Connecting with Family Folktales

karen-gonzalesOne of the ways we communicate with others is through stories, passed down from generation to generation, building connections. Karen Pierce Gonzalez, author, writing teacher, and folklorist has developed a technique to keep these treasured family stories and memories alive by creating folktales about them.

1. I’ve heard of writing autobiographies before, but not folktales. What inspired you to come up with that term?
Folktales are very different from biographies. As tales told by people about people, places, and things, they lend themselves to the perspective of the one telling the folktale. In this case, the writer who can simply capture specific elements of someone’s life experiences.

I found that using folktale motifs (categories/themes) in writing assignments allowed the writers to tap into their own reservoirs of personal experience which includes family history. This sidestepped the writing block of having to use facts or historical data that may not be available. It also supported the writers’ desires to express their perspectives rather than the perspective of others (for example, family members).

2. My dad is a great story teller. I remember hearing some of the most colorful stories about his childhood. One time he hid a snake in the flour bin, hoping his mother wouldn’t notice. Or when he tipped over an outhouse, on the door, and someone was inside. My childhood was more ordinary. How can I come up with a great story to tell?

Everyone’s got folktales to tell. We all have experienced one or all of the following: first dates, healing moments, gourmet chefs, holiday dinners, family vacations, tricksters, romance, and more. These are the stuff of folktales, and ironically, the best folktales are those that focus on the ordinary. Take your dad’s story about hiding a snake in the flour bin as an example. What’s unusual about a boy or girl wanting to or secretly trying to hide something from his or her parents? With that folktale motif (theme) in mind, recall times when you tried to hide something from someone. What happened? Did you get caught? If so, how did that happen? Who found out and what was the response?

Here it is important to point out that not all folktales are humorous or endearing. Some, in fact, are sad or bittersweet.
In all cases, however, all folktales often say something about individual experiences of their society’s moral values. These values include honesty, creativity, courage, and kindness (or the lack therein).

3. Time is always an issue, when I think of a story I want to tell, how will I ever find the time?

Folktales can be written in increments of fifteen minutes or less. In some cases, writers can create a laundry list of notes that they fill out as time allows.

The beauty here is that folktales capture only a moment or one incident, not an entire history. They are verbal snapshots of one, may two, elements of a treasured and/or poignant experience.

4. Giving gifts to family members, who seem to have everything they need, not wanting more knick knacks and stuff, would they enjoy a family folktale as a present?

Folktales make perfect presents because people love to be acknowledged for having created or shared special moments with others. Writing a folktale about the time Uncle Bob took you to his favorite fishing spot or about the day Aunt Ellen shared with you the secret ingredients of her Thanksgiving pecan pie affirms that such memories hold an honored place in your heart. It is these moments you will preserve for future generations.

familyfolktales5. Many of the elderly have great stories to tell, and the time to tell them. I’m sure their family would love to have such recorded. A lasting gift. Do you know of anyone who provides such a service?

With today’s technology there are many ways for people to preserve family folktales. As I discuss in the upcoming “Family Folktales: Write Your Own Family Stories” family members can publish their own family folktale books or scrapbooks, they can create pod casts, complete with call-in segments, or they can videotape “live” conversations. In some cases they can videotape several people sharing memories about the same folktale motif (person, place, or thing). There are also many professionals (for example: vidoegraphers) who can engage elders in folktale-related conversations that can be edited as needed.
I would be happy to make individual recommendations.

6. How can our readers get a copy of your book so they can create their own stories?

The book can be purchased online at FolkHeart Press ( and as of March 28 at Kindle/

4 thoughts on “Connecting with Family Folktales

  1. Heidi,
    Thanks for the interview. Very well done!
    Will you let me know when you write a family folktale? Would love to include it on my blog!
    Best, Karen

  2. Heidi, I had the pleasure of reading this book, inspiring as I have wanted to share stories about my Grandparents, and others in the family, felt a new freedom in the way I can express my ideas after reading this book.

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