Books by Melissa Bowersock

Monday, June 3, 2019

Write Your Story Even if You Can’t Write

The View from the SummitA while back, I was working with a 90-year-old woman on her memoirs. If you just glanced at the small, frail woman, you would never guess what she’s seen, where she’s been or what she’s accomplished in her life. Like most older people, she doesn’t carry a sign saying who she is, and those who don’t look beneath the aging face miss a lot.
To add to the complexity, she’s always been dyslexic. Like most differently abled children of her time, she didn’t get any support or sympathy for her difficulty with learning, or even a diagnosis that she could understand. She was labeled “stupid” for a large part of her early life. Because of that, she has a decidedly low confidence in her ability to write.
So how did she start working on her memoirs?
Not by writing. She kicked off the project by sitting down for interviews with a friend who recorded every word. In this way, she could simply answer the questions put to her, talk easily and simply about the way her life unfolded, and not worry at all about the commas or the way words were spelled. Later, in the editing process, we went back through it and cleaned up the little bits of ramble here, repeating there, and we filled out the episodes with more structure and detail. I have no doubt we crafted a professional and fascinating book of a story well worth the time and trouble.
I know not everyone loves to write like I do. I know some people actually dread it. For some, the idea of sitting down and writing their personal story might feel more like sitting down in a dentist’s chair for a root canal. Yet I sincerely doubt these same people would object to pulling up a chair with a friend and just chatting about their lives. How threatening is that?
But where to start, you might ask. What questions should the interviewer ask?
I have a suggestion for that, as well. I believe almost every household has, somewhere in the dark corners of a closet or tucked away behind the Christmas tablecloth, a shoebox of photos. You know, those loose, grainy black and white photos that never made it into a photo album? They might be photos that seemed inconsequential at the time they were developed, or they could even be hand-me-downs, their context blurred by time. Drag that puppy out of the shadows and start laying photos out on the dining room table. I guarantee you’ll hear more than once, “Oh, I remember that. That was when …”
Just remember to have a recorder going when you do this.
I think you might be pleasantly surprised by the richness of the recollections. I was lucky. My father wrote his autobiography over the last twenty years of his life. After he died, I scanned in all the typewritten pages, added pictures, and published his story. I had no expectations for selling books or for making money. I just wanted his story out there. It’s the story of our family. It’s the story of America from 1911 to 2002. It’s history. And it’s a rare treasure more valuable than any other.
Do you or a family member have stories that get trotted out every Thanksgiving? Stories of childhood antics and family sagas? Stories of love and loss, of friendship, of heartbreak, and adventure? I strongly urge you to capture those tellings before the opportunity is gone. This is one time when I will say, with all confidence and encouragement, you don’t have to be a writer to write. Forget the commas, forget the sentence structure. Trot out that old cassette recorder and start talking, start asking questions. Just start. These stories won’t be available forever.
Grab them now. Before they’re gone.
Originally published by Indies Unlimited on June 30, 2015.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Memorial Day Special

I think we all love Memorial Day. It signals the start of summer, the start of vacations and fun in the sun. But often we forget the real reason behind the holiday. Who among us does not have one of the Greatest Generation in our families? It's true that World War II is vanishing into the past more and more with every year that passes. But it's also true that the stories lived then, the lives lost then, should never be forgotten. On this Memorial Day, as all others, we honor our warriors, we honor our fallen, we honor those called on to stand tall in the face of oppression. 

My aunt, Marcia Gates, was one of those. Captured by the Japanese on Corregidor in the Philippines, she became a prisoner-of-war. Interned in a makeshift POW camp, she endured captivity, endured starvation, endured life-threatening medical issues. She endured. I wonder how many of us could do the same? 

To commemorate Memorial Day and my aunt's own quiet courage, the ebook of her story is on sale for just 99 cents through May 31, 2019. 

In addition, the audio book is also available, and the narration by Adrianne Price gives the story a heartrending poignancy. 

The stories of the Greatest Generation must not be forgotten. Their sacrifices must not be forgotten. Please  join me in remembering these courageous patriots on this Memorial Day. They fought to keep our country free--and our world.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Keeping the BACK in Back Story

libraryRecently I stumbled across this post for Stephen King’s top 20 rules for writers. I can agree with most of them, and one in particular about research really struck a chord with me for a couple of reasons.
18. The research shouldn’t overshadow the story. “Remember that word back. That’s where the research belongs: as far in the background and the back story as you can get it.”
Reading this was a cautionary reminder for me. I was writing a novel about an archaeologist, and at the same time I was doing volunteer work with an archaeology group, cataloging artifacts from a dig in 1000-year-old ruins. My experience there was ramping up my authenticity, providing insight into the work of my protagonist and giving me a worthy foundation on which to build my story. It was also firing my imagination and revving my brain in ways I have to curb.
Along with my cataloging work in the lab, I had taken classes in ancient industries: cordage-making, weaving, pottery-making. Every day in the lab and every class gave me insight into the workings of an ancient village, and each time I  came away with a giddy determination to use what I’ve learned. I loved the fact that I could write authentically about this. The authenticity would bring weight to the book that I could not have imagined.
But when I started thinking about how I was going to introduce all this new-found knowledge, the bubble of excitement popped. I began to imagine my protagonist, a college professor/archaeologist, giving pointers to her students as they survey an ancient site. Imparting knowledge. Pop-quizzing. And the feeling rapidly changed from excitement to dull heaviness.
The research had completely overshadowed the story.
Interestingly enough, I’ve read quite a few techno-thrillers lately that suffer from the same malady. Paragraph after paragraph of the evolution of political factions and regimes, long names teased out of jumbled acronyms, even the design and workings of futuristic guns, aircraft, etc. Some of the books have begun to read more like textbooks than novels. I find it very distracting when the narrative suddenly changes from telling the story to bringing me up to speed on the latest gadget. I understand that books of this nature have a ton of background information and that the reader really does need a rudimentary understanding, but the real trick is working it subtly into the story so it’s not droning from the lectern.
Luckily for me, after getting kicked in the head from these two different angles, I could go back to my story and let it unfold organically. The knowledge and information are there in my brain, and if called on, can be worked into the story. IF called on. If not, then it stays in my brain, enriching my life but not taking over my novel. Stephen’s right. Back story belongs in the back. It’s settings, props, but not the main characters. I may have to bookmark this post so I can remind myself often.
Originally published by Indies Unlimited on April 14, 2015.