These are a few of my favorite things

Here are three things that this writer is happy about:

  1. The story about my book by Pam Kamphuis, editor of the Piedmont Virginian magazine.

Pam asked me to write about Fauquier County’s reaction to publication of The Last Lynching in Northern Virginia. I did, and last week she posted that piece on the magazine’s website. She also included her own thoughts, crediting the book and Tom Davenport’s film on the subject, The Other Side of Eden, with promoting discussion of Shedrick Thompson’s death, even at the risk of opening old wounds.

“The principle of treating history honestly, openly, and engaging in dialogues, though uncomfortable, will help us move forward as a nation,” she wrote.

2. My appearance in Fauquier County next week.

I’ll be taking part in the 3rd annual Great Writers Right Here program, sponsored by the Fauquier County Public Library. The event will be held on Friday, Oct. 13, from 6-8 p.m. in Warrenton. I’ll be one of 40 writers attending the fair. The group includes writers of fiction and nonfiction, for adults and children. Natalie Wheeler, one of the organizers, said the library hopes that the event will encourage writers to connect with their readers and with one another.

“We also want to show off our local talent,” she said.

I’ll be there to sign and sell books. Please stop by and say hello. You can learn more about the fair here.

3. The Last Lynching goes into a second printing.

Perhaps I’m burying my lead here, but I’m delighted that History Press has issued a second printing of my book. Adam Kidd, one of my contacts at the South Carolina company, said recently that the first printing of 900 copies sold out, and that the company did a new printing in mid-September, almost exactly one year after publication. Thank you to everyone who has supported me during this adventure. It’s been a wonderful ride.

PS: Here’s my revised schedule of appearances for this fall and winter:

  1. Thursday, Oct. 12, 7 p.m., a talk at Fall for the Book, Kings Park Library, 9000 Burke Lake Rd., Burke, Va.
  2. Friday, Oct. 13, 6-8 p.m., a signing at Great Writers Right Here, Fauquier County Public Library, Family Life Center, First Baptist Church, 39 Alexandria Pike, Warrenton.
  3. Saturday, Nov. 11, 1:30 p.m., a panel discussion at the Central Rappahannock Regional Library, Porter Branch, 2001 Parkway Blvd., Stafford, Va.
  4. Friday, Nov. 17, 3 p.m., a talk at the Fredericksburg Literary Club, Faulkner Hall, 905 Princess Anne St., Fredericksburg.
  5. Thursday, Feb. 1, 2018, 11:50 a.m., a talk at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at George Mason University, 4210 Roberts Road, Fairfax, Va.
  6. Saturday, Feb. 10, 2018, 2 p.m., a screening at the Afro-American Historical Association of Fauquier County, 4243 Loudoun Ave., The Plains.  Tom Davenport will present The Other Side of Eden, his documentary about the Thompson case. I will be there too.
  7. Sunday, Feb 11, 2018, a talk at the Mosby Heritage Area Association, Marshall, Va. (Time and place to be determined)
  8. Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018, 10:30 a.m., a screening at the Lifetime Learning Institute-Manassas, Hylton Performing Arts Center, 10960 George Mason Cir., Manassas. Tom Davenport will present The Other Side of Eden, a documentary about the Thompson case. I will be there too.
  9. Sunday, Feb 25, 2018, 2 p.m., a talk at the Thomas Balch Library, 208 W. Market St., Leesburg, Va.

 

 

If it’s not the money, why do I do this?

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I spoke last week about The Last Lynching in Northern Virginia to my former colleagues at the Free Lance-Star. (Photo by Kristin Davis)

I was on the way to Richmond to speak at the Black History Museum of Virginia recently when I asked myself, “Why am I doing this?”

I was travelling 60 miles in the rain. I was not being paid, and the director had said that she wanted the museum, not me, to sell my book. From a financial standpoint, the speech didn’t make any sense. There had to be other reasons I was doing it.

I have struggled with this question before. I spent years doing the research and writing for The Last Lynching in Northern Virginia. During that time, I spent money on everything from gasoline and postage to copy costs and reprint fees. I did the work and spent the money happily, even though I was not reimbursed and had no prospect of a payback. I joked that it was an expensive hobby, like owning a boat or playing golf.

