Julie Zander – Featured Woman
She adopted a surrogate grandmother who shared her stories with her. She listened raptly as she recalled childhood days on a Montana ranch with nine siblings and a hired hand. She told about falling asleep after hiding under her bed, riding horse-drawn sleighs to skate on a frozen lake, life in nursing school where she developed her fondness for pie, literally bumping into a much older doctor as she rounded a corner at a hospital, and seeking solace and time to think at Timberline Lodge before agreeing to marry a man more than 20 years her senior. She shared stories of their daily life near a Longview lake and tales of trips to Europe, Polynesia, and the Virgin Islands.
That was it! Julie was hooked on preserving stories of years gone-by for others. Her first book was in honor of her father and the rest, so they say, is history.
Julie captures those memories in a treasured book that you can display proudly in your library or on your coffee table.
Julie McDonald Zander, former newspaper reporter and editor, launched Chapters of Life in 1999 to help individuals and organizations preserve their stories in keepsake books.
Need a Speaker? Don’t miss out on hiring Julie!
Julie, who served as vice president of education for the Chehalis-Centralia Toastmasters Club, can share insights into recording life stories, writing ethical wills, and interviewing family members and friends. You can contact her to speak to your group.
Julie and I share a passion for the old-fashioned newspaper. Her quick wit and easy laugh makes it a blast every time we have a moment to spend together!
What exactly is your business and what made you get started?
Chapters of Life is a personal history business dedicated to helping individuals, families, business owners, and others record and preserve their histories in keepsake books.
I started by recording the life stories of my parents on videotape. My father shared his entire life in two hours; my mother made it to high school. Six years later, my father underwent surgery for an aortic aneurysm and I realized I should transcribe that video and turn it into a book for him. He died two weeks later, but I worked with my mother to create a custom-made book for each of their 13 grandchildren called “Circle of Love.” The inside cover page features a photo of my parents with the grandchild and the words “Their Story Is My Story.”
Also, while editing obituaries at The Daily News in Longview, I often found myself thinking what a great story this person’s life would make. Unfortunately, those people had died, taking their stories with them. After working two decades as a reporter and editor, I left the newspaper in 1999 to start my business. Since then, I’ve published more than 50 memoirs and company, community, and organizational histories.
What one thing do you do every day to move yourself forward and stay focused? Where do you find your inspiration?
I read a daily devotion and several chapters of Scripture every day. I also read the death notices in the newspaper, realizing again how many people have passed away, probably without recording their stories for family members and friends.
What do you do regularly to take care of yourself?
I exercise three mornings a week. I walk with my friend on non-exercise mornings. I joined TOPS in December to keep track of my weight and focus more on eating healthy food. I also bought a Garmin Vivofit to track my steps (or lack of steps), which is important for someone who spends much of the day at a computer.
How do you keep yourself emotionally balanced while you are pushing forward?
I’m an extrovert so I recharge by going places to network with others—the St. Helens Club, a writers’ critique group, Oregon Christian Writers conferences, the Southwest Washington Writers Conference. I also like to encourage others, which is why I have volunteered as co-chair of the OCW Cascade Writing Contest since its inception four years ago. I live with my husband and my 15-year-old daughter, so they keep my emotions in check—even under tight deadlines. My son recently graduated from college and his first job took him to St. Paul, Minnesota, so I’m looking forward to visiting him and other relatives in the Midwest.
What’s the best part and the worst part of your job?
I love meeting people and listening to their stories. I’ve learned so much from narrators as they share recollections of their lives. For example, one client, a longtime bookkeeper, told me that people today start out with what their generation worked their entire lives to achieve—a house, a car, etc.—but they borrow money to obtain it. Another woman described how she and her husband built their home piece by piece, paying for the lumber as money allowed, watching snow from the January 1950 blizzard pile on the floor as it blew through the hole where the doorknob would be … when they could afford to buy it.
I enjoy researching the facts to ground the stories. I did my own transcription initially, which helped make me a better interviewer, but now I work with an excellent transcriptionist. My husband, a retired newspaper editor, helps with the proofreading before book publication. I also scan the photos and design the books.
The worst part of the job would probably be the constant sitting at my computer on deadline as I scramble to finish a large project such as a company or community history.
What failure taught you the most and what was it?
I learned the hard way to charge hourly for the work I do. Initially, I charged a package price for a life story, but each individual is unique, and some clients required more attention than others. After earning about five dollars an hour on a book project, I changed my billing structure and began charging hourly.
I also learned about the importance of scanning photos at a high resolution so they’ll print well in book form. Nearly two decades ago with my first paying client, I used the scanner settings for her photos, but discovered 72 dpi won’t work, so I borrowed all the photos again and rescanned them at a higher resolution.
If you had to do something different, what would that be?
I would love to write novels someday—perhaps historical novels based on actual pioneers who left little or no records of their lives.
With my personal history business, I would like to better schedule my work hours. It’s too easy to sit at the computer and start working on a project, day or night. I need to focus on making time for exercise, family, relaxation, and even house cleaning, to keep life in balance.
If you had advice to give to someone else who was thinking of becoming an entrepreneur, what would that be?
Become involved in professional associations. When I joined the Association of Personal Historians, I served as the Northwest regional co-coordinator to bring in speakers who could teach on subjects I needed to learn, such as marketing, bookbinding, design, and oral history interviewing. Then I focused on following my passions and volunteered in my community, where I met many people and soon found jobs flowing my way through referrals.
Anyone who wants to work as a personal historian should focus on active listening. Develop the skills to ask questions and listen to answers without interrupting. Charge hourly for the work done so everyone is happy.
What did you have to overcome personally to be able to do what you do?
Shortly after I started Chapters of Life, I found myself pregnant at 40, which put a little kink in my business plan. But it’s been such a blessing to work from home as my daughter has grown. She keeps me young, and I’ve been able to participate at her school, chaperoning field trips and band activities.
Any last parting words?
It’s well worth the risk to follow your passions and do what you love, especially if you feel God is leading you down that path.
BLOG: I write a column published Tuesdays in The Chronicle of Centralia, Washington at www.chronline.com/Opinion/Highlighting Lewis County under the byline of Julie McDonald.
OTHER SOCIAL MEDIA: Facebook: Julie McDonald Zander