Monthly Archives: March 2013

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What Every Author Needs: A Third Eye

As every book evolves, from the first draft to the final one, there’s nothing more indispensable to an author than a skilled EDITOR–someone who can dispassionately review the manuscript.

The best editors not only catch errors and suggest line changes, but also fine-tune the entire book, including its pacing, tone, and structure.

Should a section be condensed? Would a passage be more dramatic placed sooner rather than later? What added research would enhance it? How effectively are we capturing the voice that will carry the reader through 200 pages?

For more than a decade, such questions have been ably answered by my editor, Ed Friedel, an invaluable member of my writing team, who has worked on all my books and magazine articles.

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Editor Ed Friedel, right, greeting cocker spaniel Lucy at a KATIE UP AND DOWN THE HALL book signing

How did I find him?

As I wrote in a recent blog, so often, proximity is the messenger of fate. It sure was for me. Here’s how it happened: In the summer of l997, Ed and I met quite by accident at a New York City AIDS Hotline, where we were both working as volunteers. Over the next year, every Monday, from 10 am to 2 pm, we sat two feet apart, taking calls about safer sex and AIDS prevention while also becoming fast friends.

One day, thinking I’d get some work done in-between taking calls, I brought along the manuscript of an article I’d been working on for Family Circle , all about celebrity charities. It included my interviews with Elizabeth Taylor, Colin Powell, Reba McEntire, Christopher Reeve, and Bill Gates.taylorcharity

"If people want to hear from me, it's not going to be about how to apply lipstick!" Taylor told me. "I'm going to THUNDER through your brains about AIDS."

“If people want to hear from me, it’s not going to be about how to apply lipstick!” Taylor told me. “I’m going to THUNDER through your brains about AIDS.”

Although Ed’s professional background was international banking, I asked him if he’d like to take a look at the article. I soon discovered that he was blessed with an eagle eye. He read the entire thing and returned it with penciled corrections and editorial suggestions in the margin. It was fantastic. As a thank you, I gave him a sweater!

I next asked him to take a look at another article—A FRAGILE LIFELINE, detailing my personal experience working on the Hotline. Another sweater was added to Ed’s collection–and then another when he edited SHOULD YOUR CHILD WATCH TV NEWS?, which included my interviews with Peter Jennings, Maria Shriver, and Jane Pauley.

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By the time he tackled YOUNG AT HEART,  interviews including Sophia Loren, Betty White, and Kirk Douglas, I started paying him for his work, which was adding great quality and value to the final article.

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Without any formal training, Ed clearly had a natural editorial talent. And the rest is history. We not only have remained close friends, but he went on to edit more than 40 articles for Family Circle on many subjects, from laughter, stress reduction, and the secrets of the centenarians, to interviews with Mia Farrow, Tony Robbins, Tony Bennett, Julie Andrews, Dr. Phil, and Shirley MacLaine, among many others.

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And that’s not to mention editing my books too, including the one closest to my heart, KATIE UP AND DOWN THE HALL, based upon an article Ed edited in Family Circle titled GRANNY DOWN THE HALL.

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Nowadays, in addition to working with me,  Ed has gone on to edit books for other authors as well, while also teaching English as a second language in New York City. While retired as a banker, it just goes to show that we all have many potential careers within us. I suppose I can take some credit for asking Ed to edit that very first article.

I sometimes ask myself, what would have happened if I had never been placed on that Hotline shift? I very much doubt someone else on another shift would have turned out to be my editor. So perhaps our seemingly accidental pairing wasn’t so accidental at all.

Ed Friedel

Friend and Editor

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Lead-In To A Memoir: Paint A Picture, Create A Mood

Every book needs a riveting lead, an opening story that instantly draws you in, capturing your full attention.

