I’ve made a discovery! Many people interested in writing their memoirs also have wonderful children’s stories they’ve shared with their kids over the years. They talk about these with a grin, a gleam in their eyes and laughter as they recall the fun of creating these special stories for their children. They confess that their kids have always told them they should make a book with those favorite tales. My family and I have our own collection of made-up stories but I’ll save those for another day.
To learn more about the art and process of children’s book creation, I’ve been watching a few of Lisa Michael’s Skillshare classes. Michaels is an award winning professional freelance illustrator and author as well as a skilled teacher. You can take a look at her profile here:
After sharing my observations about memoir clients and their children’s stories with Lisa she responded with additional insight into the “why” of this phenomenon. You can find out more about her at Lisa Michaelswww.theartofpicturebooks.com. She graciously agreed to share her thoughts so here you go:
It makes complete
sense. A large percentage of children’s books are based on the author’s
childhood experiences. You know the old saying…”Write what you
know!”…it’s so true.
As I’m sure you know,
personal experience adds authenticity to the work, and gives a good writer the
ability to make you (the reader) feel that you are a participant in the story,
rather than an onlooker. Not to mention, most memories have strong emotions
attached to them, which also enriches the story.
I find that stories
written from childhood memories (even if they are outlandishly embellished)
make for the best children’s books because the author usually isn’t looking to
“teach a lesson”. They are simply hoping to share a wonderful or
touching experience that they believe still has value for today’s kids. That’s
one of the very BEST reason to write a children’s book!
Below are links you can follow to Lisa’s classes on Skillshare. They’ll enable you to learn from her and many others for two free months with a trial Premium Membership. You have nothing to lose and much great professional, fun guidance in store. I highly recommend it! (disclosure – although I will receive a small commission if you sign up, I only recommend classes I’ve taken myself and found exceptionally useful).
These courses are excellent resources in developing further ideas for my own children’s book concepts as well as helpful when I visit with clients who have their own fun, fabulous tales to share.
Try your hand at jotting down some of your kids’ favorite bed-time stories. Then, visit with them about the characters and sketch out a few ideas for the artwork. You’ll have loads of fun together and create new memories from the old ones.
So—it’s summer, it’s hot and… it’s the perfect time to take action — do something different and good for your soul! A little bit of life history will reap dividends in mental and emotional health as well as pay what you’ve learned forward to the future.
I found this quote from Peter Drucker a few days ago. He’s a business management consultant but his words are applicable to many things in life.
“There is the risk you cannot afford to take,
and there is the risk you cannot afford not to take”
What about finally saving the stories of someone you love? Or your own? I’ve made it easy for you by creating a Quick Start a Memoir class. And—you can even take it for free using this link that will take you to the class on Skillshare and a free 2 month membership:
Do you have a parent, grandparent or other relative who has
been telling great family stories for decades, but is overwhelmed by the
thought of writing them down? Maybe you have been longing to tell your own
story. It’s time! Creating a life legacy memoir is a meaningful way to
celebrate life. You don’t have to be a “writer” to share your story in a
meaningful way. This class will give you a quick start to clarify the 5
W’s of your story, the WHO, WHAT, WHEN, WHERE and WHY. You’ll create a fun,
actionable mind map project that will inspire you to start, give you the
framework you need and keep you on track. Start today– let’s begin saving
those important family memories and connecting the generations with your story.
Five fabulous reasons why it’s important to share your story:
* Celebrate your life and share your experiences with
* Preserve important family stories and memories
* Put names and stories with family photos
* Share your wisdom and the life lessons you’ve learned
* Bear witness to the history you’ve lived
The wise Dr. Seuss has this to say:
“Sometimes you will never know the value
of a moment until it becomes a memory”
Have lots of ideas and memories but don’t know how to start? Try the class for an instant boost. Or give me a call/fire off an email for a free consult. I’d be delighted to point you in the right direction and give you a couple resources.
Just have to share this gorgeous photo of Andrew Wong and his daughter. His daddy tenderness is perfectly summed up with one beautiful photo by Marina Anaya (Captured by Marina Photography). So impressed—I can’t even do my own nails and he has the technique down pat with a toddler. While she may not remember this exact event, this little sweetie will grow up knowing without a doubt that she is loved and adored.
There is no charm equal to
tenderness of heart—
Do you remember a time when you blessed someone with tenderness like this? Maybe you were the receiver of such a wonderful gift. Half a penny’s worth of nail polish and some time—priceless! Tenderness can profoundly impact the course of a person’s life, be they wee or wrinkled.
Write about one tender memory. Put in all the who, what, where, when and why. But more importantly, put in the feeling. How did this impact you? Inspire you? Why do you treasure this memory?
