Choose Your Role

I believe we are living through a defining time in American history right now. We are all a part of this history. Someday your children, grandchildren, or descendants will want to know what role you played in this historic time. What do you want them to find?

Right now many of us are feeling discouraged, even despair – which leads to a feeling of helplessness – which in turn leads to giving up. And when we give up, everyone loses. I think the antidote to despair is always action. Do Something.

And the best thing to do is something that draws upon your talents, experience, or passion. I looked at my own attributes to see what I could do. I’ve been a ghostwriter for nearly twenty years, and I know how powerful sharing stories can be. So I decided to offer to ghostwrite – for free – some short personal essays for people who are contributing and acting and don’t have the time or desire to write their stories down. I hope history will thank us.

If you are interested in this offer, more information about how it works you can read about it here.

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Feedback Fun: Boxes in the Closet #2

Retro toned rural railroad tracksFor the next few months I will be sharing bits of my works-in-progress. This month I’m featuring “The Boxes in the Closet”, a memoir of my parents’ love story set during World War II. The book has four “voices” – first person in my voice in the Introduction and Epilog; a narrative written in third-person; first person in the voice of my father Armond; and first person in the voice of my mother Lois. The “bits” I’m sharing are all opening paragraphs of chapters or sub-heads in chapters.

This is because I want reader feedback. Opening paragraphs are always the most important. Without a good opening, many people won’t read the rest. That’s the question I’d like answered – would you read on?

Here are Chapter One’s opening paragraph and first paragraph of a first person narrative:

Chapter One: Going Somewhere

Armond Delos Pearson was a skinny kid of seventeen in 1935, just beginning his growth spurt to his full height, which one day would be almost six foot two. Despite his fancy name, he was from a working class family who’d been dirt poor even before the Depression.

and

Armond: Riding the Rails

It was a day in late spring 1935 that I kissed Mother goodbye and told her I was going off to look for work. I didn’t tell her where I was going to look. She gave me some bread and cheese and a couple of dimes, and didn’t ask.

Thank you for reading. I’d love to know if you want to read on.

An Alternative History of Margarine

Creamy Oleo in a TubWhen I teach my class “Making History” I tell the participants that nothing is too trivial to make a good story and show the flavor of an era. For instance, here’s a story shared by a participant during a discussion of food in the wartime 1940s.

“Margarine was white and looked like a lump of lard,” she said. “It came with a yellow color capsule that you broke into it, to make it look like butter. It was one of my jobs to stir the yellow into the margarine. I hated this job because my older brother told me an elaborate and dirty story about that yellow capsule. He said the margarine factories paid their workers to go to the bathroom in special jars, which they filled the capsules from. It saved money, said my brother, and it was their patriotic duty to go to the bathroom to make margarine capsules. I was only seven, and my brother was ten, so I believed this ridiculous story. I believed it even when my mother told me he was lying. (He got in trouble for it, too.) Every time I had to stir in the color I felt sick to my stomach, and I certainly never ate any margarine. Even today I prefer butter. There are some things worse than fat.”

This story and many more are in my book “Making History: how to remember, record, interpret & share the events of your life”, based on the classes I’ve been teaching since 2000. Memoir writers, biographers, historians, genealogists, fiction writers, and more, have found this book extremely useful to bring color and life to their books. Check out sample chapters and reviews on my website.  Or buy the book here: Making History on Amazon.

And share your own stories (leave a comment here, for instance). What foods did you hate as a child? Why? How do you feel about them today?

Long Hair

Grey Hair Texture For Background

Here is another story from my past that I shared in my recent class “Making History.” This one is from the seventies.

My Long Hair

I remember when I cut off my long hair. It was 1973, after my first child was born, and I felt that I needed to look more maternal. I was pretty young then, and I felt totally unqualified for my new role. How could I remain my radical hippie self, prone to political tirades and singing Country Joe & The Fish or Jimi Hendrix songs with gusto, when I had to change diapers and rock my baby to sleep to “You Are My Sunshine” instead of “Purple Haze”?

