Get to know Amy Timberlake, February’s Author of the Month. She explains the inspiration behind her Newbery Medal Honor winning book, what got her started in writing and her love of Chicago.
Where did you get your idea for this book?
- I didn’t start writing One Came Home with serious intent until I had my setting—which is a fictional town that’s located near an enormous passenger pigeon nesting in southwestern Wisconsin. This passenger pigeon 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. When I read about that nesting, I knew I had a setting. That's when I started seriously writing 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. Though to my husband’s credit, he laughed and encouraged me to write it down. Though the book isn't a take on Taming of the Shrew, it's not an accident that there are sisters in this story.
- Then there’s the first-person voice of 13-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, Minn., 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 13-year-old. When I did, the beginnings of Georgie Burkhardt appeared.
What was your favorite book when you were growing up?
James Thurber, Many Moons. Also, there was a Readers Digest fairy tale collection that I read again and again and again. I still love fairy tales.
How old were you when you started writing?
Third grade or so? But I didn't think of it as 'writing,' I thought of it more as a way to tell stories. See, there were lots of good storytellers in my family. These were people who told stories at the dinner table, or after dinner. We'd all be laughing or crying or just listening so intently you were afraid to draw breath. I truly wanted to be able to tell a story that did that to listeners too, but I wasn't as good at it as the others. So I started to write my stories down. That way I could tell a story and edit it. Revision is so, so helpful!
What is your favorite word?
This changes almost daily, since I love words. But that said, I do have a fondness for the word 'cantankerous.'
What is your favorite book about Chicago?
For adults? William Cronon, Nature's Metropolis.
For kids? Jim Murphy, The Great Fire.