Now available: My new book, Witnesses of Hope, Faith, Love and Healing, at in paperback and Kindle editions.

Share your memories of Park Central Square, Springfield, Missouri, for my new book. Details.

Write Your Life Story: Three Books You Never Knew You Needed

Yes, this is another one of those posts that recommends books to help you write your memoir, biography, or family history.

“Wait a minute,” you say. “I don't need another how-to book. Aren’t there gazillions of those and aren’t they all alike?”

 Yes and almost yes.

“Well then there now—thank you very much George Gobel—what makes your list so blasted different?”

I’ll respond with what my list is not. It is not a list of books on how to write your life story.

“So you fooled me with your headline when you said it was about writing my life story?”

About writing your life story, not how-to.

“Okay, I’ll stay with you a little longer. This better be good.”

Give your words life
Good is a good start. It is an adjective, as in “a good product: fine, superior,” and thirty-five other synonyms listed in the first entry of the word in the Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus, Third Edition (Oxford University Press, 2012). I say the first entry, because the Writer’s Thesaurus has eighteen entries for the word good as an adjective, two as a noun, and four as phrases. Each entry has dozens of synonyms, with an antonym or two thrown in, for a total of more than 500 (I counted them) synonyms and antonyms.

At a hefty 1,050 pages, this book has more than 15,000 main entries, 300,000 synonyms, and 10,000 antonyms. Compiler Christine A. Lindberg says subtle differences can guide you to the best alternative. Complementing the entries are word notes throughout by more than 200 contributing authors.

Give your characters expression
Your life story has characters who enter and exit, speak and stay silent; they act and react, and so do you as the storyteller. The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2012) guides you through thousands of verbal and nonverbal emotions. Included are physical signals, internal sensations, mental responses, expressed and suppressed feelings.

Authors Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi say their book will help you brainstorm new ideas about emotions and make your writing fresh and engaging. Although written for novelists, the book is exceptional (opposite of normal and usual) for writing your life story.

Give yourself the look of a professional
Computers have made it too easy to check spelling and grammar. A couple of clicks of your computer’s mouse and all the mistakes are underscored in red and with suggested corrections. Yeah, sure. It is up to you, or someone you hire, to proofread and edit your manuscript. Whether you are writing your life story for family and friends or to be published for all the world, you do not want to appear ignorant of grammar and punctuation.

The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation, Eleventh Edition (Jossey-Bass, 2014) is an easy-to-use guide that will give you the skills and knowledge you need to look like you know what you are doing. Nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, who vs. whom, periods, commas, hyphens, dashes, capitalization, and writing numbers are just a few of the dozens of topics. The book is based on the work of Jane Straus (1954-2011), educator, best-selling author, and founder of

“I’m convinced. Now what?”
Buy these books, dog-ear them, mark all over them, and recommend them. You will treasure them for a lifetime.

Tell us the best books on writing your life story you recommend and how they helped you.

Images courtesy

Self-publish Your Memoir on a Shoestring

Sharon Lippincott
Self-publishing of memoirs has exploded in recent years and continues to grow rapidly. It is now easier than ever to self-publish, with hundreds of online sites offering a dizzying array of packages at greatly varying rates. Which should you choose for the best value of your needs and goals? On the other hand, you could take your completed manuscript to your local printer and have it run off a few copies for family and friends.

Sharon Lippincott and Boyd Lemon are experts at self-publishing memoirs and teaching others how to do it. They came together with Linda Joy Myers, Ph.D., founder of the National Association of Memoir Writers, for a roundtable discussion that originally aired on the web April 3, 2014. Dr. Myers gave me permission to link to the discussion for this post.
Boyd Lemon

The discussion covers how to keep the cost of publishing low, what you can do yourself and when to get help, where to find help, trading services, working with editors, and much more.

Sharon is a lifewriting coach, teacher, and author of six nonfiction books, including The Heart and Craft of Lifestory Writing and The Albuquerque Years. Find her online at

Boyd is a retired nationally known attorney and author of seven books of fiction and nonfiction, including Retirement: A Memoir and Guide, and Digging Deep: A Writer Uncovers His Marriages. Find him online at

Here is the link to the recorded discussion:

Tell us your experiences with self-publishing your memoir, or leave your questions.

Photos courtesy Sharon Lippincott and Boyd Lemon.