Like the first scenes of a movie, the beginning sentences of a memoir should be seductive, lines that paint a picture and create a mood. For example, last year I finished a ghostwritten memoir about a man traumatized by domestic violence as a child, later in life creating a  foundation to help adult survivors recover from abuse.  It begins this way:

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I never knew that my mother slept with a knife under her bed. And she never knew that I slept with a bat under mine. But there we both were, a room apart, keeping our secret weapons handy, terrified of what the night might bring…”

The reader is hopefully engaged by the images conjured up and the promise of what may follow, which allows anyone to “get into” the book and stay there.

I  personally give any book a 20 page benefit of the doubt,  and if I’m not engaged by the 21st page, I put the book aside and never return to it. You have to get the reader interested.

When I wrote my first book, HOROWITZthe biography of  classical pianist Vladimir Horowitz, I began it by conjuring up  a visual picture of him in performance:

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When Vladimir Horowitz walks onto the stage, he always appears in a black cutaway jacket, gray striped pants, vest, and silk bow tie–a “uniform” (as he calls it) reminiscent of the elaborate frock coat and cravat worn by performers in the nineteenth century….once at the piano, he wraps ” his audience with the sort of near-infernal energy once ascribed to Niccolo Paganini and Franz Liszt.” And we’re off on a journey that spans eight decades.

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My second book, TURNING POINT: Pivotal Moments In The Lives Of America’s Celebrities,  is focused on how celebrities have overcome crisis, and I begin it this way: “Sweet-smelling and innocent, trusting and unashamed, the newborn baby sleeps away the days safe from worry, longing, and fear. Safe from problems. Safe from a dangerous place. Safe not for long.

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A few pages later, Elizabeth Taylor, featured on the cover of the book, recalls the days that close friend Rock Hudson was dying of AIDS: “I’ve never seen a more painful, cruel, degrading death. So lonely. The brain, mercifully, seems to totally disintegrate. I’m goddamned sick and tired of people blaming gay men for AIDS. It could just as easily have been spread by some horny rich babe from Miami. AIDS is not a sin, it’s a disease–and the insanity of homophobia has go to stop. How dare so-called religious people say it was God’s idea, His wrath to kill the homosexuals. We’re all God’s children.”  A powerful message.

And then, on a quite a different note, in a ghostwritten Christian-based book, The Power To Change Today, a Chicago Preacher who felt unloved as a child started his book this way: “When I was a little boy, I decided to run away from home. I needed to get away. Why? Because the sadness I felt inside was just too much for me to bear. I didn’t know what to do with that pain. And I was only eight years old.

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Like a suspense thriller, the reader immediately wants to turn the page and find out why that little boy was so unhappy. So whether it’s being intrigued by the greatness of a performing musician, a film star’s passion for AIDS research, or the heartache of an abused child,  each lead-in is meant to grab you from the start.

That’s where a really good ghostwriter can earn his stripes. While most people  recall the events of their lives, re-creating those events in a compelling  way requires putting the words together so that they literally evoke the emotions of what happened.

How would you begin your autobiography?

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Lights, Camera, And A Canine Escape: The Fun Part, Promoting A Memoir

When my  memoir, KATIE UP AND DOWN THE HALL, was  recently released in paperback, the canine star of the book, my cocker spaniel, had some real fun on Fox TV’s Good Day New York, the hit show hosted by Greg Kelly and Rosanna Scotto.

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The  ride to the studio was so bumpy that the four-legged attraction, not prone to accidents, had a bit of motion sickness in the car. But the show must go on. And after having her ears combed out in ‘hair and make-up,’ she was all ready to face the cameras. As you’ll see, halfway through the interview,  she made a great escape.

NYC Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, dog-loving Greg Kelly with Lucy, and Veronica Kelly at the book party

NYC Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, dog-loving Greg Kelly with Lucy, and Veronica Kelly at the book party

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Judge Judy On Board With Lucy

My super-agent, Jan Miller and Lucy

My super-agent, Jan Miller and Lucy

 

When you’re ready to promote your memoir, you can get out the word through social media and directly to reporters and producers at your local newspapers, radio and TV stations. They’ll  be more receptive than you might expect, as local talent with a quality book is always welcome. Once you’ve appeared in the press, it can snowball and lead to national exposure as well.

