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Contact: Elena Hartwell - elenahartwell@gmail.com and visit me on the web at www.elenahartwell.com

Spotlight On Frances L. Wood

Frances L. Wood is a Washington native, born across the bay from Langley in Everett, Washington. Her family first bought vacation beach property on South Whidbey in the early 1900s. She is fourth generation in her family to vacation on South Whidbey. Frances moved permanently to Langley in 2000.

She had written two other books on South Whidbey history, Community at the Crossroads: A History of Bayview on Whidbey Island, Goosefoot Community Fund, 2002 and Down to Camp: A History of Summer Folk on Whidbey Island, Blue Heron Press, 1997.

Frances holds B.A. and M.A.T. degrees and recently received an MFA in creative writing from the Whidbey Writers Workshop, a program of the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts. She is looking for a publisher for her young adult novel based on the life of her great-grandmother, a pioneer schoolteacher in Western Washington.

She is also an avid bird watcher and is active with the Whidbey Audubon Society, the Island County Marine Resources Committee and seabird research.

Frances is delighted that the publication of this book coincides with Langley’s centennial. She looks forward to sharing Langley’s history with her beloved community. 

Interview Part II

You started writing non-fiction, but have now shifted to historical fiction, especially YA. Tell us how that shift came about.
When I started writing, I found it fairly easy to get published in the non-fiction arena. Newspapers, newsletters and magazine are always looking for material for the next issue. It also helped to have a specialty, in my cases birds, which remains a broad and popular subject.

It was only after enrolling in the Whidbey Writers Workshop MFA program of the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts that I gathered up the courage to write fiction. I chose YA because I wanted to write a novel based on the story of my great grandmother as a young pioneer schoolteacher in Snohomish and YA was a good fit. That manuscript is still looking for a publisher.

How differently do you approach writing fiction compared to non-fiction?
I need a huge block of time to get into writing a novel, so I must open my schedule and carve out of big chunk of time. I pretty much shut out the rest of my life and climb into the world of my novel. I visualize my setting and characters, especially their emotions, and there are times when my fictional world feels more real than my normal life. 

I can jump in and out of non-fiction more easily and more quickly. And those pieces tend to be shorter.

What are you working on now?
I’m stretching my wings into writing personal essays. And I’ve dusted off a book length non-fiction manuscript called Chasing Tailfeathers about my personal journey into hard core birding, traveling all over the world racking up my life list of birds seen (somewhat like the movie “The Big Year,” if you’ve seen that), and my journey back home to sanity, moderation and finding deep satisfaction in studying the birds on my own island.

As a result, eight years ago I organized an on-going, citizen science project researching the nearly 1,000 seabirds that nest in the bluffs around Whidbey Island. For more about that, go to www.pigeonguillemot.org. Along with that project I’ve drafted a children’s picture book about those seabirds and feel strongly that it’s time for that book to get launched out into the world.

And in a weak moment about six months ago, I committed to painting all the bird species mentioned in my book Brushed by Feathers: A Year of Birdwatching in the West, that’s about 150 birds. It’s a fun project, and I must admit, a distraction from my writing but it’s something my soul needs to do right now. I use watercolor and ink to create bird portraits depicting the individual essence of each species. 

And I’m still adding to my 41WhideyPlaces story collection.

Final Words of Wisdom
I’d say—and I believe this could be true for any life, not just a writer's life—find your passion and keep it alive. For me, between full-time jobs, being married, raising two boys, becoming a single parent, then married again, I’ve been able to keep birding, writing and painting. Recently, along with all the “shoulds” and items on my to-do list, I’ve begun asking myself, “What does my soul need to do today?” And I’ve found the answer boils down to two things, I need time in nature to enrich my soul and time expressing my creativity through writing and art.  As long as I pay attention, and make sure those things happen, I manage to get the rest of my life accomplished as well.

Scroll down to read Part I

The Interview

Tell us about your most recent book, coming out on Dec 10th?
The book, titled Langley is a photo history of the small city of Langley on Whidbey Island where I’ve lived for the past 12 years. It is part of the Images of America Series from Arcadia Publishing www.Arcadiapublishing.com, a press with 8,000 local and regional history titles. You’ve probably seen other books in this series, identified by sepia-colored historic photos on their covers. The book’s cover pictures the iconic Langley watering hole, The Dog House Tavern.

I co-authored this book with Robert Waterman, a brilliant local historian who has been collecting photos of Langley for a decade. This partnership worked well with Bob selecting and scanning over 200 historic photos while I wrote the text and worked with the publisher.

The book showcases the town’s history of exactly 100 years, but I admit to having two favorite chapters. The first tells how, in 1920, Langley elected an all-women town administration, the second municipality in the entire nation to do so. My other favorite chapter describes a thriving art colony established by Margaret Camfferman, a member of Seattle’s “Group of Twelve” painters from the 1920s-1940s. While researching this chapter I discovered a photo of several women artists at the art colony and discovered that one of the women in the photo was my great aunt. I enjoyed all—will let’s say most—of the research for this book but finding that photo with my great aunt was a very special moment. 

This is my third book of local Whidbey Island history. My first book told the history of the beach community where my family has had a summer cabin for nearly 100 years. That book, Down toCamp: A History of Summer Folk on Whidbey Island was self-published in 1997. The second book Community at theCrossroads: The History of Bayveiw on Whidbey Island was published in 2002 by Goosefoot Community Fund, an island-based non-profit. I tell you this to show the progression from self-publishing, (back in the day when that was less common and more complicated) to writing a book for hire, and now following the traditional route with an established press.