  • What skills you can learn to keep the cost of publishing down. Styles, formatting tools, and more.
  • How to know what you can safely do yourself and when to get help–resources to learn about.
  • How and where to find help when you need it. Facebook groups, Forums, Joel Friedlander, YouTube, Google, friends, NAMW events. Smashwords Style Guide, Kindle formatting guide. Smashwords conversion list …
  • High quality alternatives to professional services. Trading services with friends, both writers and other. Use lots of beta readers…
  • How to make the best use of limited funds. Collaboration, low budget cover people, do your own layout,  low budget editors— check references!
  • - See more at:

    Not for Idiots: The Complete Idiot's Guide to Writing a Memoir

    Book Review: The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Writing a Memoir
    Victoria Costello
    Alpha Books/Penguin Group, 2011
    Softcover, 286 pages, with appendices and index

    The number of people writing memoirs is growing, with some memoirs becoming bestsellers. Whether you want to write your memoir for profit or fun, to find healing, or to leave a family legacy, Victoria Costello's complete, clear, and compelling how-to book is for you.

    Costello is an Emmy-winning author of six nonfiction books including her memoir and three other Complete Idiot’s Guide titles. In this book, she walks you step-by-step through the memoir-writing process, from uncovering your reasons for writing to becoming published. What to put into your memoir and what to leave out—covered. Writing the truth without hurting people—covered. Using fiction techniques of plot, character, dialogue, and conflict to make your memoir a page turner—covered.

    How the book is organized
    The book has four parts. In Part One, Writing Your Life, Costello recommends reading memoirs to become acquainted with how others have done it. Appendix B lists twenty-two memoirs to get you started. She gives common reasons for writing memoirs, including self-understanding, memorializing a relationship, overcoming adversity, and leaving a legacy for your children and grandchildren—even great-grandchildren you may not meet.

    Part Two, The Ingredients of Memoir, provides a recipe for writing that includes how to determine point of view of your characters, making characters believable, dialogue, plot and structure, and revising your pages. Since your memoir is about you, you likely will use a first-person point of view, represented by the word I. Closely related to point of view is voice. “Voice in memoir is the real you,” Costello writes. “It’s how you sound when you get together with your oldest friend over coffee and gossip or have a heart-to-heart talk.”

    Part Three, The Bigger Picture: Theme and Genre, covers dealing with tragedy, romance, illness, travel and adventure, and business memoir. Theme means “you fulfilled a promise made on page one: that you would make a necessary change in your life (story)—and then faithfully tell them all about it.”

    Part Four, Getting Read, is about turning journal writing into memoir, writing about family, writing about faith, and getting published

    Appendix A lists websites, organizations, and how-to books on writing memoir; Appendix B is a reading list of memoirs; and Appendix C is a permission form Costello suggests for persons you interview for your memoir. (More important than permission is to avoid harming a person’s reputation—libeling them—by what you write.) 

    How she keeps you on track
    At first glance, you may think the nearly 300-page book has too many rules to follow. However, sprinkled throughout are easy-to-understand definitions of key writing terms, quick prompts for you to practice writing, inspirational quotes from published memoirists, and potholes to avoid. I especially like her Five Golden Rules of Good Writing:
    1. Say it simply.
    2. Mix up your sentences. Follow long with short, and vice versa.
    3. Don’t start every sentence with I.
    4. Details are always better than generalities.
    5. Begin every scene in the middle, not when and where the action started.
    Victoria Costello is a science journalist, ghostwriter of memoirs, public speaker, and workshop presenter on memoir writing and coping with family mental health challenges. Visit and

    What book on writing memoir have you found most helpful? To write a book review for this blog go to Guidelines for Guest Posts and Book Reviews.

    Cultural and Literary Events for May 2014

    Haitian Heritage Month Poster
    Lots of ethnic and family heritage to write about this month.

    Check with your library, college, government agencies, or community groups for activities in your area.

    Listings are for the United States unless noted.

