Bellingham's Rebecca Helm Beardsall works in the extended education department at Western Washington University. She recently edited a collection of essays, "Western Washington Reflections: Stories from the Puget Sound to Vancouver."
She will be joined by some of the contributors for a talk about the book at 7 p.m. Friday, June 14, at Village Books, 1200 11th St.
Question: You grew up in Pennsylvania, where you left a legacy of writing and collecting other people's stories. What sparks your interest in local history?
Answer: I have always been interested in hearing stories. In 2005, Colleen Lutz Clemons and I presented creative non-fiction essays focusing on the land of Pennsylvania at a conference, and we realized our panel could be the beginning of a larger collection. I think there is something so special about linking the land and culture of a place into an individual's story.
When I moved to Washington in 2011, I spent a lot of time asking people about their stories. Bellingham is rich with people from different places. So the stories I heard were not only about where they grew up and how that shaped them, but also about why they selected Bellingham as the place to settle. And how the move provided a new life, and how the city and its community are what continue to shape them.
Q: What differences and similarities do you find in your collections?
A: From my experience, Pennsylvanians have a sense of rootedness in place, in their towns and communities. However, Washingtonians have a more fluid relationship with place ... and maybe that is because in one way or another they are always on the move. I don't necessarily mean moving to new locations, which does happen, but more that they are outside exploring the world.
Where they are similar is in the connections with family and friends, because just as the place shapes us so do the people we come in contact with, and in all three collections the relationships ring out loud and clear.
Q: What has been your career path?
A: I have always loved books and the stories hidden inside the pages. So it seemed quite natural to continue on a path of discovering the mystery of words. I received my B.A. in English at DeSales University and my M.A. in English from Lehigh University. It was at Lehigh were I met my co-editor, Colleen.
Q: What do you do at WWU?
A: I am a communication consultant for extended education at Western. I spend my days working on marketing plans, writing and editing various forms of media. I'm thrilled to be working with such a great group of people.
Q: When you assist writers, what helps them become better writers?
A: I think my favorite part about working with writers is to see the nugget of a story in a first draft. Writers, when writing personal non-fiction, tend to skirt around the heart of the story. Many times this is because it is painful or just something they don't see as important.
I like to see the story within the story and encourage them to ditch the rest and focus on the real story. I know that this has helped me as a writer.
For example, in our Philadelphia book, my story "Waiting with the Holsteins" was completely different when I started, but my nugget produced the final heartfelt and painful story about my brother's death. This is what I love about writing.
Q: What do you enjoy about living in Whatcom County?
A: As mentioned in my story, "Walking Bellingham," in the anthology, I love the trails. Every time I walk on the trails around Bellingham I am filled with awe and gratitude that I get to live and play here. We have only been here two years, but I feel rooted as if I have been here all my life - and as a Pennsylvania girl, having that rootedness is extremely important.