That changed last year when I signed a contract with History Press. The publisher agreed to pay me a percentage of all sales, though the company writes checks only twice a year. My first payday won’t be until next March.

So if money is not the measure, why do I do this? What are the other pleasures in the task? I’ve identified three: I find reward in a job well done. I am motivated that others find the work worthwhile. And I experience the joy that teachers and actors do when they earn the attention of an audience. As Maslow said, we strive to realize our full potential.

The cost of doing business

This high-resolution image of Robert Russa Moton of Tuskegee Institute cost $55.
This high-resolution image of Robert Russa Moton of Tuskegee Institute cost $55.

One aspect of preparing this book for publication has surprised me. I’ve had to pay for photos, and they’ve been expensive.

I should say quickly that I didn’t have to pay for photos. I could have refused and used only my own photos or those that were free, but the book would have suffered if I did.

Photos are important in my case because History Press will be publishing The Last Lynching in Northern Virginia. The company tends to publish shorter books with lots of photos. That was a good fit for me, since my story was only 28,000 words, about a third the size of many other nonfiction books. Also, each time I interviewed someone or traveled in Fauquier County, I took pictures. So I had some photos, and I knew I could meet the terms of my contract, which says that I must submit 30 to 80 images along with my manuscript.

The surprise came when I received a copy of the company’s “New Clever Tricks for Publishing,” its handbook for authors. The handbook said, in so many words, don’t send us any crappy photographs: no thumbnails, photocopies or old newspaper clippings. They want digital images with a minimum resolution of 300 dpi and a minimum width of 6 inches. Banks Smither, my editor, translated that for me. “We are looking for at least 1,800 pixels wide,” he said. And he told me how to find that number under the image’s properties section.

So if I wanted photos of Walter White, Robert Russa Moton, Harry Byrd and Roy Flannagan in my book, the images would have to meet History Press’ specifications. And to get that kind of high-resolution photo, I would have to pay for it.  I sent $27 to the Library of Congress, $55 to Tuskegee, $50 to the Library of Virginia, $81.50 to the Virginia Historical Society, and $28.50 to a contractor for the National Archives. The total bill for five photos was $242.

That cost doesn’t make any sense when you compare it to the royalties I will receive when the book is published this summer. I’ll have to sell more than 100 books to pay for those five photos. But I try to banish that thought from my head when it surfaces. Instead, I think about holding the finished book in my hands, flipping through the pages. I want it to be complete and attractive. After all, it will have my name on it.

 

Welcome to “The Last Lynching in Northern Virginia”

I spent hours looking at microfilm copies of old newspapers, including here at the Fauquier Library in Warrenton.
I spent hours looking at microfilm copies of old newspapers, including here at the Fauquier Library in Warrenton.

The History Press decided in September 2015 to publish The Last Lynching in Northern Virginia: Searching for Truth at Rattlesnake Mountain. I’m told that the book will be available for sale in autumn 2016. Between now and then, I hope to use this space to tell you about it, including the research I did, the people I met, and how I wrote it. I’ll also talk about the technical aspects of publishing, at least from the author’s point of view. I’ve spent a lot of time lately doing production tasks that I didn’t know a book writer had to do. These include collecting up to 80 photos, numbering them, and marking places in the text where they will go.  Still ahead is something called an image checklist. Apparently someone, somewhere, in the production process will use this checklist to make sure each photo is in its proper place. I’m more comfortable with the writing part of book-making. This is my first book, though I was a newspaper reporter and editor for 36 years. Even so, I was excited when the editorial board at History Press in Charleston, S.C., agreed to offer me a contract and publish my story. Banks Smither, the editor I have been working with, had recommended publication, and he told me that he would notify me of the board members’ decision on the day they met. I checked my email dozens of times that day, awaiting word. Finally, at 5 p.m., Banks wrote to say that the decision was favorable.  “Everyone is very excited about the project and I think we’re really going to have a wonderful book to represent the hard work and great story you have to tell,”  he wrote.

I liked that part of his email: “the great story you have to tell.” The Last Lynching in Northern Virginia is a great story–sad but interesting and important. I hope you will enjoy it.