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Interview: Amy Neufeld


A photograph of Little Thoughts Press Issue One: Magical Winter with a sneak peek of the story "Solstice" by Amy Neufeld.

 

Amy Neufeld (she/her) has a degree in English and diploma in Theatre Arts. Amy is a contributor to Shameless Magazine and CBC Radio’s The Irrelevant Show. Amy has been published in Daily Drunk Magazine, Flash Fiction Magazine, Frazzled, and Little Old Lady Comedy, and is a member of Pat the Dog’s 2021 Women’s Room for playwrights. Amy is a knitter and a friend to animals. Amy’s story, “Solstice” is part of Little Thoughts Press Issue One: Magical Winter.


 

Little Thoughts Press: In your story, "Solstice," two kids witness a magical event in celebration of the winter solstice. You've told me that you wrote this story specifically for our Magical Winter theme. Can you talk a bit about what inspired you to connect the winter solstice to the theme of magic? Do you do anything special to celebrate the solstice?

Amy Neufeld: We used to live in Edmonton, Alberta, which is quite far north, and therefore gets a lot of darkness in the winter. I heard about people who celebrate that darkness rather than bemoan it, and would have "longest night of the year" parties. We moved back to Kitchener, Ontario shortly after I learned about these parties, but I really liked that idea of celebrating the long winters, since we can't avoid them. And the longest night of the year feels like a time not only when magic could happen, but when it should happen! That's probably why so many religions and cultures have celebrations around that time. So I thought a magical solstice world where night stretched out even longer and lights made all of your winter dreams come true sounded like a pretty great place to start a story. Interestingly, our neighbourhood builds a Reindeer Runway every year on Christmas Eve, where candles in paper bags are placed along a street to welcome Santa and his reindeer, and this year we were able to go and actually see the candle pathway just as I imagined it in my story. Talk about magic! We haven't been able to have a party for solstice these last few years, but I make sure we get out for an evening walk to look at all the lights on the longest night of the year. Little Thoughts Press: You have a background in theater arts and playwriting. In what ways does your performance background inform your writing? Are there similarities to how you approach your fiction and playwriting? What do you think are the biggest differences between these forms of writing? Amy Neufeld: I think my background in theatre has helped me when it comes to writing dialogue. For a lot of plays, you have to communicate most of what's going on through dialogue, and there's a subtlety to that so characters aren't just spouts of exposition. So I think reading and performing plays has helped tune my ear to dialogue.

I approach all of my writing in basically the same way, and the first part of that is deciding which container the story goes in. Is this a novel, a play, an essay, or a short story? In terms of reading plays, I can tell when I've found a script that I really like because I can start to see it play out on the stage, and I apply that to my other writing as well. When it really comes alive in my mind, when I can see it all like a play or a movie, then I feel like I've got something interesting to work with, and that I've found the right container for the story.

I don't know that there are many differences, besides the structural ones, to writing plays versus stories for me. It's all about finding the characters' voices, making those true, honest, and specific, and letting them tell the story. Little Thoughts Press: You also write for both adult and kid audiences. What initially drew you to writing kid lit and what do you find most challenging and rewarding about writing for a young audience compared to writing for adults? Amy Neufeld: I started writing plays for young audiences because I formed a theatre company for that age group, and it was easier to write plays for us than to find them. I've always thought that high school is the most effortlessly dramatic time in anyone's life, and so I love it as a backdrop for a story. I'm working on a novel about seven teenagers who get lost in the woods, and their hormonal teenage state provides as much drama as their precarious situation!

You have to be sharp when writing for young audiences. They're the most honest group, and will be very blunt about what they like and don't like. With my playwriting, I learned quickly about pacing and engagement, and I think those factors are relevant in all my work. Whatever else it is, your writing has to be entertaining. There are lots of different ways that writing can be entertaining, but there has to be a payoff for the reader/audience. So that challenge of young audience's honesty is also what makes it really rewarding to write for that group.

I've also benefited from having young readers in my home. My daughters, 8 and 11, are my beta readers for my kid lit, and they let me know what they like and what they think I should change. Reading my stories to them, I can also (sneakily) watch their reactions, so I can see the parts where I lose them, and I know that's an area that needs some work. Little Thoughts Press: Which kid lit authors and books were your favorites growing up? Amy Neufeld: I loved, and still love, the author Gordon Korman. He writes incredible stories for and about teenagers, and uses humour so well. Read I Want To Go Home if you're looking for an introduction to his work.

I also really loved series like The Baby-Sitters Club and Sweet Valley High. It takes a lot of energy to invest in reading a book initially. You don't know the world or the characters, you're unfamiliar with the writing style, so I always find starting a new book to be a tentative experience before I get hooked. So I love a series because you get to start a new book but skip all that initial anxiety because you already know the world and the people in it. Little Thoughts Press: What is your favorite thing about winter?

Amy Neufeld: I live in Canada, and we get a lot of snow and cold in the winter. I wish I was more interested in outdoor winter activities, and while I do enjoy tobogganing or taking a walk when it's snowing, if I'm honest, my favourite thing about winter is getting cozy under a blanket with a mug of hot tea and reading for an entire afternoon. Little Thoughts Press: What advice would you give to young writers?

Amy Neufeld: Keep writing, and write what you like. Don't worry about what's popular or what your friends like reading - write the things that you want to read.

Get a library card, and read as much as you can by other writers. When you find a book that you really like, take a moment and think about what, specifically, you liked about it. Was the main character really relatable? Did the author use humour to navigate challenging subjects? Was there really amazing world-building that allowed you to see the landscape? These observations will start to inform and support your own writing as you get better and better through practice. Little Thoughts Press: Is there anything else you wish I had asked? Any upcoming projects, publications, or other news you'd like to share?

Amy Neufeld: In addition to the YA novel I mentioned earlier which I'm currently revising (and looking for beta readers if anyone is interested!), I just received a grant to work on a middle grade nonfiction book about knitting, not a how-to guide, but a why-to guide, with essays from my own experience to discuss my favourite hobby.

My new play, Witches in the Woods, a re-telling of Hansel and Gretel, will be getting a staged reading in March, along with workshops. I'll post details about those events when I have them on my theatre company's Facebook page.

I'm building my website at www.amyneufeldwrites.com, and it should be live within the month. The best way to find out what I'm doing is on Twitter where I'm @AmyRNeufeld.

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