For any of you who enjoy a heartwarming story about the relationship between a perspicacious dog, an adorable little boy, and an 85-year-old matriarch with a tart view on life, check out our book trailer. As I’ve discovered, a family is anything you want it to be–including relationships with people just down the hall or around the block. Whether young or old, human or  canine, gay or straight, we all belong together.

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Good News For Memoir Writers–Nothing Is Forgotten

From the time we’re babies, our brains are like insatiable sponges–absorbing the sensory sights and sounds all around us, recording the events our lives.

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Our memories—whether near the surface or stored within our subconscious mind—flash back at us during the night in dreams. And they reappear during the day too, continually reminding us of the past as we record everything in the present.

Whether we’re conscious of it all or not, nothing is forgotten. Everything is stored away. And for anyone wanting to write a memoir, that’s very good news.

The challenge, of course, is accessing our memories in vivid detail, for any good memoir depends upon reconstructing events, painting visual pictures, and recalling actual conversations.

Being only too human, of course, our memories sometimes fade.

When I started writing my memoir, KATIE UP AND DOWN THE HALL, I admit to being worried. I never kept journals or diaries. I hadn’t written long letters that I could borrow back for reference. Nor did I tape-record interviews.

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All I had was what was inside my head. (Thankfully, scientists say that our brain’s memory bank is 1000 times larger than the average PC. So I figured it must all be “up there.”)

For me, it all starts at the keyboard.  When I sit in a focused, relaxed state, my thoughts flow out of my fingers. For others, though, writing it out longhand, or talking into a tape recorder, or being interviewed by a ghostwriter works even better. When I work with clients, we record  30-50 hours of conversation to do the job right. It sounds like a lot, but an hour or two spread out over six weeks yields all the material needed. It’s a marathon of reminiscence.

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Sometimes, in my own writing, when I’m stuck or need inspiration, I use a special trick for activating my memory:  I open up my collection of leather scrapbooks, all of them lined up like soldiers on the bookcase, each organized by theme—weddings, birthday parties, vacation trips, jobs, dog adventures, etc.

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Memories of meeting Nancy Reagan at the White House on two separate occasions.

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My Secret Weapon: A Bookshelf of Scrapbooks

As I sit at my desk looking at photographs, I can actually relive the moments documented in them. Memories come flooding back. And I find myself totally immersed, experiencing a thousand feelings.  Emotion always releases memory. And in that instant, I re-experience the events of my life all over again.

So can you. Whether it’s home movies, photos, tape recordings, E-mails, journals, letters or diaries, all these touchstones to the past can stimulate your writing.

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And even if you don’t have any of these tangible references, you have the most precious commodity of all–your internalized memory. It can never be erased. It’s a magnificent space. And  tapping into it, we capture the entire picture of our lives, one that’s just waiting to be written down and published.

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For A Memoir It’s A Limitless Sky

As a ghostwriter, I’m always getting phone calls, letters, and E mails from people sharing their thoughts about books they wants to write on every subject imaginable.

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For example, a woman who lost her leg in the Bosnian war wound up having a prosthetic made by the same company that made an artificial tail for a famous dolphin named Winter, a popular attraction at the Marine Aquarium in Clearwater, Florida. She received so much publicity for her bravery during the war and remarkable recovery, that she’s now launched a speaking career. And she’s about to write her memoir, an inspirational story about how a dolphin  helped her make it through her own struggles .

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Then there was the call from the millionaire marketing executive who was exposed to poverty and extreme domestic violence as a child. He’s now created a foundation to help adult survivors of childhood abuse recover from trauma and has now written a book all about it.

And I just heard from a trial attorney, describing his 30-year history handling criminal cases, from FBI espionage to Mafia hits,  including the so-called “body parts” case, the story of two funeral directors convicted for removing body parts from the deceased and selling them for transplants! You can’t make this stuff up.

