Whenever I’m getting a little too full of myself, I can find some humble pie by recalling or looking up what my grandmother accomplished. I ate a lot of humble pie recently learning in greater detail than I ever knew about her achievements.
Grandma wrote her first novel, Not My Will, at age 58 (my age right now). And her books have sold more than 1.2 million copies. But until recently, she didn’t have a Wikipedia entry. Now she does. I wrote it.
Writing a Wikipedia entry – or at least editing a Wikipedia page – had long been on my someday-to-do list (a list on which I make meager progress). I was thinking I might write one about Bob Moore, a World War II hero from Villisca, Iowa, whose life (and the lives of some family members) I chronicled in 1997 for the Omaha World-Herald and updated in 2008 for the Cedar Rapids Gazette. He’s certainly worthy of a Wikipedia entry, but no one’s written it yet (and few know more about him than I do). But I hadn’t gotten around to it. Maybe I will someday.
My prod to become a Wikipedia contributor came in a series of emails starting last October. First an academic researcher contacted me (having found a brief mention of Grandma on my blog). The researcher’s work hasn’t been published yet, so he asked me not to use his name. So I’ve edited his email slightly to respect that request:
I am currently doing research about popular Christian fiction of the 19th and 20th century, and I am looking for information about Francena Arnold’s novel “Not My Will” (1946). I stumbled across your blog while I was searching, and saw that you mentioned Ms. Arnold was your grandmother and a wonderful storyteller. I was wondering if your family might be willing to share any old published documents about her books you might have. I ask because there is very little information about her online, which is surprising given the continued popularity of her books (many bloggers mention “Not My Will” as a long-time favorite). I would love to see some popular articles about “Not My Will” or any of her other works. Something like a newspaper or magazine book review, an interview, or a biographical article about Ms. Arnold would be ideal.
If you would be willing to share any documents I would really appreciate it.
I replied with a little information that might have been helpful, carboning some siblings, cousins and aunts. (My mother is still alive, but Alzheimer’s disease has made her memory unreliable and she no longer uses email.)
The researcher’s reply got things rolling:
I am very surprised at how little information there is out there about your grandmother — she doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page! If you or your family could get photos or scans of old articles that would be great.
My cousin Doug Worgul (an author with his own Wikipedia page) replied, “Grandma needs a Wikipedia page.” I agreed and thought maybe Doug or someone would meet that need. Well, Doug, his sister, Jan Worgul Ackerson (a writer and literary editor herself) and their mother (my Mom’s sister) Shirley Worgul did decide to meet that need: As Aunt Shirley explained in an email a few days later, they decided I should write Grandma’s Wikipedia entry.
Well, Aunt Shirley reminds me a lot of Mom, and like an obedient son/nephew, I eventually went to work.
Grandma died on my 18th birthday but I have fond memories of her:
- Volunteering to “help” her with the dishes because that meant I got to listen to her spellbinding stories (her writing grew from her oral storytelling ability) and really, Grandma did the dishes by herself while I pretty much stood around with a towel that never got wet.
- Late in life, Grandma’s arthritis was so profound that she could not grasp Scrabble tiles, so when we played Scrabble, she would point to the tiles she needed to play and tell me where to play them and what word to play. And she’d always win. She was sharp enough to beat a grandson who thought his college scholarship meant he was hot stuff and competitive enough that she didn’t let him win even when he was a little boy. And kind enough that losing to her was always a treat.
- I don’t remember Grandma without a hearing aid and it didn’t provide that much aid. Late in life, she was nearly deaf. We’d have to nearly shout to be heard, but somehow we communicated. She lived with my Aunt Helen after Grandpa died in 1961, and when we’d visit, you could hear Grandma singing hymns or praying loudly from her room, unaware or perhaps uncaring how loud she was (or how badly she sang). Except when her Cubbies were playing. Then you heard Jack Brickhouse’s voice booming from the TV in her sitting room.
And really, none of my memories had anything to do with what made her notable enough to merit a Wikipedia entry. So I had to do some research and learn the details that would tell the world about this special person in our family.
Aunt Shirley had sent the researcher and me some family documents, including two obituaries about Grandma, a story my mother had written for Moody Monthly (a magazine published by Grandma’s primary publisher, Moody Press, and some notes on writing advice from a talk Grandma had given at a writers conference. Aunt Shirley also emailed me some details of Grandma’s life. Aunt Florence Arnold, who had typed the first manuscript for Not My Will, sent an email about that experience. Cousin Louise Eddington sent still more memories.
