May 30, 2012BERLIN - It's hard to believe, looking at the man today, dressed in a suit and bowtie, that his life's goal had once been to be a beatnik poet, reading his poetry in the coffee houses of Greenwich Village in New York City, accompanied by bongo drums he played himself.
But life goes on, time goes on, and his career path after that, well that's all due to a zucchini festival.
The once beatnik wannabee is none other than Fritz Wetherbee, well-known chronicler of New Hampshire history on Channel 9, who was the guest speaker at the Writers' Conference and Book Festival held last Saturday at the Northern Forest Heritage Park.
Wetherbee claimed it was all a mistake, his getting on television.
"Some of us get to a point in our lives where we wonder how we got here," he said. "I've always had great respect for people who've always known what they want to be. I never knew what I wanted to do."
But after serving in the military for a few years, what he most wanted then was to be a poet, a beatnik, reading his works in New York City, something he did do for a year and a half.
"But then I got married, pregnant, not necessarily in that order," he joked, "and realized Greenwich Village wasn't going to do it financially."
So he then got a job as a reporter with the Monadnock Ledger, a paper that combined with its rival, the Peterborough Transcript a few years ago and became the Ledger Transcript.
"I was the only reporter, and photographer, and the publisher at that time didn't care what I wrote about as long as he had a paper every week," he said. "It was great training."
This is where the zucchini festival came it. It was held every year in nearby Harrisville and was a big deal in the area.
It was his knowledge of this festival that got him a job with New Hampshire Public Television as a cameraman. "I lied through my teeth to get that one," he said. "Then I learned the job before they caught up with me."
Then a new radio station began in Peterborough. It was owned by Hearst and people from out of state were brought up, people who constantly mispronounced the names of places, and other New Hampshire words.
"I told them they needed me. I knew where things were and could pronounce words correctly," Wetherbee said.
Wetherbee then freelanced for awhile, doing a series on covered bridges in New Hampshire.
Then Channel 9 came calling. A series called Chronicle had been a success on a Boston station and the owner of both stations felt they could duplicate that up here, for less. Originally they repeated stories done on the Boston station regarding New Hampshire, but quickly ran out of material and approached Wetherbee.
The rest, of course, is history, New Hampshire history, a topic Wetherbee focuses on for New Hampshire Chronicle.
After 10 years, Wetherbee had about 2500 stories in the can and that's when he met George Geers, head of the New Hampshire Writers' Project, as well as owner of Plaidswede Publishing. Geers took some of these stories and made them into a book.
"Then something wonderful happened," Wetherbee said. He explained he had dinner guests one night and a phone call came in. "I could say to my guests something I've always wanted to say, 'excuse me, it's my publisher'."
More books have followed.
About a year ago Wetherbee found himself running out of material and created the now well known character Binky Sears. He said he thought doing stories about Binky would be easy, as he was a fictional character, but he found it hard. The key, he discovered, was to think of a situation first and then write around it.
Wetherbee said he is kept to a two minute maximum for the Binky stories, and said there's lesson to be learned in that.
"Saying something with fewer words is like buying something with less money," he said, concluding his talk.
Wetherbee was the main speaker at the conference, but the day-long event had many other activities. Several local and regional writers attended giving workshops on poetry, nonfiction, fiction and social media during the first half of the day. Their books were available throughout the day for sale and signing.
In the afternoon Geers spoke on the many ways to publish a book today. He said he was a traditional publisher, meaning if he accepts a book, his company bears all the costs of publication and , hopefully, sends the writer a check at the end of it all. There are many ways to self-publish as well, but he advised would-be authors that a good editor is a must.
"You need to have your book edited - professionally," he said. "Book editors are book editors. There is a style for books, Chicago style, that is different from that of other writing fields. A good book editor doesn't want you to be embarrassed. They want you to have a second book."
Also available for the day was a book appraiser, Wally Keniston, from Eyes of the Owl Books in Wolfeboro. He said he had seen some nice things, including 100-year old handwritten journal of a young girl's trip from Boston to New York and a colored geological map of New Hampshire done in the 1950, but nothing that would allow the owner to retire.
Saturday's event was the second annual Writers' Conference and Book Festival put on by the N.H. Writers' Project.