GUEST BLOG: Memoir Author Sally Bailey Jasperson

Sally Bailey has danced with some of the biggest names in professional ballet. Think Rudolph Nureyev and Margot Fonteyn. She became a professional ballerina with the San Francisco Ballet at the age of 19, and spent the next 16 years on a whirlwind of stages: from New York to Ecuador, Istanbul to Cairo, Egypt to El Salvador. And in 2003, she captured some of those fascinating memories in a memoir: “Striving for Beauty: A Memoir of the Christensen Brothers’ San Francisco Ballet.”

I was fortunate enough to meet Sally Bailey at a booksigning, and was immediately a fan. She’s bursting with life, high energy, and enthusiasm. And her book shares some astonishing stories from her high-octane career with the San Francisco Ballet. (Don’t miss the one about leech soup in Rangoon!)

Author Sally Bailey Jasperson with her books at a recent signing.

Me, of course, I was full of questions. Sally kindly agreed to share her answers with us in this blog! So read on — and hope you enjoy this virtual “meeting” with Sally, too!

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Q:  What was it like, growing up to be a dancer?
A:  Dancers often have an unusual time of it. They start younger than in most professions. They grow up in a rarified atmosphere, mostly seeing only each other; and they become more and more removed from ordinary life. But when they manage to succeed, which not all dancers do, this leaves them open to a rare experience: the feeling of complete power and control over a situation, as in a performance when everything just happens to click. I had such an experience once. I still remember it. It occurred while I was dancing Tchaikovsky’s grand pas de deux from the Nutcracker. This pas de deux is indeed grand! When the orchestra is playing full out and you’re dancing full out, feeling every muscle in your body doing exactly as you wish, you and your partner are responding to each other, and the audience is responding to the two of you — it is a heady experience. There aren’t too many experiences like it.

Sally dancing the “Roses Waltz Adagio” in Beauty and the Beast, May, 1958 (Dale Smith photo).

Q:  What made you decide to write a book about your years in ballet?
A:  I decided to write this book because, after all my years in ballet, I had something to say. It’s not only a memoir of my life, it’s also a chronicle of the Christensen Brothers’ San Francisco Ballet.

Q:  Your book is an amazing 370 pages, and covers the time from when you were nine until you were 35. This must have been a momentous undertaking. What got you started writing, and how did you go about the process?
A:  It was a big undertaking. From start to finish, the book took me 10 years. My son was in high school during much of this time. I used to get up every morning about an hour before breakfast and write. The original version of my book had over 700 pages — much too long! So after I finished writing, I had a lot of cutting to do.

Q:  So many memoir writers quit when their project is half-done — sometimes even after just a few pages. In fact it sounds like your director’s wife hit just that kind of snag. What helped pull you through to the end?
A:  I had a lot of help along the way. My brother-in-law had been Chair of the English Department at Annapolis; he had friends who also helped. My husband was a real stickler for the English language, and I had friends who were college English teachers. They all read it, and gave me comments. And for me, the discipline of ballet came in real handy!
As I was looking for a publisher, an old friend who was working as an editor offered to read it and came up with many good suggestions. I rewrote it again. And finally, my manuscript sparked enough interest that a publisher read the whole thing. Though she couldn’t afford to take the project on, she encouraged me to go ahead and publish it with Xlibris. And so did my husband and son, who for ten years put up with late dinners. They said I’d better do something with it.

Q:  What did you do to stay organized?
A:  I began with a timeline, and I knew what I wanted to say. I had kept journals while on all our tours, which helped immeasurably with dates and details, though I hadn’t kept many notes when we were home.

Q:  Your career in ballet was really phenomenal. And yet, at the age of 35, you knew it was time to change your life and go on to other things. Was that part of  your motivation for writing the book? To show others that it’s okay to let go of a career and move on?
A:  No, my motivation for writing the book was entirely personal. As for the decision to leave dancing, I wanted to quit while I was ahead! Staying in as ballet mistress — a role something like a tutor to the other dancers — felt to me like cleaning up other people’s messes. It wasn’t appealing to me. Many dancers aren’t interested in a world beyond dance, but I knew there was a whole wide world out there and I was excited to explore it.

Q:  Do you have any encouragement or advice for other memoir writers?
A:  I think everyone has to just feel their way through the process, and just keep plugging.

Q:  You’ve actually written two books: “Striving for Beauty” and also “After the Applause Stops: Who Are You When You No Longer Do What You’ve Been Doing for Years?” Where can readers find your books?
A:   My books can be ordered online through Amazon and Borders, or from the publisher, Xlibris.

Here’s Sally’s book “Striving for Beauty” at Amazon.com!

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P.S. Like a free copy of Sally’s book? I’m so pleased to share her story I’m doing a Giveaway! Just drop me a line at kdustman@clairitage.com and let me know why you’re eager to read her book! Best answer (in my humble opinion) before November 22, 2019 wins the book. If you win, I’ll email you for your mailing address.

Hope her story inspires *you* to keep writing!

 

Writing for Magazines: What Do Editors Want?!

First, the bad news: the magazine markets shrank dramatically over the last ten years, making it tougher than ever to break in. Even if you do land an assignment, freelancing is no longer remotely lucrative unless you’re writing for top-tier mags (think “winning the lottery”). Expect to pull in a few hundred bucks at most for your effort, and count yourself lucky at that.

The magazine market ain’t what it used to be. But there’s still grand opportunity!

