Amy and I met way back in our college days at the University of Wyoming. We became best buddies, bonding over common interests like human rights and our active involvement with the college chapter of Amnesty International.
Born in Jackson, Wyoming, Amy was an avid reader and wrote stories from an early age. She always dreamed of being a writer.
In college, she studied anthropology and Spanish. Afterwards, she sought adventure across the country – moving to Burlington Vermont, because so many of her favorite books were set in New England. Not knowing a soul in Burlington, Amy began to focus on her writing. Her writing skills were the focus of her graduate work at the University of Vermont and the MFA program in creative writing at the New School in New York City. Amy is the published author of six young adult fiction novels.
Amy eventually returned to Jackson, Wyoming with her husband, where she continues to write, while raising her triplet girls, now 9 years old.
Rinnie: So…Amy….I’m writing a lot these days. I have two blog series for XOXOX Art Studio as well as blogging for my work at Heart Powered Ventures.
When I’m writing, I think of you. This is hyperbole. When I was growing up, I really wanted to be a writer. I don’t know what happened – maybe I took the left turn in Albuquerque – but my life went into a different direction than writing. Now I’m writing all the time. It’s really cool. And I think of you – you are the person that I know that really made the writing dream happen for yourself.
How many novels have you written so far?
Amy: I’ve published six. I’ve written probably closer to a dozen.
I did get an offer on my latest novel. But we turned it down because it was really low.
You know, the truth is, I’ve been out of the game a little bit, because I had triplets. They’re nine years old now. And for nine years, writing has been pretty tough. It’s hard to do. So that’s been a real challenge.
How’s it been working through the pandemic?
The kids were out of school for three months.Then summer came. That was six months of having them at home. I did get used to it and sort of adjusted to it. It was hard, but we found ways to create our own space a little bit. I got some work done here and there.
In all of the craziness over the past year, how do you find time? What is your schedule? Do you have a set number of hours that you write? What is your process?
You know, it’s really changed so much. I used to have a job and I didn’t have kids or husband, I would get up really early and write. I would write for two hours and then go to work.
But then, with a husband and kids, it’s impossible. I can’t wake up early, because I would have to go to bed before my kids. That’s never gonna work. I have to get them off to school and that’s a lot of work.
I take a little break, watch the news, have some tea and breakfast and that kind of thing. When I write, it varies – for two to four hours a day. I’ve not been very productive lately. I think it’s because I had the kids home for so long that I haven’t had a lot of energy for creativity.
I’ve gotten a few false starts on a few different projects. And now, I’m thinking I might have found what’s gonna fuel a novel. But, the truth is, it’s just a struggle, you know, every day,
I think, for writers, it is hard unless they’re independently wealthy, and they live on an estate.
Even best selling writers don’t always make as much money as we think they do unless they have had a massive bestseller. You’re never going to be rich writing, but writers don’t do it for the money.
Intuition and Idea
I’ve been coming to terms with the idea that I’m like an intuitive painter, which means kind of, like, creating from a point of playful messiness, being okay to make mess while not knowing what I’m creating, and then stepping back from it.
I approach the painting as a conversation, and sometimes it takes like a few days or a few months before the canvas engages with me and speaks to me. I am wondering how much of the writing process for you is about intuition? How much of it is technique and practical skills? And, where do your ideas come from?
I don’t think I can necessarily tell you where my ideas come from. I’m always thinking about something. There’s always something in the back of my mind that I’m mulling over. Sometimes that will give rise to a scenario.
If I look at my different books that I’ve written over the years, I feel like they all came from really different places. My science fiction “Sky Chasers” trilogy (Glow, Spark and Flame) came from the work I did as a graduate student and studying how the American culture shaped politics and vice versa.
My first novel “Shadow Falls” came from my childhood growing up in Jackson, Wyoming. My second novel Zen and Xander Undone, I had this idea of two sisters and exploring their relationship after their mother dies. My third novel Vibes I got that idea from The Martian Chronicles – how being psychic actually leads to miscommunication, how these Martians read each other’s minds, and how it creates confusion. The Martian Chronicles is such a genius book. And I thought,” Well, what if I had a teenager who either is psychic or she just thinks she is?”
My ideas all come from different places. It’s really strange.
How much do you have to take the marketplace into consideration as you are writing? Do you have to use your creative energies while writing to think about publishers and the market?
It’s impossible to anticipate the market, because it takes so long to write a book. The fastest I can write a book is a year. The fastest I’ve gotten published is a year and a half. That’s two and a half years of lag time. Say mysteries are really hot right now. So I write a mystery. By the time it’s published, the market is going to be on to something else.
