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 this story. The Time Fetch is her first book for young readers. Learn more at AmyHerrick.com.
Amy was kind enough to answer a few of my questions about how the The Time Fetch came into existence, her love of folklore, and what she’s working on next!
[Thanks to Algonquin Young Readers, we have three copies of The Time Fetch up for grabs — check the bottom of this post for details about the give away!]
ANDREA JOHNSON: Your brand new book is The Time Fetch. Can you tell us what the story is about?
AMY HERRICK: The Time Fetch is a modern-day winter solstice fairy tale. It also has some elements of mythology and science fiction which crashed the party without an invitation.
Most of the story takes place in and around Prospect Park as a big snowstorm is gathering. It’s about four young people who don’t know each other well, don’t particularly like each other, and who inadvertently unleash the full force of a power which has crossed over into our world and is foraging on our time. Since they are the only ones who have touched the Time Fetch, they are the only ones who can see what is happening. They realize that if they cannot stop this thing the entire space-time continuum is going to unravel.
AH: The flash that set the story in motion:
I’ve known my oldest friend, Kate, since we were five. One day she said something to me. “Does it ever seem to you that there’s less time now than there was when we were kids? I mean, doesn’t it feel like our mothers had more time in their days than we have in ours?”
I said, “Yes! Yes! Wouldn’t it be weird if there really was less time? Like maybe all the hours are just a few minutes shorter, or all the minutes have just lost a few seconds, but nobody notices because, since it’s the same for everyone, there’s no way for science to measure the change.”
“But how would that happen?” she wondered. “You mean like time is just shrinking?”
“Or maybe,” I said, “something is eating it. Maybe there’s some kind of creature that feeds on time.”
She looked at me in alarm. She is easily alarmed. “But who would do that? What kind of creature would it be?”
I didn’t know, of course. It took me awhile to figure it out. But that was the beginning of the “time fetch” idea.
AJ: Tell us a little about how The Time Fetch came together. Was this a story that evolved as you were writing it, or were you able to outline the entire thing before starting the draft?
AH: The thing I knew before I got to the “time fetch” itself was that I wanted to write a story that took place around the winter solstice. This season of the year always weighs heavily on my imagination. We celebrated Christmas in our house and I always loved all the trappings of it—the baking and wrapping and singing and lights. But I think what I loved most was the feeling of being safe inside the house while outside the cold pressed in and the darkness came on earlier and earlier each day. I spent a lot of time thinking about how primitive people could never be certain that the sun wasn’t going to disappear altogether from the horizon. I read about some of the prayers and rituals and bloody sacrifices ancient peoples made to keep the sun coming back. Although we now have more knowledge about why the sun dwindles on the horizon and why it comes back, I think we still carry a deep primitive recognition of how fragile our residency here is. I wanted to get that recognition inside this story.
Once I came up with the idea of a “time fetch” I made an outline. I wrote a draft and then scrapped it and started again because I felt the story was too whimsical, too lightweight. I wanted it to have a sense of that old dread embedded in it. Or maybe it was that the characters were making it clear they deserved more for themselves. I wrote many outlines and then, as usual, wrote a story that didn’t much resemble any of them. Sometimes I think what a waste of time all those outlines are and then I know they’re not. They’re a necessary way to get me to put one foot forward”
AJ: Do you have a favorite character from The Time Fetch? What do you like most about Edward (the protagonist of The Time Fetch), and why do you think readers will connect with him?
AH: Edward was the first character I created for the story and, in the beginning, the only one. He’s still my favorite. He is, I think, an amalgam of myself and my older son. My 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.
Edward will, I hope, be of interest to young readers and beyond, because of the questions he raises. These are the same questions that many of us begin to ask ourselves as our self-consciousness ripens: What is going on here? If matter is mostly space, why don’t we all fall through our chairs? And if nothing is really as solid as it seems, what else might be happening that our limited senses don’t register?
AJ: If you could experience one book again for the first time, which one would it be?
AH: Everything changed for me when the Pevensie children and I first walked through the wardrobe door in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Wonderful to think that C. S. Lewis wrote these words back in 1950:
“But do you really mean, Sir,” said Peter, “that there could be other worlds—all over the place, just around the corner—like that?”
