Dec 272011

I’m addressing two fascinating groups this month — The Metropolitan Club on November 9 and the Fisherman’s Wharf Rotary Club on November 15.
The Metropolitan Club, almost a century old, occupies a registered historic building near Union Square. It serves women with a variety of athletic facilities, library and dining room. My contact there, Claudia Feurey, has asked me to speak about writing about one’s family or one’s own life story at their monthly luncheon.

A much different group, the Fisherman’s Wharf Rotary Club,, holds a weekly breakfast at the Franciscan restaurant for business people and entrepreneurs. Club president Tresa Eyres whom I knew from Women in Consulting asked me to focus on writing about business and self-publishing.

These should be fun.

 Posted by at 12:38 pm
Dec 222011

Twenty years ago LeeAnn started documenting her very painful life. Her mother beat her every day of her childhood and into adulthood. The woman berated and demeaned LeeAnn without letup. Still LeeAnn kept her journal.

She organized binders of her recollections and other documents about her life chronologically. She crossfiled them by topic. But she couldn’t bring herself to write a manuscript about her life story. She got stuck.

Last year she was diagnosed with stage IV breast cancer. She came to one of my six-week workshops on how to write one’s life story. Her diagnosis compelled her to get it down at last. LeeAnn was driven to complete it while she could, for fear that she would never have the chance again.

For most of us, fear keeps us from writing our autobiographies. It freezes us.

So it’s resolution time now, isn’t it? With the turn of every new year we generally reassess the things that we want to accomplish and haven’t yet. Let’s look at some of the things that stop people from writing their autobiographies. They are paper tigers.

Margot during a first session of my workshop wrote a gripping account of her birth during the bombing in the Netherlands in World War II. But she could not persist. Every session after that she came with excuses about why she couldn’t write in the intervening week. From comments she let slip during the class, I sensed that she couldn’t face recalling the rest of her life. You have to be ready, of course.

Like Margot, some of us shrink from reliving those horrible times, the times we failed, the times someone left us. But this is exactly our chance to purge the shame from those memories. We take a step back and see them from a higher point of view. Why would we miss this?

For instance, Alfie Adona, now a young mother, lived through a tragic childhood. Her father was poisoned and lived the rest of his 10 years as an invalid. Two years later her mother was the victim of a debilitating traffic accident. Alfie and her sister had to take charge of the family while they were in their young teens. They lost their house and car from lack of adult guidance.

Their family’s tragedy was covered amply in the local news. This did not mortify Alfie;  in fact it emboldened her to tell her own story. You can see it on She’s also working on a print manuscript to tell the tale.

If a similar obstacle or tragedy is keeping you from writing a memoir, I suggest you join a memoir writing class for guidance and support. Besides the instructor’s guidance, you can can find a buddy with whom you can share this experience of recollecting and recording. That other student is probably  looking for you too.

Another reason people get stuck is for fear of offending the living. In one of our sessions, Theresa asked me how she could write about her mother who was still living without offending her. Despite her love for her parent, she felt her manuscript would have to record her mother’s character traits and certain incidents that would cause pain and perhaps alienate them from each other.

I told her to remove or temper  the material that shethought  would offend her mother if she intended to disseminate thisaccount while her mother was still alive. After all, what is more important to any of us than our relationships?

“When your mother passes away in the future, you can change your document if you still want to,” I said.

Another thing that immobilizes writers is the so-called writers block. All writers can suffer, not just memoirists.

There are a number of methods for facing this challenge. First of all we need to understand what exactly this impasse is.  In my way of thinking, it stems from kind of perfectionism, an inner voice that is self-critical.

Some merely mechanical difficulties may make you feel insecure:  such as how to structure of your document, uncertainty about grammar, insufficient research and so on.

My advice: if you can talk, you can write. Simply start writing even if you don’t know what the theme is or where you’re going with it. I call it The Gibberish Method. Put your pen on paper, time yourself for 20 minutes, and don’t stop writing your stream of consciousness. That is, anything that appears in your gray matter. Don’t judge and don’t edit.

From the chaos eventually a theme or a structure emerges. You will read it back and be amazed. Trust me.

