Finding Sisters Isn’t the Only Thing I’ve Been Focusing On in 2022

Since I last wrote in early March about the virtual book tour I’d just completed for Finding Sisters, lots has been happening for me on the writing front. The first news is that the audiobook version of Keeping the Lights on for Ike finally came out last month! Though the initial recordings were completed in November of 2020, various complications, including a shift in personnel dealing with the project, a few technical glitches, and some general lack of communication between Amazon and Sunbury during the pandemic slowed things down, but as of June 9th, the Audible version of Keeping the Lights on for Ike, read by yours truly, is now on sale. There will also be an audiobook version of Finding Sisters, but Sunbury has now engaged a new company to coordinate their audiobooks, so it won’t be read by me (in spite of the fact that I did voiceover work back in the day when I was still occasionally working as an actor), but I’ll be sure to let everyone know when that one comes out as well.

The link in this screenshot image is not live, but you can check out a sample of the audiobook here:

In May and June, I spent most of my time focusing on a playwriting project that has been on my radar for many years. Weaving Penelope, written with my old friend and theatre colleague, Richard Carp, is a play exploring the mostly untold story about the wife of Odysseus, who ruled her husband’s kingdom while he was away fighting the Trojan War—and having other adventures—for 20 years. It imagines Penelope’s experiences and expands on scenes from Homer’s Odyssey. The play nods to some Greek theatre conventions, including the use of a chorus of players who narrate the story and out of which all characters—except Penelope—emerge. Richard and I had been working on the play for well over a decade, only completing it once we had both retired from teaching and academic administration. We had a very successful Zoom reading in the spring of 2021 with participants in four states, and in 2022, thanks to the sponsorship of Keizer Homegrown Theatre (KHT) who gave us a fiscal umbrella and an Oregon theatre facility to use, and the generous patronage of Ronni Lacroute (supporter of the arts extraordinaire), we scheduled two in-person workshops with directors and actors to further explore the play on its feet: one outdoors at a private residence in western Massachusetts in June and another at the KHT courtyard performance space in September. Unfortunately, in spite of all our careful rehearsal protocols and regular testing, Covid—plus a death in the family of another cast member—cancelled our showcase performance in Massachusetts. Though we weren’t able to get audience reaction to a performance, we were able to get some very valuable feedback about working with the script from the actors in the ensemble, and we are doing some minor adjustments to the script this summer, before rehearsals begin for the coming Oregon showcase.

This is the image we used on our audition announcements for the Massachusetts workshop.

In the middle of all this other excitement, I have been working slowly but surely on my grief memoir. I started writing it in 2017 (seven years after my husband’s sudden death but the first time I could articulate coherent thoughts about what I wanted/needed to say about that event and the effect it has had on my life), and the manuscript, called That Day, And What Came After: Finding and Losing the Love of My Life in Six Short Years, is almost ready to propose to my publisher. The narrative starts with the day Skip died, takes the reader through the first month of my widowhood, including his funeral, burial, a memorial event at our house, and my struggle to find a new path for my life, and then jumps back to the beginning of our relationship and details the life we were building together after our late-in-life marriage. In addition to the more traditional relationship narrative, I had also written several short essays about particular challenges I encountered “Along the Grieving Road” and curated some of the entries in my grief journal to share with readers. Every word of this memoir has been shared over the past several years with my wonderful women writers’ group, and they have given me some terrific advice on the text, which has now been revised several times. This spring, the big challenge for me was to find a structure for the memoir that would allow me to include all these disparate parts in a single, coherent whole. Thanks to my former employer, St. Lawrence University, and their generous research support for emeritus faculty, I was able to hire the professional editor who facilitates the writing group and already knew the work to work with me directly on structural issues. Now I’m in the process of reworking some of the shorter pieces and the journal selections and hope to finish the final manuscript before summer is over.

This is one of my favorite photos of Skip (aka the geezer model), taken about sixteen months before he died.

Though Sunbury Press has already published two of my books, they do not automatically accept new work from their authors without vetting each manuscript, so I will be going through an application process, just as I did with Keeping the Lights on for Ike and Finding Sisters. I hope to be ready to start that process in August. Keep your fingers crossed for me!

Finding Sisters has been on a virtual tour in January-February; a Goodreads Giveaway happens in March 2022

It’s been five months since I last wrote, and a lot has happened in that time. Here’s the quick rundown. Finding Sisters was released by Sunbury Press on September 14, 2021. I participated in an in-person multiple local author event at the Greenfield YMCA on October 2nd to promote the new book (even though I didn’t actually have any copies on hand yet) and gave a radio interview to North Country Public Radio in Canton, NY (where the journey started) on October 27th. Then the holidays rolled in, and the holidays rolled out again while not much else happened on the book front. Just two days before Christmas, while taking out my paper recycling, I took a dramatic fall on icy stairs which resulted in bruises, muscle pulls, and 18 stitches in my leg. Blessedly, there were no broken bones, but it did create a big slowdown where my plans for late December and early January were concerned. I’m much better now.

