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Former Woodstock woman pens debut novel

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Former Woodstock resident Amy Gail Hansen will release her debut novel, “The Butterfly Sister,” through William Morrow/Harper Collins Publishers this August.

Hansen (formerly Bauer) and her family moved to the Woodstock area when she was around the age of 10. The Palatine resident and mother of three credits her own mother, a “phenomenal storyteller,” as her first inspiration. Hansen attended St. Mary School and Woodstock High School before pursuing a degree in English at Carthage College, Kenosha, Wis. 

“My teachers at Woodstock High School really whipped me into shape,” Hansen said. “They played a huge part [in my career path].”

After college, Hansen taught English at Woodstock High School and said she eventually left teaching to pursue her dream of becoming a serious writer. Though she said she enjoyed teaching, she knew it wasn’t the right career path for her.

“I felt like an artist who wasn’t able to create,” she said.

One of her first stops along her journey to becoming a novelist was at The Independent, where she worked as a freelance writer and copy editor during the summer of 2003.

“It was a great start,” Hansen said. “It was my stepping stone.”

Hansen went on to work for Pioneer Press and published articles in McHenry County Living and McHenry Woman. She said her freelancing work and its deadlines helped her keep focused on writing and pushed her toward her goals. 

“I could [finally] call myself a writer,” she said. “Having things published gave me the confidence to say ‘I am a writer.’”

Hansen said the early freelancing days also helped connect her to people – especially people she wanted to become. Inspiration for “The Butterfly Sister” first came to her in 2004, while on her honeymoon in Italy. She said when she went to check her luggage, she realized the tag on her suitcase bore someone else’s name and address – the name of a girl she’d lent the luggage to back in college.

She wondered what would have happened if she’d lost her bag and especially wondered what would have happened if the bag had been sent to the other girl instead.

“I thought, ‘Oh, wouldn’t that make a good story,’” Hansen said. “And I kept the tag as inspiration for the story.”

“The Butterfly Sister”  began to evolve over the course of the next few years. After attending a writer’s group and hearing a women’s emotional poem  about a women’s college forced to transform into a co-ed institution, Hansen said she decided to set her own story at a women’s college on the brink of turning co-ed. The characters began to take shape, and she officially set to work on the book in 2006.

Hansen described her main character, Ruby Russo, as an “injured” college drop-out turned obituary writer. When a suitcase Russo borrowed from a college acquaintance comes back to her, she tries to return it, only to find the other girl has gone missing.

“[The mystery] sets Ruby off on an odyssey where she comes to terms with her own past. There are elements of romances and [the story] crosses a lot of genres,” Hansen said. “Literary writers also show up throughout the book – women writers. The book also is about the link between creativity and madness.”

Hansen said she believes her first novel has a lot to offer, and readers who like “a good mystery” will enjoy it. 

“There is a lot of meaning to it. It is a good and entertaining read and also has some depth,” she said.

Hansen said she hopes to stop in Woodstock, a place she likes to think of as her hometown, in the near future for book signings.

She shared some advice for people aspiring to become serious writers.

“Be persistent. You’ve got to keep at it,” she said. “Sometimes it takes a long time. The No. 1 piece of advice I can give is not to be concerned with publication while writing the book,” she continued. “I stopped worrying about when it would get published and just wrote the story I wanted to write. I took the story to the level where it needed to be.”

“The Butterfly Sister” will be released Aug. 6.

For information, visit www.amygailhansen.com.