Kyle Garret is a writer from the Midwest living on the West Coast by way of the South and he’s here today on his NURTURE Virtual Book Tourz. He’ll talk about writing his current release, I PRAY HARDEST WHEN I’M BEING SHOT AT.
In addition, Kyle and the good folks at NURTURE are giving away 1 e-copy of I PRAY HARDEST WHEN I’M BEING SHOT AT. For a chance to win just comment on Kyle’s post between now and 8 p.m. (EST) on Wednesday, Oct. 12. Be sure to include your e-mail address in your comment if it’s not included in your profile. The giveaway is open internationally.
This non-fiction account is based on Kyle’s family history. Here’s a brief synopsis: After the attack on Pearl Harbor, eighteen-year-old Robert Stuart had a decision to make: keep working at the steel mill in Warren, Ohio, or volunteer to serve his country. Stuart's father had served in the first World War, and service was in his blood, so he enlisted in the Marines.
Anne Davis had a decision of her own to make. The girls in her high school were going to send letters to alumni who were going off to war. She looked at the list of soldiers and saw a familiar name: Robert Stuart.
The letters Anne sent would mark the beginning of a relationship that would span 60 years, two marriages, two children, and three wars. Over half a century after those first letters were sent, the Stuart's grandson, Kyle, began chronicling their life together. He would discover pieces of a family history that only he dug deep enough to learn. But in the back of his mind, one concern lingered: the story of a person's life can only have one ending, and his grandfather's health was deteriorating. I PRAY HARDEST WHEN I’M BEING SHOT AT is a true story of love and war, of three generations and two romances, one of 60 years, the other of just a few months. PRAY deals with one generation trying to connect with another and how it affected them both.
Kyle talks about the benefits and difficulties of writing a family memoir.
There’s a song, by the rather morbidly named band “And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead,” called “Will You Smile Again For Me” that, as far as I can tell, is about writing. I don’t actually know that; it’s just how I interpret the song. There’s one section of the song, in particular, that I connect with:
And just how long did it take for you to understand
Where your feelings stopped and writing began
Where your feelings stopped and writing began
This is a big issue when writing non-fiction. It was, for me, compounded by the fact that my book focused on my family. When I decided to tell the story of my grandparents’ life together, I knew that I had to do it in a way that would make it relatable to others, not to mention in a way that would allow me to convey my feelings. I chose to write it as the story of me writing the story of my grandparents’ lives, following the journey and discoveries that came as I delved into their history.
My wife, Nicole, discovered my problem before I did. I like to call her my in-house editor, as she’s the first person to look at any of my work. Honestly, I owe a lot to her, but that transcends my writing (and, oddly enough, is featured in the book). Because I was writing about a subject I knew really well – in this case both my family and myself – I went into great detail about every little thing. I had no filter. If, while doing the research for this book, I discovered a story about some distant relative, I included it. I felt like if I knew this information, then I should use it.
The problem is that not all of the information I was sharing was particularly relevant to the story. And that is the hardest part when writing about true events: knowing what matters and what doesn’t. Unlike writing fiction, you have no control over the plot (although, really, fiction tends to take you where it will, no matter what you might want): it either happened or it didn’t. But a story isn’t just a compilation of events. A story needs a thematic connection. The things you choose to write about have to mean something, at the very least as a part of the whole.
The version of I PRAY HARDEST WHEN I‘M BEING SHOT AT that I gave to my wife was a good 50 pages longer than the version that was accepted and published by Hellgate Press. At one point, I spent three pages talking about my first car, a 1972 Ford Pinto. It was all very meaningful to me, but the note Nicole gave me was something along the lines of “all of this about a car??” And she had a point.
It turns out that the easiest thing about writing about true events is also the hardest thing about writing about true events: there’s a lot of material. I was never at a loss for something to write about. My grandfather was a three war veteran and he began his relationship with my grandmother through letters during World War II. They were together for over 60 years. If I was unable to find things to write about given the lives they lead then I had no business writing a book to begin with!
I had to focus on the major points of my grandparents’ life, as well as the moments that I thought were universal. The book very easily could have been a family history, but that would only have been of interest to my family, and even then only one particular branch of that tree. While I wanted to stay true to their story, I also wanted it to be read by a wide range of people.
In the end, the things I left out where ultimately irrelevant. They were obscure details of moments that didn’t connect with the main story. What was left was streamlined and concentrated, a story that can connect with readers from all walks of life, no matter their family history.
I PRAY HARDEST WHEN I’M BEING SHOT AT is a true story of love and war, and it’s one I think everyone can appreciate.
Kyle, your book sounds like it’s a wonderful tribute to your grandparents and their love. Finding the right things to leave in while taking out others could be a difficult task. Wishing you much success with your book.
Now a bit of background on Kyle. He was born and raised in Kent, Ohio, and attended Ohio University where he received his Master's Degree in Creative Writing. After a few years in Atlanta, he moved out West. He now lives in Los Angeles with his wife, Nicole, and their two cats. He is currently finishing work on a novel and a young adult book.
For more on Kyle and his writing, visit his website at http://www.kylegarret.com, stop by his blog at http://www.iprayhardest.com, find him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/#!/kylegarret, or stop by his author’s tour page at http://nurtureyourbooks.com/vbtblog/?p=2151.
Have you ever considered writing a book about your family? Would it be more difficult to leave things out or put things in?