So I cut my hair short, close to my ears, and I used curlers and wore bangs. I traded in my John Lennon style granny glasses for more conservative ones with black frames. I bought a pink suit and a paisley blouse and went to church with my mother.

This phase lasted about a year, until my daughter began to sleep regularly and talk in two-word sentences. Unfortunately this was long enough for photographs to be taken, which still exist even though I ripped them out of the photo albums and stuck them in a box now labeled “old pics” and hidden in the hallway closet.

I guess I felt I had to become my mother in order to be one. I’m glad I found out this was not true.

Today my hair has gray streaks, but it is long.

Do you have a story about your hair? Please share!

Whoopemup

Floyd 1961 appx0001I’m in the middle of writing a family history. The other day I googled my paternal grandfather Floyd so I could find out what year he died, because although I knew it was in the mid-sixties sometime, if you are going to write history, correct dates are handy.

Google obligingly directed me to a website which told me Floyd died in 1965. Well, that was good, but it wasn’t all. I learned some other interesting things too.

First, this website claimed Floyd had a bunch of children whose names I knew – they were my father’s siblings and my aunts & uncles. But my father’s name was not listed. Huh? In addition, according to this website, Floyd had a daughter named Winnetta and a son named Billie B – who I certainly never knew or heard about. Huh again. Now my father’s family is full of secrets and lies, so either my father, Winnetta and Billie B are some of them – or the site is incorrect. Since my father and his siblings are all dead or extremely old, I don’t think I will ever know which.

The site also showed an image of Floyd’s selective service draft card, issued to him in 1942 – when he was FIFTY. What? Fifty year olds were drafted? I discovered the answer was Yes, they could be drafted. There was something unofficially called the “Old Man’s Draft”, a law passed in 1942 that mandated men aged 45 to 64 register for service, in case they were needed. I have degrees in history, yet I had never heard of this. How did I miss it? (BTW, I’m pretty sure Floyd never was called up – he had 10 children, after all. Or maybe more.)

Finally, I learned that Floyd was born in Huntsville, Washington, a city I thought was only in Alabama. So I googled Huntsville Washington and found out it was a teeny town way out in the sticks, on the way to Lewiston Idaho. As I gazed at the map of these sticks, I was charmed to discover a road nearby called “Whoopemup Hollow Road.” (I am not kidding – google it yourself if you don’t believe me.) I would love to know the story behind that name, but it too might be lost in the mists of time.

One of the reasons I was so charmed with the name Whoopemup is because my grandfather Floyd was quite a character, and Whoopemup sounds just like him. I didn’t know him well; he died when I was a child, but his somewhat seedy reputation lived on after him. He was good-looking, quick-witted, charming, and intelligent, but according to the stories I heard from those who knew him, more than anything Floyd loved gambling and fast women who were not his wife. He also had a tendency to flit from one failed enterprise to another – a mink farm that failed because few people during the Depression could afford mink coats; a pig farm in which he bribed his sons to do all the messy work by promising them a share in the profits (which never came because he spent the profits himself); a street-corner preacher for the Salvation Army who was successful at bringing many good-looking women to God; a strike-breaking scab on the railroads, where he took his 10-year old son (my father) to work with him at night as a shield because Floyd felt that the union strikers wouldn’t beat up a child; a Bureau of Indian Affairs agent on a reservation, where he seduced some Native American women and fathered some of their children; and an excellent teller of stories of doubtful veracity. In short, he was colorful but not exactly trustworthy.

Whoop Em Up!

Impetuosity

Wedding Day portrait0001March 20th will soon be here. This date has significance in my family because it was the day my parents got married. As you can see from the photo, their wedding was not a typical one of tuxedos, veils, and bridesmaids. This is because theirs was an impetuous affair, hurriedly arranged. It’s always been one of my favorite stories about my parents, so I’m going to share it here. I hope you enjoy it too.

