Of Shoes and Ships and Sealing Wax

Dave and Nancy Healy have been writers and teachers of writing for over 30 years. Among the memoirs they have helped with are an account of growing up in a small Swiss village and a childhood spent on a South Dakota farm. They would love to help you record your own life history or that of your parents, grandparents, or other family members. In addition, they are available to help you self-publish your collection of essays, poetry, short stories, or research work.

Dave and Nancy would be happy to meet with your group and describe the process involved in creating and publishing your life story. Contact them to arrange a presentation.

Contact Dave and Nancy at 651-644-3951 or shoesandships.healy@gmail.com

Fiction or Non-fiction?

Dave and I recently read a book by Jonathan Gottschall entitled The Storytelling Animal. In the chapter “Life Stories” he describes several infamous memorists and the fictions they created to make their lives more interesting to the public. The subject of “fictionalizing” comes up often in discussions of memoir-writing. How can a writer re-create conversations, for example, when events occurred many years ago? Are memories reliable?

Gottschall says, “A life story is a ‘personal myth’ about who we are deep down–where we come from, how we got this way, and what it all means. Our life stories¬† are who we are. They are our identity. A life story is not, however, an objective account. A life story is a carefully shaped narrative that is replete with strategic forgetting and skillfully spun meanings.”

The moral of the story is “Relax!”


Dave and Nancy and Books

Dave and Nancy and Books

This photo was published in The Park Bugle, our neighborhood newspaper. It shows a sampling of the books we’ve helped with.


“Facts can explain us, but only story will save us.”

The above is a quote from Jonathan Odell, author of the novel “The Healing.” He is referring to the tradition of Southern storytelling, but the sentiments resonate with us in relation to memoir writing. As we continue in our work with those who want to leave a record of lives lived, we find that the stories are what make that record truly come alive. Names and dates of births, marriages, graduations, and job changes are only dry facts. The stories surrounding those facts tell us much more about the people involved. Of course, it’s sometimes hard to remember the details of stories. Should they be embellished? Can the writer create dialogue? Can several stories be combined to make an event more lively? Storytellers have been doing just that for generations. If the embellishments, dialogue and minor events are true to the setting and character they are portraying, they can make the facts come alive and help us understand the writer’s message. When we can connect with those stories in a way that enriches our understanding, we gain from the experience and wisdom of others. Our lives are embedded in the stories we tell.

Three Minnesotans who survived tough challenges write memoirs – TwinCities.com

Three Minnesotans who survived tough challenges write memoirs – TwinCities.com.

In reflecting on reasons for writing memoirs it has occurred to me that some would feel their life was too easy. They may feel they haven’t had any tough challenges worth writing about. One famous songwriter said,

“Got to pay your dues if you want to sing the blues and you know it don’t come easy.” (It Don’t Come Easy, Ringo Starr)

But there are many kinds of challenges and “Everybody gets the blues.” (Kenny Wayne Shepherd) My grandfather faced the challenges of farming in the Red River Valley in the early 1900′s and then the additional pressure from his new wife to move “back home.” My father left his family to join the Army/Air Force during World War II. My mother’s mother died two months before I was born. Life is about choices and challenges and those stories should be told. We may not all have alcoholic spouses but we’ve all had to make tough decisions. Writing about those decisions can be both cathartic and instructive. We owe it to ourselves and our readers.

Stories of Women of a Certain Age

“Why should I write about my life? No one will read it!” The eight-something, frail woman pushed her walker up to me and seemingly issued a challenge. What should I say? Why should we care about her story?

Many women of her generation devoted their lives to their families. Their husbands were fighting in wars, inventing new products, creating and managing companies, or running for office. Their wives and widows feel as though their contributions are not note-worthy. The movers and shakers stand front and center to tell their stories while those behind the scenes slip quietly off stage.

My response to my challenger was “Everyone’s story deserves to be told.” It is true that some events or accomplishments have a wider ripple effect, but all of us influence our environment in small ways. The “woman behind the man” made it possible for him to accomplish what he did, but she also probably has insights and opinions about what was happening in the world around her. That’s what we need to hear more of. The history books are full of the facts of major events, but only individuals can tell how those events affected their lives.

I recently read The Hare with Amber Eyes, a memoir by Edmund DeWaal and In the Garden of Beasts, the history of Ambassador Dodd and his daughter as told by Erik Larson. Both writers were able to capture the personal side of life in Nazi Germany. Through their words we can better understand the pain and fear experienced by some of the men and women who were there. But DeWaal and Larson’s books were only possible because they had access to letters, diaries, and memoirs written by their central characters. Some of the memories are painful. Some may seem trivial. Others provide comic relief. But in the end we have a deeper understanding of those people and the time in which they lived.

I want to learn about “life in the trenches” from the people who lived it, whether on a farm, in a city, on Main Street, or in a mountain cabin. And often it’s the women who should be telling the story. Let’s make sure they know that we care.

Business news

Shoes and Ships in the News Of Shoes and Ships and Sealing Wax was featured in the Park Bugle, our neighborhood newspaper. Many thanks to Roger Bergerson, the journalist, and Kristal Leebrick, the editor. This is the pdf version. The article is on p. 12.

Roger took this picture. We're seated at the dining room table with some of the books we've helped to publish.

Dan Curtis ~ Professional Personal Historian | Preserving Memories Is an Act of Love

Dan Curtis ~ Professional Personal Historian | Preserving Memories Is an Act of Love.

There are several good blog entries here. I especially like the lead article, “Don’t wait until it’s too late.”