About Writing

Learning Family Stories

2 MarionsEveryone has stories. As I get older, the stories of my youth become more and more interesting to my sons. They can’t imagine a world without electronics, without cell phones, without CD players. To me, it’s daily life. To them, it’s a family story. The challenge for me is to tell them every wonderful (to them) detail while I still can and they are interested.

My grandmother told me stories as I grew up, so I am blessed with a treasure trove of information about my female ancestors. Three of these women are featured in my novel Under the Almond Trees. Other stories are already being outlined for future novels! My current novel is Aloha Spirit, which is inspired by my husband’s grandmother.¬†In the photograph at the top of this article are Ellen VanValkenburg (fromUnder the Almond Trees), her daughter Marion, and her great-granddaughter, also Marion. Thank goodness Ellen passed on her family stories to her granddaughter Eva, so Eva could pass them on to me.

One of the best things I did for my sons involved a Boy Scout merit badge. Working on the Genealogy badge, they had to interview an older family member. I took them to talk to their great-grandfather, who grew up in Honolulu. He told them about working as a civilian ship fitter during the Pearl Harbor attack. He was on a ship in the harbor, trying to hide from the attacking planes while ripping scaffolding off the ship they were working on so they could try to get it out of the harbor. He also talked about trying to save the men trapped in the Oklahoma. I scribbled notes furiously as my boys listened. I knew he’d lived in Honolulu in 1941, but had never asked about his experience. Thanks to a Boy Scout merit badge, this incredible story has been preserved, and is included in my as-yet-unpublished novel Aloha Spirit.

So whether or not you plan to use your family stories for a novel, talk to your oldest family members. Ask about their lives. I guarantee you will be surprised and pleased by what you find out!


About Writing



I am a pretty good gardener. I plant and trim and weed the back yard, and people compliment it. There are a few things I can’t grow. Fuchsias don’t like me. Neither do yellow daisies or orchids. Violets, though, have always despised me. I have never been able to get a violet to survive, much less bloom.

Violets worshiped my mother-in-law, however. For thirty years, she had a pot of violets on the narrow windowsill above her sink. She constantly dumped the plant into the sink, stuffed the dirt back in and replaced it on the sill. It got indifferent light and inconsistent water, but it thrived. She passed away two years ago this August, and her windowsill no longer has violets.

On Mother’s Day, my husband presented me with the violet plant in the picture. I immediately placed it on my windowsill. I really didn’t expect it to live very long. The flowers wilted, but the leaves stayed healthy. Then, to my amazement, it bloomed! I have not yet dumped it in the sink, but it is beautiful and healthy. It’s not only my care that’s keeping it well. I know Mom is helping. This¬†amazing woman laughed at the violet dirt spilled in her sink, and every day my violet reminds me of that memory.lily

Outside in that yard I love to care for, I had an orange canna lily. A year ago, it was one wilted leaf and one dead leaf. I dug it up, intending to toss it, but my husband insisted we give it another chance. I stuck it in the ground and forgot about it. The picture to the right was taken this morning, a year later. He’ll never let me forget I almost killed this plant. Isn’t it gorgeous? And that is how memories are made.

And memories usually make their way into my novels.