Thursday, March 26, 2009

Interview with Authors Dianna and Don Graveman

(Don and Dianna Graveman, courtesy of Dianna Graveman)
Today's forecast for St. Peters, MO: Isolated showers, high 61 degrees. The wet weather can't dampen my enthusiasm for today's post and my special guest bloggers, Don and Dianna Graveman, pictured above.

When I read a book, especially if it's one I enjoy or one written by someone I know, I'm curious about how the project evolved from a germ of an idea to an actual touch-and-feel book. Today, I'm pleased to share what I recently learned from Dianna and Don Graveman, who co-authored St. Charles: Les Petites Cotes, published by Arcadia Publishing.
The Gravemans graciously answered questions through e-mails about how their book went from concept to creation of a lovely book.

1. Hi, Don and Dianna. Welcome to Donna's Book Pub, and thanks for taking time from what I imagine is an unbelievably hectic schedule to share your story about writing your book. Let's start at the beginning. What inspired you to chronicle the history of St. Charles in " St. Charles : Les Petites Cotes," which is now part of Arcadia Publishing's Images of America series?

Originally, we searched the publisher's website for other books in the series and were surprised to discover their catalog did not include a book on St. Charles. Since the city of St. Charles is so rich in history and has a pretty well-developed historic district, we felt sure Arcadia would be interested in adding this book to the series.

2. Doing research ahead of time and knowing the market definitely paid off for you. That's a lesson all writers can use before approaching a project like this. So, after you got your idea and researched the market, you decided to begin the project. Can you tell us about your backgrounds and how they meshed to complete the project?

Dianna: I have an MFA in writing, and my articles and stories have appeared in many publications over the past five years. I am also a magazine and trade book manuscript editor for a publishing company. I have a "feel" for how to pitch to a publisher and develop a proposal. I even have a little experience with design and layout.

Don: I am a 4th generation St. Charlesan and I know a lot of families who have lived in the area for a long time. My many years in sales have equipped me with the ability to easily and quickly establish rapport with people. In addition, amateur photography and history, especially Missouri history, have long been interests of mine.

3. That's impressive! Sounds like your backgrounds are a good balance of writing and photography and a perfect match for your book. As for gathering material, how were you able to gain access and obtain the historic photos for the book, as well as access to the Mayor of the City of St. Charles ?

This book was really a learning experience for both of us. We struggled a bit in the beginning with trying to convince historical society folks and others that we actually had obtained a contract from a major publisher to do this book on their town and that we did not need or want anything from them other than their cooperation. We eventually prevailed and developed what we hope are long-term friendships. We have had quicker success enlisting support for our new book on Missouri wine country. Besides having learned from our first experience, we can now show people the St. Charles book and more clearly explain the scope of our project. Reaching the mayor of St. Charles was pretty easy, but we owe fellow-writer Patsy Zettler for that one. She suggested we ask the mayor to write the foreword, and she even sent us a follow-up email of encouragement, saying: "Remember, she's people just like us." We sent off the email, and the mayor responded pretty quickly saying she'd be honored to do it. Patsy was right: It never hurts to ask!

4. Good advice. Don't be afraid to ask permission, be patient and persistent, and listen to good advice from wise friends--like Patsy Zettler! Speaking of your contract, how did you approach Arcadia Publishing, your publisher? Did you send a query letter or a formal proposal?

First we sent an email query to the address listed on their website. We explained a little bit about St. Charles and why we thought a book on our town would make a nice addition to the series. We included a brief bio for each of us. We also offered to send a full proposal at their request. One of the reasons we initially sent a query instead of a proposal was because we knew there could already be a St. Charles book in the works, even though it wasn't yet listed in their catalog. The website also indicated that writers should request a proposal form and guidelines, so we did that. About three weeks later, we received an email from an acquisitions editor stating that she had been looking for someone to develop a book on St. Charles for some time. So it was lucky timing. She sent us the proposal guidelines, and we got to work. A few weeks after that, we had the contract. Talk about lucky timing: We soon realized that 2009 is the bicentennial of St. Charles's incorporation as a city. In fact, the bicentennial celebrations kick off this week, the same week as our book's release.

