Jacquelyn Mitchard and Amy Gail Hansen in Conversation

Amy Gail HansenAs a bestselling author with nine novels to her credit (including the first one chosen for Oprah Winfrey's Book Club), Jacquelyn Mitchard easily qualifies as a veteran of the industry. Amy Gail Hansen is the author of The Butterfly Sister, her debut novel, which came out earlier this month. The two got together for a chat about creative writing, their similar bookshelves, how caring for a family balances with writing, and more.

Jacquelyn Mitchard: I just last week finished graduate school. I got my MFA -- after writing 20 books. Have you had formal training in creative writing?

Amy Gail Hansen: Besides my BA in English, I took a novel workshop at the University of Illinois at Chicago and cried because it was the first time I was critiqued. Instead, I decided to freelance for newspapers, where I got a byline and paycheck, a great decision in hindsight. Journalism influenced my fiction writing immensely.

Jacquelyn Mitchard

JM: Hey Hey! The University of Illinois at Champaign is my alma mater, where I took my only formal training in writing, before my MFA -- the freshman elective with the great author Mark Costello. Who are your favorite authors?

AGH: You, of course! I read The Deep End of the Ocean in high school, then again just recently, the second time more meaningful because now I have three kids. I also enjoy Elizabeth Berg, Chris Bohjalian, Gillian Flynn, Carol Goodman, Charlotte and Emily Bronte, Jane Austen, Edith Wharton, and Virginia Woolf.

JM: That could be my bookshelf. Some of those authors are also my great friends. And I think Charlotte Bronte talks to me. Speaking of children... you write from home as a full-time caregiver for your kids. How do you balance the two roles? I can't believe I'm asking this.

Amy Gail Hansen

AGH: Yes, you have nine kids! I should be asking you this question! I'm not balancing both. Sometimes, I'm a better mother than writer, and vice versa. But if I nurture my children and my creative mind, if I write a thousand words first thing, before changing diapers, then I keep sane.

JM: That's all you can do. Personally, I feel fierce when people say my contribution is raising good kids and being a good wife. A writer writes. I consider myself a good mother sixty percent of the time, a bad mother eight percent of the time and an exhausted person a hundred percent of the time. So, back to routines. What's yours -- to write in the morning?

AGH: Yes, I wake up with epiphanies -- answers to plotting problems -- and must get them down before I lose them.

JM: Do you have any idiosyncrasies?

AGH: I always read the first and last page of a book out loud. I did this first with The Great Gatsby and never stopped. I like beginnings and endings. They resound when read aloud.

JM: I love beginnings and endings! It's like the introduction and restatement of a theme in a symphony. Your debut novel shows that. The Butterfly Sister is really lovely. I called it "...a dark mystery that also works on your heart." How do you describe your book?

AGH: It's a mystery with plot twists but also an emotional coming of age story. Ruby Rousseau must return to her past to secure her future. The past is a supporting character in my next book too.


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