Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Write On

Murdock Mansion
As mentioned in the past, I have been struggling with my next writing project. I guess the main problem is that there are several projects that I have been working on, but I am not sure any of them is worthy of being made into a book. Yes, that nay-saying critic on my shoulder has been working overtime. As my mind turns towards 2014 and what I would like to accomplish, I realize I need to focus on one thing. But which one to choose?

And then it came to me as I was reading an article about the celebrations that will be taking place in St. Louis next year. The city will be 250 years old in 2014! (If you are interested, here is the website about all the activities that will be taking place.) They say timing is everything with a book launch, so wouldn't it be great to have a book about John J. Murdock ready to go next year? After all, he is a true rags to riches to rags story. He came to St. Louis as a young man and rubbed shoulders with the movers and shakers in the city at that time. His business as an auctioneer and investments in downtown real estate certainly influenced the history of the city.

This is my public declaration that 2014 will be the year of John Murdock. All of my attention will be focused on researching him, his business and the land he owned in St. Louis County. At the end of the day, will there be enough information for a book? I don't know at the moment. But at the least I can write an in depth article about the man and the myths surrounding him. Wish me luck!

Friday, December 13, 2013

Writing Your Life Story

an attendee and I discuss house history
Last weekend fellow author Linda Austin and I were at the Webster Groves Bookshop to discuss writing memoirs and family history. It was nice to see so many people shopping in an independent book store despite the big Missouri football game being televised that afternoon. I enjoyed talking to people who are working on their own stories. It is nice to bounce ideas off one another, and I hope that Linda and I offered encouragement and support. Most of us have that big critic sitting on our shoulders telling us that what we have to say isn't important, or that no one will care anyway.

I struggle with this myself, but I keep writing anyway. How often have we wished that our own ancestors had kept diaries so that we could see what their lives were like? Think about how quickly things change. Certainly my experience in giving birth will be vastly different than what my children will go through. Look at technology. From televisions to telephones, we have seen extraordinary changes in our life time. So go ahead - kick the critic to the curb and write your stories down. Someone in the future will be glad that you did.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Missouri Authors Expo

my book table
Last Friday night the Webster Groves Public Library held its first Missouri Authors event. Nearly three dozen authors gathered to meet readers and sign copies of their books. In addition many of the authors signed up to read a sample of their books. All genres were represented including fiction, non-fiction, mystery, children's and young adult. Wine and light food items were available in the lower level of the library. The event was very well organized, and valet parking made set up a breeze for the authors.

It was interesting to meet the other authors, some of whom I know from the St. Louis Publishers Association. While the attendance was probably lighter than we all would have liked, despite some good publicity, the people who came out were genuinely interested in talking with the authors. I had some great conversations about WWII and also house research. I even sold some books, so that was a nice bonus. It was gratifying to hear several members of the library staff tell me that my house research book is one of the most referenced (and stolen!) books in the library. It is nice to know that it is reaching the people who are trying to find out who lived in their homes.

The most amazing thing for me, though, was seeing Patricia McKissack. A renowned children's author, Patricia has also taught classes on writing for children. More than 25 years ago I took her class, along with another woman with whom I worked. Through the class I wrote a book entitled "Pierre, the Cat with No Hair." It was an anti-bullying book before this was even a buzzword. I even submitted the book to numerous publishers, to no avail. Sadly, Pierre only exists on the hard drive of my old Mac SE, which has long since given up the ghost. I cannot locate a hard copy of it anywhere. I introduced myself to Patricia, explained that I had taken her class, and told her that while I have written three books, none of them are for children. She smiled and said, "Maybe someday." Maybe someday, indeed.

