Friday, December 21, 2007

Connecting with Your Audience

When you're a writer, you learn to accept the good with the bad in terms of folks who evaluate your work. You develop a tough skin from rejection slips, negative reviews and/or criticism, heckling at book signings, etc. But every once in awhile you hear from someone who has read your book or article and in some way it has inspired them. This happened to me recently with my book Three Slovak Women (Gateway Press). TSW was my first published book and will always hold a special place in my heart since it is a very personal tribute to my grandmother and mother. When I wrote TSW (I initially wrote it for my M.F.A. thesis, and then self-published it), I thought that I would print a few hundred copies and it would be received by just a very small audience.The book was first published in 2001 and now I am proud to say it is in its ninth printing (I've lost count as to the total of number of sales to date). The book has been used as required reading in several courses on Slovak culture and immigration history at several universities in the Pittsburgh area, and I've sold copies to folks around the world, and I am always pleased when a reader writes to tell me how much the book has inspired an interest in his/her own Slovak heritage.

The e-mail I received the other day from an individual who recently read the book is one that I am happy to share (I am not including the person's name in order to protect identity but this person has given me permission to use the comments).

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"Dear Lisa,

I have hope. And that hope of finding out who I really am by discovering who my ancestors really were took root in just the first few pages of your book: Three Slovak Women.

I started reading it yesterday afternoon. A few pages into it, and the tears came. I can feel so much of what you wrote. I have a few pages left to read, but I wanted to write and thank you. It's a connection for me in just knowing that your family "back then" and "back there" apparently lived in a village probably less than 50 miles away from my own.

I have learned some things, but when I would ask my grandparents, they would say little, just that they were from "the old country," or "Czechoslovakia", and now, they are all gone. My dad included. My interest in genealogy didn't blossom until the last few years and the difficulty in researching half a world away leaves me with a sense of sadness that just won't go away. I feel like an orphan. In a real sense, I am. I know some names, I know some locations, I have immigration information and pictures of the ships that brought my grandparents here, and naturalization papers, and their pictures, and their hugs and yet, I wonder so much more. Who were they and what was it like for them.

I know my grandparents names, I have their death certificates bearing my great-grandparents names, and from my dad's obituary I suddenly learned that he had had two sisters in the old country who died somehow, somewhere, sometime maybe even after Grandma came to America. No one ever mentioned them. My only sister never knew of them either.

Grandma came here eight years after my grandpa, I'm told so she could look after his father who was ill. She brought with her a little boy, my uncle who was killed in WWII, two years before I was born. And when my dad died in 1989, there was no one left to answer so many questions I still have in my heart.

I hope to find some of the answers so that my own children and grandchildren will not look at abrupt dead ends on our family tree only a couple generations back and wonder as I do, who are we. I want those people who were before us to matter. Now, I will keep looking, thanks to your sharing.

I didn't intend for this note to be so long, but I truly want to thank you for giving me hope."

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As a writer and genealogist, I was glad to learn how my book served to awaken a new awareness and desire in this reader to persist in exploring family history, and that through my words I have given them "hope."

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