Tag Archives: stories

What You Should Talk About Around the Thanksgiving Table

photo by NealeA

photo by NealeA

Conversations That Matter

No, not politics or even religion. Not currently, anyway. Holidays are often the only times we get extended family together, so you should take advantage of the opportunity to build the story of your family’s heritage and then preserve it. Here are some things you definitely should talk about.

photo by Anne Helmond

photo by Anne Helmond

Your Traditions

You did not all grow up at the same time. At least I’m assuming you’ll have multiple generations present, as most people do. Did you always have turkey? Were there Thanksgiving services at the church? When did everyone start watching football? Prompting with just a few questions can  ignite some stories that might have otherwise been lost.

Who Was Invited to the Dinner?

photo by Brecken Pool

photo by Brecken Pool

Was there a kids table? Did you ever invite the neighbors? Who was the most unique guest you’ve ever had at your table? Were there special events this time of year that encouraged generosity? Has anyone ever been on the receiving end of someone’s act of good will? Asking questions like these will give younger generations a picture of the family’s hospitality and perhaps encourage them to continue the practice.

Have You Ever Tried to Cook a Frozen Turkey?

I imagine every family has had some Thanksgiving cooking disaster. Confessing these might be humorous. On the other hand, these stories might help to show that no one’s perfect and mishaps in life happen to us all. It’s the journey that’s important.

photo by Robert Jack 啸风 Will

photo by Robert Jack 啸风 Will

Record the Stories

These are just a few ideas to get the ball rolling, but when people start talking be sure to either write down the stories or record them on video. The time will come when seats are empty at your table. Save those stories while you can. For more ideas on conversation starters, see this article from Family Tree Magazine.

photo by Chris Phillips

photo by Chris Phillips

Happy Thanksgiving!

Getting Ready for St. Brigid’s Day

Tired of winter?

Don’t worry. Soon it will be St. Brigid’s Day.

Brigid of Ireland by Cindy Thomson, ebookIn many parts of Ireland St. Brigid’s Day signifies the beginning of spring. Similar to Ground Hog’s Day, folks would look for signs that warmer weather was coming. Count the hedgehogs you see. Note the new lambs being born. Return to your fishing boat. It’s St. Brigid’s Day!

Why St. Brigid?

I’m often asked how I got interested in St. Brigid. The answer is in her stories—or rather the stories told about her. Unlike St. Patrick who left some of his writings for prosperity, the stories about the life of St. Brigid were written at least a hundred years after her death. But they still make fascinating reading, even when you take into account that monks often wrote these as a kind of propaganda—our saint is better than your saint so you pilgrims should come to Kildare to spend your coins and trade your goods for blessings and sacred inspiration.

Hmmm. Maybe this was a type of storytelling competition. I would give the upper hand to Cogitosus, the monk at Kildare who wrote The Life of St. Brigit the Virgin and to the fifteenth century scribe of Beatha Bhrighdi (The Life of Brigid) found in the Leabhar Breac (The Speckled Book.)

A Story or Two About Brigid

Some brief examples:

From the Leabhar Breac on Brigid’s birth:

“The prophet said that the child that would be brought forth on the morrow at sunrise, and neither within the house nor without, shall surpass every child in Ireland.”

Apparently, Brigid’s mother gave birth to her as she was coming in from the morning’s milking. She slipped on the threshold, fell, and right there Brigid was born, just as the prophet had predicted: neither inside nor outside the house.

In my book, Celtic Wisdom: Treasures From Ireland, I recount the legend of Brigid and her father’s cherished sword. Apparently Brigid had been so generous with the poor that her father decided he could no longer afford to keep her. He decided to put her into the King of Leinster’s service.

