Archive for the ‘History’ Category

Why YOU should write your story!

Monday, August 31st, 2015


My mother and a few siblings overcoming their past.

Family stories are important in sharing bonds with each other and imparting family history. But for children, appreciating family stories actually increases their self-esteem. Since kids learn from our stories, it’s important to write them down while we can.  And as truthfully as we can.

From small details to larger stories, my mother’s sister revised history.

“Mother and Father?” muttered my mom after my aunt shared a story about their parents.  “They were Ma and Pa in our family.”

Suddenly, gone were the lean years.  My grandfather never drank.  All was rosy in their past lives.

Why do families change their stories?

“It sounds better,” said my mom, of her sister’s tales.  “But it’s not true.”

“Mom,” I assured her.  “It wasn’t your fault you were poor and your pa was an alcoholic.”

Understanding why people act the way they do gives more layers of meanings to family stories. But for families sharing a legacy, the Pollyanna picture rather than grim reality is easier for them to face and they won’t have to fear possible judgement.

Actually sharing the less-than-picture-perfect tales are vital for family members.  We learn from longings, wishes, and regrets.  Cautionary tales show how to learn and move beyond mistakes, sorrows, and tragedies.  People grow from these experiences and strengthen bonds perhaps more than through the happy, contented moments in our lives.

“There’s nothing to writing,” said author Red Smith.  All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.”

Writing Prompts:

  1.  Write about your life from the moment of your first memories.   Use photos to jog your memory.
  2. What was going on in the world during the time?  Your community?  Neighborhood? You may begin your stories chronologically, but you don’t have to stick to this format.   What moments in your life were emotional for you?  Why?  Your favorite moments, scary times, funny anecdotes, and tragedies all should be explored.
  3. Interview others in your life as you grew up.  What is their take on the experiences you shared together?
  4. Listen to music of the time.  Remember the foods you ate.  Senses help us to recall our thoughts and actions.


Friday, May 17th, 2013

Recently a friend’s husband drove her to a meeting and returned home after fifteen minutes.  Switching on music,  he headed to the bedroom and stopped abruptly.  Their back window had been smashed; dresser drawers were strewn open, their contents spilling out.  Most of his wife’s jewelry was missing, except for a few pieces the burglars had dropped on the floor in their hasty retreat.

“I think he got home in the middle of it,” she said.  She was relieved they left her most valued sentimental necklace behind. 

Then there was the time my son was four and the floor beneath our feet began rolling.    “Earthquake!  Run!”  I yelled as I scooped up our terrier.  We flew past the swinging  light fixture and didn’t stop until we reached the middle of the cul-de-sac. 

We waited until birds chirped and squirrels chattered once again. After returning to discover overturned file cabinets, right where my son had been playing, I explained what could occur during an earthquake.  Later we discovered the extent of the Loma Prieta once we got back our electricity.  “Gee,” said Tofer, considering our house could have been demolished.  “I should have grabbed Herbie.”  (His favorite stuffed animal, which wasn’t an animal at all, but a car.)

During the disastrous Oakland fire of 1991, my friend’s sister and her family were evacuated.  She ran past her dresser, noticing a coffee mug, her jewelry box, and a photo album.  They didn’t stop running until they got to the base of their hill. That’s when she discovered she held the coffee mug in her hand. 

Writing Prompts:

1.   What was the first object that held important emotional meaning for you? Why?  How did you value it? Describe the item and show how you placed it in esteem. 

2.  Did your family have any treasured family heirlooms?  Write an essay about one’s significance.

3.  You have only a minute to grab one item to save from your home. What do you take and why? Describe it using your senses and emotions.

4.  In the writing project you are working on now, write about a meaningful object for your main character, a minor character, and even the antagonist.  Give background for each.  Why do they hold significant relevance?  Can any of them be a larger symbol?

