Writing Your Family Story

Today’s guest blogger is Donna Schlachter.  She lives in Denver with husband Patrick, her first-line editor and biggest fan. She writes historical suspense under her own name, and contemporary suspense under her alter ego of Leeann Betts. She is a hybrid publisher who has published a number of books under her pen name and under her own name. Donna is also a ghostwriter and editor of fiction and non-fiction, and judges in a number of writing contests.

A couple of years ago, I had the unhappy fortune to be with my father as he answered questions for the intake counselor at a hospice facility. He patiently answered her questions about his family, his children, what he’d done for a living, until he grew tired. And then he simply said, “If you want to know any more, read the book.”

“Read the book?” She looked at each sibling. “What book?”

“There on the bookcase.”

I handed her the book. “It’s the first part of his life, up until he married my mom, and then the last part, where he found his half-siblings from his father’s side of the family.”

She thumbed through the book then she looked up at us again. “You won’t believe how many family members come through here every year who say they wished they’d listened more closely to their parent’s stories. Or how many parents who say they wished they’d taken time to write down the stories. This is the first time I’ve met anybody who actually did it. You have a treasure here.”

Even if you don’t think of yourself as a writer, you might want to record family stories for future generations. Here is the process we used to write the book for family only and then prepare it for the general market.

  1. Decide what your goal is: first and foremost, this was a history book for the family. Secondly, he knew his story wasn’t unique, but the setting and the characters were, and we felt that would set the book apart in the general market.
  2. Decide the structure: he wanted to tell three separate stories including how he came to be born and placed in the family he was raised in, his life growing up in a unique setting, and finding his half-siblings on his birth father’s side of the family. So we went with the three-books-in-one approach, from two different points of view, his birth mother’s and his.
  3. Decide what to include: a person’s life has innumerable stories, so we kept to the ones that best described my father—pragmatic, logical, forward-thinking.
  4. Decide whom to protect: in the family-only version, we toned down some stories where we felt we knew the truth but couldn’t prove it, while in the market version, we changed the names of the characters, kept the name of the town, and wrote it the way we believed it happened.
  5. Decide what to exclude: my father came to Christ three weeks before he passed away, so that was a huge part of the family-only book, even though it was a short part of his life on this earth. The title, My Cup Has Overflowed, came from a song I love called “I’m drinking from my saucer, Lord, because my cup has overflowed”. We decided not to include much of that story in the market version.

So, if you’re thinking about writing your family story, don’t wait. If you’re tired of hearing Uncle John’s stories or Grandma Mary’s tales, don’t tune them out. Write the stories. They won’t always be here.

Donna  will be teaching an online course for American Christian Fiction Writers in June 2017, “Don’t let your subplots sink your story”.   Her current release, Echoes of the Heart, a 9-in-1 novella collection titledPony Express Romance Collection” released April 1. 

Facebook: www.Facebook.com/DonnaschlachterAuthor

Twitter: www.Twitter.com/DonnaSchlachter

Books: http://amzn.to/2ci5Xqq

Echoes of the Heart: http://amzn.to/2lBaqcW

The King and I

Today, Steve Sabatka, talks about growing up watching the early animated movies when each scene would require twenty-four graphic panels for a single second of a movie.  Steve lives in Newport, Oregon and teaches at Newport High School.  Steve writes short stories (has won the NETWO short story contest one year) and in 2016, published a young adult novel about teenagers finding a … well, I’d better let Steve tell you.

  1. I was five years old, watching that classic old flick, King Kong, and losing my little boy mind. Drum-beating natives. Hungry dinosaurs. Wild, throbbing orchestral music. And a giant gorilla with rolling eyes and great, fearsome teeth – fighting biplanes from atop the highest building in the world. It was better than any three ring circus or screaming carnival ride. But when Kong, shaggy, bleeding, and defeated, let go and fell one hundred and two stories to the Manhattan pavement, I lost it, son, flipped out, crying and screaming so loudly that my dad thought a police car, old-style siren blaring, had pulled up in our front yard. The King was dead and I was not happy about it. Dad consoled my by explaining that Kong wasn’t dead – because he’d never really been alive. It had all been a trick. A special effect.

In time, I learned that Kong was a puppet, basically, just eighteen inches tall, with metal joints under layers of rubber and trimmed rabbit fur, and that an ex-boxer and newspaper cartoonist named Willis O’Brien brought the mighty ape, to life, one frame of movie film at a time, just like Bugs Bunny or Donald Duck, and that one fleeting second of snarling, chest-beating action required twenty four separate poses, twenty four clicks of the camera shutter. I could imagine Mister O’Brien going off to work every morning – with a briefcase full of toy monsters and dinosaurs – and being paid to play with them all day.

