Fri 30 Mar 2012
by Rumjhum Biswas
Philippines based Kristine Ong Muslim is possibly the most prolific and consistently enjoyable writer I have come across since the first years of the twenty first century! She writes fiction, especially flash fiction, and poetry with equal élan and each genre carries her trademark tilt towards unexplored margins, a quality that brings freshness and originality to each piece. Not surprisingly the legend on her blog says: Author. Not
Cool. Nut. And when you learn that Kristine is a chemical engineer, who sits for nine to ten hours before a computer everyday (her own admission – http://kristinemuslim.weebly.com/8/post/2012/02/steady-glide.html !) writing and copy-writing for a British SEO company apart from her own creative writing, the legend makes sense. Though I disagree on the not cool part. And you will too, once you sample her work. Her list of publications and credits is way too long - hundreds, literally! But you can browse at leisure here and take a peek at her honours and awards list here .
Kristine’s latest book is a collection of one hundred flash stories and prose poems entitled We Bury the Landscape. To quote from the publisher’s website - “We Bury the Landscape is an exhibition of literary art. Ekphrasis, collected. One hundred flash fictions and prose poems presented to view. From the visual to the textual, transmuting before the gallery-goer’s gaze, the shifting contours of curator Kristine Ong Muslim’s surreal panorama delineate the unconventional, the unexpected, and the unnatural. Traversing this visionary vista’s panoply of “rooms of unfinished lives,” the reader unearths and examines and reanimates—revealing the transcendent uncanniness that subsists underfoot.” The book can be purchased from Amazon .
Rumjhum Biswas: You are one of the most prolific writers on the net. How do you manage to write so much and where do you find your inspirations?
Kristine Ong Muslim: Writing is the only thing that I’m really passionate about. It’s wonderful to wake up in the morning and to always feel feverish to write because of the swarm of new ideas in my head – unfortunately, not all of them are publishable. I really don’t know where that energy comes from. I think it’s because I read a lot.
RB: Tell us a bit about your writing life.
KOM: I wrote many poems and many flash fiction pieces; hundreds of them ended up in fine magazines online and in print. Many are collected in book form. A flash fiction collection, We Bury the Landscape, is forthcoming in April. Another forthcoming length poetry collection is Grim Series. I also have several print chapbooks from the small presses.
As for my writing routine, nowadays I write almost every day. When I was still working in the city (I moved back to my rural hometown), I wrote during the weekends. These days, since I’ve managed to get a telecommuting arrangement with an employer, my writing hours have grown more rigid and more organized than before. I force myself to finish the day job responsibilities in the morning or early in the afternoon so that I can get more hours writing after that.
When I write, I need coffee. Something black and something very strong. Then it’s tea all the way. I will probably bleed tea if a surgeon opens me up. My writing desk has a conducive set up for writing – just a laptop and an all-in-one Epson, the one that can print, scan, etc. I face a large
tinted glass window. It looks out to a big yard with trees and vehicles. Here’s the picture of my writing space. I can’t think if I’m facing a wall. The window is my primary writing tool. And there’s no paper. As a matter of fact, I avoid using paper. I write with a working theme in mind, a theme that can sustain a book-length manuscript, otherwise I will lose interest after a few days.
RB: When did you start writing? Did anyone inspire you?
KOM: I’ve been writing since high school. Of course, those writings were not publishable. I can’t remember if he got me inspired or not, but I’m always in love with Ray Bradbury’s stories. There were days I remembered daydreaming in high school while classes were ongoing. I day dreamed Bradbury’s Technicolor nostalgia. If I need to pinpoint an inspiration, I believe it’s Bradbury.
RB: You write mostly flash and poetry. Is there a correlation between the two? In your case do you start off with a poem and then find it’s turned into flash? When do you know that an idea is flash and not a poem, and vice versa?
KOM: If an idea does not read well when I cut it up into lines, then the best form for it is a prose poem. The case of a poem turning into flash hasn’t happened to me yet, but it’s an interesting premise. I am curious as to how the product will turn out to be. Whether an idea is best presented as a poem or as a flash fiction piece is instinctive, I guess.
RB: Did you consciously take to flash? If so why?
