Childhood in India inspired author’s novels

Author Betsy Woodman will discuss her series of books and the joys and hardships of writing on Sept. 13 i n Oak Park.
Author Betsy Woodman will discuss her series of books and the joys and hardships of writing on Sept. 13 i n Oak Park.

Author Elizabeth Berg said she chose Betsy Woodman for the next Oak Park Writing Matters series because once you meet Woodman and read her books, “you are no doubt going to love” them.

Woodman, a New Hampshire native, will read from her Jana Bibi series, and speak on Sept. 13 in Oak Park about the joys and hardships of writing and getting published.

“Betsy’s books are utterly charming, and reading them makes me feel that, on balance, life is beautiful,” Oak Parker Berg said. “In today’s world, that’s worth a lot.” Berg founded the Writing Matters series, and Woodman will be the second author featured.

Woodman’s books feature main character Jana Bibi, a fortune teller, and are set in India where Woodson lived for 10 years as a child.

Woodman credits Berg and her sister Lee Woodman for inspiring her to continue working to get her novels published.

“You need cheerleaders” Woodman said. “My sister, Lee, is most responsible, because she kept nagging me: ‘write that book.’ She’d send me little stickers that read, ‘put this on your refrigerator.’”

It’s not that Woodman hadn’t written and been published before. When she was in her 20s, she wrote book reviews for The Winchester Star and later Publisher’s Weekly. She also was a writer and editor for the award-winning documentary series, “Experiencing War,” which aired on Public Radio International.

But fiction was calling. So at the age of 40, Woodman began writing “chunks of prose and calling them novels,” she said. “They’re in the drawer and that’s where they’ll remain.”

She sent her fiction to potential publishers, “and got the proverbial sheets of rejection.”

After a while, she said she needed a break from “that constant diet of rejection,” so she joined a Scottish music group and learned to play the recorder. “I poured my energy into that,” she said. But she returned to her novel-writing because “Lee and Elizabeth were on my case.

“And suddenly this character just strode into my head. Writers talk that way and you think they’re a little balmy. But that’s how it happened,” she said.

The character was a fortune teller with a Scottish background who had a talking parrot.

Woodman finally found a publisher, Henry Holt and Co., intrigued with the character and gave her a deadline to complete three books, “Jana Bibi’s Excellent Fortunes,” “Love Potion Number Ten,” and her latest, “Emeralds Included.”

“I love deadlines. I like assignments. I’m an overgrown 7-year-old who loves to be told what to do,” said Woodman, who is in her 60s.

She said the book incorporates what she remembers about India — “the visuals, the mountain setting, the Himalayas, the smells, the sounds, the sentence rhythms, the speech patterns, the mix of people, the Hindus, Muslims, Christians. My parents were very social. We had a parade throughout our house of all kinds of people with different nationalities and professions.”

Woodman said her books are well-received, especially in India, where people have told her she correctly captured the flavor of the country. Henry Holt and Co. arranged for the books to be published by Random House in India, she said.

Woodman said she’s looking forward to reading and speaking at the Writing Matters series. “They’re doing it in a wonderful venue, the Hemingway House. They’re having food, wine and an opener with an Indian girl who will talk about why reading is so important — and they’ll have a person telling fortunes.

“It will be a festive wonderful imaginative event. I will be reading a little bit from my books and then talking about why fiction is important and not just a frill. There are so many different reasons, but recently, a neuroscientist came up with research showing if you read fiction and your brain cells are activated, you actually have better social skills.”

Woodman said she thinks “books will be around for quite a while. That’s what people like. I think it’s great to have the option of electronic books. You can go on vacation and have 10 books in your handbag. But if I’m reading for pleasure, I want to have the book. I like to flip back and forth in the pages.”

Writing Matters presentation

When: 7- 9 p.m. Sept. 13

Where: Oak Park Arts Club/Hemingway Museum, 200 N. Oak Park Ave.

Cost: $10 admission

For more info: To reserve a seat, visit Elizabeth-Berg.net and look under Fun Things

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