Interview: Travel Writer Crystal Wood on Research, Writing About Your Hometown and Favorite Oregon Destinations

Crystal Wood is the author of two travel guides, one about Las Vegas, her hometown, and the other about Oregon, her adopted state.

Crystal Wood took to the road to research and write an entertaining travel guide, BACKROADS & BYWAYS OF OREGON: DRIVES, DAY TRIPS & WEEKEND EXCURSIONS. As if that weren’t impressive enough, she did it as a new mom, often with her daughter (and the diaper bag) along for the ride.

BACKROADS AND BYWAYS OF OREGON was published by The Countryman Press in 2010, and it is available online or in your local bookstore’s travel section.

The guide is a wonderful resource for visitors and locals alike. Crystal highlights scenic loop tours in various regions of the state, grouping them in easy-to-navigate clusters.  Her writing style is conversational, and her humor and personality transform what could be a list of destinations into an entertaining, compelling read. Each chapter is full of highlights, anecdotes and local color. Crystal included many evocative photos that capture the charming, spectacular and natural highlights of the great state of Oregon.

Seriously, pick up this book and you’ll want to book a plane ticket west as soon as possible. Or if you’re an Oregon resident, get a copy and find your way to some of the state’s hidden attractions because they’re just a short hop off the beaten path.

Crystal and I met in 2004 when living on the Oregon coast. She was a public relations authority in our small community, and I was managing editor of the local weekly newspaper. I had the great joy of traveling with Crystal on several of her Oregon research trips, with my baby girl in the back seat next to hers, and BACKROADS AND BYWAYS includes some of my photography.

Along with her impressive public relations background and her Oregon book, Crystal coauthored LAS VEGAS: GREAT DESTINATIONS with Leah Koepp, also published by The Countryman Press in 2010.

It’s my honor to introduce travel writer and public relations guru Crystal Wood. Welcome, Crystal!

1. Tell us about your book, BACKROADS & BYWAYS OF OREGON.

Backroads and Byways of Oregon was published by The Countryman Press.

The book contains ten trips ranging from those that take an afternoon to those that take a weekend. From the very beginning, my intent was to take travelers off the two main freeways (I-84 and I-5) without taking them too far out of their way from their final destination. So many folks see Oregon from these two highways but aren’t sure they should venture too far from the main routes. What’s there to see? Can I do it and still make it to my destination in time? Special circumstances (age of fellow passengers, type of car, etc.) can present challenges as well.

I wrote BACKROADS & BYWAYS OF OREGON with many types of travelers in mind. Sometimes travel writers focus on their likes. My goal was to appeal to as many hobbies and interests as possible. If one trip had interesting geological facts, an enigmatic Victorian home, and the state’s only carnivorous plant, I made sure the novice geologist, botanist and architect knew about it. I also tried hard to describe without critiquing. If the motel had a John Wayne-themed room, I didn’t knock it just because I don’t enjoy it. The Western enthusiast knows the motel is there and to request the Rooster Cogburn suite.

2. You have an impressive public relations background and have done a lot of publicity oriented writing projects. How is travel writing different than, say, crafting press releases? How did your professional background inform the way you approached such a huge amount of material and focused it into a cohesive guide?

I have to say that for me it wasn’t all too different. I was taught to write press releases by journalism professors. This included being brief and leaving the unnecessary and fluffy descriptive words out of the release. Then I left college for the real world and every client wanted fluff.

In PR, the publicist has to balance between two very different worlds. The media wants releases with as little character as possible. I mean they read loads of them. Why not give them the info that they need in a succinct and concise release? They’ll be grateful and you’ll earn their trust and respect. But it’s the client that’s paying you. They’re paying for you to accomplish for them (with media hits) and they like their stuff pretty. And it doesn’t matter if it’s a group of oncologists or an RV show, they all think more is better. Very frustrating. To write both books, I got to use my own balance of adverbs and adjectives vs. factual writing. I can only describe Anthony Lake and Gunsight Mountain in eastern Oregon so much. The reader is already interested (or going to) Oregon.

3. You wrote another travel guidebook, LAS VEGAS: GREAT DESTINATIONS, with Leah Koepp. What was it like writing about your childhood hometown versus writing about your adopted state?

It was vastly different compared to writing about Oregon. I wrote with the security of knowing that I knew one of the most infamous cities in the country like only a few folks do.

In 1973, we moved to Las Vegas. My mom was a blackjack dealer when women dealing at any of the casinos on Las Vegas Boulevard (The Strip) were still a new concept. My step-father was a professional musician with some big names at that time.  My childhood gave me an unusual vantage point. I not only watched the city grow but also noticed the deeper changes first-hand. Most every large city in America has changed over the generations, but there’s only one Las Vegas.

For the Las Vegas book I was a witness, but for the Oregon book, I was an explorer.  I love both, but I wrote about Oregon to let readers know what fantastic places, history and beauty is here. I wrote about Las Vegas not only to show visitors how to enjoy such an odd place, but also to defend my hometown.

4. You did much of your research when your daughter was really young. What was it like plotting routes and visiting communities while caring for a sweet little passenger? Do you have any tips to offer new moms who are embarking on professional projects?

