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Thursday, July 22, 2010

Story Secrets: FORGET-HER-NOTS by Amy Brecount White

I'm so happy to be able to introduce my friend Amy Brecount White, author of the debut novel FORGET-HER-NOTS - I met Amy at the Teen Author Carnival, and we hit it off so well that she very generously invited me to stay with her for ALA! (Below left, here we are at the Harper Breakfast, gorgeous screen supplied by The W.)

About FHN, Publisher's Weekly says, "A delicate sense of magical possibility and reverence for the natural world," and "Wonderfully original and beautifully written" from Jen Nadol, author of THE MARK! Check out an excerpt here.

So it is with great pleasure that I host Amy today...and I even have a gorgeous signed copy of FHN to give to one lucky commenter. Welcome, Amy!


Forget-Her-Nots is the story of a girl discovering the magic and mystery of her flower powers. Publishing it is my dream come true!

Holly Cupala: Such an original idea. What was the initial spark?

Amy Brecount White: I’d always known I wanted to write a novel, but I went to hear Toni Morrison speak once. Her advice was, “Write the story that only you can tell.” So that got me thinking about what unique stories I have inside me. I had recently made a tussie-mussie (a symbolic flower bouquet) for a friend who had cancer, and I loved to garden. Pretty soon I had the original idea of writing a story that featured the language of flowers come to life.

Were you already familiar with flowers, and how did you come upon their magical properties?

I knew about the language of flowers, because I’d pitched a few article ideas to magazines and newspapers when I was freelancing. Oddly, I never got the non-fiction assignment, but started to think about the magical possibilities of flowers. I didn’t want mine to be a fantasy novel in some far off fictional world, so I kept it as tied to reality as I could. I classify it as magic realism, because I think that encourages us to see the wonderful and magic in our everyday lives. I really do think there is a kind of magic in flowers blooming.

You've written some non-fiction as well. How is that different from creating a fictional world from scratch?

I’d written lots of articles and essays for newspapers and magazines, such as The Washington Post and FamilyFun, but I was surprised by how different novel writing was. Non-fiction articles are very straightforward and easy for me to organize. In contrast, writing fiction is more like solving a puzzle whose pieces are constantly morphing. Even if you have an outline, the characters and emotional movement of the novel will take you places you couldn’t predict. It’s lots of fun and very challenging. My learning curve was much steeper than I expected.

What inspires you?

Lot of things. I’m definitely inspired and rejuvenated by the natural world. I love being outside or hanging out in gardens and conservatories. I’m also inspired by all the kids I’ve ever taught and my new fans. I’ve received some amazing messages and am so grateful that my readers would take the time to write me. It really brightens my whole day to know someone loves something I wrote.

Tell us about your writing process! Drafts? Research? One project at a time or many?

I first thought of the idea about eight years ago. However, I wasn’t only working on that. I was working on my second novel, STRING THEORIES, and still freelancing and doing other projects. Novel writing is a stop and start process. With your first novel, you spend a lot of time waiting to hear back from agents or editors, so I always tried to have lots of projects going at once. And, yes, it went through a lot of drafts as I tried to make the story stronger and deeper. The editors at Greenwillow were really amazing and helpful, too. I had lots of different plot and subplot strands going in Laurel’s life, so it was fun developing them and weaving them together. Also, I did lots of research to get the flower details, bloom times, and scents just right.

Have your life experiences helped you get to the heart of the story?

Drawing on my own life experiences - such as losing a parent or falling in love - gives emotional truth to my writing. Writers have to have a great memory for emotions and details, so they can bring the truth of human experience to their own scenes and characters. In any situation I find myself – even uncomfortable or unpleasant ones -- I tell myself, “I’m a writer. Remember these details, remember this emotion, so you can use it later.”

What do you most hope your readers will take away?

First off, I hope my readers will have fun reading the story. I also hope they’ll have a new love for flowers and be more aware of how flowers can enhance our relationships and lives. There are actual, scientific studies that show having flowers around can make you happier.

