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Is it Personal or Is it History?

(Please note: This piece was originally posted on my new website: YourBiography2.com.)

I got into the “writing personal and family histories” business through my husband, James C. Simmons, who has been involved in such an enterprise for over fifteen years. He incorporates social, political, and cultural events into his work, bringing his client’s lives to life and putting them in context of the world at large.

Photo by: Joey Lax-Salinas

Photo by: Joey Lax-Salinas

My personal involvement in this line of work began when Jim suggested writing the Marg family history as a present to my parents on their 55th wedding anniversary. I thought that was a great idea, but I didn’t know how my parents would react. They’re both reticent people, not comfortable on being the center of attention, and, of course, we needed their cooperation, as the book we envisioned would center on them.

Well, my parents came through. For the one-hour telephone interviews Jim conducted, my Dad was a willing participant. For interviews with my Mom, I listened in. I was on the phone to prompt her, if she was at a loss for words. She was rarely at a loss for words.

One of the stories we incorporated in the Marg family history was one my Mom used to tell on my family’s twice-annual visit to New York City to see her parents. She was working in the offices of the United Services Organization (USO) in the Empire State Building one Saturday morning in 1945 when a plane crashed into the building. She knew something was wrong when she heard an elevator falling, not gliding, down the shaft not far from her desk.

As a social historian Jim filled in the details of the oft-told tale. There was a heavy fog that day. Planes were not equipped with radar. The plane was a B-25 bomber, and it had gotten lost. When it went into the 79th floor, the wings sheared off and the fuel tanks exploded. One engine landed atop a building across the street, and the second engine slammed through an elevator shaft, cutting the cables. Fourteen people died, and twenty-six were gravely injured.

From my mother’s perspective, it was a harrowing experience. She and a friend walked down from the 56th floor to safety. The first thing she did was to find a pay phone to call her mother who had not yet heard the news, news that became the number one story in the country for days.

Next, the two young women used their tickets to see Roger and Hammerstein’s Carousel. Having recently opened the Broadway musical was receiving rave reviews, but they really didn’t enjoy themselves, having come so close to death. They returned to the theater several months later to see it again.

And, yes, she returned to work that Monday, as the Empire State Building was open for business.

Is it history or is it personal? I think it’s both.

© 2014 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved

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Long Live the King!

I just finished reading Stephen King’s On Writing. It’s a memoir of sorts, first published in 2000. In the first one hundred pages he recalls stories of his growing up, describing how he became a writer. Actually, King was born a writer, but how he became a successful writer is quite a story, from magazines rejecting his short stories to the first publication of one of his novels, Carrie. Written in 1973 while King was teaching school and living in a $90 a month apartment with a wife and kids to support, it changed everything.

Jack Torrance’s typewriter in the movie “The Shining,” based on King’s novel. Photo by: China Crisis.

In the second half of his book he gives a lot of advice about writing, particularly for wannabe novelists. His prime rule consists of four words: Read. Write. A lot.

King reads because he likes to read, but he also notes, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”

One of the pleasures in King’s book is that he names names — Charles Dickens, Margaret Mitchell, Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck, John Grisham, Tom Wolfe, J.K. Rowling, and many, many more through the ages. When he’s discussing style, plot development, character development, dialogue, and symbolism, he gives lots of examples, both from his works, as well as from others. For a book on the tools of the book trade, it’s never boring and surprisingly entertaining.

King also goes into detail on his run-in with a light blue Dodge van in 1999, while he was walking on a country road. The van hit him, and King suffered horrific injuries, including broken bones and a collapsed lung, and endured multiple surgeries. The quick arrival of emergency personnel saved his life. Physical therapy sped his recovery process. Eventually, he began writing again.

With the publication of several short story collections and full-length works, such as Doctor Sleep and Mr. Mercedes, over the past decade, it’s safe to say that he’s back and in fine form.

