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A Word With...Amy Barnes
I have always walked a blurred line of surreality...
A Word With… is our interview series in which we chat to writers, journal editors and indie publishers about words, stories and life.
We are delighted to welcome Amy Barnes this month. Amy is the Co-Editor at Gone Lawn, an Associate Editor at Fractured Lit and was a reader at Retreat West for several years. She is also the author of three collections: Mother Figures (ELJ Editions, 2021), Ambrotypes (Word West LLC, 2022), and Child Craft, forthcoming from Belle Point Press this month. Her writing has been nominated for Best of the Net, the Pushcart Prize, Best Microfiction, longlisted for the Wigleaf Top50 in 2021 and 2022, and included in The Best Small Fictions 2022.
So here’s what she had to say to my questions…
Amy, to me you seem to be a prolific writer with stories being published regularly online and also your third collection coming out this month, which makes it three years in a row to have a book published. Can you tell us a bit about your writing process and how you find inspiration to create so many stories?
Thank you so much! The pandemic had a silver lining when kids switched to online learning for a year, and we couldn’t go out and do things. While the education was not what it could have been, we were together 24/7 and our usually packed schedules went away. I’ve actually steadily written for decades, mostly for lifestyle magazines. I still haven’t quite figured out how to merge the literary and non-fiction side of things but that’s a story for another time and also why I don’t have a website.
However, no hectic schedule and with most lifestyle magazines on tight budgets, I had time to write fiction. And I did. While my kids read books and wrote essays, I wrote and took online courses that I didn’t have access to when they were strictly in person — a translation conference in France where Lydia Davis spoke, a course with Sabrina Orah Mark, wonderful Smokelong Quarterly community meetings, Word West courses. And I wrote and edited a lot (including reading every month for Retreat West!).
It also felt like submitting online for digital publications opened up more in the last five years, with an influx of new journals and online publishing at print journals too. I’m from the camp of writers that slowly submitted with postcards and stamps so the adrenaline rush of submitting online was new to me. I still found myself loving print-only journals like bath flash fiction and national flash fiction day anthologies. I found myself with enough loosely linked stories to submit as collections and repeated that formula three times submitting and getting flash and micros published, organising into collections, and then submitting the collections, over and over again.
You are currently an editor for gone lawn and fractured lit, and have previously been a reader for many other journals and for the retreat west competitions, can you tell us what you think these roles bring to you as a writer, and as a reader of stories?
The benefits are multifold. I am able to see the level of talented writers that are getting accepted and rejected — this helps me deal with my own rejections easier. I get to read wonderful stories that are like sparkly gems. I get to read stories that make me all shivery and jealous that I didn’t write them or invent a particular turn of phrase, character or setting. I love reading new tiny or big stories and also seeing them published.
For me, reading and editing for journals feels like a natural extension of submitting to journals; I would feel weird if I wasn’t doing both.
Your stories are often surreal and strange, and I always read them more than once and get more from each reading. Did you deliberately set out to develop this kind of writing style or did it emerge naturally?
I don’t set out to confuse anyone, but I think I have always walked a blurred line of surreality. Sometimes to soften tough topics a little, other times to twist a fairy tale. I’m a pantser in terms of writing and editing a lot of my writing takes place in my head so I think my style developed naturally.
My earlier and longer fiction is written in the American south and I think some of that genre tends to be odd or quirky, maybe in part because of character development. Of course, it could just be because I’m a little strange in real life too.
Many of your stories have really arresting opening lines that instantly draw the reader in and let them know that the world they are about to enter is probably not like the one they experience every day. When you're writing first drafts do you have these lines already and build the story from there, or do the openings tend to come later when you have drafted and edited and got to the heart of the story? Or does it change every time?!
It changes a little every time. Especially in flash or micros though, I mostly do come from the first (or sometimes last line) or title as a starting point for the story. I often work backwards from those three options to write the main body. However, I have written stories with no title and a first line that went nowhere; in those cases, I went searching in the text for a better opener. I think in shorter pieces especially that unpacking the suitcase of the title/first line is especially imperative. I do love choosing odd or obscure words for a title and then defining the title word with the story.
While I do write what might be labelled as more traditional fiction, I do also approach writing fiction as what you mention above, a framing of the text to let readers know that the world they are about to enter is probably not like the one they experience every day.
Your collection, Mother Figures, looks at the mother-daughter relationship in depth and from many different angles, and your new collection, Child Craft, also focuses on the ways mothers and daughters push and pull against each other. Can you tell us what motivates you to keep writing about this sometimes loving, sometimes fraught, relationship?
Honestly, I went into writing fiction with a directive to myself: don’t write about mothers or daughters, or mothers and daughters. As you can see, I failed or succeeded brilliantly or miserably depending on the day. I continue to write about those topics in the midst of fraught-ness and being a mom to a daughter. Sometimes, the stories are reminders to myself on how not to act, cautionary tales but I think I’m also fascinated with the dynamic overall too.
My perpetually-in-progress novel actually focuses on a father-daughter relationship but again, I veer into the theme somehow. The mother figure is not around and that comes into it as a relationship in absentia.
What can we expect from you next?
I’m kind of in book promo mode right now, but I’ll be doing a Zoom launch (details to come) and some other events like a course tied to the collection. I haven’t written or submitted much this summer, but plan on getting back on track. And speaking of that novel-in-progress that’s my next project, corralling all the loose ends and chapters in the huge Google doc.
Thanks so much Amy for your time and insights. Hopefully lots of us will now find the inspiration to pull together our stories and form a collection!
Next up, we'll be having a word with Ingrid Jendrzejewski who as well as being a writer of short fiction, is Editor in Chief of FlashBack Fiction, an editor at Flash Flood, and a flash editor at JMWW, and is one of the co-directors of National Flash Fiction Day (UK).
Thanks for reading. If you know of any other readers and/or writers who would enjoy this interview, please do share it with them.
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