Tuesday, April 24, 2018

THE UNEXPECTED EXPERIENCE

With trepidation, I entered my The Ancestors Are Smiling! book into the Northern California Publishers & Authors (NCPA) Annual Book Awards Competition in February 2018, as encouraged by Patricia Canterbury, an author friend of mine. 

Now you understand that I truly do love my book and the characters living happily within it. Like every author I have met, there are a few sentences that I would like to change. I know full well that my little book really needed one last copy editor, in addition to the many content editors I had before publishing it in July 2017. You see, at the end of May, 2017, I was given a wonderful opportunity to participate in the September 2nd Elk Grove Fine Art Center's Annual Book Signing event. It was too good an offer to pass up. So even though my family story book was only 80% complete by the end of May, I did my best to finish it. 

In June, I figured out how to price the book. Even though I knew there are publishing and retail bookstore rules for making the price end in $.00, $.50, $.95 or $.99, I stubbornly decided to price the book at $18.34, because 1834 was such an important year in my family’s history. I bought 10 ISBN numbers; applied for a copyright; administered a survey to 50 friends to determine the top five of 20 storylines for the back jacket; drafted verbiage for the back jacket; and created my book cover using one of my mother, Mary Marshall's watercolor paintings and photographs of the family members profiled i my book. 

On July 3rd, the book was ready to publish, but the ancestors work in mysterious ways, reaching out to me from their lofty ether. They insisted that I try just one more time to interview my eldest still-living elder, Great-uncle Charles Williams. He was 92 years old and had been too sick to talk with me before then. Glory be, I was able to speak with him that evening, with his wife and son helping him remember the old days in Ohio. I drafted his chapter that night, then re-edited the entire book for the umpteenth time.  On July 17, 2017, I exported my manuscript to a .pdf file, then uploaded it, and the cover, to createspace.com. I was officially a published author on Amazon.com!

Last night, April 22, 2018, was the NCPA Book Awards Banquet. I put off getting ready for the 5:00 PM start time until the last minute. I evidently had never looked closely at the shirt I had prepared to wear, for it wasn’t until I put it on that I noticed it had sexy slits up the sides. That would have been totally inappropriate for such a possibly austere event. I tried to sew up the sides by hand, but there wasn’t enough time. Instead, I removed the black, french-cut, sleeved-shirt I had on—which had rather garish silver and red sparkly rhinestones on the front—and threw it into the dryer with a scented cling-free sheet. I had a jacket to wear over it, so I hoped my outfit would be acceptable. I undid the twists in my hair and finger-combed it into my signature hairstyle. I quickly applied minimal makeup, pulled the now sweet-scented shirt out of the dryer, and finished dressing. I left North Natomas at 4:40 PM, after having plugged the address of the Cherry Island Golf Course into my iphone Maps App. Hmm, only 22 minutes to Elverta. I can make it. 

I did not know anyone in that organization. Embarrassment that I submitted my first published book flowed through me, as I parked my car. I almost turned around and went back home. Fortunately, walking in front of my Honda was Mary Lou Anderson, an author friend and fellow member of the Art by Fire clay, glass and metal art group. A friendly face! I got out of the car and quickly caught up to her, boldly asking if I could sit with her. 

We entered the dining hall, affixed a name tag to our lapels and looked at the 32 book entries lined up on the long table on one side of the room. I saw my book. I felt proud, especially since a woman was reading its back cover. I went over and introduced myself to her. She was also an entrant; later, I found out she was in my same category, scoping out the competition, I guess. I wish I had thought to do the same, but my senses were on overload. I felt out of my league, in an unfamiliar place, at my first book competition, not knowing what to expect from the evening. I even forgot to have someone take a picture of me in front of my book--and if you know me, you know I am always taking pictures of life's daily events. 

Sharon, the outgoing President of NCPA came over to introduce herself to me. She had read every book in the competition and was kind to compliment my effort. I was there to learn as much as I could about how to improve my book, because I intend to remove its blemishes and publish it as a Kindle book soon. Notebook in hand, I asked her, point blank, how she thought I should improve my entry. She said she really enjoyed the stories, but that I referenced “that we get our mechanical abilities from our enslaved ancestors” way too many times. She also recommended purchasing the “Pro Writing Aid” to help edit future books. Mary Lou and I asked Sharon about the judging process and we were surprised to learn that every book was entered into the “Best Book Cover” category. She suggested that we purchase the “Independent Book Publishers Association Guidelines for Cover and Design” for future books.

The microphone sounded and we were asked to take our seats. Mary Lou and I found a round table near the food banquet counter. There was a wife and husband sitting across from me, Mary Lou to my right, and an energetic man to my left. The fellow couldn’t seem to sit still. After the preliminary introductions, the Mistress and Master of Ceremonies explained how the evening's activities would progress. Then we got in line for a chicken and tri-tip buffet dinner. While we ate, author Frances Kakugawa read emotionally wrenching war-related poetry. The MCs returned to the mic and started announcing the entries in the Fiction category. Everybody clapped for each author, recognizing that it takes a measure of bravery to put our written work out to be judged. Then the awards were issued: three honorable mentions, one second place and one first place award for Fiction, and four awards for Poetry.