My wish for you in 2012: your first draft of your life story.

(Full disclosure: LeeAnn is fine now!)

 Posted by at 11:58 am
Sep 012011

Learn All You Need to Know
about writing your family history or personal biography
in a six-week workshop beginning September 17, 2011

If you’ve been telling yourself you’ll start writing down your family’s history but still haven’t gotten to it yet, now’s the time! Stop procrastinating! It’s time to get started on this very rewarding journey so you can leave a legacy for your children, family and friends and honor your life’s journey. Even if you doubt your writing abilities, you will discover you really can write! Francine will show you how.

Here’s what you’ll learn in the Forever Remembered 6 week workshop:
• How to use Mind Mapping to trigger memories and help organize your project
• Techniques in writing discipline that will keep you writing
• How to conquer Writers’ Block
• How to get the most from your interview subjects
• Writing techniques that will help you weave a more interesting story that will keep your readers captivated

Here’s what you’ll take away from this exciting workshop:
• A first draft of your manuscript
• A new perspective on your life
• The Inspiration and motivation to complete your writing project
• The confidence that your story is interesting to others and that you can tell it
• Best of all: You’ll get started!

Your workshop leader, Francine Brevetti, is a seasoned journalist and accomplished author of five biographies and company histories. She will show you how to develop your manuscript and make the writing of your own story a cherished and rewarding experience.

Here’s what past participants have said:

“Francine’s class will take you to unexpected places…put on your seatbelt and enjoy the ride!”
–Joanne B., San Francisco

“Francine’s class showed me how to use mind mapping effectively. The writing exercises about stimulating memories with the five senses were very helpful. The conversations with fellow participants were thought-provoking and very insightful.” — Tracy S., San Francisco

Sign Up Now and Get a Discount!
Sign up before September 10 and pay only $395! Or pay $495 after September 10, 2011. Pay by check or PayPal. We offer a convenient installment plan as well. Ask for details. Invite others to join you and receive a special incentive. Contact Francine Brevetti at: or call: 415.397.7830. Visit her website at

Sep 012011

Valerie Camarda was dumbfounded. She took the six-week workshop “Forever Remembered” to guide her in writing her life story.

The San Francisco marketing specialist says, “I really never considered myself a writer but Francine’s class inspired me and helped me discover my inner writer. She guided us through the process and helped me uncover fabulous stories I could relay in my writing. Her interviewing techniques were particularly helpful. Now I’m excited about writing my family’s history.”

That people have reservations about their ability to write “has been a common refrain from the workshop,” observes Brevetti. That’s why conquering so-called “writer’s block” is a big part of the experience she offers.
The author of the history of the Fior d’Italia “The Fabulous Fior — Over 100 Years in an Italian Kitchen”, Brevetti has been writing memoirs for individuals for several years. This past year she has introduced a six-week workshop on the restaurant’s premises.

She realized that under this economy many people cannot afford to have their memoirs — or the biography of a parent — written by a ghostwriter or a collaborator such as herself. “So I started this workshop for people who are motivated to do it themselves,” she says.

Brevetti says the hardest thing people have to do to end up with an autobiography is to finish it.
“Many people want to write their life story and some of them actually start. Very few finish,” she observes. “Actually people frequently arrive in my workshops with manuscripts they had already started but they get stuck.”

In the curriculum for this six-week experience participants are instructed how to organize their project, stimulate memories of important moments in their life and convey those experiences feelingly in their manuscript. She also guides them on doing research to provide background for their narratives.

Berkeley resident Leah Joseph had been keeping journals for years. She says, “I am sure that without taking Francine’s class I would NEVER have poured over my papers. The Saturday classes were so enjoyable, you wanted to come with what ever your self given homework was for the week.”

Josephs says she benefited from guidance about writing a manuscript, interviewing people, editing one’s work and choices for publishing.

Nobody leaves the six-week workshop having completed their manuscript, Brevetti says. “But if they do the homework, they can finish a draft.”

The support and camaraderie experienced in these workshops has been remarkable, participants say. Even after the end of the past workshop, they want to continue meeting and supporting each other.

