Yours Truly: An Obituary Writer's Guide to Telling Your Story (Hardcover)
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In a surprisingly upbeat, heartfelt book about a serious subject, The Wall Street Journal’s veteran obituary writer, award-winning journalist James R. Hagerty, shares his unique skills with those who want to have the last word with flourish, honesty, and even humor.
Whether in-brief for future newspapers and websites, or as a more complete mini-memoir for friends and family, Yours Truly is a guide to making sure your story is told the way you want – and how the process of preparing your own life story can help you live a better life.
“Write your own obituary. Intimidating? You bet. Especially if you don't think of yourself as a writer, as few do. James R. Hagerty draws on his experience writing more than 1,000 obituaries to offer tips for telling your own story. Whatever your age or health, an inventory of your life so far can help you decide if you're on the path you intended, and if you aren't, lead you to another.” —People.com
Someday, your life story is likely to be boiled down to a few lines. If you leave things to chance, your obituary is almost sure to be solemn, formulaic, and full of errors—an obligatory final chapter written in haste by others. James R. Hagerty, longtime obit writer for The Wall Street Journal, knows how to get the job done right: Do it yourself, starting now, while you still can.
In this heartfelt and reassuring guide, Hagerty explains how to preserve your personal history—from crafting a brief obituary for newspapers and websites, to a more thoughtful and detailed mini-memoir for those close to you. Through his personal stories, on-the-job anecdotes, and insights, you will learn what to include, what to leave out, and how to provide historical context, record oral histories and make the most of details, all with candor and wit. Best of all, you’ll find that reviewing your life story helps you think about what you’re doing with your time on Earth and whether you’re on the right path. It isn’t too late to improve the narrative with a stronger ending.
Telling your story your way can be the best gift you ever give to friends and loved ones—and yourself.
"Need to put something in writing? Read this book. Getting words onto a page can be a painful process. Authors of all abilities, help is within reach!...Hagerty gives advice about how to interview, how to tell a story, what to include and what to omit." - THE NEW YORK TIMES
About the Author
James Robert Hagerty is an author and journalist who has worked at The Wall Street Journal for nearly forty years. He is the paper’s only fulltime obituary writer. His article “An Obituary Writer Writes One for Himself” drew an outpouring of reader responses, which inspired this book. A graduate of the University of North Dakota, he lives in Pittsburgh, PA. Visit him on Facebook or Twitter @JamesRHagerty.
Praise for YOURS TRULY
“Write your own obituary. Intimidating? You bet. Especially if you don't think of yourself as a writer, as few do. James R. Hagerty draws on his experience writing more than 1,000 obituaries to offer tips for telling your own story. Whatever your age or health, an inventory of your life so far can help you decide if you're on the path you intended, and if you aren't, lead you to another.” —People
"Need to put something in writing? Read this book. Getting words onto a page can be a painful process. Authors of all abilities, help is within reach!...Hagerty gives advice about how to interview, how to tell a story, what to include and what to omit." - The New York Times
“By asking probing questions (“What were you trying to do with your life? Why?”) Hagerty helps readers preserve their legacies by writing mini-memoirs for those closest to them. Examining the past might even lead readers to make beneficial changes for the future.” —The Washington Post
“A gem, a pleasure to read, full of fascinating life stories. [The author’s] aim is to get you to sit down and write -- a short piece, a book-length autobiography, or even your own obituary. I will. So should you.” —Progressive Farmer
“Chances are that most people will pick up “Yours Truly” as a sort of primer on leaving a life’s legacy to children and grandchildren, which good. That’s how this book is meant. But while you’re learning how to preserve your stories and write your own obituary, author James R. Hagerty gives you something else to do, too: he’ll entertain you with dozens and dozens of obits from (above) average people.” —The BookWorm
“Fascinating stories . . .Focusing less on a life’s end and much more on what made that life full to begin with, Yours Truly is a truly original writing guide that will appeal to those looking to write their own obituary—or perhaps something even longer." —Booklist
“Fascinating glimpses into the broad scope of humanity in a way that will appeal to fans of Humans of New York.” —Publishers Weekly
