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#21 [url]

Feb 11 13 1:36 PM

Yes, I think your second theme hold more promise. The Civil War sounds like only a part of Samuel's wandering and adventurous life. Maybe you can also expand on the characterization of "wanderer" a bit -- Did he love to "perform" stories and make an exciting impression, too?  (Maybe you are hinting that if he wasn't really at Andersonville, and learned about it secondhand, it still made a great story .) And he liked to relate his experience of working with Buffalo Bill--a brush with a famous person! And he sounds irrepressible, moving  until his wife put her foot down. 

So he thought the grass was greener elsewhere, he was looking for adventure, maybe he liked to be the center of attention with amazing stories -- this composite of qualities comes together to describe maybe a one-of-a-kind person, a real character. You could play up his personality as your theme, and readers would always be wondering what strange thing he would do next. Sounds appealing!

Are there others in your family that resemble him in these ways? What opinions do your other family members have about this ancestor -- do they envy him or disapprove of him or what?

When you've filled out your theme to your satisfaction, you can tell Samuel's story chronologically, of course, or you could arrange the episodes of his life from, say, least to most outrageous . . . or in any other order that interests you.

I hope you have a good time writing. Sounds fun and potentially humorous/surprising.

Mariann

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#22 [url]

Feb 11 13 2:08 PM

Thank your for your ideas.   They are giving me food for thought

  I guess I have problems with not really knowing what type of  personalitly he really had.  I don't know if he was a showman, a story teller etc.  He told his kids about the war and knowing Buffalo Bill etc..  I hate to represent someone's personality without having something to go on. None of his grandchildren were alive before he died or were toddlers.  I do remember my grandfather  told lots of stories about their pioneer adventures (only wish someone wrote them down)  as they are very hazy in our memories now.   But he did say his dad was a wanderer and it did affect his attitude toward life.  My grandfather regretted not being able to go to school much and saw to it his family did not have to move about and got a good education.

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#23 [url]

Feb 11 13 3:25 PM


Dear Mariann,

Actually, I plan on using song lyrics as a thread through the story. There were times when the pain made it difficult to sing certain phrases...made me question and find a way to hold on to hope. For the middle section about losing our daughter, I have all the journals, newspaper clippings (it was a high-profile case in the community where I lived), the books and flyers from the Compassionate Friends and individual/couples counseling, that I intend to draw upon.

Perhaps my theme could be reworded as: Life often presents challenges that seem too great to bear, but when our family experienced a series of tragedies, faith and courage helped us overcome and gain strength. 

You had mentioned "what moment" or "what epiphany?" Actually, what I want to show is that it is a series of moments and epiphanies that come over a lifetime...each one bringing healing for specific memories.

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#24 [url]

Feb 11 13 4:22 PM

Dear Deb,

Your plan sounds excellent.

 I'm so very sorry to hear that you tragically lost your daughter. What unimaginable pain. It seems both miraculous and courageous that you are on a healing course. I feel so much sympathy and admiration for you.

A series of moments and epiphanies would be a strong basis for a plot, I think, and would "hold the mirror up to life" as it so often works, bit by bit. The song lyrics will signal depths of emotion that all readers can imagine and understand.

Writing this story will bring more and more resolution for you, I hope. You are creating beauty and art from the saddest of experiences.

Mariann

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#25 [url]

Feb 11 13 4:26 PM


Bettyann said above:
"The only theme I can think of is "Survival."   I guess my question is:  How do I phrase that?"

My question is the same - how do I phrase my theme? I am writing a biography on my grandfather, and my theme is going to be "adventure".  He grew up in New Brunswick, went to Nova Scotia for university, then worked in Quebec for 7 years, then went to British Guiana for 34 years (which is where he met my grandmother), then he travelled for 8 years doing work for the United Nations, doing stints in Ceylon, Somalia, Nigeria, Yemen and Pakistan (he was an electrical engineer). When he finished his job in Pakistan, he spent three months driving from Pakistan to London, though places in the world we could never go to now - this was a major highlight of his life. Then, for the last 40 years of his life, he lived half the year in Canada, the other half in Barbados for retirement. I was talking about him with my parents on the weekend, and my mother called him a "nomad living out of a suitcase" for the last 50 years of his life.