St. Brigid mural

Mural at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Armagh showing St. Brigid and the King of Leinster

Dubthach took Brigid in his chariot and traveled to the castle. He bid her to stay put outside while he inquired of the king. While he was gone, a beggar happened by. Being away from the dairy, the supply of food from which she had fed the poor, Brigid searched for something to give the poor man and spotted the gleam of metal in the sun. She pulled out her father’s sword from beneath some blankets. It was not an ordinary sword, but one with a jewel-encrusted hilt. Just as she was handing it over to the beggar, her father returned with the king. Dubthach declared that this was just the reason he had to be rid of her. The king, being as wise as his position required, asked Brigid whether, if she were to be under his authority, she would give away his cattle and possessions. Brigid answered truthfully. If she had all the wealth of the King of Leinster, she would give it away to the poor in the name of God. The king was humbled by this reply and told her father that she was far nobler than either of them. He gave Dubthach a sword to replace the one given away and granted Brigid (who had been her father’s slave) her freedom.

Stories > Novel

Story after story declared Brigid’s heart for people and how God showed her favor. I thought, what if those things actually did happen? What would that look like? And then I wrote a whole novel about her. I still enjoy her stories and am inspired by her generosity and selflessness.

St. Brigid’s Day is this coming Sunday. You might weave a cross or bake some bread and look forward to the generosity of the rebirth of the earth—spring!

Say But Little

Gaelic proverb

On the wall of the Scottish Parliament at Holyrood, Edinburgh. Photo by Beth

Making Words Count

I came across a photograph of this sign in a book I own and I was thinking it’s a fitting sentiment for lawmakers and politicians. I’m sure it’s the upcoming election that made me realize that. But as is so often the case with things I hear, I tend to think they are for someone else. I remember a minister who used to complain about folks who would come up to him after services and say they wished their son, or uncle, or wife, or husband should have been there to hear that sermon. It drove him nuts because he believed the people who needed to hear it were the ones sitting in the pews and they didn’t even realize it. So, I’m sure this proverb is for me too. Especially since I write. I need to make sure I use the right number of words to “say it well.”

Cindy Thomson's books

Books I’ve written or contributed to.

Consider Your Words Carefully

It’s so easy to say the first thing that comes to mind. I try not to do that. In a moment of high anxiety I often do and regret it later. But mostly I wait before I speak, or before I act, because…you can’t take it back, can you? You can apologize for your words but they remain suspended in that conversation. (Or forever on the Internet!) 😉

Words Have Power

Thomson Family BookI strongly believe that. As a Christian, I believe the words in the Bible are living and filled with power and meaning. But other words, in other kinds of books and publications, have power as well. For instance, think about how the public was persuaded to fight for independence from England. There were many people who did not feel compelled to wage war. They were convinced. With words. Sometimes with words that were exaggerated and emotionally charged, such as how an altercation in Boston became a massacre. Not that the colonies shouldn’t have revolted. I’m glad we won independence. I’m just saying words, more than anything else, got that war started.

Words have power to soothe as well. That’s why we send cards when someone dies or is sick or sad. The words “I love you” and “I’m sorry” are extremely important words in our relationships.

And who doesn’t feel moved by beautifully written words such as these:

“Through the opening of the mouth, we bring out sounds from the mountain beneath our soul. These sounds are words. The world is full of words. There are so many talking all the time, loudly, quietly, in rooms, on streets, on television, on radio, in the paper, in books. The noise of words keeps what we call the world there for us…Yet the uttering of the word reveals how each of us relentlessly creates. Everyone is an artist. Each person brings sound out of silence and coaxes the invisible to become visible.”~From Anam Cara, A Book of Celtic Wisdom by John O’Donohue

A Couple of Notes About My Words

Cindy Thomson's Newsletter SignupJust wanted to alert you to a couple of things. One is that my monthly newsletter will be going out soon and if you haven’t signed up look for the form to right of this post. I’ve got a few things to share that subscribers hear first, and sometimes some giveaways as well.

And finally I wanted to alert you that if you have an ereader or know someone who does, or would like to read on your computer via the free Kindle ap, Annie’s Stories is only $2.99 through tomorrow, November 1. Here is the link.Annie's Stories by Cindy Thomson

I hope you enjoy some good words this weekend. Are you listening to something or reading something you’d like to share? Please leave a comment. I will be listening to a Yellow Ribbon event held for the families of my son’s National Guard unit, and hopefully reading the books I’ve started. (It’s leaf-racking season too, but I’ll do my best to get a few words in–writing a few too, hopefully!) If you’d like to see what I’m reading on Goodreads, go here.

