I’m pleased to have as my guest on the blog today, Janet Grace Riehl poet and writer. I’m the first of 18 stops on her blog tour in June and July for Sightlines: A Family Love Story in Poetry and Music CD The audio version of Sightlines is a 4-disc audio book, a memoir in 90 poems and 40 songs produced by Janet and her father Erwin A. Thompson. This project enriches Janet’s poetry book Sightlines: A Poet’s Diary
Her words reach deep into our personal memories and we can nod. Yes, we remember feeling that. We’ve gone through those emotions. She touches the heart and soul with delicate and honest thoughts that link our desires and hopes and faith to hers.
After listening to the audio book I came to understand some of my own remembrances with more
clarity. Janet’s voice reciting her recollections perfectly recreates a lifetime of precious
memories. Her father’s voice adds depth to her remembrances to produce an outstanding and
Janet has agreed to answer a few questions here today.
Velda: The music on this audio book ties your story poems together so perfectly. Tell us something about the process you and your dad went through to put this project of songs and poems together and how long you worked on it.
Janet: It took about a year from the time we recorded the material to the time we had the launch dinner in Nashville. If we were to add in the internet launch during June and July this year, it would add another quarter year to the project.
I knew nothing at all when I started. But, now I know that there are seven stages: 1) recording; 2) editing; 3) technical; 4) legal; 5) production; 6) marketing and promotion; 7) celebration. If your readers go to this You Tube link, they can view all eight videos describing these stages. Click here
Velda: All of us wish we could celebrate the lives of our loved ones in such a glorious way. How do you think writing such a poetic memoir has helped you and your father heal from the loss of your sister and your mother’s illness?
Janet: Julia died in 2004. Mother died in 2006. I wrote the book in 2005. The book came out in 2006, a few months before Mother died. I was always glad of that. After my sister’s death, all of our lives were chaotic. I started commuting for long stretches from N. California to the Midwest homeplace to be close to my family and help my father care for Mother. Writing the book was inspired after a small retreat over my birthday. It saved me because it was something that belonged to me that I could shape—at a time nothing else did. It was my way of creating meaning and a tribute to my sister, my mother, my father, our home place, and the place where I lived then in N. California. These make up the five sections of “Sightlines: A Poet’s Diary.”
After the book came out in 2006, Pop sat in a chair for two hours and read it cover to cover. He supported it completely, and understood my exhilaration.
The audio book of “Sightlines” was very much collaboration with many people. My father recorded his own poems and the voice work for the dialogue lines written for him in my poems. The music is from his youth, and includes seven original compositions by him. He tells stories and banters with the other players in the interludes in between poems. He is equally thrilled as I am with the product we produced.
What I love about both book and audio book is that these have helped people. I get many letters from readers who have gone through or are going through similar circumstances that say how these poems have helped them.
Velda: You show us how to “come home again” with your poems and music. It’s a great lesson we can all learn. Could you tell us something about your decision to return to Missouri and be with your family, and how that may have influenced the creation of this book?
Janet: The book wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t made the decision to know the truth about my life through shifting the leverage of my time towards the Midwest. I could not have written this book if I’d stayed in N. California exclusively. There simply would have been very little to write about.
I moved full-time back to the Midwest the summer of 2007 to be closer to my father after Mother’s death in 2006. He’s 93 now and I feel this is such a precious time for both of us as we continue to develop our relationship. Our collaboration with the audio book was easier because I was here.
Janet: Velda, here’s a question for you. We both are rooted in the tradition of the Midwest. Do you feel that the flavor of the place gave an additional layer to your response to the audio book?
Velda: Most definitely. I relate closely to the familiar music your dad plays and sings. It takes me back to my growing-up days. Also the way you tell your stories uses the idioms I’m so familiar with. The rhythm of the phrases, the words I know and love. And most especially your honesty in portraying your emotions, both sorrowful and happy, touched me deeply. This is an inspiring memoir.
Velda: You speak of good genes that you hope will affect the length of your life. How do you think your mother’s experiences and your father’s writing have leant to your talent as a poet and storyteller?
Janet: I feel that my creative life is a direct legacy through the Riehl family, which is my father’s side. Pop has written as long as I’ve known him, in between working with his hands. He’s a great storyteller and folk poet. Mother’s legacy in regard to this project was to give me the kind of drive, focus, and ability to organize, visualize, and shape both products. Without the latter set of talents and skills, what I had created would have stayed in my journal. I am strongly shaped by both of them, although I certainly wouldn’t have wanted to say that in my twenties!
Velda: My blog celebrates stories woven in time, which is a perfect match for your memoir in poetry and music which celebrates your family’s history. Could you give my readers some advice on writing their own memoirs, whether in prose or poetry?
Janet: Story Circle Network is an organization exclusively dedicated to “Women with Stories to Tell.” Several of us on this blog tour write for their blog. I post on creativity every first Tuesday there.
Tomorrow, June 2nd, I’ll be a guest blogger on Women’s Memoirs My topic is using story poems as a tool in memoir. At the end of the post there are several writing prompts. Hope to see some of your readers there!
Velda: What do you have in mind for future projects?
Janet: When the blog tour ends in July, I’m sure I’ll feel like going to the beach! My next project is getting back to working on my memoir: Finding My African Heart: A Village of Stories. Also, on Monday June 1 and Wednesday June 3 Gwyn Ramsey will run interviews with me on my two trips to Africa. Thanks so much for hosting me, Velda, on the first stop on our tour.
Velda: I thoroughly enjoyed listening to the Sightlines audio booklink. Thanks for being a guest on my blog and I’ll get the word out everywhere I know.
I’ll be following Janet’s blog tour. Each of the 18 stops is new material. So, you’ll learn a little more at each stop. I’ll be there tomorrow for the second stop at www.womensmemoirs.com.
CONTEST: There’s also a contest with a question at each stop. Go to the You Tube videos and watch the Sightlines Audio Book You Tube video Then, answer this question: Where was the audio book produced and what event does this video mark? When you find the answer, contact Janet through her website: www.Riehlife.com. The first person to contact her with the correct answer will receive a free copy of Sightlines: A Family Love Story in Poetry and Music.”