More About the Author
Like many--if not most--people who write for a living, Jim Whiting was a voracious reader when he was a kid. Adventure, sports, history, biography, mystery--it seemed like he always had his nose in a book. But unlike many of his contemporary colleagues, he didn't share the same zeal for writing. It never occurred to him to be a storyteller. In fact, putting his thoughts on paper for school assignments was an onerous, enormous chore.
Then he had a stroke of extraordinary luck when he was a senior in high school. To fill a sudden vacancy in the English department, the school lured Miss Elizabeth Fraser out of retirement. She publicly praised his writing, and insisted that he read what he had written aloud to the class. At first he questioned her sanity as he turned red while stammering out his sentences in front of his peers. Her continued confidence in him soon wore down his doubts and he came to accept her judgment that he had talent.
This sense that he had the ability to string words and sentences together in a pleasing manner helped him to graduate cum laude from Whitman College. During his Whitman career, he also became a reasonably accomplished runner, eventually winning a number of races and kindling what has not only become a lifelong passion but also served as a source of his livelihood for many years.
Jim began his working life as an English teacher in an upscale Southern California school district. He was soon appointed as the advisor of the student newspaper at a new high school in the district even though he had no journalism background. His students were similarly inexperienced. Jim would literally learn a facet of newspaper publishing one night and pass it along to his kids the next day.
This pedagogic method of learning on-the-fly worked. At the end of the first semester the newspaper received All-American honors, awarded by the National Scholastic Press Association to the top five percent of student newspapers nationwide.
His writing career began several years later when he wrote an account of a singularly unpleasant bike excursion in France (part of which involved a near-lynch mob, but that's another story). Time transmuted the trip into a cautionary tale that he sent to Bike World magazine. He still remembers the excitement he felt a few weeks later when he ripped open a manila envelope to find a copy of the issue that included his story. The envelope also contained a check for fifteen bucks. The amount was trifling. The notion that someone would actually cut a check for his work was terrific. He was now a professional writer.
After a number of other freelance successes--the most notable of which was penning the first piece of original fiction to appear in Runner's World magazine following a run in the original Olympic Stadium in Olympia, Greece--he began a 17-year stint publishing Northwest Runner, a struggling regional running magazine at the time of his accession. Working by himself for much of his tenure, he produced issues that sometimes exceeded 100 pages in length and included page after page of very detailed schedule information and race results.
From the very beginning the magazine was profitable, a rarity in an industry in which publications can take years if not decades to show black ink. It was equally successful from an artistic standpoint, winning Publication of the Year honors in the Running Network, a group of two dozen similar publications. His fellow editors also created the Cal Ripken Ironman Award and bestowed it on him in recognition of his month-in and month-out efforts.
The most frequent comment he heard during those years was, "You must run a lot of marathons." Actually, he hadn't run a lot of marathons. He hadn't run any. When it was time to move on after producing 201 issues, he celebrated by running his one and only lifetime marathon. It was over the original marathon course in Greece, from the Plain of Marathon to downtown Athens. It didn't take him long to realize why he'd avoided running that distance. Like his earlier bike trip, it was not a pleasant experience. Once again he was able to sell his suffering.
His tenure at Northwest Runner also led to the opportunity to literally travel to one of the ends of the earth--more specifically, he was asked to cover the Antarctica Marathon, an apparent oxymoron that remains one of the peak experiences of his life. His accounts and pictures of the event appeared in more than a score of publications--both regional and national--following his return.
The next few years demonstrated Jim's versatility as a writer. He served as sports editor for the Bainbridge Island Review. He wrote online advertising copy. He acted as history sub-editor for gurubooks.com, an Irish-based company. He generated event and venue descriptions and took photos for America Online in cities such as Portland, Maine; Springfield, Missouri; Fresno, California; and of course Seattle.
It was at this point that he also became involved in children's nonfiction. He's now written more than 100 titles and edited another 150 or so, with subjects ranging from authors to zoologists and including classical musicians and contemporary pop icons, saints and scientists, emperors and explorers. Many of his books have received glowing reviews.
In a sense, therefore, his life has come full circle. He's involved with the same type of books that exerted such a strong fascination when he was growing up. He's also a very popular guy at social gatherings with all the great stories he's come across in the course of his research.
He's also ventured into a number of classrooms and served as a presenter at writers' conferences, conveying the enthusiasm for writing and for a good story that still animates him. Jim derives a special satisfaction from looking at his listings in the card catalogue in his local library. He is always pleased to see how many of his books are off the shelves and in the hands of youngsters who, like him, are transported by the miracle of words on a printed page.