Her Grandfather’s Story

By on July 30, 2013

James-CoverChrystine Gaffney’s earliest memory is of her grandfather writing.

She grew up in his house in Ridgewood, where, after retirement, he split his time between tending a large garden and writing in his dining room “office”. She had, then, no idea what he was writing. “And I had no idea how prolific he was,” Gaffney says.

Frazer Hart had had a hardscrabble childhood in Alabama. His older brother became his de facto father and mother. The pair eventually found their way to New York City during the Depression. Hart went further, to a history degree from Harvard and a long career as a mechanical engineer.

All that might have remained nothing but family lore except that one of the things that Hart was writing in those long afternoons at the dining room table was the story of his childhood. And his granddaughter used the Internet to self-publish the tale this summer.

Gaffney, who lives near F.N. Brown, got a large carton of manuscripts when Hart died in 1992. She was living in Berkely, Calif. at the time and remembers thinking “really? that’s it?” when she was told about the will. But she acknowledges, in the forward to the book, that she had known of her grandfather’s desire to be a published author for some time:

He spoke to me directly several times about his books; how he did not want an Agent. He did not want a big, fancy Editor who would insist he change things around and take a cut of the proceeds, etc. He wanted me to read them and get them published. I agreed. I didn’t know how I would do it. I knew little about how hard it was to get books published. But I just I had to promise him I would. I don’t even think I said “try”.

But over the next 20 years she did try. She made  inquiries about finding an agent and a publishing house, she wrote a synopsis of the book, and she thought hard about how to write a compelling pitch letter in the hope that someone would give the manuscript a read.

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And then came the Internet and self-publishing. Inspired by her husband’s former boss, who had published a book on his own, Gaffney sat down earlier this year and set herself a deadline of July 8, the anniversary of her grandfather’s death. “I was not going to listen to the naysayers, I was just going to do it,” she says.

Doing it meant first typing the manuscript into the computer, not an easy task with two young children in the house. But on July 8, she sent an email blast to friends, announcing the publication of James: Memories of my Brother as a Kindle book through Amazon.com.

“It is a very true picture of growing up in the Deep South in the early 1900s,” Gaffney says. “He does’t spare any expense with our emotions to tell us how it was. The rules he had to follow in a segregated town were very different than now.”

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Gaffney is now working with a mentor to market the book. She has sent a copy to the Verona Public Library for its e-book collection, and she plans on publishing a Nook edition and a print-on-demand version soon too.

And she’s pretty sure her grandfather is pleased with her work. When he worked in his garden, he almost always had a crow feather stuck in his gardening hat. Since the book was published, Gaffney has been finding lots of crow feathers near her Verona yard.

“I want people to read this book,” Gaffney says, “People don’t realize how important it is to honor our ancestors.”

James: Memories of my Brother is available through Amazon.com in a Kindle edition for $4.99.

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