Memory, Mortality, and the Musicality of Life

An Interview with Amy Barnes  

By Madeline DeLuca, Mud Season Review Fiction Co-Editor

“I think I would be more sad to only have one piece of literature to remember. I like my scattered snatches of remembered characters and stories.”

Amy Barnes

What—or who—inspired this story?

Part of the inspiration does come from the title reference (a nod to Flowers for Algernon) but it also is a bit of a reference to my own mortality and foggy brain. I watched both of my great-grandmothers slowly lose their memories, all but the ones where they were most happy. For them both, they always were rocking invisible babies when I’d visit them. I have worries I’m forgetting things, having that genetic memory loss even though I’m young-ish. This story came from me imagining how a married couple might deal with the ordinary daily things that still happen as memory fades. 

Music plays a big part in this story—the lovers dance together when they are both young and old. It follows the characters through time. Why did you want to emphasize music in this way?

I felt like music was something that could ground the story, a touchpoint of songs, dance, piano–their figurative and literal dance as a married couple and those beats, pauses, rests. 

The ending line, “Afterwards, we all clap for him,” is so powerful. How did you decide the right way to end this story?

I choose that ending because I think it sums up the entire story. There is happiness and sadness all at once. He’s remembering the happy applause but also probably entrenched in that happier time. On one of my favorite sitcoms, Designing Women, a character designs an “applause box” for the women because everyone deserves to have people clap for them. The closing lines here are my way of clapping for this character. 

In this story, Allen’s memory waxes and wanes. If you could only remember one piece of literature, which would you want to stick in your mind?

I’ve often thought about this–that one book to take to a deserted island or remember in prison. I’m not sure. I’ve always had a photographic memory (not eidetic) but enough that I remember entire blocks of text. I think I would be more sad to only have one piece of literature to remember. I like my scattered snatches of remembered characters and stories. 

What made you pick the title?

The title is a play on the book Flowers for Algernon, where the main character gains a genius level intelligence, loses it and has to deal with knowing he could know more than he does. 

What does your revision process look like?

It varies. I do a lot of writing/revising in my head before I write it down. My “first” drafts are probably the tenth or twentieth time I’ve “written” the story, just not on paper. For shorter pieces like this, I often break it down into sentences, one per line so I can look for issues or word changes. I also run pieces by other readers to see if I’ve conveyed what I think I did and if I need edits. 

What advice would you give to a new writer who is just starting out?

My advice for all levels of writers is maybe trite: write. Get the words down. Get a rough rough draft written so you can do edits. Get YOUR words down. I get hung up sometimes on not fitting what I think is the marketable or popular way of writing. More traditional. Less wacky. In the end, I think there is truly a reader for every piece of writing. It feels so much better when there are readers, plural. 

What are you currently reading?

Bad Words by Ilse Aichinger 

Out Front the Following Sea by Leah Angstman

Hollows by Tommy Dean 

if that mockingbird don’t sing (an Alternating Current anthology)

Iron Oxide by Shome Dasgupta 

The Part that Burns by Jeaninne Ouellette

Dor by Alina Stefanescu

Harrow by Joy Williams 

Plenty: A Memoir of Food and Family by Hannah Howard 

and so many others …

What are you currently writing?

An interview for a SmokeLong micro, and a collection of surreal creative nonfiction.

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