Shortly after the start of 2022, I began a virtual tour (20 “stops” with various book bloggers featuring my new book between January 3 and February 25), experienced my first Facebook Live interview on January 16th with a book blogger in India, and had my first masked in-person author talk/reading/book sale on January 26th at the Greenfield Senior Center.

Anyone who is not one of my Facebook friends and has not already seen each stop on the virtual tour as they unfolded over time can binge the tour stops here.

The page starts by sharing my interview with the tour host and other details about me and the book. Scroll to the bottom of the page for the tour schedule with related links. There is one link (January 20th) that didn’t feature me or my book because of an unexpected medical crisis for the blogger (not COVID); otherwise each stop on the tour has a link to that blogger’s review of Finding Sisters (all of them excellent) and sometimes additional info requested by the hosts (guest posts, interviews, excerpts from the book).

I’ve also taken time to update my website, so if you’re not interested in bingeing the tour stop by stop, you can get most of the same information about the new book on my website, especially at the links for “Reviews” and “Interviews about Finding Sisters.”

If you haven’t already purchased a copy of Finding Sisters, you can enter a giveaway that will be running on Goodreads during the month of March. I’ll be giving away eight inscribed copies of the book to eight lucky winners, and it all starts today, March 1, 2022! To enter, you must have a Goodreads account, but they are free and easy to set up. The easiest way to enter the giveaway is to go to the Finding Sisters page on Goodreads and use the “Enter Giveaway” button.

This is a screenshot, not a live link. On the Finding Sisters page on Goodreads, you need to scroll down a bit to find this image about the giveaway

Be sure to scroll down the page a bit for the giveaway link. You must give your address if your entry is for a print book (mine is), so the author or publisher can send you the book if you are one of the winners. Then you agree to their terms (no purchase necessary) and say you’re not a robot. You will be notified by email if you are one of the winning entries (most authors usually give away multiple copies; I’m giving away eight signed copies)). If you are interested in other Goodreads Giveaways, go to the Goodreads homepage and click on the “Browse” dropdown. From there, click on “Giveaways” and “Recent” to scroll through all current giveaways.

If you want to guarantee getting an inscribed copy of the print book, you will need to order that from me directly (or contact me about how to mail me the copy you have already received from Sunbury, Amazon, or your local bookstore, which I will inscribe with a personal message, sign, and send back to you). And if you’ve already read the book and enjoyed it, I’d love to get a few more reviews on Goodreads and/or Amazon.

The last early spring update to share with you is that the letters Dad wrote home during WWII, letters and images that became the core of Keeping the Lights on for Ike, have now started the process of becoming part of the archives of the Veteran’s History Project of the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. The archivist who received them last week said, “it’s just as rich a correspondence collection as I’d hoped.” This means that others who want to know more about veterans’ experiences during WWII will have access to the primary documents, and the archive will also steer researchers perusing the letters to my book, if they are interested.

Finding Sisters will be out the end of September: pre-ordering is now available!

When I wrote my last blog in June, I really thought that after teasing you with covers I had rejected in the cover design process, I’d be able to send you an update and final cover preview in early August, but here we are in September instead. The delays have been for good reasons—Sunbury is working on many new releases for the fall and the book designer had lots of manuscripts to lay out—but also because of a change I instigated regarding my book. I had a meeting in late July with the marketing consultant from Sunbury to make some plans for pre- and early release marketing strategies, and he convinced me that I needed a more exciting and engaging subtitle for Finding Sisters, a subtitle that highlighted the story more immediately and used more descriptive catchphrases that might attract possible readers.  So, instead of the relatively dry and academic, “My Journey to Find Genealogical Relations Through DNA Testing,” after a few days of back-and-forth conversations, we settled on the much more active and engaging, “How One Adoptee Used DNA Testing and Determination to Uncover Family Secrets and Find her Birth Family.”

So, with a new subtitle there had to be a revision in the design before the front cover art could be revealed. A couple of miscommunications later, the new front cover design is finally ready to be revealed, though the back cover is still in the final stages of the design process. I’m excited by the quality of the artwork, and a number of folks who have previewed the design have said it would make them interested in checking out the inner contents of the book itself, so between the image and the new subtitle, I’m hoping lots of folks will be interested enough to pick up a copy and browse once it hits bookstore shelves.

