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Author to speak on writing family history

by Dan Bischoff, Of the Record Staff
Linda Clarke will speak at the Summit County Library this Saturday on how to write gripping family histories.
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Linda Clarke didn’t know she would enjoy writing novels until she started writing her family history.

"It surprised me," Clarke said. "I always loved writing, but not necessarily stories. I kind of surprised myself; I realized how much I loved it."

Clarke will conduct a one hour seminar at the Summit County Library this Saturday, Oct. 21, at 4 p.m. She will emphasize the importance of "making your family legacy something your children will remember," she said. She will discuss the "how to" of putting one’s family history into a variety of interesting stories and about her new novel, "Melinda and the Wild West."

Writing was as a slumbering giant inside of her, ready to be awoken. When she found her ancestors stories were not written well, she decided to take action.

"When I realized that my ancestors’ stories were not interesting, I gathered all the history and sat down and started typing," Clarke said.

Clarke also educated herself on the art of storytelling.

"I grabbed every book on the shelf on how to write. I grabbed all their facts and put it together in interesting stories. After, I couldn’t stop writing so I thought, ‘I’ll start a novel.’"

She has written a series of short stories, four novels and finally has published her first full-length novel, "Melinda and the Wild West."

The telling of her family’s history is what motivated Clarke to write, sharing that has become on of her passions.

"It’s one of my favorite subjects," Clarke said. "If we don’t write down some of these stories all of this will be lost."

Clarke believes there is a great responsibility for people to pass on traditions to future generations.

"If we don’t write down the thing that we learn about our ancestors, then the children won’t know about it and it will all be forgotten," Clarke said.

"(Our kids) won’t know who their heritage is, who their ancestors are," she continued, "what their traditions were, what they celebrated, what their beliefs were or even religion."

Diana Skousen the director of the Summit County Library agrees that people should try to write their histories.

"I think it’s really important for people to do," Skousen said. "It’s easy to be lost and it’s sad when it is lost."

Writing about a family’s history entails similar aspects of storytelling, according to Clarke, who continues teaching writing workshops in various locations.

"I teach the importance of making it interesting," Clarke said. "Don’t ever leave out conflict in your lives, the secret is emotion and sometimes we leave that out, that’s the difference between a dull and a lively recounting of the story.

"If people put that into the stories, all of a sudden their ancestors come alive and they seem real to their children. In fact, one thing that’s very important is, did they fight for a cause? What was it all about, why did they fight for that?"

Clarke said, because of time limitations she won’t get into the specifics as much as the importance of writing the history. She will read a partial story about one of her ancestors who was deaf that found an intruder in her home that she turned into a short story.

"I’ll give it an example of how to make the ancestor come alive," Clarke said.

Skousen, who writes an annual letter chronicling the past year of events from her family, hopes to promote more similar activities for readers.

"I hope people will be entertained and also enthusiastic about starting their own projects." Skousen said.

In the stories Clarke has written, she continues to fall back on the past. "Melinda and the Wild West" is a historical fiction book that required many hours of research.

"I will tell them how it was created and all the research involved and the importance of doing research," Clarke said.

The story follows a teacher from Boston who moves to the Montpelier in Cache Valley in 1896. The main character evolves after experiencing the Wild West through grizzly bears, blinding blizzards, rebellious students and witnessing a Butch Cassidy bank robbery.

"She finds herself clinging to life," Clarke said. "At the end, she hopes that she’s going to make a difference, but these children and the community are going to make a bigger difference in her life."

The robbery in Montpelier actually occurred. Clarke researched the event in detail and included historical facts in the tale. She also used historical evidence in the types of storms that hit the area and the problem with grizzly bears that roamed Cache Valley during that time.

Aside from the conflict, the story also features a tender romance. Clarke is planning on making this the first of a four-part series.

"It’s written for both adult and young adult," Clarke said. "When you read the book, you don’t really think of the age of the characters, you think of the story."

For more information on the free discussion, call the Summit County Library at 615-3902.

Linda Clarke’s steps for writing family history:

*Research "First, take all the information from grandparents, aunts, uncles or anybody that might know about a certain ancestor.

*Just write "After getting all the information, put it down on paper and try to organize it according to what comes first.

*Organize "Choose from birth to death, or take an incident of ancestor an elaborate on one incident and make it one exciting experience, do several short stories or write it chronologically from birth to death.

*Edit "Then read it over many times. Make sure it has expressed emotion in what they are doing."

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