Six Tips for Memoir Writers

We all have great stories to tell . . .

We all have wonderful stories to tell! But memoir-writing can open up parts of yourself that you’ve long kept sealed. No wonder it’s so easy to put off!

If you have a memoir inside that’s struggling to get written, here are six tips to help get your life story down on paper:

1.  Start with the easy stuff. What could be easier? Jot down the basics: birth date and birth place; names of parents, grandparents, siblings. You might find stories popping up as you do this — if so, great! Make a list of those stories, and keep writing!

2.  Think happy. Who was your best friend in grade school? What were your favorite foods as a kid, and who prepared them? What music did you love? Happy memories are usually a great way to get words flowing!

3.  Go big-picture.  Step back for a second and think about world events that affected your life. Have you lived through wars, recessions, gas shortages? Did you watch the first man touch the moon, or the Twin Towers fall? What big-picture events happened in your lifetime, and how were you swept up in them?

A book grows by chapters. But you don’t have to write them in order.

4.  Remember decision-points. Everyone reaches a fork in the road at some time in his or her life. What tough decisions did you have to make, and how did you make them? (These stories can be some of the most fascinating parts of a memoir!)

5.  Go ahead, jump around. One of the biggest traps for memoir writers is the (totally understandable) effort to write chronologically. But memory doesn’t work that way. Go ahead, let your imagination jump around! Write whatever memory comes into your head and says “write me.” You can always sort your stories into better order later. That’s what word-processing (or a three-ring binder) is for!

6.  Welcome writers’ block. Yes, I really said that. Writers’ block happens to us all, and it’s one of the biggest gifts in our toolbox. When something is really, truly important but you haven’t quite processed it yet, your subconscious won’t let it out onto paper. Realize when you’ve hit one of those “big ones.” Be gentle, but keep coming back to it. Often if you can figure out exactly what the hang-up is (fear of failure? not knowing how to do something?), that fresh insight alone will re-open the writing door.

Like more helpful tips on writing a memoir? Get the LifeStory Workbook here!

A workbook can help keep you going.

#amwriting

#memoir

Bootleg Liquor

The tax man had a ready pencil.

Back in the 1860s, young Alpine County slapped fees on just about every article and activity. Would-be voters ponied up $2 in poll tax for the privilege of casting their ballot. There was a broker’s license; a license to sell merchandise; a theater license; a peddler’s license; and a license for keeping billiard tables.

On top of it all were hefty property taxes, which were imposed on all sorts of assets. A lawyer’s law library? Taxed. County scrip (that IOU when the County couldn’t pay you in gold)?  Taxed.  Cows, chickens, horses, and wagons all were taxed too. Pretty much anything of value became prey for the tax man’s eager pencil, including — wait for it — dogs.

Saloons did a thriving business.

With the abundance of saloons hard at work fueling early Alpine County miners, liquor licenses became an especially lucrative revenue source for county government. In one quarter of 1867, for example, liquor license revenue was 50% higher than the license fees collected from merchandise sellers.

Distilleries, too, were supposed to pay a county license fee. Not surprisingly, bootleg operations quickly flourished.

In 1869, rumors began to swirl about an underground liquor operation in Fredericksburg. “All search for its whereabouts proved unavailing”  — until a suspicious fire broke out in 1870 in a vacant house owned by Mrs. Woodford. “The whole establishment was thus unearthed, but the guilty parties have not yet been detected by the revenue officers,” the Chronicle chuckled, “and probably never will be.”

Bootleg liquor was a way to make ends meet during Prohibition.

Secret stills reappeared in Alpine County during Prohibition years, artfully concealed in local barns. Once again, Fredericksburg seems to have been a center for this illicit activity.

For local ranchers, bootlegging likely meant economic survival. “Almost every one of these ranchers on Foothill Road had a still in their barn during Prohibition,” recalls one rancher’s grandson. “My grandfather refused to do it, and we’re the only ones that went broke!”

Want to read more tales from early Alpine history? You can order our books, Silver Mountain City: Ghost of the Sierra and Driving Tour of Woodfords, Diamond Valley & Fredericksburg here!

 

What Killed Miami’s First Doctor?

At first he thought it was the ice collars.

When Dr. James Jackson developed breathing trouble in 1923, he didn’t think much about it. He had long been in the practice of wearing an ice collar in the operating room to stay cool in the Miami heat. He brushed his symptoms off as pneumonia.

Dr. James Jackson

Dr. Jackson had been practicing in Miami since 1896, when the fledgling settlement was only a few streets wide. Luckily for Miami, he stayed on — becoming the town’s first physician and jack-of-all medical specialties. He delivered babies; set broken bones; treated ulcers, boils and heart troubles. It was Jackson who ran the “sanitary watch” over Miami in 1899 when the town was quarantined for yellow fever, conducting house-to-house inspections for the disease. He also became the official physician for the luxurious Royal Palm Hotel, treating its guests when needed.

