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Feb 12 13 5:23 AM

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In your newsletter today, Denise Levenick shares some of her insights into the writing and publishing process of her book How to Archive Family Keepsakes. Do you have any further questions for Denise either about her book or her writing and publishing journey. 

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#1 [url]

Feb 14 13 2:49 AM

Thanks, Lynn, for a great interview. You have a real talent for creating a thoughtful dialogue, and getting to the heart of things. When I was writing last year, I was so busy working that I didn't have time to reflect on the process, and now it's helpful to pause and look back. I know there are some things I would surely do differently, although we don't always have that luxury.

So many of the writers participating in the Family HIstory Writing Challenge seem to be writing fictional stories inspired by family history. I love reading about their projects. My interest has always been in nonfiction, but I think fiction would be freeing in so many ways, and a wonderful way to stretch one's experience.

I look forward to hearing from readers today, and continuing our conversation about writing and publishing. ~ Denise

The Family Curator and Author, How to Archive Family Keepsakes (FamilyTreeBooks, 2012)

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#2 [url]

Feb 14 13 5:38 AM

I think Denise many of the challenge members are writing creative non-fiction and sometimes it teeters on the line of fiction which makes it a difficult task but very rewarding. Denise have you considered writing your family stories as a commercial book? 

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#3 [url]

Feb 14 13 7:48 AM

Hi Denise,
My question is when you pitched your first ideas to Family Tree Mag, whom did you approach, the managing editor?
Re your comment on fiction or non fiction, I've been advised by many to make my story fiction, but I want to stick with nonfiction. I'm writing this memoir of growing up on Chicago's west side and the effect that our sprawling rooming house, wacky tenants, a psychotic grandmother, a traveling father, and the racial upheavals of the 1960s all had on my parents' marriage. With letters, diaries, and documents (including mental health records) as primary material, I feel I can recreate the era and the conflicts truthfully. I envision this to be a commercial book, not just for the family. In the end I think readers would be more interested in a true story than a fictionalized one, but I agree, fiction is freeing and another great way to share. All that said, I love that quote: "You get no credit for living. It's all in the art." 

Are you in the process of writing your family history too? How are you using your artifacts and keepsakes to bolster the story?

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#4 [url]

Feb 14 13 9:44 AM

Hi Denise,
Thanks for sharing your thoughts on writing with us.  I only started to take myself seriously as a writer a few months ago.  Then last month I started a blog.  I loved your comparison with running -- and your statement that the act of writing making you feel whole.  I get wracked by doubts all the time but I find that if I keep writing anyhow I am rewarded with a sense of a well-cared-for self that makes me feel whole too.

Thanks also for sharing what your writing day is like with us.  It is good to hear how other writers discipline themselves with a routine and how they respond to periods of high demand.  Such stories are priceless for developing my own best practices.

I don't really have any questions.  I feel very far off from publishing anything more than a blogpost.  
But thanks again for sharing your experiences.
Leslie

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#5 [url]

Feb 14 13 11:09 AM

Lynn, Re: have you considered writing your family stories as a commercial book? 

If  you mean, write a publish a family history for an audience beyond my own family... the answer is YES. I've always wanted to write my the story of my Grandmother Arline's life. I've known for many years that there is a great narrative in her letters and photos but it's been difficult to grasp the entire saga. I did tackle the project about 30 years ago when I took a graduate course in Personal and Family History. The result was a brief biography using the materials my aunt permitted me to read. Since then, I've learned there was much more to the story, so I would write a different narrative.

At one time, I showed my paper to a friend who had recently completed her PhD in History. I just asked her to read it and tell me if she thought there was another story there. Her response was immensely helpful. She made suggestions I hadn't considered. I was looking at the history from the "family" angle, she saw it from a broader "social" and "historical" angle. She thought I should look at the women's issues -- instead of our family's view of a young woman married five times with an illegitimate daughter, she saw a lively young woman with few options trying to find herself. It made me stop and rethink the way I would tell Arline's story.

If I wanted to tell Arline's story and hope for commercial publication, I think the story would need to be broader and appeal to a wide audience. I've often thought it might be best told as historical fiction or in epistolary format. I have a few ideas I'm playing with, but nothing concrete so far. 

The Family Curator and Author, How to Archive Family Keepsakes (FamilyTreeBooks, 2012)

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#6 [url]

Feb 14 13 12:29 PM


Hello Linda, Thanks for the great questions.

Re: My question is when you pitched your first ideas to Family Tree Mag, whom did you approach, the managing editor?

