5915Breathe Life into Your Life Story: How to Write a Story People Will WANT to Read

Published: 2007, Signature Books
Soft cover, 228 pages
Available at or Signature Books

My husband and I collaborated on this book after I had been teaching life story writing for a number of years at a community college in Orange County, California. I intended my book to serve as a kind of manual that showcased the techniques I teach in my classes and seminars. My husband has always been as interested in personal and family histories as I am, and he contributed a number of important ideas to the content of the book and wrote several of the chapters.

I see the book as an essential read for anyone who aspires to write a life story—but not just any story…one your family and others will actually WANT to read. Too many people live interesting lives, but write bland life stories because they report what they did, but not who they were. Sometimes learning a few writing techniques can make all the difference between ho-hum and a page-turner. Our book discusses “showing” rather than “telling,” creating interesting, believable characters and settings, writing at the gut level, alternating scene and narrative, beginning with a bang, and more.

We illustrate these techniques with excerpts from memoirs written by such pros as Maya Angelou, Frank McCourt, Russell Baker, and many others. Dozens of “Learn by Doing” exercises help readers practice and acquire the skills necessary to breathe life into their own stories. See book reviews at and here.



TPM, awardThe Parrett Migration: Their Story is America’s Story

Published: 2014, Memoir Mentor Books
Soft Cover, 344 pages
Available at

Winner of the 2015 National Indie Excellence Award for historical biography, The Parrett Migration recounts the story of five families who were not the sort of people who typically appear in books. The Parretts were not generals, social reformers, or celebrated leaders of any kind. They were large farming families, who acquired and cultivated large tracts of land, each succeeding generation moving on to the next frontier. Except for land, census, and military records, their lives were largely lost to history–until now.

As an eighth-generation descendant of Frederick Parrett, my earliest-known paternal ancestor, I became intrigues with the family during my college days. I embarked on what became a decades-long study of the Parretts shortly after my marriage, traveling to Switzerland and Germany, where I followed Frederick’s route down the Rhine River to the port where he embarked to America in the 1730s. I visited Frederick’s farm in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, and drove the western migration routes taken by the four generations that immediately followed him, standing on the soil of their former farms in Tennessee, Ohio, and Iowa.

As I examine available family records against the backdrop of American history, I came to see that the Parrett story was part of a much larger fascinating narrative. The Parrett Migration spans nearly 200 years of American history, a period when the country was in a constant state of flux, its borders ever expanding, its citizens embarking on exhausting and sometimes dangerous migrations in their quest for more land. I discovered that my Parretts were on the trails during all the major migrations, traveling on foot, on horseback, and in covered wagons, forsaking the comforts of a settled situation, even a prosperous situation, to carve a new life for themselves out of the wilderness. Why did they leave? How did these adventures change their lives? That’s part of the story I tell in The Parrett Migration. The story of the Parretts is more than a family narrative, it turns out; it’s America’s story. And for many Americans, it’s their story, too.

Learn more about the book at my Parrett Family History website and at

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