“Francine’s class will take you to unexpected places. Put on your seat-belt and enjoy the ride,” says Joanne Butcher, a San Francisco filmmaker.

The next session of “Forever Remembered” begins Saturday, September 17 from 1:45 PM to 4 PM at the Fior d’Italia Restaurant, 2237 Mason St. in San Francisco’s North Beach. A six-week course, it ends on October 22. Contact

 Posted by at 7:03 pm
Aug 122011

Many people say they want to write their autobiographies/life stories/memoirs. If they actually succeed in finishing such a document then they are left wondering how to share it with others.

Finding a traditional publisher for someone who is not a celebrity or a serial killer is almost impossible. Many people turn to self-publishing which gives them more freedom in many ways but costs a bundle in time and money.
But I know three people who have done a very smart thing: they have put their memoirs online.

Alfie Adona was a student in my workshop “Forever Remembered” which I hold at the Fior d’Italia in San Francisco’s North Beach. She memorialized her parents’ tragedies and the consequences for her and her sister in a very moving project which you can see at: Alfie has written about the story most feelingly and has included video clips and newspaper clippings on this site which details the misfortunes her family endured.

And then there is Frank Roselli of Napa who honors his grandparents and parents on his lovely and moving website. He also uses this as an opportunity to recount his early life in Italy and his immigration and career in California.

Well covered in the national press has been Bob Brody’s blog: I reached out to Bob to commend him for this important work — that of documenting his memories for his children. From that flowed his invitation to my to contribute to this site.

Also the morass of traditional publishing or self-publishing can be avoided, if not by website or blog, then with an e-book. I expect to be seeing many such works very soon on a Kindle.

 Posted by at 2:49 pm
Aug 012011

Imagine an individual who wants his life story written but wants no one to read it. Such was my first client as a biographer/memoirist.

While I was  a business writer for the Oakland Tribune, one of my duties was to write profiles of local business owners. I chose a man who had started his business from scratch 50 years previously and built it into a multimillion dollar enterprise. He liked my profile of him; within a few months hired me to write his life story.

Indeed the man had a compelling tale, childhood tragedy and struggle followed by many glorious achievements. And more tragedies.

When we began this project, he did not want it shared with anyone. I signed a nondisclosure agreement. He was also not communicating with his two adult daughters with whom he had a bitter relationship.

We worked together almost weekly for over five years. His life was that large. Every time I thought we had exhausted a subject, he mentioned something that opened up a whole new channel of activity and events I hadn’t known about.

I begged him to let me find a publisher. No dice. On the fifth or sixth year of our collaboration he invited me to his mammoth birthday party. As he laced his arms around their waists, he introduced me to his two daughters.

Over the time that we had worked together, my client became looser, more relaxed, and self-accepting. He found more humor in himself. Was there a connection between our labor and his reconciliation with his daughters? I never dared ask him.


Since I left the Oakland Tribune three years ago, I have had more clients coming to me to write their life stories. I call my business Legend Crafter, I write histories of businesses as well. My slogan is, “Turning memories into legends”.

The most common reason people give for writing their autobiography/memoir is to leave a legacy for their descendents and to review their most salient memories. This is so important.

But as my experience with my clients has borne out, the unanticipated benefit is that people heal. It’s not me. It’s the process of being listened to with intense interest but without judgment. Of course it helps if your biographer is a good writer too!


Not all memoirs are tragic. Barbara Clark’s father Sidney Snow, was the founder of the Oakland Zoo. The family home was on zoo grounds. Barbara recalls with delight and vividness her experiences having lions, elephants, tigers and monkeys as her pets when she was a child.

She walked in the kitchen one day with a serpent garlanded around her neck. Her mother immediately ordered her, “Take that thing out of here.”

Memories like that are worth preserving.

 Posted by at 2:08 pm
Jul 192011

A month ago in early June I gave a talk at the UCSF Cancer Resource Center’s Art in Recovery Program. This program is a creative outlet for people who have received diagnoses of cancer. I spoke to them for two hours and found them among the most committed  that I have ever experienced. Committed to writing their life stories. And one can see why. A diagnosis of cancer focuses the mind wonderfully.