My parents met when my father Armond was in the CCCs in 1938, and my mother Lois was in high school in a tiny mountain town north of Seattle. They were not romantically involved at the time. Armond was focused on getting into college, and had little time for girls. Lois was interested in Armond, but accepted that she had no chance with him. But she made sure she got accepted into the same college he did, in 1939.

But in 1940 Armond was drafted into the Army, and Lois quit college to get a job in Olympia, the state Capitol south of Seattle. They remained just friends. Although Armond and his army buddies would often come down from Fort Lewis and take Lois and her friends out dancing, this was the extent of their “dating.” Times were uncertain, and Armond felt it would be unfair to get serious with anyone until he got out of the army. Lois was disappointed because she still harbored a secret crush on Armond, but managed to get over her disappointment. It wasn’t like there weren’t plenty of other soldier boys to date. When Armond left for San Francisco and then overseas in late 1941, the extent of their intimacy was a kiss on the cheek.

While Armond was fighting, Lois did volunteer war work and then joined the Marines in 1942 (a story in itself). They kept up their friendship via letters. (We have many of these letters, because they saved them.) The letters do reveal a growing level of romantic interest on Armond’s part, although it was hinted at only, never overt. For her part, Lois kept her letters to him friendly, although in her letters to her mother she did reveal that she was conflicted over her feelings for Armond and her feelings for the other boys she dated, especially one named Bob, who like her was stationed in Philadelphia. Bob had asked her to marry him more than once, but she hesitated. She wasn’t sure if she was reading too much into Armond’s hints in his letters – was it possible that he felt the same way about her as she did about him? Maybe she should pass up Bob, although she was very fond of him. Or maybe she should accept Bob’s proposal and give up on a man who kept her guessing about his feelings. And of course there was the uncertainty of War. No one knew what would happen.

Then Armond was wounded in July of 1943. At first no one expected him to survive. When he did come back home in early 1944, she was stationed in Philadelphia, and could not visit him in the hospital in Spokane. She was still dating Bob, who was a persistent fellow and kept asking her to marry him. Lois did not know how badly Armond was wounded, and he was unsure if he would remain disabled and unfit for marriage. Their letters reflect their mutual confusion over the relationship and where it might go, or even if they would ever see each other again. After all they had not seen each other since 1941, and they had never been romantically involved anyway. How could they know if a romantic relationship would work?

In March 1944 Lois got leave to go home to visit her parents. Armond was still in the army hospital in Spokane. She wrote to him and told him the train stopped for two hours in Spokane; perhaps they could meet at the train station, just to say hello for old times’ sake. He applied for a half-day leave from the army, which was granted. But there was a mix-up on which platform her train arrived at, so he waited at the wrong platform, and although she went looking for him, she didn’t find him on time and had to rush back to catch her train. So they missed each other. Lois wondered if it was an omen.

Lois arrived in Seattle on Thursday March 16, 1944. Her parents met her and they drove home to the tiny town in the mountains, Darrington. On Friday, Armond went A.W.O.L. from the army, borrowed his sister’s car, and drove over the mountains, arriving in Darrington that afternoon. Lois was stunned to see him. They went for a walk by the Sauk River and he proposed marriage. She accepted. (Let’s hope they finally got to kiss.)

That same afternoon Armond and Lois borrowed her mother’s car and drove to Seattle to obtain the marriage license. Although long distance was expensive, there was no time to waste, so when they got back to Darrington Lois called her friend Lela in Olympia, and Lela got hold of the minister of the church she and Lois had attended there, who agreed to marry them on Monday. Armond called his 16 year old brother Gaylord in Spokane and told him he’d pay for his train ticket so one of his brothers could be his best man. Armond and his future father-in-law met Gaylord at the train station on Saturday and rushed to the store to buy Gaylord a suit. Everyone met in Olympia on Monday and Lois and Armond were married.