I really believe that everyone has a book inside them, just waiting to be written. It might be a memoir, a motivational guide, a family history, or a book about your hobby or life work. It might be focused on one individual subject. Countless physicians have written books about losing weight or diabetes or the secrets to stress reduction. No matter what your profession, you can definitely write a book about it from your unique perspective. And so often, people tell me they feel passionately about a subject that should become a book. But how?

Once you’ve decided that you want to write a book, and if you don’t have the time or the expertise to write it yourself, the next step is finding a collaborator, someone who can make the book come to life with no time wasted.

Over the years, I’ve constructed a system for writing a book in five months or less, from beginning to end, adding in a few extra weeks for a book proposal–and then you’re ready to meet an agent and get that book published. It’s a limitless sky. One of my favorite projects was working with a Chicago Pastor who brilliantly blended life lessons with scripture, his unique storytelling leading to a self-help book, The Power To Change Today.

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So if you have a great book idea, don’t procrastinate about it. I think the best stories come from real life, driven by true heart and passion. Here’s a few ideas about how to make your book become a reality:

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TIPS FOR WRITING A BESTSELLER
1.Begin with a compelling hook or concept
2.Include an Introduction that seduces the reader
3.Capture a unique writing voice
4.Be concise
5.Create a sequence of short chapters that keep the reader’s attention
6.Use vivid imagery to paint a picture, language that’s punchy and descriptive
7.Keep the action moving, one chapter building to the next
8.Be specific and non-repetitive
9.Delete the sections readers skip
10.Create a climax, the book’s message carrying you to the end

 

Tony Robbins

Proximity – The Messenger of Fate – A Key Element To Every Memoir

Tony Robbins

Tony Robbins

As you begin working on your memoir, no doubt, you’ll start wondering why things unfolded in your life exactly as they did. Can what happens to us be controlled and planned, or is much of it mere accident, fate, destiny–or is there perhaps another greater force at work as well?

The  peak performance coach and bestselling author Tony Robbins, who has worked with three million people in 80 countries (including heads of state, professional athletes, and corporate executives)–has much to say on our collective Date With Destiny, the title of one of his most captivating seminars, offered a few times each year in exotic locales such as Bali.

Tony believes that our peer group–who we choose to associate with and come into contact with on a daily basis–very much determines the course of our lives. I can tell you that in my work with ghostwriting clients, we spend considerable time talking about the sequence of life events and why they seemed to happen exactly as they did.  I sometimes ask: “Do you ever play this game: ‘If I hadn’t just accidentally found myself in that elevator (or in that classroom, gym class, subway car, or party) at that exact moment in time, how would my entire life have been different? Maybe I never would have met my mate, or a key business connection, or a lifelong friend.’ Right?!

Sometimes sheer accidents leads to great things. Here’s a small example: Last week, I was dripping wet in our building’s elevator, having just finished swimming laps, when I “accidentally” ran into one of my neighbors, Russ, a movie producer. Earlier that morning, in the New York Times, I had read an article about Wendy Diamond, the editor of Animal Fair magazine, hoping to meet with her to discuss the possibility of her covering my last book, KATIE UP AND DOWN THE HALL, a memoir about my dog. Just at that serendipitous moment, as I was standing in the elevator, I happened to mention my new “dog” book to Russ, who then told me: “There’s somebody you really have to meet–one of my best friends!” And it turned out to be magazine editor Diamond, who generously ran a 4-page story about my book.

Animal Fair Interview

 

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Close Proximity Inside Our Elevator

“You’ve got to be kidding,” I told him. I just couldn’t believe the coincidence. Sure this seemed accidental–but as I’ve learned from Tony Robbins, what happens to us is greatly a product of what he has insightfully described as THE POWER OF PROXIMITY.

Simply put, it’s so often the people in our physical orbits–those in closest proximity–who will become the people most important to us. When you’re around someone in your environment, day after day, you notice their insight, humor, and unique talents–and the needs in them that call out to you for fulfillment. When we look to each other for companionship, love, and connection–we often get what we need.

So as Tony often says to seminar participants: “Who, in your environment is nearby? Who’s literally in your field of vision? Who do you keep bumping into, over and over again?”