Even so, there are several good reasons to write for magazines. If you’ve got a book, a blog or a website, a magazine article can be a great way to promote it. If you’re eager to highlight to your niche or expertise, a well-placed article can raise your business profile a notch.

Magazine-writing can also be a great excuse to travel. (Just don’t expect to make any money doing travel-writing without years of paying your dues!) Still, the “pittance remittance” you can expect from a travel story can help offset a fraction of your travel costs — a definite win/win if you were planning on going, anyhow!

Magazine assignments also allow you to learn new things and meet incredible folks. Thanks to freelance assignments I’ve had the happy privilege of talking to all sorts of cool people, from top national health experts to pet psychics. I even got to interview Margot Kidder once!

And perhaps the best reason of all to write for magazines: it’s just plain fun. Magazine work can bring you great joy, especially if you’re writing about something you love.

What are magazine editors looking for?

So, what are magazine editors looking for these days?

First off, of course, they’re looking for stories that will appeal to their readers. So start out with a good grasp of the magazine’s demographic. Who are their readers, and what’s the age range? Are readers generally men, women, or both? And what are readers looking for from this particular publication? Craft a pitch to assist or entertain or educate the folks the magazine is designed to reach.

Editors want articles that are fun, lively, and haven’t been done to death. A piece on “How to bake an apple pie”? Utterly ho-hum. “How to bake an apple pie in a Dutch oven on a camping trip”? Now you’re talking!

Come up with something unexpected. (In this case, it’s the rabbit who’s doing a hat trick.)

Come up with an innovative way to do something, or interview an expert no one’s uncovered before. Suggest a unique solution, or find a new way to tackle an old problem, and write about that. Explore uncharted territory, and offer tips for others who might want to experience that same adventure. Even if you think your idea is new, check back issues to see if the magazine has already run a similar story in the past couple of years.

An editor’s time is precious. So they’re eager for clean copy they won’t have to spend hours whacking into shape. They’re looking for writers who’ve already learned their craft. They want words that flow logically from one sentence to the next.

Forget deathless prose. Go for clean copy and smooth transitions.

Show ’em your chops, starting out right in your query. Keep  sentences short and tight. Don’t ramble on and on forever, with strung-on phrases, multiple clauses, and endless digressions that lose the reader before they get to the very bitter end of a wandering sentence like this one. Make sure you have a point for your story; then make sure the story gets there.

Don’t make your editor feel she’s doing this to get your story in on time.

Editors desperately need to know they can depend on you. Editorial calendars are unforgiving. If you land an assignment and your deadline is June 1st, don’t plead for an extension on the last day of May. Do whatever it takes to get that story in on time — or submit it early and really make your editor’s heart sing!

Double- and triple-check your work to make sure all your facts are right. Nothing will kill your chances of future assignments faster than sloppy, incomplete research. Don’t guess. Do your homework.

And last but not least — I know you already know this — proofread everything before you send it. (You spellchecked it, too, didn’t you?)

That’s it! That’s what magazine editors want.

Now go make some editor’s day. Pitch away!

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Karen Dustman is a published author and freelance writer with hundreds of magazine articles in print. She still gets a kick from turning them in early. Karen especially loves writing for history, genealogy, and natural health magazines. Check out her books at Clairitage.com, and her magazine clips and credits on her author website, www.KarenDustman.com.

 

Stalking Perry Mason: Following the Footsteps of Erle Stanley Gardner in Ventura

What’s not to like about a lawyer who got kicked out of law school?! His best-selling Perry Mason novels aside, Erle Stanley Gardner would still be legendary for that un-lawyerly feat!

Erle Stanley Gardner with his signature pipe.

Born in 1889 in Malden, Massachusetts, Erle Stanley Gardner managed to stay enrolled at Valparaiso University’s law school for only a few short months. Legend has it that Gardner was sent packing after organizing an underground boxing match in which he himself became a pugilist. It probably didn’t help that Gardner also claimed to have slugged a professor.

Never mind his lack of a formal law degree. Gardner managed to get himself admitted to the California Bar by passing the test in 1911 at age 21. He’d spent three years working as a typist at a law firm in Oxnard, so perhaps that experience gave him sufficient insight into the mysteries of the profession.

The following year (1912), Gardner eloped with one of the secretaries at the firm, Natalie Talbert. A hasty wedding it may have been, but the marriage lasted — officially, at least — until Natalie’s death some 57 years later.

The former Ventura County Courthouse where Gardner practiced – now Ventura City Hall.

Gardner had his own law practice in Merced for a short time. Then in 1915 he was invited to join the trial law firm of Frank Orr in Ventura. He abandoned law briefly in 1917, working instead as a salesman. But by 1921 he was back doing trial work for the Ventura firm. He seemed to most love representing legal underdogs: “I have clients of all classes except the upper and middle classes,” he once wrote his father.

Meanwhile, Gardner was trying his hand at writing pulp fiction on the side. His typewriter clacked late into the night in the study over his garage. But would-be writers can identify with Gardner’s early tribulations. His initial efforts produced only a growing pile of rejection slips. Finally, in 1921, Gardner’s first short story appeared in print. Some claim it was “The Shrieking Skeleton.” Others say it was the equally-alliterative “Nellie’s Naughty Nightie,” a bit of pulp fiction that generated all of $15 bucks. (Gardner’s mother reportedly refused to read it.) But Gardner had found his true calling. Over the next decade, he would crank out an astonishing 600 short stories and novelettes in his spare time.