The image, created by artist Alyssa Roth using mostly photos I provided, includes faces from several places in my genetic family tree superimposed over the silhouette of a large and striking tree on a hillside (a photo of her own Alyssa had). Of the photos I provided, one is a picture of my birth mother from her high school yearbook; another is a photo of my paternal grandmother provided by one of my new cousins, and another is an image of a maternal half-sister (now deceased) that I never got to meet because she died before I ever embarked on my genealogical journey, provided by my other maternal half-sister. I love how the cover image engages the viewer and hints at mystery but is actually based in real family relationships I was able to discover during my genetic genealogy journey.

The book is not quite ready for prime time yet since there are a few last editing and design tasks to complete before the official release, but it’s due out before the end of this month (pre-order info at the end of this post). Once it’s in print, shipping and delivery from the publisher typically takes about two weeks. It will eventually be available on Amazon as well, but I don’t have a date for that just yet. There will also be a Kindle edition soon, and eventually, an audiobook read by yours truly, hopefully before the end of the year. If you want a signed copy of the print book, you will need to order that from me directly (or mail me the copy you receive from Sunbury, Amazon, or your local bookstore, which I will sign and send back to you), but I won’t have my copies any sooner than anyone else…though I have just seen and approved the pdf file for the final print book design (everything between the covers), and it looks great!

Here’s the description of the book from the Sunbury Press pre-order site:

Where does she come from?

Who are her genetic parents?

Who is she?

Does she even want to know?

With almost no information of her genetic heritage, adoptee Rebecca Daniels follows limited clues and uses DNA testing, genealogical research, thoughtful letter writing, and a willingness to make awkward phone calls with strangers to finally find her birth parents.

But along the way, she finds much more.

Two half-sisters.

A slew of cousins on both sides.

A family waiting to be discovered.

With the assistance of a distant cousin in Sweden and several other DNA angels on the internet, Daniels finally comes face to face with her birth mother just months before her passing. Join in on this author’s discovery of family and self in Finding Sisters: How One Adoptee Used DNA Testing and Determination to Uncover Family Secrets and Find her Birth Family

Finding Sisters is an excellent example of what it takes to solve a family mystery. Yet it’s also a captivating story of human relationships in the age of secrecy-revealing DNA databases…. Refreshingly honest and personal. Like no other DNA success story, Finding Sisters uses footnotes and family tree diagrams to show exactly how the search unfolds. This makes the book a clever hybrid of a memoir and a case study” – Richard Hill, author of Finding Family: My Search for Roots and the Secrets in My DNA

The book is now available for pre-order here.

Formatting the Book and Designing the Cover for Finding Sisters

Two months ago, when I last wrote, the editing process for Finding Sisters had just begun with the assignment of the publishing company CEO as my editor. He sent me the first two chapters right away, followed by an alarming silence for several weeks. It turned out that he had been hospitalized with Covid, but he didn’t make that reality public, even for his authors, until he was well on the road to recovery. We’ve now finished the editing of the main manuscript which, lucky for me, didn’t involve much serious rewriting of any of the chapters, and the book has now moved on to the formatting stage.

The formatting stage is where the book designer takes the edited manuscript and the proposed illustrations and puts them together in what will eventually become the printing format for the physical book. That process began just about a week ago, so I have nothing to report about what’s happening there, but I’ve worked with this book designer before and she does excellent work. There were lots of illustrations for Keeping the Lights on for Ike, and she did a terrific job of placing them within the chapters. There are fewer illustration for Finding Sisters, so I’m not stressed at all about what she will come up with. Eventually, the appendix of resources and other items—like the dedication, acknowledgements, and table of contents—will get added to the format as well.

Along with the formatting of the book comes the cover design process. I’ve been assigned a designer, someone I’ve not worked with before but who is excited about the creative possibilities for this cover. She has already presented me with three interesting options to choose from, based on my early suggestions for possible cover artwork themes. The first, and favorite of all who have seen the options, is a tree image with faces from my illustrations superimposed inside the tree branches. It’s a really fascinating and creative take on a “family tree” and is very engaging for all who view it. She’s now in the process of playing with color variations and adjusting some of the photo images so we should be moving to finalize the design soon. The other two options presented below (designs by Alyssa Roth) included a playful wallpaper of a repeated double helix image (the structure of a DNA molecule) with lettering spread across it, and a closer view of a double helix with photo images inside the rounded, crossing strands and interspersed with lettering. Such wonderful and creative options for this author to choose from, and if these are the ones we’re not going to use, imagine how amazing the final cover will be! I look forward to unveiling the final cover design soon.

One of the cover options designed by Alyssa Roth
Another cover option designed by Alyssa Roth

The marketing planning process for the book launch has also begun with me submitting all the requested info (about my in-person networks, social media handles, search keywords, comparable books by others, pitch ideas, blurbs, Amazon categories, etc.) to the marketing advisor. We’ll start that part of the process very soon. And you thought all you had to do to get a book published was to write it!

