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Anna’s Prayer Re-released

Almost ten years ago, I was getting ready for my wedding (which I, ultimately, didn’t attend). A publisher approached me about writing a non-fiction story about an immigrant child. I told them I had such a story in my family history. Former LDS Relief Society General President Bonnie Parkin had, in a General Conference talk, told the story of my Great-great Aunt Anna, who immigrated from Sweden as a child—without her parents. I had more details in my Great Grandmother Ida’s journal.

I contacted Sister Parkin and asked if we could collaborate. While she had other priorities on her plate, she sent me copies of Anna Matilda Anderson’s journal (Anna is her husband’s grandmother) and told me I could use it as I pleased.

It was fun to compare my great grandmother’s perspective to her sister’s. Each had her own miraculous experience in her youth, which bolstered their new-found faith. Each had frightening experiences traveling without parents—separating mid-journey to live in different states.

BYU illustration graduate Shari Griffiths was asked to illustrate the story once it was complete. While Shari and I each got painful educations in the publishing process, she did an outstanding job on the art.

The result was Anna’s Prayer, the true story of 10-year-old Anna, who arrived alone in Salt Lake City—not knowing anyone and unable to speak English. Alone in the train station in the middle of the night she prayed for someone who could speak Swedish to come to her aid. The answer to her prayer went beyond what she could have hoped.

The book was well received and sold out in some local Costco stores. After a few years, publishing rights to Anna’s Prayer reverted to me and illustration rights to Shari (who now has several active children—and no desire to illustrate). This year, I purchased rights to the artwork and, finally, have re-released Anna’s Prayer in more affordable, paperback and ebook versions. I’m now working on my great grandmother’s story—as a prequel to Anna’s. I’m so excited to tell this—also true—story to the world! Here are some links to Anna’s Prayer: http://gozobooks.com/annas-prayer.php       http://tinyurl.com/zgnb5ka

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Publisher Interview via Twitter

Yesterday, I was interviewed on Twitter by Profnet–a media company with enough pull to get my photo up in Times Square. Here’s the transcript:

Profnet: Can you please tell us about your background? I was raised in paradise (San Jose/Silicon Valley) —the perfect climate, much like Valparaiso (Chile, where I lived for two years [LDS mission]). I have a bachelor’s in journalism (never planned to be a reporter) and a master’s in International relations. I teach media at a state college in Utah, and am an arts/media junkie (music, art, films, books, theater—oh, and history!)

How did you begin your writing career and have you primarily focused on children’s stories since then? This was a complete accident because I hated writing (and reading) as a kid. While I should have been doing homework in college, I would get ambushed by ideas for kid’s books and write them—thinking I’d get published when I retired from a “real” job. I joined a writer’s group and met a gentleman who wanted to publish one of my manuscripts. Unfortunately, he died the day we were to print. I got a crash course in publishing/marketing. One other publisher asked me to write a true story about an immigrant child. I knew about a girl in my family history who had arrived here alone, not knowing English. I found the account—and then got hooked on family history. Now I’m writing other true immigration stories. I have ideas for novels—but only one is published so far.

What’s the first thing a writer with an idea for a children’s story should do (besides write it)?  Hire a professional editor (even for kid’s books). They are affordable and will save you grief/help you stand out!

Karl, Where do you get your ideas and where can other writers find inspiration?  This is a hot button (for someone who works in perhaps THE most competitive genre). If you’re not constantly hit with ideas, then “I’d like to write a children’s book” is probably not justification for entering the field. My desk is covered with folders and papers filled with ideas: things people say, scenarios that explode in my mind, phrases that have a fun meter … I may never get them all published.

How can a writer find and work with illustrators? Should a children’s book be illustrated when you submit a manuscript?  Only get an illustrator if you self-publish (which I recommend). Otherwise, find a good children’s lit agent and let the publisher match your work to an artist. I find illustrators through networking (LinkedIn writer/illustrator’s groups, alumni groups, people whose work I’ve seen and fallen for—I just persuaded a genius artist I’ve been stalking for years to do one of my books!)