5. More good advice. I've atteneded several writing conferences, and just about everyone I've heard within the publishing industry stresses how important it is to follow the publisher's guidelines. And what great timing to coincide with the bicentennial celebration--sounds like the stars were aligned perfectly for your book! In your book you use
photos to capture the history and story of a small town that grew into a large city, which still maintains its unique feel. How did you approach the organization and layout of the book to capture the spirit and essence of the city?

Each chapter is a little different. For the chapter on disasters, it made sense to both of us to keep the bridge accidents together, the floods together, the fires together, etc. The photos within those disaster categories were arranged chronologically. Most of the photos in the other chapters are not arranged chronologically, because we discovered early on that too many similar pictures would then be placed side by side. We wanted more contrast than that.

6. Well, your strategy for the design and layout worked. The book is informative and the photos are eye-catching. With so many photos to chose from, it's probably difficult to pick a favorite, but I have to ask each of you: If you could pick one photo from the book as your favorite, which would it be?
Dianna: It's hard to choose. I like the photograph of the 1905 Lindenwood University graduating class. The entire class consists of 18 very properly-dressed young women. (It was an all-girls' college then.) Our own daughter will be graduating from Lindenwood in 2010--one hundred and five years later! Her graduating class will look quite a bit different!

Don: My favorite would have to be a photo from around 1950 of my late mother in a canoe with her two brothers, my uncles Jack and Henry Heck. My mother was young and was very obviously enjoying herself.

7. I can see why you chose those. They are not only great photos, but they also have a personal connection for each of you. What has been the most gratifying aspect of this project?

We met (and continue to meet) some really nice people. Just today we received a phone call from a woman who has lived in the area for many years and who saw the Suburban Journal article about us and our book. She has so many great memories to share, and I really wish we could have met her when we were developing the book.

8. That's inspiring! It must be such a warm feeling to know your book has touched so many local people with a connection to St. Charles. With so many high spots with your project, there must also have been some low points as well. Can you tell us a little bit about what your biggest obstacle was in completing the book?

There are so many people who have good photos and great information that we would have liked to include in the book, but we didn't know how or where to find them. We tried to get the word out about what we were doing, but a lot of people seemed to think they wouldn't have anything to offer--that we only wanted photos of really important or big events. Those pictures are great, but we also wanted photos of everyday people doing everyday things. Now that the book is being released, people are contacting us and saying, "I have some great photos I could have let you use!"

9. Here's something I am really am curious about: How was it to co-author a book as a husband and wife?

After twenty-five years of marriage, we didn't think there was much left to learn about each other. We learned that we think a little differently about things and that we have different ideas about organization. We tend to use different strategies to tackle the same task. While this project required flexibility and compromise, it actually was kind of fun to learn entirely new things about each other after all these years. The other difficult thing was that we didn't have a lot of time for leisure last summer. In fact, we spent the evening of our 25th wedding anniversary on separate floors of the house, calling back and forth to each other as we each worked on separate parts of the project.

10. What a wonderful testament to the strength of your marriage. Maybe you can take delayed wedding anniversary vacation this summer. Here's another question I'm curious about: what, if anything, would you do differently?

We would definitely get in touch with the Suburban Journal or another local publication when we were first beginning to work on the book and ask them to help us generate interest. Hopefully some of the people who have photos and information to share would have gotten in touch with us. However, we are happy with the way the book came out and with the wonderful collection of photos we were able to collect and get permission to use. Bill Popp at the St. Charles County Historical Society was very helpful. The Academy of the Sacred Heart School, as well as a few individuals, also donated some photos. There are over 200 pictures in the book, and many of them have never been published.

11. Your book truly is a historic gem, and one local residents should be thrilled to read. From what you've shared it sounds like many people were generous by sharing their time and treasured photos with you. That says a lot about the way you approached the project and the dedication of the people connected with the St. Charles County Historical Society and the generosity of people with a connection to St. Charles. Now that you book is out, what is your schedule for this spring and summer? Tell us about book signings and any other projects you have planned.

