Kim Chinquee grew up on a dairy farm in Wisconsin, served in the medical field in the Air Force, and is often referred to as the “queen” of flash fiction. She’s published hundreds of pieces of fiction and nonfiction in journals and magazines including The Nation, Ploughshares, NOON, Storyquarterly, Denver Quarterly, Fiction, Story, Notre Dame Review, Conjunctions, and others. She is the recipient of three Pushcart Prizes and a Henfield Prize. She is Senior Editor of New World Writing Quarterly, Chief Editor of Elm Leaves Journal (ELJ) and co-director of SUNY—Buffalo State University’s Writing Major. She’s the author of eight books, most recently (her debut novel) Pipette.
1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
My first book, Oh Baby, published in 2008, taught me a lot about the process of book publishing. It also taught me that I can write a book! It made me feel more like an actual writer, too. Pipette, my most recent work is a novel, whereas Oh Baby seemed more like stories with some recurring themes. They are both told in the flash fiction form, though I believe Pipette's chapters are a bit more fleshed out.
2 - How did you come to fiction first, as opposed to, say, poetry or non-fiction?
I took a fiction writing class in college before taking any poetry or nonfiction classes, and I just fell in love with the genre. I still do enjoy writing poetry and nonfiction, yet I prefer the craft of fiction, and making things up, and seeing how a story can change by just adding/changing a character, a place, or event.
3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?
I guess it varies. Though it's usually a slow process. I tend to write using prompt words and exercises, and sometimes craft various pieces together and write a short series of pieces and string them together and then reshape. First drafts rarely look close to their final shapes.
4 - Where does a work of prose usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?
I rarely work on a "book" from the very beginning, though I've tried, and am still working on a few! I love the satisfaction of writing a short piece, and then maybe building from there.
5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I do enjoy readings! I see them as part of my creative process. Sometimes, I'll edit a piece while reading, based on the response of the audience, or deciding I'm bored with certain parts, or realizing maybe a story needs to end a lot sooner.
6 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?
Good questions! I don't see myself as answering questions with my work, as most of the work, as I write, begs more questions. Mostly about character, plot, language, all the elements and how they work together.
7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Do they even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?
I believe roles are different for every writer. Rendering sensory details and brining the reader into the human experience. (And perhaps the experience of nature.) And maybe the beauty of language. And to find the truth. I don't think the role of any writer should be completely subscribed, as long as the intentions of the writer are integral.
8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
I find it pretty essential. I welcome editorial feedback, as it can help look at the work under a different light, and may help the work become stronger. And not every edit needs to be accepted, though it's important to consider.
9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
I can't actually think of one that is the "best." But lots of accumulated advice that adds up. As far as writing, I often return to these 39 Steps by Frederick Barthelme, who I studied with at the USM Center for Writers. https://www.frederickbarthelme.com/nonfiction/the-39-steps/
10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (flash fiction to short stories to non-fiction)? What do you see as the appeal?
It's a challenge for me. Sometimes when I attempt to write a longer piece, it ends up as a flash--as it appears the story might be done before I never really got to tell the story I had intended in the first place. But then I realize maybe that's not the story meant to be told.
11 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?
I've been hosting an online writing group on Zoetrope since about 2002--I post five prompt words and a first sentence. I usually just string them together. A typical day for me starts by answering emails and doing the "business" of writing. Editorial duties, reading work by others. I don't have a set time for writing, but I tend to do most of that at night. I like to get in at least some exercise every day, and when I'm in triathlon training, that often takes up at least a couple hours, and often I craft a story based on my prompt words throughout the day. My daily activities also offer inspiration, and time to reflect on my writing, and once my "chores" for the day are done, I like to settle into the actual writing. I'm currently on sabbatical--when not, my schedule also involves teaching, meetings, advisement, fulfilling administrative roles.
12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
Prompts. Film. I'll return to drafts and continue to revise. Reading work by writers I admire. I rarely get stalled, as I don't really believe in writer's block.
13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
Hay. (I grew up on a dairy farm and would help my family bale hay in the summers.)
14 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?
Film, music, nature, sports. Science. My dogs!
I love studying plot in films. I'm a triathlete, and often listen to music while running, which sometimes helps me work through story ideas, or move deeper into a story. I used to play piano a lot, and sometimes I imagine the computer keyboard as piano keys. And nature almost always inspires. I used to work as a medical lab technician, and I have written about that experience too--science fascinates me. And I have three dogs. They're always full of surprises!
15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
My mentors, editors, friends. Diane Williams and NOON, Frederick Barthelme, Jean Thompson, Richard Powers. Fellow writers in my Hot Pants Writing Group. Kathryn Rantala of Ravenna Press. Lots of others in my writing community.
16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
I'm not sure. Feel like I've already done a lot and I am happy these days just being at home with my dogs and writing and traveling when I can.
17 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?
I was a med lab tech in the Air Force before becoming a writer. I worked in hospitals and clinics while in college, and again last year, helping during Covid. I also majored in art while in college, but decided on writing--I was more committed to writing, and it seemed the path for me. I've also dreamt of being a pianist, and a competitive athlete.
18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
I took a creative writing in college, and fell in love with it. I don't recall any other activity, besides maybe running, that I was ever as passionate about.
19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
Richard Powers's Bewilderment. Love all the nature in the book, the emotional complexity, the language, the lore, just everything.
I recently saw Everything Everywhere All at Once. Love the absurdity, the emotional range, and the sensory buffet!
Also FRANK. The 2014 film directed by Lenny Abrahamson, produced by David Barron,
I share it with my students. And watch it repeatedly.
20 - What are you currently working on?
I just finished a round of edits of my novel I Thought of England. Am currently revising my novel Pirouette. Writing new flashes, and another new (perhaps nonfiction) book. And drafting a book on teaching online writing. My sabbatical ends August of 2023 and am trying to make the most of it!
12 or 20 (second series) questions;
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