Amy Sampson-Cutler is a fiction writer who recently earned her master’s degree in Creative Writing from Goddard College in Vermont. She has been published twice in the Pitkin Review, as well as the Wellness Universe, Elephant Journal, and was a Community News Writer for the Times-Herald-Record. She is the Executive Manager at Mount Peter Ski Area. She can be contacted through AmysHippieHut.com.
Read Amy's award-winning story here and then return for an interview with the author.
----------Interview by Renee Roberson
WOW: Amy, thank you for being here today! c“Clean Slate” is a great example of how importance pacing is in flash fiction, and you pulled it off beautifully. How did you first get the idea for this story exploring the complicated dynamics between sisters? Did you always know it would feature a twist at the end?
Amy: I wrote “Clean Slate” while in residency at graduate school. The sister in my story is not my own sister, but I know all too well the complicated dynamics between sisters, as I run a business with mine. The idea for this story came to me after a heated conversation with my sister about whatever drama was going on at work while I was away, and I found myself grumbling about the nature of some of the people at work. I clearly remember that I stopped mid-stride, about to leave my room and go to dinner, when I thought, “What if it’s not them? What if it’s me?” I found myself turning all negative thoughts back on myself, and I sat down and wrote this short story.
I love writing twists, and that was my intention – to make the reader think about qualities inside of themselves from the view of an outsider.
WOW: In addition to being a fiction writer, you also have a background in journalism. Do you find it hard to go back and forth between the two forms? Have you ever gotten ideas for fiction based on real-life events you’ve covered?
Amy: Before I left my job at a newspaper to work full-time at my family business, I found myself writing every scenario before me in my head as a newspaper story. A traffic accident, an argument, even an old man walking his dog – everything was presented to my mind in newspaper format. Eventually, I did find it challenging to write creatively, because words became very formal and structured for me. It has been years since I left that job, and that format has finally melted away. I wouldn’t say that my story ideas have come from my time at the newspaper, but I am sure that some of the interesting folks that I have come across during my time there have and will continue to sneak into my characters.
WOW: I love the idea of composing every day occurrences in your head like a newspaper article! I might have to try that one out myself . . . You’ve had several pieces published in anthologies in literary journals. How do you find other markets for your work?
Amy: I am learning that being published anywhere is all about seeing the opportunity and taking it. From contests to literary journals to online magazines – there are opportunities everywhere if you know where to look for them.
WOW: Very true. What advice would you give other writers who are just starting out in the flash fiction form. Any do’s or don’ts?
Amy: Writing flash fiction will tighten your writing. When I first wrote in this form, I found it difficult to fit an entire story into such a short space. Now when I write a piece of flash fiction, I find that I have extra words to use at the end. I had an advisor once tell me to look at every single word and decide if it really deserves to be in that sentence. Every. Single. Word. When writing a very short story for flash fiction, that lesson comes to mind because there is no room for extra words. If you want to learn how to trim and make every word count, write flash fiction. Writing flash fiction is also an excellent way to try out genres that you normally wouldn’t write. For example, I recently wrote my first political satire, which turned out to be so much fun.
WOW: You recently received a master’s degree in creative writing. What are some of your most valuable take-aways from that program?
Amy: I decided to take the plunge into graduate school because I needed a push. I needed deadlines and to be held accountable. I learned a lot while earning my degree, but my most valuable take-away is this: Give yourself permission to do what you want in life. I learned that I do need deadlines, and I do need to be busy to be productive, but I didn’t need permission from anyone other than myself. We all choose our own destinies. In the two-year program at Goddard College, I wrote a novel which I am now in the final editing stages of. I can safely say that I would not have finished that on my own. Perhaps more important than that completion is having the clear intention to move along a certain path in life.