For a first time event, I think it was quite a success. I certainly hope that another one is held next year so that I can participate again.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Introduction to Publishing

Peggy Nehmen and Kim Wolterman
On Saturday the St. Louis Publishers Association (SLPA) held a four hour workshop on how to publish a book. Our first class was offered in March of this year and was so successful that we decided to have another one in the fall. Part of the mission of the SLPA is outreach, and we used to conduct mini-workshops at local Borders stores every Saturday in March during Small Press Month. With the demise of Borders, we looked for other opportunities to help authors understand their options when it comes time to publish their books. Working with the local community college seemed like a great alternative for us.

In addition to making arrangements for the class, I served as the moderator and of course added my two cents worth when appropriate. We began the class with Warren Martin of Little Elephant Publishing giving an overview of traditional publishing versus going the independent publishing route. Pros and cons of each were discussed. Linda Austin of Moonbridge Publications covered how to get books into print and into stores. Her presentation was followed up by Peggy Nehmen of Nehmen-Kodner Graphic Design. Peggy provided information on why it is important to make sure a book looks good inside and out. Because ebooks are such a large part of book consumption these days, Bob Baker discussed the most widely used ebook services and distributors. Last but certainly not least, Tim Hill provided an informational and entertaining look at how to get books into the marketplace. We wrapped the program up with personal stories on what marketing techniques have worked best for us in the past.

This was a lot of information to cover in four hours, but I think we provided a good overview of the publishing process and gave the attendees guidance on where they can go for help.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Family History Month Wrap-up

Busserach, Switzerland
I am wrapping up Family History Month and the month of October by taking all the notes from my recent Family Tree Tours trip to Germany and Switzerland and putting them into Scrivener. If you are unfamiliar with this writing program, I posted about it a while back. While I tried to stay organized on the trip, sometimes I made notes in a small notebook because I didn't have my iPad readily available, but there are also notes on the iPad. In addition I emailed home almost daily, and I tried to post frequently on my other blog. So I want to pull all of those things together and have them in one place. It is easy to copy and paste the documents into Scrivener, and then I can go back and remove any duplicate information and clean things up. Once I have done that my plan is to go back and do a little research on the towns and the historical buildings I visited so that I can add a little more "meat" to the story of my trip.

photo book cover
I have almost completed the photo book I am preparing about the trip, as that will be a nice way to give my family and friends an overview of the experience. I know for a fact that none of them want to see and look at all 2,000+ photos that I took! But for myself, I want something that will be more comprehensive. What the end result of that will look like, I am not sure at this point. Once I determine how long it is, I will figure out if it just remains in Scrivener or sees the light of day as an e-book or print book.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Family History Month

Did you know that October is Family History Month in the United States? A resolution was introduced by Utah Senator Orrin Hatch on September 12, 2001 to designate October as Family History Month. Following the September 11th attacks on the U.S., the words of the resolution resonated with Congress. "We look to the family as an unwavering symbol of constancy that will help us discover a future of prosperity, promise, and potential," the legislation read. "Interest in our personal family history transcends all cultural and religious affiliations." It passed by unanimous consent.

Family History Month is a great time to begin collecting and writing your family stories. I think most of us listened to the tales of our older family members when we were children, and rolled our eyes at having to hear the same story yet again. But now, how I wish I had the opportunity to hear it told once more! Take advantage of the time you have with living relatives to ask questions about what their life was like when they were younger. What kind of family life did they have? What was school like? Where did they work? What did they do for entertainment? How did they meet their spouse?

I have begun to videotape my relatives as I interview them, for a couple of different reasons. First of all I am not distracted by trying to write down every word, and second I have documented both the face and voice of the person telling the story. Later I can select parts of the story to include in my written narrative.

But whether you decide to write the stories or record them orally, capturing them ensures that the people and events in your family will not be forgotten by future generations. Most people think that their lives are boring, that no one would be interested in what they have to say. But we each have our own unique experiences to share. Everyone has a story - are you writing it down?