We are still very much on target for an early fall release, though it seems late summer could also be possible if all the details fall into place in a timely fashion. I’ll definitely keep everyone posted on that date as soon as it’s formally announced.

The Editing Process Finally Starts!

29 March 2021. I had my “kickoff” meeting last Friday with Marianne Babcock (Executive Assistant to the CEO) about how Sunbury’s newly revised editing and planning process will unfold for Finding Sisters. We set a tentative date for publication in the early fall 2021, though it could be a bit earlier, depending on how the editing and book design process evolves. My latest revised manuscript was submitted to Marianne later that day, I gave her access to the proposed book illustrations through my Drop Box file, and I was told I would have an editor assigned very soon. It turns out that the Founder and CEO, Lawrence Knorr, is doing some occasional duty as an editor, and he’s going to be working with me. Lawrence has been supportive of this book since I first mentioned it to him as a work in progress during the podcast interview he did with me for Keeping the Light on for Ike when it was first released in early 2019. Genealogy is one of his particular interests, and it will be an incredible privilege to work directly with him!

Once the timeline was established, Marianne and I talked about the Matter template she had sent me in advance of the meeting. For those who have never published a book, “matter” is the term publishers use for all the information they need above and beyond the manuscript itself. Most of the information never shows up in the book itself, but it helps shape the marketing plan for the book as it approaches its launch and beyond. The template asks for a book description (both short and long form; very carefully defined by number of words or characters); author bio (short and long); BISAC (Book Industry Standards and Communications) categories; SEO (search engine optimization) keywords; Amazon categories; and comparable books by other authors; all geared toward where the publisher can sell my book. The template also encourages social media participation by the author, an up-to-date author website, how to look for people to provide possible “blurbs” (those important mini-reviews from related professionals or other authors that help to raise interest in the book when it first comes out), and other ways the author can contribute to getting information out there about the book both before and after it’s released.

After talking about the matter document, which I am in the process of drafting now and which will come into play as the editing phase nears its end, we also talked about book illustrations. Finding Sisters will have a few photos (though not nearly as many as Keeping the Lights on for Ike) as well as some family trees I’ve created that are designed to help the reader follow all the familial connections discovered in the search for my genetic relations. I will be working with Crystal Devine, the same book designer who designed Keeping the Lights on for Ike, to determine the best placement of the illustrations. Those who know me well, know I have already thought carefully about that and, of course, provided a list (I am the queen of lists) for which chapters I think the pictures belong in and approximately where in that chapter the text reference to the photo happens, though the specifics are still to be determined collaboratively during the editing process.

(The photos above are the reunion images from the days I first met each of my new half sisters, April in the left image in 2015 and Ann on the right in 2017)

After the illustration conversation, we turned to talking a bit about ideas for the book cover. I think the most promising idea we discussed will be some kind of collage of the reunion photos and perhaps one or two of the family trees. Sunbury creates compelling cover artwork for their books, and I was quite pleased with the cover for Keeping the Lights on for Ike, so I have high hopes for the Finding Sisters cover as well. I don’t know yet who will design the cover for Finding Sisters, but Terry Kennedy who designed the cover for Ike is an excellent designer, and I’ve recently discovered that Lawrence is also an accomplished digital artist as well as editor and book publisher CEO, so it’s a win-win situation for me, regardless of which cover designer I am assigned.

I have no idea how long or short the editing and book design process will be now that it’s finally underway, but based on past experience it’s a solid bet it will be completed in plenty of time for an early fall book launch. However, between working on the newest book (not yet ready for a book proposal submission so I need to give it more attention) and the editing and marketing planning process for the Finding Sisters release, I have no idea whether I’ll be doing much new blogging until it’s finally published. But you can be sure I’ll keep you posted about the launch before it happens!

What to Do With a Mosaic Memoir?

19 January 2021: Last month, I promised to write a bit more about my “mosaic memoir” process, but first a quick update about editorial work on Finding Sisters. I’m still inching up the queue, and I’ve learned a lot about the process for the editorial staff at Sunbury Press. The “waiting to be assigned” queue isn’t necessarily a linear progression, as I had first imagined. Each editor works on multiple manuscripts of different lengths at any given time (some being assigned more projects than others, depending on their status as full or part time editors), and while Sunbury has a wide variety of imprints (from young adult fiction to literary and historical fiction to fantasy/horror to self-help books and more) as well as their primary focus on non-fiction manuscripts of all kinds, their editors do not seem to specialize in one genre of book over another. This means that the time needed to edit each manuscript can vary wildly. It’s also possible that occasionally the head of the company might pull a manuscript on a particularly “hot topic” (such as books related to the pandemic) out of the queue and advance it to the head of the line. Though there are still only a handful of books ahead of mine in the “to be assigned” queue, there’s really no way of telling when the editing process might start for me.