In this way, as he wisely concludes: “For most of us, proximity is the messenger of fate.

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In my life this is absolutely true, and every memoir writer recognizes this key principle which harkens to the motivation behind events. Start thinking about this domino effect, of one thing leading to the next. And you’ll soon notice that maybe thing aren’t so accidental at all. I believe that pondering all this is great exercise in the memoir marathon, making your book as compelling as it can be.

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What Every Memoir Needs To Spread The Word–A “Book” Trailer

History Precedes Book Evolution of Book Trailers

For generations, moviegoers have been seduced into buying tickets for upcoming attractions by watching those all-important movie trailers, alluring previews that generate the ‘impulse buy,’ pulling you back into the theater for more.

These 30-second trailers are elaborately produced, intended to incite in the viewer a visceral reaction. I think of them as Hors d’oeuvres, whetting your appetite for the main course. In fact, I often make my decisions about what movies I see based upon trailers, which ideally give you the flavor and texture of the story without giving the plot away.

While movie producers have banked on the power of trailers for years, it’s only in the last few years that the book industry is finally catching up, borrowing the concept by producing so-called “book trailers”– video advertisements for new releases that can be acted out using flash videos, animation, or simple still photos set to music (with optional narration), designed to build advance interest and sales.

If you’ve written a memoir and want to promote it on social media–YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, etc.–you’re going to need a book trailer, which is like putting the cherry on a sunday. It’s fun to do and really works.

In fact, it’s hard to believe that the first book trailer wasn’t produced until 2003! And it wasn’t until 2005 when user-generated online video upload became more popular that such trailers become a common reality on sites like MySpace, YouTube and iFilm. The cost of such trailers to promote your memoir range from the bare bones low-end of $1500 to $15,000 and up depending on productions values. But such trailers turn out to be invaluable as an author can use them on social networking sites, in their press kits, in presentations to book chains, on commercial sites selling books, at Book Expo America, and at book readings.

The Final Book Jacket Design

When I learned all this about a year ago, my goal was creating a book trailer of my own. After all, KATIE UP AND DOWN THE HALL is an emotional, highly-visual story that takes place along the Hudson River–with a very photogenic dog (Katie), an adorable little boy (Ryan), and a charismatic matriarach (Pearl), so I envisioned a book trailer that could capture the color and mood of the story.

Glenn, Ryan, Pearl, and Katie

The best book trailers are really like poems with music, consisting of three major elements–an inspiring message (the script), beautiful images (in my case, a montage of photographs that illustrate our family story), and atmospheric background music that matches the mood of the story.

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To collect the visuals for my book trailer, I combed through 20 of my scrapbooks, choosing the most expressive pictures I could find. I eventually wound up with 300 “finalists,” that told the entire story of our 16 years together. From this pool of photos, I eventually narrowed it down to 65 pictures to tell the story of KATIE.

Finally, I needed to find background music that would match the mood of the story–and hopefully evoke in viewers an emotional reaction. One night, I found a great movie on cable titled “My Dog Skip,” and as soon as I heard the film score, I knew it was perfect for my story.

And now, with all three elements chosen, I needed a video and sound editor to put it all together. That’s when I turned to one of my best friends, actor Brandon Williams, who not only did the voice-over narration but the  editing as well, matching the meaning of the script to the image, creatively panning and zooming on pictures, coordinating the final look of the trailer.

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The final result speaks for itself. Just click and see.

I have to tell you that I’ve screened this trailer for many people–kids, seniors, businessmen, dog lovers, and those not even interested in dogs–and the reaction has been startling. Almost everybody who sees it cries! Why? I think it’s because each of us has a child, or a grandmother, or a best friend, or a dog in our lives who we’ve bonded with deeply–and who we’ve ultimately lost, due to the inevitability of death or separation.

