I’m Diane Hildebrandt; Trana Mathews is my pen name. A limited edition of my third great-grandfather’s diary was published in 1932. When I read it as a teen, I found it fascinating and thought someone should write a novel, never dreaming I’d be the one to do it!
After I retired and moved to beautiful southeastern Arizona, an online friend suggested I try writing for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). I decided to participate by writing my family history and managed to meet the monthly word goal, but my first book was far from finished. It needed a lot more research and fact checking. The following year I again joined NaNoWriMo, added another 50,000 words, and still wasn’t done. My initial novel metamorphosed into a trilogy, a family saga of three books.
My first novel is about the Mathews family. Increase was less than age four at the beginning of the Revolutionary War when his father, eldest brother, brother-in-law, and uncles join the Continental Army in 1776. Along with his siblings, he remains on their farm as his mother does her best to keep it maintained with the men gone. Turbulent times continue in central Massachusetts after the war ends because of the lack of money. Some of the war veterans call themselves Regulators and again take up arms to stop the commonwealth’s tax collectors. One of Shays’s Rebellion battles is fought inside their town. With so much conflict in their area, Increase’s uncle, Brigadier-General Rufus Putnam, forms the Ohio Company of Associates. This group pools their military land warrants to purchase acreage in the frontier of the newly acquired Northwest Territory from the Confederated Congress. Uncle Rufus, older brother John, and brother-in-law Jonathan Stone are among the first 48 settlers to Ohio, hoping for a peaceful life. All three men were surveyors. Rufus is later appointed the first Surveyor General of the Northwest Territory by President Washington. Within a short time after their arrival in the frontier in 1788, they encounter strife from Indian attacks. John narrowly escapes an Indian massacre. These men and their families persevered through the Indian War, founding settlements at Marietta and Belpre in Ohio.
What I’ve enjoyed the most was uncovering details of my ancestor’s lives. Sometimes I’ve felt my third great-grandfather’s hand guiding me to more research. I’ve sometimes fallen down a “rabbit hole” while researching, but this led me to find cousin Phineas who lived with my third great-grandfather’s family after Phineas’s father was killed during the Revolutionary War. The internet and the archive of books are amazing sources of information! Don’t be afraid to reach out to others to obtain more information. One historian quoted a few lines of a letter between brothers. Wondering what else this letter included, I contacted the Special Collection Department of Marietta College. I received transcripts of several personal letters. These had a tremendous impact because they showed another side of familial relationships. One I never considered! Of course, these were included in my first novel.
My website is http://www.tranamathews.com/ with a blog where I post interviews for other self-published authors. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org. Readers may ask me questions on Goodreads at https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/19960446.Trana_Mathews or on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/Trana-Mathews-101609848128774.
Your writing journey:
My first attempt read as a dry history with little dialogue. Knowing I needed help to succeed, I joined a local critique group, listened to their comments, then followed most of their suggestions. A major revision was required, but I continued. After I completed the first novel, besides the eight members of the critique group, I asked some friends and acquaintances of another writing group to be beta readers. I had used the term “Are the British coming?” One of my readers pointed out that up until this time, they were all British subjects, so I changed the line to read “Are the Redcoats coming?” Another pointed out that a rural farm family probably would not have used the term prothesis. She also pointed out that I needed to explain why a trip of about 30 miles would have taken all day. I had dribbled out my chapters to the beta readers and was thrilled when they wanted more! My beta readers convinced me it was time to publish it though some members of my critique group disagreed.
It took a little over 4 years to complete my first historical fiction. I’m currently working on my revisions to the second one, but the first half of this book is in the hands of two beta readers. The second half has a lot of new material and needs time to “percolate” before I make more revisions, but I hope to publish the sequel by the beginning of 2021.
Being retired with limited income, I decided to self-publish on KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing). I had taken a college course in graphic design, so I designed my book cover because I wanted to use an image of an 18th century house style. With a degree in computer science, I’ve always found it easy to use new software programs. For my paperback, I followed KDP’s manuscript formatting guide. I used Kindle Create to convert my Word document into an e-book. After previewing my results online, I published both in January 2020. I thought all was well but recently found out it was messed up on the Kindle version. Based on a suggestion from my local library director, I decided to revise it to include a Book Club Discussion section. For the first time, I downloaded my e-book and found a noob mistake! When Kindle Create converted my footnotes to endnotes, it left superscript numbers without any link to these notes! After more research, I found it necessary to create named bookmarks in Word then link to the named bookmarks. I downloaded Calibre, used it to create an epub file, and my bookmark links worked. The Kindle Previewer now shows the superscripts as hyperlinks.
I’m encountering problems getting book reviews on Amazon or Goodreads. For example, another librarian sent me an email with a glowing review. When I asked her to write her review for Amazon or Goodreads, she refused, saying she didn’t like to write “official” book reviews. She agreed I could post her review on my website. One Goodreads reviewer gave it 4 stars but didn’t post any comments. All five of my Amazon reviews have been 5 stars. The best responses have been the comments my readers have shared. A neighbor said my novel should be made into a PBS movie. Another said he felt like he was there and asked when the next in my series would be published.
I originally set up a KDP advertising campaign but stopped it after a few months. I was paying more money than I was receiving in royalties. I’ve also used Facebook ads when I offer my e-book for free and had a better response using this means of advertising. I do have author interviews published on several blogs, but don’t think this has boosted sales. Since I don’t have funds for a full advertising blitz, I now wonder if I should have tried the traditional publishing route.
My first novel, The Mathews Family: Mathews Family Saga Book 1, is available on Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0842S16VM. While it is a coming-of-age story for Increase Mathews, the first novel is about his family. It begins with the reading of the Declaration of Independence and ends in 1798. An older brother, brother-in-law, and uncle are among the “first 48 settlers” to Ohio. His uncle, Brigadier-General Rufus Putnam, is known as “The Father of Ohio.” The Mathews Family includes transcripts of actual letters written between family members.
My second novel starts with Increase’s trip to Ohio in 1798 and is based upon his published diary. It has been a joy to determine who were the people mentioned in his journal.