“Hi, this is Susan Hart*, a woman said, “I hope you remember me. We met at your book reading.” She described herself and I immediately remembered the pretty brunette. “I did not buy your book at the event,” she continued, “but you gave me your card. Yesterday night I looked up the sample of your book and began reading, and, oh my God, your book is so moving, you even had me crying by the third story.”
OUCH… what happened?... My book is not a sad book, quite the opposite; it is a motivational book…
“The story about your brother…” Susan continued, appearing to choke up a little bit, “I had to laugh so hard when I read how you defended him when you were children… and, I cried when he died because my brother died - too.” Then, words just bubbled out of her, “I loved it when you beat up that big bully to save your brother because that’s exactly what I had to do for my brother… on more than one occasion.” She paused briefly, “I am just calling because I bought your book at Barnes and Noble and I wanted to know if you have another event where I can get it signed. This means a lot to me. Your story is like my story.”
Naturally, I was floored. Susan wasn’t sad, she was happy; reading my story had allowed her to relive her own story with her own brother.
This wasn’t the first time that this happened. On another occasion, a bookstore owner, who had bought my book, had called me just to say, how important it was to her to read how I learned to overcome my depression after my husband’s untimely death. It’s not a big story, it’s only a few paragraphs long, yet it helped her. Her mother had died recently. A lady named Robin had emailed me how empowering my “chainsaw-story” was; like my husband hers too thought that she should not use a chainsaw. Therefore, she was pleased to read my similar experiences; she thought that it was exciting to know another woman’s feelings about using power tools.
Like every author I like to tell these stories because they are beautiful. Unfortunately, there are also ugly stories. Here is one I have never told.
A few decades ago, still living in Austria, I had one best friend, who eventually became an author. By the time that happened, I had left Austria and moved to the United States, and also, we weren’t best friends anymore. Our friendship had broken apart relatively abruptly. Her mother, jealous of our close friendship, had spread lies about me; the daughter had believed her mother even though what she claimed made really no sense.
The decades passed and suddenly, there we were, meeting again on a social media platform. In the meantime my former friend’s relationship with her mother had suffered from other things the mother had done. She apologized for being “so silly” decades ago. I welcomed her with open arms. Our old friendship began anew as if nothing ever happened. Regularly we chatted on skype and life seemed good until I was about to publish my book “Naked Determination”. Since she had penned a few books, I sent her a few stories. I thought we would have an interesting discussion.
“Gisela,” she came back, “You need to write more about your husband’s death. You need drama.” I had only written that he died falling from a balcony in the middle of the night.
“There isn’t any more to say,” I replied, “I wasn’t there, there were no witnesses, and nobody knew anything.” Her demanding tone irritated me but still friendly I continued. “Remember, this happened in Austria while I was in Florida. I was more than 5,000 miles away. “
“Doesn’t matter,” she said, “You need something scandalous, that’s what people want. If you don’t know anything, take what you have and build on it. Create emotional drama; that’s what sells.”
I could hardly believe what I heard.
“Are you kidding? Why would I invent something about my own or my late husband’s life? I loved him. Plus, may I remind you that we have two children? Do you really think I am going to invent some story and my children have to live with this lie?”
“Let ‘em deal with it,” she spoke with conviction, “they are adults. You need to write a dramatic story, so your book will sell. Believe me; I am giving you the best advice. I work in the industry. Nobody cares about your childhood stories, your job and travel stories, and all other stories; you need big emotional drama.”
I was so in shock that I hung up. “What a heartless, mean creature!” She also did not call back.
My first thought was that she had gone crazy, but then I was wondering. Was she right? What kind of stories do people want to read?
Eventually I stumbled over C.S. Lewis’ quote.
C.S. Lewis said, “We read to know we are not alone.”
I think he was right. Susan Hart called me to tell me that she shared a bond with me because she too had beaten up bullies to defend her brother, who like my brother died too soon. She was happy that she could relive her memories reading my story, even if it involved shedding a few tears. The bookstore owner had called to tell me that she was happy to read how I learned to overcome my depression, and, how she needed to read that. And, Robin was excited to know that other women too liked to work with a chainsaw.
In his TED-Talk American thought leader Seth Godin explained that people like to form “tribes”, to be with other people, who share their own ideas and values.
Readers care a lot about their childhood stories, their job stories and all their other stories; they want to belong to the tribe, who has common stories.
It is amazing how many of us have even unusual stories in common. In his review, Amazon top book reviewer Dennis Littrell wrote, “…Finally I was amused by Hausmann's story about "the Casablanca Principle" in which she assuages herself as she breaks up with a boyfriend by using this famous line from the Humphrey Bogart-Ingrid Bergman film: "We'll always have Paris." The idea of emphasizing the good times together is typical of Hausmann's attitude toward life. I was amused because after I broke up with a girlfriend with whom I had travelled a bit in the U.S., she liked to say with a smile, recalling the Bogart line, “We’ll always have Colby, Kansas" (where we stayed one night)….”
Needless to say, I never imagined that somebody shared my “Casablanca Principle” story, but Dennis Littrell does (and who knows how many others).
As for my former friend… She turned out to be like her mother, who was a liar too. The apple did not fall far from the tree. Her tribe must be the tribe of liars.
And my book? It won Gold at the International Readers Favorite Awards 2014. While it may never become a #1 Amazon bestseller it makes readers happy.
Gisela Hausmann is the author of fifteen books including multi award winning ‘NakedDetermination, 41 Stories About Overcoming Fear’. She lives with her two cats Artemis and Yin-Yang in Greenville, SC.
* Names have been changed to protect others' privacy.
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© 2014 by Gisela Hausmann, All rights reserved.