Amy Julia Becker’s first book, A Good and Perfect Gift: Faith, Expectations, and a Little Girl Named Penny (Bethany House)—which told the story of Penny, her first-born child, who has Down syndrome--was named one of PW’s Top Ten Religion Books of 2011. Her newest, Small Talk: Learning from My Children about What Matters Most (Zondervan), has received high praise by reviewers on websites such as Goodreads and Amazon since its release in November. Becker has been interviewed by or written for USA Today, ABC News, TIME magazine, Parents magazine, The Huffington Post, and Christianity Today, among other media.
Tell us a little about your journey to becoming a full-time writer.
Writing has been an unexpected landing point for me. In college it never crossed my mind there was a path to being a professional writer. I started by working in a parachurch ministry, but before I could enroll in seminary we moved to New Orleans in 2003 to care for my dying mother-in-law. I did a lot of journaling during that time and wrote it into a book, which didn’t sell to a traditional publisher so I custom published it. I started blogging and writing for Beliefnet and Her.meneutics and gained followers. The first traditionally published book, A Good and Perfect Gift, about my daughter’s diagnosis of Down syndrome, finally came out in 2011. I signed the contract for it the day I completed my final seminary assignment.
What were the challenges in writing Small Talk?
Small Talk was fun to write because I got to cover so many different topics, such as gratitude and beauty, and tell stories at the same time. It was easy to say, “What have my children’s words or actions taught me about this topic?” The challenge was figuring out what held all those stories and topics together. I decided on “Holding On,” “Letting Go,” and “Growing Up” as the structure for the book.
Did you have any boundaries in writing about your children?
I decided I can only tell stories about them in print that I would be willing to tell with them in the room with other people. But we live in a boarding school in Connecticut where my husband is head of the school, so my children are used to living semi-public lives.
What excited you about Small Talk?
I’m excited about the book because, while Penny having Down syndrome comes up, it’s also a way to allow her to be who she is in our family. She’s William and Maralee’s older sister and our oldest daughter. We see her strengths and gifts and struggles. People from the outside looking in see only the difference. From inside the family looking out, we see the similarities. It’s been nice to write about it from the inside and offer implicit explanations of why we don’t think of Down syndrome as a big scary monster but just as something Penny has.
Do you see your books as falling into the literary nonfiction genre?
Lots of fiction and nonfiction is entertaining but not intended to last long. Some nonfiction is intended to last and is trying to talk about timeless themes the way some novels do. I would love to be counted in the same space as Jeannette Walls (The Glass Castle) and Mary Karr (The Liars’ Club; Lit).
What do you hope readers take from your books?
I want parents to be encouraged, but I also want people who are outside my experience to be glad the book leads them to think about what it means to grow up, to be dependent on God, and to see grace enter our lives in all these rather ordinary moments.