“Keepers of Our Culture” has been urging readers to record their stories as a gift to future generations. But how, exactly do you get those stories down on paper, organize them, and turn them into a book? Guest columnist, Robin Aeschliman, gives us the inside story as to how she made it happen. This article originally appeared in the PG Cedar Street Times, 9-2-2016.
I wrote a book …
It wasn’t something I planned to do. It just sort of wrote itself. There we were at the camp table at the Lake-of-Memories—a summer outing for the last 42 years—my husband across from me, chin resting on his chest. No internet. No phone. No kids. June, 2015. The drought heavy upon us, the lake low. Too old to walk way-way-way down to the diminished lake’s edge. And, oh dear, too hot to try. We needed a break from doing nothing. A distraction from the heat.
I don’t know where the words came from. “Tell me the story of walking on trees.”
And he did.
iPad and keyboard in hand, my fingers whirred and the story unfolded and when it ended and the memory was fresh I corrected the typos and filled in the blanks and asked him to tell me another story.
And he did.
I didn’t ‘know’ Greg when we married; we were kids. I grew to know him through the stories of his youth. A youth at polar opposites from mine. How did he survive? And the children came along and the houses and the careers and a year on a dairy farm and the children grew and then there was the business and then, oops! Another child and more PTA, and a career, and athletic events and college and, and, and …
I always knew the stories had to be captured before he died. And I knew I had to wait until the generation before him was gone. It was through those stories our children would truly know their dad. And only the mostly good stories because the bad ones were painful and made him cry. Even when he was younger and didn’t have the ease of tears that arrived with his dotage.
Returning Home, Typing Like Mad
The rest of our week at the lake was spent listening and writing and I knew a couple stories into it that those stories had to be in his syntax. Imperfect. Once we returned home the effort continued apace. Typing like mad (thank you Rosetta Smith, typing teacher, Monterey High 1959), correcting typos … tasks joined by revisiting old papers and photo albums to better understand year, age, location, the many father figures, the many schools that were his.
Along the way the project took over and ‘told me’ that it needed to be a book—a real one—and that book, as did the children it was written for, began directing me.
And then, what to do? How to do it? I didn’t want to promote it to a publisher or to the world. I just wanted a book. I asked about and followed some unproductive paths and then read a column in Pacific Grove’s Cedar Street Times—an article about a genealogist. Family history researchers. DNA experts. Which is what I’ve really become in the last three years as I’ve backed off from my professional world. At the column’s end I found the name of a local publisher. Emailed her. “I’ve written a little book and I don’t want to sell it and I don’t want to take it the local copy place; I just want a book. Can you help?”
Organizing the ‘Happies’ and ‘Bads’
We were on our way. I met with her, returned home, worked out the design, organized the stories. Again. You see, some of those stories were difficult. Heart-wrenching. Some were funny. And there could be no ‘order’. ‘Order’ wasn’t a part of Greg’s childhood. ‘Jumble’ is more apt. I spread the stories out on the table. Put a smiley face on the ‘happies,’ a sad face on the ‘bads,’ and a so-what face on those that didn’t fit either category. Then I put them together in a random order of sad, happy, so-so, long, short. And we had a messy little stack of papers waiting to be a book.
Since it was to be for the children and the grandchildren, it needed a tucked-away section I called ‘MORE’. They needed to know how many places their dad/Papa actually lived, and when he was with which dad, which mother figure, and how many schools he actually attended. All before he was in junior high. And then I figured I needed to add what I knew about his mom’s childhood, a back-story, so to speak, and dug out the notes I’d taken during an interview with his maternal uncle in the 1980s and for Greg’s earliest year, 1939, another few bits gleaned during conversations in the 1990s with an aunt on his paternal side—an aunt he didn’t know or meet until he was in his fifties.
And there it was: A Boy’s Story.…
It turns out, there’s a message—not the intent and decidedly subtle: A message presented among the ‘happies’ and the frightening, both told and written without judgment, for those who have been neglected, for those who cope with dyslexia, for those who have been abandoned.
We’re quite grateful for Park Place Publications right here in downtown Pacific Grove. Maybe we’ll do another. The man is full of stories. (Editor’s note: this is a private publication for friends and family.)
To learn more about the writing and publishing services offered by Park Place Publications, and for a free consultation, contact Patricia Hamilton at 831/649-6640, firstname.lastname@example.org