    Asian Pacific-American History Month
    Haitian Heritage Month
    Jewish-American Heritage Month
    National Family History Month,
    Prepare Tomorrow's Parents Month,
       May 11-June 15
    Victorious Woman Month International

    Other Observances in May
    Allergy/Asthma Awareness Month
    Arthritis Awareness Month
    Awareness of Medical Orphans Month
    Barbecue Month
    Better Hearing and Speech Month
    Bike Month
    Civility Awareness Month International
    Fibromyalgia Education and Awareness Month
    Foster Care Month
    Gardening for Wildlife Month
    Get Caught Reading Month
    Gifts from the Garden Month
    Good Car-Keeping Month
    Hamburger Month
    Heal the Children Month
    Healthy Vision Month
    Hepatitis Awareness Month
    Huntington's Disease Awareness Month
    Inventor's Month
    Latino Books Month
    Meditation Month
    Mediterranean Diet Month
    Melanoma/Skin Cancer Detection and Prevention Month  
    Mental Health Month
    Military Appreciation Month
    Motorcycle Safety Month
    Moving Month
    Older Americans Month
    Osteoporosis Awareness and Prevention Month
    Photo Month
    Physical Fitness and Sports Month
    Prader-Willi Syndrome Awareness Month 
    Preservation Month
    REACT Month
    Salad Month
    Salsa Month
    Smile Month
    Strike Out Strokes Month
    Stroke Awareness Month
    Sweet Vidalia Onion Month
    Teen CEO Month
    Tennis Month
    Ultraviolet Awareness Month
    Vinegar Month
    Women's Health Care Month
    Young Achievers/Leaders of Tomorrow Month

    What is going on in your area this month? 

    Some listings courtesy Chase's Calendar of Events. Poster courtesy Haitian Heritage Museum.

    Noah: It’s a Movie, Fer Cryin' Out Loud

    Russell Crowe in Noah
    What does the 2014 blockbuster movie Noah have to do with your memoir? Stay with me while I set the stage. (No doubt, Theater Breath, you recognized the pun.)

    Cecil B. DeMille is supposed to have said, "Give me any page in the Bible and I will give you a movie." And why not? The Bible has plenty of action, conflict, romance, treachery, wars, mystery, infidelity (always great for ticket sales), supernatural events, and evil versus good--reasons why the Bible remains the bestselling book of all times.

    Believers, nonbelievers, and censors
    A lot of controversy surrounds Noah the movie. Results of test screenings to Jewish, Christian, and general audiences were reported to be troubling. In interviews, director-writer Darren Aronofsky and writer Ari Handel said their movie was a re-imagining of the Noah narrative. The narrative takes up roughly two-and-one-half pages in the Bible.

    Bible believers who pooh-poohed the movie said it characterizes themes not in the original Genesis account (a flood story is in numerous cultures.) Nonbelievers who pooh-poohed it said it is a preposterous telling of a bizarre myth. Film censors in Islamic strongholds Malaysia and Indonesia banned the movie because it depicts a prophet; Islamic law forbids worship of other than God.

    Fer cryin' out loud, people, it's a movie. I've seen movies with this statement at the beginning: "Some of the following is true." The major purposes of most movies are to entertain, provide jobs, and make money. Opening weekend, Noah earned $139 million at the box office worldwide; not a record for an opening weekend, but enough to make the producers happy--the film cost $130 million to make.

    It's your memoir, go with it
    What's my point? Just as the Bible is based on stories and just as movies are based on stories, your memoir is based on stories. And since, by definition, memoir is based on only a short period in a life--think one page in the Bible--you could write more than one memoir. Gloria Vanderbilt wrote five, Mary Karr and Sue William Silverman each wrote three.

    If twenty directors made movies from the same page in the Bible, the results would be twenty different movies. I'm not suggesting you make up a bunch of stuff in your memoir, although some publishers categorize memoir as fiction. This is true: Your story, your memoir, is just that--yours. You tell it from your viewpoint, your experiences, your emotions, your growth, your purposes. And if it gets banned in Malaysia and Indonesia? Well, you tells your story and takes your chances.

    Read author Linda Thomas's views on sacred connection and personal ownership of memoir in her guest post. How do you feel about the ownership of your memoir? Of your memoir having a sacred connection?

    Photo copyright Paramount Pictures. Courtesy IMDb.

    Cultural and Literary Events for April 2014

    Official poster of National Poetry Month
    Write a letter, write a poem, write a card; you can do it all in April and much more. Check with your library, college, government agencies, or community groups for activities in your area.

    Not all cultural and literary events are declared official by government agencies. Some are by passionate nonprofit groups whose members want to have fun with their topics or get the word out about their important work.

    Listings are USA unless indicated.

    National Poetry Month Inaugurated by the Academy of American Poets in 1996. Contact your local organizations for readings, festivals, book displays, workshops, and other events.

    School Library Month Founded by American Association of School Librarians in 1985. Jeff Kinney, New York Times bestselling author of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, is 2014 national spokesperson.

