4 Questions and 2 Sentence Starters with Amber McRee Turner

Amber McRee Turner's Circa Now is celebrating its book birthday on Tuesday! I'm celebrating it a few days early. 

Mr. Schu: Amber, congratulations on the publication of Circa Now! Your characters, especially Miles, kept me glued to the pages. Names of students who will devour it popped into my head from page one until I finished reading the last chapter. Thank you for creating such distinct characters and an exciting, stimulating plot. 

Please share what planted the seed for Circa Now.

Amber McRee Turner: Thank you for that kindness, Mr. Schu. 

Mr. Schu: You're welcome. :) 

Truth is, the seed for Circa Now was planted by one single act of mischief that went awry. 

About twelve years ago, my husband was deployed overseas with the Army to work semi-undercover. This meant that he came back home with a super long bushy beard. Because of this, we thought it would be a lark to insert Bryan’s face into an old Civil War-era photo of his four great-great-great-great (bearded) uncles that had been in a frame on my in-laws’ shelf for decades. So we snuck the pic home, scanned it, and with Photoshop, carefully plopped Bryan right in the middle of the brothers. We put the new version of the picture into the frame, just to see if anyone would notice (and we left the original nearby). After that, we totally forgot what we’d done...until one Thanksgiving, Bryan’s grandmother shuffled over to the pic and tried to recall the names of all “five” brothers. Jimmy, Jackie, Jerry, Johnny, and oh for the life of her, she couldn’t remember that other one. We were just about to let the whole family in on the joke, when it suddenly became obvious that somehow, in the years since we’d doctored the photo, the original had been discarded.

The guilt laid heavy on us for a while. I couldn’t help but feel like we’d somehow altered family history by our mischief. And then my mind went wild with it...what if that new person we’d put in that photo had suddenly, inexplicably appeared in 1860? How would history have been different because of what that guy did?

Thus, the “Shopt” seed was planted.

(Incidentally, Circa Now is dedicated to the fifth brother, Great Great Great Great Uncle Bryan.)
Image credit: Amber McRee Turner
Mr. Schu: I cannot wait to “Shopt” a collection of photographs. When did you start this fascinating hobby?

Amber McRee Turner: Great! I’d love to see some of your own Shopt work.

I’ve been into photography for as long as I can remember...shooting new pics and hoarding old ones. Then at some point in the 90’s I began doing some freelance graphic design work and bought myself a copy of Photoshop. Now, many years and software versions later, I’ve just about figured out how to use all the doodads on there.

Basically then, it’s just math. Love of storytelling + an ever-growing collection of old photos + the ability to manipulate said photos + a daughter with a wild imagination = The Shopt.  

Mr. Schu: I’m borrowing a question that I found on your lovely website: “What’s Sway?”

Amber McRee Turner: The short answer is, Sway is power or influence.

For the longer answer, I’ll quote one of my favorite characters, Douglas Nordenhauer: 

“It’s like we’re all born with our souls real sticky, and we pick a little something up from every person we’ve known. We all keep a little something from everyone, past or present, who touches our lives. Some of it’s as cruddy as beef jerky crumbs. But then there’s the sparkly glitter scattered in between all that. That glitter, it’s the part you want to keep—the pieces you take from others to help make a better you. That’s the real Sway.”

Mr. Schu: Please share a handful of the books twelve-year-old Amber read and recommended to her friends 

Amber McRee Turner: Full disclosure...Twelve-year-old Amber was not much of a reader. She loved books, but loved them so very much she didn’t want to bend them and smudge them and mess them up. 42-year-old Amber, however, has gotten over all that. Some books that 42-year-old Amber would recommend to twelve-year-old Amber and her friends are:

Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren

Yellow and Pink by William Steig

The Rocket Book by Peter Newell

Runny Babbit by Shel Silverstein

On Beyond Zebra by Dr. Seuss

Please complete these sentences: 

Reading is a constant, necessary reminder of one universal truth. That anything is possible. 

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me about the song. “A Prayer Like Any Other” by Kevin Welch is the song that plays an important part in Circa’s story. It plays an important part in my own story as well. Go have a listen. It’ll be worth your two minutes.

I am giving away one copy of Circa Now

Rules for the Giveaway

1. It will run from 5/25 to 11:59 p.m. on 5/27. 

2. You must be at least 13 

3. Please pay it forward. 


  1. I am excited to read Circa and let my students play with the shopped photos idea - not to mention using shopped photos as writing prompts (posted by Mr. Schu a couple of days ago). Thanks for being a major influence in my PLN!

  2. What a WONderful interview! First---I totally gasped when I read "...in the years since we’d doctored the photo, the original had been discarded." I can imagine how that felt. I've had something similar (though it involved an heirloom diamond) happen to me. Ugh.

    Amber, if you read this, your books sound so full and rich. You and John have helped whet my reading appetite! I love your metaphors. Great stuff. Thanks for the interview :)

  3. Rebecca WillinghamMay 26, 2014 at 6:02 PM

    I absolutly loved this amazing book. I can't wait to get my hard copy tomorrow and read it again.


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