Clockwise from top left: Paul Tremblay, Mallory O'Meara, Gus Moreno, Stephen Graham Jones, Kate Racculia, Clay McLeod Chapman, Libby Waterford, and Alma Katsu

The fifth edition of StoryFest 2022 starts today! To kick things off, we corresponded with a few of the 40-plus authors who will be in attendance to get their take on writing through the pandemic, the role of libraries in modern society, the power of books to transform lives, and why stories matter.

In the final installment of this four-part series, we asked Clay McLeod Chapman (Whisper Down the Lane, Ghost Eaters), Stephen Graham Jones (The Only Good Indians, Don’t Fear the Reaper), Alma Katsu (The Hunger, The Fervor), Mallory O’Meara (The Lady From The Black Lagoon: Hollywood Monsters and the Lost Legacy of Milicent Patrick, Girly Drinks: A World History of Women and Alcohol), Gus Moreno (This Thing Between Us), Kate Racculia (This Must Be the Place, Tuesday Mooney Talks to Ghosts), Paul Tremblay (The Cabin at the End of the World, The Pallbearers Club), and Libby Waterford (Can’t Help Falling in Love, Take Two) about the role of storytelling and why stories matter.

[Related: StoryFest 2022 Author Q&A: Writing During the Pandemic]

[Related: StoryFest 2022 Author Q&A: The Role of Libraries]

[Related: StoryFest 2022 Author Q&A: The Power of Books]

Here is what they had to say:

With so much happening in the world right now, what role can (and should) storytelling play in our lives? Why do stories matter?

Paul Tremblay: Stories hold a mirror to society and civilization and history. The best stories trade in truth, showing us at our best and at our worst and everywhere between. Stories help us to know and to remember and to reckon. 

Stephen Graham Jones: First, stories provide escape, if escape is what we need for this next hour or two, or week or two, or however long — a series like Wheel of Time or The Dark Tower will give you a lot more than that. Second, stories are where we encode culture, to be passed down and down through the generations. Third, stories teach us empathy, which we all need to learn, and relearn, and then learn again. Fourth, stories passively instruct us how to manage narratives, which is something we can take into the narrative of our lives, foregrounding this, skipping over that, and thus reshape ourselves into something different over and over. It's kind of the only way to keep up with the changing world, yes? Fifth, a well-told story can leave us feeling less alone: Someone else has had this feeling, someone else has been in this situation. And not being alone, having someone there with you, even if they're 500 gone, and never spoke your language — is there anything better than that?

Mallory O’Meara: Stories help us figure ourselves out. In this age of fear and confusion and upheaval, having the ability to learn and discover more about yourself through storytelling and story reading is more important than ever.

Kate Racculia: Stories help us understand — who we are, really, and who we might still become, where we might go, and what kind of world we want to live in and build. They comfort; they challenge; they reveal. They let us speak and give us the chance to be heard. And they remind us that we're not alone.

Clay McLeod Chapman: The electricity is going to go out. ... The batteries will all eventually die. ... All we're going to be left with is a campfire and each other. What better way to connect than spinning a yarn? It was there at the very beginning of man, and it'll be there when circumstances return full circle. Gulp.

Libby Waterford: Stories have always been a way to change hearts and minds and share different ways of life. Their ability to bring different types of people closer to each other is tremendously valuable. Escaping into a book isn't burying your head in the sand, it's opening your mind to a different world. We should celebrate the freedom that stories give us to spend time in other, sometimes better, worlds.

Alma Katsu: The last few years have been particularly difficult ones. Thanks to COVID, it often hasn't been possible to escape from our daily stresses. We turn to stories — in their many formats and media — to quickly, easily, and often inexpensively escape from the pressures bearing down on us. You can pick up a book when you're ready, put it aside at your own pace. It's low tech and undemanding. Stories provide the escape valve so many of us need right now.

Gus Moreno: I think we navigate reality through stories, the stories we tell ourselves as well as the stories we experience. A story can provide someone respite from the world at large, or it can inform something that they're going through, or it can reveal to them something they've never considered before. Stories have an amazing way of taking something considered to be "known" and make it novel once again, reminding us that we don't have everything figured out and must proceed through life with a willingness to be open.

