The Book Monster Interview (published on 1/16/13)

Amy note: This interview was later in the blog tour. By this point, I'd also done a few school visits and I suddenly realized that there were more origins of the story One Came Home than I thought. I decided to come clean. Then -- because the discovery of new sources unnerved me somewhat (I mean, what kind of psychosis was this?) -- I added, "and those are the sources I know about . . ." just to give myself some leeway in the future.  

How did the idea for One Came Home come to you?

I just had my first school visits this past week, and that’s what the kids want to know too. Here’s the awful thing: every time they asked this question, my answer changed, and that’s no good! So this time I’m going to give a list:     

  • I didn’t start writing the book seriously until I had my setting – which is a fictional town that’s located near an enormous passenger pigeon nesting in southwestern Wisconsin. This nesting actually occurred in 1871. Finding out about the nesting was pretty much by chance – I’m a birder and so I’ll pick up a book on birds now and again. A few years ago I picked up A.W. Schorger’s The Passenger Pigeon. That book started the writing of One Came Home
  • But that’s not all! A few years ago, I saw a production of Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew.” The sister relationship in that play drove me crazy. I ranted and raved and vowed to “fix it.” This is not something I recommend saying about Shakespeare -- or to your actor husband, who knows (rightly) Shakespeare to be a genius. Though to my husband’s credit, he laughed and encouraged me to write it down.  
  • Then there’s the first person voice of thirteen-year old Georgie Burkhardt. In my earlier middle grade novel, That Girl Lucy Moon, there’s a character named Miss Ilene Viola Wiggins. She’s a 68 year-old businesswoman who runs Turtle Rock, Minnesota with her pointed philanthropic giving. The editor of that book and I cut about a hundred pages of that character (all for the best, believe me), but I couldn’t forget Miss Wiggins’ voice. One of the women in my writing group told me I should try writing that character as say, a thirteen year-old. When I did, the beginnings of Georgie Burkhardt appeared. 

And those are the sources I know about…

Since One Came Home is set in 1871, what type of research did you do for the setting and characters?

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Well, first there was A.W. Schorger’s The Passenger Pigeon.  Without that book I couldn’t have written about the birds -- there’s too much misinformation about passenger pigeons out there. So in order to write about them credibly, I needed an academic work that combed through hundreds and hundreds of sources. A.W. Schorger did that. And this was in the 1950s – long before the internet. Schorger actually went to local archives, ordered microfilm, and wrote letters. It took him years.

Next, I set the book in a fictional town, but in the basic location of Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin. In the late nineteenth century, H.H. Bennett was their local photographer. Photographs are very helpful when you’re trying to set yourself down in the middle of a setting. (Bennett was an amazing photographer. I've attached one from Wikipedia to the right, but you should see more of them to get the scope of his work. Here’s a link.

Other primary sources included: Captain Randolph Marcy’s The Prairie Traveler  (quoted in the book); Jessup Whitehead’s cookbooks; and frankly, anything else I could get my hands on. And there were plenty of secondary sources too: Histories on rifles, the civil war, etc. 

The counterfeiting stuff was from my own research. I was a history major in college and my thesis was on counterfeiting in Western Massachusetts. I’ve been waiting all my life for a chance to stick counterfeiting into a story, and now I’ve done it! Yes!

What's a typical working day like for you? When and where do you write? Are there daily writing goals you set?

I set the alarm and get up before my husband. I make tea, and then go upstairs and settle into journaling, prayer and Bible reading. After this, I turn on the laptop and start work. I work for four hours. The time is broken up by breakfast with my husband. (He makes excellent coffee, and no one would want miss a cup!)

I’ve written everywhere and anywhere. A laptop is my best friend! I do have a room with a door that’s my office. I own a desk with a return. I like that because it holds both my laptop and open books, pages of notes, etc.  

Goals? To write four hours is my goal. Sometimes I don’t make my time. But I try to approach every day fresh – no recriminations. Was it Samuel Beckett that said, “try again, fail again, fail better”? 

What do you like to do when you're not writing?

As I mentioned earlier -- birding. I enjoy reading lots of novels and mysteries. I love the BBC TV that finds its way into the U.S. I’m learning photography right now, and have purchased a DSLR. (Last night, oddly enough, I dreamt that Scott Kelby was giving me a lecture, and I wasn’t sure I liked him – which proves that the photography is a current obsession.) I also knit. I’m a big walker, and love living in Chicago because you can walk fifteen minutes and feel like a world traveler. And this year, I’m planning on walking across England – really!

What's next for you? Are you currently working on or have plans for future projects?

Right now, I’m promoting One Came Home, which is a joy to do. Otherwise, I’ve got a couple of projects underway – all in various stages. None of them are at a publishing house, but then, they’re not ready for that sort of inspection. They will be though!