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Marketing Your Book with Pinterest

Last night at the St. Louis Publishers Association's monthly meeting, Danelle Brown gave an excellent presentation on why Pinterest is important for authors. Pinterest gives authors the opportunity to engage with their readers (and potential readers) in a way that is unique from other social media avenues. If you are unfamiliar with Pinterest, there are a number of videos available online. Essentially it is a way for you to bookmark photos of things on the web that are of interest to you, keeping them organized on boards where you "pin" the photos. Other people can then re-pin something that you put on your board, just like you can re-pin photos from the boards of others.

So why should you care? Pinterest is the fastest growing segment of social media, growing faster than Google+, Twitter and Facebook. Chances are, your readers or potential readers are hanging out on Pinterest. You do not want to be blatantly self-promoting on Pinterest. The general social media rule of posting 20% promotional topics versus 80% non-promotional applies for this social media venue as well as the others. But one of the cool things about Pinterest is that each "pin" has a link that will direct the viewer back to the original place on the Internet that the photo, video or article came from. Let's say that your book is set in England and so one of your blog posts contained photos of England and a bit about the setting for the story. When you pin the England photos onto one of your Pinterest boards, the viewers will be directed back to your blog. It may be the first time that they have heard about you and your book.

Here is a screen shot of my Pinterest page. Note that my profile displays my publishing company name, the fact that I have written three books, and my web page so people can learn more about me if they so desire.

Kim Wolterman on Pinterest
While I have enjoyed my time on Pinterest, I have to admit that I have not done as much as I should have with regards to promoting my books. One of the things that Danelle recommended is to check out the Pinterest accounts of other authors, so that is something that I plan to do. Plus I just learned of another reason to become more active on this social media venue. Actually there are 70 million of them. That is how many users Pinterest had in July of 2013. Some of them may be looking for me and my books.

Friday, September 6, 2013

How Much to Write?

Margie Rizzo & Betty Heinzelman
One week from today I will be heading off on my genealogy trip to Germany and Switzerland. One of the things I have been working on the past few days is putting together a couple of photo books on my ancestors to give to the research centers over there. I will be printing off my family tree for them, but wanted to make something special as well. I have been struggling with how much to write in the books since language may be a barrier. I have settled upon using photos of documents and people to mostly fill the pages. I wish I had some additional family photos to use, but I have to work with the ones that have been left to me by my parents. The book for Switzerland is finished and being processed, and I want to get the one for Germany wrapped up today to make sure I get it in time to take with me. I hope that the people over there will be as interested in the family members who left everything they knew as we are in the ones who stayed behind.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Thinking about Writing a Book?

Most people have writing a book on their bucket list. For those who live in the St. Louis area, the St. Louis Publishers Association (SLPA) has an upcoming event to help turn that dream into a reality. On Wednesday, August 14th the SLPA is hosting a Vendor Service Provider Showcase at the Lodge Des Peres. Free and open to the public, the night will feature 17 vendors who offer services ranging from editing, book coaching, printing, design, publishing services, illustration and videography. For more information, visit the SLPA website. Hope to see you there!

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Writing Family History

Saturday I attended an all day workshop on writing your family history. The St. Louis Genealogical Society offered the class, and the woman who taught it expressed surprise when I arrived. "What are you doing here?" She is aware that I have authored other books, but as I said to her I have never written a family history. Unlike a memoir where you can draw upon your own experiences, memories and stories, writing about people you have never met presents a challenge for me. How do you take the mundane statistics of birth, marriage, death, etc. and turn it into something people will want to read? Because if no one wants to read it, then what is the point?

