Olivia Spallino Savoie interviews clients and writes their life story in a book. / Photo courtesy of Olivia Spallino Savoie
By MATT BLOIS
Olivia Spallino Savoie usually starts her interviews with simple questions. She asks her clients what games they liked to play as children or what kinds of activities they did in college.
“I just start from the beginning,” she said. “I believe it’s the really structured interview that enables us to slowly get to know each other more.”
Spallino Savoie calls herself a private family biographer. She talks with her clients for three to nine hours, getting to know them through a set of prewritten interview questions.
They tell her war stories, love stories and stories about traveling the world. Spallino Savoie writes those stories and publishes them in book for her clients and their families.
Spallino Savoie travels across the Southeast for her work, and she recently wrote life stories for several clients in Nolensville.
The books are anywhere between 6,000 and 20,000 words, and include family photos to help tell the story. She has written about 20 full life stories, as well as number of shorter stories focused on a specific part of someone’s life.
She also writes tribute books for people who have already died. She will talk with friends and family to learn about that person and write the book.
It can take months to write the text, and Spallino Savoie works with a freelance editor and designer to create the books. That means the service isn’t cheap. A life book starts at $3,000 and can be as much as $6,000 depending on what the client wants.
Most of her business comes by word of mouth. Spallino Savoie said this project is her full time job, and has even enlisted her husband to help out.
“Writing is not something you get rich off of. It’s something you love to do,” she said. “It suffices to get me through and I love it enough that it’s all good for me.”
Her clients have told her that the experience is cathartic. Families rarely sit down with their relatives and conduct a formal interview, but Spallino Savoie said that format yields stories that families have never heard before.
Often, her clients believe they don’t have an important story to tell, but Spallino Savoie said she loves to prove them wrong.
One man told Spallino Savoie that he had a boring life story. Later she found out he worked with NASA to help get a man on the moon and survived a helicopter crash in the Korean War.
“He hadn’t thought about his life as a whole. He hadn’t been given an opportunity to reflect like those interview questions brought up,” she said.
Spallino Savoie writes the stories from a first person perspective. She tries to adopt the linguistic tics of her clients so that it sounds like they really wrote it.
She helps check some of the facts in the book, like the correct spelling of names of friends and relatives. But she leaves the remembering to her clients.
“At the end of the day it’s that person’s perception of their life,” she said.
Only some of the stories are public. Many of the families prefer to keep the stories private, but Spallino Savoie said families often buy dozens of copies of the book to share with family and friends.