I wrote a first draft that I knew was too long and that wasn’t very encyclopedic in tone. But it was fun to write and heavily documented. I sent it off to Jan for editing. She was gentler than most editors I’ve worked with, but reined in some of my excessive writing. And I did a little more editing, then set about trying to learn how to create a Wikipedia entry. The instructions stressed that people needed to be notable and that you need to provide independent documentation of the notability. Well, that seemed a pretty easy standard for Grandma to meet. I mean, the woman wrote a novel that is still in print 66 years after it was first published and also available for the Kindle. So I breezed right past the “notability” stuff to learn how to do Wikipedia footnotes.
By Feb. 2 my entry had been submitted for editing. Wikipedia has a reputation as a wild-west kind of encyclopedia where you can get away with anything (though, as I’ve noted here before, it deserves more respect than it gets from journalists or academics. But processes have been tightened up since the days when John Seigenthaler was defamed in Wikipedia (John’s a friend from several First Amendment Center programs for the American Press Institute seminars, and I’ve heard him discuss the incident, which has its own Wikipedia entry). So my entry didn’t go straight into Wikipedia. It went into the on-deck circle, waiting for Wikipedia’s volunteer editors to decide when and whether Grandma and I had met the standards. When I submitted, a message warned me it might take a week for my piece to get reviewed. It took more than a week and I was getting impatient.
And then on Feb. 18 my entry was rejected. By someone identified as “You Can Act Like a Man,” saying: “Subject appears to be a non-notable person.” Say what? Non-notable? As I’ve already noted, Grandma was way past notable, so it was my failure. Forty years after her death, I was failing to give Grandma her due.
So I took a closer look at the guidelines on the notability of people. I had uploaded various family documents to Scribd and included links to them in my footnotes, but the guidelines required that the sources be independent of the subject. So the emails from Aunts Shirley and Florence with some details of family history weren’t going to cut it. I deleted them, tightened up a little and resubmitted.
Doug’s reaction was kind of similar to mine: “Way interesting. Makes me have a bit more respect(?) for Wikipedia. I think.” I like that Wikipedia has some standards, but our Grandma was notable, so we just had to figure out how to make the editors (like me, volunteers) understand that.
I also was able to add book-sales figures from one of Grandma’s publishers. She had published nine novels for adults and one children’s novel. Seven of the books were published by Moody and three by Zondervan. I wrote both publishers, asking for figures on book sales, printings and translations (Grandma’s books had been translated into several languages, but I didn’t know which or how many).
Zondervan no longer had figures on Grandma’s book sales. But Moody sent me a spreadsheet after my first submission loaded with humble pie for a guy who gets excited when a few thousand people read a blog post: Not My Will had sold 576,366 copies. Each of her other adult novels for Moody had sold in six figures. Altogether, Grandma’s seven books published by Moody (and a 1992 rerelease by Moody of a Zondervan novel, The Light in My Window) had sold 1,287,119. That’s nearly 1.3 million! Take that, You Can Act Like a Man! And there’s a good chance that The Light in My Window was Grandma’s second best-selling book. It was the only book republished with Not My Will in the Christian Classics series decades after Grandma’s death. So, if you estimate that each of the Zondervan books also managed six-figures in sales, Grandma was pushing or passing 1.6 million. And if The Light in My Window got even half the sales of Not My Will, we could be talking 1.7 or 1.8 million. (Of course, I wouldn’t include any speculation in the Wikipedia piece, just use the actual figures and the total of more than 1.2 million. Notability proven, running up the score even.
Another couple weeks dragged on and I was rejected again March 7, this time by “Kilopi.” Again I had failed to meet the notability standard. ”I don’t think cites to her publisher or her daughters suffice to show notability,” Kilopi explained. ”Any independent reviews of her books or their impact?”
As I dug into the links to Wikipedia rules, I began to realize that my original research was mostly wasted (or would have to be reserved for my blog). Wikipedia wants contributors to document with secondary sources, material already published elsewhere. If a journalist or researcher had published Grandma’s book sales, I could cite that, but not directly from the publisher. (Odd, huh? Who would a journalist or researcher get the figures from but the publisher?)
Grandma died in 1972, so anything written about her during her life was not something I was likely to find online.