Clockwise from top left: Libby Waterford, Kate Racculia, Clay McLeod Chapman, Gus Moreno, Stephen Graham Jones, Paul Tremblay, and Mallory O'Meara

The fifth edition of StoryFest 2022 is just days away. To kick things off, we corresponded with a few of the 40-plus authors who will be in attendance to get their take on writing through the pandemic, the role of libraries in modern society, the power of books to transform lives, and why stories matter.

In the third installment of this four-part series, we asked Clay McLeod Chapman (Whisper Down the Lane, Ghost Eaters), Stephen Graham Jones (The Only Good Indians, Don’t Fear the Reaper), Gus Moreno (This Thing Between Us), Mallory O’Meara (The Lady From The Black Lagoon: Hollywood Monsters and the Lost Legacy of Milicent Patrick, Girly Drinks: A World History of Women and Alcohol), Kate Racculia (This Must Be the Place, Tuesday Mooney Talks to Ghosts), Paul Tremblay (The Cabin at the End of the World, The Pallbearers Club), and Libby Waterford (Can’t Help Falling in Love, Take Two) about the power of books.

[Related: StoryFest 2022 Author Q&A: Writing During the Pandemic]

[Related: StoryFest 2022 Author Q&A: The Role of Libraries]

Here is what they had to say:

StoryFest celebrates the power of books to transform people and communities. What book was a touchstone in your life? What books inspired your pursuit of writing?

Libby Waterford: Reading An Offer From a Gentleman by Julia Quinn (Bridgerton Book 3) as a teenager introduced me to the "modern" romance novel — a book set in the past in which the heroine was every bit as feisty and feminist as I considered myself to be. I realized that romance as a genre was changing, and I couldn't get enough of it from that point on.

Kate Racculia: Hoo boy, too many to list. Ellen Raskin's The Westing Game. Diana Wynne Jones' Witch Week. Anything and everything by Stephen King and Agatha Christie and Mary Higgins Clark. And most recently, for the very first time, I read D.H. Lawrence's Women in Love — checked out from my local public library.

Clay McLeod Chapman: Geek Love by Katherine Dunn has always been pretty fundamental. The poetry of Ai, particularly her collections Cruelty and Killing Floor. I cannot overstate how important Ai is to my personal literary upbringing. I don't know where I would be without her work.

Gus Moreno: A book that's a touchstone to my life is Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse. It's the novel that made me want to become a writer. Another book that inspired me to become a writer was Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk. Other books have helped inspire the shape of my writing or the lane that I'd find myself in, like The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood, the collected short stories of Amy Hempel, and Jesus' Son by Denis Johnson.

Mallory O’Meara: Bonk by Mary Roach was a game-changer for me. I never realized how exciting and fun nonfiction could be until I read her work. She's still one of my favorite authors. Reading her books still creatively energizes me and inspires me to this day.

Paul Tremblay: The story that shook me awake to the power of fiction of Joyce Carol Oates's Where Are You Going? Where Have You Been? I read it as a second semester mathematics major in college. I didn't know people wrote stories like that! That story and shortly thereafter being gifted a copy of Stephen King's The Stand turned me into a reader for life. The books I return to and re-read the most as a writer though are Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five and Shirley Jackson's We Have Always Lived in the Castle.

Stephen Graham Jones: The first novel I ever read was Where the Red Fern Grows, by Wilson Rawls. And it's still the kernel of my writer DNA. Because of the adventure, sure, and because opening that book is peeling back a hatch into another era, but mostly because of the magical-perfect ending of that novel. Without having read that ending, I seriously doubt I ever pick up the pen myself. In fourth grade, I remember closing that book and thinking I could do this, I can stick an axe in a tree and let a lantern hang on it for a decade or two. Every ending I stage, the bar for me, it's still Where the Red Fern Grows.

Clockwise from top left: Paul Tremblay, Mallory O'Meara, Gus Moreno, Stephen Graham Jones, Kate Racculia, Clay McLeod Chapman, Libby Waterford, and Alma Katsu

The fifth edition of StoryFest 2022 is just days away. To kick things off, we corresponded with a few of the 40-plus authors who will be in attendance to get their take on writing through the pandemic, the role of libraries in modern society, the power of books to transform lives, and why stories matter.

