Sunday, August 21, 2011

Keeping Your Platform under Control

At the last writers’ workshop, I attended all the presenters stressed all day long that it was necessary to have a social network platform in place a year before you publish your book. Of course, the first question to ask is “What the devil is a writer’s platform.” Always willing to embarrass myself with questions if I don’t know something, I asked, “What is a writer’s platform.”  I heard it was a compilation of ways to market myself and market my book.  By the time I had the list, I was already overwhelmed.

Putting the Advice into Action

I took the advice to heart and began to investigate the potential mediums I was going to include in my marketing platform. My first step was to get a blog going. I’ve had a blog before so I didn’t think this would be too hard. I changed from my last blog and went with blogger this time. I find it very easy to manage but maybe lacking in design styling. I will work on that later.

Adding a Facebook Fan Page

I was already on Facebook so I thought setting up a fan page would be an easy way to start. Wrong! I listened to webinars, read informational blogs, took a dozen photos of myself and then fought with my computer to get the photos on the fan page. My fan page was finally up ( but then to add to the frustration I had to have 25 people “like” my new page to get rid of the string of numbers that Facebook has added to the page name. I’m not particularly pleased with the look of it but at this juncture, it will have to do. I pestered people for a week to “like” me. Finally, I passed the 25 and could move on to another challenge.

Twitter Was Next

Twitter was not that annoying. I opened an account, ( looked at it a few times, and thought, “This does not make any sense.” It was too busy for me in the beginning. I didn’t know where to start. Then, someone sent me a message and when I figured out how to answer it, the system began to make sense. I got brave and tweeted a couple of times. Then I got a message that someone was following me. I searched for them and after reading their profile, I decided to follow them. Now I was on the Twitter road.

 I have found other writers, marketers with lots of platform information, publishers and self-publishers to follow. In just a few weeks, I have almost 200 followers and I am following almost 300. The good thing about Twitter is that I have learned how to automate my tweets so I do not need to be on Twitter to make things happen. Some of my tweets are being retreeted so my reach is increasing. You have to be careful with this and not just tweet automatically. The whole point is to build relationships for future business.  The 140-character limitation is difficult but a great writing lesson in being succinct.

Now on to LinkedIn

I also ventured into LinkedIn ( and I joined some writer groups that have brought me a steady stream of emails. My frustration with it has been that when I find someone that I would want to connect with I have to have their emails to send a request to connect with them.  It means going to each profile and finding their email and I am usually too busy right at that moment so I put it off. Consequently, I have not, yet, added to my connections. That will come though. With the additional space that Twitter doesn’t allow, I do find it very easy to get into conversations on LinkedIn. 

My next step is Google+, about which I have already participated in one webinar. I still have Triberr and Foursquare to figure out. We’ll see.

I learned that if I try to keep this entire social media going every day I will NEVER get my book written! It has put me behind on my research schedule already.  Social media is always changing and if you let it, it can be very overwhelming.  I have set my schedule of blogging once a week, and devoting an hour in the morning and an hour in the evening to the others. When my book is written, I can increase that.

I would love to hear from other writers who are dealing with this platform building challenge.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Who Were These Invisible Women that Helped Settle Connecticut?

One of the reasons I took on the task of writing about the history of the women of East Haddam was because they were invisible. Writing about invisible people is an exciting challenge.  Some of the families that I am researching came from Massachusetts to Hartford in the Connecticut Colony. For some of these women, there is absolutely no information at all on the local level. That means my research has to extend to other parts of New England.

Were There Horses?

When we think of Native Americans, we visualize them on horses but the New England tribes did not have horses at that time. The tribes in the plains had horses given to them by the Spaniards. Most sources say the New England colonists did not have horses. Yet, in John Winthrop’s letter to his wife during his 1630 voyage, he said they had horses abroad, along with the cows, sheep and swine.

I researched wills to see if any of these early colonists bequeathed horses and I could find none in the families I’m researching. It is a reasonable conclusion that the main group of colonists that I am following as they traveled from the Boston area to settle Hartford, Haddam and East Haddam did not have horses. In the book, I detail the facts to back up this supposition. Since the colonists did not have horses, they had to carry everything they needed to start a village. They were on a mission to start communities and “people” the land. 
For the women, this trek from Boston to Hartford was just as difficult (if not more so) than for the men at their sides. It was an arduous trip for all. Often the women had small children to carry and sometimes were carrying one in their womb as well. Yet, when you look at the Founders Statue in Hartford or the list of founders for Haddam and East Haddam, all you will see are the names of the men. Of course, that is how it was at that time. Now we need to change that and make these women visible.

Who Were They?

Who were these invisible women?  Mehitable (Spencer) Cone – 12 children, Hannah (Hills) Spencer – 13 children, Mary (Smith) Barnes – 8 children, Deborarh (Spencer) Hungerford – 9 Children, Sarah (Hungerford) Cone – 11 children, and many more. In the book, I profile approximately 70 women.

We need to pay attention to the contributions of the women that made the completion of the colonists’ mission to populate the land possible by having 8 to 12 children. This allowed each family to have a bigger farm and get more land. This caused trouble a few years later but that is another story.

In the Connecticut Colony, the size of a man’s estate (being land) dictated his importance in the community. A woman’s womb was a valuable commodity for raising sons to settle more land. 

Women at Risk

Considering that childbirth was the biggest killer of women at the time means that these women were risking their lives, time after time, to help build the family’s estate, a community and a state.

