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July, 2013

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How Historical Fiction Teaches

July 30, 2013

For those of you who receive my free monthly e-zine, the latest issue is in your inbox. The feature article is about how historical fiction can teach us about life and history.

There are various ways for us to study and understand the past. History lessons come to us in more ways than the fat textbooks we studied in school. It is actually my firm belief that we learn about history in richer and more meaningful ways through stories, especially those revealed to us by people we know, such as family members. Ask anyone who has an elder relative who lived through World War Two or the Great Depression. It’s not unusual for them to repeat incidents that have become family lore.

Sometimes history lessons are presented to us wrapped in creative fiction. I recently read a new young adult novel, The Old Lion, that contains parallel stories of two children growing up during the 1940’s in America.

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Thanks For The Memoir

July 25, 2013

Exactly two years ago I included an article I wrote, Thanks For The Memoir, in my Newsletter for that month. Memoirs continue to grow in popularity, both those writing them and for readers. And you don't have to be someone famous to have a solid and meaningful memoir. Your slice of life can be of great interest and value to others. We are all sorting through the meaning of our life journey. Sharing your struggles and triumphs is part of the human experience and others can identify!

The National Association of Memoir Writers frequently provides insight into the art and science of memoir writing, with plenty of encouragement and resources.

I've also found lots of value from the articles, teleclasses and information provided by Denis Ledoux and his Memoir Network. In fact, he's about two present two free teleclasses in the next few weeks. There is no cost, but you need to register in advance - details here.

Irena Sendler, Protector and Rescuer of Jewish Children

July 21, 2013

Courage in the face of danger and death. Doing the right thing and not letting the opportunity pass her by to save young children. Irena Sendler was a woman who lived dangerously in order to save thousands of Jewish children from the Nazi death camps during World War II. At the age of 98 she has passed away. I was surprised to learn of her story as she was quite the remarkable woman. Some even called her the "female Schindler" in reference to Oskar Schindler, the man famous for saving many Jews from Nazi persecution.

Irena Sendler was a Roman Catholic social worker who could not stand by and do nothing in the face of the Nazi "final solution". The story of the danger she faced and the personal suffering she endured is documented online with this excellent story by Richard Pendlebury for the UK's Daily Mail.

Short Professional Bio Could Be Your Starting Point

July 18, 2013

I've had many clients seek me out to write their short, professional biography. Many need something for trade publications or other media exposure, or to provide for companies or organizations who need to know more about their background, personal experience and life values.

This is also an option to make a beginning on your personal history story. A 1-2 page biography can be the foundation for a more extensive personal history.

Find out
more here.

Guys and Memoirs

July 16, 2013

I'm a guy and, as such, I'm pretty typical when it comes to discussing how I "feel" about things. Women are so relational and tend to love to talk about their lives, but men, well, not so much. How does this effect the writing of memoir?

I think it probably plays a big part. It's not that I, or other men, don't have feelings. Or strong opinions. We do. That's not gender dependent. But writing about your past, your experiences, sharing what it meant and how it affected you and how you'd like others to learn from it seems to me to have more of a "feminine spirit". There's more of the nature of a poet and artist in this "spirit".

Writing can be lonely work. That is why it is important to associate with others who are doing something similar. The benefits are that you don't feel so isolated and you can share and learn from others. Writing groups, memoir workshops, reading books and blogs all can motivate and encourage.

My own experience is that mostly women participate in life writing. But that shouldn't keep men away. Maybe we just need a little nudge. Take a guy along, ladies. A writer's group, workshop or personal history talk is not your typical date destination, but it sure could spur conversation!

Fellow men, you can do good writing. There are excellent examples all around you, from the library to your nearest Internet search. Or maybe your next door neighbor. And ladies, keep up the good work...and maybe nudge your guy friends to explore the many benefits of life writing.

Journalist Rick Haliechuk recently wrote about his own grappling with memoir writing and made some observations similar to mine. His How I learned to put myself into my own story had some great points. And it's rather humorous, to boot.