The Ventura Pier today.

A daughter was born in 1923. Gardner would soon happily begin teaching her to fish off the nearby Ventura Pier.

Things were apparently going well in his professional life, too. In 1926, Gardner’s law firm moved into offices in a newly-completed bank building at the corner of California and Main. Although Main Street itself was still unpaved, the building boasted the finest accoutrements, from sparkling chandeliers to the city’s very first elevator.

Gardner’s office was in this building at 21 California St., Ventura

The four-story office building was conveniently situated in the heart of downtown, with the Ventura Courthouse just a short walk up the hill. Gardner was able to enjoy some of the finer things that Ventura had to offer, including steak dinners at his favorite Pierpont Inn.

As Gardner’s publishing credits began to grow, his agent encouraged him to try his hand at book-length works. And there in his third-floor law office in 1932, Gardner would crank out the opening pages of what would become his first Perry Mason novel. Some say it took him a mere three days to finish his first draft.

Front door of Gardner’s office building.

The book, “The Case of the Velvet Claw,” debuted in 1933 and became an immediate success. Soon, Gardner was spending just two days a week as a lawyer. The rest of his time was devoted to writing. Before long, Gardner gave up law entirely and devoted himself to writing full-time.

Although he pounded out stories at first as a two-fingered typist, Gardner quickly figured out that he could produce far more by dictating. A chance encounter with Agnes Jean Bethell at the Pierpont Inn (where she worked as a hostess) led Gardner to offer Agnes a job as his secretary. The dictation system worked so well that he soon hired her two sisters as secretaries, too.

Gardner met his secretary, long-time companion and eventual wife Agnes Jean Bethell at the Pierpont Inn.

Some sources say Gardner set himself a goal of 4,000 words a night; others say his target was 10,000 words every three days. He regularly churned out some 100,000 words a month. That meant he could produce between three and six books a year — a track record that would make him any writer’s idol!

Gardner and first wife Natalie acquired a newly-built home on Foster Avenue about 1936. But Gardner himself didn’t live there long. Although they never formally divorced, the couple lived separately beginning about 1935. In 1937 Gardner purchased “Rancho del Paisano” in Temecula. It would be his home for the rest of his life.

Natalie passed away in 1968. A few months later, Gardner married his long-time secretary and companion, Agnes.  He was 79 years old. Gardner lived just two another years, passing away of cancer at his home in Temecula in 1970.

All-told, Gardner authored nearly 100 detective and mystery novels, more than 80 of them featuring the quintessential sleuth, Perry Mason. His books have been translated into 71 languages, making him the most-translated American author. Despite this incredible record, Gardner claimed “no natural aptitude” as a writer. He was simply a “good plotter,” he once said — and oh yes, “one hell of a good salesman.” His goal was to offer his readers “sheer fun.” And readers loved it.

The historic plaque on Gardner’s former office building at 21 California St., Ventura.

Today, modern-day Perry Mason fans can still follow in Erle Stanley Gardner’s footsteps on a visit to Ventura. A bronze plaque flags the downtown building on California Street where Gardner had his third-floor law office — and drafted his first Perry Mason tale. The Courthouse just up the hill (now Ventura’s City Hall) is where Gardner, as a real-life lawyer, once argued tenaciously on behalf of his clients. The Ventura pier where Gardner taught his daughter to fish has since been rebuilt, but still juts out proudly into the Pacific. The Pierpont Inn, where Gardner tucked into delicious steak dinners and where he met Agnes Jean Bethell, remains an iconic Ventura attraction.

The former Gardner home at 4240 Foster Ave, Ventura, listed by eXp Realty.

And you’re really eager to follow in Gardner’s footsteps, you can even purchase Gardner’s former home at 2420 Foster Avenue. It’s two stories, 2,770 square feet, with a killer view overlooking town. And it’s on sale right now for just $1.79 million.

For further reading:

IMDb biography of Gardner

Kingston Pierce blog

“Thrilling Detective” blog 

L.A. Times story by Jane Hulse (1/11/1996) 

L.A. Times story by Gary Gorman (9/23/1990) 

Wikitree

Wikipedia

And the eXp Realty listing for 2420 Foster Ave

Writing About an “Ordinary” Life

MEMOIR TIP: Finding the Special in an “Ordinary” Life 

Ever feel like “my life was nothing special”? It’s a common refrain among memoir writers. You went to work; came home; cooked; did laundry. Then rinse and repeat, day after day. Where’s the special to write about in that so-called “ordinary” life?

What tools were an “ordinary” part of your household as a kid?

Here’s my take-away after interviewing dozens of folks who thought their lives weren’t very special: keep asking questions. Some of the greatest memoir material is tucked away right in the details of a seemingly “ordinary” life.

Here’s a couple of examples:
I once interviewed an old-timer who’d never lived far from the spot where he was born. Turns out he was a virtual living library of nearly-lost skills. He’d grown up hunting and trapping — with fascinating tales to share about his days tromping the mountains and the wild animals he’d encountered. He remembered when the local generator shut off at 9 p.m., along with every electric light in town. And brushes with death? It was amazing that he’d ever reached his 80s! As a teen, he’d once been sent out onto a flooded bridge to help break up a logjam threatening to take out the bridge. His “safety gear”: a bit of rope tied around his waist. Bottom line: he had plenty of amazing stories from a truly amazing life!

