“My past was never more than one thought, one breath, one heartbeat away. And then, on that particular October evening, it literally arrived at my doorstep.”
– The Butterfly Sister
[DISCLAIMER: I both know the author personally and read/gave feedback on early chapters of this book, as Amy was in the process of revision. I received a free review copy of the finished novel in exchange for my honest opinion. As a member of the National Book Critics Circle, I’m bound by the ethics of professional reviewing, which require I disclose any relationship with the author and the book.]
I’ve known Amy for at least seven years, as I figure it. I met her when she joined the writers’ group I started up at the library where I formerly worked. I was nervous, jittery and scared out of my mind but damned if I wasn’t going to do what I could to connect area writers with each other. Myself a lover of the written word, as a newly-minted library paraprofessional with the power to do something about it, I saw the library as a natural forum for writers to meet and there was no extant writing group in the immediate area. So I went for it, with not so much a bang as a whimper. A sweaty-palmed, who am I to do something like this, whimper.
Never would I have imagined one of the early – then long-term facilitating – members would get this far, achieve not only publication with one of the big houses but publication of a novel that’s taking off like The Butterfly Sister. I am agog, not because I don’t believe Amy would have gotten where she is on her own. I’ve met a lot of writers – aspiring and published – and can see that certain little gleam in the eye of those determined to make it. And this woman? I don’t have to finish that thought. You wouldn’t be here if she hadn’t.
When I met Amy she was a reporter for one of our local newspapers. She was in and out of the library often. She may have interviewed me, at some point. I don’t recall anymore. What I know for certain is she had the most incredible drive, a push to get the story via thoughtful, considerate questions that come naturally to born journalists. And it wasn’t in an annoying, in your face, way. It was more I’m going to grab you by the lapel – politely but firmly – and get your attention but this is as much for you as me. Talk to me and I’ll get you publicity. You’ll get me a byline.
Young, aspiring journalists, this is how it’s done.
Beyond her journalism, this woman started bringing poetry and short stories to the group, knocking me out with her ability to express a world of emotion in the most succinct, spare style. Polish, thy name is Amy Gail Hansen…
And I wept. Copiously. I was a writer, too. A quiet and largely untried one but a writer and here was this woman, younger than I was, wiping the floor with my timid self. But you know? I don’t begrudge her one bit. Amy has done the work. I wasn’t there to see it but I know she had one child, then two, then three, all the while working assiduously on what was to become The Butterfly Sister. You can ask her yourself, she’ll tell you. There is no magic formula. If you want to write well you need to get in there and you need to be ready to get dirty and break a few nails. No one’s going to hand you anything. Quite the opposite. Get out in that publishing world and join the tens or hundreds of thousands of other writers ready to run you down to get their stuff into an editor’s hands.
And Amy made that look WAY too simple.
WAY too simple… Amy… Ahem.
Woman knows her stuff, friends. She does do that.
So, The Butterfly Sister. I first read part of it long ago. Years. And it was completely different than the book you’re going to read. There are parts of that early revision I miss (beignets, Amy, and reflections and orange slices..) but the spirit remains the same. It’s the same Amy with her sleek, shining prose and the theme of women who’ve paid a very high price for their love of writing.
I’m very proud of her for how far she’s come, awed by her dedication to the craft. As a first novel, The Butterfly Sister in some ways wildly succeeds expectation for a freshman author. There’s been mention of the last quarter or so of the book feeling a bit rough but from the 3/4 point on a book is crazy hard to write. I have seen dozens of seasoned writers carry the reader to that point and then dump them, uncertain where it will go and how it will end. Oh, I know it all too well. If the difficulty weren’t so universal how much easier writing would be.
Writing is a journey and with each successive draft, or book, or story or poem things will get just that tiny bit better. If you’re lucky, easier, too but don’t hold your breath. What was glorious about Amy’s first book will no doubt be the same with her second. And better and better and better, as she keeps writing.
And I know she will.
The Butterfly Sister will speak to a lot of you, to fans of writers like Elizabeth Berg, if she had the yen to write with a bit more badassery… Themes of unrequited love, depression and the writing life will make for fantastic book group discussion. This is a woman’s book and I say that without the slightest bit of dismissal. It is different being a woman. It’s harder in a lot of ways and it’s distinctive from being a man. That doesn’t have to be a good or a bad thing. It’s a truth. And in this novel you will find – and I’m speaking to the ladies here, so gents do turn away – a part of yourself. Maybe you’re not a writer or haven’t ever experienced such grueling, gut-wrenching depression but you will see yourself somewhere, as someone who’s loved and lost.
I hope you’ll read Amy’s book. I’ve had the honor of reading her writing for several years and I am pleased to see her out there in the world, where she belongs. Keep an eye on this one… She won’t relent. We can be thankful for that.
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