Are you trying to decide what to read this weekend? Do want to improve your prose? Or, are you looking for a pick-me-up? Pick up a copy of On Writing by Stephen King. (Oh, that’s corny. But apt.)

© 2014 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved

 

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Truth or Fiction?

Memoirs continue to be popular. The best of the lot read like fiction. There’s a beginning, middle, and end, but events are not necessarily presented in chronological order. We learn about a life, while the facts, even if they’re simply emotional recollections, resonate with our lives.

Photo by: Urban Muser

Photo by: Urban Muser

Moss Hart’s Act One, first published in 1960, is now a Broadway musical. It’s been described as a “funny, heartbreaking, and suspenseful portrait of the artist as a young man.”

Jeanette Walls’ 2005 The Glass Castle has sold 2.5 million copies and was translated into twenty-two languages. It’s now in development in the capable hands of Jennifer Lawrence, who plans not only to star in the film version, but also to produce the movie.

Writers often get around to telling their own story. Most recently, Frances Mayes, known for her personal reflections on living in Italy, including Under the Tuscan Sun, penned her autobiography, detailing her coming of age in rural Georgia.

So, too, do actors, who continue to act. Andrew McCarthy actually became a writer who travels or a traveler who writes. I’m not sure which came first. Molly Ringwald wrote Getting the Pretty Back, half memoir and half guide to girl things. Rob Lowe’s two autobiographies have been well received. Yes, the 1980s Brat Pack have done all right in the writing department.

The cast members from Beverly Hills 90210, now in their forties, are a prolific bunch, too. Shannen Doherty put out a guide to being a badass, if not a bad girl, something she knows about all too well. Jenny Garth found time to share her triumphs and tribulations as a single working Mom, and Tori Spelling continues to spill her guts, both on television and in print. And, this just in: Jason Priestley: A Memoir was recently released.

As far as the stories Priestley tells of his costars in the 1990s drama series, Doherty notes, “I always say that everyone has their own version of the truth, and memories are very funny things.”

© 2014 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved

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With Respect to June Weddings

Love is in the air in Las Vegas. Photo by Susan Marg.

Not everyone wants to get married in spring when buds are blooming, birds are tweeting, and the sun is shining.  Some prefer winter.

Weather not being an issue for a New Jersey couple who so wanted to marry, they robbed a bank in January 2010 and then took off for Las Vegas with a $10,000 payoff.  The roads must have been clear. They made it to Oklahoma before they were captured five days later.

Charles B. Koch, 28, half of the dynamic duo, had told the bank teller he carried a bomb.  His significant other, Cheri Harper, 27, had on her person a concealed knife.  No wonder no one stood in their way.

These days the average cost of a church wedding with the usual trimmings is almost $27,000.  If Bonnie and Clyde went the traditional route, it might be understandable why they needed some extra cash.

But for a wedding in Las Vegas?

Don’t get me wrong.  I love Las Vegas.  My husband and I had a renewal of vows ceremony a few years back.  We danced to an Elvis impersonator singing “Viva Las Vegas,” which has nothing to do with love or marriage, and twenty of our friends joined in.

It’s a tradition that goes way back, Las Vegas weddings, that is.  It began in 1933 when a reverend opened his home on South Fifth Street, eventually renamed Las Vegas Boulevard, to out-of-towners who wanted to tie the knot.

Today a simple ceremony can be had for under a hundred dollars at one of the standalone chapels that still permeate the lower part of the Strip heading towards the Fremont Street Experience.  Witnesses, if needed, are part of the package.

What a deal!  The accommodations are not as upscale as at one of the resort casinos like the Bellagio, but it’s legal.  And dressing in nice clothes for the occasion is optional.

For their effort, Harper and Koch each received a seven-year prison sentence.  Whew!  That’s longer than most first marriages last.  Second and third marriages, too!  When they’ve their done their time, will the romantic robbers still be in love or, like so many others, will they be ready to move on?

© 2011 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved