorelle VanFossen contacted me about a new project she and Kym Huynh (of WordCast) were creating: Stories of Our Journeys, an interview series dedicated to sharing a meaningful moment in a lifetime — or a journey through that lifetime. Lorelle asked me if Kym could interview me for the program.

I was torn. Mere weeks prior, I’d learned that 7th Son’s sequels would not be published by St. Martin’s Press. I had announced I was leaving the Free podcast fiction space to pursue other creative opportunities. Was this the best time to chat about my writing career, and the professional decisions I’d made? I almost said no…

…and then remembered the deep respect I had for Lorelle, and that I absolutely trusted her. I agreed to the interview.

He had told me repeatedly it wasn’t the right time for such an interview, coming at the end of such a painful experience. He wanted to move on and get over it, putting all his focus on the next phase of his life. All I remember telling him was that I loved him, and knew, to my toes, that this was something he needed to do and it would help him put closure on the past so he could move forward with clarity. I was as surprised as anyone when he finally agreed.

I believe that when your vision is clear, simple, and powerful, you will attract the right people and things to accomplish your task. In describing his interview experience, J.C. confirmed our mission statement and purpose:

…If there’s one interview of me you should hear — to get the full story of my creative drive, my love of storytelling, my decision to join and leave the Free podcast fiction community, the promise and pitfalls of mainstream publishing and more — this is it. I have never given such a forthright interview before this one, and doubt I ever will again.

Last night, Kym and I virtually hit the publish button on the second interview of Stories of Our Journeys with my long time friend and fellow blogger, Edrei Zahari. While I have not had the opportunity to meet him in person, the story of his journey has touched me for many years and I’m proud to call him friend.

Stories of Our Journeys interview with Edrei ZahariEdrei and I were among the first bloggers. His personal blog was created in 2003. Called Footsteps in the Mirror: The Recorded Reflections Of Redefined Reality, he writes eloquently about personal blogging, writing, WordPress, school, family, and the challenges of being an Asian immigrant speaking fluent English in Australia, and of being an outcast from birth, not just immigration. “Different” often brings isolation, and he was determined to control his demons through relationships, finding connections with like-minded people beyond his neighborhood and school.

In his first blog post, titled appropriately “The First Post Ever…,” we see a glimpse of the magic his blog persona, Kamigoroshi, and the man himself, would become:

I’ve seen blogs before, but I’ve never done one myself. It’s hard to put something down when you’ve got nothing to put down. It’s funny how you spend alot of your life inspiring people to become the best that they can be, but when it comes to yourself…you have absolutely no idea how to even get your butt off the bed and do something. Who knows…

Almost nine years later, we do know. He overcame his struggles as an emigrant from Malaysia, used his blog to find a supportive community, struggled with educational challenges and a serious mood disorder to become a recently engaged and official Australian resident and professional on a mission to save lives from cancer. He’s won honors and recognition for his passionate cryptic writing style and prose, and a worldwide audience, along the way. While reluctant as the rest, he shared his journey so far with us.

I don’t want to give away any secrets, but here is a sampling of the stories we have coming up on .

…a mother’s trauma after giving birth to a daughter with birth defects from Thalidomide and struggles with her own mental health when her daughter and two other children are kidnapped by the father from Australia to England. With no rights as a female or wife to stop it or recover the children back then, she shares the story of recovery, for herself and her family, eventually helping her daughter fight governments and international corporations to protect the victims and survivors of Thalidomide.

…at 80, a man looks back at his small town life in Nevada in an isolated Mormon town where he and the town citizens experienced the first nearby atomic bomb testing blasts, and how the first days in boot camp in the US Pacific Northwest, far from the waterless small desert town of his childhood, introduced him to the magnificence of the mountains, a quest from which he has never turned away from.

…a 47 year old computer programmer, mother of two, and former US Marine standing 5’4″ and 125 pounds making her childhood dream come true as a professional football player for the Portland Fighting Fillies, and how she survived being ridiculed off the field as an “weak old woman” to help lead the team to Nationals.

The stories may sound dramatic but to those who lived through them, they are just the things you have to do to survive your days, the things we all have to do. This is why their stories are so important, the untold stories of the journeys of a life lived.

We’ve video interviews in addition to the audio podcasts coming, and many more stories to share.

Share the Stories of Your Journeys

Early next year we’ll be adding a tool to help you share the stories of your journeys, but you can start now.

Make time now during the holidays and family gatherings to interview your family members and friends. Share them on your own blog or with us when we have our sharing service set up.

To help you, we’ve created some interview tips and techniques and equipment recommendations, along with some questions to help you prepare your interview subject and make them feel comfortable with sharing the story of their journey.

I’m so proud of this new show I’m producing. Thanks for letting me share it’s own story of its journey.

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Copyright Lorelle VanFossen.

One Comment

  1. Posted February 26, 2011 at 5:23 am | Permalink

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