Posted by: Kerry Gans | March 13, 2018

Hobbies and Writing: When passions feed each other

Every writer has a hobby they enjoy—something other than writing that they are passionate about. The hobbies vary from sports to music to cooking to knitting to woodworking…The hobbies are as varied as the writers. My particular hobby is genealogy. I have noticed that my love of family history has crept into my story-telling, and I wonder if other writers find their passions encroaching on their writing.

People have asked me why I love genealogy so much, and I had to stop and think. I mean, like many hobbies, on the surface it doesn’t seem that compelling. Pursuing long-dead people and adding them to your tree, just a sum of names and dates—what’s so special about that?

Nothing, when seen in that light. But what draws me are the stories. Every person I find and add to my tree, they have a story. Sometimes their story is short—a child born and died in a few days. Sometimes their story spans 9 decades, and they have seen the world from before electricity to putting men on the moon. Some stories are adventures, like the Reverend who lost everything when a ship captain absconded with his worldly goods, or pioneering the then-Indian country of Pennsylvania, or the family of 3 that spent a long, cold winter on a boat docked near the Thames River because the English people didn’t want the German immigrants there even though they had been invited by the Queen. Some are tragic, like the young, pregnant wife whose husband was killed by a train, leaving her and 5 children behind in the 1850s, or the family who lost 8 of their nine children before their second birthdays.

Not only do these stories give me fodder for my own writing, they have given me a sense of connection to the past and to the world at large. Choices my ancestors made shaped the life I live today. Sacrifices they suffered through gave their children better lives than they had. The ripple effect of every person who came before us is both invisible and undeniable. Had my Reverend ancestor decided to be defeated and remain in Wales, rather than come to America penniless with his pregnant wife and year-old son, I certainly would not exist as the person I am today. Nor would the Hilltown Baptist Church that he founded have served that community for some 300 years. Every person is connected to the past and to each other.

In writing, including family history can expand your world beyond the timeframe in the story. For example, in my book The Witch of Zal, the grandparents become important at the end. The story has now expanded beyond my protagonist’s little life and jumped back two generations. And if I finish the series, family history hints that I planted throughout this book will flourish into something very meaningful. In a book that I am shopping to agents now, the story is kicked off by an uncle who brings an Egyptian artifact to Philadelphia in order to hide it with his sister’s family. Again, this widens the world of the story beyond what my 12-year-old can experience firsthand—and extends it backward to a time thousands of years before this story takes place.

I have found that family—and this sense of connection—has made its way into everything I write. Do other writers find their hobbies weaving their way into their stories? And if they do, the question becomes: Do we love these hobbies separately from our writing, or are we drawn to them because they resonate with a theme we naturally explore in our writing anyway? Are the writing and the hobbies actually two sides of the same coin?

What do you think?

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