The Storyteller: A SNHU Chat with Rebecca Rule

by Pamme Boutselis

Rebecca Rule gathers and tells stories. Her latest book (and first picture book for children) is “The Iciest, Diciest, Scariest Sled Ride Ever,” illustrated by Jennifer Thermes. Other books include: “Moved and Seconded: NH Town Meeting, the Present, the Past, and the Future,” “The Best Revenge” (named one of five essential New Hampshire books by New Hampshire Magazine), “Could Have Been Worse: True Stories, Embellishments, and Outright Lies,” “Live Free and Eat Pie: A Storyteller’s Guide to NH,” and “Headin’ for the Rhubarb: A New Hampshire Dictionary (well, kinda).” She writes regularly for UNH Magazine and hosts an interview show, the “NH Authors Series,” on NHPTV. She sometimes performs a touring program called “Crosscut,” with photographs and stories on logging, the mills and the community of Berlin. She recently received an honorary doctorate from New England College for storytelling and contributions to New Hampshire literature.

RebeccaRule_OuthouseYou’re a storyteller, first and foremost. It doesn’t seem to matter what the medium is—from books to live performances, even your Facebook posts; you always have a great story to tell and usually one that will make someone smile, if not laugh out loud. Have you always enjoyed telling stories?
I’ve always enjoyed hearing stories. It’s just the last 20 years or so I’ve discovered the joy of telling stories and making people laugh.

When did you realize you had a talent for doing so, or do you think the skills developed because you enjoyed the telling?
I was just naive. I started doing readings from my books, then would get off-page, talk to the listeners — they talked and laughed back. Gradually I put the book away and just talked, repeating the stories people told me, telling stories of my own. I’ve only recently accepted the title to storyteller and am not sure I deserve it. But people seem to like what they hear — some even come back for seconds.

What came first, live presentations or writing? Do you write some material simply for live presentations and if so, how does it differ from your books?
Writing first. I write a blog that is the basis for the stories in the live presentations. My told stories have less detail and they’re a lot shorter. I don’t have the memory to tell long stories. Actually, I have a terrible memory. For me a told story is a string of associations. One phrase leads to another in a series of remembered experiences (whether I experienced them or not).

BeckyRule_Poofberries2Your latest book, “The Iciest, Diciest, Scariest Sled Ride Ever!” is your first book primarily for kids. What led to a children’s book?
It’s been on my list for a long time. I love picture books. The combination of art and words. It’s the ultimate accomplishment for me. And I’m really enjoying the new audience: young children. They are so open to story and appreciative.

You also have taught writing for many years at the college level and have co-written two textbooks, “Creating the Story: Guides for Writers” and “True Stories: Guides for Writing from Your Life.” What’s the toughest part of teaching writing?
I taught for about twelve years. The hardest part was that the teaching required the same energy, creativity, inspiration that also feeds my writing. I was unable to do both at the same time. So the teaching — even though it paid better (which is not to say well) had to go.

What do new writers most need to know?
The most important thing — the only thing — we bring to the page is our unique perspective on the world. Trust your voice. Read a lot. Persevere. See where the writing leads you.

Are there things regarding writing that you know now that you wish you had understood when you first started?
Many things. I think I just listed them all in the previous question.

Who has encouraged you along the way?
Mostly, I’ve refused to be discouraged. I had wonderful teachers all through school. Don Murray at UNH gave me a lot of encouragement, as did Thomas Williams. Now I’m encouraged by readers and listeners who seem to like what they read and hear.

How important have books been throughout your life?
I was an avid reader as a child — avid. Reading was what I did in every spare moment, hence my poor softball skills. I was an English major in college. That’s mostly reading. When I was teaching I read a lot to pass good work on to my students, and of course I read their work. It was as a teacher that I realized how important rereading is for a writer. If I taught (and reread) a story or novel or essay ten years in a row, I would begin to see its bones. To understand the writer’s craft. I wrote book reviews for NH newspapers for seventeen years. That was a lot of reading. Now, not so much. I read for fun in the summer, mostly mysteries, but have almost no time for reading when I’m performing — except books that might provide performance or workshop material. Right now I’m reading a collection of nursery rhymes and the stories behind them. I tried them out in a storytelling workshop at a retirement community. They are magic. Primal. And fun. When I retire I’ll read more. Oh, wait. Can’t retire. Don’t have a job.

If you were able to only keep one book going forward, which book would you choose and why?
It makes me too sad just thinking about it. Can’t be done.