ONE CAME HOME by my bud Amy Timberlake is a powerful story about loss, working through it, discovery, and a natural phenomenon that will blow your socks off! Amy is the author of such classics as THE DIRTY COWBOY (you may recall the recent controversy) and THAT GIRL LUCY MOON. I'm thrilled to have Amy stop by to talk about her latest book...
Q. An obvious question first - HOW did you learn about the amazing pigeon migrations?
A. I'd heard about the passenger pigeon migrations from someone (or somewhere) much, much earlier in life. I actually don't remember when I first became aware of it, but once someone tells you about passenger pigeons the stories stick with you. I mean, billions of birds flying in formation? Flying so close together that they sometimes blocked the sun? Add to that the size of the bird (crow-sized) and the speed at which they flew (60 mph) and it'll leave you slack-jawed. So I guess I've thought about, wondered about, mused about passenger pigeons on and off for at least a decade.
But ONE CAME HOME was written years and years later after that initial knowing (whenever that happened). So years later, I'm reading A.W. Schorger's history, The Passenger Pigeon, and I literally turn the page of this book and there before me is a map of my home state of Wisconsin. Smack dab in the middle of Wisconsin is this crazy blob shaped like a tipped over letter 'L.' The crazy blob? A plotting of an 850 square mile passenger pigeon nesting that happened in Wisconsin in 1871. (For comparison, Rhode Island is 1033 square miles.) Schorger says in the history that it's possible nearly all the passenger pigeons in North America nested in this nesting. He doesn't say how many that it is, but it could be a billion or maybe more birds . . . Once again -- the size of crows, flying at 60 mph in big, big groups... What?!?! In my home state? Why didn't I know about this?
Frankly, this sounded more like science fiction to me than actual history. But I liked the challenge of trying to imagine it. So I made the nesting the setting of my story. Plus, I thought it was a great fun to write a historical setting, which sounded (for all the world) like science fiction. There's some weird stuff in the historical record, and I think we writers should make more use of it!
Q. The pigeons are such powerful symbolism in the book - can you explain how they tie into and reflect the plot?
A. Hmmm. I'm not sure I'm the best person to answer this question. Readers could give you a better idea of it, because if I create symbolism I do it on a pretty subconscious level. I will say that this setting felt right, it seemed to be a good landscape for the story I was trying to tell and I trusted that. That said, migration, nesting and moving on is something I was thinking about as I wrote the book. People migrate in and out of lives just as birds do. I also think there was something that felt right about the chaos that the birds created. Also, the mess the birds leave behind after the nesting breaks up felt significant too. But overall, I feel that writers only know part of what of they're doing when it comes to symbolism and that it's the reader that's the expert.
Q. Georgie is one determined young lady, and a sharp-shooter at that. Are there any similarities to her character/hobbies to you?
A. Ha! I hope so! I'm not as brave or as stubborn -- though I suppose it takes some determination to try to be a writer. Other things? My dad tried to get me to learn how to shoot a rifle as a child at the local 'Rod & Gun' Club, but I didn't take to shooting. I called that place "The Rotten Gun Club." And my family is filled with business people on both sides. My maternal grandfather started his own company. When he died, my grandmother took over. She ran that company for over thirty years, and she was no nonsense -- she knew what needed to be done and did it. She wasn't a come-over-and-bake-cookies kind of grandmother -- she was a businesswoman, a mover and shaker, a woman with a closet full of pastel-colored power suits and sensible shoes. She got things done. Having Georgie Burkhardt being a young businesswoman seemed natural to me.
Q. How do you typically write? In other words, how did the story build for you?
A. I try to write regularly, particularly when I'm working on a novel so I don't lose the threads of the story. If I don't work regularly, I tend to forget what's happening and then I get frustrated -- which quickly becomes a downward spiral ending in regrets, recriminations, and a good wallow into my fantasy of a self-sufficient, log-cabin life in the Adirondacks. (Have you ever read Woodswoman? It's my escape fantasy of choice.)
I write awful first drafts. Awful! I cannot emphasize 'awful' enough and expect that you won't believe me. Proof? Dialogue like this: "Wow," said Laura. "That's just... wow," said Joel. "Oh wow," said Michele. "Let's go to the top of the hill, shall we?" Yeah, you write that and you think, ' It's true -- I am NOT a writer. I should DO something with my life. And who in Wisconsin would ever say 'shall we?'"
But by powering through that first draft (and all the 'wows'), I get a better feel for the story I'm trying to tell. Out of that first one hundred (or so) pages, I may find a basic-ish story, characters that interest me, an opening event, and if I'm really lucky, a first line. So I'll salvage twenty pages or so from that first draft. I may write an outline then, but I'll give myself permission to veer off it in the next draft (because it'll only be draft two and it's likely that something interesting will happen in a second draft and I need to make room for that). Then I start again. I do lots and lots of drafts. I don't know how many drafts I do, but I'd say seventeen drafts isn't unusual. My best writing appears in revision. I wish it were different -- it's so inefficient -- but it's the way novel-writing seems to work for me.
Q. I always ask... what was your path to publication and are you doing any special promotions for ONE CAME HOME?
A. I read five minutes of my first book, The Dirty Cowboy at an open mic event at an SCBWI-Illinois Retreat Weekend. An editor named Robbie Mayes walked up to me and said he wanted me to send it to his publishing house. THAT was my start. The book was published by FSG in 2003. The illustrator for that book was Adam Rex. It was Adam's first book too -- and he was the perfect illustrator for that story. (That book still sells well, by the way!)
Before that, I'd been writing creatively for awhile. I took creative writing in high school and college, and I had earned an M.A. in English/Creative Writing. But I'd been focussed in writing for adults. Then I got a job as a children's bookseller and I discovered all those beautiful kids books . . . That's when I started to write for children.
Yay! Thanks for this interview Elizabeth -- this was fun!
GREAT answers Amy!!!