A Lasting Legacy: An Epistolary Biography of James Ricks Gee

Kamille Hansen | Public Relations

My Project

“Grandpa, what if I wrote a biography about you?”

We were sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner when I asked the question. I knew I needed to come up with an idea for a senior project soon, and the idea of writing a book had been floating around in the back of my mind for some time. My grandpa, James Gee, has Parkinson’s Disease, making it hard for him to do simple things like click a mouse or type on a keyboard. Writing his own life history was out of the question for him. If he gave me permission, I could have an awesome senior project and help him out all in one go.

Grandpa looked up from his plate of mashed potatoes and said, “I’d like that.”

Over the next several months, I made a lot of visits to my grandparent’s home in Sugar City, Idaho. I interviewed Grandpa, talked to Grandma, read journal entries, and gathered photos. I also gathered stories from my dad and my aunts.

By the time March rolled around, I felt like I had more than enough information to work with. I had a few drafts started, but I didn’t like how they were sounding. I was pregnant with my first child, and as the due date got nearer and I was trying to get things ready for the baby, I decided I’d be able to focus better on writing after the baby was born.

However, my case of writer’s block didn’t disappear with the birth of my son. If anything, it got worse. Distractions never help with writer’s block, and I was definitely distracted. One day, I was holding my sleeping son, and trying to work on my project, typing one-handed. Words just weren’t coming. I had a piece of paper and a pen sitting close by so that I could write a letter to my sister who is living in Michigan. (We are kind of old-fashioned and like to send each other snail mail all the time.) But I felt guilty writing a letter to my sister when I knew I needed to be working on my project.

That’s when I had a brilliant idea. I could write a letter, or a series of letters, all about my grandpa. I decided to address the letters to my son, Silas, and just like that, the writer’s block vanished.

I spent a total of 56 hours interviewing and writing. The full breakdown of time spent on this project is included in the chart below.

My father-in-law, Barry Hansen (Hansen Creative), designed the book cover for me and made sure the formatting was ready for print. I published through Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing.

Cover Design by Barry Hansen

The PDF version of the book can be found at this link. The book is also available on Amazon.

Lessons Learned

Throughout the entire process of writing this book, I learned just how important it is to know who your audience is and to write to them. The audience I was most focused on reaching was my son, Silas, and all my future children. I very literally wrote to that audience. Knowing who I was writing to and why I was writing to them made all the difference for me. I was having a really hard time compiling my grandpa’s experiences, but as soon as I focused on my audience, the writing became so much easier.

More importantly, for me, I learned that while my grandpa is just an average guy, he has left his posterity a great legacy to live up to. I can only hope that I will be able to live up to it and pass it on to future generations.

I haven’t done anything to market this book. I wrote it for family members to enjoy. So far, my parents and several of my siblings have read it. They have all expressed gratitude for having the stories written down and so accessible. I plan to give copies to each family member that expresses a desire to have the book. I will also make the PDF available on the Family Tree website so more family members have access to it.

Overall, I am glad I decided to write my grandpa’s biography. I will always cherish the time I spent with him learning about his life.