Then it was time for my category: four entries in Non-Fiction Memoir. Guess what the result was? Yes, you guessed correctly. There were some cheers and hand clapping as my name was announced…as a participant in the nonfiction-memoir category. There were two winners in my category, and the remaining two of us clapped for them as they went up to receive their award.

We were still sitting at our tables, finishing our dinners, as the awards were issued. I had noticed that the fellow sitting next to me on the left was a judge for this competition, named Barry Schoenborn, who is also a publisher. Mary Lou and I spent an hour talking with him about writing and publishing. He quickly reviewed my first book—the one sitting with the other 31 entrants. Like a mad woman, I wrote his invaluable feedback in my notebook. He said my first book was well constructed, meaning it had a bar code, ISBN, and Library of Congress number. He added “nice cover, title page, and copyright page.” He thought the table of contents was formatted well and that the bibliography and end notes appeared appropriate. He said the rear cover was fine with a good tease on the back, and he liked that I listed my qualifications. When he mentioned he was sorry that he had not been chosen to judge my book, I, like any good marketer, pulled a fresh book out of my purse and gave it to him to read. I asked him to share whatever critique he felt like communicating to me. Red pen, pencil, circled, whatever he wanted to do, I would receive gratefully. He will be giving a "10 Things You Should Know About Publishing” on May 16th and 17th, so I’ll get the book back then. He is known for being no-nonsense and straight-forward, which is what I prefer.

Perhaps the best thing about the evening is that I had brought my manuscript-in-progress about my enslaved ancestors, and he looked at that too. He and I were researchers and technical writers in our former work life, so he seemed to appreciate the trajectory of my draft effort. Like the first book, he skimmed through the pages and gave quick appraisals of my manuscript. Mary Lou and I also spoke with him about pricing. He said my first book should have been priced at $14.95 and the second, at only $19.95 even though it is 8.5”x11” and 300 pages so far. We also talked at length about Kindle vs. paperbacks, marketing, etc. It was a priceless experience.

And sitting behind me was Jennifer Grainger, an editor whom I was told had visited my Elk Grove Writing Group a month before I started. I showed her my draft manuscript and asked if we might talk about her copy editing it for me. 


So all in all it was a most successful evening for me. I thanked my friend, Pat, for encouraging me to take that leap. I am the better for it.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Welcome to my Genealogy Blog

 STARTING TO WRITE FAMILY STORIES

    I am so excited to share with you my new mania! Well, it's not really new, it's a mania 40 years in the making. I have been interested in finding out about my African American ancestors for over 40 years. But it has only been since October 1, 2016, that I finally decided to write a book about one of my family lines.  That is when I started seriously writing about our Williams family. This project would progress using what's called a pedigree approach, starting with stories about me, my immediate family, my mother's family,  my maternal grandmother's family, my maternal great grandfather's family, and then to our enslaved Williams ancestors.
     The primary character in this story--our hero--would be our slave ancestor, my second great grandfather named Otho Williams, who lived in Western Maryland from about 1834 to about 1889. I knew almost nothing about him, except that he was born in 1834 near the Benevola Post Office in Washington County, Maryland, and that he was married to Alice and had a lot of children. One of their kids was my first great-grandfather, Otho Sherman Williams.
     To learn more about the writing process, I joined an online organization called the Genealogist's Writing Room on October 1, 2016. Created by book coach, Anita Henderson, this organization helps African-Americans write their family stories. After listening to Anita's webinar telling us how to getting started by writing what we already know, I created a new word processing document that was in a book format. I was off and running! By the end of the month, I had written about 80 pages, single spaced, containing the things I "did" know about our family members. This included a chapter on my life and that of my brother and sister, a chapter about my mother and another about my father, and so on. After six weeks of eight-hour days reviewing handwritten bills of sale and probate records, I began to find answers to the many questions I had developed to research Otho's life and times in Western Maryland.  But as I soon learned, this would be a bumpy ride.
     For those of you who are not aware, African-American genealogy research is very difficult--often impossible--to find any records about our family members before the 1870 U.S. Federal Census. That is because at least 80% of all black people in America were slaves at some point prior to 1860, before the Civil War started. As a slave, we were regarded as chattel property, like a hog or a shovel. You don't list a first and last name for your shovel or your hog in legal records, do you? Likewise, slaves usually did not have last names and they were not usually named in records that are now easy to search. Therefore, for most African-Americans it is extremely difficult to find anything about our slave relatives prior to the 1870 Census, which was the first census to enumerate black people by their first and last names.  I had been attempting to learn about my slave ancestors for decades. I vowed this time to be successful. I would learning about the lives of both of my second great-grandparents.
      This blog will record some of the many ups and downs this roller coaster ride of African-American Genealogy has taken me on since October 2016. It is a way for me to not only share some of the theories that I developed and resources that I tapped,  but also to vent the extreme disappointments of this brick wall, as well as the phenomenal highs of finally finding some good stuff. My hope is that this journey will be helpful to some of you who are also trying to do the same with your family histories.