Reacting to Feedback

Annie's Stories by Cindy ThomsonRight off the top let me say this is not about negative feedback. There will always be people who will not get my work. (Thanks to author Susan Meissner for teaching me that.) Negative reviews are part of the business and to be expected. But that is not to say there isn’t something to be learned from reading reviews, both positive and not so great.

You Can Say That Again

I look for reoccurring statements and think about them. Is there something there I should learn from? Maybe, maybe not so much. But, yeah. Probably there is, whether I want to admit it or not.

For instance. Many reviewers have said my novels are a bit slow. That did not bother some. It did others. Reading is so very subjective. Perhaps there is something I could do in future stories to speed up the action a bit, but only a bit. I’m not going to try to start writing thrillers that hurl you into the action. One of my writer friends noted a trend of writers beginning with an action scene that ultimately had nothing to do with the novel’s plot. I’ve been taught, by wonderful editors, that every single scene needs to matter. The scenes move the story forward.

Not a Kissy-Kissy Story

(Not that there’s anything wrong with that!)

Talking about romance in novels

shutterpa via Flickr

What I keep reading over and over again is that the romance in my books unfolds slowly, that the books are low-romance, and that it makes sense that way. Better I let the reviewers express this:

“Thomson’s story development is refreshing in that Thomson knows how to develop relationships slowly while keeping the action moving. The romance feels authentic and the story keeps you hooked with suspense, drama and emotion.”

“The story wasn’t just a love story, but about self discovery, forgiveness, and family. ”

“And while this story does include a romance, it is not of the highly emotional variety. The two characters have only brief meetings, and it takes a while for them to forget the mistakes and hurts of their past enough to face the future. Personally, I found it refreshing to read a love story that, while sweet, was also more realistic that most.”

“…sweet story with a very light romantic bent to it.”

“The romance feels authentic and the story keeps you hooked with suspense, drama and emotion.”

“Cindy has a way of writing characters that are totally believable. There is a sweet love story in the novel…”

So, I call it romance “light.”

My Voice, My Stories

When I finished this story my agent said, “Please tell me there is romance in this story.” There is, although it may not be typical. I prefer to call it a love story, and like many of my readers are saying, the romance flows at a rate that is believable for these characters. How can anyone who has trust issues due to what they’ve been through fling themselves into a romantic relationship. I just could not make Annie do that, although she does see something of her father in Stephen, something that is appealing.

So what do you think? You can voice your opinion. Click here!

 

Stepping Into the Past

Deadman's Curve NYC, www.cindyswriting.comHow to Go Back in Time

How many of us have remarked that we wished for a time machine. We have to see and experience things ourselves to truly understand them. But since that’s not possible, we can do the next best thing (something I always try to do when writing historical fiction) and read the words and thoughts of those who lived before us. There are a few ways to accomplish this.

Read Their Words

ThomsonFamilyBook

Thomson Family Book

There is nothing like a diary or journal to get into the mindset of the people of the past. Did you know John Adams kept a diary? Here is a fascinating list of online historical diaries. There are slave narratives (audio believe it or not) on the National Archives web site.

You can find more at local historical societies and libraries. Sometimes they are hard to read but worth the effort. My husband found a hand-written genealogy written in 1888 by one of his relatives. It’s not just a genealogy, though. It has memories and stories that relatives told as well, including one man who was a chaplain in the Union army and accompanied the troops on Sherman’s march to the sea. It has remembrances about how one man’s mother was distressed when he joined a different church until a pastor set the mother straight, and even one interesting story about a trip to a fortune teller.

Live in Their Society

Nothing beats contemporary newspapers for learning about the world our ancestors lived in. Of course you can look for names and dates, but to get a feel for how they lived their lives and what events influenced them, read newspapers and magazines. The magazines often contained serial fiction that later was put into books that you’ve probably heard of. In my novel Annie’s Stories I talk about Harper’s doing this, and you can even read some issues online here. For historical newspapers look here.

