Steve Almond on the Magic and the Craft of Storytelling

First Draft: A Dialogue of Writing is a weekly show featuring in-depth interviews with fiction, nonfiction, essay writers, and poets, highlighting the voices of writers as they discuss their work, their craft, and the literary arts. Hosted by Mitzi Rapkin, First Draft celebrates creative writing and the individuals who are dedicated to bringing their carefully chosen words to print as well as the impact writers have on the world we live in.

In this episode, Mitzi talks to Steve Almond about his new craft book, Truth is the Arrow, Mercy is the Bow.

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From the episode:

Mitzi Rapkin: You say in your book Truth is the Arrow, Mercy is the Bow, “Storytelling is not some mystical pursuit.” And I think your whole book lays out why. But I also have this sense that reading stories can be very mystical, and that there’s some alchemy happening in the creation of the art and the reception of the art.

Steve Almond: If there’s something mystical going on, it’s that a species came into existence in the universe, that is able to experience the universe, that is able to set a bunch of specks of ink onto dried wood pulp. And another one of this species can happen upon those specks of ink and become so involved in decoding that symbolic language, becomes so intuitive and powerful that they create an entire movie in their heads, with no sound editor and no Best Boy or Gaffer, just their own imagination, gets so turned on and activated, that they create an entire experience and come to know a character or set of characters better than they know many of their own family. Like, how miraculous is it, that our species can do that?  That we have this thing called storytelling and stories that allow people living 6000 miles away or 6000 years apart, chronologically, and geographically and culturally and in every other way removed from any familiar cognates, and if the story is written well enough, that total stranger will be completely bound up and be having a deeply emotional, imaginative psychological and moral experience reading that story. That, to me is absolute magic. And, you know, those stories from 6000 years ago, that’s the Bible or the Bhagavad Gita or whatever it is, our holy texts are all stories. And that is the way that we transmit through time what it is like for us to live in the bewilderment of being human beings, this one species that is able to be conscious of ourselves, able to love so deeply and mourn so deeply when we lose and all the rest of it. So, I think I think that process is completely beautiful and mystical, but I think explaining how it works doesn’t have to descend into vagary.  I think you can be quite precise about how certain decisions at the keyboard are more moving and more likely to involve the reader and get there, get that mystical process instigated inside them.


Steve Almond is the author of twelve books of fiction and nonfiction, including the New York Times bestsellers Candyfreak and Against Football. His recent books include the novel All the Secrets of the World and William Stoner and the Battle for the Inner Life. For four years, Steve hosted the New York Times Dear Sugar podcast with Cheryl Strayed. He is the recipient of a 2022 NEA grant in fiction, and his short stories have been anthologized in the Best American Short Stories, The Pushcart Prize, Best American Erotica, and Best American Mysteries series.  His new book is Truth is the Arrow, Mercy is the Bow: A DIY Manual for the Construction of Stories.

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