You have written about birds and birdwatching, what prompted your lifelong love affair with birding?
Yes, I’ve had a lifelong love affair with birds and nature. Those three history books might be called a pleasant distraction from decades of painting and writing about birds. I began publishing a birding column for a local paper in 1996. The book, Brushed byFeathers: A Year of Birdwatching in the West, published by Fulcrum Publishing in 2004, which I also illustrated, was my first opportunity to combine my art and writing. I’m also a writer for BirdNote, a radio program on the intriguing ways of birds, now broadcast throughout the United States. www.birdnote.org.

I often ask myself: Why birds? Both my parents enjoyed spending time outdoors, gardening and beachcombing. I relished summer weekends at our beach cabin and family camping vacations. In college I enrolled in an ornithology course, but it was simply to satisfy a science credit toward my teaching degree. If attendance at the course’s early morning field trip hadn’t been required to pass the class, I doubt I would have shown up. Fortunately it was required and I attended. It only took one such bird trip along the bluffs of the Mississippi River during spring migration and I was completely smitten by the dawn chorus of birdsong. I had never even heard of the dawn chorus before and I was enchanted with this musical gift from the natural world. After graduating with art and teaching degrees, I took up birdwatching and soon began painting birds.

Whidbey Island is a beautiful location. You have generations of family ties to the island, but what else has drawn you to live there year round, and write about that location?
The simple answer is “island life.” South Whidbey has a palpable sense of community. This is something I never completely understood until I researched the Langley history. Back in the 1970s artists, hippies and back-to-the-landers began moving into the town and put down deep roots that sprouted community spirit. Back then it was more remote and folks depended on each other. Four decades later that community spirit is still strong within the year-round resident population.

Plus this island is so dang beautiful. My home looks out over Possession Sound to Hat Island and beyond to the Cascade Mountain Range. I can see Mt. Baker to the north and, in the winter with the leaves off the trees, I can see Mt. Rainier to the south. Orcas swim past, grey whales feed in the shallow waters right below our bluff and our garden is alive with birds. The awe and wonder that I experience in this place everyday is integral to my writing and to the inspiration for my writing.

To explore that sense of how people relate to place here on Whidbey, I’ve started a collection of 41 short essays. This essay collection can be viewed at www.41WhidbeyPlaces.com.  You’ll find true stories about local, everyday people and the inspiration they have found in our parks, walks on the beach and even our green cemetery. 

Check back Dec 15th for Part II 

Spotlight On Beverly Magid

Beverly Magid, before writing her novel, was a journalist and an entertainment and celebrity PR executive, who interviewed many luminaries, including John Lennon, Jim Croce and the Monty Python gang, and as a publicist represented clients in music, tv and film,  ranging from Whoopi Goldberg, John Denver and Dolly Parton to Tom Skerritt, Martin Landau, Kathy Ireland and Jacqueline Bisset.
Beverly is a longtime west coast resident who still considers herself a New Yorker.  She was one of the founding members of The MorningStar Commission, a group of industry women who advocate for a more diverse, accurate portrayal of Jewish women in film and tv.  She is now an active member of Jewish World Watch, a California-based organization, which is on-the-ground in Africa helping to aid and educate the women and children victims in Darfur and The Congo.
She's a news and political junkie and supports environmental, animal and human rights issues.  In her spare time, she has been mentoring elementary children in reading as well as volunteering at the Los Angeles Zoo, working with the Research Department in observing animal behavior.

Interview Part II

Scroll down to read Part I

You've self-published both of your novels, what advice can you give authors considering going this route? 
If you’re as impatient as I am regarding agents and traditional publishing, self-publishing is a great venue and no longer stigmatized by either the reading public or the publishing industry.  Case in point: Fifty Shades of Gray (which started out first as a self-published book), need I say more?

Doing it yourself takes more work (but even with traditional publishing, the author is expected to do 90% anyway), and  you can decide on your own schedule and get the book out when you want. Many sites are available, I chose Createspace, which is connected to Amazon, which as we know makes life easier for your reader to obtain the book. With these sites you can do much of the work yourself, or in my case, I chose to have design and technical assistance, because I’m not experienced in either of these areas.

In my first go-round, I didn’t utilize social media enough, which five years ago hadn’t taken over so much of our lives. I did contact women’s groups and libraries for readings and book signings and I still maintain, that the human connection is the most rewarding (next to people actually purchasing the book).

What are you working on now?
Since the book just came out, I’ve been mostly preoccupied with the launch and getting the word out.  But I’ve been playing with the idea of either writing what happened to Leah after the end of SOWN IN TEARS, or another sequel idea which I thought about when I wrote FLYING OUT OF BROOKLYN.  I considered jumping twenty years and writing about Judith and her daughter, which would bring me into another of my favorite decades, the sixties. To me, the stories of women and their path to self-discovery is unending  and every era has its own particular obstacles.

Final Words of Wisdom
If you love to write, don’t think about the end result or who your target audience is.  Write because you love it and can think of no better way to spend your time and energy.  If you love to do it you will find the time because you have to.  My doctor (who is also a friend) once said to me as I complained that I might never have thousands of readers, that in medicine if he was able to save one  life or change it for the better, that was miracle enough for him.  And I realize the pleasure I have had when a reader tells me how much they have enjoyed my book.  In Judaism, they say “if you have saved even one life, it’s as if you have saved the whole world.”  If I’ve given even one reader some pleasure or insight by something I wrote, that’s enough world-saving for me.