"B is for Berkshires," written by Joan Duris and photographed by Gillian Jones, officially launches this month. We sat down with Joan to talk with her about the inspiration for the book, her process, and challenges along the way.
Why did you decide to write a book about the Berkshires?
Melissa Kim, my editor at Islandport Press, contacted me about the project. She liked my writing style from previous submissions and thought the book was a good match for me. I was familiar with the Berkshires, and knew I’d be able to find unique angles that would fascinate kids and adults. Prior to this project, I only had magazine writing credits, so after a brief moment of panic, I said yes. I’m grateful that Melissa had enough faith in my writing to offer me a chance to write my debut book.
B is for Berkshires is an alphabet book. How did you select topics for each letter that represented the Berkshires?
We had a tight production schedule, so it truly was a collaborative effort between myself, Gillian (the photographer), and Melissa. Gillian and I developed working A-Z lists, Melissa reviewed our suggestions, then posted a working list for our team. We all added comments and suggested alternatives. My initial notes were pretty fluid, where an interesting topic could potentially be covered under several different letters. Gillian posted photo options to help us narrow down the topics, and Melissa made the final A-Z selections. The letter A was the last topic to be approved, just two weeks before my deadline.
What sources did you use to find interesting facts about the area?
I started my research online, and also looked through guidebooks I have in my home library. Then I added a collection of books about waterfalls and hiking trails in the Berkshires, and picked up a map and Berkshires guidebook that listed websites for everything. I also made day trips to the area about once a month to talk with people and collect brochures. Primary sources were key to finding fun bits of information for the book. Besides in-person interviews, I had many fascinating email and phone conversations.
Were any letters particularly challenging, and on the flip side, were any topics easy to write about?
I knew "M is for Museum" was going to be difficult because I’m an outdoors person. And how was I going to cover the diversity of Berkshire museums in a coherent and interesting manner? Melissa did a wonderful job crystalizing the concept.
Another topic that surprised me was "E is for Eagles." I thought bald eagles would be easy to write about; instead they ended up being a challenging topic—there's simply too much fascinating information about them, and about their reintroduction to the state. I finally narrowed down my focus for the book, knowing I’d be able to include some of the other interesting material on the “Beyond the Berkshires” page on my website.
On the flip side, the “I is Ice” page almost wrote itself after Gillian shared her photo with us. As a Nordic patroller, I was familiar with the science behind the formation of rime ice.
What audience do you hope to reach with B is for Berkshires?
Gillian’s stunning, full-page photos and the brilliant design give the book visual variety and appeal. Tourists, seasonal visitors, and local residents will hopefully snap up the book from stores and gift shops. But mostly "B is for Berkshires" is for kids. The book encourages the reader to explore, imagine possibilities, and discover the hidden corners of the Berkshires. Librarians, teachers, and homeschoolers will find my book has an interesting blend of science, history, and culture that's mixed with bits of humor. I’ve also developed a teacher’s guide matching the book to a variety of curriculum standards.