On Wednesday Lois took the train back to Philadelphia and Armond went back to the hospital in Spokane, where he was not punished for going AWOL. After not seeing each other for three years, and having never had a true romantic relationship, they started their married life by having less than a week together. It wasn’t until that summer that Armond was discharged from the army and joined Lois in Philadelphia.

I would call this impetuous. Yet they were married for 65 years.

Haiku Friday: Grandchildren

HistoriansToday my haiku is from March 13th of my new book A Haiku Book of Days for Historians, Storytellers, and Other Guardians of Truth, one of a 7-book series. The haiku topic for today is “Grandchildren”:

grandchildren are born
knowing the way to your heart
and they don’t give it back

It’s Haiku Friday again. For the past twenty years or so, it has been my practice to write one haiku every day. Every Friday I share a haiku here, about whatever topic I happen to choose. I invite you to write a haiku on this topic too, and share it with me and the readers of this blog. Just write it in the Comments below. The only rules are: 1) your haiku must be about the named topic; 2) you must follow the 5-7-5 syllable format; 3) no obscenities or hate (I will delete those). That’s it.

You can purchase this book on Amazon here.

Haiku Friday: Rust

Haiku Book of Days for Historians, Storytellers, and Other Guardians of TruthToday my haiku is from March 6th of my new book A Haiku Book of Days for Historians, Storytellers, and Other Guardians of Truth, one of a 7-book series. The haiku topic for today is “Rust”:

down deep inside you
an iron door, rusted shut
pry it open now

It’s Haiku Friday again. For the past twenty years or so, it has been my practice to write one haiku every day. Every Friday I share a haiku here, about whatever topic I happen to choose. I invite you to write a haiku on this topic too, and share it with me and the readers of this blog. Just write it in the Comments below. The only rules are: 1) your haiku must be about the named topic; 2) you must follow the 5-7-5 syllable format; 3) no obscenities or hate (I will delete those). That’s it.

You can purchase this book on Amazon here.

Tip: One More Good Book

9780985415105-JacketGray_novacek.inddBorder Crossings: Coming of Age in the Czech Resistance

by Charles Novacek

Author Charles Novacek finished writing this memoir of his exciting life shortly before he died, and his widow Sandra Novacek made sure it got published. I didn’t work on the book in any capacity, except to read Sandra’s Preface and tell her I thought it was good. So is the whole book.

Border Crossings tells the story of Charles Novacek’s youth – as a young child he was a member of the Czech Resistance fighting against the Nazis, and as a teen and young man he fought against the Communist takeover of Czechoslovakia and was imprisoned for it. His is a story of triumph, dedication, and love of country, and how heroes come in all ages.

I love stories about how “big history” (that stuff in the newspapers and history books) intersects with individual lives, and the effects of each upon the other. Stories exploring our pasts prove that individual actions had consequences, sometimes far-reaching ones; and the corollary to this means that our actions today likewise have consequences. What we do, say, think, and feel is important – to history, to the present, and to the future. Maybe if we really knew this, as a species we might make better decisions. Border Crossings is available on Amazon.com.

Holiday!

turkeyTomorrow is Thanksgiving so instead of a new blog post, I’m posting a rerun of an entry I wrote last year, about how thankful I am, and why. Here it is.

The Grateful Ghost

I love my job. I know how lucky this makes me, and in this season of thanksgiving I give thanks to my clients who let me into their hearts and minds, innermost dreams and desires, and tell me wonderful stories that entertain me and better still, always teach me something. I am so grateful to be a ghostwriter.

I’ve been a ghost for over fifteen years and in that time I’ve ghostwritten more than forty non-fiction books and memoirs – some of them short, some long, some for women, some for men, some for people in their 80s, some for folks as young as 25. My clients are from all over the US; from widely disparate occupations; from many ethnicities and cultures. I’m a middle-aged white American woman from Seattle, but because when you ghostwrite you move into someone else’s head, my heart and mind have grown and I am no longer just what I appear to be on the outside. I have walked that proverbial mile in my clients’ moccasins, and I have been stretched to fit their shoes. 

