10 Minutes With LaFleur Content Specialist Amy Hinman
Written by Steven Thomas Kent
Amy Hinman joined the LaFleur team in January 2019 as a full-time content specialist. Before coming to LaFleur, she studied writing and Spanish at Grand Valley State University and then worked at various companies doing in-house design and marketing communications. Amy is a published short story writer, poet, and essayist, and she loves the written word in all forms and mediums.
Amy lives in Grand Rapids with her husband, Caleb, and their cat, Ettel, who is the apple of her eye. She loves to travel, cook with produce grown by her husband, play the piano, perform improv, draw, and of course, write. We caught up with Amy to talk about her favorite graphic novels, the source of her drive to write, and her rural upbringing, which included a stint learning the demanding craft of raising prize sheep.
LaFleur: Tell me how you got here. How did you become a content specialist at LaFleur?
Amy Hinman: Well, I was kind of underemployed doing communications part-time, and I needed to work more. So I was trawling the internet for jobs when I saw a post in an alumni Facebook group saying that LaFleur was looking for writers, and I was interested. I messaged back and started freelancing for LaFleur a couple weeks later. Then I did that enough and coerced you all into liking me, and here I am.
LF: What’s your impression of LaFleur so far?
AH: Everyone seems very smart and cool. Before I started, I was definitely intimidated because there are so many people here with master’s degrees and so much experience. But everyone is also so kind and thoughtful, and you all do such good work.
LF: Flattery will get you everywhere.
AH: I try.
LF: So, anyone who knows you must know you’re a non-stop doodler. In fact, you’re drawing something right now as I’m interviewing you. Were you always that way?
AH: Oh yeah. Always got in trouble in math classes and stuff for not paying attention.
LF: Did you ever want to be a visual artist?
AH: I did. Then, in my freshman year of high school, I took an underwhelming art class where the teacher always smelled like marijuana, and it was a big turn-off because I wasn’t being challenged. So from that point on I just made art on my own. In hindsight, maybe I should have gone to art school, but I love what I’m doing now, so it’s okay.
LF: Well, let me tell you, I used to work at Starbucks for a long time, and, not to dog on art school or anything, but any Starbucks in a big city is like 75 percent staffed by art school grads.
AH: Yeah, I get that. I feel like writing school is the little brother to art school in that way too though.
LF: Oh, for sure.
AH: So, I was still mentally preparing myself to be a career barista.
LF: I think probably every writer who gets a salary for writing feels like they’re running some kind of scam.
LF: What inspires you to write? Are there any particular experiences or writers who made you want to be a writer?
AH: When I was little, Laura Ingalls Wilder was at the top of the list. I don’t know — it’s just something I’ve always done. It feels like a necessary part of my identity. It’s more something I do out of instinct than something I’m inspired to do. It’s the thing I always wanted to be best at.
LF: I correctly guessed at some point that, since you love drawing and love writing, you like graphic novels. What are some of your favorites?
AH: Well, anything by Craig Thompson, for sure.
LF: Is that the Blankets guy?
AH: Yes. That’s a great one, and just all his stuff is fantastic.
LF: What do you like about his work?
AH: It’s really cohesive and beautiful and gives me lots of feelings from pretty minimal elements, which I love. Plus, he just tells a great story. Also, lately I’ve been pretty into Eleanor Davis. She’s incredibly smart and thoughtful and never tells you how to feel. So she’s been a go-to lately.
LF: I’ve heard through the grapevine that you had kind of an unusual upbringing. Will you tell us about it?
AH: I knew this was coming.
LF: You know where it’s going, too.
AH: I do. I talk about sheep too much and give myself away. I grew up on a farm — not a commercial farm but a hobby farm. But it was very much with the attitude that, “This is our life.” It was basically a second job for my parents, who were teachers. So I spent a lot of time hanging around with chickens, sheep, and llamas and playing in haybarns and running around in the woods. It was very “Little House on the Prairie” — we had a wood stove for heat, grew our own food, raised our own animals to eat. It all felt normal to me; although as you get older, you start to question whether it’s normal to spend your spring break castrating sheep.
LF: Is that a joke or a real thing you did?
AH: I did it every year and hated it, but I know how to give shots now, so it’s okay.
LF: I’ve also heard rumors of you and sheep camp.
AH: Yes. Sheep camp is real.
LF: Tell us about sheep camp.
AH: Sheep camp is an exhilarating four-day experience where we learned about the essential functions for raising a prize sheep for the fair. So, anything from grooming to health to how to feed them most efficiently for weight gain. It’s pretty involved, but to be honest we never excelled.
LF: You personally didn’t?
AH: Well, no, because while we were bread-and-butter farm kids, we were also into things like sports and the outside world, so we did other things and kind of refused to devote all our time to sheep.
LF: Which is what it takes to raise real prize sheep.
AH: Oh, for sure. There were kids at the fair who would tape their buckets over so you couldn’t see what they were feeding their sheep — hardcore sheep kids.
LF: Anything to get an edge.
AH: I found it completely unnecessary.
LF: That’s fair, but also, they won. At sheep, I mean. Not necessarily in the grander scheme.
AH: That’s a fair point.
LF: So, do you ever think about owning a farm later in life and getting back to your roots, so to speak?
AH: No. It’s a lot of work.
LF: I don’t doubt it. I’m sure you can still apply stuff you learned from growing up on a farm in all sorts of other ways.
AH: I do think it gives me a different perspective that I didn’t always realize was different. I think when you have limited resources and you’re working from a place of deficit, really interesting and ingenious things can happen. Honestly, my husband and I are pretty much the farmiest city people you’ll ever meet as it is.
LF: How so?
AH: Well, he’s a farmer. He works on a vegetable farm, and we spend a lot of time cooking the food he grows and preserving it. God, I sound like my mom.
LF: I mean, you have to admit there is a sort of inevitability to that narrative arc. You grew up on a farm, left the farm, went to college, moved to the city — and married a farmer.
AH: How dare you make that observation? No, I’m kidding. It’s a real predictable plotline. I’m sure it’s about people being comforted by what they know.
LF: Okay, I feel like I’ve been cheating all interview because I already know you fairly well since we interact and collaborate a lot at work, and I’ve been using stuff I already know about you.
AH: You absolutely did cheat.
LF: Okay, so here’s your time. Tell me something I don’t know about you yet.
AH: I mean, I feel like I’m a pretty open book about things. You know a lot about me already because I tell people everything. Let’s see — you might not know that Nick [Wright] and some other people and I are writing an inter-office graphic novel.
LF: I definitely did not know that.
AH: It’s like this fantasy world that started from a conversation we had at lunch, where I was talking about how I wanted to be a tea sommelier as an alternative career idea. Then we started talking about the cutthroat world of tea-tasting. So it’s about that, and the working title is “The Teatotaler.”
LF: When can we expect publication?
AH: Forthcoming. There’s a bottleneck, although I will not name names.
LF: Anything else?
AH: I hate celery so much that I tell people I’m allergic to it.
LF: Got it. So, no ants on a log for you.
AH: No. I’m also allergic to peanut butter.
LF: Does that mean you’re allergic or that you just don’t like it?
AH: No, that one’s real. So just the ants for me, please.