I loved the gothic themes author Amy Gail Hansen presented in “The Butterfly Sister”, and am so happy she agreed to answer some of the questions I had about the book. Twenty-two-year-old Ruby Rousseau is haunted by memories of Tarble, the women’s college she fled from ten months earlier, and the painful love affair that pushed her to the brink of tragedy. When a suitcase belonging to a former classmate named Beth arrives on her doorstep, Ruby is plunged into a dark mystery. Is someone trying to send her a message? The search for answers leads to Tarble, but will finding the truth finally set Ruby free . . . or send her over the edge of sanity? Read my full blog here.
I connected with the references to literature that peppered the book, and looked forward to the cameos of famous, and dead, literary figures. I can’t wait to read Amy’s next book, but until then, I happily devoured her descriptions of how “The Butterfly Sister” came to be. I hope you appreciate them too. Enjoy!
Amy, thanks for answering my questions. Let’s get to the interview:
What inspired you to write “The Butterfly Sister”?
The book is based on a what if? question I asked after a real-life incident. In 2004, I was checking my suitcase for my honeymoon in Italy and looked down to see another girl’s name and address on the luggage tag. I quickly remembered that five years prior, I had lent the luggage to an acquaintance in college. Turns out, she left her luggage tag behind when she returned it to me, and I never noticed. While I switched her tag with one of those flimsy paper ones the airlines provide, I thought “What if the suitcase had gotten lost and went to her instead of me?” And that what if? question inspired an entire book, since the novel begins when Ruby Rousseau receives a mysterious suitcase.
Does Ruby share any of your traits?
Yes, Ruby and I definitely share traits. Since I was an English major in college, those traits are a love for literature and creativity. Like Ruby, I am also deep-thinking and intuitive and have been known to play “Nancy Drew” on occasion. Where Ruby and I differ is our vulnerability and trust in others. I am much more cynical and less likely to let emotion override reason. I’m not saying emotion doesn’t play into my thinking, but I am more balanced when making decisions. I am perhaps more logical and pragmatic than Ruby.
Which character is your favorite, and why?
Professor Virginia Barnard is my favorite, as she is an effective mentor for Ruby while she struggles to discover the truth about the past. I think mentors are so important in life, and they seem to come when we need them most.
Did you know how the book would end when you started writing it?
I had an idea of where I wanted to go, but I didn’t know how I was going to get there. I finally figured that out in the first draft, and then completely changed the ending during the revision process. I think having a plan is a good idea, but you have to be ready to abandon that plan when inspiration strikes. My writing is based on a combination of strategic outlining and creative whim.
Did your background as an English teacher influence the story?
Absolutely! As an English teacher, I had to find unique ways to teach students about literature and authors, to make this information accessible and interesting without being boring. I think my ability to incorporate the works of Virginia Woolf, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and Sylvia Plath into the novel in an understandable and entertaining way stems from my work in the classroom.
The references to literature are so clever, what is your favorite literary genre and did it influence the story?
Thanks for calling the references clever. That makes my day! I am very eclectic in my reading—I love the classics but also enjoy contemporary suspense/thriller and women’s fiction. Perhaps my favorite books are what literary critics call bildungsroman, a fancy word for the coming-of-age novel. Some of my favorite books, like To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte and She’s Come Undone by Wally Lamb all fit the bill
Are you working on any future projects, and if so, can you give us a hint as to what it is?
Of course, I am working on a future project! It is a second novel unrelated to “The Butterfly Sister” but similar in genre. It is a psychological thriller that explores the theme of parenting. However, I find the more I talk about it, the less enthusiasm I have when I sit down to write, so I will keep most details secret for now. But I will say that like “The Butterfly Sister” it incorporates the works of a beloved and well-known author, so stay tuned!
Amy Gail Hansen was born in the Chicago suburbs, but spent her early childhood in Metairie, just outside New Orleans. She haw always been a reader and a writer. She read books before she could even read. She would pretend to know what the symbols meant, and did the same with writing–doodling and sketching and scribbling stories only she could translate. Eventually, she learned to read for real, and read Nancy Drew novels in a day. English soon became her favorite subject. Today, she lives with my husband and three children in suburban Chicago, where she tries to raise her own curious, creative readers. Check out her webpage: http://www.amygailhansen.com/