The lavish Royal Palm Hotel, circa 1901.
Hippodrome on right; Halcyon Hotel on the left.

By 1923, Dr. Jackson was still seeing patients at his office on Twelfth Street, although now in the newly-built Hippodrome building. He also was actively engaged in helping plan for a new City Hospital. But Jackson wouldn’t live long enough to see the new facility open.

That winter he began losing weight. A trip to Johns Hopkins in Baltimore diagnosed him with a fungal infection of the lung, and he was treated with intravenous infusions of mercurochrome. This heavy-duty “cure,” Jackson found, left him feeling worse than the disease, and he soon discontinued treatment.

On April 2, 1924, he died at home in Miami. In a gesture of universal mourning, the city’s mayor ordered all Miami businesses closed two days later, so that citizens could attend Dr. Jackson’s funeral. None other than William Jennings Bryan delivered his eulogy.

Less than a week after Jackson died, the city commissioners voted to rename the future hospital the “James M. Jackson Memorial Hospital.” The resolution passed unanimously.

Book from Clairitage Press about Dr. Jackson, Miami’s first physician.

Like to read more about Dr. Jackson and Miami’s early days? Check out the new book about him here!

#Miami

#Florida

#History

#DadeHeritageTrust

 

 

Carson Valley Civil War Vet

Chambers Lane, a rural road at the southern end of Carson Valley, is just a place name these days. But it once was an early Alpine County homestead, owned by Civil War veteran Thomas Armstrong Chambers.

Thomas Chambers

Born in St. Lawrence, New York in 1837, Chambers (like so many young men) became swept up in the turmoil of the Civil War. He joined the 6th New York Heavy Artillery as a private, probably in response to President Lincoln’s urgent call in August, 1862 for “300 more” patriots to help defend the Union. According to a fellow member of that unit, “there were no bounties offered as an inducement to enlist, and it is safe to say that patriotism is the only motive that brought this body together in defense of our country’s cornerstone, the Constitution.”

6th Heavy Artillery camped at Maryland Heights, 1863.

Chambers’ heavy artillery unit was trained to fire large canon, and for much of the war was stationed as a defensive force near Washington D.C. But in the spring of 1864, the group was reorganized as an infantry force assigned to the Army of the Potomac. Thereafter the unit fought in such notable battles as Spotsylvania and Cold Harbor, and won military acclaim for their “gallant conduct” at the Battle of Harris Farm in May, 1864. Chambers himself was promoted during the war from private to Second Sergeant.

When the war was over in 1865, Chambers returned home to New York, where he married Margaret Morgan about 1866. They eventually had a total of nine offspring, including a pair of identical twins, Myron and Byron.

The family came west about 1873, settling first in the early mining town of Monitor, where the Chambers children attended school. Chambers worked as a carpenter. In 1892, he homesteaded a 160-acre ranch along the country road that soon took his name, Chambers Lane. A devoted member of the local community, Chambers became one of the founders of the Fredericksburg Cemetery Society, helping the Society to acquire its cemetery land in 1891 from Frederick Bruns and serving as the organization’s first president.

Chambers suffered from “consumption” (tuberculosis) acquired during his military service. “They said you could hear the entire company coughing,” a descendant noted. For this combat-related infirmity, he was granted a Civil War pension of $12 per month in 1882.

Beautiful wrought iron gate and fencing surround the Chambers plot.

When he passed away in 1912, Chambers was buried inside a beautiful wrought iron fence at his family plot in the Fredericksburg Cemetery. His wife, Maggie, was later laid to rest beside him, along with three of their children: Myron, Byron, and Ella.

Thomas and Margaret Chambers are buried here. Someone has thoughtfully marked his grave with a flag for the Fourth of July!
Thomas Chambers’ headstone

Today when you hear the place name “Chambers Lane,” we hope you’ll remember this proud veteran and Alpine County pioneer. And if you happen to visit, his Civil War headstone is the earliest military marker in the Fredericksburg Cemetery.

Like to read more stories about the early settlers who are buried at the Fredericksburg Cemetery? Check out our Walking Tour book here! (it’s the fifth book on that page.)

#CivilWar

#Cemeteries

#AlpineCounty

#Markleeville

 

 

Key in the Tree

You gotta love it when you stumble across a mystery. Especially two mysteries in one day.

Key in the tree.

On a recent drive up Highway 4 we found an old key, firmly embedded in the trunk of a tree. Just a guess, but it’s probably been there at least 50 years — long enough for the tree to almost completely envelop the body of the key. Who could have left it? What did that key once unlock? And why leave it stuck in a tree in the forest?

As luck would have it, another nearby tree trunk also caught our attention. This one bore blaze marks, possibly flagging the original old trail prior to modern Highway 4. What pathfinder left this mark? And how long ago?

Such great mysteries for future explorers to puzzle over!

 

Tree at top of the pass on Hwy 4, about two miles west of Kinney Reservoir.