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BACKSTAGE PASS: Tales from the script

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  • | 4:00 a.m. October 5, 2011
Liz Coursen has already received 12 autobiographies to edit since her workbook was published a year ago. “I’ve not read a dull story yet,” she says.
Liz Coursen has already received 12 autobiographies to edit since her workbook was published a year ago. “I’ve not read a dull story yet,” she says.
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Liz Coursen wants to read your life story. Not Elizabeth Taylor’s story or Michael Jackson’s story or Sarah Palin’s post-election tell-all.

Your life story. The one you’ve sat on for years, the one you started to write but never finished. The story you thought wasn’t exciting enough for print.

“Politicians, actors, actresses, people who make headlines, these aren’t necessarily the people who made a difference in our lives,” Coursen says. “When you ask someone who the most influential person in their life was, most of the time you’ll get a person you’ve never heard of.”

At 524 pages, Coursen’s self-published “The Complete Biography Workbook” serves as a sort of guided bible for the novice autobiographer.

Published in large print and chock-full of questionnaires, the book is aimed at baby boomers and their parents, covering almost every possible topic and life experience spanning childhood to elder years.

There are genealogy charts, writing tips and writing samples; book-jacket design suggestions; advice on working with an editor; and an exhaustive historical fact list citing everything from the invention of Ovaltine to the release of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.”

Coursen wrote the book for her beloved grandmother, who died nearly two decades before she even attempted a rough draft.

Published in 2010, the workbook took an intense 14 months to finish.

Coursen, who grew up in Sarasota, says she never intended for it to be such a weighty tome, but as she got further into the project, it became clear that there was only one way to do it: thoroughly.

Says Coursen: “I knew if I had put this workbook in my grandmother’s hands, her story would have gone toe-to-toe with the finest biography.”

Though the 52-year-old says she’s still too young to pen her own autobiography, you can bet when she does, it’ll be stranger than fiction.

A former landscape construction contractor, Coursen is a self-described “serial entrepreneur,” having run an assortment of small businesses that specialized in selling imported linens, terra cotta and diamonds.

Her current business —, an online art company that sells large-scale prints of vintage post cards — has been featured in Entrepreneur, Town & Country and Southern Living magazines.

In addition to her biography workbook, Coursen, who graduated in 1981 from Emory University with a degree in English literature, has published a local interest book on Brunswick, Maine, where she spent half her childhood.

“Like dieting and exercising, writing an autobiography is one of the most frequently started and stopped things,” Coursen says. “Everybody has had an interesting life. This book just teases out the info and asks the questions people are dying to answer.”

To prepare for writing the book, Coursen read almost 200 biographies and autobiographies. She read New York Times bestsellers written by high-powered politicians and little-known, independently published paperbacks by ordinary people.

When the book was finished, she embarked on a book tour and gave presentations at libraries, churches and historical societies from South Florida to Georgia.

This year, she’s touring Alabama, South Carolina and Tennessee.

“The response has been unbelievable,” Coursen says. “People are looking for direction. Let’s face it, we all want to know more about our descendants. Even the most stalwart DAR lady can’t tell you everything about her ancestors. What were their dreams? What did they covet? These are the things that make up a person that no one will remember in 100 years unless you write it down.”


Liz Coursen will present “Yes, You! An Entertaining Autobiography in Three Easy Steps,” based on her book, “The Complete Biography Workbook,” during the Historical Society of Sarasota County’s monthly meeting at 7 p.m. Oct. 11, in the historic Crocker Church, 1260 12th St., Sarasota. The event is free. For more on Coursen’s book, visit

 VIDEO: Liz Coursen explains why she built a "Google search" into her biography workbook.


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