Amy Timberlake’s newest book, One Came Home, has been called “a True Grit for the middle school set” (Bookpage), “a valentine to sisterhood and a bird that no longer exists” (The Washington Post), and “a rare gem of a novel” (The Christian Science Monitor). It was recently named a National Public Radio Best Book of the Year, a Kirkus Reviews Best Book of the Year and Bookpage Best Book of the Year. It’s a 2013 Junior Library Guild pick, and it’s been awarded starred reviews by Kirkus, The Horn Book, School Library Journal and The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books. As of January 2014, it became available as an audiobook and in paperback. For more information about Amy, and her other books, check her website.
Would you rather be able to speak with all animals or all foreign languages?
Animals. It would be useful and unique. Plus, Dr. Dolittle would be my colleague. I think we’d get along.
Would you rather be considered a total oddball to everyone you meet or be considered completely average with nothing particularly interesting about you?
Oddball. Have you seen the pack basket I use for the farmer’s market? I may already qualify for the title, so I’m ready to own it.
Harry Potter or Twilight? Or neither?
Harry Potter. I’m not a big vampire fan – too squeamish.
Mac or PC?
Thank heavens for Apple! Otherwise we’d still be lost in the murk of sub-sub-SUBmenus and have phones with a myriad of features none of us knew how to use (or even knew were there). Good design is about communication. I salute you Apple!
If you could choose to write your next book on a typewriter or with a quill pen, which would you choose?
Quill pen. Yay! May I chose the feather and make the pen too? Fun!
Would you rather talk like Yoda or breathe like Darth Vader?
Yoda. Talking like Yoda is a skill, but breathing like Darth Vader? I’d get light-headed. Plus, if I’m really good at Yoda, maybe I’ll get hired by the Jim Hensen crew – which wouldn’t be such a bad gig.
Would you rather have unicorns be real or mermaids?
Are you telling me unicorns aren’t real? No!
What made you decide to follow a creative career choice (though possibly risky) rather than something more stable?
Writing stories is something I’ve always wanted to do. But early in my life, writing was something I didn’t want to admit I wanted (if that makes any sense). I’ve written stories since I was in fifth grade (possibly earlier). I took every writing class I’ve ever come across (high school, undergraduate, graduate and non-degree). But here’s the crazy thing: Until I was thirty years old, I tried to find another occupation. I simply did not want to accept that the thing I was most passionate about was writing. I started my undergraduate studies as a business major. But business wasn’t for me, and so I became a history major. After graduating, I started a doctorate program in American History. I thought I’d be a professor, and when I finally got tenure, I’d write fiction. When I discovered that I didn’t fit in the doctorate program? Well, I left the program and was at loose ends.
After that, I felt like I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up – which was ridiculous because I did. I just kept thinking ‘Not That. Please – not that.’ But eventually – over several years — I accepted that I wanted to try selling my writing. Temp jobs became ‘day jobs.’ Weekends and evenings were times to write.
What do you do to keep yourself motivated and interested in your work?
As I’m writing I’m telling myself a story first. If it doesn’t interest me, I try to figure out what would make it more interesting. Do I need something to happen? What would happen in this story if it were written by say, Toni Morrison? Or Ruth Rendell? Or Gary Paulsen? Is it the setting? The tone? The tense? Or maybe the point of view? Anyway, I know there is something wrong and I need to find it. I believe any story has the possibility of being gripping. When it’s not, the fault lies with me. It’s very possible that I don’t have the chops to do what I want to do (or don’t have the chops yet…) Then if after a serious try, it still isn’t working, I’ll put the work aside. (A “serious try” is maybe, six months to a year of effort.)
If you had to start over, would you choose a different path in your career?
I wish I hadn’t been so timid getting started. I’d like another ten years of solid writing practice.
What do you do to get into your writing zone?
Do you pay attention to strong reactions to your work? Does that affect how you write?
Strong emotion is a good sign either way. If you’re talking about critical reviews – that’s all good work and I’m so glad people do it. As a reader, I rely on them! But as a writer, I try not to think too much about it. My husband is the one that gets my Google Alerts for ONE CAME HOME.
If your writing were edible, what would it taste like?
I hope it would be a seven-course meal! It would start with an appetizer that teases the palate, and ends with one of those surprising deserts. By ‘surprising desert’ I mean one of those deserts that look like one thing and when you bite in it’s crazy (pop, whiz, bang). Afterward, the first thing you say is ‘Wow!’ Of course, there’d be the literary equivalent of wine and maybe an aperitif too. I’m not saying I’ve done this, but this is what I want. Doesn’t every writer?
What was the biggest opposing force that you encountered on your writing journey?
My fears. I would love to have the time I wasted being afraid. Is there a worse waste of time than fear?
If you could choose a theme song for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Not quite your question but for ONE CAME HOME, I listened to a lot of Chris Thile and The Punch Brothers. For the book I’m writing now, I’m enjoying Yo Yo Ma’s Bach Cello Suites. I highly recommend both!