Thursday, May 31, 2012

From the ground up

The Murder Is Everywhere blog is written by writers about the world they live in, and the world where their characters live.  This week, I introduce you to a writer who, like many of us, writes about a country different from where she was born.  Not only that, she has been instrumental in pulling together writers to produce two anthologies set in the area in which she now lives. 
Drienie Hattingh, originally an Afrikaans-speaking South African, emigrated to the USA in 1987 and ended up settling in Eden, Utah, with her husband and children.  Eden is a small town, nestling on the Pineview Reservoir, high up between the Wasatch Mountains, in the Ogden Valley.
I read the thoroughly enjoyable first anthology last year.  It is called Tales from Huntsville, Eden, Liberty, and beyond and is known locally as Tales from H.E.L.  The stories are not mysteries, but rather tell of mysterious happenings in the Ogden valley, of sightings of people who have been dead for many years.

Tales from Two-Bit Street and Beyond is a similar collection, this time of stories about Ogden – a town Al Capone said was too rough for him – and its notorious 25th Street and its sordid and dangerous past.  Again, the whole book is delightfully entertaining.  It will be released tomorrow, June 1, 2012.
But what caught my attention, more than the stories themselves, was the overall idea and its subsequent successful execution.  It is a great example to budding authors. 
I spoke to Drienie about this.
Drienie, what was your journey to becoming a writer?
I had never written before I came to the States.  However, after we settled in Woodbury Minnesota, I started writing 20-page letters to family back home in South Africa.  My husband’s brother, Gerhard, and his wife were teachers and took these letters to school for their fellow teachers to read.  After a year or so, and many ‘letters’ later, Gerhard told me that he thought I should write a book.  I still don’t know if he just became tired of reading my long letters and thought that if I wrote a book, I would stop writing them.  This inspired me to go to our local community newspaper, the Woodbury Bulletin, and pitch the editor with an idea of publishing essays based on my letters home.  I remember I took two essays with me.  One I called, One Fine Day, which was a story about the day we found out, while living in Cape Town, that our visa to come to America was granted—an amazing day I will remember forever.  The other was called One Can Smile Without an Accent.”
He read the essays while I sat there.  Then he looked up and said, “We are looking for a weekly columnist, and I think you will be perfect for the job.”  I was sort of speechless.  I thought he would just send me packing, and I certainly didn’t know there was a vacancy for a columnist.
Since that day, seventeen years ago, I’ve written about 1,000 columns.
After moving to Utah, I went to the local newspaper, The Ogden Valley Newspaper, and talked to the editor.  I took copies of The Woodbury Bulletin with me to show her, and she immediately employed me as the new columnist for her newspaper. 
How did you move from there to publishing an anthology?
I was part of a critique group in Minneapolis and hoped to join a similar group in Utah, but there wasn’t one.  So I started one by placing a notice in the local newspaper, inviting local writers to join. Eight authors pitched up for the first meeting, and we’ve continued to meet for many years, as The Eden Writers’ Circle.  
25th Street, Ogden, circa 1900
From the first minute, after I arrived in the pristine Ogden Valley, I felt inspired as an author and knew it would be the perfect place to hold a writer’s conference.  I shared this dream with my group, none of whom had been published.  A couple of years later, my dream came true and along with Wendy Toliver (one of the Eden Writers), funded and hosted a sell-out Eden Writer’s Fall Conference, attended by agents, editors, and over 100 authors.
The theme of the conference was ghost/mystery, and there was a contest for attendees to submit spooky stories.  Most local authors thought I had gone mad.  They had never written short stories and definitely never written anything in the horror/spooky genre.  Nevertheless, I persisted and invited the group to go with me to visit local restaurants, businesses and sites that reportedly had had ghostly encounters, and the owners of these establishments shared their haunting tales with us.
25th Street, Ogden, today
To cut a long story short, we ended up with a number of good short stories and, more importantly, a group of authors who were enjoying writing them.
Of course, now I wanted to publish the stories and have my fellow writers experience the thrill of seeing their work in print.
Fast forward to June of 2011, two fellow authors, Lynda Scott and Sandee Drake, and I funded and produced the spooky anthology, Tales from Huntsville, Eden, Liberty and Beyond
 It is hard to put into words the pleasure I had of seeing the excitement of being published on the faces of the authors.
Some of the Eden writers went on to be published.  Wendy Tolliver is now a successful Young Adult author, and I’ve had several stories published in four Christmas anthologies by St. Martin’s Press.  Other Eden Writers have grown the confidence to self-publish.

Wendy Toliver, Kera Ericson, Lynda West Scott, Sandee Drake, Drienie Hattingh and Ryan Russell

The books would typically be classified as self-published.  How did you find the supporting talents that you would need, such as copy editor, cover artist, graphic artist, and printer?
One of my colleagues, Lynda Scott, is a wonderful editor, and has done a fantastic job of taking care of the details of the manuscript.  I do the formatting and some of the graphic parts.  I also discovered a great publishing company close to us that supplies authors with a complete package—everything from cover artist, graphic artist, to printing of the book.  
I then format the manuscript for Amazon Kindle.
Were you able to place the books in local bookstores?  How did you go about that?
I am fortunate to know a lot of people, including local business owners of coffee shops, the one and only grocery store, and other shops, who immediately agreed to sell our book in their places of businesses.  I also know most of the store owners on Historic 25th Street in Ogden, many of whom agreed to sell our book.  So we have the books at about 20 local stores, including three bookstores.
Marketing demands a lot from authors
We have not yet gone out of Ogden.  Our plan is to now aggressively market our book further into Utah.  And we are lining up radio and TV stations to do interviews. 
How did you market your books?
I email editors of newspapers before each book goes to print about the great feedback we are getting back from best-selling authors and others who read advance copies of the books.  Then I send them a copy of the book and ask them to review the book in their publication.  This has been quite successful.
Do you have a third anthology in mind?
Yes, we do.  I will start asking for submissions for the third book, Tales from Two-Bit Street and Beyond… Part II, in September.

1 comment:

  1. What an uplifting story, Stan (or is it Michael?). Bravo, Drienie, on a job well done and continuing. I assume the place to get a copy if you're not close to going to H.E.L. is Amazon.