 I'm not much of a writer, so I"m having trouble coming up with a nice sentence with "adventure" as a theme. I could say something like: "My grandfather was an adventurer at heart", but I feel like it needs to have more substance - why was he an adventurer, what did he learn about life being such an adventurer? I don't know the answer to those questions (I don't think, maybe I need to think about it more!), so I'm finding it hard to expand my theme.

Any thoughts??
Thanks,
Nicola

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#26 [url]

Feb 11 13 4:30 PM

Thanks, Marianne. I think that is what I've been working on, mostly the second scenario. My grandmother told me stories about my father, how they couldn't have survived without him, several tragic illnesses, plus family stories that affected him. I've traced the family history and put a story together, including my own story, that shows both how my father's life impacted me growing up, how it governed his decisions, and ultimately how it changed my view of my father, my respect for him, and _ultimately changed my own life.

I'm considering your suggestions on how to present this. Thanks for the vote of confidence.

Bettyann Schmidt rhinegirl.blogspot.cim

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#27 [url]

Feb 11 13 4:40 PM

Dear Margaret,

This is all good material that you're telling me about. All useful.

You don't have to boil down your great-grandfather into a type of personality. He can be all those things at once--as most of us are. You can create a special description just for him, a kind of multilayered personality that your knowledge suggests, and then you can keep "coming back to" and referencing parts of this personality as you write. And it's just fine if some parts of his personality seem to contradict other parts . . more to write and speculate about!

All the memories your grandfather told you about, as well the kind of man you believed your grandfather was -- all that is grade-A material. The fact that your memories are hazy just allows you to fill them out as they might have been, or as you imagine they would have been. You are free to sketch a scene that is your best guess of your half-remembered interaction with your grandfather. You are free to create the kind of story he would have told. All you have to do is say, "I imagine his story would have gone something like this," or, "This would be the kind of conversation we had with our grandfather," or in some other way announce that you are embellishing a bit, in good faith.

In the first place, your "half memory" is in truth the actual trace of your great-grandfather that your grandfather has left within you -- you're just trying to articulate it into words.  In the second place, no one expects that you could stand sentinel in the past with a video camera. This is creative non-fiction, and you're in the realm of that which cannot be proved or disproved. You're evoking emotional and moral truth. You're not doing anything false--you're reclaiming the past as best you know it.

I wish for you a good time writing!

Mariann

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#28 [url]

Feb 12 13 7:07 AM

Wow, all wonderful conversations and while I'm reading with much enjoyment forgive me if I'm not interjecting, Mariann is a brilliant teacher. I find myself reflecting on my own stories and how I can polish up my themes. I hope many of you will read Mariann's comments above to Margaret with regards to this genre of creative non-fiction. I think this is where many family historians struggle with the premise of writing creative non-fiction and exactly what that means. Mariann explains it very eloquently in her comments above. 

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#29 [url]

Feb 12 13 2:52 PM



Thank you, Mariann for your kind reply.

As I was reading Joyce Carol Oates' memoir, A Widow's Story, this morning, I suddenly realized that perhaps there is a motif found within my story pertaining to weather...specifically bright sunlight and rain...but not exactly as one might customarily expect. 

I have read that motifs can be intricately interwoven with the theme, and that the title of the book is sometimes strongest if it reflects the motif.

Can you please share your feelings on that?

Deb

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#30 [url]

Feb 12 13 10:09 PM


Yes, I think motifs can indeed be interwoven with the theme. You could use weather motifs to heighten the patterns of emotional & spiritual recovery that are the thematic foundation of your book. Using them in unexpected ways sounds like an intriguing idea. You have some interesting choices ahead of you to arrange the weather motifs, as well as the song lyrics that connect with your theme, so that they make an overall pattern that feels natural and right to you.Sort of like a writing collage . . . except that it flows along the time frame that you will construct.

