As a 1970s college student, Carol Barbier Rolnick drove through Baltimore as fast as possible, because "everyone knew there was nothing worth stopping for."
Quite a contrast with last spring, when "Wish You Were Here: A Guide to Baltimore City for Natives and Newcomers" -- the book she co-authored with fellow Howard countians Pam Makow- ski Goresh and Carolyn Males -- was published by Woodholme House in Baltimore.
"I have written travel articles about other countries," Males says. "My articles described not only tourist attractions but also the people, neighborhoods and spirit of each country. I wanted to do the same for Baltimore."
Rolnick, a volunteer and training director for Baltimore's National Aquarium and the mother of a 14-year-old son and a 12-year-old daughter, wanted to share her enthusiasm for local attractions.
"Baltimore seemed like an interesting city," she says. "The only problem was I worked downtown but never had time to see any other attractions. The book gave me an excuse to explore Baltimore and share what I learned. It also helped me discover places to go with my children."
As a mother, Goresh marveled at Baltimore's variety and accessibility.
"It's closer than Washington -- but it's almost a secret," she says. "The book was a way to share my excitement about Baltimore with other parents."
For two years, the three friends explored Baltimore's neighborhoods, talked with residents, took tours with architects, historians and authors, and learned the city's history.
Males recalls a "Formstone tour" with an architect. From 1938 until the 1960s, Baltimoreans used the simulated stone to dress up house facades. (Highlandtown is a good place to see examples of Formstone.)
Rolnick thinks readers will especially like the book's "Did You Know" vignettes of famous Baltimoreans Eubie Blake, H. L. Mencken and Babe Ruth and lesser known city residents such as Betsy Patterson, who married Napoleon Bonaparte's younger brother, Jerome.
"In the past few weeks, local readers have e-mailed me saying they've learned things from our book they never knew before," Rolnick says.
Males and Goresh see "Wish You Were Here" as demystifying Baltimore and its residents. The authors recommend using a restaurant as a base for exploring a Baltimore neighborhood.
They spotlight local walking tours ("City Jaunts," "Neighborhood Tours" and "Black Heritage Tours") and invite residents to visit city churches and stroll the surrounding neighborhoods.
"Visit the Streetcar Museum, Dentistry Museum and Fire Museum," Goresh suggests.
"Baltimore's cultural attractions are great," adds Males. "The American Visionary Art Museum is an excellent folk art museum, and the Baltimore Opera is tops."
Rolnick and Goresh live in Ellicott City, Males in Clarksville. The three friends met at a local women's writing group in the 1980s. Rolnick has written articles, poems and novels. Goresh has been a writer for Welcome Home, a Vienna, Va., magazine for mothers. From 1989 to 1994, she was editor of that magazine and co-editor of the book "Discovering Motherhood."
Males has been a professional writer for nearly 20 years, taught writing classes at Howard Community College, written articles for Reader's Digest and Travel Holiday and co-authored eight romance novels and two nonfiction books (in addition to "Wish You Were Here"). Also, she is host of the weekly show "Travel Adventures Near and Far" on Howard County's public access Channel 73.
The authors are focusing on other projects.
Males is working on a murder mystery and a book about the "Trickle Up Program," which helps poor families worldwide. Rolnick has nearly finished a suspense novel. Goresh describes her new project only as a "quirky gift book."
Though they're looking ahead, Rolnick says, they are gratified by the response their Baltimore book has received and are proud of their work.
"We want our book to seem like we're sitting around the table over coffee, talking about Baltimore," she says. "We wish you were here!"