I’ll share that process with you when it happens, but it’s hard to know for sure when that might occur. So, in the meantime, I’ll explain more about the essays that make up what I was calling a “mosaic memoir” in my post last month. Due to a really interesting exercise suggested by the facilitator of my writing group, I discovered something surprising about those essays. The directive was to give a working title and subtitle to the projects (mostly memoirs) we were each working on, with the goal of telegraphing to our reading audience the main topic or theme of our manuscript in progress. In other words, “what’s my story about?” Members of the writing group shared our titles at our last Zoom meeting before our holiday hiatus.

The first step for me in preparing for the exercise was to list and characterize each of the 14 essays I’d drafted so far for the mosaic memoir project, and in doing so, I discovered that the essays were evenly split in type and that there was no way to give the current collection of essays a single title. There were actually two books in progress! Not only that, I was able to list several new essays/chapters that I want to write for each project. Exciting stuff.

The first thing I realized was that I had written more than I had realized about my late-in-life second marriage, including my husband’s unexpected death from sudden cardiac arrest just months after being pronounced totally healthy by his doctors. That has now become a different project for me. It will become a much more traditional memoir and, like the story in Finding Sisters, will cover a specific time in my life (2004-present). It will have anecdotal information that anyone on a similar grief journey might find useful, but it will not be a self-help book. Instead, it will be the story of those years in my life, my interactions with my husband, and the people and actions that helped me to survive and eventually even thrive again after his death. I’ve given it a working title of Adventures with the Bartender: Finding and Losing the Love of My Life in Six Short Years. For those who don’t know, my husband owned and ran a small Adirondack hotel for seven years and loved to serve drinks to guests in our house, especially when we had parties, thus earning himself the nickname “The Bartender” among our friends. He earned another nickname, “The Geezer Model,” because of his good-natured indulgence of me and my camera when I wanted to take his picture, which was often, especially when we were traveling.

The Geezer Model on a hillside above the beach in northern California (July 2009)

For those who let me know after last month’s blog about their interest in the concept of the mosaic memoir, I want to reassure you that project is still very much a reality, though likely a lower priority at the moment than the new memoir about my widow journey. One close friend wrote me a note after learning about my mosaic memoir idea telling me she heartily approved and sharing information about an early 20th century Italian poet, Cesare Pavese (1908-1950), who famously said, “We do not remember days, we remember moments.” A former student who now teaches and performs internationally loved the idea of a mosaic memoir, and he explained to me, “Mosaic is my favorite content-process metaphor. In all my classrooms and performances, I always tell students/audiences: ‘Don’t look for a thread, we’re not following anything, keep your eyes in soft focus, the picture will begin to emerge eventually.’” And that’s exactly the point of this second project with the current working title, Mosaic Memoir: Snapshots of My Life. Though I have seven essays already written about various threads or snapshots that are important in my life, and at least four more I want to write, there’s no obvious narrative through-line. At least, not yet. These essays cover various times and experiences in my life and have current working titles like “Tomboy,” “Like Mother Like Daughter,” “Losing my Voice,” and “Brothers of the Heart” (with “Sisters of the Heart” soon to come), among others.

There’s certainly no lack of writing topics for me, and I’m sure these projects will keep me busy for many months to come. For anyone who worries that they might not have enough to say to write a memoir, I suggest you might try the mosaic approach. It’s amazing what comes up in one’s memory to write about when there’s no pressure to have a specific structural plan for a book!

For my next entry, I hope to be able to report on the start of my editing process for Finding Sisters, but I’m not holding my breath. In any case, I’m sure I’ll find something interesting to share with all of you about my two newest projects.

What to Do While Waiting for Your Editor

1 December 2020: Due to several factors beyond my control, I continue to find myself “in the queue” at Sunbury to begin editing the new manuscript for publication, but my place in line has now moved from low double digits to the middle single digits, so perhaps my process will start before Christmas. Or not. It’s hard to predict, especially when you combine the holiday season with a pregnancy leave for a member of the editorial staff and a pandemic where the rules keep changing nearly every week. The editing and design work for the previous book took about five months from the beginning of the process to the book release, so I still expect Finding Sisters to come out in 2021, though I’ve stopped using “early 2021” in my projections.

