The A-List: What Stories Inspired Us in August

As writers and storytellers, we’re voracious consumers of narrative in all its forms – from books and podcasts to movies and television. For us, it’s not just an enjoyable way to spend time. We also discover inspiration and lessons we can apply to our own writing.   

That’s why, once a month, we’ve started to devote a few minutes of our team meeting to share the stories that engage us off the clock that are also a source of inspiration while we’re on the clock.

We thought you might want to “listen in” to our conversation a bit. In this new blog series, we hope you’ll find inspiration (or your new favorite book or show).

The A-List

Diane’s Pick: Young Men and Fire, by Norman Maclean

Heather’s Pick: Can’t Hurt Me: Master Your Mind and Defy the Odds, by David Goggins

Tara’s Pick: Cold Fire, by Dean Koontz

Anna’s Pick: Expecting Better: Why the Conventional Pregnancy Wisdom Is Wrong – and What You Really Need to Know and  Cribsheet: A Data-Driven Guide to Better, More Relaxed Parenting, from Birth to Preschool, by Emily Oster

The Conversation

Diane: So I’ll kick this off. I’m reading a book called Young Men and Fire. It’s by Norman MacLean, who is best known for writing A River Runs Through It. (You may have seen the Robert Redford movie with Brad Pitt.)

I picked up Young Men and Fire because it was mentioned in another piece I was reading about pandemic planning. Fire actually is a great metaphor for a pandemic. Like a virus, it can spread in the same way and be on top of you before you realize it’s out of control.

The story is about the 1949 Mann Gulch Fire in Montana and the team of U.S. Forest Service smokejumpers who parachuted into the area behind the line of the fire to fight it.

The smokejumpers initially assessed it as an ordinary fire, but after they hit the ground, it blew up into a much bigger one. Once it began moving very fast up the north ridge of the gulch, the men attempted to outrun it – uphill.

The crew leader was one of just three jumpers who survived, all because he built an “escape fire.” That is, he burned an area of grass ahead of the fire and jumped into its burning embers. The main fire rushed around the area. At the time, an escape fire was unheard of, and the crew running past ignored his orders to jump into it. Today, it’s a recognized survival tactic.

It’s a riveting story, and there’s a lot of attention given to the mechanics of wildfires, firefighting, and crisis planning. Since we write about emergency planning and critical communications a great deal, the story really drove home the importance of preparedness and how it helps us deal with the unexpected.

Heather: Wow, that’s an amazing story, especially given the relevance to a lot of the work we do and the state of the world today. Interestingly enough, I’m also reading a non-fiction book – and it’s about tragedy – but on the personal level – and how one man rose above it to accomplish amazing things.

The book is by David Goggins, and it’s called Can’t Hurt Me. He’s a retired Navy SEAL turned ultra-marathoner, triathlete, and motivational speaker. He came from a very poor, abusive childhood. But his dream was to become a Navy SEAL, and he never gave up. In fact, he failed multiple times, but came back – again and again – until he was successful. He found a way to tap into his mental fortitude deep within and push past any level of pain to keep going. He’s still going strong today and motivating people to go after their biggest dreams.

For me, the story itself was inspirational, but so was the writing. He found a way to weave together personal anecdotes with motivational nuggets for the reader. It made me want to keep reading – and that’s a constant goal of mine when writing for clients. How can we get people interested enough to keep scrolling down and read more?

Tara: Yeah, that does sound interesting. I’m definitely going to check that one out! The book I brought with me today is by one of my favorite fiction authors, Dean Koontz. Most people usually associate him with the Odd Thomas series, but I fell in love with an outlier he wrote earlier in his career called Cold Fire.

The main character experiences all of these supernatural events during his life, and then he makes a journey to return to a bunch of places from his childhood. In the process, he finds a book he read as a child, and he realizes he internalized the narrative of the book, and he’s been manifesting the storyline throughout his life. It just struck me because I notice that whatever I’m reading outside of work often impacts my writing style and approach.

Diane: Me too! I always find myself taking on the tone and voice of the author I’m reading for pleasure. I actually find this skill makes it easy for me to adopt the voice and tone of our clients.

Anna: Yes, I can totally see how that comes in handy! And the book sounds great! It would actually be a great change of pace from what I’m reading now – two books by Emily Oster about preparing for parenthood – Expecting Better and Cribsheet. She’s a professor of economics at Brown, and she follows a data-driven approach to pregnancy and childbirth. She takes a more scientific look at some of the typical “no-no’s” during pregnancy, like eating sushi and drinking caffeine.

She digs into the medical studies and comes to the conclusion that many of these things actually aren’t that bad or dangerous. With sushi, for example, no one (pregnant or not) should eat low-quality sushi. But if you’re going to a reputable place, it’s fine every once in a while. It’s the same with caffeine. You can have that coffee – and some chocolate. She even goes into breastfeeding and the science behind the support for that approach versus formula.

As an expecting mom, I’m learning a lot from both books, but the data-based approach really intrigued me as I’ve been spending a lot of time poring over data for some of the projects we’ve done recently. It was really cool to be able to take that kind of approach with a topic so near and dear to me right now.

We invite you to check out some of our selections this month and be on the look-out for more “A+” picks from the Version A team.

The A-List: What Stories Inspired Us in August
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Diane Thieke

As the CEO and co-founder of Version A, I’m responsible for strategy and vision, as well as team and client happiness. My experience in journalism, public relations, and marketing proves I’ve built a career out of the things I’m most passionate about – curiosity, writing, media, and tech. I’m surrounded by smart, cool, creative professionals, so I’ve never been bored, had the Monday blues, or wanted to trade in the corporate job for the life of an author. Okay – that last one is a lie. #amwriting

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