Thursday, March 21st, 2013

The other day we attended an art exhibit from the Dutch masters.  Knowing very little about art history, we soon tagged along with a tour in session to discover the story behind the story.  It turns out one painter, Meindert Hobbema, couldn’t paint people.  In one of his lovely woodland landscapes, there were several farmers and local villagers in the scene.  So what did he do?  He contracted out.  Paid them a fee and that was the end of their services.  No credit at all. 

Reminds me of the world of ghost writing in publishing, or work-for-hire.  One example in children’s books is The Babysitter’s Club.  Although Ann Martin began the series, soon she went off and wrote her own books and other writers penned them.  They did get some credit, however.  Just check the dedication page.  That’s the author. 

Art is also similar to literature in how we read a painting.  On first glance of one shown at the museum, we saw a family seated around a table celebrating a baby’s christening with wine.  One man was lighting a very long pipe.  But to hear the story behind the story, we discover that this pious occasion wouldn’t have been a time for such inebriation. The pipe symbolized something else entirely. The adults in the picture looked like they were having way too much fun.  The woman’s clothing dipped lower than it should have, and her seating position invited more than friendliness.  Who knew?  Today we wouldn’t think twice about it.   In the corner a parrot perched.  It wasn’t merely the family pet, but a symbol.  The artist was saying the children in the picture would learn from the adults’ wild ways, or parrot by example.

Writing Prompts:

  1. Pick up a book you love and parrot or model what you admire about this writer. 
  2. Make a goal of an artist date for yourself once a month.  Or once a week if you can.  See a play or attend a writer or artist event.  Keep a journal of details that impresses you. 
  3. Choose a painting from a book, online or from an exhibit.  Without knowing anything about it, write a short story or poem to go with the art work.  

Friday, August 17th, 2012

This morning was a sleep-in day.  Hallelujah!  While dozing past our usual bounce-out-of-bed time, we heard a clunk from above. 

“What was that?” asked my husband.

Later, when we stood outside our car ready to run errands, a Pacific Gas and Electric worker approached us from his truck parked in front of our house. 

“A problem?” I asked.

“You had a meter leak.  I fixed it,” he said. 

I thanked him.  He nodded. 

“It was small,” he added, before hopping into his truck and driving away through the neighborhood. 

My husband said, “Wow.  I worked over there in the yard just yesterday and I never smelled a gas leak at all.”

“Bob,” I reminded him.  “You couldn’t smell a fire if it raged next door.  How could you smell gas?” 

“Maybe,” he admitted. 

“Face it,” I said.  “Your sniffer is off.”

“Humph,” he said in mock dismay.

As we pulled out of our driveway, we noticed the PG&E worker stopping at another house. 

“I think they’re being very careful after the accident,” said Bob, referring to the horrendous gas explosion in San Bruno last fall, which caused many deaths  and destroyed a complete neighborhood. 

“They SHOULD be,” I said.

Unfortunately, it took a high cost to become preventive now. 

Writing Prompts:

1.  Rewrite your history. What if . . . is a game we all play in life and in writing.  What if a turn of events DIDN’T happen?  What if a turn of events DID?  In world history, there is always a WHAT IF.  Which WHAT IF do you WISH had occurred?  What WHAT IF do you wish hadn’t?  Write scenes as though they had and hadn’t occurred. 

2.  Show a preventive scene in your writing project that foreshadows an upcoming disaster.  It doesn’t have to be a physical disaster – – it can be an emotional one.  (Example: a break-up could be foreshadowed by a small rude or annoying behavior, or a tell-tale sign of infidelity)

3.  Write the climatic scene of the break-up or the disaster in your book or story. 

4.  Write a poem of an image or scene in your life you would have liked to have had preventive knowledge. 


Poets and Writers Contest

Family Stories Inspire Creativity

Tuesday, June 19th, 2012

Cousin Mary stands with me along with Marion and Ann who are seated.

Visiting relatives for me has always meant listening to family stories.  “What was it like when you were growing up?” I’d ask my aunts and uncles, longing for their descriptions of what life was all about during the roaring twenties, the depression and the war years.

