Amanda Yskamp: Allowing Characters to Surface

Fiction Editor Ann Fisher interviews Issue #57’s fiction writer Amanda Yskamp

Find Amanda’s work here.

“If a story lacks energy or focus, sometimes it can be saved by rendering it in an entirely different mode.”

Amanda Yskamp

We were drawn into “Diorama” right away! You drop us into a moment that expands to a completeness in just a few pages. “Real time,” as one of our readers commented. Tell us about how this piece came to being. Did it start out as flash? How do you think the form of this piece pushes the themes? How long did it take to get this piece to its finished form?

I wrote “Diorama” during the month of flashes in November (which operates like Nanowrimo, but with short pieces). Every morning, for those thirty days, I’d grab a cup of coffee and return to my bedroom, where I’d write for a timed hour.

During this month, I’d write first thing, before my usual day pressed in. I found it was important to enter that not-quite-fully-awake, liminal state, and to surrender to whatever course my thoughts took. That means disconnecting modes of criticism, in order to follow the path characters traverse, seeing where we might end up. As you can imagine, some strange work comes from this sort of critical disconnection, but it’s usually interesting, in one way or another.

With a flash, characters need to appear, fully formed (while in the process of changing). The theme needs to be established immediately. Every part needs to contribute to the overall message of the story. For me, much of this comes instinctively. Plot is secondary to emotional movement. This story came through pretty much as written. I’m a big fan of revision, but this story didn’t seem to require much, if any.

The Swiss Family Robinson provides a nice deepening of the family survival theme in your piece— how did this connection come to you?

I’d like to say that the choice of this story was more deliberate (and maybe it was, on some level). But I feel that I chose it pretty much at random. Then it exerted its own force in shaping the narrative.

As a poet, artist and writer, you create in many different forms. How do stories come to you, and how do you decide what form the piece will need to take shape?

Many of my stories “surface” as I write and allow the characters to act in accordance with their personalities and “pasts.” It’s rare that I’ll start with a plot seed (perhaps from a story a friend has told me, or from something that happened to me in the long past). But when that happens, I try to remain faithful to the tone and feeling, while also granting myself the freedom to create the particulars.

That said, I frequently change a piece of writing drastically to see if it is, indeed, in its “proper form.” I learned this technique from a former teacher. If a story, say, lacks energy or focus, sometimes it can be saved (or resurrected) by rendering it in an entirely different mode. If nothing else, this process is a lot of fun.

You mention my work as an artist. I’ve recently embarked on a project that pairs images with written works, both of which (I hope!) imbue one another. Again, it’s a creative romp that I really enjoy.

You are the Poetry Editor for Wordrunner eChapbooks. How does your work for that publication inform your writing?

When I read poetry for Wordrunner, I try to see each piece on its own terms. I gauge its success based upon the experiments and effects it creates within the work. Of course, I have my own aesthetic. But I believe a journal is most successful when it brings together a wide variety of modes, points of view, styles, messages and perspectives.

Tell us a bit about your writing process in general. What do you need in order to get to the page?

In general (and there are always exceptions), I write with a pen and notebook, off on my own somewhere, either in my room, or a café—anywhere with a table and chair. Either I’ve set aside a consecrated time, or I’ve stolen a moment from other busy-ness.

Until recently, my job as an online writing teacher found me at home, on a computer. To distinguish between work time and writing time, I do what I can to draw a distinct line between both endeavors—changing rooms, using a pen (instead of a computer, which I use to edit, etc.), playing music, offering myself a variety of stimuli (images, other works, etc.).

What does your submission process look like, and what have you learned about getting your work out there for others to read?

I try to be diligent about submissions, sending at least 5 per month (in all genres: poetry, fiction, art). I no longer send my work to places that pay nothing, even if they are wonderful journals. That was a step I took some years ago. It’s distressing to see how few places offer payment for the work writers do, and yet, for myself, I knew that I had to receive at least token payment to honor the endeavor as something serious.

Yes, I do want to cultivate a readership. Yes, I’d like my work to have an impact. Beyond that, for myself, I guess I need recognition that art and writing have a value “in the real world.”

What are you working on currently? Do you have a dream project that is waiting for your attention?

I recently sent out my fiction collection for consideration by a new publisher, whose journal has been especially encouraging to me. They accepted one of my multi-media pieces for their first issue, and a few others since. I am eagerly awaiting a response.

In the meantime, yes. I’ve begun a “dream project” that combines both visual and literary effects. It’s still very fresh and new, so I’ll resist talking about it.

How did you hear about Mud Season Review? What made you submit this piece to us?

I believe I heard about Mud Season through Erica Verillo’s website, a great resource for writers. I read through your journal and saw work that was thoughtful and moving, and felt I would be happy to appear among such fine works.

I see you run an on-line writing service. Is there a common piece of advice you find that you share with your students?

I’ve been teaching writing to young and not-so-young students for 20 years. I advise them to recognize and celebrate what makes their work unique, to develop their own voice and range of topics. I try to help students disconnect any fears associated with composition—to find the joy in exploration and experimentation.

By Ann Fisher

Ann Fisher is fiction co-editor of Mud Season Review. Ann lives, works, and writes at the base of the Green Mountains. Her work has appeared in AcrosstheMargin, The Sonder Review, Heartwood Literary Magazine, ZigZagLitMag, and About Place Journal, among others.