1. When did you start writing?
"I started writing when I started reading – around age 3. I didn’t know it was odd to see the marching lines suddenly as words. My mother loves to tell the story of how I named my baby sister when I was three and a half, A-by to match A-my. She keeps every scrap of paper I wrote on or touched when I lived at her house like emphemera trophies. This includes early bits of writing on wide-lined notebook paper and construction paper, glued down for eternity in her basement, transferred to my house over the years. I have those words and poems and stories recorded from musty paper stacks, from early stories about kittens to college term papers in French, forty pages of 20-something wanderings on Madame Bovary.
I’m not a journaller, even though I buy the requisite writer journals. My writing starts and stops are still well chronicled through my mother and occasionally The Wayback Machine at defunct sites. I’ve always straddled a writing line – literary and more commercial writing. In other words, writing that doesn’t pay and writing that does. This is a long answer for a short question but the same things do come through in my non-fiction articles and fiction writing: food, family, parenting, quirkiness, sensory details, unique settings, historical aspects."
2. What drew you to write flash fiction?
"I actually didn’t know I was writing (or teaching) flash fiction. I spent 20 years creating and facilitating courses through colleges and businesses. I recently went back through my emails and found that I was quoting and using early craft books that spoke of what is now called flash fiction. At the time, I was writing well over 1,000, 1,500 words and found the idea of writing ‘short’ fascinating and comfortable.
In elementary school, an early speed-reading course actually set me up reading/writing flash. I developed the skill/curse of reading entire pages of text at a time, burning them into my brain. Reading and editing flash fits that process. 500 words or so at a time.
My engineer husband loves to write 49-word sentences which drives me bonkers and brings out my editing red pen. I discovered in the last few years that I can write 49 word stories, all in one sentence – maybe we had the same idea all along. I watched my longform fiction morph to less than a thousand words over the years as I had kids and found myself writing in snatches of time, carrying stories around in my head. As I focused on the immediate moments of being a mother, I began to write shorter and shorter, partly out of necessity and partly as snaps of stories. I have a bad habit of ‘writing’ and ‘editing’ in my head first. At any given moment, I have several stories knocking about – it’s much easier to carry flash fiction around than a longer story."
3. Where does your inspiration come from?
"My inspirations come from everywhere: street sign fonts, road signs, my family, other people’s families, old photographs, eavesdropping in Waffle Houses, billboards, news stories, nature, movies, music, books."
4. How did Ambrotypes come about? When did you realize you had material for a book?
"My micro chapbook through ELJ, Editions required the stories to be under 300 words. While selecting those, I went through other things I had written/published and found I had a lot of stories over that 300 word mark and started compiling them in one document. When they were all in one place, it was enough for a full length collection.
I was struck by old-fashioned photo carousels but also the dangerous process of vintage photography. The titular story was originally titled something else. I switched it to Ambrotypes and chose that as a somewhat mysterious but also simple one-word overall title. People have told me they’ve looked up the term too. I wanted to express that flipping through of photographs in albums or the discovery of a forgotten image found in an antique store shoebox."
5. What do you hope people take away from your work?
"Short answer: something that resonates. I want readers to feel something, tangibly or in their heart. Remember a taste. Hear music. Think about something or someone. Feel grief. Feel joy. Laugh. Cry. The easy things to accomplish with words, of course."
6. What’s your favorite writing advice you’ve been told?
"A writing teacher years ago told me she read my workshop story on the bus and that she bawled for three stops. She told me to write like that. Make people cry. Make people laugh. Make people think about your story for multiple bus stops and days."
7. What advice would you give to a writer who is interested in writing flash fiction?
"Don’t describe the brick wall of a building unless someone is going to punch it later on. That corner stove had better burn the house down. Use sensory details with impact: yellow wallpaper and green neck ribbons matter. Don’t bring suitcases of words that you and your reader won’t unpack. Use beautiful language and sparse words. Include a spit of non-fiction in your stories. Do the necessary research even if it’s for one sentence or one word. Don’t include more characters than paragraphs and don’t name them with similar starting consonants or rhyming endings; readers will be confused with a Mary, Cherry, Carrie or Susan, Sandy, Sal, and Cindy. I may take that advice a little too far. I’ve discovered I often omit place and character names entirely, sometimes even gender."
8. Would you like to share what current writing project(s) you are working on?
"My day/night job is also writing. On that front, I’m working on a humor piece, articles for Southern Living, product descriptions and various essays. Editing. Proofing. In literary land, I’m looking forward to SmokeLong Summer to generate some new stories. In a larger vein, I have the proverbial novel in progress, but also a surreal memoir collection out on submission and in Google docs in edits."
9. And finally, what do you enjoy doing that you don’t talk about enough. Tell me all about it!
"Sleeping. Traveling. My family went to Europe in summer, 2019 and I’ve never been so glad to do the planning and the traveling. In a few short months, the pandemic hit and we would have missed those memories entirely the next summer. I read lifestyle magazines while I wait for my kids and there’s usually a stack in my car straight out of mailbox.
Thanks so much!"
Amy Cipolla Barnes has words at a wide range of sites including Flash Frog, Reckon Review, The Citron Review, Complete Sentence, Trampset, The Citron Review, The Bureau Dispatch, Spartan Lit, JMWW Journal, McSweeney’s and many others. Her writing has been nominated for Best of the Net, the Pushcart Prize, Best Microfiction, longlisted for Wigleaf50, and included in Best Small Fictions 2022. She’s a Fractured Lit associate editor, Gone Lawn co-editor, Ruby Lit assistant editor and also reads for Narratively, CRAFT, Taco Bell Quarterly, and The MacGuffin. Her debut chapbook Mother Figures was published in June, 2021 by ELJ Editions with a full length collection AMBROTYPES published by word west in March, 2022. She is also a 2021-2022 Artwire Fellow. You can find her on Twitter at @amygcb.
Amy Cipolla Barnes
Cristina A. Bejan
Elizabeth M Castillo
Sara Siddiqui Chansarkar
Emily M. Goldsmith
Lukas Ray Hall
B. Tyler Lee
June Lin (mini)
Calia Jane Mayfield
Maria S. Picone
Charlie D’Aniello Trigueros
Heath Joseph Wooten