“I hate to write, how can I do this?” As I mentioned last week, this is a sticking point for some folks. They’re great oral storytellers but the thought of writing those stories and memories down gives them “test anxiety” at the least and “the screaming mimi’s” at the worst. Never fear-there are a few different ways to handle this, don’t let it stop you!
Solution 1—Talk out your story into a voice recorder
With the help of a handy little voice recorder you can just tell your story. Carry it with you, turn it on, record, pause or turn off till you’re ready to tell your next story, or continue with your thoughts. You can collect memories in a stretch of reminiscing over photos or with family. Or maybe just relate brief thoughts or impressions as they come to you throughout the day. Don’t worry that they’re not in order. That is the beauty of digital recording and computers. While it will save you some time and help you focus if you have a plan and go through your life story memories somewhat chronologically, it isn’t critical. Thanks to the beauty of downloading and cut and paste, your lovely, moving or humorous stories can be rearranged into whatever order you choose later.
Here’s how it works:
Purchase an inexpensive digital voice recorder. I have used an Olympus Digital Voice Recorder very similar to this one for years (some links on this site are affiliate links–I only recommend items that I either use myself or strongly believe to be helpful):
I show this tiny workhorse at workshops and folks repeatedly ask what model it is and where they can get one. There are many different brands out there in a range of prices. The Olympus model has been a great fit for my work and has had excellent reviews on quality, clarity and ease of use. It also lets me record in different files to keep projects separate. This makes downloading to separate computer folders even easier. The recorder runs on a two AAA batteries and has great battery life. I have found that Procell by Duracell batteries have excellent performance and reliability and have switched to using them exclusively in my work.
Both are high quality items that will do the job and serve you well. Whichever one you choose, based on features or price, they all work pretty much the same and will make telling your story easy and fun.
Keep the recorder with you, it will serve as your ever-ready personal assistant. Starting with the technique in the last blog post, go ahead and brainstorm your memories and story ideas into the recorder. Then, when thoughts come to you or you want to expand on some stories or reminiscence over visual prompts such as photographs, you’ll just talk your story out into the recorder. A recorder such as the Olympus holds about 24 hours worth of audio recording. I use mine regularly for interviewing and as an extra note-taker when I’m at meetings and need to be able to go back and fact check or review content. It will help you focus on the story and not on trying to write your notes legibly, a challenge for me, that’s for sure!
Later, when you’re ready to download your stories, just plug the recorder into your computer, transfer the files and you now have your oral history recording in a format that can be easily transcribed into written form. Voila, “test anxiety” gone!
Solution 2 – Team up with a friend to record each other’s stories.
Again, this taps into the power of oral story telling. It also adds in the fun of having a buddy to tackle the project together. Find a friend who is either interested in also telling their own story or is intrigued with you and yours. Remember, this is not a never ending time commitment nor a long term project. Getting these stories down will take a focused-10-12 hours of recording time, spread out over a handful of sessions. I’d recommend setting aside time once or twice a week for about a month. Of course, the beauty of this is that you can work around your own schedules.
Then, either use the voice recorder (I do recommend this as it helps you go back at your leisure and capture the full nuance of the story. For family members and friends, having a recording of your voice is a priceless addition to your story—why not do it?) Or, you can take turns with your friend, interviewing each other and taking notes on each other’s stories. This takes away your fear of a blank piece of paper, you just tell the other person’s story.
The fun of the buddy system will keep you both on track and accountable. A multi- strand cord is stronger, tag-teaming with a friend or another family member will help you both to succeed.
Thanks and Happy Story Telling!
(Karen Ray is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.)
This advice was characteristic of Betty Somppi’s lively take on life. Although she passed away this spring just days after witnessing the dedication of the Women Veterans Monument in Las Cruces, her words and lifelong enthusiasm continue to make the media rounds. Her life impact hasn’t stopped. Take a look at the video interview on the City of Las Cruces FaceBook page and notice her lifestory book, the photos and her enjoyment in talking about her life. Below is a profile I wrote about her after a fascinating conversation back in 2016. I’m so glad she took the time to share a bit of her life’s history while she was living. You don’t have to wait till someone is writing your obituary to do the same. (Photo–Betty Somppi, courtesy of her friend, Karen Wood)
You can save your family stories too!
A few days ago I had the privilege of giving a workshop to the Las Cruces Association of Educational Retirees, providing some practical inspiration for sharing their stories. Who should I meet later in the audience but one of my favorite teachers, Hannah Monsimer. Seventh grade English teacher extraordinaire! If that’s not a tough job I don’t know what is. Of course, I gave her a big hug and told the group she was responsible encouraging my love of writing. She was kind, tough and an excellent teacher; qualities I am grateful for to this day. Thank you Mrs. Monsimer!