Once you have your book written, how do you find a publisher?  You must be unafraid to communicate (phone, mail, email, social media, in person) and you must be unrelenting (but get an editor before you drive agents/publishers crazy—which you will. The idea is that when they finally look at your stuff, it’s wonderful).

How is the process different with books for children and families compared to books for adults?  I try to write to entertain adults–regardless of the target age. Adults are the ones who will buy the book. I don’t want them to cringe when a kid asks them to read a Karl Beckstrand book; I want them to get the nuances and humor that the child may not get. I want the parent/teacher/librarian to stay awake and read my books even when they are alone!

Do you prefer having your books published by a publishing house or do you prefer self-publishing? What are the pros and cons of each?  After learning so much from publishers (learning isn’t always a good experience) I realized that I would rather control content, MARKETING, and revenues. Publishers make lots of promises, but the author is—really—always the engine for sales, even if a large publisher promises the moon. I don’t like spending 50% of my time marketing, but I would have to do it even with Penguin-Random House. Publishers used to have distributors in their pocket; now most anyone can access distributors.

Once you have your book published, how do you market it, and does it make a difference whether it’s self-published or not?  No big difference: you post it on social media; do giveaways on Goodreads, bookbub, Authorsden, Librarything (give it in exchange for a sincere online review—these are important); send press releases—call the media afterward about being a guest/interview subject; if you self-publish, Amazon’s Createspace.com can get you in with major distributors (but you must still contact distributors to truly get your work to booksellers). I don’t usually pursue book signings for two reasons: Bookstores are not the best place to stand out; and, unless you have a large following in a particular city (which you might) you won’t sell a lot of books. Presentations to groups/schools are great.

What are the biggest challenges in the publishing process?  Getting reviews/getting your book noticed.

Can you tell us about your latest novel?  It’s Young Adult suspense set in the Nevada silver rush: To Swallow the Earth. It won a 2016 International Book Award (also a Laramie finalist). I inherited the manuscript from someone who grew up exploring the Sierra Nevada Mountains on horseback nearly a hundred years ago. My challenge was to develop the characters while preserving the action and authentic language. It’s about a man and a woman who clash in a land scheme that leaves both unsure who to trust—and scrambling to stay alive. In addition to a tough outcast (half-Mexican, raised by Indians), there’s a gutsy heroine who’s unintimidated in the worst kinds of opposition.

Your work is racially diverse with many of your characters being of color and/or bilingual.  My stories are really not aimed at a certain audience—they’re not even about racial diversity. They are exciting/witty stories that just happen to reflect the diversity of the world in a natural way.

You speak Spanish?  Yes, my mother spoke broken Spanish to us as kids; then, living in South America made it my second language. Many of my books are bilingual with English-Spanish pronunciation guide. I’m learning German.

What are some of your future projects?  I’m working on a graphic novel, an audio book, biographies, and more kid’s books.

Where can we find your many books?  Amazon/Kindle, Nook, the major distributors (Ingram, Baker & Taylor/Follett, Brodart, BN.com, iBooks, Kobo, OverDrive, SCRIBD), and PremioBooks.com. If you email me that you’ll leave sincere comments/stars online, I’ll send you any ebook free: Karl@ PremioBooks.com.

How much of your personality and life experiences are in your writing?  My books are my life laid out in color (my food obsession has found its way into most of my works).

What is your writing schedule?  I write or research every day—usually in the morning.

Who were your early writing influences? Who or what has inspired you during your career and ignited your imagination?  When I got the measles in the third grade, my grandmother bought me a chapter book: Bicycles North: A Mystery on Wheels by Rita Ritchie. I learned that books can transport and excite. I love Shel Silverstein.

What is your favorite genre to read?  I love suspense.

