Five Questions with Kim Chinquee
Kim Chinquee is the recipient of a Henfield Prize and a Pushcart Prize. She writes flash fiction, short stories, novels, nonfiction, and poetry. She is a regular contributor to NOON, DENVER QUARTERLY, CONJUNCTIONS, and has also published work in PLOUGHSHARES, THE NATION, STORYQUARTERLY, FICTION, MISSISSIPPI REVIEW, and over a hundred other journals and anthologies. She is the author of the collections OH BABY, PRETTY and PISTOL, senior editor of ELJ (ELM LEAVES JOURNAL), and associate editor of NEW WORLD WRITING. She lives in Buffalo, NY. She is former fiction editor of and contributor to Night Train. She's one of our favorite writers of flash fiction under all its names and iterations.
What keeps bringing you back to the flash fiction form?
I like the brevity of the form, how a flash can reveal so much in such a small space. How these word arrangements can collectively make a piece its own little gem.
What are you working on now? Is it too much to hope it’s a novel?
Yes, always. I continue to work on both long and short forms. I'm currently working on a novel based on my experiences during the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings. And I continue to write flash fiction on a regular basis.
What flash writers do you look to for models?
Lydia Davis. Diane Williams. Amy Hempel. Kawabata's Palm in the Hand stories. And many others.
How do you teach flash fiction? How do students react to the form?
I provide a lot of writing exercises, which allows students to focus on something they may not otherwise. (Favorite exercise is: write about a stranger in the kitchen.) We then discuss elements of craft: plot, character, tone, language, POV, etc. I routinely refer to Brian Kiteley's book 3AM Epiphany, and The Rose Metal Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction, along with exercises and examples of my own.
You’ve published a book of prose poems. How do you know when prose poems become flash fiction or vice versa?
I would probably consider that book more flash fiction than prose poems. It was a publisher's choice to call them prose poems, which I was fine with. Though the flash fiction form has been around a long time, in 1994--with the publication of the anthology Flash Fiction, edited by James Thomas, Denise Thomas, and Tom Hazuka--the term "flash fiction" was defined as fiction of 750 words or less, and that's become its definition. In the anthology The Prose Poem: An International Anthology, published in 1976, Michael Benedikt defines prose poems as pieces containing the properties of "(1) the unconscious, (2) the use of everyday speech, (3) a visionary thrust, (4) a certain humor, and (5) hopeful skepticism." I talk about this extensively in an essay published in The Rose Metal Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction.