Kim Chinquee on her new flash fiction collection SNOWDOG
To read Kim Chinquee’s work is to be startled, touched and affected. She is an American master of this flash form. As she works in small tight spaces; she packs in a world of family, friends, and guys, food, sex, weather, and always the sure and abiding love of dogs. And she’s funny, spit-take funny.
— Pia Ehrhardt, author of Famous Fathers and Now We Are Sixty
Kim Chinquee is the author of the collections OH BABY, PRETTY, PISTOL, VEER, SHOT GIRLS, WETSUIT, SNOWDOG, and also the forthcoming novel-in-flashes, BATTLE DRESS. Her fiction, nonfiction and poetry have appeared in hundreds of journals and anthologies including NOON, THE NATION, CONJUNCTIONS, PLOUGHSHARES, STORYQUARTERLY, THE INDIANA REVIEW, DENVER QUARTERLY, MISSISSIPPI REVIEW, HUFFINGTON POST, THE PUSHCART PRIZE ANTHOLOGIES, and others. She is senior editor of NEW WORLD WRITING, and she serves as the Association of Writers and Writing Programs Northeast Regional Chair. Her webpage is www.kimchinquee.com
I interview her here about her latest collection SNOWDOG, recently out from Ravenna Press:
Avital Gad-Cykman’s review of your flash fiction collection Snowdog in the Lit Pub mentions your pieces’ insightful last lines. Do you put special effort into last lines? How do you decide how or where to end your sentences?
Thank you, first of all, Cristina, for reading SNOWDOG and for the interview. And for these great questions!
As I’m writing a piece of flash fiction, sometimes I surprise myself and when I come to the end of a piece, a gut feeling tells me to end. And at times, I’ve already envisioned a whole story in my head before sitting down to write. Though sometimes I’m just working through a series of prompt words just to connect the dots, so to speak. The endings are always surprises to me. And sometimes on revision, I’ll cut off my original endings. Because they seem to weigh down the stories. There’s something refreshing in having a crisp ending. An ending that speaks to the piece as a whole.
You write a lot about dogs in Snowdog, along with human relationships. What do you think companion animals add to our lives, and why did you choose flash fiction as a way to express that?
When compiling the collection, I hadn’t had a title yet, but realized there were a lot of dogs in the stories. Then I went into my inventory and added more of my stories that included dogs. Then with some of the stories in the collection that didn’t have dogs, I added one or two. There’s also a lot of snow in the stories, so that’s what made me stick to SNOWDOG. Joan Wilking, my cover designer, had also sent me a lot of cover images, and I was most drawn to the image of the dog, and that made me commit to the title, the cover, so most of the guts of the book came from a sort of molding.
Nancy Stohlman mentions the brevity of your pieces in her review of your work. What draws you to writing brief pieces, and how do you, or any writer, figure out what’s most important to convey?
I think I’m just drawn to the form. I tend to look at life that way, I suppose. In snapshots. It’s a challenge for me to write longer work, though I have. I love embracing the nuances of life and capturing them in writing: the way a yellow sunset looks on a new bed of snow, the high I get on a bike ride with a friend when riding on the railroad tracks in the industrial part of the city. Ice skating with my son on his first time visiting me after being away in college. Capturing the sensory details. Those are the things that make stories to me. They collectively form the plots of my life, and I enjoy the freedom in fictionalizing them, and changing the parts of them into an art form. I told a friend of mine recently that it’s like a snapshot, a Polaroid, and each collection is like a collage of them, and it’s up to the reader to determine his/her own way of interpreting.
What’s your process in writing flash fiction? Do you write a longer piece first and then cut it down?
I provide five daily prompt words for my writing group Hot Pants, which I have been hosting since 2002. I also provide a first sentence. Usually the prompt words come from something I may have seen or experienced throughout the day, or sometimes they’re just random. And I like to vary up the prompt words: based on sounds, images, sensory details. Or what’s happening in the world and maybe in my life. For example: here are my prompts for today: zoom, hunker, brew, bumble, mumuration. First sentence: Stand fast.
It’s so nice when the energy gets going in the room, and other group members post and we respond to each other’s work. And to see what others do with the prompt words. It’s such a gift! We have grown together over the years and have a great group — we’ve become kind of a team. It’s just great energy, and the online format allows us to include members from all over the world.
Also, if something starts to become longer, it’s more like a series in flashes. I have a book coming out later this year, a novel-in-flashes called BATTLE DRESS, out with WIDOW + ORPHAN HOUSE (https://widowandorphanhouse.com) and this was a book I wrote back in 2010. I’ve been working on a book this year that’s of a similar vein, a novel in flashes, and it’s at about 100,000 words now. And it was all compiled in my Hot Pants room.
How did flash fiction become a separate genre? Do you think the genre was influenced by the aesthetics of social media? (Just as a FYI a good friend of mine won an award for Twitter short stories).
I think flash fiction has always been around. I talk a lot about this in an article I wrote for the ROSE METAL PRESS FIELD GUIDE TO WRITING FLASH FICTION. https://rosemetalpress.com/books/the-rose-metal-press-field-guide-to-writing-flash-fiction/
I certainly think it’s gained in popularity. Maybe because of the popularity of our times, of the internet, of our attention to our screens. It’s much more conducive to read a flash fiction, imo, on a computer than it is to read a novel, but I’m still more keen to reading flash fiction (and/or any other genre) in the book form. Part of the reading experience to me is holding the book in my hands. But flash fiction is definitely more accessible. Mostly, for me, if I like a sample I read online, I’m more inclined to buy the book or journal if I can hold it in my hands and savor it and have the experience of penciling in notes. And put on my bookshelf and revisit, and when I do, I can revisit those notes and recall the physical experience of that: often times it brings back the sensory details of reading a particular phrase or word or moment, and where I was during that time of my life. I don’t quite get that when I read stories online. But it provides an important avenue. A different animal, I guess.