We have a busy summer ahead! We have a book signing scheduled for March 28th from 1:00 to 3:00 at Main Street Books in St. Charles, and another scheduled on April 4th from 1:00 to 3:00 p.m. at Barnes & Noble in St. Peters. Mayor York will join us for the first hour of that one. We are in the process of scheduling additional events, and we'll probably be signing books at various St. Charles events like Riverfest and Festival of the Little Hills this summer. We also just learned that we have been awarded the contract to do our second book for Arcadia, Missouri Wine Country: St. Charles to Hermann. Our delivery date will be in the fall. We're talking with our editor about the possibility of developing two additional books for Arcadia, as well

12. That's great! I hope you have long lines of people wanting to buy your book. And congratulations on your next project with Arcadia Publishing. A St. Charles to Hermann Wine Ccountry Book sounds like another great idea!
How can readers contact you if they have any questions?

Please visit our website at Under the "Contact Us" tab, there is a form to send us a message. We'd love to hear from you! We are especially interested in talking to anyone who has photos or stories from the Dutzow, Defiance, Augusta, or Marthasville areas that they'd like to share for the wine country book.

Thanks again, Don and Dianna, for spending time with us today. I'm certain others have questions for you. I'm pleased to announce that the good folks at Arcadia Publishing have graciously agreed to send me an additional copy of the Graveman's book, St. Charles: Les Petites Cotes to give away to one of my visitors.

So, here's the deal: Anyone who posts a comment or asks a question this week about the Graveman's book or their interview is eligible to win a copy of their book. One name will be selected at random from the names of everyone who leaves a comment or question. The winner's name will be announced on my blog next week.

Don't fret: If you don't win a copy, you can buy one at one of their book signings or directly from Arcadia Publishing.

I have to mention that Teresa at Arcadia Publishing has been impressive to deal with. The media kit she sent me was professional, as were her communications and responsiveness--in providing a review copy of the Graveman's book, images for my blog, and an additional giveaway copy for one lucky blog visitor. Arcadia truly is a first-class operation, which is evident from the books they produce.


  1. Donna, thank you for inviting me to your blog. I have been interested in Arcadia Publishing since Velda Brotherton and Jack Nida published their books there. Dianna and Don, did you have a time limit to finish the book and did the editor provide guidance as the book progressed?
    Thank you.

  2. Just want to get in here and show my support for Don and Dianna. This has been a long time coming and I'll be at the book signing this Saturday.

  3. Mary, thanks for your question! We obtained the contract around the first of May, and our deadline was September 30th. But I think we could have requested up to 6 months to complete the project. For our wine country book, we just received the contract last week and we have until October 27th. But this time we did request six months, because we'll be dealing with several organizations and we have to travel back and forth to Hermann and Washington. Our aquisitions editor at Arcadia, Anna Wilson, was wonderful about answering all of our questions and providing any guidance we needed. Actually, everyone there has been great, from sales to publicity. We learned a lot, and it was a very positive experience.

  4. Camille, it's been so great to share this experience with friends like you! Looking forward to seeing you Saturday. And Donna, thanks again for such great publicity (and your wonderful, warm friendship!).

  5. One more comment for Mary: I got so busy answering your question that I forgot to tell you I looked at your profile--what impressive writing credentials. It's good to know you!

  6. Hi Everyone,
    Thanks to Dianna and Don for their insight into the publishing process.
    Also, thanks to everyone who posted questions or comments about the Gravemans' book so far. I will leave the posts up until the end of the week. That way anyone who has a question or a comment will still be able to post and be eligible to win a copy of the book.
    Good news: the book arrived today, so I will announce the winner's name by the middle of next week.

  7. It's gratifying as a fellow writer to hear of a successful publishing venture. Dianna and Don have done an important task: it we don't collect historical information while it's available and people still remember, it evaporates and can be lost forever. I only wish I had known about the project in advance, so I could have contributed a few choice tidbits from the restoration of historic Main Street. But I'm sure there will be another volume--St. Charles has so many secrets worth telling.

    Peter Green

  8. Thanks, Peter. I unfortunately just got to know you after the book was done; wish we could have been in touch earlier. As I said, that's been the only disappointing thing about this project--finding people and interesting information a little too late. But now we know how to do things a little differently this next time!

    Thanks again!

  9. Dianna and Don,
    I just wanted to say congratulations and thanks for sharing a bit with us about your writing process and publishing experience. It is impressive that husband and wife can write a book together! :)
    Congrats and much success.


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