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.┬áIn 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 Thanks to a Boy Scout merit badge, this incredible story has been preserved, and is included in my as-yet-unpublished novel Aloha Spirit.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!