Wednesday, September 27, 2023

The 40 But 10 Interview Series: Amy Barnes


I had decided to retire the literary Would You Rather series, but didn't want to stop interviews on the site all together. Instead, I've pulled together 40ish questions - some bookish, some silly - and have asked authors to limit themselves to answering only 10 of them. That way, it keeps the interviews fresh and connectable for all of us!

We are joined today by Amy Cipolla Barnes. Amy is the author of Child Craft (Belle Point Press) Ambrotypes (word west press) and Mother Figures (ELJ Editions). Her words have appeared in many publications, including The Citron Review, JMWW, trampset, Flash Frog, No Contact Mag, Leon Review, Complete Sentence, The Bureau Dispatch, Nurture Lit, X-R-A-Y Lit, McSweeney’s, Southern Living, SmokeLongQuarterly, and others. She’s been nominated for Best of the Net, the Pushcart Prize, Best Microfiction, Best Small Fictions, and long-listed for Wigleaf50 in 2021, 2022, and 2023. She’s a Fractured Lit Associate Editor, Gone Lawn coeditor, Ruby Lit assistant editor and reads for The MacGuffin, Best Small Fictions, Mason Jar Press, and Narratively. Find her on X, Instagram, and BlueSky at @amygcb.

Do you have any hidden talents?

 Short answer: I can speed read. Long answer is more complicated. When I say that, I don’t mean a little fast. I mean freaky fast - two pages at a time or around 1500 words a minute. The words imprint like seared little brands on my brain if my brain was a marked piece of beef. I’ve been able to do this odd quirk since I was in elementary school. At a very high comprehension level to boot. My  inventive and still kicking into his 90s Gifted, Talented and Creative teacher decided to create a way to help us all read faster. This was in a time when that label meant we did chemistry experiments and ran a business and participated in plays – I was St. Nicholas - but it was also for the odd kids noone how or what to teach. Except Mr. Cheatham. He knew. He taught us how to speed read (and speed math.)  It also meant he had us reading a kaleidoscope of words on an old school slide projector he rigged up with a Radio Shack motor. I think we even all field tripped with him to buy said motor and peruse the aisles.

 The process went as expected for a while and then one day while he was off doing something teacherly or mad science-y, the projector went haywire and the ten of us sat entranced as words and paragraphs flew over and over again. By the time he returned to us, our eyes were spinning like Twilight Zone actors. He took that glazed look as a plus and promptly tested us on comprehension which somehow we did great on. And then he repeated the exercise every day for months at the roller coaster speed. In highsight, we were probably a little like lab rats. But, I also appreciate and hate the way I read at a blitzkrieg pace. I take in a lot of words and I understand them, but I don’t read casually. I can’t. I will always read like I’m eight in a dusty classroom entranced by the lightning round.


What’s the most useless skill you possess?

Being able to crack my index finger knuckle without touching it - thanks to a 3rd grade Twister game hand fracture.

If you could have a superpower, what would it be?

 Speed cleaning with only a twitch of my Samantha Stephens nose.


What’s the best money you’ve ever spent as a writer?

 Buying books.


Describe your book in three words.

 Mothers. Children. Stories.


Describe your book poorly.

 Mothers. Children. Stories.


If you met your characters in real life, what would you say to them?

 This is a fascinating question for a writer because I think we get to meet our characters in fictional life and tell them what to do. For me, they aslo dictate their lives as I write. If they were incarnated and I ran into them on the street, it might be difficult. I imagine they would be doing interesting and complicated things, but only up until the point when I met them. And then they would stand still on the street in front of an idyllic picket fence, waiting expectantly for me to give them the next words or next adventure or vegetables out of my garden. Make them walk that next sentient step. I would hope they would be dimensional, but I also picture papery, flapping-in-the-wind characters that would need a quick Choose Your Own Adventure infection of life. I would want to have written them fully enough to live but hypothetically – would I have?  So, what would I say? Go. Live. Do interesting things. Here are fourteen more paper people I’ve made for you to interact with. Sorry for what happened when I dropped you in a volcano or made you love that person you shouldn’t love. Sorry for the name I gave you. Sorry for not letting you go in the direction you should have. I might wipe the chocolate off the corner of their mouths with a wet napkin. And because I’m a new empty nester, I would tell them to go live their lives with my words as their backdrop, but not all of their future.


Would you and your main character(s) get along?

 Probably not. Because as much as I try to write the opposite of what I know (out of defiance and trying to challenge myself for some reason), that’s what I do. I write what I know, with much twistiness. Even though I write fiction, I am writing myself and I don’t know that I’d get along with myself. And I’m writing that self in a way that is an alternate universe sometimes, hints of autobiography in others. Better versions. Worse versions. The versions I don’t want to meet in an alley. The versions I wish had happened. The versions I don’t remember but fill in the details the way I might want to. The versions I do remember but I paint over them with word paint that would need to be sandblasted off. I think my characters would hate and love me, the way I hate and love them.

 So, we’d probably have tea and one of us would spill the tea (literally and in a figuratively-Southern way) and we’d sit there together until someone felt uncomfortable because I wrote them a new pathway and then we’d go our separate ways, mailing 19th century calligraphy letters back and forth and meeting up for the obligatory holidays. Oh, and we’re all very fancifully dressed in velvet dresses with lace, but wearing tennis shoes. And, it’s raining like we’re in the Alcott sisters attic because that’s where writers meet their main characters.


If you could cast your characters in a movie, which actors would play them and why?

 Because I write a lot of Southern lit, I imagine Reese Witherspoon and Oprah at least directing, maybe starring. And because I pick them, I also want the accompanying book to be their book club picks. Any of the Steel Magnolias actors. Sally Fields. Julia Roberts. A confused cosmetologist Daryl Hannah. Someone who has a baby in a bar because my stories have a baby in a bar. Maybe that Steel Magnolias set too. Gussied up in different ways for each of my different books-to-movie adaptations. Soft spoken actors playing sometimes-difficult roles with the quiet nuances and loud conflicts and juke box scores.

 On an ironic side note, during the pandemic I co-wrote an entire movie script with two friends that live in New York. It won awards, we did a table read of sorts with friends, family and industry folk, and we talked with a producer. Of course, we picked the worst time to try and do such a thing. The chick lit film was partly based in New York and partly in the South where I live, and explored our leading characters in both places. I think I always  envision my written words as potential screenplays too, that third dimension where they get lifted from the page into New York and Tennessee. This realization means I need to call my friends and revisit our script but it also guides how I write. I want and think I need to write characters that could be actors on a stage or in a movie. I don’t write books to specifically write screenplays but I think there’s something to that.


What’s the weirdest thing you’ve given/received as a gift?

 A whole pineapple. On a first date. No knife or cute picnic idea behind it. I had to carry the entire prickly thing around the entire time like a dreadful baby. There was no second date.



The unmistakable voice of Amy Cipolla Barnes returns in this new hybrid prose collection. To enter Child Craft is to enter a world of memories, both invented and remembered. The speakers of Barnes’ stories inhabit a space at times surreal but always vivid, evoking emotional responses that take readers to a place they could not have anticipated from the opening lines. As the title implies, Child Craft explores family relationships—typically from the perspectives of mother and daughter—and the ways that we continually shape them into something that can either help or harm us. These intimate vignettes comment on the many-layered realities of womanhood in modern life in a variety of settings. Whether passing through the wreckage of the Oklahoma City bombing or pretending that a pickle jar could save a missing woman, these stories open imaginative landscapes that will leave you feeling both haunted and a little less alone.


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