For bestselling New York Times author Elizabeth Letts "there's no place like home."
The release of Letts' seventh book, "Finding Dorothy" coincides with the 80th anniversary of the movie "Wizard of Oz," produced in 1939.
The author said she knew she wanted to be a writer from the moment she stepped into the Malaga Cove Library as a little girl.
“My parents moved to Palos Verdes in 1966 when I was in kindergarten," said Letts. "I started going to the Malaga Cove Library, and the librarian, Mrs. Barkley, was my idol. By the time I was in the second grade, I couldn’t think of anything I wanted to do but read and write books.”
Letts' historical fiction "Finding Dorothy" is told through the perspective of Maud Gage Baum, widow of author L. Frank Baum, who wrote "Wonderful Wizard of Oz."
When Baum learns MGM is adapting her husband's book for the movie in 1938, the 77-year-old widow worms her way onto the set. There, she meets Judy Garland, offers advice and ensures producers stay true to the Oz book. Baum relates to the young Garland as a dreamer and vows to protect her.
“As I researched the Baums, I realized that their own life together had inspired most of the characters and incidents in the (Wizard of Oz),” said Letts.
As Letts gets ready to promote her book, she said it's been a pretty heady few weeks. She's been on NBC's The Today Show and "Finding Dorothy" is being featured in People magazine, she said.
Locally, she'll sign the book at Pages in Manhattan Beach on Feb. 27.
When Letts graduated from college, she went into the Peace Corps.
“I was a big reader, and I always wrote privately,” she said. “When I got out of the Peace Corps, I needed to be able to earn a living, so I went to nursing school thinking I’ll become a nurse. I’ll have flexible hours, I can live wherever I want, and nursing will be a great career for a writer."
Then, her career as a nurse-midwife, marriage and four children kept her busy. Letts didn't write her first novel until she was 40 years old.
“I got kind of a late start," she said. "I sold my first book in 2003, it came out in 2005, and I stopped working as a nurse in 2014—a long time. It’s like 20 years until I was an 'overnight success.' It was a lot of working without a lot of recognition, but I just kept going.”
Letts said she wrote while her children were in school. She'd stop writing a half-hour before they came home so she could do the dishes.
The Palos Verdes Peninsual resident is also is the author of six other books including "The Eighty-Dollar Champion," a #1 New York Times bestseller; and "The Perfect Horse," which won the 2017 PEN Center USA Literary Award for research nonfiction.
Now, that she's a successful writer, her routine is similar.
"I spend a lot of time doing things that aren’t writing, social media, doing interviews, answering emails," said Letts.
On a good day, Letts said she spends four hours of solid writing time. But, when she's in the middle of promotions, as she is now with "Finding Dorothy," she spends more time on marketing.
Her next book—another horse story—already under contract at Random House.
“I’d already sold the proposal to them,” Letts said, “ but when they bought "Finding Dorothy," my editor called me and asked me to push the other book back a year, so I did. It will be a while before it comes out, because nonfiction is slower, but people love these horse stories and I love horse stories too.”
When she has extra time, Letts enjoys sharing her writing experiences with readers and aspiring writers of all ages. “I’ve done a lot of volunteering in Palos Verdes. I’ve spoken to members of the Village several times, led workshops at Dapplegray Elementary School’s annual Arts Alive, spoken at writer’s groups, book clubs and community organizations. I love working with aspiring writers.”
“I’ve worked hard and I feel very fortunate,” Letts said. “Writing is a tough profession. I consider myself lucky that I get to do what I want to do. It’s a good place to be.”
“For me,” Letts said, “the most important places to promote my books are the independent bookstores—the mom and pop stores all over America. The smaller book store owners are people who passionately love books and they read them and hand-sell them to their customers. “
Letts will sign "Finding Dorothy" on Feb. 27 at 7 p.m. at Pages, an independent bookstore, in Manhattan Beach.
For more information, visit Elizabethletts.com.