During my recent trip back to my native state of Wisconsin, we cousins reminisced and pieced together our family tree without those aunts and uncles, as they’ve crossed over into another world where we can’t ask them questions any longer.   

One afternoon my cousin, Mary and I gathered with our dads’ cousins, Ann and Marion, both in their 90s, the last of their generation.  Photo albums were spread around us.

“Tell them about the fire,” said Marion to her older sister. 

 “It happened when I was a little girl,” said Ann.  “Mother had wash hanging in the kitchen near the stove.  I was with the baby in the kitchen and Mother went out for a few minutes to help Dad.” 

“How did the fire start?” I asked.

“One of the children put the clothes on the stove,” said Ann.

 “One of the children!” exclaimed Marion.

“Who?” I asked.

 “Well, it certainly wasn’t the baby,” said Ann. 

We all laughed as we realized she had done it. 

Although the house was destroyed, young Ann grabbed the baby and got out safely. 

That day, we bonded over family narratives. 

What tales do you have to tell?

Writing Prompts: 

  1. Create a timeline of emotional events for yourself.  They don’t have to be life-threatening or tragic.  It could be the day in third grade you discovered your gift of making people laugh. Or the time you hit a home run for your baseball team. 
  2. Flesh out these memories with details and recreate them as personal stories.
  3. Interview family members for their memories.  A good book to help you is Legacy:  A Step-By-Step Guide to Writing Personal History by Linda Spence.
  4. Invent a memory timeline for your protagonist.  Flesh out a few of them creating back story for your character.
  5. Use a family story to inspire a poem, song, or other piece of art work. 

What to Write? Suggestions from Children’s Librarians

Wednesday, November 16th, 2011

Do you enjoy writing nonfiction for kids?  Wonder what librarians need on their bookshelves?  Wonder no longer:

Celebrate Haiti Poster Project!

Friday, November 4th, 2011

Visit Clinton Bush Celebrate Haiti Poster Project

Remember.  Celebrate.  Haiti.

Get vibrant.  Get history.  Get creative.  Get fun!

Hot Button Memories

Tuesday, May 31st, 2011

While choosing fresh vegetables at a farmer’s market, I wandered upon an unusual jewelry display.  A woman had fashioned bracelets and rings out of old buttons that acted as a door to decades in the past. 

“Wow!  I can see this on a 1940s coat,” I said, examining a large green button. 

The woman at the booth pointed to a pink button on a bracelet that jangled at her wrist.  “I remember the exact housedress my mother wore,” she said. 

Just the other day when I rummaged around in my closet I came upon a box of buttons my mother had given us. When my son was little he loved playing with those buttons.  Now it was my turn to treasure them.  “If I gave you some buttons will you make me. . .”

“Sure!  People do it all the time,” she answered. 

I couldn’t wait to get home.  Digging out the button box, I felt like a kid, spreading the buttons on the table, sorting them into colors.  Sadly, I didn’t have any concrete memories of the outfits they had been attached to.

Until one flipped over.  There!  Black and white material, still on the button!   An image of my mother wearing the white and black dress she had made, her trim figure standing with her enviable posture next to me in church, with a little black veil on her head.  Or if we had forgotten our veils, we’d attach a piece of Kleenex with a bobby pin.

Of course, that day at the farmers market I walked out of there with a $15 bracelet, and a longing to come back with my very own buttons. 

Writing prompts:

  1. Find an object of your past that brings a flash of an old memory for you.  Write about that memory.  Can you recreate a scene? 
  2. Choose a button or a piece of clothing.  Let it take you back to a memory.  Write about it as if it were today.  Then change it slightly and make it fiction.  What could have happened?  You can star in this yourself, or create a completely new character. 
  3. Interview a member of your family about a special piece of clothing.  What was their favorite thing they EVER wore?  Why?
  4. Write about your favorite piece of clothing.  What makes it special?  Using details, describe what it looks like and how it makes you feel when you wear it.