Any secrets you might be willing to share...?

For me, the biggest secret to a good writing day is leaving myself a note the day before telling me exactly what to start on. That way I can jump right in without agonizing or just re-editing the same stuff.

I also love to write before it’s light outside, especially if I’m in the creative, first-draft stage of a novel. Your internal critic isn’t awake that early in the morning, so writing feels freer. Sometimes I’ll wake up at 3 or 4 am, write for an hour or two, and then go back to bed. Strangely, those days are always incredibly productive.

Can you tell us a bit about your next novel?

My second novel, STRING THEORIES, is finished, so I hope to have news on that soon. It’s about the physics of relationships, love v. lust, a stream, and getting even. After that, I’d love to write a companion novel to Forget-Her-Nots, and I’ve always found Emily Dickinson’s garden to be terribly enticing ….


Thank you so much for dropping by, Amy!


I have a gorgeous signed copy of FORGET-HER-NOTS that I brought back from ALA just for you...all you have to do is comment on one of the following: a) why you'd love to read FHN! b) do flowers entice, mystify, or both? or c) do you have a particular relationship with nature that fuels your creativity?

Contest is open until Monday at midnight PST! Comment away!

I leave you with the really cool FHN trailer!


  1. What a great interview! Being a writer of both fiction and nonfiction, I totally get the differences in the processes. I can't wait to read FHN...the book sounds so intriquing. And th trailer is AWESOME!

  2. This sounds like such a cute book! I can't wait to read it!

  3. This is such an original and unique novel. I've never heard of any book that deals with the language of flowers. I love books that are different and I's SO love to read FHN!

    And Amy sounds so cool. The interview's insightful and lovely. So is the trailer.

  4. This really sounds intriguing. I met Amy at the Newbery/Caldecott dinner and I'd love to read the book. I've seen various old books on the language of flowers in my library's collection but I never thought of finding the language in a modern children's fantasy/magic realism book. Is this YA or Middle Grade? Plus I already know what a tussie-mussie is since I read regency romances (smile).

  5. This sounds SO good! Flowers are amazing-they're beautiful and elegant, and can astound and mystify us all :) Lovely

  6. I would love to read her book! I've had my eye on it for a really long time; the cover is simply beautiful and the summary sounds so creative.

    I really liked the interview! Gosh, I don't think I could ever wake up at 3 a.m. to write..


  7. great interview, i love that you were a little inspired by Toni Morrison. I feel like being out in nature always makes me feel better about anything. Especially being out in the sunshine

  8. You would all love this book, I think! And I love Amy to pieces - we discovered we have a ton in common ("You're creative AND organized?? Me, too!"). We had a blast together at the conference.

    At one point I accidentally dragged Jaclyn Dolamore (brilliant author of Magic Under Glass, who very kindly offered to carry the 10lbs of candy I brought to ALA through the blistering 96 degree heat) about a mile in the wrong direction on foot, and Amy came to the rescue.

    Me (on cell phone): We're by the statue of a guy on a horse. Do you know where that is?

    Amy: This is Washington, DC. There are lots of statues of guys on horses.

    Jackie: Why did you bring 10 lbs of candy again?

    Eventually we made it!

    Come to think of it, Jenny, we met in a funny transit situation as well. That's always happening to me. ;)

  9. I would love to read the book because I'm intrigued by a book where flowers play an important role.


  10. Great post. I haven't read FHN but it's on my list of TBR. Flowers are like an afrodisiac; they create mood and magic while attracting everything in site. I love the effect flowers have in books and life in general.

  11. Great interview. I have had the chance to read FHN yet but its on my wishlist. I have read so many great things about it and it sounds so good. I think flowers can do both, it all depends on the flower you use and how you choose to use it.

    bacchus76 at myself dot com

  12. I would love to read this book because I would like to hear more about the secret meaning of flowers and gow the author includes it in the story.