“Do you mind, for a second, if we turn the lights out?: A Conversation with Kim Chinquee about Pipette” — curated by Tiffany Troy

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, Chief Editor of Elm Leaves Journal (ELJ)l associate editor of Midwest Review, and co-director of SUNY—Buffalo State University’s Writing Major. She can be reached at kimchinquee at gmail dot com. Pipette, the latest novel by Chinquee, features a fifty-something-year-old woman who works at a COVID-19 lab, who also doubles as a professor, a triathlete, as she navigates her daily routine with her boyfriend, her dogs, and her community.

Tiffany Troy: How does your first section, “Ballerina,” set up Pipette?

Kim Chinquee: Sequentially, the novel starts with this section, time-wise, and it also shows the contrast of the narrator away and coming home to her partner and dogs, leading up to the conflict. And the fact that she notices all the dogs while she’s away and calls herself a doggie lady.

Tiffany Troy: Can you describe the process in writing this novel?

Kim Chinquee: On January 1, 2020, I started a challenge in my online writing group, Hot Pants, to write a flash a day. (It was the original intent of the group, which I started about twenty years ago, but things got a little more flexible after all that time.) So, it wasn’t my intention to write a novel. After having so many pieces and connected flashes, Ravenna Press agreed to publish it. In revision, I realized this read more like a novel, so we edited it as such: to make characters consistent, avoid repetition, etc.

Tiffany Troy: Dogs feature heavily in the novel. How do they help build character for the narrator, the self-described “doggy lady”?

Kim Chinquee: Dogs are such great characters. The narrator, over time, is more than a doggy lady–as she works in a COVID lab, is a professor, a triathlete, a mom, a gardener, a friend, a sister, a daughter. But the dogs are a constant. They can’t speak in human language and they constantly have needs. They also love unconditionally, unlike some of the other characters in the book.

Tiffany Troy: How do you meld the reality of COVID-19 with the unreal or surreal in the novel? 

Kim Chinquee: The narrator working in the COVID lab seemed to me pretty real. Visions of doggy with wings is kind of a dream. I suppose it’s my way of mixing dreams with reality. A way of maybe lightening up the circumstances of the characters.

Tiffany Troy: You are described as the “queen” of flash fiction. Drawing from craft you deployed in Pipette, do you have any tips for emerging fiction writers?

Kim Chinquee: Read often, revise often, keep writing. If you have challenges generating material, use writing prompts. 

Tiffany Troy: Do you have any closing thoughts for your readers?

Kim Chinquee: Thank you for reading! 

Tiffany Troy is author of Dominus (BlazeVOX [books]) and co-translator of Santiago Acosta’s The Coming Desert /El próximo desierto (forthcoming, Alliteration Publishing House), in collaboration with Acosta and the 4W International Women Collective Translation Project at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She is Managing Editor at Tupelo Quarterly and Book Review Co-Editor at The Los Angeles Review.