Rebecca, the sense of place in your novel is lovely and fully actualized. What was the reason you chose the rural setting of Spring Green, Wisconsin?
I am deeply attached to Spring Green, which is where my father has lived since I was a girl. My brother and I would go back and forth between his house and my mother’s, which was located in a small suburb of Chicago. For us, Wisconsin was magical. There we were able to swim in the river, cover ourselves in mud, and tromp through the woods. There we played with barn cats and snakes, lightning bugs and katydids. I’ve always preferred rural landscapes to urban ones. Wild over tame. It’s like the old bumper stickers from the ’80s used to say: escape to wisconsin.
Milly and Twiss are such unique, singular characters. Have you known anyone like them?
My older brother and I are a lot like them. My brother is a great adventurer like Twiss, and I am more cautious like Milly. When we were kids, my brother was the one who’d set off on all-day adventures in the woods, and I would straggle along behind him hoping not to get caught up in the tangle of pricker bushes behind our house. As we’ve grown older, we’ve grown a bit more moderate. He can sit still for a whole hour now, and I don’t jump on his back when I sense danger nearby. We love each other the way Milly and Twiss do. I can’t bear for him to be sad, and he can’t bear it for me.
I took away from your story a certain symbolism of the damaged birds. What do they represent to you?
The novel began for me with lines I happened upon in an Emily Dickinson poem: “These are the days when Birds come back/A very few—a Bird or two—/To take a backward look.” I have always loved birds on a literal and metaphorical level, and like most children I was deeply fascinated with their ability to come and to go whenever they pleased. In the novel, the older Milly and Twiss have spent their lives nursing birds back to health, mostly because an ordinary starling struck their car at a fateful moment when they were young. On that day, the sisters no longer possessed the power to change their futures and so they took this little bird back to their leaning farmhouse, hoping it would recover from its injuries and take flight for them.
If you had to pick only one scene as your favorite, what would it be, and why?
One of the most wonderful things about small farming towns to me is when the townspeople gather together to celebrate something: a marriage, a graduation, or even the end of the summer in some places. Town fairs are especially magical to me. I love to think about spun sugar, apples in barrels, and pies sitting on checkered tablecloths. Put a town fair in a historical setting; add a little bit of quack medicine in the form of bathtub elixirs, a propeller plane, and a goat named Hoo-Hoo; and there you have it: the climax of the novel and also my favorite scene.
A debut novel is, for many writers, their heart and soul; we open a vein and give so much to our firstborn. What did it feel like to finally complete your story?
I was alone when I typed the last words, and it was very late at night. A part of me wanted to wake my husband and my daughter, to open a bottle of champagne, and to celebrate with the people I loved most in the world. What I ended up doing was taking a walk to the waterfall and millpond up the road. I remember the way the moon looked in the sky. I remember the sound of falling water. I remember the call of an owl high up in a tree. I remember the lightness of my heart, my feet. If giving birth to my daughter was the first great accomplishment of my life, finishing my book was the second.
Wow, that's beautiful. Thank you for sharing and for visiting us at Stiletto, Rebecca!
For more about Rebecca Rasmussen and The Bird Sisters, please visit her web site.