Actually, I was fortunate, the editors approached me first because they wanted to expand my magazine article into a full-length book. The reader response must have shown it to be a good topic, and I was delighted to work with them to develop the subject more fully. If you can find a suitable publisher who also publishes shorter works, print or online, I think it is a great opportunity to introduce  your field and writing style. It doesn't hurt, either, if they can see how you handle deadlines and routine communication.
Re: your comment on fiction or non fiction, I've been advised by many to make my story fiction, but I want to stick with nonfiction...Are you in the process of writing your family history too? How are you using your artifacts and keepsakes to bolster the story?
I love non-fiction, too, and that's where my experience lies. I think I'd like to try the challenge of fiction, but first I would like to tell my family story in a way that honors the facts and uses them to tell the story. As I mentioned in my comment to Lynn, I'm a fan of the epistolary form, using letters to tell a  story, and I am playing with the possibility of using my family letters to frame the narrative. But first, I have a few more ideas for practical family history books, so I may pursue those projects.

The Family Curator and Author, How to Archive Family Keepsakes (FamilyTreeBooks, 2012)

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#7 [url]

Feb 17 13 7:57 AM

Denise - I just wanted to thank you for highlighting the Project Target features in Scrivener. I have been using Scrivener for a while and love it for organising material but I hadn't found that feature. What a gem! Have set it with my FHWC targets and working to my daily word count is even easier - brilliant!

Can I also ask you a question? When your book was commissioned were you working full time as a writer? You mentioned that you had already published with that magazine and that you were able to commit up to 12 hours a day to writing your book so I wondered if writing and/or family history was your main occupation at that time. The only commercial writing I have done is a couple of textbooks, which were written while working as a university lecturer (so the writing complemented the day job).  I can imagine that it would be much harder to do part-time, especially if the day job was completely unrelated. I'm quite interested in writing for FH magazines - a book is a long way off - but not sure of the process or the practicalities. 
Thanks for taking time to share your experiences - your book looks fascinating. 

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#8 [url]

Feb 18 13 5:58 AM

Janet, Denise is currently in London, England at the Who Do You Think You Are? conference. It might take a few days to respond but I'm sure she will when she gets a chance. And yes I agree the project target feature is fantastic. Have you seen my you tube videos for Scrivener? 

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#9 [url]

Feb 18 13 6:12 AM

Hi Lynn

Lucky Denise! I was meant to go a couple of years ago but ended up in hospital so couldn't then I was already booked up when I saw the dates for this year.  I should try for next year - London is only a couple of hours away! 

I haven't seen your Youtube videos. Off to look them up now. Thanks!

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#10 [url]

Feb 18 13 7:55 PM

Oh, I am so behind... I just read the interview and this discussion. Lynn, thank you for this interview. It's a great interview! Denise, congratulations on your new book and its success! I've heard good things about it and it is on my "to-buy" list.

Your grandmother Arline's story sounds fascinating. I am one of the ones writing historical fiction and it sounds like historical fiction may be a good fit for your story. Jane Kirkpatrick wrote a set of two books about her grandmother, a photographer in Wisconsin in the early 1900's. It is a sensitive story in that the photographer eventually left his wife and family to marry his much younger assistant, Jane's grandmother. The first book is A Flickering Light. You may be interested in reading it. Sandra Dallas is another historical writer I enjoy, but her characters are fictional. She has a book called The Bride's House. It tells the story of three generations of women who lived in the Bride's House. This is actually the house that Sandra Dallas lives in, but the women's stories are entirely fictional.

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#11 [url]

Feb 18 13 11:14 PM

Hello All! Sorry it's taken me a few days to get back here. I must be having too much fun in London! 

Janet - Glad to help with that Project Target feature in Scrivener. It's one of those small features that makes Scrivener such a thoughtful tool for writers.

About my writing schedule for the book: I could never have committed to those long days five years ago when I was teaching, but as it happened, I was no longer working and in a place where the schedule grew out of my own situation. My mother passed away in august 2010 after a sudden illness. Exactly one year later, her older sister and only sibling became ill and died. Within 13 months I lost both connections to my mother's family history. My mom was my genealogy buddy and inspiration, and I was devastated. Writing the book became a kind of grief therapy; it gave purpose to my days and kept my mind focused on something positive. I wouldn't choose to keep the same tight schedule again, but at the time (August 2011 through Jan 2012) those long writing days were enormously helpful. 

You're right, Janet, that it would be difficult, or nearly impossible, to commit to that schedule with a full-time job. I've taught part-time as well as full-time, but even then, I found it hard to carve out the time to write. It helps if you have a job that doesn't spill out of the workday, but then, who has one of those kind of jobs? The tasks always seem to take longer than estimated, and I tell myself, "work smarter, not longer." Hard to do!

The Family Curator and Author, How to Archive Family Keepsakes (FamilyTreeBooks, 2012)

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#12 [url]

Feb 18 13 11:18 PM

Hi Gayle, and thank you for book recommendation. I'm always interested to read both fiction and nonfiction and pick up techniques that might work for a family history story. Actually, I'd like to write two books -- the facts, and the fiction -- which means, I'd better get to work on it soon!

The Family Curator and Author, How to Archive Family Keepsakes (FamilyTreeBooks, 2012)

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