Thursday, April 14, 2011

Introducing Rebecca Rasmussen and The Bird Sisters

I met Rebecca Rasmussen not long ago, when a mutual friend suggested we get together (thanks again, Melissa!).  I love finding new authors in St. Louis, and I was thrilled for the introduction to Rebecca.  She's a multitasking wife and mother who also teaches creative writing at a local university.  As if that's not enough, her fiction debut, The Bird Sisters, hit bookstore shelves on April 12 so she's embarked on a cross-country road trip to promote it.  I've had the pleasure of reading the novel, which introduces us to delightfully different--and, okay, eccentric--Twiss and Milly, better known as "The Bird Sisters."  Since I couldn't find a way to bring you all to my lunch with Rebecca, I figured a Q&A was the best way for everyone to get to know her--and Milly and Twiss--better.  So here we go!

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.


  1. thank you so much for having me here! XOX

  2. It was our pleasure, Rebecca! Hope you sell a million books!

  3. Your description of the moments after you finished your novel are magical -- as I am sure is your book.

    Good Luck!

  4. *waving to all the wonderful Stiletto ladies*

    Great Q&A, Ms. Susan!

    Rebecca, being from Wisconsin (I grew up around Madison ;), I'd wondered if you had a Spring Green connection. I loved those old "Escape to Wisconsin" stickers, too, btw, although teens I knew would mutilate them by scratching off the "Wiscon" part...LOL.

    Congrats, again, on the release of The Bird Sisters! Looking forward to reading it!!

  5. Hi Rebecca and congrats on THE BIRD SISTERS! (It just sounds like a must have title!) I've heard nothing but wonderful things and look forward to reading it! Enjoy all your debut success!!

  6. Welcome, Rebecca, to the Stiletto Gang. Loved reading about your book. It's always fun to read a book about a place you've never been.


  7. Your book sounds wonderful, Rebecca, and the cover is absolutely gorgeous:)
    Thanks for being a guest on the Stiletto Gang!