In the second in this four-part series, we asked Clay McLeod Chapman (Whisper Down the Lane, Ghost Eaters), Stephen Graham Jones (The Only Good Indians, Don’t Fear the Reaper), Alma Katsu (The Hunger, The Fervor), Gus Moreno (This Thing Between Us), Mallory O’Meara (The Lady From The Black Lagoon: Hollywood Monsters and the Lost Legacy of Milicent Patrick, Girly Drinks: A World History of Women and Alcohol), Kate Racculia (This Must Be the Place, Tuesday Mooney Talks to Ghosts), Paul Tremblay (The Cabin at the End of the World, The Pallbearers Club), and Libby Waterford (Can’t Help Falling in Love, Take Two) about the role of libraries.

[Related: StoryFest 2022 Author Q&A: Writing During the Pandemic]

Here is what they had to say:

We have been thinking about the role libraries play in the health of communities and the world as a whole. What role have libraries played in your writing life, or life in general? Why do you think libraries matter now?

Mallory O’Meara: I'm not exaggerating when I say I couldn't write without libraries! As a nonfiction author, it would be impossible to do the research for my books without public libraries. There isn't enough pie or whiskey in the world to adequately thank the librarians and libraries that have helped me write my books. The pandemic made it very clear that libraries are not simply book dispensaries; they are vital community centers. Whether you're looking for a new job, wanting to learn a new language, finding books for your children, needing help with a project at home, or just looking to connect with your community and meet people, nothing beats the library.

Gus Moreno: Libraries have played an incredible resource in my writing career. When I couldn't afford to buy books, I could always check it out at the library. No matter the building, there's always this subtle reverence to the atmosphere. There is no dividing line or exclusivity in a library. The place feels committed to knowledge and growth, and I think that's a space that will always matter.

Stephen Graham Jones: Two of the best places in the world are libraries and bookstores. So, related, two of the best people in the world are booksellers and librarians. They have recommendations, they can connect you to resources. And talking resources already on the shelf, that are probably pretty pricey to buy for this or that project, libraries are so vital. I've used them to research a lot of books, and when my kids were young and all my dollars had to go to diapers and apple juice, they provided me with most of my reading, too. And I'm still there probably every other week. Every walk down an aisle, there's another treasure waiting, another book that I can live with for the check-out period. Nothing better.

Paul Tremblay: When my children were younger, we would go to our town's library weekly during the summers. Hunting and then finding books and the excitement of checking them out and bringing them home are cherished memories. More recently, libraries and librarians increasingly have had the burden of being the heroes/sentinels of free speech, free expression, and education thrust upon them under the assault of the right's renewed book banning fervor. In the spring of 2022, a Milbury librarian discovered a patron was checking out and destroying books celebrating LBGQT+ themes. Upon this discovery, the amazing library and its community rallied and quickly raised funds not only to replace the stolen books, but to purchase more and multiple copies to share with other libraries. Libraries like Milbury matter because they house and celebrate all voices.

Libby Waterford: Libraries are where I discovered most of my favorite books and authors, where I can escape to find a moment of quiet and where I now come with my children to share my own childhood favorites and help them discover theirs. As a writer, libraries offer a safe haven for work and research as well as inestimable distractions should those be required!

Alma Katsu: I've always loved being in libraries, being surrounded by so much diversity, knowing you have access to nearly any book you could ever need. I've been lucky to have served as author representative on an ALA (American Library Association) subcommittee the past two years and have been saddened to hear of the challenges libraries face with the surge in challenges, book banning, and intolerance in general. It's undeserved stress on a valuable resource: librarians who just want to serve their communities.

Clay McLeod Chapman: I've been taking my kids to the library about once a week or every other week. It's blown their mind the have this exchange of books, where they check out and read, then return and check out more books. It's funny how the pandemic almost robbed them of the notion of what a library does. That said, when I was a kid, I have vivid memories of my grandmother taking me to the library and telling me I could check out any two books I wanted. She wouldn't curtail my choices. It could be whatever I wanted, which meant a lot of Stephen King and Gary Larson. One I had to read to myself and the other she'd read to me. To this day, I still have the most vivid memory of one particular book: North America's Greatest Monsters. I first learned about the Wendigo from that book, and it's haunted me ever since.

