Q&A with Kim Pearson, Question 4:
Q: The bio on your Web site suggests that your ability to conduct interviews with skill is key to your success as a writer/ghostwriter/storyteller. Without giving away all your trade secrets, can you offer readers a bit of insight into your interviewing techniques? To what extent does your training as a historian help you as an interviewer?
A: Most people see history as something outside them. They don’t see themselves as part of history. But they are. When I interview my memoir clients, I come from a historian’s perspective — I look for how they intersected with the events and trends of their time. Asking about these events and trends opens a rich vein of stories. This is what I tell them:
You make history. History is not just about the famous or the infamous. It is not just about “big” things that make the newspapers. History is merely connection over time. We are all connected to each other, to the past, and to the future. We are connected by our stories.
We are all actors in the powerful drama of earth, part of the vast dynamic web circling the universe. Our actions reverberate along this web, creating consequences for all other living creatures. We do not merely react to events and historical trends — we create them. Each individual, even you, is a part of history.
You are a witness to history, as well as an actor. Do not underestimate the necessity of this role. You know what you saw and what you experienced. Tyrants and unscrupulous power-seekers always seek to rewrite the inconvenient (to them) past. This is why it is often said that history is “written by the winners.” But those who preserve their stories help ensure that the truth remains.
How many of us wish they had an ancestor’s story, told in their own words? Wouldn’t it be wonderful, we think, to know the hopes, dreams, wishes and fears of Great-Great-Grandma as she bounced over the plains in a covered wagon? Wouldn’t it be cool to know what Great-Great Uncle Joe was thinking while he robbed that bank?
Yes, it would be wonderful to know our ancestors’ stories. But what we often forget is that we, too, are someone’s ancestor. We are the future historians’ primary sources. A primary source is a term historians use to describe the thoughts, opinions and witness of those people who were really there. When you record what you saw, what you felt, what you did, you become a primary source. Two hundred years from now, historians could be looking for you. What do you want them to find? Just your tombstone with the dates of your birth and death, and perhaps a line of verse? Does that tell your dreams, desires, triumphs, griefs, loves and hates? Does it tell what part you played in the story of the world?
Sharing your stories is an affirmation of belonging. You have a rightful place here. Without you, the history of the world is incomplete.