Interview with Amy Culberg, Runner-Up in Summer 2018 Flash Fiction Contest

Tuesday, January 08, 2019
Amy Culberg received her MFA in creative writing from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She has been an artistic director of a chamber music group, studied comedy at Second City, taught in elementary school, taught gym, barista’d in Seattle and is currently teaching swimming to adults and children, which is one of her passions.

She belongs to a 70-year-old writer’s group in Winnetka, Illinois called the OCWW (Off Campus Writer’s Group). She lives in Evanston, Illinois with her husband, her son and their dog, Hot-Dawg. She was previously published in Wordsmitten. Check out her blog Watch and Read where she ponders materialism. She is currently working on a series of essays called “Facebook Withdrawl” about her complicated separation from Facebook.

If you haven’t read her flash fiction story, “Mistook You,” take a moment to experience it before reading on.

Interview with Sue Bradford Edwards

WOW: What was your inspiration for this story of mistaken identity?

Amy: I was walking on the bike path and I saw someone who I believed to be someone else. I called out to her and she didn't respond. I asked again and she said she was someone else. It was the strangest moment. It seemed impossible.

Also, right after my father died, there was a man, from a group home nearby me, who looked so much like my dad – same shuffle walk, same ugly sweaters, same Russian eyebrows, same worn down loafers. I saw him all the time. I felt like it was a gift, getting to keep seeing some version of dad, like I was being provided a buffer as a transition to get accustomed to the idea. Both of those inspired me to write about mistaking people for someone else.

WOW: You reveal so little about the main character. Can you share three traits or facts that shaped the story but didn’t actually make it onto the page? How did you determine what information made it into the story and what did not?

Amy: I have written a lot of versions of this story, putting in and taking out, reimagining. I wanted the encounter to be sparse, like it could happen with anyone we passed by if we were paying attention.

I changed the relationship from husband to brother because husband made it overly complicated. I had Penny be the woman's teacher from the past, but I took that out because the relationship defined them more than the circumstances of how they knew each other. We seem to find the same people no matter where we go based on what we need.

There was another dog in the story but only one was necessary. Originally there was stuff about how the dog was a poodle type, but mangy seemed better since Penny liked to save things.

How I determined what stayed and what left was guided by staying on topic. I had a lot of deviations from the story, clever sentences that I had a hard time getting rid of but I tried to stick to the bones. I felt the way to make it more ambiguous about whether it was Penny or not was to keep it simple – hey you, nope, guilt about losing someone, seeing them again, acceptance.

WOW: Cutting what isn’t essential really can be difficult. We can be so enamored of our own words. When you write a non-linear piece like this, do you outline it before you begin writing or pants it? What are the challenges of writing a story with so many twists and turns?

Amy: I did not outline it. Sometimes, I do a later outline to make sure it's clear. I am currently working on a very non-linear short story where I have decided to title the sections with people's names.

I feel like each piece organically structures itself. I just have to listen to the story.

I always read aloud what I have written. That is how I can tell if the twists and turns make sense, because then I become the writer and the reader and I become accountable to both. The challenges come from not falling too in love with my deviations and letting go of the sentences that are clearly just there for my enjoyment. I keep these words in my head for those precious things that do not align with the piece. "Out you go," I tell them.

WOW: Each story does have a unique structure. I like your idea of reading it aloud to feel if it works. What did you learn studying for your MFA that you utilize when you write flash fiction?

Amy: That other people may read what you write, so do your best. Also, not everyone is your audience, so don't write for everyone.

WOW: What advice would you share with someone who has never written flash fiction before?

Amy: Flash fiction is like distilling the world. Let everything in and then audition everything that has shown up.

WOW: Auditioning everything gives us another opportunity to weed out what doesn’t belong in the story. What a great way to look at it. Thank you to Amy for sharing her process and journey with us. Check out her blog for more of her writing.   


For more information about our quarterly Flash Fiction and Creative Nonfiction Essay contests, visit our contest page here.


Angela Mackintosh said...

Great interview, ladies!

Amy ~ I just love your voice in this piece--the beat and sound of your words--and I think that's what drew Jennifer Thompson to your story. Voice is the first thing agents look for, and you have it. It's so interesting to read about your revisions to this piece! I LOVE the advice you gave for writing flash fiction--it's so quotable. :)

I had a Mistook You moment the other day at the grocery store. I thought this guy in the checkout line was a doctor who worked at a med spa--I swear, their faces looked exactly alike--and I came up to him and said how have you been, and he barely spoke English! He was Peruvian. Then I looked at his clothes and they were pretty dirty work clothes, and suddenly, I realized it wasn't him, because he always dressed so nice. They could've been twins though. It's so weird when that happens. That's a great story about your dad. :)

Good luck on your essay series. It sounds hilarious! I disabled my Facebook account around two years ago, and I totally feel you about the withdrawal. I hated it when I was using the platform and don't agree with their terms of service, but still, I miss the posts from my friends.

I can't wait to read more from you! I'll check out your blog. :)

Sioux Roslawski said...

Sue--Thanks for doing this interview. You asked such thoughtful questions.

Amy--I lovelovelove the idea of having parts audition. It's so perfect. When a writer is really in the groove, the words flow... and then you have to figure out which ones belong.

Good luck with your future writing.

Michele said...

I really enjoyed Amy's story. And the interview was interesting.

"...not everyone is your audience, so don't write for everyone."

I agree.

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