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A Literary & Poetry Column
By Carolyn Howard-Johnson

Carolyn Talks Fads, Traditions, Genealogy, Scrapbooking and Writing

Fads come. Some stay. Some change. I remember when I was very young we put our photos into books with black pages. It was something new. Heck, photos were relatively new. They were still only black and white and most had kind of fuzzy images. And they faded if they were given too much light.

We used little black corners with sticky junk on the back that had to be licked to put them in those albums. And the sticky junk, I was told, was made of the stuff of dead horses. It may have been the beginning of my vegetarianism.

At about ten I was given a diary. I've written a lot about that diary. It was, as far as I'm concerned, vital to the puberty process. This was a diary of real leather, plumped up and inscribed in real gold with the word "Diary" and it had my initials inscribed on the cover, too. And a lock! Quality like that was, perhaps, a mere moment in history for I am supposing that diaries that look like this will not reappear any time soon. But writing one's inner thoughts in a safe-keeping place has been an integral part of many people's lives since we began to write. Our scribblings are pieces of our humanity.

After my diary came a scrapbook. Nothing fancy, no stickers. We didn't have acid free paper or cute little scissors that cut shapes. Their simplicity made them no less memorable but a lot less expensive than the ones people make now. Also less time consuming. In the long run, I'm not sure it matters how fancy we get, only that we do it.

And then there was genealogy. My father's family was Mormon and as most people who are interested in family history know, family histories are not only close tot their hearts but part of their religion. My mother, who wasn't a Mormon, took an interest in genealogy, if not the religion as a whole. She was fascinated that the Howards still had a castle in England that one could visit and that those charts that look like stair-steps took my father's lineage back to 400s AD. All the way to a man named Herwerd of Wake. And that we were related indirectly to both of Henry the VIII's wives—specifically the ones who lost their heads.

And that brings me to the relationship between fads, traditions, scrapbooking, genealogy and writing. For all of the above are part and parcel of what made me a writer. In fact, there are direct quotations from that diary with the gold-edged pages in This Is the Place, my award-winning novel based on my own life.

I believe that all of these tools can be—in fact should be—part of every family's activities. One can never be certain what might come of it (an artist in the family? graphic designer? poet? novelist?), but one can be certain that any one or all of these activities in combination will result in a closer family, contribute to the awareness of who we are, where we came from, how we fit together, what we owe one another and what we don't.

Two new books were recently released that will contribute to a family's efforts in this direction. They will be useful for those who are new at these pursuits and those who are experienced. They are Scrapbooking Your Family History: The Ultimate Workbook (ISBN: 9781601404289) and Scrapbooking with Your Kids: The Ultimate Guide to Kid-Friendly Crafting (ISBN 9781602405258). Both are published by Leisure Arts in conjunction with Creating Keepsakes Scrapbook Magazine. Both are fat, complete paperbacks that retail at $22.95. You can learn more about these delicately and fondly illustrated books at or

I can't help thinking that if I had these books when I was a youngster, what materials I might have at hand for my writing. How my resources for poetry, for fictional characters, for settings might have been expanded.

I know at a gut level how much love and beauty might be contained within these two volumes. So much promise! None of that hit or miss photo album, scribbling on the back of snapshots kind of thing. These books will help your produce what is real and forever.

Tips and Tidbits

Each month in this box, Carolyn lists a writing or promotion tidbit that will help authors and a tip to help readers find a treasure among long-neglected books or a sapphire among the newly-published.

Writers' Tidbit: Writers of all patterns and stripes will enjoy the quick tips and questions and answers format of my new blog, The Frugal, Smart and Tuned-In Editor at Guidelines for submitting questions are in the left column of the blog. It celebrates the release of THE FRUGAL EDITOR: PUT YOUR BEST BOOK FORWARD TO AVOID HUMILIATION AND ENSURE SUCCESS. It won USA Book News Best Book 2007 Award in the category of publishing and writing.

Readers' Tip: Avid readers, the kind who become fans, will like the new blog You'll find authors' events by location and lots more on the site. I list everything from book fairs to the classes I teach for UCLA to the Webinars I do. Each writer handles his or her own profile differently.

2008 Past Columns

Fads, Traditions, Genealogy, Scrapbooking and Writing

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