Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Straight from me to you: A few Journey Stories

The Smithsonian has a traveling exhibit known as “Journey Stories.” It showcases journeys Americans have made to make a better life for themselves and their children – everything from ocean journeys from the Old Country to the New World to highway journeys from the East Coast to the West Coast.

All American families have journey stories but some are easier to chronicle than others. That’s because family history can easily get lost if the memories of older generations were not passed on through the written word.

I’m thankful that a couple of family members completed the necessary research to uncover the journey stories of several branches of my family tree.

Let me relate some journey stories of my family. Here’s a story of sailing ships and a father and his sons from Alsace who booked passage to the American colonies in the late 1740s. In the mid 18th century, Alsace was a French province even though the people spoke German. French and German armies had laid waste to the Alsace countryside during the 17th century religious wars. With the population decimated, many Anabaptist refugees came from Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Lorraine and Savoy to Alsace between the 1670s and the early 18th century. I figure the father and his sons, including Jacob Franks, my maternal great-great-great-great-great grandfather, were Anabaptists, probably Mennonites.

In 1749, six-year-old Jacob, along with his brothers and father, boarded a sailing ship that voyaged to Philadelphia. Jacob grew up in German Township, Pa., and married Barbara Brandenbiger. He served in the American militia during the Revolutionary War. His great-grandson Jesse Franks, Jr. married Mary Ann Fox and moved the family by wagon to Apple Creek in Wayne County, Ohio. My mother was born in Wayne County and I was born in neighboring Medina County.

Here’s another journey story, this time a branch of the family tree from my dad’s side of the family. Great-Grandmother Lena (Russell) Iuppenlatz no doubt told stories of the Traveling Church to her children. That’s because her mother Sarah was a Craig who could trace her family history back to Benjamin Craig, a Baptist preacher from Spotsylvania, Va., who along with his brother Lewis angered the Anglican establishment for preaching without a license.

In 1781, Lewis led a wagon train of about six hundred souls – including his 30-year-old brother Benjamin, Benjamin’s wife Nancy and their children – into the western portion of Virginia that would in time become known as Kentucky. Benjamin was one of the founders of Carrollton, Ky., and he built the first brick house in Carroll County in 1792.

Sometimes a journey story includes tragedy. In the case of the Craig family, it happened in January 1847 when Benjamin Craig, Jr. and his son Silas, along with four other men, drowned in the Ohio River when their skiff capsized in a storm.

Sometimes a journey story can even include murder. My Great-Grandfather Louis Iuppenlatz, a railroad man for 60 years, had a younger brother, William, who married Anna Young, a woman with a wandering eye. After 22 years of marriage, Anna ran off to Indianapolis in 1914 to be with her lover, John Lee, a barber. A jealous, possessive man, Lee shot her in June of that year and then killed himself. Anna was taken to the city hospital, but when it became certain she had no hope for recovery, she asked to be taken to her sister’s house in Indianapolis to die. She took her last breath on June 24 and her body was returned to her home in St. Paul with burial in Paul Hill Cemetery.

I have my own personal journey story, and it’s very much a story anchored in the mid-20th century. In the midst of the Cold War, my dad moved the family west to Rialto, Calif., in the summer of 1957. The aerospace company my dad worked for in Brecksville, Ohio, had purchased a plant outside of Rialto and intended to manufacture rocket engines for the Minuteman I missile. So dad packed my mom, my sister and me into the 1955 red-and-white Ford station wagon and we followed the yellow brick road – U.S. Highway 66 – to California.

For a few days before we moved into a rental house, we stayed in the Wigwam Hotel in Rialto. For a five-year-old kid on the verge of kindergarten who loved wearing cowboy outfits and watching TV shows like Wagon Train, staying at the Wigwam was like visiting Heaven.

So all you folks reading this…you must have journey stories of your own eager to escape your mind and find life on the written page or on the kindle or nook. Listen up…flex those fingers and start typing.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Ebooks to ailing economy: ‘Nuts!’

Now we’re hearing that the U.S. economy is running out of steam.

Well, stoke the boiler, right?

No. At least not with government “coal.” That will add to the prodigious deficit.

The Commerce Department says gross domestic product grew at a 2.2 percent annual rate in the first three months of this year, much below economists’ expectations. Analysts said government spending cuts offset a pickup in consumer spending.

Apparently we can thank shoppers for keeping the economy afloat. So keep your billfolds and purses open, ladies and gentlemen, and keep buying.

For the last few days there’s been an interesting online discussion on my publisher’s Yahoo author loop. Royalty checks for the novels have been on the disappointing side.

Some authors have been contemplating going it alone as independents. They got a shock of sorts from the publisher. The authors who bail out on the publisher at the end of their contract period lose the cover and the version of the manuscript that includes publisher edits.

Borders closed its doors last year. Bookstore chains haven’t been doing all that well as customers buy Kindles and Nooks and download ebooks from websites like Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Smashwords. Ebook publishing has been one of the industries posting good numbers during these sullen economic times.

Ebook sales rose 72 percent in December 2011 over the same period in 2010. But that’s a slower rate than the triple-digit gains earlier in 2011.

So if ebooks are garnering double-digit sales, I’m left wondering why my ebook publisher is struggling with sales.

My best guess: A glut of small ebook publishers are fighting over market share. That’s the case with my publisher. My publisher, who has placed around 800 novels on Amazon and Barnes and Noble websites, is 10 years old. It was a pioneer in ebook publishing, but is now having to contend not only with many new ebook publishers, but with a growing number of authors who are self-published.

The ebook world is constantly changing. In the early days, the small ebook publishers ruled. Now the major publishing houses have ebooks. And more and more authors are going the route of self-publishing. They list their books on Amazon for between 99 cents and $2.99 and love to have one-day free giveaways.

For marketing nowadays, both authors who are self-published or under the wings of an ebook publisher market their novels by trying to get online reviews, going on blog tours, attending various conventions and doing book signings.

The ebook world is driven by genre fiction, categories such as horror or romance. I recently joined a Facebook site called Books Gone Viral and it’s almost entirely made up of romance authors. Many are self-published authors who use the site to announce giveaways and new blog posts. They are changing the face of the ebook world.

Publishers watched the slide of the music and newspaper industries. Should they keep prices high and differentiate their wares from the sometimes unedited efforts of the self-published? Should they cut prices for ebooks and risk accelerating the decline of print? And for the small ebook publishers like mine…should they spend more money marketing their websites and their stables of authors and their novels to set themselves apart from their competitors? Their decisions will ultimately decide their fates.