Unfortunately that wasn't covered on Saturday. It was mostly about the physical structure of your family history book in terms of how it will look. I learned a bit about formatting, printing, building an audience, etc., so I am glad that I attended the workshop. But I need to know more about the actual writing process so that the book will be an enjoyable read. Most of the people at the meeting were only concerned about getting a book put together with all of their collected data so that they can share it with family members. I know how much work goes into getting a book into print, so I would like to make mine something more than so and so begat so and so. I think looking at examples of some family histories will be of benefit to me, so that is my next step.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

What I learned Publishing My First Book

authors Tim Hill, Kim Wolterman & Warren Martin
Last night I participated in a panel discussion about the good, the bad and the ugly of publishing your own book at the monthly meeting of the St. Louis Publishers Association. I was joined by children's book author Tim Hill and fiction writer Warren Martin. Since I write non-fiction we had the most common genres covered. It was a lively discussion! There were many new faces in the audience, and they had a lot of questions. It is so fascinating to me to hear people talk about the topic of their books. So many stories...

We each discussed our experiences with the actual writing process of the book, editing, design, printing options and distribution channels we have used. All of us agreed that it is best to use a professional for the editing and design functions, and not do these things yourself or with the help of amatuers. Too much is riding on how your book will be viewed and accepted. Warren found out the hard way when he hired a cut-rate editor for his book, and negative reviews began appearing on Amazon due to grammatical errors. The blessing of using Amazon is that he was able to quickly take the book down, have it re-edited, and upload the revision. He didn't have 1,000 books sitting in his garage that he would not be able to sell.

The three of us have very different ways of getting our books sold. As a children's author, Tim spends a lot of time in schools and sells his books directly to his target audience. Warren finds that most of his book sales come from Internet sales, whether through Amazon or his own website. While I do sell some books online and through presentations, the majority of my sales come through specialty shops.

I still think the best advice I ever received was to write a book proposal. I know most writers balk at this, especially if they are going to go the independent publishing route. But creating a proposal forces you to really look at why you are writing the book in the first place. Who is your audience? What other books are your competition, and what makes your book different from the others in the market? Where will you find your audience? How will you sell to them? For more on why you should write a book proposal, check out my slide presentation on the topic.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Setting Down Roots

the four of us & Grandma Crusham
Today is the last day of the BlogHer challenge to write about roots. There were a number of days that the writing prompt did not appeal to me or inspire me, so I simply skipped them. I wanted to end the month on a high note though, and today's prompt is asking whether I still live in the place I was born and if not, why did I move. As I mentioned earlier, I was born in Cincinnati, Ohio where many of my relatives still reside. But when I was only a couple of months old, my dad took a job with a new company in Chicago. He had gone on ahead to find a house, so my mom boarded a train headed for Chicago with my sister, age 11, my brother, age 9, my other brother, age 18 months and me, age 2 months. Can you even imagine? I can't. Poor mom! I know my sister was probably a big help, but still! Dad had found a house in a new subdivision, located on a cul de sac. It was a great place for kids! Unfortunately it was also very near O'Hare, so a quiet place it was not. The house also only had two bedrooms, because my dad decided he could finish off the upstairs of the home by himself. In the meantime the four kids shared one bedroom. Eventually dad finished the upstairs into two additional bedrooms, and the boys had one room while the girls took the other.

We lived in Chicago until I was 5, and then my dad accepted a job in Des Moines. This time dad purchased a three bedroom home with a walkout basement. The house was on a dead end street surrounded by cornfields. It was a great spot for kids as well, and we could play kick the can and four square in the street without worrying about cars, and many a baseball game was held at the end of the road just before the cornfield began.

I loved Des Moines and pictured myself staying there. But college graduation and marriage had other places in store for me. I enjoy making trips back there, whether by car or just in my mind.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Supporting Local Authors

Michael with my niece and me
This afternoon I went to one of our locally owned bookstores, Left Bank Books, for a book reading and signing by St. Louis author Michael Kahn. He is a traditionally published author (which probably explains the wonderful food and drink spread as well as the jazz musician), who just released book number 8 in the Rachel Gold mystery series. The Flinch Factor was the subject of his reading today. I don't believe I have read any of his previous books, but after hearing one chapter of the book today - containing several laugh out loud moments - I decided to purchase The Flinch Factor. I am always looking for new authors to follow, and the fact that several of his books are set in St. Louis adds an additional layer of interest.