I had thought my mother’s 1973 story in Moody Monthly (loaded with details of her life) counted since it had been published in a magazine. But in Kilopi’s view it was doubly non-independent — a daughter writing about the author in a magazine from the author’s publisher.
I was most annoyed by the Catch-22 kind of response to one of my questions from ”Ritchie333” asked, “One also has to ask, if Not My Will really is a ‘classic’ as described, why don’t we have an article for it?” Really? Seriously, dude, did you tell me that in order to be notable enough to get a Wikipedia entry, you have to already have one?
But Grandma was persistent and I knew I must be as well. Somehow I knew it would make my eventual success more — um, notable — that these clowns who would never sell 1.2 million-plus of anything were setting the bar high. Grandma would clear that bar, I knew, if I would just learn how to jump through Wikipedia’s hoops (making a drier and less interesting story and losing lots of absolutely true facts along the way).
I stripped out all the details from Mom’s story in Moody Monthly. The only facts I used were those I could document from the obituaries and from Library of Congress listings of her books (though I did leave in a citation on Moody’s author page saying Not My Will had sold over 500,000 copies). I did some Googling and found that five of Grandma’s books had been included in a Christian Classics book series on the Bible Broadcasting Network (take that, Ritchie333!). I found a book, How to Study, that used Not My Will as the example in telling students how to write book reports. I found recent blog posts praising Not My Will.
And I tried again.
After I tried again, Louise found at least a partial answer to a question that I had raised with the family and with the publishers, to no success: How many (and which) languages had Grandma’s work been translated into. It’s a sure sign of her notability, but since it came from a granddaughter of the author going through a daughter-in-law’s basement storage locker, I knew I’d have to use it here, rather than on Wikipedia. Her message (lightly edited):
So I’ve had a chance, at last, to get down to Mom’s basement storage locker to see what books of Grandma’s she has, especially the foreign language ones.
In foreign languages, from Moody, are 4 volumes of Not My Will, one each in Swedish, Chinese, Dutch (I think), and another Nordic language, maybe Finnish or Danish? Also something in a Nordic language, couldn’t find any hint to the language, but the title was something like Hab om Kåerlighed. Of these 4, 2 were paperback and 2 were hard cover.
More from Zondervan: 3 Deepening Stream, 2 paperback, 1 hard cover, 1 each of Swedish and German, and some other Nordic language. 2 Light In My Window, both paperback, 1 German and 1 Chinese.
One other, in German, Moody published, titled Andrea. Did the Germans re-title one? This is unfamiliar to me.
And I knew that accounting wasn’t full either. Because I found a Japanese translation in a bookstore with my mother in the 1960s. The only English words on the cover were “Francena H. Arnold.” And one of the documents from Aunt Shirley was a notification from someone planning an Ethiopian translation. I tried “Hab om Kåerlighed” in Google Translate and it said it was Swedish, but the translation it gave me was “Hab on Kåerlighed.” Also, somewhere in my research, I found that Not My Will had been translated into Arabic, but I can’t find that source now.
So Grandma was translated into at least seven languages. Louise’s sister, Jean Cirak, recalls that Grandma’s books were translated into 26 languages. That’s a pretty specific memory, though I suppose it could be 26 translations of books into fewer languages. Jean recalls a story of someone finding the book in Singapore. Jean sent still another family memory I couldn’t use in Wikipedia but gladly use here:
One other thing I remember: Sometime back a Christian film company wanted to make a movie version of one of the books (probably Not My Will). There was discussion among the three daughters (or maybe only two by that time) and my mother. My mother decided it should be up to the daughters and bowed out. The movie never happened, and I remember hearing that the daughters had had objections over something, but I don’t know any more about it than that.
On March 29, Oren Bochman moved the Francena H. Arnold entry from “articles for creation” to “created.” The history page shows it’s been edited since then by three people, including Doug Worgul. At some point, we need to add a photo, but I couldn’t understand Wikipedia’s complicated rules for uploading photos. (If you know how, maybe you can talk me through the steps or just upload it for me?) It’s more an encyclopedia entry than the life story I initially tried to write, but I guess that’s the point.
I decided that too-long original draft (updated with sales figures) would work fine as a blog post (a separate post from this one, because both are long and because her life story deserves its own entry in full somewhere). The Buttry Diary has a different approval process: If I like it and I know it’s true, I post it. Original research and family sources are OK here. I’m just interested in telling true stories.
Grandma is notable. I have a Wikipedia entry to prove it.