Russian Immigrants at Ellis Island, www.cindyswriting.comLook at Photographs

There are many sites where you can find old photographs, and just doing a Google search will bring up many. If you’ve ever seen photographs of immigrants at Ellis Island, you’ve probably seen Augustus Sherman’s photographs. He makes a cameo appearance in my novel Grace’s Pictures. I love to study the expressions, but you can also learn a lot from the clothing (were they rich or poor?) and even from the setting (in a studio, at home, outside?) Those Ellis Island photographs often depict people in their native garb, something they may have quickly discarded once they stepped foot in Battery Park when relatives met them with more American clothing (so they wouldn’t stand out.)

Dutch Immigrant at Ellis Island

These are just a few things that help me go back in time. What other ideas do you have?

What Was Here Before?

Getting a Historical Perspective

History geeks like me are always thinking about what a place looked like a hundred or two hundred years ago. For example, ever since I heard that the area around Plain City, Ohio, had been a hunting ground for Indians because it was where the buffalo roamed, I think about that when I’m driving past on I70. It’s so flat there, and I can just imagine it.

I discovered a children’s book years ago when I went to hear the author speak at a library that gives perspective. Perhaps it’s just how writers think, I’m not sure. It’s called Who Came Down That Road by George Ella Lyon. It explores the fact that a road or path has probably been used by people and animals for centuries.

51vgWM6qnXLHistorical Novelists Are Rightful Daydreamers

We live in the past, yet we’re writing for today’s readers. Can you see how that can make us a little bit…conflicted? (You thought I was going to say crazy, didn’t you?) This is why many novelists have “Do Not Disturb the Writer” signs on their doors. It’s a delicate state of sanity requiring much concentration!

Nobody Gets in to See the Wizard Sign

Similar to the sign Jerry Jenkins has outside his office.

Why You Too Should Envision the Past

We’ve all heard the adage, those who do not learn from the past are destined to repeat its mistakes–or some version of it. I believe it is usually attributed to Edmund Burke. But whoever said it was correct. We need to know what came before so we can move forward with wisdom and thoughtfulness.

So if you’re convinced, here’s a video I think you’ll enjoy. I have this kind of thing going on in my head every day. Let me know if this makes sense to you. 😉

4 Ways to Preserve Your Family Stories

Stories, Not Just History

Sure you need to keep your family tree charts and group sheets safe, but that’s not what I have on my mind today. I’m thinking about the stories, the things that are so easily lost and not attainable in public records. Have you ever said, “I wish I had asked my grandparents about their lives when they were still here with us?” I’ve heard it many times, and I’ve said it myself. So here are some tips for capturing those stories.

1. Make a Recording

Record the Stories

Grant

Never has it been more convenient to get those stories and tales recorded. Most people have cell phones with video capability. You can also download an app just for recording audio–you know, like those tape recorders we had in the old days! Here is one in iTunes and here are some for Android. I’m not endorsing any, so look around and find the best voice recorder for you.

Hearing the stories about someone’s youth in his/her own voice is a treasure. Be sure to download the file to your computer and back it up. Here’s a don’t-do-what-I-did tip: Make sure you know where your cell phone’s speaker is and don’t cover it up with your thumb. I only got bits of this conversation (pictured below) between my mother and her sister. It was classic. Glad others were recording at the same time!

Cindy Thomson's family reunion May 2013

Remember to record your own stories. Tell everyone at your next family gathering what you plan to do and just have fun. Chances are you’d be talking about these things anyway, so get them recorded. Just make sure everyone’s aware of what you’re doing. You might want to edit too. Sometimes people say things they regret. Remember that Yogi Berra quote: I really didn’t say everything I said! Older people can be a product of the age they grew up in when there wasn’t as much political correctness, if you know what I mean.

2. Don’t Forget to Take Pictures

Cindy Thomson's familyIt’s easy to forget when you’re gathered with folks and caught up in conversations. That’s why my cousin hired a photographer for our family reunion.

Also take pictures of pictures if you have no other way to copy a photo you come across. The more copies out there the more likely a photo will not be lost. Share on Facebook/Pinterest/Tumblr…then the image will be forever, right? Some social media sites like Pinterest allow you to make private boards if you’d rather. And don’t forget to get in the picture yourself. (Isn’t everyone taking selfies these days?) When my sister passed away I was sad to discover that she’d managed to stay out of the way of cameras for most of her life.