Following the reading he addressed questions from the audience. He got the typical ones such as when do you find time to write, how did you find your agent, etc. But a woman asked the question on my mind. How does a male attorney come to write a book with a female attorney as the protagonist? As it ends up, that isn't the way he began the story. But then he experienced several situations in the courtroom where the young female attorneys were treated very disrespectfully by the other attorneys and judges. He decided his protagonist would be a female facing those obstacles. As he explained to us, his wife (a female), his mother (a female), his agent (a female) and his editor (also a female) helped him along the way. He currently has two other books under his belt written under the pen name Michael Baron as he wanted to try his hand at writing a story with a male protagonist.

It is always a good day when you can support a local author and a local business at the same time. You can catch Michael at the St. Louis County Library on June 25th at 7:00 p.m.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Is There a Patriot in My Tree?

The next few writing prompts from BlogHer did not inspire me, so I am going to talk about another root I have been tugging on. I have a subscription to ancestry.com, so my family tree is online. When Ancestry thinks they might have a match for someone in your tree, they dangle a shaking leaf off the name on the tree. It is like a Siren's call - I must go click on the leaf to see what waits out in cyberspace. After reviewing the information you can then determine if you think the hint offered is a match. And then you can add the information at your own risk. If it came off of the tree of someone else, then you need to determine if they have any backup for the data provided. If
it came off of a record such as a census and the family names match yours, then it is probably a good hint. Sometimes you will find a tree where the "genealogist" has a child who was born before its mother, or a child born after the mother is dead. So you always need to take these things with a grain of salt.

Through several trees on Ancestry I have identified a man on my father's side of the family tree who was a Patriot, meaning he fought or aided in the Revolutionary War. I know this because a man had filed with the Sons of the Revolutionary War on Jacob Christopher Kern. And this man referenced a filing by his sister on the same Patriot to the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR). Up to this point, nearly every ancestor I have identified came over to the United States in the 1800s. I was struggling to find someone who fought in the Civil War much less the Revolutionary War. This was an exciting discovery! If it is accurate, and that is a big IF.

Jacob Kern

Saturday the Olde Towne Fenton branch of the DAR held an informational meeting, which I attended.  They walked us through the process of applying for membership in the DAR, as well as the documentation that is required. In essence, you must prove the birth, marriage and death of each generation (husband and wife) all the way back to your Patriot. (Or until you can tie yourself into the application of someone else who has researched the same Patriot.) A review of applications for Jacob Kern revealed that some people applied through his son Joseph, while a couple applied through his daughter Magdalena. I would be applying through his son Peter. So essentially the other applications will not help me. Story of my life with genealogy and house history research.

Obviously birth, death and marriage records only go back so far in the different states. Then you have to get your hands on other records such as church baptisms and marriages, obituaries, census records, etc. I can see that this process will not be easy or cheap. And I may be barking up the wrong family tree. But I won't know until I try.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Give Them Wings So They Can Fly

The BlogHer writing prompt today is about roots and wings. Here is what is says: "The original quote about giving children roots and wings referred to the roots of responsibility and the wings of independence. Does that change your understanding of the quote?" It would be interesting to find out where BlogHer came up with the information about the quote, which reads "There are two things we should give our children: one is roots and the other is wings." A Google search resulted in the quote being attributed to Hodding Carter, a Pulitzer prize-winning journalist from Louisiana, though a Wikipedia site states that the quote was borrowed from Reverend Henry Ward Beecher. I didn't find anything to substantiate this online. But whoever first said it, the words are good ones to parent by.

I have always interpreted the saying to mean that we must first create an environment in which our children  feel loved and accepted in order for them to become self-assured and independent. Those roots help them build a firm foundation on which to build the rest of their lives - a foundation that will support them even when they take off to pursue their own dreams. My husband and I like to joke that we were either really crappy parents, because our son moved to the East coast following college graduation and our daughter moved to the West coast when she graduated, or we were successful in raising two kids who are confident enough to live so far from home, allowing their own new roots to grow. I hope that it is the latter!