While I was traveling and writing the books, I thought “this is hard.” Then later when it was all done, I looked back and thought “Wow that was really, really hard.”

It wasn’t simple, and it added another dynamic to writing that I don’t recommend. It burnt me out quickly, researching and writing two books while caring for a baby. As you know, I have no family nearby and my husband’s work schedule made it so he was unable to help much.

My advice to any other new moms thinking of doing something similar is to ask for help. From other moms (such as yourself) and from friends who are able to. One friend was unemployed at the time and loves little ones. It was so helpful for her to come on a trip with me. She even took notes while I rattled them off as we drove. Her notes were the best I had for the entire book. That being said, I am proud that I did it and I have some lovely memories.

5. What was the most unexpected, or the most unusual, place you visited while researching the Oregon book? Why?

The only carnivorous plants in Oregon are located in the Darlingtonia Wayside, just off Highway 101 north of Florence. Photo courtesy of Crystal Wood.

That is so hard to pinpoint. I was surprised or amazed on each trip. Either I came across something I wasn’t expecting, or the spot was even better than I thought it would be. The best I can do is list a few favorites.

  • The Oregon Trail Museum (east of Baker City) most definitely pleasantly surprised me. The opening exhibit uses life-size mannequins in a giant diorama similar to those many of us made in elementary school. Except these ones have recorded dialogue about their hardships on the trail. Talk about hokey. But right after that section, the museum really takes the time and effort to teach every age about the experience of those on the trail. I learned about what provisions were taken and how it was packed in such a tiny wagon. The stoves designed just for the wagon ended up being a useless purchase and were found abandoned along the route. I also didn’t expect to be so impressed with looking at actual ruts made by the wagons in the dirt around the museum. I left there with a much better appreciation of those that traipsed the trail.
  • Three Pools located in Opal Creek Wilderness (off Highway 22) was not only astoundingly beautiful but also so easy to access. So many travelers just assume it’s a long and difficult trek to the amazing spots, and this one is just a simple walk from a parking lot. Granted, the lot is 23 miles from the highway, but it’s so worth it.
  • At Shore Acres State Park, there’s an impressive glass-enclosed observation deck for winter storm watching. But even more surprising than that is a group called Shoreline Education Awareness. These volunteers hang out in the park at Seal Lion Lookout between Memorial and Labor Day weekends sharing their vast knowledge of the area’s animal life, fauna, etc. to anyone who’ll listen. They set up telescopes for a better view and are more than happy to answer questions. An unexpected tour guide!

6. In your many travels, what did you learn about Oregon and Oregonians? Anything you didn’t know from living here for 11 years?

As I traveled for the book, I learned so much from Oregonians. In fact, I learned so much that I thanked them in the dedication. There’s a quiet pride that Oregonians feel for their state. And because it isn’t boisterous, there aren’t a lot of outsiders that know how interesting our state is. However, I enjoy telling everyone about all the Oregon’s fantastically interesting facts and history. Whenever I get the opportunity, I spread the word. I talk to folks visiting, new residents and those who have never put one foot in the state.

7. If you could go anywhere in the world, and have the chance to write about the experience, where would you go? Why?

I’ve written and erased the answer to this question multiple times. I’m horrible at choosing, especially from a list as vast as the entire world. Could someone else choose for me? As long as I have enough time to research, read and learn as much as I can before I go. Good Lord, I’d like to erase this answer too.

How about Sri Lanka?

Thanks so much being interviewed on Seven Questions, Crystal! Check out her amazing travel books, BACKROADS & BYWAYS OF OREGON: DRIVES, DAY TRIPS & WEEKEND EXCURSIONS and LAS VEGAS: GREAT DESTINATIONS. The Seven Question series features writers, artists and other creative professionals. For more information, check out the Author Interviews page.

About Laura Stanfill

Publisher, Forest Avenue Press
This entry was posted in Books, Seven Questions, Writing and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Interview: Travel Writer Crystal Wood on Research, Writing About Your Hometown and Favorite Oregon Destinations

  1. Yet another book I need to buy when I have the money! Crystal, I can’t wait to get your book, because I’ve adopted Oregon as my home, too, and I really want to get out and see a lot more of it.

    Thanks, Laura, for another great interview and for bringing another good book to my attention.

  2. Crystal says:

    Thanks Laura for the opportunity. And welcome to Oregon Leanne! You’ll never get bored of your new state. There’s always something fascinating around the next turn.

    • You’re welcome, Crystal! It was great to feature you and write about your accomplishments. Two books published–amazing! I’m still so impressed by your work.

  3. Kimberly says:

    Gotta say, I moved to Oregon just to explore it…I’ve been fascinated with this state since I was 12 years old and Crystal, through her journeys in this book, have made me realize that I made the right move moving here from 3,000 miles away. My summer, this one and next, will be spent plotting all the trips I want to take around this beautiful state that you listed in your book. I promise you, every one of them (even if I’ve already visited them 😉 Thank you Crystal for being such an awesome writer, explorer, and friend 🙂

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