Betty Somppi was enjoying a new career as a lab technician at a Cincinnati hospital “when the war came along…Most women wanted to do something and there weren’t that many choices for women. We were very interested and we wanted to be involved more than just going around the community. So I applied when we first heard about the Women’s Army Corps, which was WAAC (Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps) at that time. She recalls that the bill passed in March and by July the first class of officers were in training. “That shows how quickly Congress can work when they want to,” she laughs.
She served in the WAAC for about a year before it became the WAC (the women’s branch of the United States Army). “We had to apply all over again and had to have our physicals all over again and we didn’t know until the word came back from Washington, whether we had been accepted or not. That was very traumatic for some of the women who had been there for a year. Somppi remembers Colonel Oveta Culp Hobby of Killeen, Texas served as the first director of both the WAAC and then the WAC. “Mrs. Hobby” as she was called built the Corps to over 100,000 in under a year.
Somppi explains that this new organization had no officers or enlisted people. “They picked 1400 women from those who applied throughout the United States,” she says, “We went into officers training with the idea that if we did not complete OC (Officer Candidate) we would be enlisted. They were recruiting enlisted people at the same time…These 1400 women were put into the first nine officers classes.” She was in her early twenties when she entered the fifth OC class.
She arrived at Fort Des Moines Provisional Army Officer Training School in July, 1942 the day the first class graduated and heard Colonel Hobby speak. “I think if anybody thought this was going to be some sort of a glamour deal, they got a good shock. We got off the train and had our suitcases in hand and got piled into the back of a six by truck and taken to the base. Once we got to the base we were assigned to our quarters. We had all male officers for those nine classes because there were no WAC officers trained yet.”
After graduation she was assigned to the base. “I was in the training section doing the basic training. After they finished that they went either into motor transport or clerks or cooks and bakers. Those were the three fields that they were training for and had schools at Fort Des Moines.” Within a year the army had women in 274 fields in the military. Somppi says,
“I really did love that and so I spent
the whole war training women to do things
that I would have loved to have gone and done.”
In December of ’42 she was one of the first to be sent to Chemical Warfare School for six weeks along with five other women at Edgewood Arsenal, Maryland. “My job was to go back and teach chemical warfare to the people at Fort Des Moines.”She’s kept newspaper clippings from that time and says, “It (the school) was very very good. There were I think something like 180 army and a few marines and air force, all men and then us six women. We were all single and we had a great time. Everybody was curious about us, we were still pretty new and there were only a few out in the field. We were the equivalent of second lieutenants and wore gold bars. The general down there invited all six of us to all the fancy Christmas parties, he would send his car over to our quarters for us…they always had the general’s star on the car and the people on the ground always had to salute when it went by…it was interesting.”
Somppi says, “The old fort (Des Moines) looked a great deal like Ft. Bliss, big parade ground, big enough to play two horse polo teams. I walked to work every morning. My office was in Boomtown. The trainees came to us as a class, as a unit of a company and we trained them in military customs and courtesies and the history of the army; all those things that they still do today. Boomtown was just being finished, there were not streets yet and those companies waded to our classrooms through the mud. In fact, they used to come in with a shovel to get the mud off the floor before they swept it. It was a lot of fun.” She says the best food the army ever had was in those mess halls.
From there Somppi was stationed at Fort Oglethorpe as Director of Training, later helping close that base down. She says, “I remember the day that they announced that the war ended, the colonel at Ft. Oglethorpe’s son was killed that very day.” She returned to Fort Des Moines and served as Operations Officer at the separations center, processing returning military personnel. During that time the war in the Pacific ended and her husband was sent back from China.
The Somppis were married during the war, “We always said those wartime marriages never ended. Ours ended last March at 72 years. We were very fortunate.” They had difficulty meeting up to marry, “Jimmy was about three days later than the date we had set because at that time troop trains were pushed aside to get the freight through…He was a corporal when we were going to get married and by the time he got up there he had his third stripe on. I had just got my captain’s bars a couple of months before.” The couple met seven years before while she was teaching first grade in Pennsylvania. He was a senior in high school at that time. When asked her secret to a long life and sharp brain she laughs, “I always tell people
‘Marry a younger man!’
Jimmy was six years younger than me which at that time was something pretty shocking…that long marriage is a great comfort to me now.” This trip will be in Jimmy’s honor. She lives in independent living at White Acres and celebrated her 101st birthday the day after this interview. She says,
“I’ve been very lucky.”
