Flash Fiction, Collage & Snap Shots: A Conversation with Kim Chinquee about her new book, SNOWDOG – curated by Kristina Marie Darling

Kim Chinquee is the author of seven collections, most recently Snowdog, was launched in January 2021 with Ravenna Press. She is the recipient of two Pushcart Prizes and has published in several journals and anthologies including Noon, Denver Quarterly, Fiction, Story, StoryQuarterly, New Micro: Exceptionally Short Fiction, Buffalo Noir, Conjunctions, The Best Small Fictions 2019 and others. She is Senior Editor for New World Writing, and an associate professor of English at SUNY-Buffalo State.

KMD:  How did SNOWDOG begin?  

KC: Thanks for the interview, Kristina! 

I’d sent Ravenna Press some more flashes and they agreed to publish another collection of mine (though we hadn’t found a title yet). I realized there were a lot of dogs in the collection. And a good amount of snow. So I looked into my inventory, and found more of my stories that included dogs and/or a snow theme, and revised them. To the pieces that didn’t have a dog (or even a cat) and/or a snow theme, I added one somewhere, if even just in dialogue. That seemed to string the pieces together and thus came the title SNOWDOG.

KMD:  You are often referred to the “Queen of Flash Fiction.” What draws you to flash fiction as a literary form?

KC: I view flash fictions kind of like snapshots. Looking at snippets of life from a unique angle and/or noticing things that make me feel more alive. An odd color, a weird sunset, or the way the wind feels on my face. The way my dog tilts his head. The way my other dog moves his body when he’s excited, like a slinky. To me, putting these things together can almost stand in for the plot of a story, depending on the angle, the structure, the tone, the point-of-view. I suppose this is true in longer pieces too, but imo, flash fiction leaves the imagination more open to its readers. Visually, to me, it’s like seeing a snapshot. Rather than viewing a whole movie. Snapshots together in a collection can become collage-like and provide some context for an overall theme.

KMD:  I’m impressed by the fact that your flash pieces stand on their own as self-contained works, but also, the ways in which they are enriched by the collection as a whole.  What advice do you have for writers who struggle to balance the project and the individual poem or story?  

KC: I tend to write flashes in a series. They seem to connect to each other, but not every piece I write ends up published or a part of the bigger project. Sometimes certain pieces just don’t sing. But the pieces that I do choose to send out into the world (or maybe just the ones that get published) seem to have common threads. First comes the writing of one small piece, and often instinctually they come together as part of a bigger whole. But when not, perhaps just adding one or more things that are common in the whole can help to string the pieces together. Like dogs. Snow. Or maybe even something as simple as a red hat.

KMD:  In addition to your achievements as a fiction writer, you are also Professor of English at Buffalo State College.  What has teaching opened up within your creative practice?  

KC: Teaching definitely keeps me on my game when it comes to craft. And being able to share some of the greatest literature. Teaching creative writing also allows me to share my passion for writing, and I love seeing certain students light up when I share my excitement over a phrase, a paragraph, a story. A book! Also, teaching creative writing and providing feedback are in some ways like editing, and being an editor is one of the best tools to help one look at her own writing in more objective, critical ways. And I love when my students notice something in a piece that I don’t, or they look at the work from different perspectives. Those are always nice surprises! 

KMD:  What’s next?  What can readers look forward to?

KC: My novel-in-flashes BATTLE DRESS is forthcoming in late 2021 with WIDOW + ORPHAN HOUSE. (https://widowandorphanhouse.com). This is a book I wrote about nine years ago as a series of one-a-day flashes. I revised BATTLE DRESS several times over the years in my effort to craft it into a novel (as opposed to a collection). I also wrote a novel called PIROUETTE in 2016 (based on my experiences during the Boston Bombings) that I continue to revise. I got halfway into a couple other books (one about the dairy farm industry–I grew up on a dairy farm) called STRAY VOLTAGE; and the other book–HISTORIC DISTRICT–involves tenants who live in the same apartment in the historic district of Buffalo. I haven’t given up on these two books, but other projects just took over. On January 1 of this year, I committed to writing one new flash a day. I was better about sticking to that earlier in the year–but it’s still a part of my intended practice–I’ve written a new flash every day in 2020 more than I have not, and so far this year, I’ve written about 100,000 words of connected flashes, and I keep adding to it. Not sure where these pieces will go yet, but it’s good to have the inventory and try to shape them into books that will hopefully be published in the future.

Thanks for the questions, Kristina. I’m honored for the interview! 

An Excerpt from SNOWDOG by Kim Chinquee