So You Wrote a Book? Kim Chinquee

The stories in Kim’s Chinquee’s new collection, Wetsuit, are the barest of wisps, impressionistic in their minimalism and yet dense with implied meaning. Each one is a gem, deceptively simple but hiding entire, barely concealed worlds in the silences. With each revisiting you discover the truth: that the stories are shadowboxes that continue into infinity, a magician’s hat with no bottom.

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Photo by Diane Sardes

Nancy Stohlman: In the spirit of flash fiction, explain this book in six words: 

Kim Chinquee: Water. Swimming. Food. Animals. Motherhood. Men.

NS: I’m super intrigued by your titles, which are very often a seemingly random phrase pulled from the story that becomes the title and then suddenly isn’t random at all. Talk about your process with titles. Does it change the story for you?

KC: Absolutely! Titles are so much fun. A title can inform a piece, and can also turn it on its head. I’m always experimenting with titles, whether removing the first sentence of a story, and using it as a title. Or sometimes I’ll choose the last sentence, or one from the middle. Or perhaps the title is a word in the story that repeats itself. When I studied with Mary Robison, she recommended (to me and other students) closing our eyes and randomly pointing to places (on the physical copies of) our stories and opening our eyes and imagining the words and phrases (where our fingers landed) as potential titles. That’s a fun exercise I share with my students a lot. Sometimes a title can have nothing to do with the text of the story and can give that entire piece a different meaning. I think I have a few stories with titles like that.

NS: Your stories are very sculpted—sometimes down to almost an impressionistic wisp. I often find myself rereading them several times, as they are slight but extremely dense, sometimes deceptively so.  How do you know when to stop? Do you think flash writers ever go too far?

KC: It’s possible to go too far, of course. But one can always save the latest drafts and rearrange the words, add them back, etc. I struggle with writing longer work because I’m always cutting.

NS: Water is a theme connecting these stories, from puddles to steam to oceans to ice. Talk about your connection to water and why it ripples through this book? (By the way I love your picture of Iceland’s Blue Lagoon on the cover!)

KC: Thank you! Pier Rodelon designed Wetsuit (and my books Oh Baby, Veer, and Shot Girls). And (in speaking of titles): I had several other titles of the book before deciding on Wetsuit (I think maybe MILK was one.)–and when I saw the cover, I realized Wetsuit was the one that best “suited,” and included mostly pieces pertaining to liquid and/or water of some form. And I added some words and lines to some of the pieces so they would better fit the overall theme. So, the theme of water was kind of accidental, I suppose. Or something that I didn’t see until later. I had been swimming a lot and doing triathlons when I was writing these pieces, so it makes sense to me now that I was writing a lot about water.

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NS: The narrator seems consistent through many of the stories, and we get reoccurring images tagging back to other stories.  Was this an intentional weave or a happy discovery? And if intentional, how you would distinguish this collection from, say, a flash novel? Or is it?

KC: It probably was a bit of both intentional weave and happy discovery. Some of these pieces were written long ago, and some were written during the same timeframe and in consecutive order. When compiling the collection, I ordered them to have some sort of arc, and/or storylines that connect and speak to each other.

NS: On that note, your beginning and your ending are also circular, with one image from the end hooking up with the initial one. It gives a certain sense of spiraling around and around a life. Can you about your circular concept? 

KC: Thanks for noticing that! My editor and publisher Kathryn Rantala suggested ending on that last piece “My New Skin,” which I thought was kind of brilliant. I suppose, when looking at it now, I like to think it’s a metaphor for the front crawl or the breast stroke, the circular motion and the constant movement that keeps one not only moving forward, but afloat.

NS: About 2/3 of the way through the book your stories start to get super short and extremely dark. It feels like both a shift, a deepening, a quickening, and also, consequently, like the climax of the book. Can you talk about your design and intention with this purposeful pondering?

KC: As I was compiling the collection, it seemed natural to me to put these pieces closer to the end of the book, I suppose like a climax. I was afraid that if I included them near the front of the collection, they might discourage the reader, and that some content before might give them more context. I suppose it’s a lot like writing a novel. Wetsuit feels, content-like, or at least the way I compiled it, much like how I put together my first collection, Oh Baby.

NS: You have been an important voice in the flash fiction movement for a long time, and you’ve authored many books, including Shot Girls, Pretty, Veer, and Oh Baby. How is this book different than your others?

KC: Ah! Good question. I was about to talk more about this in the previous answer. I like to think Wetsuit holds a bit more hope for its main protagonist, and that there is maybe more maturity and depth. The son of Wetsuit is older, an adult, and there is a longing, I think. Artistically and aesthetically, Wetsuit is much like Oh Baby, imo. Veer was compiled as a collection to celebrate the venues where the pieces appeared (and where I’ve published most regularly): NOON, Conjunctions, Denver Quarterly, Willow Springs, Story Quarterly. Pretty was published (as a prose poetry collection) with White Pine Press, under different editorship and is told in three parts. Whereas Shot Girls (also with Ravenna Press) includes mostly longer stories, of women working in “service,” including the military, and it includes a few flashes.

