Storytelling For Fun & (Business) Profit

Which business would you rather work with?

  • The one that displays a paragraph on its website listing the year it was founded, by whom, how many employees it has and that it belongs to the local Chamber of Commerce?
  • Or the one with the interesting story about how its founder started his 600-acre farm by trading chicken manure from his family’s chicken farm for banana starts and how things developed from there? (True story.)

Some of what we do here at Talk Story Press is to gather families’ stories together in one place and weave them together into an interesting narrative arc. We retell them in a rich, full way, and then help the family create a printed book from it all. We also do this for individuals who want to tell their own stories, or that of a family member or dear friend.

And we do the same thing – tell a good backstory – for businesses. Because what’s more interesting when someone wants to learn about a company they may hire, or decide to work for? Reading an ad or a dry press release? Or reading a story – a narrative – about how the business came to be?

Talk Story Press, Leslie Lang

This Wall Street Journal article, Why Your Company Needs a Moving Start-Up Story, uses a Bruce Springsteen encounter, among others, to talk about the importance of having an epic story.

Take the legend about FedEx founder Fred Smith’s gamble with the last $5,000 in its checking account. In the book “Changing How The World Does Business,” Roger Frock, one of the founding executives of the company, told the story of how, in the make-or-break start-up days of the company, Mr. Smith took the $5,000 in the company’s checking account to Vegas and bet it all….

Read the rest here.

You can use your epic start-up story to make employees feel like they are part of something amazing, and, of course, to draw in customers. To show them what is special about your company. To make yourself stand out from the competition.

We also help businesses and organizations write special anniversary books that capture the whole history of a company.

Can we help you write the story of your business? Let us know if you’d like to know more or to explore the idea.

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Saving Face, & Voice, & Stories

My father died in 1983, when I was 20 and he was only 50.

I don’t know of any recordings of his voice that still survive, but I’d sure love to have one.

He died way before we were all walking around with cameras capable of recording video and audio in our pockets (or our hands).  Apple II

How he would have loved this digital age, by the way. Because of him, my family was an early adopter of the Apple II, with its Pong game and all, but really my dad missed about all of this digital era. He was a “techie” type, and there’s no doubt in my mind that he would have loved it.

But nowadays, with all this readily available technology all around us, making it so easy, do we remember to videotape/audiotape our parents? Our grandparents? How often do we record our family moving around and talking, so we can show our kids and grandkids later? So that later they will still be real people, just like us, instead of just names on a page? So we ourselves can see and hear them again decades from now, like magic?

And if we do, I don’t know if we always make sure to back up the recording and store it separately. And put it on a DVD, and label it. Does everybody think to make a few copies, and give them to different family members, or at least store them in different places, so they don’t all perish in the same disaster?

It’s so easy to do, whether casually or professionally (if you don’t have the time, know-how or energy, we can help you with it here at Talk Story Press). And it’s priceless to have later.

Verlyn Klinkenborg (is there a better name, by the way?) writes in the New York Times about getting his old voice back, after surgery to remove a papilloma on his vocal cord. And about voices that “recover memory and emotion and loss itself.”

What would we know if we could hear the voice of Cleopatra? How odd would Napoleon’s Corsican accent sound to modern French speakers? And what if we had two minutes of the voice of Shakespeare, who managed to leave so little of his personal self behind?

We might feel awe at hearing these voices, but very likely the recordings would be mere artifacts, overwhelmed by legend, deed and word. And these figures would still be strangers. It would be nothing like hearing again the intimate sound of a voice that has gone missing in your own life, a voice that recovers memory and emotion and loss itself.

Read his whole New York Times essay So Many Snapshots, So Few Voices Saved.

And don’t forget to take advantage of this great technology we have all around us, and record your family members – their faces, voices and stories. Someday, you, and others who come along later, will be so glad you did.

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Post-Hoopla Report

Leslie Lang, Talk Story PressThe hoopla of the holidays has died down, the week-long flu my family “enjoyed” shortly after New Year’s has ended, and here we are.

I enjoy the holidays, but am always ready to get back to Real Life when they are over. (I did not much enjoy the flu.)

We’re on to a new calendar with what always feels like a new, fresh start. The fireworks are over and now it’s about sitting down and achieving. Anything is possible!

