Interview with Kristine Ong Muslim

Writer Extraordinaire
By Cynthia Reeser

Kristine Ong Muslim’s fiction and poetry appears in more than five hundred publications—too many to list here (see her website for the complete canon), including recent mentions in Fiction Daily and Verse Daily. In addition to her five Pushcart Prize nominations and two Best of the Web 2011 nominations, she has received several honorable mentions in The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror as well as four nominations for the Science Fiction Poetry Association’s Rhysling Award. And more exciting things are happening for her. With two 2011 chapbooks under her belt (Night Fish, Shoe Music Press/Elevated Press and Smaller than Most, Philistine Press), she is revving up for several 2012 releases, including a chapbook and two full-length books: a  full-length flash fiction collection, We Bury the Landscape (Queen’s Ferry Press), the full-length poetry collection  Grim Series  (Popcorn Press), and the poetry chapbook  Insomnia (Medulla Publishing). With such a prolific publication history, I knew I had to talk to Kristine Ong Muslim for some insight.

CR: What inspires you to write? What or who are your influences?

KOM: Publishing consistently was a natural offshoot of having read so many good books when I was growing up. So what really inspired me from the very start were good books and the writers behind them. The allure of the written word has been a lingering source of inspiration. I read something so good online or in print, and the urge to duplicate that kind of emotion it stirs in me will almost always drive me to write. My writer-influences change from time to time, and it’s impossible to name them all.

CR: Do you target any particular market, in terms of which journals or presses to submit to, print versus online, etc.?

KOM: If the work is appropriate, then it is targeted to paying ones. Themed issues and first issues of whatever magazine are also very enticing to me. Themed issues will already have a writing blueprint I can exploit. When it comes to first issues, being included in premier issues of magazines and journals is a big deal to me; I’m excited to be part of the lineup of writers who will set the overall standard of the magazine. I was in Fjords #1 where my two poems did not appear in print but were sold as audio downloads, and I was so thrilled. I’ve had work published in so many first issues of various zines, and each time the feeling is the same.

CR: Reading your work, one thing I notice is that many of your stories are rooted in home or the family. Is this a conscious choice that you make, and do you feel that family is an influence on your writing or central to your work in some way?

KOM: This question has got me thinking. I looked at most of my work, and yes, it has a recurring theme. Even my first book, now out of print and which will soon be sent to another publisher, is one giant tome of inanimate objects inside the house. I must have gotten myself so isolated I write about talking spoons and coffee mugs.

It is an unconscious choice. Home and family are the two concepts I am too familiar with because those are what really mattered to me. The only close friends I had and the ones I kept were the same group of people I grew up with. When I was still working in the city and had to stay in an apartment, I was an office-to-apartment type of person, and my weekends were lovingly spent at home watching movies, reading, and writing. I rarely socialized and only had to do so when I clearly had no choice, like if my boss threw a party and if I didn’t show up it would look like I dissed everybody. Good thing my other siblings were not like me; being outgoing is something that will make a person grow emotionally. Maybe if I had a different lifestyle preference, I wouldn’t have been writing much.

CR: Something else that strikes me in your fiction is the element of the unexpected. I like how the stories flow, and how they almost never end up where I think they will. Is this something you do intentionally, or do you just let the stories write themselves?

KOM: I’m happy to hear that you like my stories. The normal writing convention of having a beginning, an ending, plus an explanation of whatever’s going on in the story bothers me. I like stories that are snippets of larger things to come, stories where the main story is happening in the background like in Michael Kimball’s Dear Everybody. I cried while I was reading that book and considered it one of the best pieces of contemporary writing produced. And it’s not even a proper novel, not even a collection of short stories – it’s one scrapbook of suicide letters! I love the flair and musicality in the language. And yes, letting the story write itself is something that I do intentionally. Most of the time, that is not entertaining for the reader. The most recent “fiasco” of this type was my mini-story over at Tales of the Zombie War with reader comments that exceed the story’s word count. The editor told me it received the most number of negative comments and the highest site traffic in the two months preceding it. Most of the loyal readers of TOZW found the story so out of place in the zombie-eats-everybody site. Having no regard for convention is never the way to go. Ultimately, a writer wants to be read, otherwise they should just write in a diary or something.

CR: Since you write both poetry and fiction, I feel compelled to ask about the difference for you in writing between the genres. Do you find that writing one flows for you more than the other? Do you approach the writing of both with similar or different mindsets?

KOM: If I write on one genre, I’ll have a dry spell on the other. Thus, switching back and forth does not happen spontaneously. Poetry is a single burst of inspiration. Short fiction, even flash fiction, requires time to write. I love both genres. So I have timetables on when to write each genre. I allot a month or two for poetry, the next for fiction. And when I write, I write in bulk, sometimes enough to fill one whole book manuscript, because it is difficult to regain the momentum once I begin writing in another genre. Most of the stories and prose poems comprising We Bury the Landscape were written in the same time period so the aesthetics and the tone are almost uniform throughout the book. My writing rituals are the same whether I write poetry or short fiction. They are all spurred by something I’ve seen, heard, or read.

CR: Whom do you admire most as a writer?

KOM: Ray Bradbury. I was and will always be a big fan Ray Bradbury. He was passionate about reading long after he was writing his wonderful short stories. And I love The Martian Chronicles so much. I must have reread it countless times. I remembered that when I first read it, it made me thankful that I was alive, that I could read, that I “discovered” this particular little book with words on them I cannot possibly unread.

Where do you hope to be as a writer in 10 years?

KOM: Same as where I am, I guess, but just with more books published.