Today’s Friend Friday guest, Frances Wood, and I bonded over birds. I am an amateur (VERY!) birdwatcher and, after meeting one another at the now-defunct Whidbey Island Writers Conference, Frances gifted me with a copy of her beautiful Brushed By Feathers: A Year of Birdwatching in the West. It turns out that we not only share a passion for birds, we share a passion for history so I am thrilled to announce that her historical novel, Becoming Beatrice, (Blue Heron Press) has just been published and she is going to tell us all about it!
Growing up without a personal hero would have been tragic. I can’t imagine finding self worth and creating a meaningful life without one.
I’m not talking about supermodel heroes, Wonder Woman, movie stars or even Marie Curie. They were too far out of my sphere for me to relate to. And I’m not talking about my engineer father or school principal grandfather; they were men. I needed a personal female hero.
The fact that my competent, college-educated mother never worked outside the home after my older brother was born, disqualified her. I remember a great aunt who traveled, wore exotic clothes and fine jewelry, but even she seemed too normal to be a hero to me.
At the age of 12, I went to live with my grandmother and it was she who began to tell the stories of her mother, my great grandmother, Nina. Nina had died several years before I was born. In pictures, she looked like a sweet old grandmother type. But then I learned that at the age of 17, Nina boarded a steamer in Oakland, California, all by herself and traveled to Snohomish, Washington Territory, to accept a teaching job in that scrappy, uncivilized frontier town.
Not only that, she left her fiancé back in Oakland and later totally dumped him for a dashing German furniture maker in Snohomish. Nina’s Oakland family had loved the fiancé and didn’t approve of the new guy.
I begged my grandmother for more Nina stories and learned that she struggled to teach her class of ruffians and that when her German fella was thrown from a horse, she broke all rules of propriety to visit his room and help nurse him back to health. Nina would never become famous, but she was her own person and created her own life. Somehow, knowing that her genetic makeup was wiggling around in me, gave me a personal hero, someone that I could relate to and emulate.
After my fourth book about Pacific Northwest natural and social history, I decided it was time to share Nina’s story with other young women and men. I created my own character, Beatrice Blake, and wrote a fictional account based on the stories I’d heard about Nina and her family. My character is all of Nina and also parts of me.
And I expect that readers will also find parts of themselves in this book. Her struggles include many evergreen themes that challenge young people today: finding self worth, learning to make decisions separate from parents and dealing with racism, sexism and bullying.
Writing Becoming Beatrice reminded me of the importance of having personal heroes. I hope readers will come away with ideas for discovering their own heroes and mentors. As Beatrice found and followed her own golden tread leading her into her future, I hope all readers will use her example to follow their own hearts as they create unique and meaningful lives.
Frances Wood holds an MFA in creative writing with a focus on young adult fiction. She is the author of four books including Brushed by Feathers: A Year of Birdwatching in the West ( Fulcrum Publishing.) Frances was co-creator and writer for BirdNote, a daily two-minute radio program on the intriguing stories of birds. An award winning journalist, she has published hundreds of articles relating to social and natural history. Frances taught school for over a decade, including a year in inner-city Liverpool, England. Frances lives on Whidbey Island in north Puget Sound, just across the bay from where her ancestors settled in Snohomish, Washington, the setting for her first novel, Becoming Beatrice. The book is now available from IngramSpark and my website.