I started the New Year – or ended the last one, actually – by reorganizing. I repurposed a couple rooms in my home and switched them, meaning my Talk Story Press office ended up in a new spot and got a major restructuring at the same time. It’s a better situation and I like it.

As I moved things, I cleared through all my office files, while also rearranging them so they are more organized for how my work has evolved. I’m happy to have done this. When my space and work is well-organized, so too is my head.

And now I’m back to it. My plate is filled with:

  • Writing/editing/consulting for businesses (for instance, I still manage and edit the active Hamakua Springs blog, and do ghostwriting/social media/other writing for businesses, as well),
  • Editing (at present I’m editing a memoir for an interesting, long-time Hilo resident, and a small self-help book for another client)
  • Writing the occasional magazine article, and
  • Working on personal and family history projects.

The personal and family history projects are always so interesting and satisfying. I’ve just finished interviews with an older woman whose son and daughter-in-law have commissioned a book about her life. Interviews with her reveal that her father had fought for Japan in the “Russo-Japanese war” before immigrating to Hawai‘i during sugar plantation days; and that her parents always worried about being shipped off to a concentration camp during World War II (fortunately, they were not).

Another project in the works is a book I’m doing for a client whose father died unexpectedly. By interviewing his siblings, mother and daughter, I am creating a narrative of her father’s life; put together with photos, it will end up as a lovely, printed book.

I have a couple projects for my own family in the works, as well. For decades I’ve gathered family stories and pictures and done genealogical research, but it’s no good to anyone if it’s just scraps of paper in a file drawer (or two), right?

That’s why I’ve gone into this personal and family history business with such delight. I find it very satisfying to help a family capture the stories that tell how it all unfolded to get them where they are now.

Because otherwise, anything you know about where your family came from, and how your grandmother came to be the person she is, and all the rest of it, it all just sort of poofs into the air and is gone when you are.

Maybe your father has told you a handful of stories about his childhood; but how many stories? Four? How many of those you pass down? One? None? It’s not too late.

Do you know where your grandparents came from, and why? Maybe your children aren’t interested now, but they might be later in their lives, when there’s no one around anymore to tell them. Or their (future) children or grandchildren might want to know – and even if you never meet them, they will know you and love you for having preserved that information for them.

Taking raw material and turning it into a published book that can sit on a shelf, available to anyone who’s interested as it passes through the generations – this is a delight. Whether it’s for my family or someone else’s, it feels so good to preserve these stories of ours.

If you’d like to hear more about my writing, and maybe read an occasional bit from a current project (shared with permission), please sign up for my quarterly newsletter. There is a Talk Story Press newsletter coming out soon. And never fear, your email address is always safe with me. I’ll never share it.

Also, once in awhile I offer a special deal on a personal history project through my newsletter, so sign up at right to keep in the know.

How about you – are you all organized and rejuvenated for a new year? Is it time to work on a part of your family history, or the story of a parent or grandparent, that needs to be preserved and printed? I’d be happy to discuss how we could work together in 2013.

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Memoir Reunites Cousins Separated 70 Years Ago

This story, from the Miami Herald, is an amazing one — and it all happened because one of these first cousins, separated by the Holocaust when they were young boys, wrote a memoir that the other one happened to see. What a dramatic illustration of the power of writing down your family history!

Do you have a family story you need to preserve? Contact me and we’ll brainstorm about it.

Cousins who survived Holocaust reunite in Broward after almost 70 years

The two men, who last saw each other in a concentration camp, fulfilled a dream Sunday in Tamarac as they met again, thanks to a memoir that one wrote.

[Photo deleted]

Leo Adler, left, looks at a picture of his mother with Leon Schagrin. Adler recently found his first cousin, Schagrin, after Adler saw this photo of Schagrin’s mother in a memoir that Schagrin wrote and realized their mothers were sisters. On Sunday they met for the first time in 70 years during the South Florida Holocaust survivors Purim party in Tamarac. Photo by Joshua Prezant

BY ELINOR J. BRECHER

For almost seven decades, Leo Adler looked for the cousin he knew only as Lemel, last seen in a Nazi death camp in 1944.

This Lemel, the son of his mother’s sister, would be Adler’s only living close relative. Everyone else died in the Holocaust.

Adler, a Hallandale Beach/Long Island snowbird, couldn’t remember his cousin’s last name, so his searches always hit a dead-end.