I have heard all sorts of stories and vicariously lived all sorts of adventures that I could never have had in “real life.” As a ghostwriter, I have many “real lives.” How wonderful is that?

I’ve ghostwritten business books on how to succeed, how to be a great leader, how to motivate employees, how to start a business from scratch, and learned from the adventures my clients went through while learning all these “hows.” I ghostwrote a financial book about how to plan for retirement, and another about how to invest responsibly. My own financial health has improved because of it.

I’ve ghostwritten books with medical themes, some inspirational that showed how my clients beat cancer, recovered from injury, or learned how to live with blindness. I ghostwrote a book about diarrhea and constipation and other intestinal challenges and how to live with them. (One of the most fun books I ever wrote – yes, really.) I even ghostwrote about male enhancement products and why not to use them. I am thankful that I did not have to suffer these conditions in order to understand them, and if I am confronted with these challenges in the future, I already know some techniques to help me heal.

I’ve ghostwritten a spiritual book on deepening your faith, a book on earth-based religions, another on dream interpretation, another on psychic hunches, another on astrological projections. Has my mind been stretched? You bet.

I’ve ghostwritten books on relationships of all sorts – like how to get your teenager to talk to you; the triumph and pain of coming out of the closet; how to love without judgment; the ingredients of a happy marriage; and stories from an Alzheimer’s care facility that gave me strength and comfort when my own mother developed that dread disease.

Some of my favorites have been the books I ghostwrote about animals, including one about psychic horses and dogs, written for an animal communicator. This led me to look at my own dog differently, and the result was Dog Park Diary, a book that I “ghostwrote” for my dog, Goody Beagle.

And oh, the memoirs I have helped birth into the world! Inspirational, funny, thought-provoking. One of my favorites centered around how to make killer raspberry jam – you can write a memoir about anything.

I’ve ghostwritten a few memoirs about the horror of child sexual abuse – and the triumph of recovery and remembrance. These have inspired me to keep on talking and writing about this subject, to get these stories out there, because abuse flourishes in the dark. I have been a small part of pouring light on this problem, which makes me proud. It has increased my compassion – and my fury – and my desire to protect the vulnerable. In short, these books made me a better woman.

I’ve ghostwritten about living with the racism in American society, from the viewpoint of a Korean-American man, a Japanese-American woman, an African-American man, a Latina woman. As a white person, how else but ghostwriting could have given me a better understanding of what America looks like from a minority perspective?

As an amateur historian as well as a ghostwriter, I’ve been privileged to ghostwrite books set in the past, and this led directly to teaching classes on how to see your own life as part of “big” history, which in turn led me to writing my book Making History: how to remember, record, interpret and share the events of your life.

I’ve ghostwritten war memoirs that tell the truth about its cost, from Vietnam vets and a Korean War vet, even a World War II vet. This is helpful for me because I am currently writing my own parents’ love story set during World War II when he was a soldier fighting in the South Pacific jungles, and she was a Woman Marine stationed in the War Dept in Philadelphia. It is based on their letters written between 1941 and 1945, which my brothers and I found in a box in their closet after they died.

Finally, I’ve ghostwritten some books that center around the theme of identity – adoption stories. All writing is an attempt to answer that age-old question “Who am I?”, but adoptees have a special interest in this topic. Ghostwriting these books has helped me immeasurably in writing my own memoir which is about my own identity story. Is it a coincidence that I attract clients with these kinds of stories? Probably not.

As a child I knew I wanted to be a writer when I grew up. Actually I didn’t wait until I grew up; I’ve been writing as long as I can remember. But it wasn’t until almost twenty years ago that I started writing for others – because my then 90-year-old grandmother asked me to write down some of her stories. Thank you, Grandma, for pointing me in this direction. I didn’t know that being a ghost could reward me with such an interesting life. Can I say it again? I love my job!