Kate Racculia: Libraries are one of the last great democratic institutions, a place where knowledge and information and literature and history are free and accessible. Like, think about that. They are free. Now, because of the collapse of various other parts of the social safety net, libraries are under pressure to be a social stopgap in many ways, but still: Libraries are the punk rock bastions of civic life, designed to support public welfare, public awareness, and to combat disinformation and ignorance. Epic.

I've loved them since I was a kid growing up in Syracuse — my local library hosted a stuffed animal sleepover — and let me tell you: I was beyond enchanted that my stuffies got to spend the night. I adored my elementary school librarian (hi Mrs. Griffin!). To be honest, I probably should have become a librarian myself, though I did work part-time for my beloved Bethlehem Area Public Library here in Pennsylvania (during the pandemic even), raising money and advertising programs and services. As a reader, libraries are where I've made some of my greatest book discoveries (Diana Wynne Jones!). As a writer, libraries are places to work, to research, to feel grateful to be a small part of a long tradition of thought and care, memory and truth and imagination. I freaking love libraries.

L to R: Clay McLeod Chapman, Kate Racculia, Alma Katsu, Stephen Graham Jones, and Libby Waterford

The fifth edition of StoryFest 2022 is just days away. To kick things off, we corresponded with a few of the 40-plus authors who will be in attendance to get their take on writing through the pandemic, the role of libraries in modern society, the power of books to transform lives, and why stories matter.

In the first in this four-part series, we asked Clay McLeod Chapman (Whisper Down the Lane, Ghost Eaters), Stephen Graham Jones (The Only Good Indians, Don’t Fear the Reaper), Alma Katsu (The Hunger, The Fervor), Kate Racculia (This Must Be the Place, Tuesday Mooney Talks to Ghosts), and Libby Waterford (Can’t Help Falling in Love, Take Two) about writing during the pandemic. Here is what they had to say:

Westport Library: This is our first in-person festival in three years, and we're thinking a lot about how the pandemic has changed our way of life. How has the pandemic changed the way you think about or approach telling stories? How has it changed your process as a writer?

Clay McLeod Chapman: It's funny, but pandemic office hours were nearly the same as pre-pandemic office hours, only with more breaks in between childcare corralling. In the thick of the pandemic itself, my writing became increasingly interior, for better or worse. I was really scraping the headcheese from within my skull for a year or two. First drafts were far more introspective. Perhaps less plot driven. Definitely more focused on the mental and emotional states of my characters, which was really just a flimsy disguise for myself.

Kate Racculia: Weirdly — or perhaps not so weirdly — it has slowed me down. As in, I feel less urgency to write The Next Great Book and am more interested in taking my time and figuring out what it is I really want to say in [my] next book. I'm sure this is partially because of how the pandemic has changed my relationship to work and ambition, period. I went back to work full time — from home, at a very manageable day job — and now my writing doesn't have to be anything other than my own creative practice, how I notice and process the world. I'd like to share it, of course, but I'm less focused on producing for the sake of producing.

Alma Katsu: Especially early in the pandemic, people were thirsting for stories for a distraction, whether by binge-watching streaming television, or thankfully, turning to novels. I've [seen] a slight uptick in preferences for faster-paced stories, but there are still plenty of readers who want something slow and immersive. Trying to find the sweet spot between the two has been a bit of a challenge.

Stephen Graham Jones: Living in Colorado, there's trails and trails and trails. During the pandemic — not saying it's over, either — when it was all "isolate or pay the consequences," the trails were my refuge. On my mountain bike. Which I wore out and then wore out some more. But doing that, going back and forth from writing, writing, writing to riding, riding, riding, I think it kind of conditioned me to associate the two some. Meaning, now, I find myself writing a couple hours, then going out to slam up or down this trail for three or four hours. Rinse wash repeat. Not a bad cycle I’ve fallen into, really.

Libby Waterford: The pandemic enabled me to make new, stronger connections with writers via video sprints and virtual conferences, but I still miss meeting in person with my regional writing friends. I'm more disciplined as writer now, having had to juggle kids and partner at home and not being able to escape to a coffee shop for a relatively distraction-free writing session. I'm not sure the pandemic has changed my approach to storytelling, except to focus on the parts of storytelling that bring me and my readers joy.

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