But in late February, a friend gave Adler a copy of another South Florida survivor’s memoir. She figured he would be interested because the author, Leon Schagrin, hailed from a town in Poland close to Adler’s native Tarnow….

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Record a Personal History & Stop the World

When I read this excellent essay at NPR’s website, I thought: That is why we take the time and make the effort to record people’s stories, their personal histories. Because it’s the stories that keep our parents, our grandparents, our siblings who died too early and cherished friends and great-grandparents and others from winking out of our memories.

From npr.org:

September 20, 2010

by ROBERT KRULWICH 

Now that it’s almost fall and there is a hint again of things passing, I think about a boy who once looked out a window, and wistful about time slipping by, he made it stop. Yes, he stopped time.

I love this story. It was told by Loren Eiseley, an anthropologist and one of my favorite science writers. Eiseley grew up in Nebraska and one day, when he was in high school, he happened to glance out the window and saw a junkman heading up a city street.

In 1923, junk men collected potentially valuable garbage and hauled it off for resale. This particular junkman, Eiseley wrote, had “a broken old horse plodding before a cart laden with bags of cast-off clothing, discarded furniture and abandoned metal. The horse’s harness was a makeshift combination of straps mended with rope. The bearded man perched high in the driver’s seat looked as though he had been compounded from the assorted junk heap in the wagon bed.” 

A few moments later, when the junkman and his wagon were about to round a corner at the intersection of R and 14th streets, Loren says he “leaned from a high school window a block away, absorbed as only a sixteen year old may sometimes be with the sudden discovery of time. It is all going, I thought with the bitter desperation of the young confronting history. No one can hold us. Each and all, we are riding into the dark.”

That is when he stopped the world….  READ THE REST

This story fascinated me, and well-illustrates why I help people organize, record and publish the personal or family histories that are most important to them. It is so satisfying to help people keep their stories from disappearing. So the people in their stories stay alive for the people still to come.

So they don’t wink out.

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Personal Historian

Before It’s Too Late!

personal history, personal historian, Leslie Lang, writer, Hawaii writer

Have you dreamed about recording a parent’s story? Or writing about the history of your family, and the path it took over the decades – now, while your grandparents can still tell you what they know? How about documenting the history of a company you built up from nothing, or recording the life of a long-beloved family home?

Lots of people consider such a project, but often don’t actually get around to doing it — either because they lack the time, and/or, very often, because they don’t have the know how or specific skills to pull it all together. And once someone is gone and it’s too late, there is often such a feeling of regret.

This is where a personal historian comes in.

Personal historians are storytellers, often (but not always) hired by a younger generation to capture, organize and preserve the stories of an older one. They are experts who know how to carry such a project to completion.

The Association of Personal Historians defines a personal history as:

…the story of a life, or stories from a life. It may be a memoir, a tribute, a life story, an autobiography, a biography, a video biography, or an oral history. It may also be a legacy letter or ethical will, expressing one’s values, wishes, regrets, observations about life, lessons learned, and so on. Many personal histories are books, a growing number are captured on video, and some are still simply audio.

Personal historians are creative professionals who help both celebrities and “ordinary people” tell their life stories. A personal historian may be engaged to help individuals, families, communities, or organizations preserve memories, images, voices, stories, and histories – often (but not always) in narrative form.

personal historian, personal history, Hawaii writerAs a personal historian, I use my many, many years of personal interviewing skills to sit down with someone and glean the story they have within them and want to preserve. They review everything, and then I put it all together in a professional, finished format.

Your stories and photos can end up as a high-quality, professionally designed book for your family or organization.

Another option is to put together a video project, using whatever combination of recorded audio, video clips, photos, musics, effects and narration work. The result is a polished multimedia project you can share by computer or disk, show at a celebration, memorial or other special get-together, and keep forever.

Why hire me, specifically? I have decades of experience working as an interviewer, writer, journalist, author, editor, cultural anthropologist and historian. I am a digital “junkie” who enjoys putting professional projects together on the computer. My friends say I am a Storyteller.

Please let me know if you have a project in mind and would like to discuss it.

And if you’re not ready to do your personal history yet, I’d like to encourage you to sign up for my quarterly newsletter. You’ll also get email notifications when I post here to the blog. It’s a way to get more comfortable with who I am, and the work I do, before jumping into a project of your own. (Do not be afraid! Girl Scout Promise: I will never abuse your email address, and I work hard to make my monthly newsletter interesting and worth reading.) 