Judy Judy arriving with me at the book party, complete with a book trailer playing for guests

Judy Judy arriving with me at the book party, complete with a book trailer playing for guests

Well, there you have the story of my book trailer. When you’re memoir is all written and ready, trust me when I tell you that producing the book trailer is a very enjoyable part of the process. So think about your story, collect all the visuals you have, work with your ghostwriter to create a dramatic script, start listening to all your favorite iTunes, and soon enough you’ll be on your way to producing the perfect book trailer that fits the content of your book.

 

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Great Content For A Memoir: Lessons From Grandparents

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Throughout my life, from one decade to the next, I’ve always been fortunate to have by my side either a grandparent or someone much older than me- a mentor, guide, confidante, and friend offering the perspective and wisdom that only comes with age.

There’s something so healing about being in the company of an elder–someone who has seen life and understands all its challenges and rewards, a subject I wrote about a few days ago in a Blog about my remarkable friend Bud.

And the one person who started it all for me is my maternal grandmother, Essie, known in our family as Nana.

There was nothing old-fashioned about this energetic dynamo–who was physically robust, articulate, and up to date on everything, including movies, music, and fashion. Charismatic and fun to be with, she tended to me and my two sisters with incredible devotion–taking care of us together with my Mom, picking us up at school, helping us with our homework, cooking and baking (her signature crumb cake with yellow raisens being one of my favorites), carting me to piano lessons, sunday school, you name it.

My Favorite Picture of Us At My First Book Launch

Her arrival at our house was always cause for great excitement. As I write in my upcoming book:

I became jubilant whenever I saw her car pulling up into our driveway, her yellow tortoise-shell purse catching the light.

Sometimes we’d sit at the kitchen table, laughing for hours as Nana quizzed me on American history, afterwards treating me to her fantastic crumb cake or signature Cream of Wheat.

She also played the piano—usually “The Skating Song,” a popular tune in the silent movie days. But mostly, she’d sit on the bench next to me, encouraging my efforts at the keyboard, (and years later, attending all my piano recitals.)

When I was hospitalized in my 20’s for a stomach ailment, there she was, nursing me back to health; a few years later, when my first book was published, she was next to me at Barnes & Noble, smartly dressed, as I signed copies.

And five years after that, we marketed Nana’s shortbread meringue cookies, dubbed “Essie’s Crumby Dessert Squares…The CrumbiestYou Ever Had.” Katharine Hepburn, Peter Jennings, Nancy Reagan, Calvin Klein, and Paul Newman all raved about them, giving her endorsements. They were sold at Bloomingdale’s and led to such newspaper headlines as: “Top Stars Clamoring for More Of Buffalo Grandma’s Cookies.” And: “Cookies Turning A Grandmother Into Rising Star.” There was Nana being interviewed on television and signing autographs! (Just click on the picture that says “Cookie Maker To The Stars” to see my grandmother’s famous fans!)

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Backstage with superstar Lionel Richie, who remarked of her cookies: “I can’t believe these things….they’re scrumptious! Will you send me more?”

In short, Nana was remarkable in every way—and with me, every step of the way. Like any great grandparent–she was a protective guide, loving us unconditionally and

teaching us about what was right and what was wrong–how to behave, and what to be careful about.

I’m sure you’ve had a grandparent who you were especially close to, who influenced your life profoundly, and whom you miss. If you’re considering writing your life story, no doubt, one potential source of rich content can be the relationship you’ve had with either your grandparents or others who have been supportive and loving, offering their wisdom and advice.

Years after I’d left home and moved to New York, when my grandmother was in her final years and ailing, she was still no less interested or central in my life. 

 

At The Piano, Having One of my grandmother’s famous cookies!

Family Fun: My Mom, Katie, my sister Debby,

I can’t believe it’s been 20 years since Nana died, because it seems like just yesterday we were all laughing on the phone, having dinner together, and savoring my grandmother’s famous cookies!

So tell me about YOUR grandmother or grandfather or aunt or uncle, or the mentor  who made all the difference.  How did they enrich your life and what are your favorite memories? I can promise you that this can be an important part of your memoir, one that will instantly grab readers, for they, too, have such memories.