Of course, while these women were carrying and delivering these babies and then taking care of them as babies, they were also making the cloth to make the family’s clothing, planting and weeding the garden, making candles so they had light, milking the cow so she would have cream to make cheese and butter. She also had to bake the bread and make the meals. Just writing this has made me tired.

We should honor these women and that is why I am writing about them so they will no longer be invisible. My goal is to give them a face and a voice by telling their stories.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Let’s Start at the Beginning

About five or six years ago, I was working at the Rathbun Memorial Free Library in East Haddam, CT. Kelly Marszycki, the library’s director, asked me if I would be willing to write some short pamphlets on the history of the women of East Haddam. Of course, I jumped at the invitation. Being able to write about my two favorite subjects, women and history, gave me an adrenalin rush.

My experience included publishing and editing a women’s magazine for a decade. I also wrote articles for the “WOMAN” page of the Middletown Press. I especially enjoyed writing articles for Women’s History Month. This assignment was right up my alley. I am in awe of how much women accomplish. 

What Did I Get Myself Into?

In this case, as soon as I started the research, I knew it was going to be difficult but it hooked me. There are fascinating stories here in the midst of a tremendous amount of history in East Haddam (as in all the towns in this area). Much of the material written, especially during the 19th century, portrays the male point of view. When you go into primary sources, women are rarely mentioned and then it is usually, “John Smith’s wife Mary.” This is not a lot to go on to build a life’s story. When reading about the early settlers, you would think the men had come here and settled Connecticut alone. The object of the project was to show there were women, right alongside these men, helping tame a wilderness and grow a community
Project Promoted and Published

The Rathbun Library published the pamphlets one century at a time (17th, 18th and 19th) a few months apart. After each pamphlet published, I would give a talk at the library. The affirming response to my work with the pamphlets showed an interest from the community in their history.  The two comments that we heard repeated were, “I want to know more about more of these women,” and “Why don’t you write a book about these women?” 

At the time, I was a public relations consultant for Middlesex Community College and freelancing for a number of newspapers, in addition to working at the library. It just was not feasible to take on another project. I am a good time manager but there is a limit to how much one can do in 24 hours.

An Idea that Wouldn’t Go Away

Time passed as it does so quickly and every now and then, in between writing assignments, I would pull out the research and work on my outline. Life would get in the way and the box of research would go back to the closet again.

In the beginning of 2011, I made the difficult decision to put my mobile home on the market. I love my spot on the lake, but a writer can write anywhere I tell myself. In cleaning out closets, I once again pulled out the box of research. “Okay,” I said, “It is time to do it or throw it away.” I decided that 2011 would be the year for me to do this book.

Making it Happen

I divide my time between writing for and traveling around to the many libraries that have genealogical records for me to research. At each visit I dig for some bit of information on someone in one of the 18 families I am profiling.

Of course, I make sure there is time for writing short stories and memoirs in an effort to to keep the writing gears oiled while I research.

Stay tuned and travel with me back in time. It is going to be a fun journey.

Monday, August 1, 2011

3 Challenges to a Research Plan

It is fortunate that I love research, almost more than writing, because the Herstory: Stories of the Women of East Haddam project is going to require a tremendous amount of finding and checking (and checking and checking) facts.

I saw 3 challenges for which I needed to develop strategies. 1) a method of organizing all the facts I would gather. 2) Developing a bibliography and source notes system. 3) Developing a time table schedule for this research.

For the seventeenth century, my outline includes 18 different families, with three or four women profiles within a family – Ackley, Bates, Booge, Brainerd, Chapman, Cone, Crippen, Emmons, Fuller, Gates, Hungerford, Lord, Olmstead, Rowley, Spencer, Ventris and Willey.

#1  Keeping a Good Record of Thousands of Information Bits

The first thing I did was to design a form that included a space for all the different kinds of information I sought. There are genealogical forms that researchers use but I wanted to gather more information than those forms had spaces allotted. My form starts out simple with name, birthdate, spouse, parents of both, death date, and burial place but it gets more complicated as I gather conflicting information.

#2  Giving Credit Where Credit Is Due

It is very necessary to keep track of where I am getting my information but I knew right from the start that the normal footnote superscript-numbering system just would not work with this book. The page would be so full of little numbers you would not be able to read the copy. I consulted my Chicago Style Manual and came up with a system that I think would get approval by the publishing industry and genealogists but still be clear for the reader. At the end of each profile, I will list source numbers. At the end of a chapter (one family), I will have corresponding numbered source notes. At the end of Herstory will be a complete bibliography of sources consulted and quoted.

#3   Scheduling Large Block of Research Time

 I am realizing just how difficult it is to get my head into this detailed genealogy information. In the beginning, I would just grab a hour here or there for Herstory research because I was committed to other writing. That just did not work for me. I found I was taking so much time to get my head back to untangling all the alike names in a family and I would have to put the research away. Of course, when I picked it up again, I would have to get the names straight in my head again. It was common practice to carry on the family names in each branch of a family. Sometimes within the same generation, you would have a number of Marys, or Mehitables, or Johns. It can be very confusing and most of the errors I have found in family histories are because someone followed the wrong person.

I took care of that challenge by backing off from some activities and scheduling research hours just as if it were a job. This seems to be working so far. Four or five hours at a time allows me to focus on solving at least one mystery a day.

What research challenges have you faced?