Thanks for checking out my website, and I’d love to talk to you about a personal history project when you’re ready.

top photo © Mikle15 | Dreamstime.com  / middle photo © Karin Hildebrand
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Message From The Dead

Except a living man there is nothing

more wonderful than a book!

A message to us from the dead,

– from human souls whom we never saw,

who lived perhaps thousands of miles away;

and yet these, on those little sheets of paper,

speak to us, teach us, comfort us,

open their hearts to us as brothers.

–  Charles Kingsley (1819-1875)

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Q&A With Darien Gee About Her New Novel ‘Friendship Bread’

Darien Gee, author of The Friendship BreadDarien Gee is a Big Island writing dynamo, and acquaintance, whose new novel Friendship Bread (Ballantine Books/Random House) comes out April 5, 2011.

It’s a great read! I read some of it and really liked it. (It’s so nice when you read the writing of someone you know and don’t have to struggle to think of something nice to say.) I’m looking forward to the book coming out. She kindly agreed to answer some of my questions about her new book and her writing, and our Q&A follows. But first, if you’d like to know more, here’s where you can:

You can buy the book here. Do! It’s a good book, and you should support our Hawai‘i writers.

This is Darien’s fourth published novel. She’s definitely got it figured out! Here’s what she told me:

Q. Your newest novel’s genesis came about when your daughter brought home some Amish Friendship Bread, which definitely makes the rounds and we’ve all had it. How old was she, and where did she get it? Were you the type to bake?

My daughter Maya was eight when she walked through the door holding a Ziploc bag of Amish Friendship Bread starter and a few slices of the bread. She’d received it from one of her homeschool friends.  I actually told her to forget it, that we weren’t going to do it, but then I tasted the bread and I was hooked.

Q. Do you still have that starter going?

I do. I also have one that a friend gave me from 2006. Both are still going strong!

Q. Tell us how your novel idea formed from that.

On the day that Maya brought home the starter, I was standing in my kitchen eating the bread when I saw a woman in my mind with strawberry blond hair, regarding the bag of starter with the same initial apprehension. That was Julia. I could sense a sadness hanging over her, but I didn’t know what it was about. I started writing that night.

Q. What’s something you particularly like about this book?

I love the anecdotal characters of Friendship Bread, like Gloria the fortune teller, A.A. the biker, Connie the laundromat manager, and Clyde the pharmacist. They were a happy accident that ended up being an integral part of the structure of the book. I found they served two purposes: one, they showed how the bread was moving through the town and touching the lives of everyone in it, and two, they gave us a break from the intensity of the primary narrative. These characters were fun to write, because I got to stand in their shoes and just witness their lives spilling onto the page. I could see how their peripheral lives intersected with my main characters in an indirect, but sometimes profound, way. It was a good reminder about how interconnected we all are, and that we are not alone even when we think we are.

Q. Tell us about how you got started as a novelist; about deciding to sit down and write your very first novel. What made you do it? How old were your kids then? How did you do it?

Good Things was my first published novel, and I have one unpublished novel that I was offered representation on a few years prior. That story is now a little dated and I’m not sure I want to bother rewriting it versus starting something new altogether. Each time I read it, though, I fall in love with the characters all over again, so we’ll have to see.Good Things was written when my daughter was four. Each subsequent Mia King novel coincided with the birth of another child, and you can see it in my acknowledgments. My last Mia King novel, Table Manners, was tricky because my deadline was a few weeks after I’d given birth, but it worked out well in the end.I had some writers tell me that writing with young children was too difficult and that I’d be better off waiting until they grew up, but I didn’t want to wait—to be honest, I felt like I’d waited long enough. Friendship Bread, my fourth novel but the first one written under my own name, Darien Gee, will be published when my youngest is two and a half.

Q. How is it the process different now that you are on your fourth published novel? What has changed?

The process is the same. In some ways, Friendship Bread was a bit like starting over again—I ended up with a new agent, a new publisher, a new name (even though Darien is my real name, I’d never published anything by it). What changed is that I have more confidence about my work, about being able to tell a story that resonates with readers. I’m also better at navigating the business of writing.

