IN 1988 I GRADUATED high school and made a road trip with three of my buddies to see all we could of the United States. It was amazing. In addition to seeing the National Parks, major cities, Jet-Ski'ing on the Colorado River and sleeping on the beach in California the night before seeing the redwoods, we all made a point to see family (and stay with them for free).
One of my stops was in Nebraska to see my great-grandmother. I'll never forget how happy she was to see me, and how back in her room at the nursing home, she told me stories about how as a little girl, her father brought them all out by covered wagon to homestead and farm in the vast plains of the "West." Indigenous Indians visited and her father played a harmonica while her mother baked bread for them. On a neighboring farm they were rushed off by a gun, and while my great-grandmother's family was safe, the unwelcoming one suffered a bloodier fate at the hands of the indigenous people. Incredible.
Thomas Jefferson considered history the most important of subjects and I see why. In fact, I've become an advocate for knowing our own personal, family histories because so much is learned and understood about who and how we are today when we discover our past. Before my grandmother passed, I was wise enough to record interviews with her twelve times about her life with an eye on writing a book "for the family" one day.
To me history ought to be a source of pleasure. It isn’t just part of our civic responsibility. To me it’s an enlargement of the experience of being alive, just the way literature or art or music is . . . History is a guide to navigation in perilous times. History is who we are and why we are the way we are.
Author and historian, two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award and a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom
It was David McCullough’s The Johnstown Flood that lit my imagination as to how I might one day go about writing book-length nonfiction, though my favorite of his books is Mornings on Horseback, about the young Teddy Roosevelt.
Award-winning journalist and author of nonfiction books
Narrative nonfiction is clearly my favorite reading. From Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood to Mark Bowden’s Killing Pablo, to any of David McCullough’s books, and on to books like Dead Wake and The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson, I find there are few things as intriguing as the time travel you can experience by immersing yourself in one of these historically-accurate narratives of the past. Also a fan of history and biography, I often ask, “Who needs fiction?”
I’ve found a way to combine these passions, with what I call “Heirloom Books.”
In a good work of narrative nonfiction, there is no “creative license,” are no liberties taken with settings or scenes or dialogue. As Erik Larsen says, “anything that appears in quotes is something that came from a historical document.” That level of accuracy is what I use when taking interviews, diaries, and other materials and creating an heirloom book for you and your family.
What’s amazing to me as a writer is that as I work on an heirloom book, as I interview you and your family members and friends, as I review and edit the diaries and other materials and whatever family tree you provide, the subject of the book and the people around them start to come to life in three dimensions. I start to “know” the subject. I start to understand the history that has shaped your family and its members. I start to feel familiar with the characters, feel like I might even predict what they might say or do in certain situations, what their values are or were, and how this all makes sense within your family. I start to like them, a lot in fact, and feel like I know them.
to celebrate, understand, and remember a family member now and into the future.
WE START BY gathering together a number of sources. These might be interviews, diaries, videos, letters, or other materials. All sources discuss and describe the subject, and all get edited into a readable form and included in the second part of your heirloom book so they can be read and enjoyed individually.
I then start writing a narrative about your family member’s life. It will read like a novel, but be 100 percent based on facts as provided by our sources. There will be actual scenes, personality descriptions, and dialogue whenever possible, as informed by the sources. I like to add a degree of historical context by describing major conditions and events in the world of the subject at the time, as appropriate and as contributes to the read.
As we complete the first part of the book, the narrative, and the second part, the sources, we also design a cover that reflects the life and personality of the subject, and we add images as we can throughout the book. Fully designed, your family heirloom book can now be “produced” as a paperback, hardcover, and ebook for you and your family to enjoy for generations to come. How and where it gets published is up to you as well.
What if your great-grandparents had written books about their lives?
We celebrate life with weddings and funerals, but even better to have a professionally written biography for the whole family to enjoy now and for generations to come! Chapters and quotes can be read at gatherings—holidays, funerals, weddings, births, and more. Children can more easily understand their past and where they come from.
Get your family’s heirloom book started today!
12 Sources: A 40,000-word narrative with 40,000 words of source materials for a book of approximately 80,000 words.
$12,000 (pay plan) or $10,000 (advance).
9 Sources: A 30,000-word narrative with 30,000 words of source materials for a book of approximately 60,000 words.
$9,000 (pay plan) or $7,500 (advance).
6 Sources: A 20,000-word narrative with 20,000 words of source materials for a book of approximately 40,000 words.
$6,000 (pay plan) or $5,000 (advance).