I wanted to be a monster tamer, too. Just like O’Brien and Harryhausen and all the other movie magicians, the names you see at the end of movies like Mighty Joe Young and Jason and the Argonauts and When Dinosaurs Rules the Earth. So I started making my own monsters out of dime store modeling clay – with toothpick points for teeth and eyes that were sucked-down lemon drops – posing them, a millimeter or two at a time, and then snapping off frame after frame of eight millimeter, Kodachrome film.

When the finished film came back from the pharmacy, I would thread up the projector, hit the lights, and then stare, awestruck, as my homemade creatures prowled across the white wall of my bedroom – on their own, as if they had been resurrected from their fossil tombs to growl and shake the earth once more. It was truly magic – and the thing I wanted to do for the rest of my life.

But then, as I got older, something very sad happened – just like in the folk song, “Puff the Magic Dragon.” Clay monsters and dinosaurs made room for other toys. I grew up, went to school, got a job as a school teacher, and pretty much gave up on making monster movies. I also started writing. A lot of short stories. Two bad novels. Strangely, monsters kept cropping up in my stories. Aliens. Dinosaurs, too. I even wrote a very short sequel to King Kong, entitled Fall Guy.

Jurassic Park all but killed the art of stop motion. Made it extinct. And so gone are the days when folks would walk out of a theater after seeing The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad, say, or The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, asking. “How did they do that?” Everybody knows the three letter answer: CGI. Computer Generated Imagery. Monsters have become nothing more than a file on an ILM desktop.

I miss the old days. And I want younger folks to know about my heroes and all their frame-by-frame voodoo. So I wrote a young adult novel about a teenage monster nerd (me, basically), and his two oddball buddies – a Vietnamese refugee, and a 250 pound wrestler – trying to explain the scaly, hairy, multi-toothed horror that has just washed up dead on the Oregon Coast.

My book, Mister Fishback’s Monster, was recently unleashed on an unsuspecting world by Black Bed Sheet Books, and, from what I’m told, it was their bestselling young adult title for 2016.

The back cover of my book reads like a B-movie poster:

“Ravenous beasts from the dawn of time! Gun packin’ roller derby queens! Chattering freaks, belched up from the ocean floor! Bug-eyed Martian bullies! Political intrigue! Corporate corruption! Bigfoot! Blood! Guts! Pam Grier!”

Mister Fishback’s Monster is funny. A little creepy. And the special effects are amazing.

I hope you’ll check it out. And I hope to hear from my fellow stop motion maniacs. I’ll send a free copy to the person that can tell me (via Facebook) the name of the unsung hero, the amazingly talented man that actually made Kong (and all the other denizens of Skull Island) out of so much rubber and cotton and metal before handing them, lifeless, over to Willis O’Brien.

 Postscript:

I was fortunate enough to meet Fay Wray in person several years before she passed. I told her about freaking out when I was a kid and how I had hoped she and Kong would’ve lived happily ever after. Ms. Wray gave me the kind of expression usually reserved for the hopelessly delusional and said, “Surely, now that you’re older, you understand that the relationship was not very practical.”

Or something like that.

I guess she was right.

But still.

 

 

JIM:  We love for you to leave a comment.  Thanks.

When Someone Walks Through Your Door

A few years ago, my wife and I were in Oklahoma to remodel a house we owned on some acreage. Much work needed to be done. There was an enormous room that could be converted into two good sized bedrooms. We needed to remodel one of the bathrooms and completely redo the kitchen – new cabinets, new hot water heater, and on and on.

The house is in a thinly populated area, with few close neighbors. We were quite surprised one day when a man walked into the house and started watching our efforts. He made suggestions on how we might accomplish a task more easily.

After awhile, he asked, “Are you staying here at night?”

It was clear no one was staying in this house at night. There was no furniture, and it was certainly not fit for sleeping. I said, no, we were staying in a nearby motel.

He looked around at our tools and asked, “Do you leave your tools here at night?”

This gave me pause. Why did he want to know about our tools? Finally I said we locked the place up when we left, trying to make it sound like it was secure. It wasn’t all that secure.

He acknowledged my statement, turned around and disappeared.

We didn’t know what to think. We had come from Texas in a small Ranger pickup. Space didn’t allow for many tools, and certainly nothing large. Still, there were several power tools that would be a little expensive to replace.

About thirty minutes later, the man walked in again. “My name is Gary. If you will really lock things up tight, I’ve got some power tools that will make your job easier.” He produced a nail gun with various attachments for heavy work or trim work. He offered other tools to make the installation of door hardware easier, faster, and more professionally done.

He said he wouldn’t always be around to either deliver or take back the tools, so he would leave them in my care.

Over the next few weeks, he popped in frequently, always with some sound advice, usually with other tools. And when we were ready to paint the outside, he provided a professional paint sprayer and hoses.

Now, years later, we are still good friends with Gary.

