Saturday 31 July 2010

Interview with Missouri author Dianna Graveman

As my regular readers know, I've written a fair amount of Missouri history. In fact, one of my current projects for Osprey Publishing is about Jo Shelby's 1863 raid around Missouri.

So I've been very happy to make the online acquaintance of Dianna and Don Graveman, a husband and wife team who have done four books on Missouri history for Arcadia Publishing's "Images of America" series--wonderfully produced photo histories of local areas. If you're looking to publish local history, they're one of the best in the business.

The Gravemans' titles are: St. Charles: Les Petites Cotes; Missouri Wine Country: St. Charles to Hermann; Washington; and Hermann (scheduled for release September 2010). They also maintain an interesting blog called Write in the Midwest. Dianna agreed to talk to me about their projects.

What got you and your husband interested in writing books about Missouri?
Don and I have always been the type to stop at every historical marker or point of interest we encounter along the road. Don is in sales, and his territory includes part of the American West. When I taught elementary school, I looked at every opportunity to travel with him during the summer as a way to gather more information, stories, and even materials (like small-town newspapers or brochures from historical sites) for my class. I kept a travel journal and wrote down everything. Some of the people we met and places we visited ended up in articles or short stories I wrote that were later published. At some point, we became aware of Arcadia Publishing's "Images of America" series, and it just seemed a natural next step for us to propose a book on our hometown, St. Charles. One contract turned into four pretty quickly.

What's been your most interesting surprise find while rummaging through old archives? (I don't have to ask if you've had a surprising find, because archives always yield surprises!)
There have been a lot of little surprises, but the biggest was not really a "Missouri history" find. While combing through boxes of old, unlabeled and not-yet-archived photos at a historical society in a small Missouri town, we came upon a plain white envelope. Inside were several very clear black and white photos of what appeared to be the aftermath of World War II battles! Some of the photos looked like they may have been from Okinawa or Corregidor. One was taken at Pearl Harbor, possibly on V-J Day. They were startlingly clear and comprised a sort of unbound pictorial journal.
Talking with the organization's archivist, we learned that the photos were snapped by a soldier who returned to town after the war. Some years later, he donated the photos to the historical society. It is not known if the soldier also kept a written account of his experiences, or if he felt the pictures would simply speak for themselves--which, of course, they do.

What advice would you give someone wanting to get started in local history?
Make connections with the curators and archivists at local historical societies and museums. Spend as much time with them as you can. In many small towns, these historians have lived in the town all their lives, as have their parents and grandparents. If they haven't, they can put you in touch with people who have. Folks who have lived and worked in a town for several decades can give you information about a place that you can't find in books.

You and your husband are very active in promoting your work. Can you give some advice to writers about how best to market their books?
Developing and marketing four books in such a short period of time was definitely a challenge--especially since we both hold regular jobs--but Arcadia Publishing is great to work with. We were assigned a publicist and regional sales rep, but of course, these folks are working with many authors, so we also need to promote our books.
We do as many talks and book signings as possible, and we try to structure our presentations around a particular group's focus. For example, writing groups want to hear about how we secured the book contracts and obtained permission to use old photos. Library guests want to hear about the history of a town.
We maintain a web presence with posts about upcoming book releases or events on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, a blog, and a website. We set up Google alerts, so we instantly know if one of our books has been reviewed or mentioned. That way, we can thank the reviewer or blogger -- but also link to that review from our own website or blog and post the link on social networking sites.
We carry copies of our business cards and at least one copy of each of our books with us everywhere; you never know when someone will express interest. We always see a spike in activity on our website the day after an event, since that URL is on our business card. We gave a large stack of promotional postcards to the curator at a museum. He, in turn, sent them to everyone on his organization's mailing list.

Can you tell us a bit about your upcoming projects?
Our fourth book focuses on Hermann, Missouri, and will be in bookstores the week of September 27. With four books released in approximately 18 months, our focus in the short term is to continue marketing them. We have been invited to give a presentation in Jefferson City at the Missouri State Archives in October, and we also want to devote adequate time to developing that presentation. However, we're already kicking around a few ideas for future books. In the meantime, I'm doing some research for a solo project--nonfiction, but not historical.

Your website mentions that you also write fiction. Tell us a bit about that.
When I was pursuing my MFA, I began a collection of realistic fiction set in the contemporary American West. It had become clear to me that nature and the preservation of nature is a strong influence in my writing, especially in the ways it can be expressed through relationships of human beings to wilderness and to each other. With the stories in that collection, I intended to blend the presence of ruggedly beautiful landscapes with the real lives of people who struggle--and sometimes fail--to uphold the courageous spirit of the American West. Lucky for me, seven of those stories have been published, and six have won one or more awards. The collection continues to evolve, and I have not yet sought a publisher. I may be getting close to that now.

Thanks for stopping by Dianna, and best of luck with your collection and future Missouri books!


Camille said...

Yay Gravemans! I'm so glad you have completed all four and now are selling them.

Donna Volkenannt said...

Hi Sean,
Thanks for posting your interview with Dianna.
Her passion for history and writing come through in her responses to your questions.
Donna Volkenannt

Jennie said...

Thanks for posting an interview with Dianna--it is really fantastic to read some of the "insider scoop" behind creating and marketing their books!

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Sean, for doing this interview! I am honored. Safe travels!

BTW, For some reason Open ID is having problems--which is why I didn't use my wordpress ID to post this comment. Thanks, again! Dianna

Looking for more from Sean McLachlan? He also hangs out on the Civil War Horror blog, where he focuses on Civil War and Wild West history.

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