    Deaf History Month (March 13-April 15)
    Kite Month (March 29-May 3)

    African-American Women's Fitness Month
    Alcohol Awareness Month
    Autism Awareness Month
    Bereaved Spouses Awareness Month International
    Cancer Control Month
    Car Care Month
    Card and Letter Writing Month
    Child Abuse Prevention Month
    Confederate History Month
    Couple Appreciation Month
    Customer Loyalty Month International
    Decorating Month
    Defeat Diabetes Month
    Distracted Driving Awareness Month
    Donate Life Month
    Emotional Overeating Awareness Month
    Fresh Florida Tomato Month
    Grange Month
    Holy Humor Month
    Humor Month
    Informed Woman Month
    Jazz Appreciation Month
    Knuckles Down Month
    Landscape Architecture Month
    Library Week, April 13-19 
    Month of the Young Child
    Occupational Therapy Month
    Pecan Month
    Pest Management Month
    Pet First Aid Awareness Month
    Pharmacists' War on Diabetes Month
    Prevention of Animal Cruelty Month
    Rebuilding Month
    Rosacea Awareness Month
    Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month 
    Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) Education and Awareness Month
    Soyfoods Month
    Straw Hat Month
    Stress Awareness Month
    Twit Award Month
    Women's Eye Health and Safety Month
    Workplace Conflict Awareness Month
    World Habitat Awareness Month
    Youth Sports Safety Month

    Tell us what you are doing to observe and write about these or other special events in April. What memories do you have of these evens?

    Poster image courtesy

    Some listings courtesy Chase's Calendar of Events.

    A Boy and His Grandfather Travel through Time

    Kai and Carl with their animal friends.
    Secrets, magic, and a kingdom at peril—a description of some current television shows, yes. It is also how photographer and genealogy enthusiast Carl James is introducing his four-year old grandson Kai to their family history in an exciting new way, even though they live 1,000 miles apart. Carl lives in Springfield, Missouri and Kai in Richmond, Virginia.

    “We only see each other in person once or twice a year, but we Skype quite a bit,” Carl says. “His mother and I brainstormed on how we could stay in contact more often. We came up with the idea for a genealogy book in which Kai and I would time travel to learn about our ancestors.”

    After a visit to Springfield by Kai and his family, Carl sent them home with an empty three-ring binder, to which he adds installments combining photos, clip art, and text.

    The story
    “My family had some history with James VI, who was king of Scotland in the 1500s. The story I’m doing for Kai has him as a knight—Sir Kai, Lord of Wales—and me as Opa Carl, Grand Wizard of Nottingham. Opa is German for grandpa. German is one of three languages Kai is growing up with; the others are Spanish and English."

    Sir Kai rides a horse named Flame and Opa Carl has an owl named Hootie on his shoulder. King James the VI, whom the story identifies as Kai’s uncle, tells Opa Carl the kingdom is in danger from people who want to overthrow the king. "Included are members of the Clan Ruthven who are related to us and living in the castle," Opa tells Kai. "The king wants you to investigate the clan to find who he can trust."

    Opa Carl and Sir Kai can travel anywhere, past or future. "No one can ever know we are from the future,” Opa Carl cautions. Carl can send Hootie as a scout. Hootie is a shape shifter, an American Indian term for an animal that can change into other creatures. Hootie becomes Mimi the mouse, Ring the raccoon, or Scooby Doo the dog.

    A world-wide adventure
    Besides the fun of the story—Carl says he is having more fun than Kai—Carl makes the genealogy book interactive for Kai by hiding Mimi and other animals on pages for Kai to find. He also drops in photos of Scotland he took as background for the characters. As the ancestry story develops, Carl will add maps and photos of Japan, England, and Ireland.

    How long will it take to finish the project? “Kai likely will be grown,” Carl says.

    Carl is a registered architect. He started drafting when he was nineteen. After two years of college, he became an architect’s apprentice for twelve years before passing the Missouri registration examination. He worked for eighteen years for Warren & Goodin Architects and Engineers in Springfield and designed hotels for John Q. Hammons. Parkinson’s disease forced him to retire in 2007 at age fifty-nine.

    His book, Aux Arcs, Black & White Photography of the Ozarks Region, combines his love of photography with his poetry. Other of his photographs, poems, and essays are on his website, Liteworx Productions.

    What fun new way have you found to tell your family history? Or, tell about such a project by someone you know.

    Image: From a page in the James genealogy book. Courtesy Carl James.