Becoming your ancestors

This week I went to the lovely Colonial town of Franklin, MA, near Boston, where my book was featured in the public library’s One Book One Community conversation about immigration. The town and library are named after Ben Franklin, who gave the little community some of his favorite books to start off their library in 1778. More on this later, but this post is about an event at the Franklin Senior Center arranged by the effervescent, incandescent Felicia Oti, director library director. So there we were in a sunny room at a big table with patrons of the center. Some looked in their 40’s and were actually in their 70’s. There was Stella who remembered being terrified by wolves when the family gathered around the fireplace in her native Macedonia. We spoke of family stories, of a grandmother born at sea on the way from Italy to America, fathers’ tales and needlewomen like Irma working in factories along the Charles River.

I’d like to share a couple exercises (below) that are fun and quick and will let you tap into the ever-full trove of story within us all. The trick is to be fast. These are just exercises: scribble with the certainty that whatever you write is right and true. Don’t spend more than 10 minutes on each one, don’t edit, just go. Enjoy yourself. And keep in touch — let me know what you come up with.

TELL US ABOUT YOU
Answer every question quickly and specifically. Sometimes handwriting is best for speed. Every answer is right. There are many ways an answer can be “true.”

1. I was born . . . .

2. Something I loved about the place I grew up was . . .

3. In my family, I felt closest to ________________, but . . .

4. What I loved to do was . . .

5. What they didn’t want me to do was . . .

6. I was frightened (or mystified) by . . .

7. Nobody told me . . .

8. Nobody understood why I . . . .

9. I have always had the ability to . . .

10. One fine day, I’ll . . .

11. Most people didn’t realize this, but I’m . . .

12. A story I’d like to tell is . . .

BACK IN TIME

Picture someone in your family at a significant moment. It could be an ancestor, an immigrant. It could be someone about whom you know very little but have always been curious. Or somebody that you never really understood. That’s fine. Write from that person’s point of view. Be certain, be fast. We’re being creative among friends.

1. The year is . . . .

2. And you are in . . . (location)

3. You smell . . . .

4. You are wearing . . . .

5. In your hand or your pocket is . . . .

6. You see . . .

7. And you’re feeling . . . .

8. Your strength is . . . .

9. Your fear or weakness is . . . .

10. You’d really laugh if . . . .

11. Nobody knows that you . . .

12. Soon you will have to . . . .

13. Looking in your eyes, I know that . . .

Pamela Schoenewaldt, historical novels of immigration and the search for self in new worlds: WHEN WE WERE STRANGERS, SWIMMING IN THE MOON, and UNDER THE SAME BLUE SKY (all HarperCollins).

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Workshop on Point of View for the Knoxville Writers Guild, Sat. Feb. 18, 2017, 10am to noon

For more events and specifics, please click on Events.

Recent Review
“Absorbing and layered with rich historical details, in Under the Same Blue Sky, Schoenewaldt weaves a tender and at times, heartbreaking story about German-Americans during World War I. With remarkable compassion, the author skillfully portrays conflicted loyalties, the search for belonging, the cruelty of war, and the resilience of the human spirit.”—Ann Weisgarber, author of The Promise and The Personal History of Rachel Dupree

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