“I was just a housewife,” one of my husband’s relatives would similarly protest. But a little prodding later, we heard how her journey to school took her over a railroad bridge — a fine thing, until a train was coming, when she’d have to leap over the edge and hang onto a post until it passed. And she beamed as she told us how she and a classmate were allowed to spend the night from time to time with the warm and wonderful teacher from their one-room school, who’d let them roast marshmallows over the chimney of an oil lamp. Special memories indeed!

So, how can you find those fascinating nuggets? Those details that breathe life into the most “ordinary” life story? Here are a few tips:

  • Think about what special knowledge or expertise you’ve acquired — especially anything unusual by today’s standards. Did you learn the tricks of cooking on a woodstove, or how to skin a rabbit? Did you grew up sewing your own clothes? Tell the story of how you learned, and share the proper steps!
  • Remember how life was different than today during your growing-up years. Did you ride a bicycle or maybe even a horse to school? Get lost in a cornfield? Ever built a treehouse? What adventures did you have that kids today would never experience?

    What did your kitchen look like? No microwave, food processor, or trash compactor? Is there a favorite recipe you remember?
  • What kind of “ordinary” foods did you eat — perhaps something that’s anything but ordinary now? And how was that dinner prepared? Were staples in your family’s diet things that aren’t so common today, like parsnips, liver, or Spam? Did your mom make homemade pies made from home-grown fruit? (Do you still have that favorite recipe? If so, be sure to include it!)
  • What dangers did you manage to survive? Some of those experiences may be very uncommon today! Did you ever get lost in the forest in the snow? Come face-to-face with a bear? Challenge your friends to see who could be the first to swim across a dangerously swollen stream every spring? One of our friends had a simple abscess as a child that was truly life-threatening back then, although today it could be easily cured with antibiotics. Another relative spent an entire year in bed with pneumonia — again, an easily-treatable malady today. Those “ordinary” tales of challenge, hardship, and danger are especially fascinating when viewed backwards through today’s lens!

Bottom line: Don’t dismiss your life as “ordinary.” Remembering the details of that “nothing special” life often turns up incredibly powerful stories — and great memoir material!

Thinking of stories already? Share a few of your special memories with us on our Facebook page!

And if you’d like more Memoir tips, find our book on Amazon!

3 Hacks to Writing Better Copy

by Karen Dustman

There’s a smoothness to good writing. It’s effortless to read. Your eye moves easily through the sentence. You don’t have to struggle to make sense of the paragraph.

Easier said than done, of course. But good writing is part art, part craft. And that means that the right tools and a bit of practice can make a world of difference.

Here are 3 easy hacks to help boost the flow of your copy:

  1. Ditch those really fun, super-amazing modifiers.

Okay, we all have a tendency to gush from time to time. But too many modifiers slow down a reader’s eye. And let’s face it: by the fifth superlative in a sentence, you’re really just “gilding the lily” anyhow.

Here’s a few real-life examples (tweaked slightly to protect the guilty), so you can see what I mean:

“The third edition of Fantastic Health Book is an essential family resource and one of the most successful and authoritative compendiums of its time. Fully revised and updated, it is a definitive reference book and includes time-tested natural treatments . . . .”

 “I’m super excited to welcome Company ABC to our powerhouse Retail Establishment, and so happy to see our shelves filled with their beautiful, artfully-crafted vintage products, perfect to help you achieve your best modern-day wellness!”

Yeah, excitement sells. But don’t over-sell. Apply the brakes to breathless adjective strings (like “beautiful, artfully-crafted vintage”). And try to avoid double-descriptors (“successful and authoritative”; “fully revised and updated”). They’re needlessly wordy.

Compare these (much) cleaner rewrites:

“Now in its third edition, Fantastic Health Book is an essential family resource. It features time-tested natural treatments . . .

We’re happy to welcome Company ABC’s time-tested products to our natural wellness line.”

Yeah. Whew. Much easier on the reader.

  1. Shorten your sentences.

Here’s a real-life example from (sad to say!) a publishing company’s website:

“XYZ Company offers the rare experience of working with a team of award winning writers, editors, marketers and publicists to not only have a book but to have one that makes an impact and gets our authors the coverage they desire and deserve.”

Ugh. Did you read all the way to the end of that 43-word monstrosity? Or did your eyes glaze over half-way through? (Mine did!)

Let’s do a little sentence-rescue and see how we could make that read better. What are the important points in that messy word salad?

  •    We have a great team of publishing-industry experts;
  •    We can get our book into print;
  •    We can help you with marketing and media exposure.

No wonder the sentence is over-long and confusing! There are three separate “messages” all run together there.

The cure is staying “short and sweet”: split that monster sentence into individual “message” components. Here’s one version of how that might look:

“We’ve got an award-winning publishing team here at XYZ Company. Our writers and editors can help get your book into print. And our marketing experts and publicists help writers land the media exposure they’re after.”

Bingo. Shorter sentences that don’t overwhelm you, and individual messages that now make sense.

  1. Learn to tell your “it’s” from your “its.” If there’s one tiny word that gets misused more than any other in the English language, it’s probably that dangerous three-letter “its.” Show your writing chops by using the right one.

Here’s the simple hack: When you see an apostrophe, mentally fill in the omitted letter and see if your sentence still makes sense. So, for example:

It’s the right time of year to go fishing.” Yup, that “it is”!

But: “He took the hat from it’s place on the rack.Nope!It is” doesn’t work here. That hat needs to get put in “its place.” Pitch the apostrophe and carry on! You’ve got it, now.