In spite of a three-week hiatus in late September/early October where I couldn’t focus my eyes properly due to the healing process after laser eye surgery, I finished the files for the audiobook version of Keeping the Lights on for Ike in mid-November and submitted them for processing. However, they haven’t yet given me a date for the release of the audiobook. I’ll be sure to let you know when it happens, so anyone who’s been waiting to hear me read my WWII book out loud to you will finally be able to enjoy that experience. I realized as I was doing the work, just how amazing it was to read my own book out loud from start to finish. The book went through multiple revisions and had been read out loud, chapter by chapter, within my writing group before I started working with the Sunbury editors to get the book ready for publication. But the writing group readings happened over a longer period of time, with several weeks between each chapter, so there was no true sense of overall continuity. But reading a chapter a day really helps you understand whether or not your story hangs together and helps you more easily find repetitions and duplications. Even after as many revisions as the Ike manuscript went through in the nearly three-year process from early chapters to final publication, I was still able to notice a few small phrasing repetitions in this reading-aloud process that no amount of revisions managed to discover prior to publication. I doubt many will notice it, other than me, but I think it’s something I’ll try to do with any future book manuscripts before final publication, even if I’m not actively working on recording the audiobook version. It was a very interesting and revealing process.

So, other than waiting to be assigned my next editor, what else is happening for me? Both of my recent books had a very specific story to tell, but I didn’t feel like I had another lengthy and specific event-driven story to share when I finished Finding Sisters well over a year ago. Most of the women in my writing group have been working on memoirs of various kinds, so I started to think what that kind of me-focused story might mean. I knew I didn’t want to write a chronological “this is my life” story (boring!), and the most dramatic thing that had happened to me in the past couple of decades was the sudden death of my husband in 2010, which was very difficult to approach as a writer, especially because I worried that whatever I wrote might be maudlin and over-emotional. So, I started writing short essays about things of importance in my life to see if they might eventually hang together and add up to a larger story. I am calling this process my mosaic memoir, so each essay becomes a “tile” in the larger mosaic. Some are related to each other (the stories about my husband and his sudden death, for example), but others stand alone. In the spaces between working on larger projects (promoting Ike and recording the audiobook version, completing Finding Sisters, not to mention working actively with a theatre company for most of 2019), I started writing those essays throughout the past two years. At the moment, they number fourteen essays that could potentially become chapters in this mosaic memoir, and I have a list of at least seven other essays I still want to write. Four of them have had two drafts, and ten of them have had one critique from the writing group and are awaiting more work on a second draft. And then there are the seven new ideas on my list that await their first draft. Definitely plenty of work to keep me out of trouble in the coming year!

I hope all of you have found safe and comfortable ways to celebrate the 2020 holiday season. Next time, most likely in early 2021, I’ll write more about the mosaic memoir process. Hopefully by then, I’ll also be able to tell you a few things about the process of working with my editor on Finding Sisters.

Finding A Way To Share My DNA Journey With Others

18 October 2020: The field of genetic genealogy is a fascinating one, but it can also be complex and confusing, especially for those just getting started, many of whom would likely be my readers when my newest book, Finding Sisters, gets published. I was still just barely more than a novice myself when I started the project, though I eventually found what I was looking for (with lots of generous assistance from others more experienced than I), and I wanted to share that story with others in a way that would encourage them to get involved in their own genetic history while not downplaying the complexities of the journey or throwing the shade of discouragement on anyone who felt confused by all the details that are a necessary part of the search for genetic ancestry.

Because mine was a story with a clear beginning, middle, and end, I started to write about the details in chronological order, and because I had been saving absolutely everything from the very beginning of my explorations (emails, documents, photos, notes from conversations, relationship charts, family trees, etc.), this meant going back over what had happened along the way in minute detail. This kept me honest about what had taken place and when, and it was also a great way to refresh my own memory about how everything had unfolded. In the excitement of the discovery process, it had been easy to conflate the details, to mix up how and when certain things had occurred, and to forget certain important elements of the story.

As I started to present the developing chapters to the women in my writing group, two issues became very clear. First, the scientific details and all the family names were confusing to someone who was not directly engaged in the search, even when they were interested in the story. I was fascinated with what I was discovering, but my audience was mostly just bewildered and kept losing the narrative thread. This was the proverbial problem of not being able to see the forest for all the trees. One of the first things I needed to do, then, was to limit my use of the technical language in the story itself (footnotes became my good friend, so I could include the technical details for those who might want them but without impeding the narrative through line). Another was to consider visual aids in the form of relationship charts and/or developing family trees at various points in the story to help the reader understand the intricate web of relationships that was unfolding.

This is what I eventually discovered about my birth mother, her relationships with various men, and her other children, my maternal half-siblings, two of whom were deceased long before I knew who they were. Because the file is a pdf, which is not supported as an available image in WordPress, this is a screenshot of the file that will become an illustration in the book itself.

