In 2003 I began writing The Spirit of Villarosa as a ghostwriter for another personal historian. The manuscript I created was based on interviews with my current co-author, Marc Ashton, whose story forms the basis of the book, and transcripts his father, Horace Dade Ashton, left behind. After I began writing this father-son story, my employer asked me to add a third narrative about the son’s kidnapping. The assignment to weave three different narratives into a single story became the most challenging I’d encountered in my years as a writer. I did my best, but the completed book did not meet the son’s expectations. (more…)
Writing a book is not an easy task. But the more books you write, the less daunting it becomes. I recall being approached to write my first family history and feeling anxious. I’d written numerous profiles, but I’d never written an entire book. I thought about what was involved, convinced myself to write a series of features, and transform them into a book. That’s exactly what I did.
“Our dogs look just like the Bobbsey twins,” I announced while admiring our two standard poodles cuddled on their beds.
“Who?” my husband asked.
“The Bobbsey twins. Did you ever read the Bobbsey twins books when you were growing up,” I asked.
“No,” he replied.
“How about the Nancy Drew or Hardy boys’ mysteries?” I asked.
“A couple,” he said.
“What about the Childcraft series?” I pursued.
“Can we stop this, please?” he asked. “I played sports outside, but I don’t think I read as much as you did.”
“Maybe New Jersey’s ice-cold winters or hot, humid summers played a role,” I responded. “I played outside a lot, too, but I spent hours and hours inside reading. I would even read while watching television.
“In the summer I’d walk down the street to the Hillside Public Library and borrow a stack of books. Two weeks later I’d return them and borrow another stack. Reading was my great joy. I’d read before bed, on rainy days, or when no one was available to play. I kept myself entertained.
“When my parents commissioned my bedroom furniture, they made sure to include two bookshelves for my book collection. I could enter my room and discover entire new worlds inside my books.
“But our best books were stored in the attic. We owned leather-bound copies of classic authors: Shakespeare, Dickens, Mark Twain and more. Going up to the attic became a special treat. I could just sit among the beautiful books and skim through them until told to come downstairs. Sadly, the books were sold, along with my piano, bedroom furniture, and many other treasures when my father lost my mother’s family fortune.”
“Maybe that’s why you became a writer,” my husband noted.
“I think it is,” I answered. “I’ve always loved good books.”
Many times during my nearly two-decade career as a personal historian, people have approached me and said that they should write a book.
“Why?” I’ve always asked.
Their responses have varied, but they included life lessons and values they wished to share, helping and honoring others, surviving insurmountable odds, finding careers about which they were passionate, demonstrating the importance of service, hoping to put their lives in order after being diagnosed with serious illnesses, and sharing their successes.
Some of the stories I agreed to write pro bono. I could not refuse the woman who was nearly 100 years old and had lived in two centuries, experiencing many changes, or the young wife and mother suffering from metastatic cancer.
I was paid well for other tales, but I often think I learned more and earned more than money from my work. I found common themes that touched all lives, and I discovered that most families have issues, some more than others. By helping other people tell their stories, I found a way to make sense of my own life and decided that my story might help others. That’s why I began writing my own series of memoirs, beginning with What Lies Within.
Recently I discovered a book of essays by memoirists that included Annie La Mott and Cheryl Strayed, titled Why We Write About Ourselves. The book’s contributors wrote about different themes and events, but all seemed to agree that one reason they wrote about themselves was to help others.
I hope that my tales will do the same.
The year 1960, which commenced on a high note, began nearly a decade of decline as our family secrets slowly revealed themselves. With each new revelation, I lost a bit of my childhood. By the time I was twelve, I had to behave like an adult and accept grown-up responsibilities, although my emotional maturity remained that of a teenager. (more…)