Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Let's Write in November!

November is NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), National Life Writing Month, and Family Story Month. Why November? Well, I don't know why, or whether, one month is better than another for writing a 50,000 word novel (not a task I'm likely to undertake), but it may make sense for life stories.

According to Denis Ledoux, of the Soleil Lifestory Network, "November is a great time, with the holidays coming, to discover that the best gift you could possibly give is one that can't be bought. To share a few stories of your life with those who mean the most to you is a very special present." That's essentially the message of this blog.

I hope my little book Remembering Violet (see my October 22 post) will prove to be a good gift for all the family members and friends who contributed, and for a few others as well. Thanks to computers and on-line self-publishing (I used or local copy shops, there's still time to write down a few family memories, yours or a relative's, and distribute them as gifts.

Ledoux adds, "When you are writing your lifestory, it's not the Pulitzer Prize you're going for! We each store a unique treasure trove of valuable experience and insight in our memories. It's a loss for the whole community when that treasure is allowed to fade away."

Family Story Month is designed to let younger people, students, participate as well, perhaps by interviewing older family members about their lives.

Whatever your age and writing preferences, just write! If you can write that novel, short story, or poem, go ahead. But don't forget that Life Stories or Memoirs are also part of November's unofficial writing schedule. Just have fun!


Photo: "Where I Write," by Seniorwriter

Copyright 2007 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Cherry Blossom Nostalgia: A Review

Cherry Blossons in Twilight: Memories of a Japanese Girl, by Yaeko Sugama Weldon, with her daughter, Linda E. Austin, is the charming life story of a Japanese-born senior citizen. It is a book for readers of all ages, from young people learning about history and other cultures to older people who lived through World War II.

Yaeko Sugama was born in 1925 in the small town of Tokorozawa, Japan, where she could see Mt. Fuji and the Chichibu mountain range in the distance. The family was poor, and lived in a typical one-story wooden house with a tin roof. Her father's shoemaking shop was in the front. Yaeko adored her father, but somewhat resented her mother's preference for her brother. "Girls are not so good to have because they marry and leave home, but when a son gets married, he stays to take care of his parents." That was the Japanese custom.

The author describes other customs of the time: the nature celebrations, the making of origami birds and kirigami from colorul paper, Yaeko's pet owl, stories from Japanese folklore. The author's charmingly drawn illustrations from a child's life in Japan are an added bonus.

After "Childhood" comes a section on "School," and then "World War II," "After the War," and "A New Life." The book ends with an appendix of Japanese children's songs, photographs of Japan in the 1950's, and a useful glossary and index of Japanese terms.

World War II disrupted peaceful life in Tokorozawa and brought air raids, bomb shelters, and rationing, leading the children to ask, "Who wants war anyway?" While the war took away the young Japanese men she might have married, it gave Yaeko a view of the outside world. She worked for American military families, eventually married an American soldier, and moved to the Chicago area.

Yaeko Sugama Weldon now lives in St.Louis, Missouri, near her daughter Linda, who helped her put her stories together. This book is a good example of the family memories and experiences we all need to share. While Yaeko expresses her regret that she didn't learn English better, her simple, direct prose is charming. That, as well as the story itself, should make this book especially interesting to young readers. However, I couldn't put it down myself.

Copyright 2007 by Marlys Marshall Styne.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The First Review of Seniorwriting Has Just Appeared!

It's always a pleasure for a writer to read the first reviews of his or her books (unless they are scathingly critical). Until someone has read it, we wait anxiously for confirmation that our work has merit. The author usually likes the book, but will anyone else? We little-known authors without agents know that the "big guy" reviewers from the New York Times and the Chicago Tribune and other prestigious publications probably won't be interested, nor will local or national TV shows be competing to interview us, but thanks to the Internet, we can find competent reviewers. In fact, I am a reviewer of little-known books myself.

The first review of my new book, Seniorwriting: A Brief Guide for Seniors Who Want to Write, has just appeared on Reader Views and on The reviewer is Richard R. Blake. To read his review, go to

I'll repeat the link to my first author interview about this book, by Paul Lam in The Elders Tribune:


Two more reviews have appeared. You can find them with these links:

I am a realist; I know that my books have a limited audience, but I am always happy to read a favorable review or interview. If this book encourages at least a few of my fellow seniors to write their life stories, I have succeeded.

Copyright 2007 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Monday, October 22, 2007

Tributes and Memories: Honoring the Departed

When my mother, Violet Marie Uhl Marshall Funston, died earlier this year in a nursing home at age 95, it was a sad occasion, yet in a way, a relief that her suffering had finally ended. She was a woman who led an active life and touched the lives of many friends and relatives.

She had several careers, completed college in her late fifties and realized her life-long dream of becoming a teacher, outlived two husbands, and later became a part of the lives of two of her great-grandchildren.

Only a few members of our small, scattered family and a few local friends were able to attend her funeral in Northfield, Minnesota, so I resolved to ask those who knew her to write brief tributes before the end of the year, accounts, serious or humorous, of their memories of Violet. Those who were not comfortable writing were asked to contact me via email or to telephone me for a conversation about her.

Of course some procrastinated and needed several reminders, but I eventually gathered memories from my brother, niece, nephew, three grand-nieces, five cousins, an aunt, and three friends. Fortunately, my mother wrote her own life story in 1997, when she was 86, so I was able to include some excerpts from that as well.

