While most of my writing friends are busy extracting story after story from their vast storehouses of imagination or musing about the significance of their lives in their memoirs, here I am still struggling with how to write a compelling biography about my great-grandfather Harry Gordon Blaine, a country doctor in northwest Ohio from around 1880 to his death in 1930. The idea came to me more than 25 years ago. With an abundance of source material at hand, how difficult would it be to reconstruct this man’s life? It would be just like writing a research paper, wouldn’t it? And, unlike many students, I always enjoyed the challenge of gathering lots of information on a topic and organizing it into a coherent whole.
But after many long years of reading and researching, I finally decided it was time to start organizing and writing. And that has been like trying to hold on to a slippery eel while balancing on one foot! Where should I start? Should it be organized in strict chronological order? How much background and historical material should I include? How can I keep it lively enough so the reader will keep wanting more? What is my overarching theme? No research paper has ever been this hard!
My solution so far has been to find individual stories from Dr. Blaine’s life — there are many! — and write those, not worrying right now how they will all fit together in the end. I have also experimented with creating dialogue to help move the story along and have leaped to conclusions that may or may not be valid.
So if I continue in this vein, will I end up with a biography or with what some might call historical fiction? Whatever it may be labeled, my goal is to create a compelling story that will be an appropriate tribute to a remarkable, yet truly human man.