Hope these simple writing hacks have helped you.  Here’s to writing like a pro!

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I write frequently about history, travel, family/oral history, natural health, and more. Like to discuss a podcast appearance or magazine assignment? I’d love to hear from you. Find clips and more on my author website: KarenDustman.com

 

GUEST BLOG: Q&A With Memoir Author Lisa Lombardi O’Reilly

Jim Lombardi may have started out in life as an altar boy. But his years as a teen were a somewhat different story: Jim was shipped off to boarding school for “not shaping up.”

Shape up he did, operating a successful L.A. restaurant and then joining LAPD as a reserve, patrolling the beat and working undercover vice assignments during his 50-year law enforcement career. But it took his daughter, Lisa Lombardi O’Reilly, to finally capture Jim’s amazing life stories on paper. Just released in March, 2019, “A Sense of Humor” shares Jim’s tales of becoming a helicopter mechanic; rubbing shoulders with famous musicians and notorious gangsters of the ‘60s; and life-or-death experiences as a law enforcement officer. Daughter Lisa, it turns out, was the perfect person to capture those stories. A writer, professional genealogist and family historian, she had been helping capture personal histories since 1997.

So how’d it go, interviewing your own dad and creating a book together? And what advice does she have for other memoir writers? Lisa kindly shares her memoir tips and experiences with our readers!

Lisa’s great-grandparents in North Dakota,1901

* * * * * * *

Q&A With Lisa:
Q:  How was it, working with your dad on his autobiography?  
A:  Working on this project with my dad was one of the best things I’ve ever done. I loved the time we spent together during the interview process, going through old photographs and memorabilia (which he still doesn’t know how I found!); sharing with him genealogy records about his ancestors; and, of course, sharing laughs about it all. There has always been a lot of laughter in our family.

Q:  Did it change your relationship in some way?  
A:  I’m grateful to say that I’ve always enjoyed a good, close relationship with my dad. Of course, when my siblings and I were young we didn’t get to see a lot of him during the week (especially when he was in the restaurant business), though he habitually made time for us. So I wouldn’t say working on the book together changed our relationship, or even that it gave me more of an appreciation for him. I’ve always felt that. What it did give me was a keener perspective and respect for the man that he is in a broader sense. The man that he isoutside our family, to his friends, and the communities he’s involved with. Discovering how his integrity, sense of humor, work ethic, and self-esteem were ingrained in him, and how they remained a firm foundation throughout his life. It brought full circle everything that he instilled in me and my siblings.

Q:  Did anyone else in the family help?
A:  The only other person who helped was my mom, who, if she was in the room during an interview, would add her own colorful version of a story. Apparently, my dad didn’t remember things ‘correctly’ all the time . . .

Q:  Did anything come out that surprised you? Did you hear stories you’d never heard before, growing up?
A:  I got to hear many stories I’d never heard before, especially about his parents, friends he grew up with, and people he knew that were instrumental in his life. What surprised me the most was his memory — not just his detailed recall about the events of his life, but that he would remember exactly where we had left off in the previous interview. It was uncanny! It took almost two years to get all the interviews recorded because I’d only see him four or five times a year, and the project would get put aside while I was working on other (paying!) projects. Normally, I let my narrators start up with what is foremost in their mind. But my dad would sit down with me and say something like, ‘OK, last time we finished up talking about the boat.’ And it would have been several months since our last interview! So we’d take up from there. He was amazing.

Q:  You cover a lot of ground, it looks like. How hard (or easy) was it to organize all the material?! What did you do to keep things on track?
A:  This was the biggest personal history project I’ve done to date, and was amassed from over 20 hours of interviews. We were able to cover a lot of ground since I had the background knowledge to be able to bring up questions about people or events. It was the most in-depth look at a childhood that I’ve ever recorded and he also has been engaged in several different careers during his life, and we covered them all. We had the luxury of no budget, so I went for it all! It really wasn’t especially difficult to organize the material, it just took longer to organize it all into the narrative flow. Once I got into the design stage of the book, I kept myself on track by giving myself a deadline. Otherwise, I’d still be collecting stories, because they keep bubbling up!

Q:  What was the BEST story you heard from your dad — the one you really want the world to know about? 
A:  That’s a tough question. My dad is a great narrator and had a lot of fascinating stories about his boyhood, his family, his restaurant days, and being a police officer with the LAPD. But I think my favorite story was one he and my mother told me together over dinner. There were a few times when I set the voice recorder in the middle of the table as we ate, and it captured some great conversations. The story that is dearest to me involved an evening while they were dating. My mom worked in downtown LA and my dad was supposed to pick her up after work. But he forgot to come get her because he was at home watching a ball game with his uncle! Their back-and-forth as they told this tale was such a perfect example of how they spoke to each other, and the story itself was so funny. And in the end, it turned out to be the night my dad proposed to my mom. I had never heard that story before, and it was beautiful and so them!

Q:  Do you have any advice for other would-be writers who’d like to get a family member’s story out?
A:  The best advice I can give is to just do it. Don’t put it off, don’t wait for some elusive ‘convenient’ time. There won’t be one. You have to treat the project like you would if the person was a paying client, especially the interview portion. Make appointments and put them on the calendar, and get all those words recorded! The book I did for my dad was his 80th birthday present, and I intended to do the same for my mom when she turned 80. But the unimaginable happened and she passed away suddenly. So don’t think you’ll always have time – you won’t.

