Monthly Archives: September 2010

Today's Question from Your Life Story Guide: Where Was Your Favorite Place to Live?

I live in Charlottesville, Virginia, and while it’s not the Deep, Deep South, it is one of those places where the news that the seasons have changed and Fall has begun seems to come verrry slowly about now. It’s much too hot this week! September is my least favorite month in Virginia, most likely because it was my favorite month while growing up in New England and later living in the Hudson River Valley in New York. Ah, those cool, crisp Autumn days, and the brilliant foliage…But then I don’t miss the North in late March when Spring seemed only a fantasy there, while here in Virginia we are in full bloom.

Do you have fovorite places you have lived in, considering not only the weater and climate but community, cost of living, cultural opportunities, schools, political leanings, etc.? In my experience in teaching Writing Your Life Story classes and helping inividual clients write their life story in a book as personal historian or ghostwriter, I’ve found that one byproduct of being a more mobile society today is that we cultivate a lot more likes, and dislikes, of the different places we have called home. I have been working on a life story book with a husband and wife who lived in five foreign counties and they had very strong opinions (which did not always match!) about what was best and worst about each country. And when they began debating the merits of those places they had lived in, engaging stories that illustrated their feelings naturally sprang up.

So if you’re looking for something new or interesting to write about in capturing your life story, and you have lived in a few or many more places, try sitting down and writing your thoughts about the best and worst places, according to weather/climate and any other factor that seems important to you. See what new memories and stories pour out to highlight your opinions. Some life writers wind up making a case for others to consider about why their favorite state, city, or town should be everybody’s favorite. If you want to sell us on the merits of Montana or Georgia or Brooklyn or Santa Monica or wherever, you will find yourself tapping the real reasons why those homes have been, or are, so dear to you.

So get started. Where was Your Favorite Place to Live? And why?

– Kevin Quirk, Life Is a Book, Member of the Association of Personal Historians

Back to School Time Stirs Our Memories of New Beginnings in Our Lives

My son Aibek went back to school last week, and like many kids preparing for this annual new beginning he wasn’t exactly embracing it. In fact, on the cusp of third grade he came up with a very clear plan for how the world should run. “We should have nine months of summer vacation and three months of school!” he proclaimed.

There’s something about this back-to-school time of year that just naturally stirs not only creative innovations but lots of mixed feelings: excitement, curiosity, sadness, anxiety, disorientation. Gowing up in Shrewsbury, Massachusetts in the ’60s, I remember having all of those feelings – sometimes all at once. They would most churn up on Labor Day because we always started school the Wednesday after the holiday. So on Labor Day especially I understood that in one way or another, I was plunging into the unknown.

Sometimes that new beginning can be especially dramatic. My son and I spent the week before back-to-school on board the Semester at Sea ship as it sailed from Norfolk, Virginia to Halifax, Nova Scotia.  My wife Krista was part of the staff training and orientation preparing for the arrival of 650 students about to sail around the world for their Fall 2010 Semester program. “Your life is about to change” was the mantra that students soon would hear.

Isn’t that true to one degree or another for all of us swept up in the back-to-school spirit? Whether we are a student, a parent, a teacher, or just an observer of this late-summer ritual, we feel that sense of sailing off into the unknown. And whether the new beginning ultimately turns out to be fun or scary, or just a small change from what we had known before, we recognize that a new year has truly begun.

That’s why for years after my own school days, and before my son came along, I sitll carried that sense of late August or early Sepetmber as the real passage to the new year. The calendar could try to tell us that January 1 was New Year’s Day, but I was never fooled. The new year began when school started. That’s when the barometer would measure who I was, how I fit (or didn’t), and what I would be undertaking. That’s when we all would measure how one another had changed, whether it be the boy who grew six inches, the girl (or boy!) who sported a drastic new hair style, or the family that had moved out of town. So many of my prominent memories are wrapped around that time of year.

Is it that way for you? Does Labor Day and this back-to-school climate stir your memories of your own new beginnings tied to the school calendar? If you are writing your life story, or telling your life story to someone who is helping you to  preserve your memories in a memoir or autobiography,  you might find that focusing on back-to-school will just naturally bring poignant stories to the forefront. Quick, get them down before the New Year slips away!

– Kevin Quirk, Life Is a Book, Member of the Association of Personal Historitans and the Association of Ghostwriters

If You're Writing a Book about Your Life Story, Here's Encouraging News: Self-publishing Has Surged Ahead of Traditional Publishing

It used to be, not all that long ago, that if you self-published a book about your life story, or anything else, you were labeled for being a part of the fringe minority of “vanity publishing.” You were scorned: the little guy, dwarfed by the giants of traditional or commercial publishing. But oh how things have changed.

A few months ago R.R. Bowker released a report that revealed that in 2009 self-published books (and other “non-traditional” titles) outnumbered traditional books by about 3-to-1 That means that regular people writing and publishing their own books their own way have come to rule the publishing inustry. Along with the trends toward e-books, this news is part of a real revolution in the world of books – and it’s good news for anyone who wants to write and publish their memoir or autobiography alone or with help from a ghostwriter or personal historian like me. As I tell my life-writing students and clients often, there has never been a better time to publish our own books. With new technology, costs are much more affordable than the days of having to warehouse 1,000 of your books in your garage. And now, we’re winning the numbers game too! Publishing a book, far from an exercise in ego, is an empowering act that can help reach people and make a difference in their lives. That’s why more people are doing it every day.