KOM: Last year, yes, I did consciously take to writing nothing but flash fiction for We Bury the Landscape. I can’t mix genres. That’s the problem. I’m not flexible enough to write poetry today, then a story the next day. My writing process is this: take months writing poetry, then go to prose. That is why I have to produce material in bulk. I will lose momentum if I begin writing in another genre, so I maximize my output. I published almost a thousand poems for the past few years. Last year, I wrote all flash fiction. This year, I will write nothing but short fiction for a book project. The nuances of plotting, the subtleties of character development – those are skills that I have yet to learn after concentrating on years and years of poetry. The next year will probably be devoted to something more ambitious and dense, like a novel.
RB: You are one of the longest running writers on the Internet. Can you tell us a bit about those early days, pre 2005?
KOM: Those were the years when I didn’t know better. I’ve had some nice stints in 2004 with Star*Line, Dreams and Nightmares, and Electric Velocipede. Many publishers began to welcome online submissions during the early 2000s, and those opened doors for foreign writers like me. Those were the days when the amount of rejection slips I got was sufficient to part the Red Sea. I’m learning, and I still do right now. Pre-2005 was a time of gaining foothold and finding a voice.
RB: Do you have a favourite genre for flash fiction? Tell us about it.
KOM: It’s not much of a genre, but I’m drawn to original takes on apocalyptic themes. My first flash fiction hero is Bruce Holland Rogers.
RB: When you read flash fiction what do you enjoy most? What grabs you?
KOM: It’s always the first line. That’s my weakness. In this excellent story by Stephen Ramey, the first line alone does it for me. For me, a flash fiction writer doesn’t have plenty of room to wiggle around if the first line (or first two sentences) does not deliver.
RB: Please tell us about “We Bury the Landscape,” your collection of 100 mini-stories about different paintings. It’s not often that one comes across an entire collection of flash pieces inspired by paintings.
KOM: Want to say that the book is more than that – that it’s more than 100 little stories about 100 different paintings – but I can’t. That’s what the book really is at the core. But how I enjoyed writing that manuscript, staring at those paintings on the corner of the computer screen while I type up something on the other half of the screen. The book is not for everybody. Some will see it as an exercise in exploiting artworks to extract
stories from them. Some will see that I brought something bigger anymore intricate than the artworks themselves. The readers I will touch with that book, they will never come in droves. They will be small in number. But they will get my little stories. They will see my point. I met one of them this morning. She’s a book blogger who will review my book. She emailed me about it, and it was the kindest gesture I’ve gotten from a stranger. She said that she had been given a whole new way to look at art. That, for me, is very satisfying. The logistics of selling it to publishers is daunting, and more so with gaining a readership for it.
RB: What mistakes do you think writers make when writing flash?
KOM: This is just a matter of personal taste, but these days, I get turned off by pop culture allusions. I believe that they must be used only when necessary in flash fiction. The word count is too precious to include terms that will turn the piece dated at some point in the future. I’m guilty of this in my early stories.
RB: Have you ever been a member of a writing community or group? Any mentor?
KOM: There is no writing group or a mentor. I never attended anything that resembled a writing class except for a basic English course that everybody was required to pass in college. I might have turned out differently if I had one of those.
RB: Which was your very first flash fiction? Tell us about that first experience. (If it was published, do provide the link)
KOM: My very first piece of flash was “Carnage & Co.” It was published by the long defunct From the Asylum. I can’t forget that little thing. I got paid a few dollars for it, and I thought it was too clever. It was the best I could do at that time. It is reprinted here.
RB: Tell us about your other interests, (other than writing).
KOM: I’m a homely sort, so my other interests are cooking (it doesn’t mean that I’m a good cook), watching cooking shows (I have a crush on Mario Batali), and gardening (but I haven’t been doing it these days because I’ve got no time).
RB: Do you have bad writing days, like most of us have bad hair days?
KOM: Oh, yes. Whenever I write so much, then I wake up the next day to reread what I’ve written, and it sounds to me like the remnants of diary entries by an angst-ridden teenager. My bad writing days consist of wasted time pursuing a material that I’ll be too embarrassed to publish because it simply has nothing to offer.
Rumjhum Biswas lives and writes in Chennai, India Her writing blog is at Writers & Writerism. Her fiction and poetry have been published all over the world.