Two from that group have joined me for my current workshop, Forever Remembered, taking place at the the Fior d’Italia restaurant.

Among the other participants is a friend of mine; another is a member of Women in Consulting who got my publicity through the membership’s e-mail. One is a marketing consultant I asked to come just to observe my performance and teaching skills.

The marketing consultant said in class, “when I was driving here I was thinking I had nothing to write about. But since I’ve been in class I’ve thought of about 14 different subjects I could write on.” Later on she told me how much she appreciated my skill in teaching.

It is deeply fulfilling to me that my students enjoy and seem to be learning from Forever Remembered.

 Posted by at 10:30 am
Jul 192011

I have recently launched my workshop, Forever Remembered, for the second time at the Fior d’Italia restaurant.

For six Saturday afternoons, five participants join me for my support in launching their life story project at the Fior d’Italia restaurant in North Beach. It seems different workshops draw different people. In my previous iteration of Forever Remembered, three participants were writing about their mothers. Two were writing about their family history.

But in my workshop just started July 9, three of the participants have already crafted large portions of their autobiographies. Two of them had the same query: how do I structure it?

This past class on July 16 focused on writing techniques. My students had two major concerns: how to structure their manuscripts and how to handle flashbacks.

I tried to make the distinction between the experience of writing the document and its final form. I urged them to consider there is no single rule about how to structure such a document. They could approach it chronologically or they could start with those passages in their lives that were most salient, most emotional or meaningful to them.

“You might find it easier to write it chronologically and change it once the whole manuscript is written. You don’t have to stick with that structure if you find another one that is more effective,” I said.

People who are inexperienced or insecure about their writing may think there are hidden rules about the way things should be done. I hope I relieved them of this misconception. The only thing to strive for is what is most effective.

Insofar as dealing with flashbacks is concerned, I reviewed two techniques that should be helpful to them. One is dealing with the past tense of verbs. A shift from present perfect to past perfect should be enough to signal to the reader that a shift in time has occurred.

Also they could use a device such as Proust made famous: choosing an experience in the present that calls to mind a past event.

For instance when a friend of mine on Thursday gave me a branch of rosemary from her garden, the perfume of the herb transported me to my childhood and my grandmother’s garden where she grew herbs, lettuces and flowers.

 Posted by at 10:26 am
Jul 132011

This morning I was listening to NPR as their broadcasters took turns reading sections of the complete Declaration of Independence. It was very moving, hearing all of the complaints the colonists lodged against George III in that document.

But at the same time the colonists were lambasting their king for inhumane treatment, they were killing the people who already lived here.

Why doesn’t anybody ever mention that on Independence Day? The hypocrisy of it makes me sick.

 Posted by at 2:52 pm
Jul 102011

A three-year-old boy stands alone under a tree atop a knoll overlooking a valley. A storm gathers overhead, its gray clouds lower, thrashing the valley with rain, wind and noise. The little boy is transfixed. The panorama of movement, din and rain capture him.

But his ecstasy doesn’t last long for here come his parents to, as they think, rescue him. What a disappointment to have his rapture stolen from him, one that he remembers decades later. He relives all the sensations of that scene when it comes to mind.

On Thursday, July 7, I addressed the men’s club known as Il Cenacolo which meets every Thursday at the Fior d’Italia restaurant in North Beach.

Its members are all men who are interested and devoted to  Italian culture. “Il Cenacolo” (pronounced eel chenAHcolo) means supper club or “The Last Supper”, the name given to Michelangelo’s painting in Milan.

I was speaking to them about the value of writing one’s life story and giving them tips about how to proceed.

In the course of my talk I elicited from my audience their earliest memories that appealed to their senses. “Think of your senses,” I said. “If you focus on your ears, your sense of taste, your sense of touch etc. What memories do they evoke for you?”

Among the recollections that the audience members shared was that of David Litwin who fondly recalled the brief moments the storm’s passage below him enthralled him. He said his parents were frightened for him but he had no fear at all. Rather he felt safe and privileged to view such a scene.

His sharing that slice of life was one of those experiences that makes what I do so rewarding.

 Posted by at 3:00 pm