What's a Raconteur?

rac·on·teur
/ˌräˌkänˈtər/

A person who tells anecdotes in a skillful and amusing way; a storyteller; a narrator

'Excavate a life': A local business preserves locals' personal stories

'Excavate a life': A local business preserves locals' personal stories

published by The Daily Advertiser

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Every person is a walking book. And Olivia Spallino Savoie hopes to capture those stories before they fade.

With her business, Raconteur Story Writing Services, she does just that, creating heirloom life story books for young and old alike. Through a series of one-on-one interviews, thousands of memories and photos are received, sorted and captured in a personal novel. 

"I want to preserve those libraries," she said. 

How Raconteur started

In the summer of 2016, Savoie documented her grandmothers' lives. After hearing their stories for years she wanted to preserve them and to see if she had a knack for lifestyle writing.

"Both of my grandmothers are my closest friends" she said. "That's where it started. I tested this theory on them to see if I could ask certain questions to excavate a life."

At the time, she didn't think a business like Raconteur could exist — she was creating their memoirs for fun, not work. 

Earlier in the year, Savoie got the idea of her future business from her friend and mentor Lauren George. During her senior year in college, she met up with George, then her homeschool tutor, who suggested she create a business out of recording people's life stories.

And so Raconteur Story Writing Services was born.

After graduating college in 2016, Savoie started preserving lives and legacies professionally. 

The 25-year-old runs the business with her husband, Josh Savoie. He joined in 2018 to help Olivia Spallino Savoie expand her business. They now have four other employees who help to create the books in various ways. 

Two favorite things — writing and history

Books vary in length and depth but they all have one thing in common — extraordinary stories of everyday people. 

She and the storyteller also have a lot of ground to cover, as her interviewees are typically over 70 years old. Almost 200 questions are asked for each book. Most are written in chronological order for ease and organization. 

To help shy or humble people who may take time to open up, she often reminds her interviewees that they're working on a family heirloom, not a brag book. After a few in-person interviews, Savoie then helps the client and their family to sort through hundreds of photos and, even sometimes diaries, to help to illustrate or otherwise add to the story. 

Savoie's clients come from from a variety of places, ranging from her hometown of Youngsville to as far as South Africa. She produces six to 10 books a year, and the time it takes to create a book ranges from one month to six months, making sure to read every book about 10 times before it's sent off to be published.

"I'm a crazy perfectionist," she said with a laugh. 

Growing up, Savoie had a fascination with reading presidents' memoirs. As an 8-year-old, she would read multiple books in a day, absorbing as much history and personal details as she could. Her curiosity about memoirs shaped her style of writing and success as a lifestyle writer, she said. 

Impossible to pick favorites

Sometimes she creates tribute books, in which she interviews their spouse, family and friends, to gather their legacy. Each memoir is filled with life lessons she said. Especially with couples. 

"If someone has been married for 50 years, I can't untangle that story," Savoie said. 

Raconteur Story Writing Services is a combination of Savoie's two favorite things — writing and history. She graduated University of Louisiana at Lafayette with a Bachelor of Arts in English and a minor in history.

The couples are interviewed separately to gather background in their childhoods and teen years, but they're reunited to tell the rest of their story together. 

Once, Savoie was interviewing a couple and the wife, who had had a stroke, was sleeping next to her husband. Or so they thought. The husband is telling about their first kiss and the wife interrupts him to correct the story.

Although it is difficult to pinpoint which personal novel is her favorite, because every story is her favorite in a unique way, some of the stories that stick with her are the World War II veterans. Reliving flying over the Pacific on B-29s or charging the coast of Italy have been some of her most prized moments Savoie said.

She has penned more than 35 memoirs, interviewing teachers, contractors, farmers and many others. One of the sweetest stories she documented was a man's life and love story, which he then read to his wife with late-stage Alzheimer's on their daily visit.

The first memoir she wrote was for a local contractor, M.P. Dumesnil. Now, as she drives around Lafayette, she sees his work across the parish. With each story, she sees the world through another pair of eyes.

One of the most surprising journeys she was taken on was about a woman from South Africa who moved to New Iberia with her husband, who was a local. After decades of feeling like she didn't belong, the woman did her genealogy in her 90s and found her great aunts were buried in New Iberia.  

"She showed me that you're never too old to keep wanting to learn," Savoie said.


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