End of the Line Doesn't Have To Be

July 14, 2013

A recent discussion among members of the Association of Personal Historians  got a lot of us thinking. Tom Cormier (Legacy Stories) asked for reasons why people would invest in a life story or personal history when they are the last remaining descendant. What would be their motivating value when they are essentially the end of the line for their family?

Many people desire to preserve their family history in narrative form so that future generations will know about them, their lives, what mattered, the challenges and the values they want preserved as lessons or to tell the stories that shaped their lives. But if there aren't any more family members why does it still matter? This is a worthwhile consideration. The answers can be varied. To leave your mark (I was here) or to pass on history (many kids today know nothing of living in a world without computers, cellphones or the Internet).

An even more important reason, I believe, is because we are all connected. The Family of Man is bigger than just our own personal clans and relatives. People who read a vivid memoir of another's life are often seeking meaning for their own. Even if you are "the last in line" you can do a great service for the rest of us by preserving your tale.

Sarah White, a personal historian (First Person Productions) and current President of the APH, summed up much of the discussion on this topic in a wonderful blog post. You can read it (and other insightful posts about personal history) on the APH Blog.

Remember, the end of the line doesn't have to be. Share your story. The world, and you, will be better for it.

Soleil Lifestory Network is Now the Memoir Network

July 8, 2013

For years I've used the services of Denis Ledoux and his Soleil Lifestory Network. I subscribe to his newsletters and I've been trained in his 
Professional Memoirs Workshop Program. I still regularly use his fine Turning Memories into Memoirs book (available here) and highly recommend it to others interested in doing their own writing or working with a writing coach like myself.

The Memoir Network
With the continued growing popularity of life writing, particularly memoirs, Denis Ledoux has revamped and renamed his presentations under the umbrella title, The Memoir Network. There is a lot offered through their site - get an upclose look from me to see what you think.

Being American

July 3, 2013

On the eve of America's 237th birthday I've been reflecting on what it means to be American. The United States declared its independence from the British Crown in 1776. The settlers at that time were primarily European and mostly British. But over the years we've been a country that has attracted millions of immigrants. The multiracial and multicultural diversity is part of what makes this country great. It saddens me when we have conflicts because of our differences. History has shown that these conflicts have been around since the beginning, but that there are often those brave people willing to put differences aside and look for common ground to build something stronger and better than the separate parts.

Faces of America PBS series with Henry Louis Gates Jr.Much of my reflection has been spurred by watching Faces of America, a 2010 PBS series hosted by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. He searched the roots of some interesting and prominent Americans, many whose families were immigrants from various countries such as Ireland, England, Spain, Japan and China. Yo Yo Ma, Eva Longoria, Meryl Streep, Dr. Oz, Queen Noor and Stephen Colbert are a few of those whose family trees were researched. In the wonderful series we get to watch these celebrities learn about their past and their family history, often to their surprise and delight. Each of these celebrities has earned their fame in various ways, but their ancestors helped make it possible by reaching for a dream that America offered.

We all have rich histories and personal history that should be discovered and treasured. Being American to me means celebrating these stories and appreciating how we are all different and yet have many important values in common.


July 2, 2013

I had a chance to babysit the grandkids today and it was great fun. I learn so much from them! Jacob is three and Sophia is 8 months. If you have grandkids, or small children of your own, you know of what I speak. Each of us must enjoy and experience the world of young people to keep fresh the sense of wonder we are all born with.

Sophia and Jacob instaframe4While giving Jacob a bath this morning I had Sophia in her "kid/walker/stand" watching and I took a couple of iPhone pictures that came out great. I sent them to my daughter at work and she used the InstaFrames app for Instagram and suddenly we have a great keepsake.

You can do much more, of course. Everybody likes to take pictures. What about asking small children their thoughts on life? That's one of the featured services APH member Peter Savigny ( offers. He calls them kidographies. Your little ones have opinions on their room, pets and toys. And, sometimes the most amazing things come out of their mouths about life.

This afternoon when my wife finished her appointments she came over to resume her normal duties of watching the kids, so I took Jacob to the park where we ran around and kicked a mini soccer ball. Jacob kept telling me to "kick it high, up to the clouds!" I kicked it as high as I could, but my heart was soaring even higher.

Everybody has a story to tell!
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