I enjoy literary novels, but I chiefly read more commercial fiction that has literary quality, I read Tana French. She’s a great mystery writer. And Donna Tartt – she’s a literary writer, but her work has commercial appeal.
So I think between those two, I tend toward the more commercial.
I like a good tight plot. I like the language and the artistry.
I’m good at plot. I’m good at characters. I’m good at dialog. So I kind of fit into a more commercial.
There’s a bit of a false dichotomy though, you know, Some writers that are considered great literature today had enormous commercial success. Charles Dickens and Jane Austen were both very popular writers during their lifetimes. They would have been considered commercial, but their work is now considered literary.
I’ve heard that someone like Tolkien would probably not be published today based on the way he wrote back then. That’d he’d have to have a totally different writing style?
That’s a really interesting point and I think you’re probably right. He was a slow paced.
I always try to be quick paced as a writer, because what I’m always wanting is a page turner. I want to create a page something the reader can’t put down – that’s my goal.
Where do you draw inspiration these days to keep writing, being creative and doing the work?
It helps to read. Reading is the most important thing you can do as a writer.
I think everything helps -going to conferences, taking a class, and teaching. When you’re with other writers and talking with other writers that can really help you get excited about your creativity.
Also, just normal life, like having a job or having kids or whatever it is that fills your day. You might meet somebody, a total stranger who’s interesting – then you find yourself without even thinking about that person. writing about them. If that makes sense.
it’s really very mysterious to me how creativity works.
I was listening to the Carter Phipps podcast yesterday, and Dr. Mark Forman, author of The Monster’s Journey: From Trauma to Connection was talking about the “monsters journey” in contrast to Joseph Campbell “hero’s journey”. He was saying that in the hero’s journey, there’s a person living a normal life and is thrust into uncertain circumstances. Dr. Forman was reframing the journey as a “monster’s journey” for those people who are born into trauma and never know what normal life looks like.
As you are writing, how much do you think of these kinds of archetypes? Are your stories and character arcs centered around this hero’s archetype?
I had a writing teacher that kind of shone the light on this for me. I do think in terms of the three act structure for novels. It really works.
Usually, when I’m writing, I’ll start the novel, I’ll write the first act, and then maybe halfway through the second act. That’s when I have to stop and start thinking about structure. The first draft is all coming out of my subconscious. But to resolve everything, I need to be more analytical about it.
Okay, what would you say to somebody who says, “Oh, I’m not creative, I could never do that. I don’t have a creative bone in my body.”
I think that to a certain extent, creativity is a skill. It’s kind of like a habit, or a habit of mind.
It’s also just a willingness to trust yourself. I’m always mystified when people say that, because I think everyone is creative. I think it’s just part of being a person.
So I guess I would say “do you want to be creative?” and if they want to, I say “then don’t undermine yourself by saying you’re not creative. If you want to be creative, I really think you can – we just need to find your medium.”
Yeah, we must exercise those creative muscles with practice, practice, practice. Creativity and art is like, it’s 4% genius and 96% hard work.
I believe that 100%. That’s really true. If you want to be a writer for your own inner life, I feel like that is more pure than if you want to be a professional. It starts out as a love, becomes a hobby, and at some point becomes work. If you’re not comfortable with it being work, it might not be your medium. You also have to be comfortable with the possibility that you’re not going to succeed. I think that’s true for every artist.
What stories move you these days? I find inspiration from reading. I’m inspired by science fiction and speculative fiction right now. Just finished The Expanse series, book 8. Still one more book to go. It’s rich story telling, compelling characters, and intense political commentary all set in space.
And some creative non-fiction inspiration, Austin Kleon’s coffee table books, Steal Like an Artist and Show Your Work. What are you consuming?
I’ve been reading Tana French’s latest book, the Likeness. Uh, and let’s see.
Before that I finished the Broken Earth trilogy, by N. K. Jemisin. It’s science fiction. And it’s good. It’s by a woman named N.K. Jamison. She’s the only writer in history to win the Hugo three years in a row for this trilogy. It’s really very imaginative and fun.
I’ve kind of been into science fiction. I think one of the best books I’ve read recently was The Three-Body Problem by Chinese author Cixin Liu. It’s also a trilogy. And I thought it was kind of mind blowing and really amazing. That’s probably the best thing I’ve read in a while.
Thanks Amy, for sitting down, catching up, and talking with me about my favorite topic – creativity.
You’re welcome. Good to see you again.
Where does your inspiration come from? What/who do you find inspiring? I’d love to know.
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