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.
1. When did you start writing?
"I started writing in third grade. My friend Linda and I were deeply obsessed with fantasy novels and storytelling, so we decided to write one together where we could create this magical world and populate it with characters who were so vibrant and real to us. We told each other this story, verbally, during recesses, and I would transcribe them onto notebook paper later. Through this process, I began writing more consistently and fell in love with storytelling and with the possibilities that it holds.
I have also always been drawn to image and to the line itself. That is something that definitely helped me branch into poetry and to embrace the smaller-scale sense of wonder or discovery that you can get through experimenting with language."
2. What drew you to write poetry?
"I actually exclusively wrote prose until the fall of 2020. What changed at that point was I’d made a lot of online writer friends who were these incredible and inspiring poets, and seeing what they were doing catalyzed my more serious exploration of poetry and the freedom it provides. The collection of poetry that really helped me get into it was Crush by Richard Siken (a very standard favorite). For me, this book was so wonderful because, in addition to how gorgeous, emotional, and skilled it is on a craft level, Siken’s often more narrative style helped me bridge the gap in my mind between prose—and the narratives I crafted in prose—and poetry. It introduced me to this new genre and opened up a lot of possibilities for exploration.
One of the reasons I continue to write poetry is because of how liberating it can be, form-wise. I am a big fan of experimenting with form and fitting the form of a piece to its content, and poetry is so unlimited in that sense. Another thing about poetry that I love is the distance, or the lack of distance, between the speaker and the writer. In prose—obviously, there’s autofiction—but oftentimes in fiction, the characters are very distinct from the writer. However, in poetry, there’s a blurry area where sometimes the speaker is me, and sometimes she’s a specific facet of me talking, and sometimes she’s me in a hypothetical situation but still reflecting my fears or desires or the ideas I’m grappling with. And it can be unclear to the reader how much of me is in the speaker and how much of the speaker is me, which allows for a slight veil of privacy while discussing what can be intensely personal subjects."
3. What drew you to write prose?
"Like I said before, I was initially drawn to writing prose because I adored stories, storytelling, and having this cast of characters who I could live with in my mind and on the page. That feeling of creation was something that I fell in love with at a very early age. Now, I still write prose because I love to see these characters through their arcs, as well as how they come alive in different situations or when interacting with each other. The long form also provides a lot of space to let characters, themes, and ideas develop and transform, especially in novel, which is a form I’ve recently picked up again. It creates a lot of opportunities to circle these ideas and to explore various facets of them through different characters or different sections of the project."
4. Where does your inspiration come from?
"My inspiration comes from so many places! I think one of the best things about writing is that you can look at the world around you and see something simultaneously so mundane but so wonderful that you want to write about it. However, I think some of the funnier places I draw inspiration are random places online, like YouTube comment sections or Tweets or other posts that I find so funny/intriguing they stay with me as a possible seed for a piece. The most recent example of this is my poem 'My Neighbors Make a Ghost', which was inspired by a tweet where people were crafting ghosts out of chicken wire and using them as Halloween decorations. When I saw this, I thought 'That is so genius, and so strange and simple at the same time.' I guess I’m drawn to things that are very everyday, but that are imbued with some strangeness or surrealness that makes them stand out."
5. How did Inheritances of Hunger come about? When did you realize you had material for a book?
"There are two possible origins for the chapbook, depending on how you define 'come about'. Technically, the first story, 'Games', was written in March of 2021. However, I did not realize I had material for a chapbook until April of 2021 when I wrote 'Changeling'. After writing that story, I looked at these pieces that I’d written consecutively and at the commonalities between them, like the prominence of hunger, desire, and cruelty, and of these familial relationships between women. With these threads in mind, I wrote some bullet points on hunger as a literalization of desire/cruelty/hurt, and how characters could play an active vs. a passive role in their hunger, and the relationships between these ideas and family. As I wrote these notes, I realized that these could be through-lines for a thematically-linked chapbook, and I began brainstorming and constructing stories along those lines."
6. Would you like to share what current writing project(s) you are working on?
"I have not been writing consistently for a few months, but technically, I should be working on two novel projects. The first one is When Cicadas Sing for the Dead, the first chapter of which you can read in the 2022 YoungArts Anthology. This is a novel I’ve been working on since July of 2021, and it has transformed so much regarding structure and characters and the framework within which I try to explore my ideas. It’s been a great process so far, and I hope to finish it within the next few years.
My second novel project is currently untitled, and I only have the first chapter. Still, within it, I was thinking a lot about myths, how living people become myths, and the selective memory required to make someone a myth. Going off of that idea, I was also thinking about how people interact with their myths—trying to escape their myths or entering their myths from the periphery. That was very vague, but it’s something I’ve been having fun with."
7. What’s your favorite writing advice you’ve been told?
"My favorite writing advice came from my friend, Miriam, who was leaving comments on my poems. She told me I have to earn my abstractions, which really helped solidify the way I think about concrete and abstract language and imagery. After reading that comment, I’ve become very conscious about anchoring my ideas or images in the concrete before letting them blossom into the abstract so these abstractions have something to hold onto rather than floating around in a haze."
8. And finally, what do you enjoy doing that you don’t talk about enough. Tell me all about it!
"One major part of my life that I don’t talk a lot about is cycling. I started biking with my family at a young age, and from eighth through twelfth grade, I mountain biked competitively. I also enjoy long-distance road biking trips, in which I load all my belongings onto the bike and ride for a few weeks like that. Something so amazing about those trips is that I get to experience the area in a much better than I could from a car. Specifically, when I was biking along Route 66, I could go on the historic Route rather than the modern highway, allowing me to see exactly where the Route shifts between alignments/pavings/widths from different time periods, as well as relics of the past like the tiny Conoco gas stations or motels. It really made for a more intimate experience, and I loved being able to experience that accumulation of history in a much more up-close way. I haven’t really written anything about biking yet, but it might happen eventually."
Hear Nova read her flash piece "on building a nest."
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