It was wonderful to reestablish contact with cousins and old friends I hadn't seen or kept in touch with for many years. The result was a little 56-page book entitled Remembering Violet, self published via computer through It was a labor of love for all of us.

This book is not for sale; it will be distributed to family and friends. I hope it will help everyone remember what an interesting, vibrant, active woman my mother was for most of her life.

Completing this book gave me a good feeling. When you suffer the loss of a loved one, why not suggest or begin a tribute or memory book? It's fairly easy these days, due to improved technology, and not very expensive. It's a good way to pass along family memories and stories.

(While my mother was not a celebrity, and this book is not for general sale, if anyone would like to see it as a model or example, please contact me.)

Copyright 2007 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Friday, October 19, 2007

See You at the IWPA Book Fair Tomorrow!

If you live in or around Chicago, drop by the Chicago Cultural Center, 77 E. Randolph Street, for the Illinois Woman's Press Association Fall Book Fair tomorrow, October 20. From 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., at least thirty Illinois authors will be talking about and signing their books, on sale by the Shop at the Cultural Center.

You'll find books of all types, from fiction to self-help to memoirs, from religion and spirituality to senior issues to sports, from business communications to Illinois history to children's stories. This is your chance to discover new authors you may never have heard of, but whose works are well worth reading.

Yes, I'll be there, with both of my books, Reinventing Myself and Seniorwriting. The event is free and open to the public, and I'd be happy to see you! If you've never visited the Cultural Center, this is your chance to tour a beautiful old building, too.

[Update: See my October 21 post, "Support Little-Known Authors," on "Never too Late!" for more about the fair:]

Copyright 2007 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

More on the Power of Telling Life Stories

Yesterday, Federal Judge Joan Lefkow and her sister, Judy Smith, were featured in a Matt Lauer interview on The Today Show. Lefkow and Smith are daughters of the late Donna G. Humphrey, the 89-year-old murder victim who left behind a wonderful collection of poems that her daughters published recently.

The resulting book, I Speak of Simple Things (Ampersand, Inc., 2007), is a fascinating picture of a woman's life. In the Lauer interview, Judge Lefkow said that while the extensiveness of her mother's writing was a surprise, the family knew that Humphrey was constantly writing in her later years, even feeling guilty when she didn't take time to write.

You may read my earlier review of this book below, in my September 30 post, but more importantly, watch a video of this Today Show interview:

Friday, October 12, 2007

Assignment: Write About Those Milestone Events

As you ever inspired to write about special events in your life, past or present? How about those "big" birthday milestones? They present good opportunities for introspection and passing along the lessons you've learned.

Do you remember any special birthdays or anniversaries from earlier years? How about writing down those precious memories?

Today is my 75th birthday. To see what I wrote, look at my other blog, "Never too Late!" It's nothing special, but perhaps it will get you thinking about what you really can and should write about the milestone events in your own life. Don't let those thoughts or memories get away!

Monday, October 8, 2007

Get Your Book Into Print: A Review

Computer consultant Helen Gallagher, author of Computer Ease, has written a new book, Release Your Writing: Book Publishing, Your Way (Virtualbookworm, 2007).

She presents a practical, businesslike, common-sense approach for getting your book published, mainly through self-publishing or POD (Print-on-Demand).

Gallagher examines the changing publishing industry, pointing out some interesting facts: "A few companies, just five or six, control over 80 percent of the industry. Most books in bookstores come from those few firms. Only one to two percent of unsolicited submissions are purchased for publication."

What's more, it's usually a long journey of up to two years or more from manuscript to publication for traditionally-published books, and most have to sell at least 1,200 copies for marginal success, over 7,000 to sustain interest. Even then, there's no guarantee of financial success, and most book promotion is still left to the author.

The author points out, "self-publishing is not settling for second best. It's the right choice if your book won't likely capture the attention of a large publisher and you don't want to spend years waiting to see your book in print." Gallagher is writing for a wider audience, but it seems to me that most of my fellow senior writers or would-be writers need to heed her words. "Attract a publisher if you can, but if not, don't wait your life away."

Through her considerable experience both as a writer and as a consultant who helps clients through her firm, Computer Clarity, Helen Gallagher is well qualified to give extensive advice on both word processing techniques and on the business aspects of being a writer. From organizing material to establishing a contact database to promoting your book through a web site or blog, she covers all the bases, and she adds an appendix of writing resources.

For a writer either beginning or just finishing a book, Helen Gallagher's Release Your Writing should prove to be a valuable tool.

This book can be ordered at

Copyright 2007 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Assignment: Who's Your Favorite Poet?

Do you have a favorite poet, perhaps one remembered from long-ago school days? Why is or was he/she your favorite? If you belong to that fairly exclusive group of poetry lovers--or poets--what do you like about poetry in general and your favorite poet in particular?

For what I wrote about my own favorite, go to today's post on my other blog, "Never too Late!" at (or click on the link in the sidebar here).

If you write short poems yourself, feel free to share them here.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Read an Interview about my new book!

The first interview about my new book, Seniorwriting, appears on The Elders Tribune site today, thaks to site founder Paul Lam. Check it out at

Seniorwriting: A Brief Guide for Seniors Who Want to Write (to Discover, to Heal, to Reinvent, to Share) is now available at