I’m definitely a chipper. I like the idea that the most perfect form of the story already exists inside a writer, and it’s her daily work to crack it open, shard by shard.
What was your first publication?
I published a short essay with Burner Magazine back in 2011, and it was so exciting. The magazine paired my story about some friends of mine who liked to light their hands on fire with Jessica Tremp’s eerily lovely photography. I still want to find a way to frame it.
Five books you are reading or thinking about now?
Boys of My Youth by Jo Ann Beard. This was seminal for me as a memoirist. I’ll never not be thinking about this book.
The Unraveling of Mercy Louis by Keija Parssinen. This book was a real gift—it reminded me that our unraveling can become our own making, too.
An Untamed State by Roxane Gay. The end of this book destroyed me in the best way. I still think about it.
The Bible. Though it doesn’t always happen, I try to make this the first thing I read in the morning and the last thing I read to my son at night. It’s the definition of grit and horror and love and redemption.
So Sad Today by Melissa Broder. This comes out next year, and I just can’t wait to read it.
If you had to inhabit a fictional world, what would it be (i.e., the environment of which
novel or short story)?
In my mind, the most fascinating fictional world is described in Hans Christian Anderson’s fairy tale The Little Mermaid (not the cartoon). The ocean is infinitely more interesting to me than the world the mermaid abandons it for: castles made from coral and sea shells, water flowers growing out of walls, women with fins instead of legs. I hope to write a novel set there one day.
Most interesting day job you've had (from the perspective of a writer)?
I used to be an aerobics instructor when I was in college. Lots of sweat, sweatpants, and techno music. I loved every minute of it.
Essays? Novels? Short stories? Which do you prefer to write?
I’ve written some pretty terrible short stories! I love getting lost in a novel, both as a reader and a writer.
One sentence of advice regarding writing?
Writing is hard; not writing is harder.
Your titles: do you grapple with them or are they epiphanies that come to you in the night?
It was! It took me a very long time to come up with Cinderland, but once I got it, it stuck.
In a nutshell, what are you working on now?
I’m writing a novel set in West Virginia about the daughter of a prominent snake handler who is trying to decide whether or not to follow in her father’s footsteps. It’s also about moonshine, making movies, and the sins we commit for the sake of those we love. Right now, it’s titled Shiner.
What's an interview question you've never been asked that you wish had been?
I’ve actually never been asked what book most inspired me to write Cinderland. It’s The Color Purple by Alice Walker--for the opening line “You better not never tell nobody but God”--and every line that comes after.
Cinderland is Amy Jo Burns’s literary memoir, a stop-time portrait of girlhood that explores how one little lie can change everything, resounding with images of fire, steel and the skeletons of a Rust Belt steel town in decline.