Interview conducted by Greg Bem.
Matthew, while I know a little bit about your writing background and your presence in Seattle, not everyone else does. Can you talk a little bit about your background as a fiction writer, and your activities in the emerald city?
I moved to Seattle—from Lawrence, Kansas—about a dozen years ago. Back then, I wrote, but I never showed any of it to anyone, and never really thought seriously about writing as a thing a person did and then shared with strangers. Then I got a job as a bookseller, read a lot, met a bunch of writers while working author events, found a bunch of venues, learned how to create a story with a beginning and a middle and an end, and realized that if I added that framework onto the whatever it was I was doing, I would be a writer.
Are you happy with that interpretation of “writer”? How has being a writer changed your life since the part of your life before you would consider yourself a writer? What kind of writers did you meet at those author events who A) you still remember and B) affected your future writing self?
I’m betting every time I stumble upon something, have some sort of revelatory moment where I learn something new about, or have some sort of new success at writing, it will occur to me to say: “Oh, man. NOW I’m a writer. Before I was just stumbling around in the dark with my hands out in front of me. But, now…” So, writing as a continual process of “becoming a writer,” maybe? How many avocations are there that allow you to continually re-become? I am mostly unhappy with, and also very happy with, that interpretation of “writer.”
As I’ve become more comfortable self-identifying as a writer, more of the people around me seem to have become more comfortable joining in. Which means more and more, if I’m somewhere with someone, and they are introducing me to someone else, they will become a part of my identity by using the word “writer” in the very brief bio of me they provide to the someone else.
I’ve met authors from all genres and at all stages of their careers, and I’ve learned all sorts of things about readings and the writing life and all that. I think—I hope—I learned how to read in public in a compelling way by watching people succeed and fail at it.
I remember lots of them. The first writer I ever introduced whose book I not only read but also really loved was Amy Fusselman.
I’d like to switch gears and talk a little bit about prose. Maybe you don’t identify with prose and maybe you do. Certainly you have written in prose before, and probably will do so again. What draws you to prose as the form? Have you attempted other forms before? Your language could certainly be described as poetic in some ways, and yet I would never refer to you as a poet, though I’m not sure what that even means! Also, can you talk a little bit about the writer as reader, and your history with reading your work out loud in front of an audience (and/or not in front of an audience)? I don’t think I’ve ever gotten to ask a fiction writer or nonfiction writer about that before!
I guess over the years I’ve tried to write poems, but it just doesn’t feel natural to me. Maybe I’ve got a fear of the “return” key or something. I just like to keep typing.
Not that I dislike poetry. I like it quite a bit. Maybe I’m afraid of it a little. Maybe I’m intimidated by it a little. I really like poetry. In the times when I’m most productive as a writer of prose, I find myself reading more poetry. I’m more inclined to it.
I guess in school I had to read things in front of people. Speeches and all that. “Convince an audience to think and act as you do.” I was always kind of afraid of speaking in front of people. When I started reading little weird fictions in front of people, though, I don’t think it ever occurred to me to be scared. Not in the same way, at least. I have no idea why.
By the time I started reading fictions in front of people—the first was at a Monkeybicycle reading at a coffee shop in Belltown, and I read with Ryan Boudinot and David Drury—-I had introduced a bunch of people, though. And some of those people had fairly large crowds. Maybe I had gotten used to it.
After the Monkeybicycle reading, Aaron Burch asked me to read something at a Hobart thing in The Jewel Box theater. I has a band backing me. I seem to recall reading a weird piece of Kirk/Spock slash fiction for it. Wonder what happened to that story?
I’m not sure I answered your question, though. I think I just talked about a few things.
Here’s another thing. Lately I’ve become sort of fascinated by battle rap competitions, especially the ones put on by the URL (URLtv.tv). Have you ever watched any of those? They break a lot of what they do down to categories. You have bars (these are usually the really serious things you say, the boasts and threats), punches (jokes, punchlines), name flips or other bits of wordplay, and delivery. I think over the last week or so, I’ve been mostly interested in delivery.
I think you answered the questions rightfully, in your own way, and look forward to seeing what folks have to say. I love the speech class. The speech class for me, in my undergrad years, was pretty inspiring, though it’s hard to say what gave me more motivation–the class or the drugs I was taking at the time. And I haven’t seen the battle rap competitions, but I guess I’ve got my Friday night worked out for me, so thank you. It’s curious that you bring rap up, though, and Star Trek. Whenever I hear you read, or whenever I see something created by you (interview? tweet?), I have this sense that you’re not afraid of confronting pop culture and culture in general. But I’m more curious about how conscious you are of those many worlds, many realities, when you write. I guess I’m trying to ask the boring question in a new way: what are your current main arteries of inspiration? What gets the juice or the blood or the ink flowing? I guess it’s more or less pixel-fill than anything else. This would also be a good time, or maybe even a great time, to talk about your current projects and artistic commitments. The Clout Sensor Device has been calibrated and is ready for sensing.
I think even though I’m not less inclined to confront or make reference to pop culture in a piece of fiction—as opposed to a tweet or in an interview—I’m less likely to. I think my brain follows all sorts of separate creative pathways, and the fiction pathway will sometimes stop off at, and grab something from pop culture—for example, Dungeons & Dragons and Rush both make appearances in stories in HAPPY ROCK—but not as often as the Twitter pathway, or the interview pathway, or the short HTML Giant death essay pathway.
I get most of my inspiration just from working. Whatever’s around me finds a way into what I write, but I don’t really write until I write. And then when I start writing, I’m inspired to write.
Right now I’m finishing a really long story. A novella, I guess. I think by the end of the year, there will be a couple more like that. I’m writing longer and longer. I don’t really know how to describe them beyond that, though. Beyond what they look like.
I still conduct interview for Hobart and have a few coming out in the next few months. And whenever someone/thing dies and I feel like the death is notable in some way, I write about it for HTML Giant.
Matthew Simmons is the author of the novella A Jello Horse (Publishing Genius Press, 2009), and the soon-to-be released book of short stories Happy Rock (Dark Coast Press, 2013). More about him at matthewjsimmons.com.