Charlotte S. Waisman, Ph.D. and Jill S. Tietjen, P.E. – Author Interview

What is your most recent book? Tell us a bit about it.

Her Story: A Timeline of the Women Who Changed America, HarperCollins, 2008.

Our book is a vivid visual timeline of more than 850 women in U.S. history from 1587 through 2007, with a foreword by Madeleine Albright. It is an intentionally inclusive book covering women across every way that diversity can be defined – ethnicity, field of accomplishment, age, etc. Women in America could not live the lives we do today without the amazing accomplishments of our foremothers. The women portrayed in our book stepped outside of the expected modes of behavior for women during their lives. The profiled women were the pioneers for their causes, their professions, or their passions. Their accomplishments have both changed and advanced the arts, the sciences, politics, and business. These women embody the phrase “Well-Behaved Women Rarely Make History.” And with women across every spectrum of endeavor, we believe that every reader will be able to identify “Women Like Me.”

Tell us something about yourself.

Charlotte S. Waisman, Ph.D. is a Principal with the AthenA Group, LLC, a consulting firm that specializes in leading organizational culture change, developing multidimensional leaders and creating workforce excellence. She is a hands-on trainer, coach and team motivator. Her strengths include excellent facilitation skills; creating modules to teach quality initiatives; and developing coaching, mentoring and train-the-trainer activities. Her clients have included corporations, small businesses, government, non-profits and universities.

Waisman was instrumental in the design and development of the Women’sVision Leadership Institute, an intensive leadership program of the Women’sVision Foundation, which accelerates the career paths of mid and upper level corporate women. Her most recent previous book was The Leadership Training Activity Book, Amacom Press, 2005, which is a reflection of the work of the Institute. She is best known as a leadership expert, author, speaker, and a workshop and seminar trainer/facilitator.

Dr. Charlotte S. Waisman has a B.S., M.A., and Ph.D. from the School of Communications at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. Her background also includes 14 years as a tenured professor at Northeastern Illinois University and the University of Utah.

Jill S. Tietjen, P.E. is the President and CEO of Technically Speaking, Inc. She has spent over 30 years in the electric utility industry, and provides consulting services to electric utilities and organizations serving the electric utility industry. Tietjen serves as an expert witness before public utility commissions and other government agencies. She has written a number of technical publications published in the trade press and by engineering technical societies.

Tietjen regularly speaks on historical and current women in engineering and science, historical women, and leadership topics. Her introduction to engineering textbook, Keys to Engineering Success, was published by Prentice Hall in 2001. She is the co-author with Betty Reynolds of the Setting the Record Straight series of which three volumes have been published. She is profiled and pictured on the cover of Changing Our World: True Stories of Women Engineers.

Tietjen served as the 1991-92 National President of the Society of Women Engineers. She serves on a corporate board (Georgia Transmission Corporation) and a number of non-profit boards. She has nominated more women to the National Women’s Hall of Fame than anyone in the country. She has received numerous awards and in 2010 was inducted into the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame. She is a graduate of the University of Virginia (B.S.) and the University of North Carolina at Charlotte (MBA). Tietjen is an author, speaker, and electrical engineer.

What inspired you to write this book?

A tea party and an essay contest. When we think back to these otherwise routine activities in our lives, we now understand that they were the first steps in our journey to writing this book and getting it published.

Waisman attended a fancy tea party at the home of a friend. The attendees played a parlor game – matching ten women’s accomplishments with the names of the women. Waisman was surprised that she was the only one who got all ten correct; but more importantly, she was appalled that she was the only one of the women in this highly educated group who could identify Margaret Sanger.

The parlor game and its results were a pivotal moment for Waisman. She recognized that if this group of educated women did not know of Sanger, then in MOST of the general population, Margaret Sanger would be forgotten or totally unknown. What Sanger did and the timing (the promotion of birth control as early as 1916) was truly amazing! Waisman believed that she needed to tell other people about women of achievement. She began to collect the names of the women who “came before” and to put each woman’s accomplishment on a timeline.

At the time she and Jill Tietjen met, there were over 300 women written back into history on this timeline. Waisman used this timeline as part of a Leadership Seminar she taught; each time she brought it out, the women were enthralled with what they learned and they clearly appreciated finding out about the women who came before us.

