In celebration of our Middle Grade Book of the Month, Time Fetch, we’ve asked author Amy Herrick to stop by for a little chat about her inspiration for the story, the writing process, and a few other fun facts about her life!
TIME FETCH is your first novel for young readers. What is the biggest difference between writing for adults and writing for a younger audience?
Silly me. I imagined that writing for a younger age might be easier than writing for experienced, critical adults. But, of course, I was quickly reminded that each act of creation has its own difficult logic and balance–no matter whether it’s a book aimed at middle graders or a haiku, a cherry pie or a concerto for three bassoons.
And my intentions were pretty serious. I wanted to write for that rapturous moment when a reader first takes off. That moment when a reader first loses himself or herself in a book. It’s the best moment in a reader’s life, isn’t it? Wouldn’t it be great to write a good book that would arrive at somebody’s doorstep at just that hour? I don’t like to say how long it took me to finish The Time Fetch. Way longer than I planned. And I’m not sure how close I got to my aspirations. But it was an eye opener of a journey.
There was much that was exactly the same in writing for a younger audience, but there were also several marked differences. The biggest that comes to mind was the way I shifted in my use of language and vocabulary. Initially it seemed awkward. In simplest terms, there were fewer words I felt I could choose from and this, in turn, presented the interesting problem of how to create a powerful story and fully realized characters without having all the tools I usually worked with. Kind of like Scrabble maybe, where suddenly instead of the whole alphabet, you only have seven letters to work with.
And similarly, when I realized that the “experience” level of my general reader was going to be relatively narrower, I also saw that the nature of the cultural, psychological, life experience references I could make was going to be more limited.
But there is a wonderful counterbalancing side to this constraint. For young people are hungry for new words and new ideas. We all learn by climbing up on a precarious pile of experiences and information that is familiar. Then we reach up and try to take ahold of what is new. This instinct is especially strong, I believe, in the young. And a really memorable book will contain much that is comfortable and familiar, and then just enough of that which is new and a little difficult grasp. Getting that balance right was probably one of the things I struggled with the most.
I love the premise for this book; that there could be “fetchers” collecting bits of time that will never be missed or regretted. Where did the inspiration for this story come from?
I always wanted to write a winter solstice story about the time of year when the days grow shorter and the nights grow longer and the sun seems about to dwindle away on the horizon. The problem was, I could never find a place to begin. Then one year towards the end of December, at our annual family holiday party, an idea was given to me.
Now, why do I agree to throw this party every year? It’s a lot of work and it almost always drives me nearly out of my mind. But my mother threw this party and her mother before her. I am not one to tempt the fates and buck a tradition. Maybe I secretly believe, as maybe my mother and grandmother did, and as my ancient ancestors must have, that throwing a party and hanging lights and singing songs is a way of ensuring that the sun comes back to us after all.
In any case, to make the event more manageable, I always ask my husband and sons to keep the invite list down and they promise they will, but they all have inherited a major-league party gene and apparently they can’t help themselves. During December they invite every friendly looking face they run into. I know they’re going to do this, so I start preparing in November. I shop and I cook and I bake and schlep and it’s always a race to the finish.
That particular year it was the same as always. The party arrived. There was food, there were lights, there were musical instruments and a great mob of people. I sat down for the first time in about a month and a half, exhausted, but triumphant. My oldest friend, Kate, who I’ve known since I was five, came and put a glass of wine in my hand.
“I don’t know how you do it,” she said.
“I don’t know how I do it either. There’s just not enough time.”
She considered this for a minute. “Does it ever seem to you that our mothers had more time in their days than we did?”
I thought it over. “What if it were true?” I said. “What if there isn’t as much time as there used to be? What if all the minutes are shorter and we just can’t tell yet? What if some alien force has entered our universe and is eating our time?”
Kate is easily spooked. “Who would do that?” she whispered and, of course, I didn’t know.
But in the following weeks, as I recovered from the party, I kept thinking about this idea and eventually my thinking led me right up to the door of my winter solstice story and the idea of the Time Fetch.
In the novel you rotate the point-of-view between four central characters. What is the biggest challenge of writing from multiple perspectives and how did you balance character development with plot sequence?
Originally, I intended to tell the story from only one point of view—that of Edward’s. But as Edward developed. I began to feel he needed a nemesis. Out of that feeling came Feenix. Feenix was pretty villainous in the beginning, but then I started to grow fond of her. However, they were both such extreme personalities, it soon occurred to me that I needed someone with his feet on the ground to lead the way, someone more centered. And out of that feeling came Danton who moves comfortably through the physical world. A threesome, however, seemed out of balance to me, particularly because of the seasonal/mythological elements of the story. It took some time to find Brigit, who is mute and blushes at the drop of a hat. I realized belatedly that she was another manifestation of the preoccupation I must have with the two-sided quality of the voiceless—their helplessness and their power. (I had one of those in my last novel and in the children’s picture book I wrote.)
When I think back on it, it seems to me that the plot grew as much out of my discovery of the characters, as the characters grew out of the plot. Since the point of view changed with each chapter, the story kept revealing itself and changing shape as it was passed from hand to hand.
The hardest part of the whole process was discovering the voice of each character and then keeping these voices interesting and distinct from one another.
Which character do you feel you relate do the most?
Edward is definitely the character I relate to the most. He is, I think, an amalgam of myself and my older son. My older son and I are both introverts who tend to be in our heads a lot, deconstructing the world, questioning the nature of reality, very aware of the illusory quality of many of our assumptions about the way things appear. My older son also used to be, like Edward, pretty lazy, which I never was.
What was your favorite part about writing this book?
I loved researching the history of different solstice beliefs and traditions over the centuries and finding ways to weave them into the story.
What was the most challenging?
I made many many digressions in the story as I went along. Many other smaller stories sprang up within the larger tale. It was very hard to be strict with myself and edit out stuff that was great fun to write, but which didn’t move the book forward at the pace and in the direction I ultimately felt it needed to go.
Will we be seeing more from you in the Middle Grade world?
I am currently working on something which appears to be a summer solstice tale– a sequel to The Time Fetch.
Private Concert – who’s playing? John Lennon and he’s singing Imagine.
Favorite ice cream flavor? Strawberry with chocolate sauce.
Book you can’t stop re-reading? There’s lots of them. To name just a few:
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis, Charlotte’s Web by E.B.White, To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf, Nine Stories by J.D. Salinger .
Living or dead – who would you like to have dinner with? Any one of my great, great grandparents.
Perfect vacation? Two weeks in Cape Cod with my husband, my dog, and lots of books.
Favorite movie? E.T., Thirteen Conversations About the Same Thing
Amy Herrick is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Every morning, she and her dog take a long walk in Prospect Park looking for adventure. They’ve seen and heard many wondrous things there, some of which have served as inspiration for her story. The Time Fetch is her first book for young readers.