I just published my family memoir and I would like to share a little about the experience.
When I started, writing a family memoir seemed like a great project. Everyone in the family had favorite stories to tell about snafus when we were building a farm and dealing with rescue animals in rural Virginia. I thought it would be easy to write each of these stories up as chapters of a book. With my 30 years in engineering, I had all sorts of experience in writing reports - a couple approaching the size of a book. And I had learned a little about self-publishing when doing two short books on jewelry techniques to support the classes I teach. So I thought writing a real book, a full length family memoir, really shouldn’t be all that difficult. And it would be fun.
I started with a list of stories and asked others in the family for the ones they remembered most, noting that it was odd how many different versions emerged of the same story, some totally different from what I remembered had happened. Eagerly, I set about writing up the details of each incident, but it was surprising how much time each one took. Nevertheless, the number of chapters I completed was growing.
It seemed like it was time to start organizing the stories into sequence. I had done this with the jewelry books by grouping items into similar categories, but that didn’t seem to work with my short stories. Neither did putting them into chronological order. But I eventually fit each into a sequence I thought worked pretty well and produced a first draft to get feedback from my wife and daughters.
Their response took a lot of wind out of my sail. I heard that many stories were unrelated, some contradicted each other, there was no flow to the book, and there didn’t seem to be any real end.
Another problem with our stories seemed to be with point of view. It varied across the stories like in the famous Akira Kurosawa film, Rashomon, where everyone involved in a crime recalls the incident from a different perspective. But with my manuscript, different point of views confused the reader.
About that time - talk about what you need appearing when you need it - we saw an episode of “Inside the Actor’s Studio” featuring the late, great Sydney Pollack. I recommend this discussion to any writer. The topic quickly centered on how hard it was to write Tootsie because it had no spine.
We recognized we were also missing a spine and if we could find one, it might solve the problems in the memoir. My daughter Lynn came up with a structure/spine that emphasized how different Nancy and I were when we met, how her animals overwhelmed me, put a lot of stress on our new marriage, and how I gradually came to love the rural lifestyle and the animals around us.
We refined that idea to using my journey as a fish-out-of-water city-boy suddenly entwined in life on a farm with a growing number of big animals. I'd had a couple scary incidents with horses as a young teen, and that left me extremely cautious and uncomfortable around anything like a horse or cow, and especially cats.
And with this, our theme was well expressed as "Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” - Neale Donald Walsch.
Blurb: THE RELUCTANT FARMER of WHIMSEY HILL – BRADFORD M SMITH
We all know the saying—opposites attract. But the real question is how long can such a relationship endure? That’s what troubles animal-phobic, robotics engineer Brad about his recent marriage to animal-lover Nancy. According to the Meyers-Briggs Personality Test, their union is doomed. There’s only one problem: they took the test after the wedding.
Whether he’s chasing a steer named Pork Chop through the woods with a lasso, locked in a tack room by the family pony, or trying unsuccessfully to manage their barn using his robotics experience, the odds are stacked against him.
Come enjoy the warm, unique, and hilarious stories of Brad’s early marriage and the bumpy road from his robotics lab to rural Virginia.
The Reluctant Farmer of Whimsey Hill by Bradford Smith, Lynn Raven, and Nancy Raven Smith is currently available in paperback and eBook formats.