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