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.
If you are part of an extended family that gets together for summer reunions, big holiday gatherings, or to commemorate important occasions like 75th birthdays, 50th anniversaries, or retirements, then you are fortunate. These family gatherings are virtual gold mines for the would-be family or personal historian. Bringing together your relatives gives you eyewitness sources who can add information to whatever you are researching. There are some simple things that you can do to make sure that you take maximum advantage of the opportunity your family gathering will present.
One of the critical stages of writing a book comes when the first draft is done. You as an author need to move from the creation of the manuscript to revision. You probably had an outline to guide you as you created your draft, but there are almost always unplanned changes as you write. You add an idea, a story or a detail that wasn’t in the outline. It’s time to ask yourself if what you’ve actually written effectively conveys the ideas you wanted to develop when you originally conceived you plan for the book. A reverse outline is a tool to guide you in revising your draft by looking at what you have written.
Do you buy hardcover books? Nice, but expensive, right? There is a place for hardcover books, and that is exactly when you want to create that impression: nice, and expensive. These books are “keepers” and are meant to last. They are also great as gifts or family heirlooms. Mass produced hardcovers in bookstores are affordable for big publishers because they use an offset printer. You would need to order a minimum of 500 books to get these lower costs. If you can sell that many, go for it! Or you can print a few hardcovers, and then release the same book in softcover and/or as an ebook, as some of your buyers may not want a nice, expensive keeper.
How much of the material can I quote from a copyrighted source without getting permission from the copyright holder? It’s a difficult question to answer. While giving authors broad protection for their work, copyright is not absolute. One of the best ways to understand some of the limits to copyright protection is to seek guidance from the U.S. Government’s Copyright Office. The information listed below comes from the Copyright Office’s website: One of the more important limitations of a copyright is the doctrine of fair use.
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos once said. "We want to make every book available—the good, the bad and the ugly." Bezos’ company has moved a long way towards doing that leaving the world of traditional publishing and book selling largely a shambles Amazon’s success has prompted a good deal of hand ringing and concern for the future of books and even culture itself. The most recent such pained analysis of what’s happened to the marketplace is Steve Wasserman’s article in the June 18, edition of The Nation titled The Amazon Effect. The subtitle poses a question, “Amazon got big fast, hastening the shift to digital publishing. But how big is too big?” We leave that question to the economists and MBAs. We’ll focus instead on two questions often posed by first time authors seeking to get into print.