Category Archives: writing

A Warm Welcome

Our trip to Europe was incredible for many reasons but our visit to Montbéliard, France stood out for deeply personal reasons. As noted in previous blogs it is the hometown of my great-grandmother, a woman who seemd to disappear with the passage of time. My mother and her five siblings always wanted to know where their grandmother came from, even though they never met her. All they ever knew was she came from France.

The church of Saint-Martin de Montbéliard.

For years I casually played with looking up my geneology. I tried to find where Suzanne, our great-grandmother came from but met with dead ends, as though she never existed. My interest in geneology flared anew when Tim told me about his connection to the Mayflower. Then last year on our cruise we pulled into LeHavre, France, the port Suzanne sailed from. LeHavre suddenly became a real place to me and I had to find her.

Showing the mayor my family tree

When I found she was from Montbéliard, France I contacted the Roots Tourism bureau there. In June, we traveled to France before our cruise around the British Isles. A lovely young lady, Anaïs gave us a tour of the city when we arrived. Montbéliard, “The City of Princes” has a very rich history dating back to the Holy Roman Empire. She let us know that on Monday we would be meeting with the archival folks and the mayor. The mayor? That was a head scratcher.

´Etienne Vienot’s records

On Monday we arrived at the Municipal Archives with the folks from the tourism bureau. Aline and René greeted us and proceeded to roll out a piece of paper in front of me. It was five feet long and listed my ancestors dating back to 1560. Étienne Vienot was a mason, born in 1560. I suggested that he helped build “the temple,” the church of Saint Martin built between 1601 and 1607. While they were quick to point out there was no evidence of that, I liked my version of the story. Saint Martin’s is the oldest Protestant church in France.

Lined up on the far side of the table were the books from which they did their research. Some have been digitized but not all. The pages showed their age, but seeing the handwriting from the 16th century was remakable. In one of the books the writing was very small because of the expense of paper. In the oldest book there was a list of Étienne Vienot’s belongings.

The wonderful group of people that made this possible

More people began filing into the room, including the mayor, her staff, and a reporter for the local newspaper. Tim counted seventeen in all. The mayor gave a speech and spoke of the history of the city and referred to Montbéliard as my ancestral homeland, which touched my heart. They asked me to say a few words and I thanked them for all the work they had done. Then I teared up when I wished that my mother were still alive so she could finally learn about her grandmother. When I asked why I was being given such a reception, I learned that while they had researched other families for the program, my family was only from Montbéliard where others were from other towns as well.

The mayor explained all the local meats and cheeses to me at the reception.

Afterward we went outside for refreshments of local meats, and cheeses, along with wine and soda. Also on the table was a bowl of Bugles Corn Snacks, I had to smile. My mother always loved those and I hadn’t seen them in years.

My next order of business, send René information about Suzanne. Beneath her on the tree there was nothing, not her two daughters, nine grandchildren, nor her twenty great-grandchildren. I have more research to do before I start writing about Suzanne but this visit gave me a great deal more to think about.

I can’t thank this group of people enough for their work, their warmth, and their kindness. If anyone is interested in finding out more about the city and or their Roots Tourism program I’m including some links below.

The City of Montbéliard

Roots Tourism

A New Start

As I happily and hopefully write my query letters, I have come to a crossroads. Different agents ask for different information. In a form some use, there is a place to fill in your website and blog address. Until I sent out Uncharted to an editor, I had always thought of my website as a place to display my paintings and my blogging extended that.

While the editor did her work, I reorganized my website to highlight writing more than painting. I failed to improve my blogging and now I realize my posts are less than stellar. Inviting agents to look at uninspired writing is a problem. It’s been more conversational than informational. I paid little attention to spelling (relying mostly on spellcheck), punctuation, and sentence structure. It’s now time to “up my game.”

La Bourgogne, May 1887

That leads me to my change of focus. I plan on writing about a variety of topics with greater deliberation. I did a lot of historical research when writing Uncharted about the places I mentioned in the book. Most of it I didn’t use. I looked for lesser-known historical tidbits that would add some depth to the places we traveled. I’m particularly intrigued by questionable “facts.” Those bits teeter between legend and history. Pirate stories are a fine example of the blurring that happens.