“Nothing is more probable,” said the Professor, taking off his spectacles and beginning to polish them, while he muttered to himself, “I wonder what they do teach them at these schools.”
I generally reread this book every year towards the end of December, but—oh—to go back to that first time.
AJ: You mention on your website that you wish you could ask Katharine Briggs (famed British author of folk tales and folklore expert) a few questions. Here’s your chance. If you could go back in time to the height of Briggs’ writing career, what would you ask her?
AH: First of all: Katharine Briggs wrote primarily about English language folklore, but her researches, I am sure, gave her some familiarity with Irish, Scottish, Celtic and Scandinavian tales and perhaps even with folklore from further shores. At tea with scones and jam, I would ask her: “What keeps coming up again and again in these stories? Do the Old Ones seem to be related to each other? And are there any surprise differences between the story traditions?”
Second of all: Her novel, Hobberdy Dick is a fantasy story which takes place in England in the 1650’s. Part of what is going on in her tale is a sort of elegy to the end of the “old” British folklore era (the era of hobs and fairies, lobs and will-o-wisps) and the shift into Puritan/Christian times. What I would love to know is: “If you had the chance now to people a modern-day tale with magical folks, who would those folks be? Would they be the same ancient ones, or would they take on new shapes and voices?”
Katharine Briggs died in 1980, so I’m not likely to get the chance to ask her any questions, but you never know. When in tea shops, I am always on the alert.
AH: In the everyday way of things, I’m still writing in the hopes of rescuing some good stories from the flotsam and jetsam of time rushing by.
In my more greedy, untamed heart, I’m still writing in the hopes of accidentally coming upon one of those doors into the world in back of the world.
One interesting thing I’ve discovered in later years is that when I’m trying to solve a problem in a story, it helps to say the problem out loud, not just let it stew around in my head. It’s like when you bore someone to tears by relating a dream out loud at the breakfast table and suddenly you realize what the dream is trying to tell you.
AJ: What’s next for you? Do you have more adventures in mind for Edward and his friends?
AH: Yes. I’m working on a sequel to The Time Fetch. Several readers have asked me for another installment and anyway, I can’t quite seem to get Edward, Feenix, Danton, and Brigit out of my system. A summer solstice companion tale is what seems to be happening. And the Prospect Park Ghost Dog , who I used to run into regularly, is apparently going to play a central role, too.
AJ: Thanks so much Amy!
GIVEAWAY (US Only): Win a Copy of THE TIME FETCH by Amy Herrick
Courtesy of the fine folks at Algonquin Young Readers, SF Signal 3 (count ‘em) paperback copies of The Time Fetch by Amy Herrick to give away to 3 lucky SF Signal readers!
Here’s what the book is about:
Edward picks up what he thinks is a rock. He doesn’t know it is a sleeping Time Fetch–and touching it will release its foragers too soon and alter the entire fabric of time and space. Soon the bell rings to end class just as it has begun. Buses race down streets, too far behind schedule to stop for passengers. Buildings and sidewalks begin to disappear as the whole fabric of the universe starts to unravel. To try to stop the foragers, Edward must depend on the help of his classmates Feenix, Danton, and Brigit–whether he likes it or not. They all have touched the Fetch, and it has drawn them together in a strange and thrilling adventure. The boundaries between worlds and dimensions are blurred, and places and creatures on the other side are much like the ones they’ve always known–but slightly twisted, a little darker, and much more dangerous.
And here’s how you can enter for a chance to win:
- Send an email to contest at sfsignal dot com. (That’s us).
- In the subject line, enter “The Time Fetch“
- Please provide a mailing address in the email so the books can be sent as soon as possible. (The winning address is used only to mail the prize. All other address info will be purged once the giveaway ends.)
- Geographic restrictions: This giveaway is open only to residents of the U.S.
- The giveaway will end Tuesday, September 2nd, 2014 (9:00 PM U.S. Central time). The winners will be selected at random, notified, and announced shortly thereafter.