When governmental architect Wendy Bertrand retired in 1994, she started writing a little bit each day — about her life, her travels and her career.
By the year 2000, that impulse coalesced into the determination to write a memoir, and the discipline to spend several hours each day doing so, while living at her Noe Valley home during the winter months in San Francisco.
Twelve years later, the result is a beautifully designed, ink-printed, hard-bound book titled “Enamored with Place: As Woman + As Architect,” whose official launch date is Sept. 21, the first day of the North Coast Redwoods Writers’ Conference (NCRWC).
Her memoir touches on her early years in La Jolla, her travels in Europe and subsequent trip as a young adult around the world, her marriage to a Frenchman, how she finally found a field of study she loved, the birth and raising of her daughter, her experiences as a single mother working in the field during a time when very few women were architects, and finally, architecture itself: what it is and does, the way it works, its beauties and practicalities, as well as its challenges and shortcomings, as practiced.
Said one reviewer on Amazon.com, “... it’s a wonderful account of an extraordinary woman’s journey to become an architect and to work in that profession...Wendy worked ‘in a man’s world’ for many years. In this book she tells us about the special ways she approached living and working, both professionally and personally.”
Bertrand, who is also a 20-year summertime resident of Gasquet, cites two major influences that helped shape the kernel of her memoir. Both were books; one was a work titled “The Making of a Woman Surgeon,” which she found very interesting. “I picked it up in an airport in 1980; I was traveling a lot then,” she said. “I thought ‘well, gee, I would like to do this about my life.’”
The other book was “The Writing Life” by Annie Dillard, which discusses from many angles the process of writing itself.
“You must protect yourself from those who challenge your time and worth,” Bertrand cautioned, “from those who just cannot grasp how much time it really takes.”
The core writing of “Enamored with Place” took her about five years; she hired a developmental editor/writing coach to facilitate the process.
“She gave me writing exercises to do, like a sports coach,” Bertrand said. The other seven years were spent on editing, figuring out how to get the book published, finding a printer, working with a book designer and, now that it is in print, publicizing her book and getting it into the public’s hands.
Bertrand will share her experiences and further insights into the self-publishing process as part of a “Panel on Publishing” held Sept. 22 at the NCRWC. She will be a panelist along with local poet/English professor Ken Letko and Rebecca Olson, the managing editor of Calyx Press in Portland, Ore.
Since first attending NCRWC in 2001, Bertrand has returned as many times as possible. One year, she submitted an early version of a chapter to be critiqued. This year she returns as one of six presenters, who also include Letko, Olson, Steve Heller (fiction/nonfiction), Becca Conrad Lawton (nonfiction/fiction/poetry) and Jody Gehrman (fiction/play writing).
In addition to the publishing panel, Bertrand will be participating in an all-presenters session on “The Place I Started From” at 6:15 p.m. and giving a reading at 7:15 p.m. — both on Friday, Sept. 21, an evening which is free to the public. She will also teach a workshop titled “Shaping Memoir” on Sept. 22.
Bertrand is giving several preview book signings and short presentations prior to the conference, notably: from 5-7 p.m. this Friday at Jefferson State Books in Crescent City (464-7800); from 5:30-6 p.m. Saturday in Brian Scott Gallery (541-412-8676), as part of the Brookings Second Saturday Art Walk; and from noon to 1 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 12, at the Humboldt State University Library Fishbowl in Arcata.
In addition to being available at Jefferson State Books and Made By US 101, Bertrand’s memoir can be ordered online at http://wendybertrand.com/enamored-with-place/.
For more information about the writers’ conference, visit www.ncrwc.org or call (707) 465-2300.