Do you have a favorite comment or question from a reader?  I love it when someone says a book I wrote held them captive—or that the twists were totally unexpected.

Family Stories

This month I shared with librarians around the country my adventures in Family History. Where is your family from? How can your personal or family story impact others? People of all ages find inspiration from the biographies of great men and women who faced difficulties. What many people don’t realize is that within their own families are stories of great courage and resilience. I grew up hearing the dry names of people I didn’t know—dates and places—that kind of bored me. But I also heard their stories. THAT always got my attention. My ancestors include pilgrims, Mormon pioneers, and possibly American Indians. I’m preparing the second book in a series on ancestors who immigrated to America as children. My roots are South African, Swedish, Scottish, Irish, and English. I read that a young man in prison said (after learning about his heritage), ‘Had I known who I am—who I came from—I would never had ended up here.’ Knowing where/who you come from can change you.

To start go from the known to the unknown. Find your oldest living relative and interview him/her!

  • Prepare questions prior
  • Audio/video record it!
  • Take notes too (for unplanned questions—and technology backup)
  • Start with geography
  • Have fun being a detective!

Research ONE person at a time (but know a few family names, in case you stumble across Uncle Bob. Names are often repeated across generations). Know town, township/city, county, state, region, and country of origin (where possible. Sometimes towns disappear, counties split or merge, and countries’ borders shift—be sure any map you look at is from the correct era). Sometimes, just by Googling a name and place, you find gems.

Before governments kept records, they were mostly collected in:

  • Church records (birth, death, marriage, ordination, bar mitzvah, adoption, service, cemetery/headstones)
  • Family Bible, photo albums, scrapbooks
  • Family letters & heirlooms
  • Diaries/journals/biographies (DAR, DUP. Don’t overlook those of siblings, cousins, etc.)
  • Announcements, phone books, bills, organization directories

The best records are official (and can substantiate or disprove rumors)

  • City/county/national records: Census, military, Social Security Index, taxes
  • Certificates: education, awards, achievement
  • Wills, deeds, lawsuits/probate/court cases/jails
  • Immigration records, passenger lists
  • Business records/lists, hiring/promotions
  • Adoption/orphanage or hospital records
  • News articles, obituaries, event ads, museums
  • Bank/Insurance records, ledgers
  • Funeral/cemetery records (headstones too)

Historical & genealogical societies can be more helpful than city/county/state clerks. Find them online (also family tree-building sites):

Queries: It is NOT unusual for a stranger to happily search records—even headstones in local cemeteries for you (offer to cover copy/travel costs). Families often have official sites or Facebook pages, you can query those page owners too. Have friends or family in an ancestral place (you’re not in)? Ask if they’ll look up data/certificates/headstones for you. When all else fails, consider hiring a professional genealogist (or get free help at any LDS Family History Center. Ask for a tour. Become a volunteer indexer).

What do you do with the data?

  • Put copies of everything in your binder (pedigree chart, family group sheets, individual timelines, and a source/research log)
  • Share it on Ancestry.com and/or a specific family site (create one if you want)
  • Have a reunion to meet, swap stories, share data, and get emails for ongoing collaboration
  • Set up a family site/FB page
  • Publish it as an ebook and even physical book (for posterity—and even the world)

Dead men (and women) tell no tales. Document your own history. On a sheet of paper, write the year of your birth and then (a few spaces down) write the year ten years after that (add ten and ten … until the present). Fill in major events, and you’ll soon have a quick outline of your life. Here are some data ideas (also good for interviewing relatives):

  • Birth date/place, Christening/baptism
  • Siblings, education, special/funny experiences
  • Marriage, career, military, hobbies, travel
  • Affiliations, talents, accomplishments, volunteer work, church service
  • Children
  • Places lived (where died/buried)

If you’d like more info on publishing your story. There is a free audio here: KarlBeckstrand.com/Presentations