Q. You seem to be publishing a book a year. Tell us about how you keep that up. What is your writing schedule/routine?

My original goal was a book a year, but then Friendship Bread took longer because in a way I was starting over. I don’t have a schedule and every time I try to set one, I don’t stick to it. I’m pretty disciplined when it comes to writing and edits, though, and I listen to my inner self—when it’s time to write and things are flowing, I write. Even if I’m tired. Even if it’s inconvenient. I’ll tell my husband that it’s time and we’ll re-juggle our schedules. If I’m in a lull, I give myself the time off and not force myself to write. I trust the creative process but I do integrate deadlines and personal goals. Everyone is different but this seems to work well for me.

Q. The novelist Isabel Allende starts writing a new book every year on January 8th. Do you have any writing superstitions?

I don’t have anything I would call a superstition, but I do have several processes. I rarely stop writing mid-chapter—I always write to a close. If I know I can’t get there, I may not write at all that day and wait until I can. I cannot leave things hanging and when I do, it takes me forever to get back in and I just don’t have that kind of time. I also seem to write better at night. I can work on edits or handle the business aspects of writing during the day, but when I’m working on a first draft, on a new story, I prefer darkness and solitude. I used to pass my husband and children in the hallways around dawn—I’d be heading to bed as they were waking up.

Q. What advice would you give to others who want to tackle writing a novel?

To go for it, to not give up. I have some tips on writing from a UCLA extension writing class. You can view them by going here (http://www.friendshipbreadkitchen.com/pantry/on-writing).

Q. What’s your next project?

I’m almost done with the second book in the series. It’s called Memory Keeping and picks up about six months after Friendship Bread ends, in the summer of the following year. Some familiar characters are back and some peripheral characters, like Connie, have moved to the forefront, and there are newcomers, too. There isn’t that much Amish Friendship Bread in this book, but we’ve moved onto something just as appealing: scrapbooking, thanks in part to Bettie Shelton, founder and president of the Avalon Scrapbooking Society. It does move through the town but in a completely different way and for completely different reasons than the first novel.

Darien Gee is the author of three novels under the name Mia King: Good Things (2007), Sweet Life (2008) and Table Manners (2009), all published by Berkley Books, Penguin USA. Her fourth novel, Friendship Bread, will be published in hardcover by Ballantine Books in April 2011 and has sold foreign, audio, e-book, and book club rights.

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Remembering & Being Remembered

sandStefani Twyford is a video biographer in Houston, and she is also a wonderful writer and thinker. I just rediscovered her blog post about an African proverb, and it haunts me a little bit:

…The proverb recognizes two spirits. “Sasha are spirits known by someone still alive, while Zamani are spirits not known by someone currently alive.” According to James Loewen in his book Lies My Teacher Told Me: “The recently departed whose time overlapped with people still here are the Sasha, the living dead. They are not wholly dead, for they live on in the memories of the living … when the last person knowing an ancestor dies, that ancestor leaves the Sasha for the Zamani, the dead.”

Walsh’s use of the proverb was in illustrating the power of oral and personal history. As a Personal Historian, I spend a lot of time educating people on the power and value of leaving your story for future generations. As long as people are alive and can pass your stories on to future generations, you will retain some degree of immortality. But like the game Telephone, each iteration of the story becomes less and less reliable and more anecdotal until what is left after a few generations is, if you are lucky, merely a name on a genealogical chart and some mention of characteristics… Read the rest

“When the last person knowing an ancestor dies, that ancestor leaves the Sasha for the Zamani, the dead.” Wow. It’s a powerful way of thinking. And it does make you think about keeping track of your family stories. Ask about them, and then write them down!

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Glued To The Screen

p8125460Here is a great reminder of just one of the reasons we should take the time to document, in one way or another, our personal stories – and, especially, those of our elder family members.

It’s personal historian Stanley Dalnekoff describing the first time his client’s family watched the two-hour audiovisual personal history he created about the grandfather:

The first viewing of the production at his home was in front of his wife, children, and two of his grandchildren. The most interesting reaction was that of his grandchildren who sat fascinated. They had heard some of his tales over the years but for the first time they were able to get a true picture of just what an incredibly resilient and fascinating person their grandfather is. They also received a lesson on how one can survive in the most difficult circumstances and indeed find the strength to thrive. Indeed this is the legacy he is handing down to future generations of his family. They, in turn, now have a physical record  to hand down to their offspring. Read the rest

Our histories are so easily lost track of, and what a shame that is every time it happens.

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