It sounds meaningful and potentially powerful, this way of weaving together your prose elements. I think you will enjoy this act of creation. It sounds fun and even redemptive to me.

In general, a title is the last thing I choose, sort of like the cherry on top. If I choose it earlier, I find myself attempting to write in obedience to the title, and that can be a little constricting.

Mariann

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#31 [url]

Feb 12 13 10:24 PM

Dear Bettyann,

It sounds as if your theme and structure are coalescing very well. I'm picking up hints this time that you have a nice dual narrative going here -- perhaps "companion narratives" -- one would be your father's quest to survive without unbearable destructiveness in his own life, and the second would be your own quest (partly through your grandmother) to understand and come to terms with your father's effect on you . . . both narratives seem to strive towards a state of peace and "having survived."

I think you are bringing together your material very well.

Mariann

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#32 [url]

Feb 12 13 10:51 PM

Dear Nicola,

You ask some very good questions about your adventurous grandfather: Why was he an adventurer? What did he learn about life being an adventurer? Then you say, "I don't know the answer to those questions."

That is the crux of the matter, I think. You don't "know" (no one does, or ever will, perhaps not even your grandfather), but you can imagine. You CAN allow yourself the freedom to speculate, assume, and eventually create your own impression of the character your grandfather was, along with what his thoughts and feelings might have been.

 I can hear that you're on the verge of imagining what your life would have been like if you were in your grandfather's shoes, living out of a suitcase and visiting the far corners of the world -- so go ahead and cross that verge, and imagine yourself as your grandfather. You know his "outsides," his facts, and from them you can create your best guess as to his insides. It might help to find out a few things about the countries he saw, but not overly, because you're creating a character rather than writing a travelogue.

A theme doesn't have to be confined to a single sentence--that's just a technique for focus. I'd suggest free-writing a paragraph about what it would feel like for a guy to live life out of a suitcase for 50 years--ups and downs, motivations, promises, regrets, amours, anything you might think of. Your theme will be the parts of the paragraph you keep keep returning to as you write more about his life. In other words, your theme will be his unique combination of traits, as informed by your research and filtered through your speculations and creativity.

Your book sounds like a lot of fun to write!  Enjoy!

Mariann

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#34 [url]

Feb 13 13 6:19 PM

Mariann - Thank you so much for your advice. I really appreciate the time you took to answer. Lots of food for thought. I am feeling like I am heading in the right direction. Just having difficulty articulating everything in words, but I think that will come. My Granddad was very interested in family history - he did the first research in the 1980's and eventually passed all his papers on to me. He would find all my research to be so interesting. Last night I was thinking how I wished he was here to see all this, and it occurred to me that he came full circle - he was an adventurer who travelled the world, but in the end he reunited with his ex-wife and did all this family history research. I think this concept of coming full circle back to his family will be interesting to explore within the context of him being an adventurer. You suggested free-writing a paragraph on what it would be like living out a suitcase for 50 years; I am definitely going to do this, as I can kind of already sense ideas coming out of doing that, especially in relation to regrets about family, amends made, etc....I do feel it coming together....thanks!!
Nicola

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#35 [url]

Feb 13 13 6:48 PM

Dear Nicola,

I'm so glad my responses were helpful. What you say about your granddad coming home, re-uniting with his wife, and doing family history research is HUGE! It offers so many rich possible ways in which to interpret his adventuring. It casts a bright light. But I can see that you already are realizing that and mining your thoughts for more words and ideas. Wonderful.

Everyone has difficulty articulating these things in words. That just means you're a writer.

Good luck!

Mariann 

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#37 [url]

Feb 14 13 7:01 AM

Nicola, love, love the idea of your grandfather coming full circle. All things lead home to family. I think you have your theme. Congrats, a big accomplishment, I'm sure the writing will flow now! 

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#38 [url]

Feb 14 13 7:44 AM

Nicola, just saw this quote and thought of you and your story 

“He that is discontented in one place will seldom be content in another” ~ Aesop

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#39 [url]

Feb 14 13 5:35 PM


Thanks, Lynn, for the support! And what a great quote. Love it!
Nicola

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