Finishing my dad’s book was my greatest accomplishment. It’s a true blessing, and I’ll be forever grateful that I was able to present it to him, and that we can share it with our family and friends. My whole life, he’s been the king of my world and now I can let everyone know why. That makes it a precious gift to myself, as well as to him. So just do it – start the ball rolling today. I promise you will reap rewards you never expected. Just remember to listen like you’ve never heard the stories before (even if you have), and keep a sense of humor!

___________

You can find James Lombardi’s wonderful memoir “A Sense of Humor” here on Amazon.com:

To contact Lisa Lombardi O’Reilly to inquire about her services for creating an heirloom book from your own life stories, visit: www.yourstorieswritten.com or connect with her on Facebook:  facebook.com/lisa.lombardioreilly.

Dream of the Water Children: Memoir Tips from Fredrick Cloyd

Fredrick D. Kakinami Cloyd

GUEST BLOG:  Q&A With Memoir Author Fredrick D. Kakinami Cloyd

Some stories just grab your heart and demand to be shared. Dream of the Water Children is one of those special books.

Author Fredrick D. Kakinami Cloyd was kind enough to share some thoughts about his new memoir that I hope will inspire you.

A Quick Introduction:

Fredrick was born in a small town west of Tokyo to a Japanese mother and an African American serviceman father stationed in Japan during the Korean War years. His father finally was able to return in 1963 and brought Fredrick and his mother back with him to the United States. Fredrick grew up with a foot in both worlds —  a “cultural drifter,” as he puts it, not entirely at home in either Japanese or American culture.

Fredrick’s American father, Japanese mother, and himself as a baby.

Fredrick’s journey to complete his memoir spanned more than 30 years, with lots of “bumpy starts and stops.” He finished the first draft of his manuscript while living in a homeless shelter in San Francisco, and later completed his Master’s degree at California Institute of Integral Studies.   He became a serious practitioner of Zen Buddhism, spending years in a monastery. And he’s been head coach and director of several highly-ranked Junior Olympic volleyball clubs. His lyrical memoir is finally out — just published by 2Leaf Press and distributed by University of Chicago Press in April 2019.

“My book wasn’t just about me,” he says. “It was about all the water children.” Stay tuned, and he’ll explain.

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Q&A With Fredrick D. Kakinami Cloyd:
 Q:   What made you decide to write your memoir? Did it help you come to peace with some of the difficulties you’ve lived through?
A:   Well, it was an organic process that came in steps. I had the idea to “perhaps” write a book on my family history, back in 1983. I kept taking notes on conversations and memory here and there, and attempted a few times through the decades, to write the book. I had another name for my book, and decided it was too “victim-oriented” and I wanted something different from the regular memoirs I had read at the time. But I didn’t know what this “something different” meant or what I was going for yet. It wasn’t until 1997 or so that I started writing in earnest, when some friends of mine in Seattle, where I lived at the time, urged me to take myself seriously. They even set up a time for me to give a public presentation. I thank them profusely now. They recognized the potential of a book from me before I did. At heart, I felt unready — not shy or unconfident, but that the form I had been thinking about wasn’t quite right.

There were times in the writing that were harrowing, when I wrote through tears. From 1983 to the 2000s it was starting and stopping, reflecting, re-writing. But in the mid-2000s, I finally sat down and wrote the final form of the manuscript I would query publishers with. That was an intense process of focus, with some welling-up of tears and happiness at the same time.

In the end, I would say that the entire decades of writing did help me to heal. Some memories came back that I had forgotten or repressed. Some memories were embedded so strongly in my body-mind that I was glad to write them out. I struggled sometimes with structural and language issues, getting the right language, feel, structure, and also the timing (how and when the ‘event’ or memory would show up in my book). The question of why I’m writing about a particular event for a public to read, that was the biggest concern with everything I wrote in the book.

Fredrick and his mother, circa 1960s.

That was healing. It was a great catharsis, and not just for the little boy in me that needed to confront childhood trauma and the ongoing adult traumas that we men are “supposed to” hide and get over in the United States. It was healing also on the level of why I was writing the book — which is for issues of social justice to be touched and introduced and engaged. For me, this is the interplay between myself and the reader in the book — and what I’m hoping will be some of the take-away that readers get.

Q:  I love your title, it’s so evocative. What is the reference to ‘water children’ about?
A:   Several things went into this. In the 1980s I was thinking about a different title for the book — but it was more what I felt to be victim-oriented, a kind of “me and my mother against the world, time, and history” thing, which I needed to get away from. I wanted it to be more reflective of my hopes. Those hopes were not about everyone coming together and singing “Kumbayah” together and loving each other. That kind of romanticized notion of “peace” would be a disservice to myself and others who understand life to be diverse, and thus multi-faceted and too complex for there to be some unified living-together without problems. Instead my vision of peace was more about how to live, how to negotiate across our differences as persons, communities, genders, ages, various sexual and racial and national identities, and about facing our histories and power relations.

So in the end I decided my “memoir” would be more of what I call an “anti-memoir.” As I sat down with all this and thought about the title, I couldn’t immediately come up with anything, and went to bed. In the middle of the night, I came up with this title. This story is actually told in the beginning of my book.