Below is a poem I came across in my Internet search this morning. It did not cite an author, but here is a link to the page where I found it.

Roots & Wings
If I could give you many things,
I'd give you gold and silver rings
Of knowledge that I've gained with years
The gift of smiling through the tears
Confidence, courage, determination,
Laughter and spirit and love of creation,
Wrapped up in a box with a bow, I'd give
To you these gifts to keep for as long as you live. 
"If I could give you just two things,
One would be Roots, the other, Wings."
Roots, not to tie you to the ground,
But to guide you to where your fulfillment is found
The nourishing start, the firm foundation,
The source of your inner determination.
Wings to soar over obstacles, wings to fly free,
Wings to glide to the heights of the best you can be.
And when obstacles loom, from your Roots grows a hand
Providing a strong, sturdy,safe place to land.
I'd choose these two things for the gifts that are best,
For with Roots and with Wings, you'll find all the rest!

Friday, June 14, 2013

Time Traveler

Yesterday's BlogHer prompt about my thoughts on the importance of roots I felt had already come through loud and clear on my other posts, so I did not write about them again. Today's question is regarding whether my ancestors had moved over time, and if so have I traveled to the place they lived. I have already talked about my visits to Ireland and my upcoming trip to Germany, so today I will share something closer to home.

Most of my extended family lives in Cincinnati, where the majority of my ancestors settled in the 1800s. My sister and I travel back there a couple of times a year for visits. Since our parents are deceased, it has become increasingly important to both of us to be able to see my mom's remaining siblings. They don't mind me picking their brains about family memories. The last time we were in Cincinnati they arranged for two of their cousins to meet with me so that I could interview them about their childhood. These elderly cousins lived with the first Michael Crusham to come over from Ireland. I captured it all on videotape so that I didn't need to concentrate on writing furiously. Normally when I am in town I also try to make time to drive by the homes where my ancestors lived and to visit cemeteries in search of their graves.

Recently I found a tiny root in my family tree that may tie us to very early settlers in Virginia. By early, I mean the 1600s around the time that Virginia became the first colony. If I can verify that this root leads to one of my branches, a road trip to Virginia is definitely in order as there are homesteads and monuments commemorating this family.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Getting Back to My Roots

Today's BlogHer prompt asks, "What does getting back to your roots look like to you?" I have been involved in tracing my family tree, including its roots while trying to avoid the weeds, since 1989. For me genealogy is not just about the names and dates on a page (or in the cloud). It is about the people and their stories. I like being able to travel to the towns of my ancestors, whether here in the U.S. or abroad. It is such a thrill to be able to walk where they walked, or to be able to look at the view they gazed upon every morning.

Colgan land in County Mayo, Ireland
I was able to travel to Ireland in 1997 with my husband and then again in 2005 with my sister. We visited some ancestral towns and villages while we were there, viewing the old homesteads, looking through cemeteries, and even worshipping at one of the churches. (And I have to say there is nothing more delightful than hearing Mass said and sung with an Irish brogue!) Those who live in Ireland seem to not quite get why we are looking for a piece of our distant past. They are living it every day so it is not a big deal to them.

In the fall I will be traveling to the Rhineland area of Germany, and perhaps down to Switzerland, with Family Tree Tours. This is a genealogy tour, with some sight-seeing thrown in of course, but the purpose is to help us connect with our families who emigrated from that area. I have provided the names of my ancestors and all the other pertinent information I have come across so far to the tour organizer. With the help of a man in Germany, the goal is to find someone from my town of Insheim who would be willing to meet with me and share information about the town and hopefully my ancestors. Since I do not speak German, this is truly an opportunity to do some research there and not have to worry about the language barrier. I am eager to see how far down my roots are entrenched in this part of the world.