The other complexity was the incredible number of names involved in a genealogical research project. If anyone has ever done a family tree for the family members they already know about, it’s crammed with surnames, often different within every generation due to marriages, blended families, and the like. And for the adoptee, this is even more complicated because all the family names we might know from our own growing up usually have nothing at all to do with those in our genetic lineage. As well, some of my extended genetic family members were not interested in being linked to me, the illegitimate outsider, according to some friendlier folks I encountered along the way. I solved this twofold problem by eliminating surnames in the story I was telling. Most people can easily keep track of multiple characters by first names, so that’s the route I chose to write about my genetic families on both sides, maternal and paternal. According to the ever-astute members of my writing group, not knowing the surnames did not distract from the primary account of finding my two living half-sisters and sharing more about the family backgrounds of both my genetic parents.

As I continued to share my experiences with the writing group, it became clear that the story was just as much about my developing relationship with my Swedish search angel, Thomas, as it was about my genetic family. Thomas was distant part of that family (a maternal sixth cousin as it turned out), but that didn’t become clear until well into the adventure. So instead of simply being a friendly technical facilitator for my unfolding narrative, Thomas eventually became a fully fleshed out character (as full as possible for someone you’ve never met in person, that is) and an important part of the story.

One of the other things that those who heard my story along the way valued was the occasional photo that had come my way from extended family members or other sources. These photos helped my audience to define and identify with my genetic parents and other family members. Because I had her name early in the search process, I was able to get her photo from my birth mother’s high school yearbook, and once I contacted members of her family, finding other photos was simple because they were happy to share. Finding images of my birth father was much more difficult, especially since his name was one of the last ones I was able to uncover. But once the connection had been confirmed, extended family members were pleased to be able to share the images they had with me, though because he had died so young, there weren’t too many of them available. The photos below are what my parents would have looked like in the summer of 1948 when I was conceived while they were dating.

Glenna’s senior picture from her high school yearbook
A photo taken when Bud was in the Army in Labrador, age 19

I presented my chapters to the writing group two separate times over the nearly two years that I worked on the manuscript: first drafts and then, after addressing the first set of comments, I shared the revised drafts a second time, which gave me a chance to revise a second time. All these revisions took place before I submitted the manuscript to the publisher for a possible contract, which happened just a month before the covid-19 shutdown in March 2020, and I signed my contract with the publisher in May. At the moment, I’m still sitting in the queue of books to be edited at Sunbury Press, but I expect to start working with the editor they will assign to me when I get to the head of the line fairly soon.

In the meantime, I’m working on recording the audiobook version of Keeping the Lights on for Ike and working on new writing. So, what’s next for this writer? Perhaps a more traditional memoir is in store. I’ll write about that next time. And hopefully about the process of working with my editor on Finding Sisters.

How the Journey Unfolded

24 August 2020: Last month I promised to share some info about how my journey into genetic genealogy got started. Back in 2014, I didn’t know that term existed, much less what it really meant. But once I’d done a DNA test out of a curiosity to know more about my own genetic background (I had been adopted at birth), and when a distant cousin with expertise in building family histories had contacted me to talk about our family connections and to help me put all the pieces together, things started to move really fast. In fact, within a few days of contacting me in the spring of 2015, this cousin (my search angel) had all kinds of ideas for how he could help me find my birth mother from the single clue I had. Our email correspondence was detailed and voluminous, and of course I saved it all because I wanted to be clear about everything he was saying, though at the time I had no ambitions other than wanting to remember everything he was telling me and teaching me about genealogy research and about interpreting DNA test results. It was all happening so fast that I had to reread messages with some regularity to keep up with the ideas and leads I was being given.

I won’t give you the play by play of what happened on my journey into the work of genetic genealogy (that’s what the new book does), but I will say that before the end of 2015, I was able to connect with and meet my birth mother and maternal half-sister in person, to confirm the relationship with my birth mother via DNA testing, and to hear some of the story of how and why I was given up for adoption when she had a child out of wedlock just a few weeks before her 20th birthday. I also discovered what happened to her in the years following my birth and learned I had three maternal half siblings, though one had died in infancy and another was deceased some years before I came on the scene. To say I couldn’t have done it without my search angel cousin would be an extreme understatement. This distant cousin was incredibly helpful and taught me an enormous amount about how DNA testing works and how it can be interpreted and used to connect various family members.

Meeting my birth mother in September 2015

After the first excitement of meeting my mother and sister, the trail went cold on finding my genetic father because my mother, in her middle 80s when I met her, was struggling with dementia. My maternal half-sister, April, was incredibly helpful in our conversations and very supportive of my search, but my mother could no longer remember the name of the man she’d been dating and who’d gotten her pregnant in the summer of 1948; it made her cry every time we tried to ask new questions about him. She remembered that he was a pilot, though she never “went up” with him and wasn’t certain what kind of planes he flew, and that they met at a dance, but that was about all. She died only a few months after I met her, but whatever she had known about my father was mostly gone even before she passed, which made me sad, not so much because I needed to know but because it made her so sad. And since birth certificates in that day didn’t include the name of the child’s father unless the couple was married, there was no paper trail on him, either, even when I finally did get a copy of my pre-adoption birth certificate. I learned through newly discovered relatives who knew the family history that my birth mother had herself been an adoptee, so another layer of mystery was added that would eventually have to be explored to get the whole story.