Tietjen’s odyssey began with an essay contest on “Great Women in Engineering and Science.” When the idea was posited in 1987, Tietjen, like most Americans, could name only one great historical woman in engineering and science: Marie Curie (who was born in Poland and later resided in France). In order to offer the essay contest to sixth graders and provide the prospective essay writers with a list of great women in science and engineering from whom to select for their essay, Tietjen and a colleague in the Society of Women Engineers had to do much research. Thus began Tietjen’s collection of the names and accomplishments of historical women.

Tietjen took this information as well as additional research, to create a number of published volumes in her Setting the Record Straight series. She broadened her knowledge to include not only women with technical backgrounds, but also many women educators, politicians, and activists. And she, too, like Waisman, continued to research and gather many names and stories of historical woman.

So, we didn’t know one another, but we were working from different perspectives in essentially the same field. Connections describe most succinctly the way we met, worked and developed our beautiful book. We were introduced through the Women’sVision Foundation. Since our first meeting in 2003, we have come to understand how important our complementary skills and interests have been to the success of this book. Our efforts together have led to this publication about which we are passionate and of which we are extremely proud.

How did you publish this book?

In 2004 when we decided to publish, we recognized that we would need a very large publishing house, as the number of pictures (over 1,000) and the layout we envisioned was elaborate and expensive. We also learned that large houses were not talking directly to authors like ourselves. So we identified and contracted with a book agent – Sandra Bond, Bond Literary Agency. We told her that we wanted HarperCollins to publish the book. Sandra sold the book to HarperCollins.

What do you believe is the hardest part of writing?

Getting an idea. Getting started.

How do you do research for your books?

We started our research using the many books that we each had in our personal library and we each bought many more during our work together. We established criteria for the women who would be profiled in our book and as we went through books, we selected women who fit those criteria. We checked many sources of information on each woman and verified dates and accomplishments.

We worked with newspapers, magazines, bibliographies, reference librarians, obituaries; we followed leads wherever they led us. We talked to people who gave us leads about women who are not as generally known. Over the time that we worked, the internet became a more reliable source of information. So we were able to use that as well. When we began, the internet did not have the myriad of entries on women that one could find today.

Did you learn anything from writing this book? What?

We have never stopped learning in the process of writing and promoting the book. We learned how to identify reputable sources for our research. We learned how to research images and where to procure them (there are over 1,000 images in our book). We learned how to work with our book agent, and the personnel at our publishing house including our editor and publisher. We have been delighted to work with our amazing graphic designer. We learned how to get bookplates, bookmarks, thank you notes, and many other documents designed and printed. We have learned how to interact with bookstores around the country to provide book sales at our speaking events. We have learned that writing the book is only 5% of the work effort. Promotion is 95% of the effort. And we have learned that you as the author are responsible for the success of your book.

Are you working on your next book? What can you tell us about it?

Because women’s contributions to our lives and history are often minimized, forgotten, or invisible, we are collecting the names of women to be considered for the second edition of our book as we go around the country and speak to various groups – and as women continue to plow new ground. We have over 450 women on our spreadsheet of women to consider for the second edition.

What is the best advice you could give other writers about writing or publishing?

Be passionate about your topic. Don’t write on something because someone else said you should. You must REALLY REALLY want to do it. And, don’t give up your day job. You will need to have a source of income to pay your bills during the long time of writing and then promoting your book.

What are you doing to promote your latest book?

Everything we can think of. We have a custom display that we use when we speak. We have a custom bookplate that we use to sign our books. We have a beautiful bookmark that we give out at our signings. We do every kind of promotion that includes:

  • Speaking engagements
  • Articles – online and print
  • Radio interviews
  • Television interviews
  • Regular columns
  • Publication of a monthly ENewsletter
  • Production of a video
  • Development of book club guidelines for book clubs to use
  • Development of education resources for all ages – young children, elementary, high school and adults
  • Social media

Where can readers learn more about you and your book?

Our web site is www.herstoryatimeline.com. Information posted there includes radio and television interviews, book reviews, rave reviews, information about the authors, our speakers kit, education resources, and book club discussion guidelines.

Our video can be found at http://vimeo.com/10262507