In m y newest novel, A Silver Medallion, a young Mexican walks into Crystal Moore’s life, as unexpected as Gary was to us. But in my novel, it is the young woman who needs help. She has been a slave in modern day Texas, held, not by chains, but by threats to kill her husband still in Mexico. By accident, she learns her husband has died, so she escapes. She tells Crystal of another woman held slave by threats to kill her two children left in Mexico.

Crystal lost her parents when she was seven. She identifies with the plight of the two young girls in Mexico, held captive, not knowing if their mother was alive or not. Crystal knows the woman will never escape as long as her children are held hostage.

The only way to free the mother is to first rescue the children. Crystal tries to put this out of her mind. It is not her problem. But her conscience will not allow that. After many sleepless nights, Crystal realizes she must travel to Mexico and try to rescue the girls. Only then can she help the mother escape.

When someone walks into your life, you will be affected, one way or another. Expect it. Make the most of it. It is usually easier to ignore the person. But look on it as an opportunity. It could be an important one.

James R. Callan,  2017

 

 

The Joy of Creating Characters

Jean Lauzier loves to play in all the different genres, but especially  mystery and fantasy.

She is a member of several writer’s groups and  president of the East Texas Writer’s Association. When not writing,
she enjoys reading, trying to grow bonsai trees, training dogs,  editing, and mentoring other writers.

“Fictional characters are made of words, not flesh; they do not have free will, they do not exercise volition. They are easily born, and as easily killed off.” ― John Banville

I’m not sure who John Banville is, but I have to disagree. At least for myself. I have one of those obsessive personalities and when I’m writing, I live and breathe my characters. I think about their likes and dislikes, how their past affects their present, and just what they want out of life.

Sometimes, I even forget they aren’t real. For example, one day while in the middle of a writing session, a song came on the radio and I realized Cande would have listened to and liked that song. Now, Cande is a character in a mystery novel I’m editing, but we’re also best friends. I know about the time she tried to paint her pony black because she wanted to go as the headless horseman for Halloween. I know how she defends those being bullied, her soft spot for animals, and how much she loves settling in front of a fire with a cup of hot cocoa. She’s a person I’d really like to hang out with.

I also know that as her writer, I can’t get her to do something against her nature. At the end of the novel, I really wanted her to take justice in her own hands and off the bad guy. But that’s not her. Yes, she’s an emotional wreck because of what she thinks he has done, but she believes in doing the right thing, even when it’s hard. And that is one of the things I love about her.

Another thing I love is when a character just appears and refuses to disappear. While writing Dragons of Jade, I was typing along in the groove, and a dog appeared in a scene. I didn’t want a dog in the book so backspaced and deleted him. A few sentences later, my character opened the door and in bounded the dog. He had a name, a personality, and I knew exactly what he looked like. I thought about deleting him again but just couldn’t. Turns out, he was an important part of the story.

Some authors seem to have no problem killing their characters. I read the Game of Thrones series and every time I became attached to a character, they turned up dead. I’d be a blubbering puddle of tears if I killed off as many characters as he has.

Once I read we need to get our characters up trees and then throw rocks at them while setting the tree on fire. I have a hard time doing that, especially with characters I love. I want things to go right for them. I want them to succeed and be happy. It’s something my editor says I need to work on. And, I am trying.

Creating characters is one of the fun things about being a writer. I learn about their jobs, their culture, and just what makes them tick. Then, we hang out in front of the fireplace sipping hot cocoa and telling stories.

You can find more about Jean on  her Facebook page – https://www.facebook.com/jeanlauzier2319

All her  books are available on Amazon or can be ordered from any bookstore.

 

 

 

A NaNoWriMo Education

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Galand Nuchols is a retired school teacher.  While teaching, she found that writing short stories that incorporated the names of students helped to improve their interest and motivated them to work harder.  At the same time, she found she really … Continue reading

The Hard Work of Telling the Truth:

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D.R. Ransdell is a writer and musician. She spent five years in Mexico teaching English and learning folk songs. Now, she plays with a mariachi group and writes a murder mystery series about mariachi bandleader Andy Veracruz. She also teaches writing at … Continue reading

A Time for Renewal

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Today’s guest is award-winning author Lena Nelson Dooley.  With more than 875,000 copies of her books sold, she has been on the ECPA and CBA Bestseller lists, Publisher’s Weekly Bestseller list, and several Amazon Bestseller lists. She’s won the Will … Continue reading

Traveling and Writing–a good Mix

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Today, Carole Brown talks about the benefits of travel to a writer, giving examples of how it has helped her in many books.  She and her husband live in SE Ohio, but they have traveled extensively throughout the U.S. and … Continue reading

A Legacy

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Today’s guest is Jodie Wolfe.  She has been a semi-finalist in various writing contests.  Her second book, Love in the Seams, was released just three weeks ago.  She and her husband live in Pennsylvania.  Today, she asks what kind of … Continue reading