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 Texas Chainsaw …

This week’s paraprosdokian —  Take my advice — I’m not using itchainsaw-1

I have to admit it. I was a city boy. I was raised in Dallas, but have over the years worked my way down until I’m no longer living in a town of any size. Here’s one of the situations that moved me away from being a city boy.

Some years ago, my wife and I moved into the middle of a forest in east Texas. We are surrounded by trees – pines, oaks, and hickories mostly. Our driveway is about three-quarters of a mile long. Our nearest neighbor is about half a mile away as the crow flies and about three miles by road.

One night some years ago, we came home from work, settling in for the night, not expecting to leave before morning. But then, Earlene said, “It’s your birthday. Let go out for a fancy dinner.”

tree-downWe traveled to Tyler, had a leisurely dinner and returned home about nine o’clock. But as we were driving in, a large tree had fallen across our driveway. It was too big for me to move by myself, but between the two of us, we were able to push it off enough to get the car by.

About five in the morning, Earlene woke me. She had severe pain in her abdomen. And it only got worse. So, I helped her into the car and raced to the operating-roomemergency room of the nearby hospital. They quickly determined she had a ruptured appendix and wheeled her into the operating room.

The next afternoon, I was sitting in her room as she slept. Suddenly, my eyes popped open wide. If we had not gone out to dinner, I would have first discovered the tree blocking the road at five in the morning. The tree was too big for me to move by myself. What would I have done?   While I had met a couple of neighbors, miles away, I did not have their phone numbers. I had a small hatchet and a machete. It might have taken me over an hour using only a hatchet to cut through the tree enough to move it .

I checked Earlene. She was sleeping soundly, heavily sedated. I told the nurses I was leaving.

I drove to the nearest farm store and bought my first chainsaw. I would not be trapped in our property without a viable means to get out.

chainsaw-2Now, years later, we have several chainsaws. We always have at least two good, heavy duty,chainsaw-3 working gasoline chainsaws. We have an electric chainsaw for light work close to the house or barn. We have a small chainsaw on a pole for trimming limbs on standing trees.

I have pushed my city boy persona out of the way, and the first shove came about five a.m. on a trip to the emergency room.

James R. Callan

Visit Callan’s author page by clicking here.

And leave us your thoughts on chainsaws. Thanks.