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!
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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.