Interview with Amber Watkins Yearwood: Summer 2019 Flash Fiction Contest Runner Up

Tuesday, January 21, 2020
Amber’s Bio:

Amber Watkins Yearwood is a writer of grocery lists, to do lists, motivational post it notes, and now, short stories. Born in Central Illinois, she grew up in the rural Midwest before transplanting herself to San Francisco after college. She graduated from Michigan State University with a degree in psychology. After getting tired of psychoanalyzing herself and her family, she moved on to psychoanalyze jurors and attorneys as a jury trial consultant for ten years. Amber always loved to write in any and all contexts, from angsty love poems by the light of a lava lamp as a teenager with endless time on her hands to painstakingly crisp strategy memos as an adult with a job. She now occupies her time mothering two young children, reading everything at the front of the book store, listening to way too many podcasts, and making things up. “September’s Harvest” is Amber’s first published story.

If you haven't done so already, check out Amber's award-winning story "September's Harvest" and then return here for a chat with the author.

WOW: Congratulations on placing in the Summer 2019 Flash Fiction Contest! What excited you most about writing this story?

Amber: The imagery of the lemons, infected with some toxic pest that, for whatever reason, children and children alone had to root out. That image, of a child climbing a tree to get at the diseased lemon under the cover of darkness, drove my first iteration of the story. Then I had the fun of building up a plot around that image, and I loved where it led me – to a community of children fighting their parents' collective addiction in the most basic of ways, by destroying the substance.

WOW: It’s so amazing to hear how a story blossoms from a single image, so thank you for sharing that. What did you learn about yourself or your writing while crafting this piece?

Amber: This was my first short story that I really stuck with trying to flesh out and develop. I have a tendency to give up on ideas as soon as they become hard, but I loved the atmosphere of this story so much that I was motivated to keep with it. I now have a greater awareness of my tendency to gravitate to whatever feels the easiest in the moment, and how at times I need to resist that impulse. At the same time, I learned that when a writer loves inhabiting a world or a situation, they should stay there for a while!

WOW: I love that idea of inhabiting a world or situation and staying for a while to soak it in. In what ways has your work as a psychoanalyst affected your writing, or vice versa?

Amber: I was not a psychoanalyst, but a jury consultant. In that work, I got to be a fly on the wall in communities all across the country while groups of people discussed various social and legal issues. I and my colleagues then applied principles from psychology and other social sciences to understand how they came to their decisions. It was such a gift, in so many ways. I left that career with a better grasp of the diversity of perspectives in this country and the ways that local culture shapes individual's interpretation of facts. I also left that career a much, much better writer than when I entered it. Standards for our written work product were extremely high, and I loved the challenge of explaining something very complex to our clients in clear and concise language.

WOW: What are you reading right now, and why did you choose to read it?

Amber: Right now I am reading Ann Patchett's The Patron Saint of Liars, because I found it in a little outdoor wooden library in my neighborhood! I recognized the author from the press on her latest novel The Dutch House, and snatched it up.

WOW: Good find! She’s one of my favorites. If you could give your younger self one piece of writing advice, what would it be and why?

Amber: The advice I would give my younger writing self would be to just write! I wrote so freely and joyfully as a child and teenager. Somewhere along the line, as I moved through college and my early careers, that just stopped. I wish I had known how gratifying and productive it can be to just squeeze in ten minutes of free writing, and that if you do that enough times, you might end up with something!

WOW: That’s great advice! Thank you again for sharing your stories and for your other thoughtful responses! Congratulations again, and happy writing!

Interviewed by Anne Greenawalt, who keeps a blog of journal entries, memoir snippets, interviews, training logs, and profiles of writers and competitive female athletes.


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