Interview with Amy Barnes
Updated: Jan 23
Amy is a force to be reckoned with in the world of flash fiction. She edits for a variety of literary magazines, including Fractured Lit, Gone Lawn, and Ruby Literary and examples of her exquisite and unique writing can be found in almost every literary magazine or journal on the internet. Just check out her author website for the full and vast list of her writing and editing accomplishments.
But she doesn't go for quantity over quality. Oh no! Amie's stories showcase the complexities of human relationships in imaginative and quirky ways. Her writing is always keenly observed- razor sharp -and often delivered with a healthy dose of magic.
"A car the size of a house rams our house that’s the size of a house." This intriguing and perfectly pitched opening line comes from one of my favourite of Amy's stories, "Divorced." This piece, first published in X-R-A-Y and then in Ambrotypes, is one that rolls around your brain after reading as you revisit the whirlwind of images, a house with a hole, marriage with a hole, a child left reeling.
Meet the author:
Amy Cipolla Barnes has words at a wide range of sites including Flash Frog, Reckon Review, The Citron Review, Complete Sentence, Trampset, 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 the Wigleaf50, and included in Best Small Fictions 2022. She’s a Fractured Lit associate editor, Gone Lawn co-editor, Ruby Lit 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 second collection Ambrotypes published by Word West in March, 2022. Cipolla Barnes' newest collection Child Craft is forthcoming with Belle Point Press in 2023.
Amy's picks were: questions 2 through 29
What’s the best or worst piece of writing advice you’ve ever been given?
AB: I struggle with labelling writing advice as good or bad. When I was in a college creative writing, my well-published professor told us as a class that we really couldn't write the heavy life topics we were trying to write about until we had life experience. At 19, that felt like a devastating attack on my creativity. Years later, I think he was right. The delivery was awful but the premise was right. I had no spouse, no children, had lived in the same city most of my life and was only a few semesters into college. The misnomer "write what you know" sounds similarly harsh but I do find it's hard to bring resonance to writing about tough or even just life topics if I haven't at least lived them a bit.
What is your favourite method for generating new stories?
AB: Odd news stories or images, roadside signs
Do you own any pets and what are they called?
AB: Two rescue dogs. Both lab mixes- one lab/whippet mix and the other one a lab/dachshund mix. Lizzie and Zayne.
Can you listen to music while you write?
AB: I do. For many reasons but I also love the storytelling in the song lyrics most of all. The lyrics are by nature often a piece of micro fiction or memoir.
Which genre or style of writing are you most comfortable writing?
AB: flash/micro fiction, speculative/surrealism/magical realism
I also write non-fiction articles and essays outside of the literary genres.
Honestly, how many times a day do you check Submittable/refresh your email?
AB: That depends on how many subs are in there, how long they've been there and at what publication. I checked more when the app still existed.
What are the recurring themes in your writing?
AB: Motherhood, parenting, music, twisted fairy tales, defining big words with small stories.
What does your dream ice-cream sundae look like?
AB: A Farrell's ice cream sundae brought to me by people playing drums and singing, more ice cream and toppings that I could ever eat by myself
Would you rather, a day at the water park or at the cinema?
Do you have a writing pet peeve?
AB: Exposition in flash, people writing about hurting insects or animals purposefully or as pranks, objectification of women, things submitted that are designed to shock only.
What makes you most nervous when it comes to writing?
AB: That no one will read it and that my mother might read it
What is the shortest piece you’ve ever written?
AB: I think 14 words for The Minison Project.
What’s your favourite piece you’ve had published, to date, and why?
AB: I don't know how to answer that. It really has changed over time and in phases as I get obsessed with subjects or characters or settings. I think the piece that became a base piece for my books and took the most editing/submitting to get placed might be the closest. The Good Mother published by Bandit Fiction.
How do you feel about twist endings?
I think they can work if they don't moralize or tie the story up too neatly. In many cases, I think the last line/twist ending can be taken out if the writer (me!) has done their job throughout the story -- leaves the white space for the reader to think.
Have you or would you ever skydive?
AB: Maybe inside skydiving, but not outside ever!
Do you keep track of your rejections and what’s this year’s
AB: Nope. To be honest, I don't keep track of acceptances either. They go into a NO folder or an ACCEPTANCES one and that's about as far as they go. I have them there to go back to but I fail completely at both being organized or handling yeses or no's.
Would you rather watch ten episodes of Family Guy, The Simpsons, or Bob’s Burgers?
AB: The Simpsons
How do you really feel about form rejections?
AB: I kind of like them. It's cut and dry and I can imagine all the bad things that readers thought/said about my writing. If a rejection includes more concrete info or platitudes, I lose that escape. I read and edit at a variety of places and our rejections also vary. I would love to give personalized feedback to each and every submitter but time is an issue and not every writer wants that. I don't always want that. If I've subbed something 5 or 6 times, I seek that needed feedback from writing groups or feedback partners instead of from journals.
What do your first drafts look like?
AB: It depends. Usually a first or last line to build from. Scattered notes and alternative options. I write and edit a lot in my head so often the story comes out beyond a technical first draft onto the paper. That first draft in my head is a mess to carry around.
Who is your first reader on a new story?
AB: Sara Hills and a short list of trusted readers and editors.
Are you part of a writer’s circle?
AB: I am a part of several circles in different genres and writing arenas. They are my beta readers and confidants.
What piece of punctuation, if any, do you always end up using wrong or too freely?
AB: I'm not a fan of commas, but I struggle with where to put the necessary ones around dialogue and also where periods go around parentheses. Is it inside or outside? Does it matter either way?
Which piece of punctuation could you live without?
AB: comma, see above. :)
What’s your reading guilty pleasure?
AB: lifestyle magazines or Middle grade/YA books. My kids are reading more adult novels (by label) at this point, but there's something in the books I read with them for years.
Who would win in a fight, a piece of flash fiction, a prose poem or a drabble?
AB: I think perhaps the drabble because the writers behind it have to really punch extra hard with their words in the smaller space.
What was your favourite cartoon to watch growing up?
AB: Looney Tunes
Who’s writing is a must read?
AB: This may be the hardest question because there are so many writers in my circles that have put out wonderful books! During the pandemic, I was able to take a course online with Sabrina Orah Mark. Her Wild Milk and Aimee Nezhukumatathil's World of Wonders helped me to explore a different kind of writing and feel more free to write in those spaces. I have a TBR stack of my fellow writers that may need its own library soon.
What book is your writing/craft bible?
AB: I think earlier on I gravitated toward books like Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird and Stephen King's On Writing because those were the books I thought I was supposed to read. They are great craft books, but I think I find more now in smaller more focused books like Nancy's Stohlman's Going Short. I took Michael Loveday's writing course that is the basis for his craft book and it was great. Finding time to read and apply a craft book is hard to do while you are crafting, I think. I tend to take courses and then go back to my notes and recorded material for inspiration.
Thank you, Amy, for such an honest, open, fun and insightful chat.
If you haven't read all, or indeed any, of Amy's books yet, they're a must!
Amy's latest flash fiction collection Ambrotypes is available from Word West Press and all major online outlets. You could also begin with one of her great chapbooks: Mother Figures or her essays in Clean up on Aisle 5. Look out for her latest book, Child Craft, which is forthcoming with Belle Point Press in 2023.
You can follow Amy on Twitter at @amygcb or if you want to hear more about her inspiration when writing or thoughts on the writing life her episode on The Lives of Writers podcast (Autofocus Lit) is a brilliant listen.