Writing stories to pass values from one generation to the next

Questions from Students: Platform and Perspective

Questions from students: platform and perspective

Earlier this year, I had the privilege of speaking to a children’s literature class at the University of Memphis. The class had been assigned a reading of Coach Dave: Season One and was to submit questions prior to my visit. The class’s questions were excellent, and I answered as many as time allowed on that day. I have divided the students’ questions into several topic groups, which I will address here on the blog for all of my readers.

Today’s topic: platform and perspective.

Questions from Students: Platform and Perspective

1. You talk about “values storying.” Where did you get the term from, what does it mean, and how is it vital in developing novels?

The term values storying is one that I created. Values storytelling may have related a little better to readers, but my background put a different spin on that possibility. I explain that on my About page: I admit that it was a risk to “create” a new term. I did not discover narrative, and I certainly haven’t cornered the market on telling stories. It’s simple, really, why I chose to go the route of a new term. When I was a kid growing up in rural Mississippi, I was taught to be a young man of integrity. Essential to that code of ethics was to always be truthful. It was a big deal to be called a liar or to call someone else a liar. So…when my sisters and brothers would disagree with one another’s versions of conflict, we wouldn’t outright call each other a liar. But we might tread awfully close by calling one of our siblings a storyteller. So, you see, having grown up with that background, to call myself a values storyteller would have been to label myself an oxymoron. Now you know the rest of the story.

Platform and perspective: I explain what values storying means here.

Values storying is vital in developing not just my novels but my memoirs and a non-fiction book that I have in the works. It is the hub of how I make decisions about what to write. Does the story help in passing along values from one generation to the next. Is it a story that would help people grow in character or at least wrestle with issues of character? These questions help me sift through all the possibilities of writing material and also to write different types of books that still have the same roots.

2. You’ve used your platform as an author to branch out in public speaking, what advice would you give to someone trying to form his/her platform and how did you determine what worked best for you?

Public speaking is just another way to communicate the same message of my content. It is not something I added in order to sell more books or build a brand, necessarily, but to reach people who might not otherwise read one of my books. The advice that I would give to someone trying to build a platform is to consider–along with the input of others who know you well–what message you are uniquely positioned to deliver. What do your personality, experiences, and passions drive you toward?

My plan after graduating college was to teach and coach at one high school for forty years, win multiple state baseball championships, and impact generations and young men and women in that community. God had other plans, but finding the common ground of all my experiences was difficult. After much soul searching, it became clear that the common denominator of my personality, experiences, and passions was helping others through teaching. That has looked different in careers as a teacher, coach, pastor, and writer, but I have found that I am most satisfied when I can get inside of someone’s head, turn his eyes maybe just a fraction in another direction, and help him see an aspect of life from a different perspective that helps him solve a problem.

3. Why did you choose to write for children instead of another age and genre? What helped you to make that decision?

I began my “official” writing career just a few years ago with two books (Lines in the Gravel and Stories from the Roller Coaster) that were years in the making and could only be written as an adult looking back of younger years. I will write other books aimed toward adults, but I chose to write the Coach Dave series because of the influence of Matt Christopher books on my formation as a reader and as a young athlete with a mind toward character building through sports. (I wrote more on the influence of Christopher’s The Lucky Baseball Bat here.)

4. When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer of children literature especially sports?

When I coached baseball, I looked for opportunities to teach life lessons through sports. The value of a sacrifice bunt in baseball or a block downfield in football or taking a charge in basketball–these were all prime connections between sports and life. I always encouraged my teams to understand that they had the privilege of learning these life lessons through a game, unlike most of the children of the world who learn some of these same lessons in much more harsh environments.

As my sons played various sports for many different coaches, I began to realize that the teaching of values through sports was giving way to the bottom line–wins and losses. I came to appreciate coaches who went the extra mile with their players, those who seemed to care more about their players than their own trophy cases. They should be celebrated and held up as models to future youth coaches. Coach Dave, though named for a real-life Coach Dave (David), is a conglomeration of some of the best of youth coaches with whom I have been involved.

5. One thing I particularly enjoyed about the novel was the point of view in which it was told. Why did you choose to write it from the perspective of an adult instead of a child?

I still snicker when I hear dads talk about his son’s past seasons using a phrase like “when we were nine….” Translated: “When my son was nine and I was living vicariously through him…” (Check out “6 Ways to Stop Living Vicariously Through Your Children.”) This is a struggle for (especially) dads who have a background in sports themselves. We want to see our children do well, and we want to be able to teach them what we know. The line between these noble desires and their experiences is a thin one, and dads like me find ourselves stepping over it more often that we would like to admit.

Coach Dave takes into account that youth sports, with all their triumphs and struggles, are a shared experience between children and their parents. Sometimes, sports experiences enhance the father-son relationship; at other times, it causes significant strain. Often, fathers and sons–just like the ones in the book–go through both in their relationships. On a related topic…

6. Who is your ideal reader for this novel?

Fathers and sons reading the book together. The Coach Dave series is centered around a team of middle-school-aged players, so it appeals to readers in the pre-teen and early teen age groups. However, the stories are told through the perspective of one of the dads who follow the team, so moms and dads have also benefited from reading the stories.

Just last week, I received a message from a baseball mom who has bought the books for her husband and son: “…thanks so much for writing Coach Dave! Truly changed (my husband and son’s) relationship on and off the ball field! He’s even passed it along to several other dads who needed it!!”

Those are my ideal readers.

I hope you have gained a deeper understanding of my platform and perspective through these excellent questions from students. Check out more questions and answers in the weeks to come.

About Al Ainsworth

Al Ainsworth is a values storyteller. He works with individuals, businesses, churches, and other organizations to pass along their values through the stories they tell…and re-tell.

Al is the author of Lines in the Gravel, Stories from the Roller Coaster (of a Faith Life), and the Coach Dave series. Subscribe to his email list for more values storying.

What do you think?