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Guest post: Amy Timberlake

January 17, 2013
Amy Timberlake photo_credit MJ Alexander

Photo by MJ Alexander

Amy Timberlake 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. Learn more about her life and work at her website:  Amy’s newest book, One Came Home, was published on January 8 and sounds fabulous!  I’m thrilled to welcome her here today.

This is the honest truth: the history of the passenger pigeon extinction makes an author want to write from a pissed off place. You can’t get around it—I mean, you read about nineteenth century folks shooting seven or eight birds with one shot and catching them in an outstretched cap as they do a little dance, and you think, Barbarians! Thugs! Louts!

You realize that this is partly—okay, mostly—about you (a twenty-first century, iPhone-clutching being). You’re overwhelmed by thoughts of how you’ve been robbed of this experience. Did none of your relatives ever think that you might like to see pigeon feathers flashing green, red, and blue in the light of the setting sun? Didn’t they realize that you had a need to be startled by the natural world, that you might want to feel the awe-inspiring fear of them as their sound grew louder and louder, or that you needed to reflexively fall to the ground in fear as they passed overhead?

At this point, you get a little self-righteous: You will never be that stupid. Never!

And in the momentum of all that huff and puff, you try to write a novel about passenger pigeons set in 1871. You need a person in this novel, so you imagine a person filled with your twenty-first century pissed-off-ness.

* * *

Okay, maybe that’s not you. I’d bet good money you’re not as foolish as all that—unlike me.

Yeah, it was a disaster. I mean what was I supposed to do? Have my character stand in front of the passenger pigeon nesting in a super-girl outfit? In 1871?

The problem with characters is that they exist—live, breath and think—in a particular place and time. (How dare they!) So what’s a writer to do? My fix (eventually, arduously) was to think of the passenger pigeons as a setting, a living, breathing landscape—not a theme, or an “issue.” I wrote another story, a western, in front of this “setting” about a thirteen-year-old girl who goes off to find her older sister. Everyone says the sister is dead and for good reason too—the body has been buried. So One Came Home is an adventure, a western and a mystery all rolled up into one—and it’s told in front of the backdrop of an enormous passenger pigeon nesting.

I loved the story of Georgie Burkhardt and the search for her sister, and with the passenger pigeons in my peripheral vision (so to speak) it freed up Georgie to be herself. The birds were still there, but I wasn’t forcing words down her throat. And in the end, I think what she sees—and what she doesn’t see—speaks more about the tragedy of extinction.

It also speaks to the cultural blind spots of the nineteenth century. Hey, we’ve all got them.

One Came Home coverDoesn’t Georgie sound like a wonderful character?  I don’t think I’ve ever read a book that features passenger pigeons so I’m excited about this one!  Be sure to check out Amy’s Pinterest page about passenger pigeons:

20 Comments leave one →
  1. January 17, 2013 4:45 am

    nice blog 🙂 Hello Amy 🙂

  2. January 17, 2013 7:54 am

    I absolutely loved The Dirty Cowboy and gave a copy to both of my nieces!

  3. Beth F permalink
    January 17, 2013 8:39 am

    Oh I can’t wait to read this. I love the premise. And, drat those pesky things like historical accuracy!

  4. January 17, 2013 10:36 am

    Thanks for having me! Hi Ruth!

  5. Beth Hoffman permalink
    January 17, 2013 10:39 am

    I’m hooked! Georgie’s adventures sound terrific.

  6. zibilee permalink
    January 17, 2013 11:12 am

    This was such an interesting and lively written guest post, and now I am really excited about this book! I knew that passenger pigeons were extinct, a fact that Frank mentioned only days before, so reading this guest post was like kismet! Excellent job with this one today, Amy, and thanks for hosting her, Kathy!

  7. January 17, 2013 11:23 am

    Passenger pigeons are a fascinating subject, and I would like to learn more about them, and about Amy Timberlake’s book, in which they play a role. Wonderful, truly animated guest post today!

  8. January 17, 2013 12:29 pm

    Consider the hook set in my brain on this one.

  9. January 17, 2013 12:44 pm

    Hello Amy – I’m In Madison too and love reading books by Wisconsin authors – so glad to see this post and look forward to reading your book soon!!

  10. January 17, 2013 1:40 pm

    Sorry, I saw that Amy was FROM Wisconsin and lost my mind a little – THEN I read your blog bio! Very nice blog!

  11. January 17, 2013 3:25 pm

    This book sounds wonderfully written just by the way the author introduces the story! So creative.

  12. January 17, 2013 5:41 pm

    Hi Kathy,

    Another new author to me, so I checked this one out. What an interesting premise for a story and if it is written in the same frank and forthright way as Amy’s refreshing and original guest post, then it will certainly be worth the read.

    An excellent and interesting post, thanks to both of you.


  13. Patty permalink
    January 17, 2013 5:55 pm

    Sounds unique and interesting…

  14. January 17, 2013 6:06 pm

    I seriously enjoy books that are different. This one sounds very interesting!!

  15. bookingmama permalink
    January 17, 2013 6:44 pm

    Definitely a unique topic and new to me as well!

  16. January 17, 2013 8:30 pm

    Lovely guest post! This sounds like a great read.

  17. January 17, 2013 8:51 pm

    Hey everybody! Thank you for the comments. Glad you liked the post (phew!). It IS set in Wisconsin. I’m from a small town in northern Wisconsin (spent first 18 years of life there) and I just want to write more books set in the midwest — my world! I live in Chicago now, but you never forget where you grew up.

    And about the passenger pigeons?!? Ohmygoodness were they the weirdest things ever. It’s like science fiction but set in the past — and it really happened . . . Seriously crazy stuff . . .

  18. January 17, 2013 9:29 pm

    This is the first I’m hearing of the book so thanks for blogging about it.

  19. January 17, 2013 9:47 pm

    Loved this post! Passenger pigeons look so lovely – they should never have gone extinct.

  20. January 18, 2013 12:53 am

    This is why I don’t write historical fiction–I have a hard time leaving my 21st century sensibilities behind me.
    Passenger pigeons are so amazing (were, I mean). This sounds like a great story. I grew up in Wisconsin so the setting appeals to me, too.

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