My next collection will also be published with Ravenna Press in 2020! It’s tentatively titled Snowdog. (And involves a lot of snow. And dogs.) Though I tend to change my titles a lot!

My novel-in-flashes, Battle Dress, will be published with Widow + Orphan House in 2021. I wrote the pieces in Battle Dress in consecutive order, while I was running a lot of local 5K, 10K races. So, there’s a lot of running and repetition in that book. Kind of like running the same kind of races (with different results) over and over.

I’ve also written a couple of “non flash” novels, and am currently revising Pirouette, which takes place in Boston, with alternating points-of-view of three protagonists and their experiences during the Boston Bombings. I’ve also started a new book called Stray Voltage, which is mostly about cows.

I probably write flash fictions with the most consistency and frequency, especially when I’m in the midst of teaching and doing administrative work. So, when compiling Wetsuit, I drew upon the flash fictions in my inventory, and put them together in a kind of collage.

NS: Congratulations! I’m looking forward to all of these! Wetsuit is published by Ravenna Press. Talk about your path to publication?

KC: Ravenna Press published my first book Oh Baby in 2008; I had such a great experience with Ravenna, and continue to publish with them. Kathryn Rantala is a great advocate and supporter of my work. I believe we have a mutual respect for each other and I love working with her.

NS: What advice would you give someone who is writing/wants to write a book?

KC: Read a lot. Write your story. Collect advice and keep what’s useful. Pay attention to what’s happening around you.

NS: Anything else you want to add?

KC: Thank you!

NS: Thank YOU!

Links to buy the book and other promo links:

You can buy copies of my books at www.kimchinquee.com, at Ravenna Press, and they’re also available at Amazon.

There’s a new review of Wetsuit available at Rain Taxi:

Kim Chinquee is the author of six books, most recently WETSUIT. She’s the recipient of two Pushcart Prizes, and serves as AWP Northeast Regional Chair. Her website is www.kimchinquee.com

 

 

Rain Taxi Summer 2019: “Nancy Stohlman–Freaks of Flash Fiction: Clowns, Flash, and Lounge Metal” interviewed by Zack Kopp

Zack Kopp and I had a fantastic time chatting and getting weird in the latest print version of Rain Taxi, now out! Rain Taxi is such an amazing publication, and Zack is a fantastic interviewer! 

Rain Taxi Volume 24, Number 2, Summer 2019 (#94)

To purchase issue #94 using Paypal, click here.

Check out the full issue here

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INTERVIEWS

NANCY STOHLMAN: Clowns, Flash, and Lounge Metal | interviewed by Zack Kopp
ED PAVLIĆ: If the Dead Could Speak | interviewed by Ken Walker
MICHAEL JOYCE: The Telling Falls in the Full of Time | interviewed by Erin Lewenauer

FEATURES

Widely Unavailable: Northrop Frye Unbuttoned | by Richard Kostelanetz
Remembering Tony Hoagland | by Mike Schneider
Black Market Reads: Ross Gay | by Lissa Jones
The New Life | a comic by Gary Sullivan

PLUS:

Cover art by Zak Sally

NONFICTION REVIEWS

Diderot and the Art of Thinking Freely | Andrew S. Curran | by John Toren
The Banished Immortal: A Life of Li Bai | Ha Jin | by Patrick James Dunagan
Tosh: Growing Up in Wallace Berman’s World | Tosh Berman | by Christopher Luna
Native Enough | Nina O’Leary | by Christina Schmid
Questioning Minds: The Letters of Guy Davenport & Hugh Kenner | Edward M. Burns, ed. | by W. C. Bamberger
The Poem Electric: Technology and the American Lyric | Seth Perlow | by Christopher T. Funkhouser
An Informal History of the Hugos | Jo Walton | by Ryder W. Miller

FICTION REVIEWS

Passing | Nella Larsen | by David Wiley
Instructions For a Funeral | David Means | by Erin Lewenauer
If You See Me, Don’t Say Hi | Neel Patel | by Cindra Halm
A Student of History | Nina Revoyr | by Julia Stein
The Secret History of My Sojourn in Russia | Jaroslav Hašek
and Sentimental Tales | Mikhail Zoshchenko | by M. Kasper
Everything Under | Daisy Johnson | by Micah Winters
Coldwater Canyon | Anne-Marie Kinney | by Eric Aldrich

POETRY REVIEWS

Sight Lines | Arthur Sze | by M. Lock Swingen
Kill Class | Nomi Stone | by Jason Ericson
The Blue Clerk: Ars Poetica in 59 Versos | Dionne Brand | by John Bradley
Mitochondrial Night | Ed Bok Lee | by Jeremy Flick
Fake News Poems | Martin Ott | by Erik Noonan
A Memory of the Future | Elizabeth Spires | by Paula Colangelo
Suspension | Paige Riehl | by Denise Low
Waiting for the Wreck to Burn | Michele Battiste | by Denyse Kirsch

COMICS REVIEWS

R. Crumb’s Dream Diary | Robert Crumb | by Jeff Alford
The Three Escapes of Hannah Arendt: A Tyranny of Truth | Ken Krimstein | by Michael Workman

Check out the full issue here