Travel will always jump into the mix. In fact, a month from now I will be in Montbéliard, France. Why? It is the town my great-grandmother came from and a mystery solved. Until recently, all we knew was that she came from France. I’m headed there to learn more about that side of our family and perhaps feed my desire to write some historical fiction about her story. It’s the genre I love to read most, so why not write it?

Perhaps as interesting as the places we’ll be traveling to is our mode of transportation getting there. We will travel to Europe on the Queen Mary 2. I can’t explain why, but I want to stand on the deck in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, a thousand miles from anywhere.

In a strange twist of fate, we will depart New York Harbor, on May 26. My great-grandmother, Suzanne Viennot, arrived in New York Harbor on May 26, 1887, aboard La Bourgogne. I only wish I could have shared all I’m learning with my mother and her siblings. They always wanted to know more about their grandmother from France. Their mother was only three years old when Suzanne died. No one has been able to tell Suzanne Viennot’s story until now. I’m anxious to learn all I can and then begin to write about her.

Break Time

My friends in Manatee Writers group encouraged me to write an article for our newsletter about where I am and how I got here, pertaining to my memoir. I thought I’d use that for this month’s blog since you have come along with me on this journey as well.

Before I throw myself into the next phase I need a break to properly ready myself for the work I need to do. Uncharted has been about four years in the making and I’ve grown a tad weary.

This is a picture of my very first acceptance letter for two poems to be published in an anthology. “Magic of the Muse” is the book behind the letter where my poems appeared. The other anthology “The Monadnock Reader,” has a poem and a couple of photos I took. It was published many years ago when I lived in Peterborough.

All my estimates on how long different aspects of this project would take have been wrong. I’m not going to try at this juncture to say how much longer this journey will be but I can recap how I got to this point. 

In August 2018 I started writing about our upcoming boating adventure. It wasn’t much and I still like the idea I started with but the opening paragraph I ultimately wound up with is nothing close to my original thought.  When I read Ernest Hemingway re-wrote the beginning of Farwell to Arms thirty-nine times I felt somewhat vindicated.

In preparation and in parallel I read memoirs and books on writing, writing in general, writing creative non-fiction, and writing about your life. 

In 2020 I began writing more consistently, being trapped by the pandemic helped with the discipline I initially lacked. Before that, I wrestled with where to start. It kept me paralyzed for quite a while. I grew impatient with myself and soldiered on, regardless of how badly I felt the book started. My first draft, more like my outline, was completed towards the end of 2020. It was then I joined the Manatee Writers group. 

After a number of critiques, I realized my book needed a great deal more work. It was then I discovered where to start. After a year and a half more of working through my chapters with our writing group, I sent a copy of my completed draft to people whom I mentioned in the book.

Fortunately, two new members joined our group when I was completing my last chapters. They expressed an interest in being beta readers and I happily obliged them. Additionally, I asked the readers of my blog if anyone was interested in being a beta reader. From that solicitation, I got two more volunteers. The insights the beta readers provided were very helpful. It helped me to add more information in some parts and tone it down in others. 

After a final round of edits with the help of my grammar-conscious husband, I was ready for an editor. I gave myself a deadline, finish my edits by the end of the year and then hand it over to an editor.

Back to my inability to judge how long any aspect of this project would take I contacted an editor a year before I was ready for her. Finding an editor in my case was easy. For years I worked as a graphic designer for BYTE magazine, a McGraw-Hill publication, in Peterborough, New Hampshire. At that time there were numerous magazines published there, and with them a multitude of editors. As luck would have it, I saw one of the editors I knew listed in a classified ad in the back of Writers Digest magazine.

One more round of edits, per Nan Fornal’s suggestions, and I declared my book as complete as I could make it. While she was doing the editing I reworked my website. I thought if any agent thought about representing me, she’d certainly google me. I wanted my site to look its best as well

Next, the hard part, finding an agent. Not all publishers require an agent but most do and so that is the route I am choosing to take. The process of finding an agent is another series of steps. Before contacting an agent, you need a query letter, which amounts to a sales pitch. You need to include the genre, word count, bio, and synopsis in your query. Databases of agents are available from several online sources. I am using After attending an online workshop about querying I worked on my letter. Now I need to research agents that are open for submissions and interested in my genre.

Wish me luck!