There will always be a place for those commercial or traditional publishers. My own last book, “Brace for Impact: Miracle on the Hudson Survivors Share Their Stories of Near Death and Hope for New Life,” was published by HCI Books (Health Communications, Inc.), publisher of many of the Chicken Soup for the Soul books.  I liked wading in those waters again, and I likely will do it again.

But I am equally at home in my role of helping people write their life story as personal historian, ghostwriter, editor, or publishing coach. I love watching the excitement of someone bringing their book into the world. And now, I enjoy it even more in knowing that in the hierarchy of book publishing, we have become the “giants!”

Kevin Quirk, Founder of Life Is a Book, which is dedicated to assisting men and women of all ages in preserving their life stories, and author of the new book “Your Life Is a Book – And It’s Time to Write It: An A-to-Z Guide to Help Anyone Write Their Life Story”

If You Build It, She Will Come: How the Keeper of the Field of Dreams Found His Mate

How did you meet your husband or wife? What people or forces brought you together? How soon did you know that you had found your life partner?

When I teach my classes on Writing Your Life Story at the University of Virginia’s School of Continuing and Professional Studies and at OLLI of UVA, I always enjoy the stories that emerge from those questions. Sometimes those “how we met” accounts touch all of us in the class. Sometimes they make us laugh. Sometimes they leave us nodding our heads in a knowing way. And sometimes they leave us with a sense of awe or mystery.

I was reminded of that while reading an article about the Field of Dreams – no, not the movie per se, but the physical Field of Dreams where the movie was filmed in Iowa. Don and Becky Lansing own the land and are caretakers of the cornfield-turned-baseball-field that lures thousands of people to pay homage to the site of the filming of the popular Kevin Costner film. The Boston Globe article “Living in a Dream World” was mostly about how the Lansings are selling the property, but that’s not what most caught my eye. The article also painted a picture of what draws people to the Field of Dreams and what happens when they get there. This is where it gets interesting.

You see, Don Lansing was a lifelong bachelor in 1995. Becky was a widow in Colorado. She had a dream – three dreams actually – telling her to go visit the Field of Dreams. She was to eat a hot dog and a root beer and sit in the stands. She didn’t ask why. She just took the trip, even though it was around New Year’s, which in Iowa is not exactly an ideal time to hang out at a baseball field. She called Don Lansing ahead of time and when she arrived he said, “I was waiting for you.” Becky knew that day that he was the one – the reason her dream had guided her to the Field of Dreams. Don says the field really is magic

What sort of magic guided you to your husband or wife? Of course, your version may fall more into the “ordinary magic” category. That’s true for most of us. In my work as personal historian for Memoirs for Life I’ve been interviewing a couple who met on a blind date. They had grown up in the same town but had never known each other, but the real magic for them came in discovering just how much they shared in their common background – discoveries that continued all the way through uncovering startling commonalities while researching their genealogy after decades of married life.

So if you are looking for a good place to start your memoir or autobiography, you might consider writing or telling that story of how you met the love of your life. And what if your story is nothing like Don and Becky Lansing and the Field of Dreams because when you first met your spouse you didn’t even think you’d want to spend five minutes together, let alone 30 or 40 years? Ah, now that sounds like an interesting story…

– Kevin Quirk, Founder of Life Is a Book, Member of the Association of Personal Historians

Robert McKee Found Gold in His Dad's Memorabilia – Start Digging for Clues to Writing Your Life Story

Have you ever looked through your mother of father’s old belongings and discovered something that took your breath away? Sometimes while rummaging through an old trunk or box of family keepsakes you can find gold, and be moved to act in a way you could never have imagined.

That’s how it was for Robert McKee. His dad was dying of cancer and Robert wanted to arrange a reunion trip for him to visit his old New York firefighter buddies from many years earlier. While going through some of his dad’s stuff looking for clues of whom to invite, he found a dusty old newspaper article that launched a whole new dimension to his plans. Almost 40 years ago, his dad, Art McKee, had battled a blaze in which he had saved the life of a 5 year old girl!

This gave Robert an idea. Maybe if he could track down someone who knew that girl…Not long therefater, Robert brought his dad into a room with the woman who had been that girl, a woman who now had nine children of her own. Tears flowed, memories were brought back, gratitude abounded

It’s an inspirational story we all can learn from as we set out to preserve the life stories of our parents, whether living or deceased.  There will always be stories about them that we know, and stories we learn from others who know or knew them. And sometimes there are stories locked away somewhere waiting, like gold, for us to uncover. Maybe the discoveries will prompt an inspiring act, like Robert’s. More often, they simply offer us something rich to savor, and to record when we follow the trail of capturing life stories in a memoir or personal history.

Is it time for you to do a little sleuthing of your own?

Kevin Quirk, Founder of Life Is a Book, Member of the Association of Personal Historians