Friday, April 25, 2008

Great Minds and all that Jazz

I'm not the only one that is spreading the gospel of writing family history in fiction. While doing research for a booklet I want to write about this subject, I came upon a booklet written by someone else who is a practitioner and a proselytizer.

Her name is Jennifer Johnson Garrity, and she has not only written a book based on family history, but she has also written a how-to and workbook entitled Family Tree, Writing Historical Fiction Based on Family History. It’s published by BrimWood Press and its target audience is homeschool children, but it would be a great guide for anyone who has the yearning to write a family story as fiction but isn’t sure just how to proceed.

Jennifer Johnson Garrity tells her own story on page 3, chronicling how she came to the realization that she was the one who needed to write her family’s experiences during the Civil War in Missouri. The result is The Bushwhacker, published by Peachtree Publishers, Ltd. In 1999. You can find it on

Ms. Garrity also lists several books that are closely or loosely based on family history. I found several others to add to that list by using a search engine and the words “family history in fiction”. One of my notable finds was William Faulkner, who used his family history and the history of his home county in much of his work.

Back to the workbook. Andrea Newitt added homeschool tips and a teaching schedule for the target audience, which might be of use if you want to set a personal goal for completing your story.

The workbook takes you through the research phase, walking you through both general research about your family member’s time and region, but also specific research that will help you to avoid jarring anachronisms as you write. (I didn’t promise that fiction would release you from research. I did say it would release you from footnotes.) Ms. Garrity gives you lots of pointers on where you can go to begin your research, and she shares how her research grew for The Bushwhacker.

Next, she talks about plot and how you’re writing a story, not a report. She gives lots of tips on how you string sentences together to form a strong narrative. She gives great advice about using adjectives sparingly, using strong verbs, avoiding passive language and employing a variety of sentence starters and has practice work for each. These are all part of the craft of writing and something that every writer is constantly working to improve.

If you’re interested in obtaining one of these workbooks, go to and scroll down until you see Family Tree. The cost is somewhere around $20.