Spirit of Gonzales by Betsy Wagner

Spirit of Gonzales by Betsy Wagner
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Since I edited this book, you would expect me to give it a five-star rating. But the fact is that I saw the potential of the book when I first read the manuscript, and while I hope my editing made it even better, it was a great book before I did anything.

This is the story of the author’s great, great, great grandmother told as fiction. As Betsy says in the epilogue, “This story uses islands of truth connected by bridges of logic to weave together a fictional story that might hint at what happened to the pioneer families.”

In Texas, seventh graders study the state’s history, and Betsy wrote the story at a level appropriate for those students. However, it is also appealing to adults—no one I know who has read it felt that they were reading a book for juveniles.

The history is accurate, the characters are believable and likable, and the story is engaging for all ages. It will appeal especially to readers interested in history, Texas, and life on the frontier.

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As you can see from the review above, I worked with Betsy on this book. I edited the manuscript and coordinated with other publishing professionals to turn the manuscript into a print book and an ebook. After we completed the process, I asked her some questions. The interview follows.

I know the book has been a long journey for you. Tell me what prompted you to write it and how you got started. My first wish was to share newly discovered family history with my nieces, nephews and cousins. I began doing research in the Gonzales Archives and the project grew from there.

Have you always been interested in History? Did you grow up hearing about your ancestors’ part in Texas history? When did the “new discovery” happen?  Our family never talked about the people of our past. I remember my Dad mentioning the name of Crocket Kellogg, which turns out to be his grandfather. I loved the sound of that name, but I didn’t know anything about any of my ancestors until I retired. As a child, and then in my teens, I became fascinated with anything “old.” I loved old furniture, old maps, old houses, and I liked to visit with old people.  The discovery of the people in this story began with family files created by a cousin in 2008.

Why did you write the book, and who is your target audience? The original purpose of the project was to preserve this history for future generations of our family. Then, during the writing process, as I shared it with friends and other writers I found that many people enjoyed reading the manuscript. Both long-term Texans as well as newcomers to our state expressed interest in the setting and events. Along the way I realized this story is a piece of the curriculum of Texas history in public schools at the seventh grade. One of Texas’ most accomplished teachers of seventh grade Texas history helped me with the book. There is a wide range of interest, starting with young people in school and going up through adult historians. The book will be appreciated by anyone interested in Texas history, providing they are mature enough to process the jagged edge of life from that time period in Texas.

Why did you decide to self-publish Spirit of Gonzales? In my writing group some people were publishing with traditional publishers and others were independent publishers. I listened to what they had to say, and compared the benefits. I lost some important people in my family in the last year I was working on the book.  I realized they would never get to read the story, and I regretted that. So, getting it “done” was certainly a factor in my decision. But also, I realized 1) even a self-published book can be sold to a traditional publisher, if that is what the author wants eventually. 2) Self-publishing allows an author to retain ownership and maintain control over all aspects of the work.  I preferred to own the finished product. I may decide at some point to sell it if that opportunity comes along.

What has been the most difficult part of the entire writing process? Is there something that surprised you about writing?  The biggest challenge for my project was to keep it honest. I did a lot of research to be sure the fiction was historically accurate. There were years of creating scenes, researching, and correcting the scenes. The book was rewritten many times. The surprise was how the story went in its own direction. What started in 2010 as a direct line to the Alamo by 2016 had taken a detour through the community of Gonzales. Sydnie introduced me to new characters along the way, and showed me the heart and hopes of all those people.

Compare the writing process with the publishing process. Writing was the joy, and publishing was almost like punishment for having so much fun! Even the editing process was fun, although difficult in that it required computer skills. Technology is very frustrating for me. Fortunately, I met an editor who was willing to coach me. I learned things about technology, and I was able to accomplish what I needed to do, but the project would not have been completed without the team of people who were able to use technology.

Where do you sell your book? How do you promote Spirit of Gonzales? I started in familiar territory. My hometown is one of the communities mentioned in the story. That community had its own role in the revolution and the local folks are interested in Texas history. I began with Saturday market days. I contacted the Chamber of Commerce and the Public Library. I was invited to speak at the library, and we bought advertising on the local radio station to create interest in that. A neighbor in San Antonio invited me to speak at her Daughters of the Republic of Texas (DRT) chapter soon after the book was released. These groups were natural audiences for a book about Texas in the 1830s. I was in comfortable venues, and those positive experiences encouraged me to go on to more challenging markets. I plan to do some broad exposure and contact middle school librarians. In October there is a huge market in Gonzales to celebrate the very things that I wrote about, so I definitely plan to be part of that. I also plan to do book signings in various stores, but I’m trying to stay connected to the Texas history audience as much as possible. Marketing was no more familiar to me than technology, so I have to learn as I go. I have a website and the book is available on Amazon, but I like the personal promotions, and most customers like to have the book signed. So far I’m pleased with the sales and my progress in that regard.

I was blessed to be part of a unique and beautiful launch party for Spirit of Gonzales. Will you share what you did and why?  After the book was printed and ready to market, I wanted to gift a copy to everyone who had helped me in the project. I planned a lunch and invited everyone who lived close enough to attend. I put a book at each place for each guest. Then I realized that none of the people knew each other. I decided to use the time of waiting for the food to introduce each person and tell what they had done to help me. I introduced family first since they were the initial inspiration. Then I went in sequence introducing people in the order I had met them, explaining why each person was important to me. That was intended to honor each guest and make everyone more comfortable to know who they were sitting next to.

Do you plan to write any more books? If so, do you have an idea for the next one? My cousin and I are working on the research for a sequel. Spirit of Gonzales is a sad book, but necessarily so, as the truth of Sydnie’s life was sad. I’d like to make a companion book about another member of the family and have it end happily.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to tell a story, but who has no experience writing?

I’d tell them:

  1. Be in a hurry to start, but not in a hurry to finish.  
  2. In every decision, go for quality.  
  3. Seek out people who will be supportive, in whatever way you need support.

Thank you, Betsy, for sharing your experiences and advice. I really enjoyed working with you on Spirit of Gonzales, and I’m looking forward to the next book.

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