“(Hagerty) advises readers on what and what not to include, and how to unearth telling details that enliven and illuminate. He cringes at clichés and euphemisms. As for writing your own obituary in advance, he says, ‘No one can do it better.’ If you aren’t comfortable with writing, Hagerty offers guidance on how to record an oral history in short sittings.” —New York Journal of Books
“Anyone who writes obituaries for a living earns my admiration, but Hagerty deserves more. In this non-lugubrious book, James Hagerty does everyone a great service in showing us how to make our lives come alive on the page. (Yes, ‘life’ is the operative word here!) Along the way, we're treated to just the kind of anecdotes only a career obit writer could produce. Get ready to laugh--and to write!” —Leslie Leyland Fields, author of Your Story Matters: Finding, Writing and Living the Truth of Your Life
“In Yours Truly, James R. Hagerty presents a master class in writing not just an obituary, but writing the story of a life with kindness, humor, and truth. This book is a must-have for anyone who cares about how they'll be remembered, and for those who want to honor a loved one by sharing their unforgettable story.” —Rachael Herron, bestselling author of Fast-Draft Your Memoir
“A century from now what will remain of you other than a moldering cemetery monument and a few faded photographs tucked in a box? Your obituary, of course, preserved for posterity. And you only get one shot at getting it right. Yours Truly is meticulously crafted—like any good obituary—and James R. Hagerty leads the reader on a curious and unexpected journey on how to thoroughly document your life story. Spoiler: don’t leave it up to surviving family members or the funeral director. However well intentioned, they didn’t go to war with you, raise your four children with you, work a side job as a carnival barker, volunteer for fifty years at the soup kitchen, or play in your weekly poker game. Only you can tease out the rich nuance of your life and get it down on paper. James R. Hagerty, with years of experience as the obituary writer for the Wall Street Journal, will guide and help you take control of your life story—your legacy." —Todd Harra, author of Mortuary Confidential: Undertakers Spill the Dirt, Over Our Dead Bodies: Undertakers Lift the Lid, and Last Rites: The Evolution of the American Funeral
“With gentle wit, deep empathy, and a reporter’s sharp eye for detail, James R. Hagerty takes readers by the hand and guides them through the greatest story of all: their lives. This beautiful book will show you how to write your own obituary, but it will also show you a few things about how to live." —Bryan Gruley, author of the award-winning Starvation Lake thrillers
“No one understands the treasures to be found in life stories better than James R. Hagerty.” —Bob Greene, New York Times bestselling author of Duty: A Father, His Son, and the Man Who Won the War
“Upbeat, practical and immensely useful . . . Hagerty shares a simple, good-natured approach that can work for anyone. He shows you how to make sense of your life narrative, how to tell it in an engaging way—and how to have a surprisingly good time as you create the story you’ve always wanted to share.” —George Anders, Pulitzer Prize winner and author of The Rare Find and You Can Do Anything.
“James R. Hagerty’s advice is spot on in his inimitable witty style.” —Kay Powell, retired news obituary editor of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution
“James R. Hagerty, a specialist in lives well lived, has written a book to die for.” —David Shribman, Pulitzer Prize winner and author of I Remember My Teacher
“Nobody knows more than James R. Hagerty about the stories we tell of the recently departed—and how to make sure you leave behind a good one.” —Charlie Jane Anders, author of All the Birds in the Sky and Never Say You Can't Survive
“You might think that a book about obituaries, written by an obituary writer, is about death--but you'd be wrong. Yours Truly is very much about life and is a must-read for anyone who expects, eventually, to die. That's pretty much all of us (unless you have some secret the rest of us missed.) Hagerty's premise is that writing our own obituary not only eliminates the possibility that someone will get our story wrong, but also provides us with a guide for living here and now. The idea is: write down how you want to be remembered and then live into it. This book sparkles with compelling stories--humorous, poignant, and as engrossing and readable as a first-rate novel. Once I'd started reading Yours Truly, I couldn't put it down until I'd finished the very last sentence. It really is that good. —Mort Crim, author of Anchored: A Journalist’s Search for Truth
“If you’ve ever thought of writing your life story, this is the book you need to do it. Acclaimed obituary writer James R. Hagerty provides practical tips, writing advice, and heartwarming stories for inspiration. He makes the case, in this highly readable and entertaining book, that every life story is worth telling. Take Hagerty’s advice and do it, and enrich your own life in the process!” —S.J. Peddie, author of Sonny: The Last of the Old Time Mafia Bosse