Although the couple was stationed in Washington, DC, they had never seen the memorial. After Jimmy passed away, Betty’s close friend Karen Woods asked her if she would consider going on Honor Flight of Southern New Mexico’s (also serving El Paso) Mission 9 this fall. She says, “I said yes, I think now I should. I felt like this was something I could look forward to, I needed that right at that moment. I’m ready; I’m very excited about it.” The couple had three daughters; their eldest, Sharon, will be going along on the Honor Flight late this September as her mother’s guardian.
What stands out from her service days are she says, “The wonderful people that came through Fort Des Moines. Everybody wanted to come and see what happened… We had Mrs. Roosevelt and many many outstanding people all came and talked to us as an officers group; I’m sure they did to a lot of the enlisted too. We met them and felt personally greeted. Mrs. Roosevelt managed in the receiving line to say something personal to everybody and you felt like you had met her, you know?”
Somppi sounds a bit wistful, “Every person that worked with me or for me is gone, my secretary in my office just died last year and that was the last one of the friends that I had kept in touch with for many years.” She is a charter member of the Women’s Memorial in Washington, DC. If you visit there you can view her biography and photo as part of the data base. She’s proud of her groundbreaking service, “We were right there at the beginning. We got a lot of kidding about it. People around Des Moines were used to us and were very welcoming and very nice to us. It was fun…I became a friend of the general (Major General Gwendolyn Bingham) when she was at White Sands. I was so proud that we had anything to do with that, they recognized us and said ‘Well you got it started you know.’ They talked about how far women in the military have come, they fill every field now and they’ve held every rank and it’s wonderful to see.”
Thanks for taking the time to read about Betty’s life. This next week I’ll be bringing you some tips for capturing life stories of folks a bit younger, the graduates in your life. Stay tuned!
Your family’s history is important. This video from the Association of Personal Historians explains how it works and why personal historians like me are passionate about what we do. While the APH is no longer active, we historians are and are helping people tell their stories all over the world. I’d love to help you tell yours!
The dusty, faded shoe box was crammed under the workbench. In the midst of de-cluttering fervor my friend said, “Take it home, I didn’t know it was there and I haven’t missed it.” I felt like the Indiana Jones of Garage Archaeology! It was a small memoir encased in cardboard; inside were a number of small items tucked into old jewelry boxes. But they weren’t just objects, each has its own story and some will be sent on to a family member.
This forgotten collection started me thinking about ways you can use the “stuff” you’ve saved as prompts for some personal history work. It’s a great place to begin, especially if you’re stuck on a project that seems too big. Where to start? Problem solved! Whether it’s a box of photos, a collection of tools, buttons, coins, books, recipes, or just “stuff” use that eclectic collection as the basis of your personal history.
Get it out of the box and into your story
The story of these items and why they are/were important can be easily turned into a standalone chapter or even become the start to an entire personal history, you decide.
Gather the existing collection—the how, why, where and when of its existence is a great launching point for your story.
Delve into the details.
Get a medium sized box—begin placing things in it that prompt your memory, either about yourself or the person whose story you are writing. This is an extremely effective step as it helps you recall things you thought you’d forgotten. As you select items for your box keep a running note going about the memories associated with it.
Ask family members and friends to contribute to the memories surrounding the items in your stash. They may even have an object to contribute, like a photograph or old letter. Add to your notes as more memories come to you. If the stash belongs to someone else, interview them. Remember to look at the backgrounds in the photos, the postmark and paper of the letter, the gravy stains on the old recipe—the charm is in the details, take your time.
This is important—don’t skip this step.
Sit and mull the contents of your box with your notes and/or a recorder in hand. If you’re telling someone else’s story, interview them. Be specific and handle each item in the box, taking your time.
If you consider yourself a non-writer, record your thoughts or have a friend write or record while you sift through the objects.
Now, walk away from your box of goodies. Come back to it in a day or few and see what else your mind has recalled since you last spent time together. There will be more, I guarantee it!
Look for a theme—are the photos all of family events? Are they important historically? What was going on in the world at this time? Does a collection of letters tell a great love story? Does it chronicle the preciousness of an ordinary life? Is it a travelogue?
If you are having trouble seeing the theme, a rare occurrence, ask a close friend or family member to look through the box with you and tell you what they see. What stands out?
Takeaway—shorter is sweeter
You don’t need to write about everything to tell a great story. Some of the best stories ever told are just a snapshot in time, one event, one object. If you’ve always wanted to tell your story but have felt overwhelmed, start with these 5 keys and begin. You’ll soon have a powerful, condensed collection of life memories.
Then, voila! You are unstuck and have given yourself the gift of making progress.
A reminder from author Terry Pratchett says “The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.”