There’s Amy! Doesn’t that picture make you want to go do some snow angels? I’m so happy to be welcoming Amy Timberlake to Shelf Elf to talk about the writing life, and her latest book, One Came Home.
Amy grew up in Hudson, Wisconsin. She has an M.A. in English/Creative Writing from the University of Illinois at Chicago, where she’s also taught writing. She’s worked as a book reviewer, a book event coordinator, and as a children’s bookseller. Her previous books include That Girl Lucy Moon and The Dirty Cowboy. The Dirty Cowboy was illustrated by Adam Rex and won SCBWI’s Golden Kite Award. That Girl Lucy Moon was chosen as a Book Sense Pick, a NYPL’s “100 Titles for Reading and Sharing,” a Bank Street Best Children’s Book of 2007, an Amelia Bloomer Book, and the winner of the Friends of American Writers Literary Award. Amy Timberlake lives with her husband in Chicago.
If you haven’t read One Came Home, you really must. Everyone who is anyone is giving it stars all over the place. Like Kirkus, and School Library Journal, and The Horn Book. Wow, right? It’s the kind of story that will grab you and not let go, with strong, lean writing, plus a main character with enough sass, gumption, and heart to make you want to harness up something and go searching for an adventure of your own. I loved it.
If you had to choose 5 things (ideas / books / objects / topics / people) that have most inspired your writing, what would you choose?
First thing that popped in my mind? Oprah. Isn’t that hilarious? It’s a cliché, but Oprah inspired me, like she’s inspired millions of others. Anyway, back in the 90s, Oprah authored a book with Bob Greene, the exercise guy. (Was it Make the Connection? I’m not sure of the title.) I probably read it to get myself exercising, but what stuck was this: In her introduction, Oprah wrote: “Just do it.” Right then, something clicked—not about exercising (I wish) but about writing. At that moment I knew I was never going to have enough time or inspiration for writing. I realized that if I wanted to be a writer—and I would have told you I desperately wanted to be a writer—I was going to have to “just do it.” That’s when I started scheduling my writing time and being disciplined about it. I learned then that you can make time for anything—you just have to decide that what you’re doing is worth being a priority. Yes, it means making hard choices (and possibly being your parents’ worst nightmare). In my case it meant taking jobs that didn’t require work after hours, and turning down promotions so I’d have more time to write.
By the way, there’s good news too! Through the discipline I did find the time, and experienced all sorts of inspiration. So all the stuff I fantasized about “a writing life” came about, but through established writing habit.
Other things? Every writing residency I’ve done has been helpful in teaching me how to live without the distractions of daily life (extremely helpful). I love Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. (My anxieties are a lot like hers, but don’t tell anyone.) And when I’m writing, I like to have a door to shut out the world.
Is that five? I hope that’s five. I should have warned you that I’m extremely long-winded…
What are some things – other than imagining great stories and writing them down – that would make it onto your list of favourite things to do?
I’ve got lots of favorite things I like to do! I love reading novels. I’m way into cooking and farmer’s markets. I’m also a big walker and am exploring living without a car (we have one, but I try to use it as little as possible). And I’m re-discovering photography, which was something I loved as a kid. I just got my first DSLR and I gotta say that learning all these buttons, dials, knobs, menus and terms is rough, but I’m committed. Plus, photography goes well with long walks, so it’s a total win-win.
What did ONE CAME HOME teach you about writing?
I learned that there’s a way to do historical fiction that’s like writing science fiction. The birds in ONE CAME HOME are unbelievable—just crazy. There were days I was certain I was describing some alternative universe, but this world happened in 1871 in Wisconsin. You have got to be kidding me! Still, it did. Wow. Continue reading