3. Go Ahead and Use Paper and Pencil

Cindy Thomson's Family Tree BookTechnology fails often, doesn’t it? Take some notes, put out a guestbook, encourage folks to write things down. Everything that I have in my dad’s handwriting makes me feel connected to him even though he’s been in Heaven for a few years now. We’ve definitely gotten away from letter writing in this society, but often people will write down their thoughts and emotions better than they would in person. Don’t miss that opportunity.

4. Get as Much as Possible on Your Computer

I know that seems to contradict what I’ve been saying, but it doesn’t really. You need both electronic copies and paper copies. What if there’s a fire? What if your computer crashes? Oh, yes, there’s the cloud, so definitely get your family treasures out on the cloud as well. Do it all. Just in case.

Author Kate Kerrigan's computer

Author Kate Kerrigan shares some of her family history using her laptop.

Family genealogists are probably using a program such as Ancestry.com or Family Tree Maker software, and they are wonderful for storing not only names and dates, but also photographs, scanned documents, videos and voice recordings. And sharing with other family members is quick and easy. If genealogy is not your thing, I hope there is a keeper of the records and stories in your family.

Wrapping it Up

I know I’ve just thrown out a couple of ideas. I want everyone to know how easy and convenient it can be to preserve the stories of their ancestors and their own as well because EVERYONE SHOULD KEEP THE STORIES!

How are you keeping your family stories for future generations?

We’re Connected by Stories

Defining Our Attachment

“…it’s our stories that tell us who we are. Our parents’ and grandparents’ stories are unique to each of us, to which we have an irrefutable attachment.”

This quote came from this blog post. It speaks the truth, I believe.  This is the sum of why I started researching my roots. We are all searching, I believe, for a connection to each other and to God. Stories connect us. Even hearing the stories of someone not blood-related to you brings you closer to that person and that person’s struggles and triumphs.

How Stories are Collected

The post I linked to above is about a family business in Manhattan. There is another story about a family Clarke's photo by Cindy Thomsonbusiness that I have not stopped thinking about since I heard it. This one takes place on the other side of the pond, in the west of Ireland in a town called Ballina. The town, on the River Moy, is known for salmon. Clarke’s Salmon Smokery in downtown Ballina, which Jackie Clarke opened in 1945, is now run by his sons. The story about Jackie Clarke met my attention because I’ve visited Ballina and even eaten smoked salmon in one of the pubs there. (Truth be told my husband and I ate smoked salmon almost everywhere we went in Ireland and even had it in the airport before we flew home because you’re not allowed to take it with you!)

A Collector of History

Jackie Clarke, apparently, was a collector of items of historical significance. When he died in 2000 he left a floor of his house stuffed with items:

It is the most important private collection of Irish history material in public hands, comprising over 100,000 items spanning 400 years. It includes artefacts associated with Theobald Wolfe Tone; letters from Michael Collins, Douglas Hyde, Michael Davitt and O’Donovan Rossa. It also contains rare books, proclamations, posters, political cartoons, pamphlets, handbills, works by Sir John Lavery, maps, hunger strike material and personal items from Leaders of the 1916 Rising.–www.clarkecollection.ie

From the Jackie Clarke Collection

from http://www.clarkecollection.ie/Collection/

His wife donated the collection in 2005, and much of it is on display in a former bank building in town. This museum opened after my visit so I didn’t get to see it, but it started me thinking about the importance one man collecting history can have. How much of what he kept might have been lost had he not done it? I imagine a good bit. Lots of people keep mementoes, pictures, and items related to their own personal histories. But Jackie Clarke must have felt connected to his community and his country when he stowed away all the stuff he did. I can’t imagine why he didn’t share it in his lifetime. Apparently even his family didn’t know the extent of his collection. Perhaps he thought he was the only interested, but of course that wasn’t true.

My mother has stashed away items, particularly newspaper articles, when she felt they would be of historical significance in the future. She has nothing like the Clarke Collection, but she probably shares Jackie Clarke’s convictions. So much is digital now that there is little need to keep everything, but organizing it is still important so future generations can feel connected to their past. What do you think? Are you a collector?

The past connects us in important ways but only if we are able to hear the stories.