The title comes from a Japanese term, mizuko. Its characters mean “water child” or “water children.” It is a common name for females in Japan. But also, and more to the point, it is a term that was used in the postwar period for an aborted fetus, or dead fetus. Sometimes it is also extended to dead young children. And it is also sometimes used to refer to the mixed-race babies fathered by American and Australian soldiers and other Allied Occupation forces in Japan who were aborted or killed after birth by mothers, relatives, neighbors, etc.. As people might not know, there was an abandoned gravesite discovered in Yokohama prefecture in the 1990s, which contained over 800 mixed-race babies that died of starvation, killing, disease, etc.. That was just in one city. So one can imagine how the statistics that we see today about the numbers of mixed-race babies born in Japan from 1945 to 1955 are not accurate.

Fredrick’s beautiful mother.

There are religious ceremonies (primarily Buddhist) that have special temples, shrines, and ceremonies connected to water children. There are also Japanese Buddhist statues depicting the guardian of the young, which is also connected to this concept. During the occupation, the United States prohibited all indigenous religions in Japan. For grieving mothers who had lost or aborted a child, it was a relief when these ceremonies were finally allowed again.

So my book is a dream for the world that the babies in the other world (the dead) would conjure and wish for. It’s a wish for better understanding and new ways of thinking through our issues in the world, towards something better. It is also an acknowledgment that we, as humans, care for the lost dead children. So thus, the title. It came in a dream.

Q: You are fortunate to have University of Chicago Press now as your distributor. Do you have any advice for other memoir writers who might be seeking a publisher?
A:  Don’t depend only on queries! I initially sent out about 10 to 15 queries to various publishers, asking if they might want to publish my book. About seven wrote back. The others never replied. All seven rejected my manuscript.

I wasn’t sad. I was expecting this to happen. It happens with all authors to one degree or more, and especially with books written by people of color. Cultures differ and the way we express ourselves may not fit into the mold of the largely white establishment that controls the language and structure of what gets out and how and when.

The criticisms that they had on my manuscript were actually not a surprise. All of them said: “Your manuscript is beautifully written but we don’t know what to do with it because it doesn’t seem to fit into an established category.” Of course I was miffed, but not surprised.

But out of the blue, a publisher I had not heard of before contacted me. She said she was interested in my book after reading my online posts. She had read some of my excerpts and blog posts on different sites. So if I have any worthwhile advice for writers of memoirs, it is to put yourself out there online. In my case, it was solely from creating my blog and also writing on other sites about my identity as a mixed-race Japanese, a military “brat,” and about my blackness — it was my work and interviews online that attracted the publisher.

Q:  Do you have any advice to share with other memoir writers? Any suggestions about the writing process?
A:  I think the main thing I can say to other writers is to not be so concerned about your writing process, and to do what you think would work and be willing to experiment. I did not attend writing classes or anything like that, though I did belong to a couple of Asian-American writing groups that helped me for awhile. Then they became what I felt to be ridiculous and so I left them. I had to believe in myself.

It could take a year to finish your memoir, or three decades, like my own process. Trust yourself, but make no excuses when it comes to intention. Sometimes intention goes underground and it is important to be sure you know what it is. Our stories and memories will come out differently depending on *why* we are writing our memoir.

For me, it was about social justice. So I needed to learn about how to express myself towards that goal without sounding like the “good vs. bad” moralizing that kind of dominates social justice writing — which I do *not* agree with. My point is that we have to think about the why’s as well as  the how’s a bit.

Don’t expect it will come out perfectly at first (remember, I took three decades). Just continue to hold your book in your heart and write on it when you can and feel like. Don’t hold back or censor or edit until you have the bulk of the book or the entire first run completed. Censorship can ruin things. Afterwards, we can edit. Censorship often plays into perfectionism and fear, and I notice that in alot of memoir writers *before* they even begin. Just do it! Hopefully this helps.

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Find Fredrick’s book Dream of the Water Children here at Amazon:
https://amzn.to/2X5zAyW

or through University of Chicago Press: https://www.press.uchicago.edu/ucp/books/book/distributed/D/bo40168789.html

Watch the beautiful book trailer here:  http://tinyurl.com/yxervh6z

Visit Fredrick Cloyd’s website: http://dreamwaterchildren.net

Photos used with permission, courtesy of Fredrick Cloyd.

Inspiration for your Memoir Writing

GUEST BLOG:  Q&A With Memoir Author Fran Macilvey 

I was so excited to “meet” this memoir author on Facebook recently, and wanted to share her story and tips with you! Hope it inspires your own memoir writing.

Author Fran Macilvey has not just one inspiring memoir book under her belt, but three. Her first book, Trapped: My Life with Cerebral Palsy, a gold medal winner, was an Amazon international bestseller after its release in 2014. And Fran kept on writing. Her second book, Happiness Matters, followed in 2017. And she’s just come out with a third, Making Miracles — a joyful journey of self-discovery and a guide to finding happiness and fulfilment even after a lifetime of mistakes.

Fran kindly shared a Q&A with us. I hope you’ll be inspired by both her personal journey and her sage memoir-writing advice!

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A Quick Introduction:

A quick introduction:  In 1965, Fran was a miracle baby — an entirely unexpected and premature one. Fran made her surprise debut in the Congo, where her father was serving as a Belgian diplomat. Although Fran’s mother knew she was pregnant, she had no idea she was actually carrying twins. By the time doctors arrived, Fran — the second and unexpected twin — had suffered permanent damage. She entered the world with a battle on her hands. She had cerebral palsy.