Wimpy Kid Contest, California Writers Club Young Writers Contest Banquet, and Pleasant Hill History Contest

Monday, May 16th, 2011

Enter the Wimpy Kid Contest!   $500 for you and $1000 for your library!

Deadline is June 10, 2011  For more information and guidelines, visit:


Remember:    This Saturday, May 21, is the California Writers Club, Mt. Diablo Branch’s Young Writers Contest Banquet which will be held at Zio Fraedo’s Restaurant in Pleasant Hill. 

    • As we’ll have many guests, REGISTRATION WILL OPEN AT 11:00 AM, a half hour earlier than our regular 11:30 schedule.
    • To acknowledge this special event, the cost per guest is reduced to $20 per person, the equivalent of our regular member rate.
      • Sign-in:  11:00 a.m. – noon; Buffet Lunch
      • Presentation follows
      • Zio Fraedo’s Restaurant, 611 Gregory Lane, Pleasant Hill, CA, 94523

      About Abigail Samoun

      Abi has worked in children’s publishing for over a decade. During that time she’s edited board books, picture books, middle-grade novels, and early young-adult novels for Tricycle Press, Random House, Simon & Schuster, and Little, Brown. Her books have received numerous honors including a CCBC Charlotte Zolotow award, an SCBWI Golden Kite, a Pura Belpre Honor, a Smithsonian Notable, and a New York Public Library Ezra Jack Keats award.

      Abigail also edited the middle grade series Edgar & Ellen which has sold over a quarter of a million copies worldwide and inspired a cartoon series on Nickelodeon. She has just launched a brand-new children’s literary agency with agent extraordinaire Karen Grencik.

      For YOUR reservation, please send an e-mail to Joanne Brown.  [email protected]  by noon May 18.  Seating is limited. 

    • _____________________________________________________________
    • Pleasant Hill History Writing Contest
    • More information will be posted here this summer, but in honor of Pleasant Hill, California’s 50th anniversary as a city, there will be a middle school writing contest with $ awards $ for essays about living in Pleasant Hill.  Students may research and interview people to discover the rich history of Pleasant Hill. 

Photo Essay Biography of Yone Noguchi by Nina Egert

Wednesday, January 19th, 2011
 Author and photographer Nina Egert has written a lovely photo biography honoring poet and professor Yone Noguchi, father of the famed architect and sculptor, Isamu Noguchi.  As a teen, the elder Noguchi apprenticed under California’s famous poet Joaquin Miller.   Miller’s friends included Bret Harte,  Samuel Clemens, Ina Coolbrith, Jack London and John Muir.
 One of his poems is accompanied by a nearly ethereal photo of “The Cascades” at Joaquin Miller Park in Oakland:
Mystic spring of vapour;
Opiate odour of colour;
Alas –I’m not all of me!
Wanton fragrance, dewy, dim,
Curls out from my drowsy soul;
Wrapping mists about its breast.
I dwell alone . . .
Yone Noguchi lived from 1875 until 1947, coming to San Francisco in 1893. 


Not only is this book a wonderful look into this man’s life, history of California, and his poetry, the California photos within its pages are fascinating and many downright breathtaking.  What makes the book more amazing is that it is published by a nonprofit group, the Vinapa Foundation, so all the profits go to worthy causes
The author graciously donates any money from her sales at the CWC meetings to the California Writers Club, Mt. Diablo Branch’s Young Writers Contest.  To get your own copy you may attend one of the California Writers Club, Mt. Diablo luncheons on the second Saturday of the month at Zio Fraedo’s in Pleasant Hill.  
Another way is to attend Nina Egert’s  signing and tea ceremony from 2:30 – 5:00 p.m. at 2465 34th Ave at Hyde in Oakland, CA. This event will benefit the Peralta  Hacienda.  Visit