My birth mother, maternal half-sister, and me in September 2015.

After this flurry of initial excitement, nothing at all happened for another year to help me get closer to any information about my mysterious birth father. Actually, I think that’s the rhythm of genetic genealogy: hurry up and wait; hurry up and wait. Then out of the blue, a surprise genetic match popped up for a close relative, a paternal half-sister who didn’t match with my mother. She had also been born out of wedlock and subsequently adopted, and I discovered that my mother wasn’t the only girl this guy got pregnant during the summer of 1948 because I’m only four days older than this sister! I’m not a person who keeps journals, but I was keeping every single email message that I sent or received that had anything to do with my search for genetic relatives (thank heavens for email folder systems!), and this new development got me thinking that there might be a larger story to write someday. It took almost another year before I was able to meet this other new half-sister in person, and we had little luck in finding serious candidates for our genetic father because neither of our birth mothers would (or perhaps could) reveal his name. Finally, we decided to both take a new DNA test with a second provider (DNA testing services don’t share their data with other testing services) and different matches that we shared started to surface in this new database that eventually would lead us to the man we had started calling Mr. X.

Me with my newest half-sister, Ann

It took us several more months to communicate with these new matches, to get the potential relationship sorted out in our heads, and eventually to find possible relatives who were willing to take a DNA test at our expense before we were able to find enough close relatives that we became quite sure of who our father had been. Unfortunately, our Mr. X had died in a crash piloting his own small plane during a heavy fog just days before his wedding and before either of his illegitimate daughters had turned two years old. We suspect he never knew about either of us.

Eventually, I also found a likely candidate for my genetic grandfather through multiple DNA matches in a different clan, matches that my paternal half-sister did not share. So now the challenge became how to tell this rather remarkable story in a way that other people would be interested. That’s what I’ll write about next month. Enjoy the rest of the summer.

So, What’s Next?

10 July 2020: Due to heat, humidity, and an out-of-control pandemic (at least it seems so in the US), this entry will be a bit shorter than usual. And I’ve got almost no illustrations to share at this point. Just my thoughts. Hopefully you will enjoy it anyway.

So, when you are deep in the throes of writing a book that has been your obsession for the past decade, still working full time, and you are starting to adjust to widowhood, living alone, and finally starting to feel quasi-normal, what might you do in your spare time when you find some? DNA testing is not the first activity that might come to mind, but it’s something a friend talked me into doing in early 2014 while I was deep in the research, transcription, and early writing for Keeping the Lights on for Ike. At first, not much happened once my DNA sample was in the database. Oh, there were lots of distant relatives, but when you don’t really know anything about family names or possible biological connections, it’s more confusing than helpful to see all those names as third, fourth, fifth, or even more distant cousins. And since I had almost no real clues about my genetic parentage, there was nothing there that got me excited, at least not yet. Another year passed. Research and transcription work on the WWII book was nearing completion, and the book itself was getting closer to having a real shape and focus, which definitely gave me something to write about regularly. But then in early 2015, a distant cousin contacted me, and my serious genealogical searching kicked into high gear, at the same time as the other book started to take off in my mind.

I suppose all writers have this problem at some level or another: one book/essay/play/poem/story/whatever is in active process and taking most of one’s creative focus, and another is just at the germination stage in one’s mind, though it’s alive and cooking and starting to become “something,” whatever that might be. This dual consciousness is an interesting place to be, that’s for sure. The correspondence between me and my “cousin” (the exact relationship wasn’t yet clear, since I knew so little about my own beginnings, but he already had some theories) was active and exciting, but the only thing I could do, given my goals for the WWII book, was to respond to all the new info coming in via email and to start a file of all this unexpected information that was coming in fast and furious, thanks to the genealogical expertise of this new cousin.

I don’t know about other writers, but I have both electronic and paper files for LOTS of different experiences and ideas, some of which have become published or performed work, and some of which have never seen the light on day since first being written down and saved. In fact, in spite of paring down considerably when I retired from full time teaching, I still have more paper files in my house than many folks I know. In response to this fascinating new info, I started keeping genealogy files in my filing cabinet and on my computer, though at this point, I was mostly the recipient of information, not the generator of it. But things were about to change dramatically, and that’s exactly what my new book, Finding Sisters, is all about.

Next month, I’ll share a bit more about how my genealogy journey unfolded and what it was like to start writing, not about my adoptive parents, but about the search for my genetic ones.