When Fran was seven, the family returned to Scotland. At age ten, Fran and her sister were sent off to boarding school. For the next eight years, she watched from the sidelines as other kids romped and played. A series of orthopaedic surgeries only added pain to an introverted, unhappy childhood. “My juvenile hurt turned into adult anger, self-hatred, and suicidal depression,” Fran recalls, “until the day when someone saw past my limitations.”

Luckily for her readers, Fran’s painful early life launched her on a journey of introspection and eventually joy. And, oh yes, along the way she also became a lawyer, practicing as a solicitor for ten years. Fran now lives in Edinburgh, Scotland with her husband and daughter. And she’s still writing books, with a trio of novels about women and their encounters with the law currently in the works.

And now, here’s Fran’s great Q&A!

Q&A With Fran:
Q:  Your first memoir, Trapped, tells the poignant story of your early life and what it was like growing up with a disability. How did you get started writing your first memoir?
A:  I decided, one day, simply to sit down and type. It wasn’t as easy as it sounds. My daughter had started school and I had time, so I basically ran out of excuses. I started by writing the first thing that came into my head – a scene of my parents at a party in Congo – which I more or less wrote as it came to me. When my father read an early draft of Trapped he made some really helpful comments. I guess if I were to offer your readers any suggestion it would be to start anywhere – beginning, middle or end. Your work will take you where it wants to go, eventually. Enjoy the journey.

Q:  And then you wrote Happiness MattersWhat did you learn in writing Trapped that got you interested in writing a sequel?
A:  The first book ends with a question: “So I’m still here, what next?” The second sprang from the question, “So you want to live the rest of your life in peace? How about starting now?”
I wound up actually writing Trapped and Happiness Matters at roughly the same time, which helped me to finish both books. I would have quit writing Trapped – it was so hard – if I hadn’t constantly been reminded that happiness matters. Ultimately, I finished writing Trapped because I knew that achieving that would make me a happier person.
In writing Trapped I also realised that life doesn’t simply stop when we arrive at the end of a story. There is always more to aim for — in my case, happiness. Trying out so many different approaches to happiness took me years. Some theories didn’t work, others have more than rewarded me, which is why Happiness Matters took about ten years to reach publication. And my third book came from the realisation, “There’s more to life than this, people!”

Q:  I love your most recent title: Making Miracles — what will readers find in the book that might be helpful in their own life?
A:  I’ve kept a dream journal for about twenty years and it has become increasingly clear to me that when we listen to our dreams, record them, and re-read them, we can learn a lot about how life works, what it’s for, and about particular messages that will help us. The examples I have shared in Making Miracles are those that I hope have a wider resonance. Realising that there is a lot of help available to us, and that we can ask for it anytime, helps us to live life more bravely and with purpose.

Q:  Tell us a little about how you got your books into print.
A:  My first book, Trapped, is published by Skyhorse, a mainstream publisher based in New York. The next two I published myself because, by the time I came ‘round to write them, my commissioning editor had moved on. That happens a lot.
Self-publishing is interesting to learn about. And there is so much to learn, not only because of the plethora of choices available but also because we all want different things and have different strengths and weaknesses. I’m no good at cover design, but I don’t mind doing editing, for example. I found some really good professionals who have helped me. And yes, it was daunting to start, but if it’s broken down into small steps, it’s easier. (And we learn so much from it.)

Q: What advice in a nutshell do you have for people wanting to write their own memoir?
A:  We should aim to be as honest as we can – not cruel – and we should try to write only our own story. Where we have to borrow from the lives of others, we should try not to trespass on other people’s ‘life-lines’ more than absolutely necessary.
I make a distinction between early drafts of a memoir, which are essentially private affairs in which we may have to write down everything about everyone without apology; and much, much later drafts that we hope might be read by other people. The first part of writing everything down is valuable therapy, perhaps; the later version is cooler, a more-presentable version that others may find interesting.

Keep writing!

Family members in particular, deserve their privacy. In the final versions of what we write, we can offer that privacy and still tell the truth about our own lives. We can be respectful, and it helps when we are at least as hard on ourselves as we are on others. A life story should have enough going on in it so that we don’t need to dramatize or exaggerate. And if not, we go out and live some more!

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Find Making Miracles and Fran’s other books here at Amazon.com

Mental Yoga

Starting to write can feel like this. Awkward. Uncomfortable. Totally unfamiliar. And like everyone else is better at this than you.

Just close your eyes and dive in. Remember any words you write can be fixed up, corrected, and changed later. But a blank page can’t be edited.

So pull out a pen. Top off your coffee. Take a deep breath. And begin.

Maybe you already know where you want to start. Maybe you have no idea — you just know you want to write. Start somewhere. Write about how not-knowing feels, if that’s where you are.

Think of facing that blank page as a form of mental yoga. It’s a discipline. It’s a spiritual practice.

And you get better at it as you go along.

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Valentine’s Day Memories

Everyone loves a good love story. And love stories make an especially wonderful addition to a life story or memoir!

  • Maybe it’s that magic moment you first saw your future wife or husband;
  • Or the accidental meeting that brought your parents together.
  • Maybe it’s the high school sweetheart  you loved and lost – but never quite forgot;
  • Or the first time you heard someone breathe: “I love you.”

Everyone has a great love story to tell  – what’s yours?

This Valentine’s Day, add that special love tale to your memoir!

Like more tips, prompts, suggestions and encouragement to fuel your memoir writing? We send out free tips once or twice a month. Just tell us where to send ’em!  here