It’s more years ago than I want to remember. I am standing in the batter’s box of the University of San Francisco baseball field. The pitcher’s next delivery is a curveball which bounces in the dirt. The count goes to three balls and one strike. I step out of the box, look down to the third base coaching box where Coach Dante Benedetti claps his hands and yells to me, “Be selective.” Good advice to a hitter ahead in the count. Remember you don’t have to hit every pitch. Just look for the right pitch and hit it well. Be selective. I heard that advice in my head as I read the New York Times Book Review today. I was perusing Elizabeth Samet’s assessment of Hospitals, Hotels and Jails: A Memoir by Anthony Swofford, the author of Jarhead. None too complimentary. It was when I came to Samet’s comment that, “Narrative momentum stalls in a welter of mundane details and contradicting memories,” that I heard Coach Benedetti’s shouted advice.
What will the $116 million acquisition of Author Solutions by Pearson the parent company of Penguin, one of the “Big Six” publishing houses mean for writers? “Penguin’s [CEO John] Makinson said that Penguin’s partnership with ASI ‘will fall somewhere between self-publishing as presently defined, and Penguin publishing as presently defined,’” reported Laura Hazard Owen on Paid Content. “He mentioned “curated self-publishing” and imprints drawing on self-published content.” Author Solutions CEO Kevin Weiss said, “That means more opportunity for authors and more choice for readers.” Really?
If you love books you should be following the Department of Justice’s anti-trust lawsuit against Apple and Macmillian charging that they colluded with regard to e-book pricing. The suit took an interesting turn when New York Senator Charles Schumer wrote an opinion piece titled Memo to DOJ: Drop the Apple E-Books Lawsuit in the Wall Street Journal Tuesday. “The suit will restore Amazon to the dominant position atop the e-books market it occupied for years before competition arrived in the form of Apple. If that happens, consumers will be forced to accept whatever prices Amazon sets,” said Schumer, a ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committees’ Subcommittee on Anti-Trust, Competition and Consumer Rights.
Stories To Tell is in the business of helping people to tell their stories. So, I’m always interested when I see something new in the world of storytelling. I want to pass on two innovative attempts to use tools of new technologies to tell stories both of which arrived in my in-box today. Each is interesting. See what you think.
Is your memoir finished? It’s a great question to ask yourself before you send the manuscript off to an agent or move ahead with self publishing. Many people who sit down to write a memoir see themselves as a reporter whose job is to get their life down on paper just as it happened. They have given little thought to the audience for their book. If they have considered why anyone would want to read their story they will tell you, “ my life has been so interesting (or difficult, or unusual – pick your favorite adjective) people have always told me I ought to write a book.” That book is not what readers are looking for when they read a memoir. Readers are looking for insight, inspiration, understanding or perspective drawn from the events they read about. They want lessons from the writers experiences that are of value to them in their own lives.
Genealogist Gena Philibert-Ortega’s wonderful new book From the Family Kitchen promises to help you discover your food heritage and preserve favorite recipes. It will also help you enliven your family history with colorful stories about foods your ancestors ate. We had an opportunity to ask Gena about her book at the Northern California Family History Expo. Here are the highlights of our conversation:
How do you write about the past in ways that bring the characters to life while being true to the facts of the time and place. By writing “…books that communicate information in a scenic, dramatic fashion,” says, Lee Gutkind, who was once described by Vanity Fair magazine as “The Godfather” of creative nonfiction. Creating a dramatic scene presents a nonfiction writer with some unique problems. You can rely on historical sources to recreate a vivid description of the setting of an event. But often no such sources exist when it comes time to add dialogue. Unless you are writing about famous people there is no record of what the people you are writing about actually said a particular moment. How do you create dialogue that functions as a scene while it doesn’t wander into the realm of fiction?
This weekend Nancy and I taught four classes at the Family History Expo in Sacramento, California. All of them dealt with creating family history books Most members of the audience were not experienced writers. They were undertaking the writing of a book for the first time. We were dealing with practical topics like planning and organizing or the elements of storytelling. We provided specific step-by-step suggestions to guide the participants on the path to successfully creating a family history book. They were enthusiastic and appreciative. Any time we finish sessions like these, I always feel I should stop people as they are leaving and admonish them that what we have said is only a series of suggestions. There are no rules about how you have to do any of the things we talked about. Any writer must ultimately find her own way of creating a book.
Does the setting in your book give your reader a sense of place? That’s much more than just a description. LuAnn Schindler, in a recent post, Adding a Sense of Place to Writing on the Women on Writing Blog observed, “A picture may be worth a thousand words, but without an emotional connection, it's difficult to develop a sense of place.” What does that emotional connection look like on a page?
The world of genealogy research today is a little like walking into the “Tool Corral” at the Home Depot. You’re surrounded by shelves of tools, but it’s sometimes difficult to know which one is best for the job you have in mind. You look around for an employee who might be able to help you choose. No one in sight. You’re on your own. Fortunately for genealogists it no longer has to feel this way. Paul Larsen, author of a Crash Course in Family History , a leading guide to family history and genealogical research, has provided a simple, easy to use guide to technology tools for genealogists and family historians. This book doesn’t include research tools. Larsen will deal with those elsewhere. Larsen says his new eBook, My Family History Tool Box, ...
You saw a photo on the internet that would work perfectly to illustrate your book. Can you legally use it? This post explores copyright, fair use and creative Commons licensing as they apply to internet images."
Who do you expect to read your nonfiction book? Taking the time to think about your book’s audience will help you write a better book. Most nonfiction will appeal to only a segment of the mass market. They are niche books. What’s your niche?
If you are telling a story you need to use scenes to do it. Whether your book is a work of fiction, uses the tools of creative non fiction to report on contemporary events or in a memoir, or seeks to bring history to life as a story well told your success will be accomplished scene by scene. Scene is a simple concept first defined by the ancient Greeks as having three components: A person (or people) In a specific place Where something happens To avoid reliance on narrative summary her are five questions to ask in planning the scenes that will tell your story best
“I wish I’d had a chance to ask _________ a few questions before they died,” is a thought that almost everyone writing about the past, whether a biographer, a narrative historian, a personal historian or a family historian has had. No matter how much research you do, there are always holes in the historical record, information you can’t find, questions you can’t answer. It’s frustrating. If only one could apply the techniques of the oral historian and interview someone who knew it would be so much easier. Let’s look at a way to use a writer’s journal to do just that. Journaling is an open ended, uncensored, free writing technique in which a writer can answer questions about what they need to find out. Pat Darcy in her article Writing to Learn in The Journal Book describes the process as a conversation the writer carries on with herself. Suppose you took that idea one step further and made the conversation one in which you ask questions of that now dead source that you wish you could interview.
Searching the memoir section of your local bookstore (if your are fortunate enough to still have one) or the pages of Amazon, it seems as if there is a consensus among authors that the genre requires the employment of the tools of creative nonfiction.But there’s another approach to memoir that we see less often these days. It’s a reflective look at the author’s life. We might see it as a curated experience of events as opposed to a direct one.