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How I Wrote my Family’s Historical Memoir (Author Edward Kuehn interviewed by Linda Ruggeri)

Updated: Feb 8, 2023

When did you first decide to write about your grandfather’s story?

I decided to write about my grandparents after coming across an original land real estate transaction document from 1907. It was the deed for the first and only farm my grandparent’s owned. That place was Grandpa Charly’s farm.

When I met you and read your story, you had a very different book than the one we have today. How do you feel the manuscript evolved?

I recall you telling me there was a story worth telling in what I had written, but that there were still many unanswered questions about my grandparents. You said you’d be willing to guide me in my in writing and assist me with my research so I could find those answers, and that you’d be willing to edit it once the manuscript was ready.

MGF original MS
The Original SIRW Manuscript

Whom do you did write this memoir for? (aka target audience)

Initially, I wrote it for my siblings and my cousins, because up to 2017, there was no organized, documented history of our grandparents. Unfortunately, my brother didn’t live to see the completion of the book. However, now that the book has been out for three years, I’ve discovered through letters and emails that I get that so many people resonate with this story, the story of having immigrant grandparents who came from nothing to start a new life for themselves and their families in the US.

What was been the biggest challenge you faced after you started writing the book?

For many years I knew I wanted to write a book; I just didn’t know it would be this one. Once I started writing Grandpa Charly’s Farm (which later became “Stepping Into Rural Wisconsin”), it was a challenge to see it through to completion. The most challenging, yet the most interesting, work was the historical research. I’ve learned a lot about organizing all the material I had (documents, photos, historical data) and how important it is to corroborate your storyline through others or through historical facts.

What is your favorite part of the book? Why?

What I like most about SIRW is how we structured it. The beginning and the end of the book* are an event that I vividly remember, the train trip on the Texas Chief, from Texas to Wisconsin. The story of my grandparents was like a dream I had during that long, roundtrip train ride.  The other favorite part was telling about the last time I saw my grandma alive and the conversation she had with my sister and me, basically saying goodbye to us. It was very hard to write it, and even now, when I read it, it is very emotionally charged.

(*Linda notes: structuring the book in this way, with the first and last chapter functioning as "bookends" was part of the developmental editing I did with the manuscript.)

bookcover about rural wisconsin life

What do you hope your readers will take with them after reading SIRW?

I hope readers realize I’m not a professional writer and come away thinking, “I could write a story like that about my family too.” They can. It’s a matter of knowing what story you want to tell, how you want to tell it, and what information you have or need to get to be able to tell it accurately and in an interesting way. Having an editor guide you through this process is invaluable.

Lastly, if you could give any piece of advice to someone looking to write their family’s story, what would that be?

Get started! And organize your work. Don’t feel your story has to be completed by a certain deadline. Set writing or research goals for your work, but take your time… and stay with it! As you proceed, you’ll find it begins to flow. Don’t be concerned about the story being perfect as long as it is accurate. Lastly, there are experienced editors who can help you “clean up your writing” and get the book ready for publishing, but ultimately, you’re the one that has to tell the story.

Ed Kuehn at Ripon Printers

Edward Kuehn is the author of Stepping Into Rural, Wisconsin: Grandpa Charly’s Life Vignettes, from Prussia to the Midwest. Ed was born and raised in Ripon, Wisconsin. After finishing high school, he enlisted in the Army and served three years on active duty. With the GI Bill, Ed earned his college degree and pursued a teaching career. Today, Ed is retired and lives and writes in Green Lake, Wisconsin.

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Linda Ruggeri is a nonfiction bilingual editor and writer based out of Los Angeles who specializes in memoir, biographies, cookbooks, and Spanish translation reviews. She co-authored the award-winning book “Networking for Freelance Editors: Practical Strategies for Networking Success” with Brittany Dowdle.


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