Dann Stouten

Why I Started Writing:

As I was growing up, I found out I am dyslexic. I’ve learned to compensate over the years, but when I was young, I really struggled with reading, particularly reading out loud. It was embarrassing. Without realizing it, I would transpose words and letters, substitute one word for another, or skip words altogether.

I commonly confused D with B or even P. When you do that den becomes Ben or pen and dam turns into bam or Pam.  You can understand how that would make reading difficult. The longer the sentence, the quicker I’d go off the rails. I would read, “and on that day God said to Moses,” and wonder why Moses was having a conversation with his dog that day. Everyone else in class read the sentence, “I saw the cat running through the yard.” I on the other hand read, “I was the cat running through the yard.” The other kids in class thoroughly enjoyed it whenever I was called on to read but it was torture for me.

Not until I was in college was I diagnosed and given the help I needed to compensate. That’s when a whole new world opened up to me. Suddenly books made sense. Stories were amazing, and I became an insatiable reader. Then came my defining moment. I took a creative writing class from Jack Ridl and he told me I was a gifted writer.

“Most people recite facts,” Jack said, “but you put us into the story. It’s a very rare gift you know. Don’t waste it.”

Jack probably said that to everybody, but his words stuck to me like glue. Having someone believe in you is a powerful thing. I started to believe I could write. Soon after, I studied writing, I read stories that other people wrote, and I began writing them myself. I wrote sermons, newsletters, articles, and short stories. Some were read or heard by others and some were not but all of them were part of my journey as a writer.  

Authors Who Have Influenced Me:

I have been influenced by so many different authors that it’s impossible to compile an exhaustive list. But some that immediately come to mind are C. S. Lewis and The Problem of Pain, The Chronicles of Narnia, Mere Christianity, and A Grief Observed; Fredrick Buechner’s, The Hungering Dark, The Book of Bebb, The Wizard’s Tide, Peculiar Treasures, and The Magnificent Defeat; J. R. R Tolkein’s  The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings; Andy Stanley’s Deep & Wide, Enemies of the Heart, Guard Rails, and The Principle of the Path; Walter Wangerin Jr.’s Ragman and Other Cries of Faith, The Book of the Dun Cow, and the Manger is Empty; Timothy Keeler’s The Reason for God, and Encounters with Jesus;  and almost anything by John Ortberg. I could also easily add books by people like Mark Batterson, Kevin Harney, Bruce Feiler, Irwin McManus, and Donald Miller.

Books I Have Written:

I have written several short stories including "Tommy and the Six Kings" and "Farmer Cherry’s Christmas," a book of sermons entitled Ray Charles by the Roadside, a study in Narrative Preaching, the illustration and application portions of Baker Publishing’s Teach the Text Commentary Series for the books of Jeremiah and Lamentations, and a novel published by Revell entitled The Gate.

What I'm Working On Now:

I am currently working on a book entitled The Fishhouse Princess, and I’m in the editing phase of my novel: The Tentmaker’s Apprentice with Elk Lake Publishing. We’re planning to have it available early next year.

Why I Still Write:

I write because I believe stories are the things that shape our lives. They inform, they inspire, they comfort, they condemn, and they can take us places we’ve never been. One day we can be at Eden’s gate and the next, we can find ourselves in Narnia. It’s magical really. There is no limit to the places we’ll go or the things that we can know.

We all have stories to tell but at the heart of it, most fiction is autobiographical. If we write about hope, it’s because we have found hope. If we write about tragedy, it’s because we have experienced tragedy, and if we write about love, it’s because we have been loved well or want to be, and if we write about faith, it’s because we have wrestled with our doubts and we’ve come out on the other side.

And when we lay our stories next to everybody else’s, what we discover is that despite our differences, we’re not really all that different after all. We’re born, we live, we die, and so does everyone we’ll ever know. But deep down in our souls, we all hope that there’s more.  There has to be. That something more is much of what I write about. I love to go rummaging around in the deeper things, the unseen things, the things of faith.

You see whether we believe or we don’t, we all wrestle with these things at some point in our lives. They sneak up on us in the dark. They ambush us when we’re most vulnerable.  And if we’re not careful, they can tip us off balance spiritually. The truth of it is when we lose someone we love; it can strengthen our faith or strangle it. Good and evil play tug-o-war with our souls, and for a while, we could go either way. One day faith keeps us afloat and the next we’re drowning in doubt. And in the midst of all that, whether we chose to believe or not is often decided by the stories we’re told.

Robert Frost once said that, “a poem begins with a lump in the throat; a homesickness or a love sickness.” I believe that the same thing can be said about good fiction. Every story worth telling begins with a lump in the throat; a longing or a love. So, in the end, I write hoping that my words will do two things. I hope they bring people comfort and bring people closer to God.

Dann Stouten

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