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Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Meet Winter 2012 Flash Fiction Runner Up, Amy Lewis

Amy Lewis is a Ph.D. candidate in the department of political science at Colorado State University. By day she speaks in questions, scholarly provocations based in fact and spun with data. By night she dares to speak in answers camouflaged in stories. She has written numerous short stories over the years and is only in recent months beginning to share them. Her story, “What Unicorns Think” was short-listed in the Multi-Story short fiction contest. She is also the author of a quartet of young adult novels, reimaging Greek mythology in which princesses are the heroes, not the objects, of their own stories. These novels tarry with all the other tidbits of information on her hard-drive, awaiting a good going-over after she dispatches with the task of her dissertation.

interview by Marcia Peterson

WOW: Congratulations on placing in the top ten in our Winter 2012 Flash Fiction competition! What inspired you to enter the contest?

Amy: I’m not sure it was an inspiration. More of an impulse, a mad fleeting compulsion to have some fun, share some stories, belong to a community of similarly-interested people.

WOW: Can you tell us what encouraged the idea behind your story, Crate Training for Kids? It seems like your political science studies could have provided some inspiration.

Amy: I wish I could say it was my political studies, and I’m sure that somewhere in the back of my mind I was thinking about the relationship between freedom, rebellion, and socialization (somewhere in the back of my mind I am always thinking about these things). In fact, I adhere to the notion that civics isn’t just a class, it’s a hands-on experience. The best way to teach young people about the importance of political participation is to encourage them to engage with the world around them, even if they don’t always do so in an adult fashion or through political topics. There is a growing cynicism in this country that problems are too big and institutions are too inept and/or large to respond to public demands. Although I share in these same frustrations, I also know that this feeling weakens democracy and inhibits improvement. Institutions may be big and intractable, but how much larger and recalcitrant are they when entire populations within the public remain silent? In my opinion, teaching children to be seen but not heard only lays the foundation for feelings of impotence later in life. So, I suppose the story is rooted in that. Nevertheless, the immediate inspiration was my Old English Sheepdog puppy. I’m almost ashamed to admit it, but I’ve crate-trained him. When I wrote this story, I was working through feelings of guilt.

WOW: What do you enjoy about flash fiction writing versus the other kinds of writing that you do?

Amy: Flash fiction has the pit-a-pat frenzy of a summer romance. It’s short, sweet, and relatively uncomplicated. I don’t mean to suggest that flash fiction is somehow less meaningful than a more long-term, stable commitment – you know, like a book. But I think it offers things books can’t; especially in that it reminds us how fun and exciting writing fiction can be. Fleeting literary crushes invigorates writer and reader alike. And I think it encourages us to return to longer works of fiction, refreshed and tantalized by the revelatory entertainment that is fiction.

WOW: We’d love to know more about your writing routines. Any special things you do to switch gears from your scholarly/factual life to your creative writing?

Amy: No. They say women are better at multi-tasking, but I don’t believe it. I think “they” just say that because they don’t want to multi-task themselves. It isn’t easy to switch from one occupation to another, especially in the span of a few short hours. The only way I manage it is when I remind myself just how important writing and reading fiction is to me and just how much I want it to be a part of my life. It’s akin to my thoughts on political activity. It isn’t easy and it isn’t always rewarding, but if we want to have a say, if we want to have some potency, well, we have to start somewhere. Even if we don’t succeed in the conventionally accepted fashion – the bill we want doesn’t pass or the story we write doesn’t get published, at least we’ve done something, we’ve acted as agents and artists in our own right, creative individuals who are fighting back against the complacency that transforms us into cogs inside a structure we can’t fully control. And if we are lucky and diligent, perhaps we’ve laid the groundwork for something bigger and better in the future. I’m not an optimist, but I do believe in the power of hope, no matter how hackneyed that word has become. When we forget or refuse to act, either as writers or agents of democracy, we leave no room for hope, for improvement, for creation. So, I guess writing for me is a very conscious, deliberate (dare I say, rebellious?) act. And in that frame of mind, no matter how tired or stressed I am, it almost immediately becomes fun and the only thing I want to be doing at the moment.

WOW: That was inspirational! I almost feel like I should print some of that out to stay motivated.

Are you able to tell us about the subject matter of your dissertation? How is that enormous project going for you?

Amy: For all scholars, curiosity is both a curse and a blessing. It is what spurs us into the dusty tedium of graduate school in the hopes of finding some kind of answer. Oftentimes, it only yields more questions. As such, it’s difficult to be concise. If only there were such a thing as a flash dissertation! The following is the best I can do in under 200,000 words. I am interested in food security, especially how it is human populations will continue to safely and adequately produce food in an era of increasing political, economic, and environmental insecurity. The scope of that type of question is way too broad to handle in a mere 400 pages. So I’m focusing on pesticide use and pollinator decline. In particular, I’m comparing the pesticide policies of Canada, the United States, and Mexico as they relate to neonicitinoids, the pesticide implicated in the collapse of the honey bee population in various parts of North America and the developed world. There is a notion, quite prevalent in the media and in academia, that wealthy countries are somehow more environmentally responsible than less wealthy countries. I take issue with this idea; I just think wealthy countries are better at exporting their polluting industries. The pesticide policies of the three North American states is suggestive of the idea that wealth is by no means sufficient to inure politics against environmentally hazardous policies, as all three of these states have nearly identical policies when it comes to neonicitinoids. Still, there is hope. A transnational, regional movement to protect North American ecosystems and pollinators is organizing, and I want to consider the way such a movement can positively impact the policies of these three states.

WOW: Thanks so much for chatting with us today, Amy! Before you go, do you have any tips for our readers who may be thinking about entering writing contests?

Amy: Be bold, be concise, be active. Everybody loves to have written, it’s the writing itself that is the problem. But it is the writing that makes us more than just history, it makes us alive. Whatever you be and whatever you do, if you want to write, just write. The rest will sort itself out in time.


Join us on Tuesdays for more contest winner interviews!

The Summer 2012 Flash Fiction Contest is OPEN