Seattle Author Spotlight (5) — Matthew Simmons
This is the 5th Seattle Author Spotlight (previous ones were Richard Chiem, Maged Zaher, and Deborah Woodard) and I plan on running new Spotlights every 10-14 days because Seattle has plenty of talented and interesting writers.
When I first emerged a little from my cave in Kirkland (not far but really far from Seattle) it was to see Matthew Simmons read from “A Jello Horse.” Later on as I started attending more events I ran into Matthew over and over (at a Patricia Lockwood reading, at a CAConrad reading, at APRIL, etc) and enjoyed many little chats with him. Recently I was glad to be part of the big crowd at the Hugo House for the release party and reading of Matthew’s new book “Happy Rock” at which Matthew read with great confidence the story about the exploding mothers–read it, in fact, in front of his mother, his father and, as Matthew said, “all the people (he) loves.”
Introducing Matthew that night Brian McGuigan quoted from Paul Constant’s excellent review that had just come out in The Stranger:
Matthew Simmons has never misused a word in his life, or at least that’s how it feels. His prose manages to be economical and exact, while at the same time suggesting a broader universe that ripples out from every sentence. It’s like handing someone a few Lego bricks, bending down for a second to tie your shoes, and then looking back up to discover they’ve built a palace.
I would add, simply, that Happy Rock is a beautiful book that I have spent much time with and will certainly return to. Also, Matthew is a fair and respectful reader of other people’s work. Like me, though, he believes that Artists can and repeatedly fail and this drives him to work and work at his writing. To work at matters, as Paul Constant suggest, big and small. Matthew Simmons is a pleasure to know and to read.
Rauan: You told me the short story’s your favorite form to write in. Can you tell us why, the challenges and rewards of writing in this form?
Matthew: I think the genre suits my attention span, my desire to try on lots of different forms and voices and somehow find connections and contrasts in forms and voices when they are gathered together in a collection, and my tendency to try to write concisely and worry over my word choice and sentence lengths.
RK: We talked a bit about how short stories are out of favor these days. Out of favor with publishers and readers. But, I love short stories, collections, anthologies, so I just don’t get it. Your thoughts?
MS: I love them, too, and honestly can’t tell you why they aren’t popular. I think there’s a level at which publishers have decided they don’t find readers or make money, so they are less inclined to consider them for publication and less inclined to market them when they do publish them. They take them less seriously, and then the critical community follows suit.
Of course, I’m a bitter short story writer. So take my take with a grain of salt.
RK: In order to give us a taste of your work could you give us a short sample (preferably from yr new book, Happy Rock)?
From “We Never Ever Went to the Moon”:
One night, soon after they develop their powers, they decide they will find out just how high up he can go. She lashes a little bit of her cocoon stuff to his ankle, and he ascends. “Pull the tether if you feel faint. I’ll see you falling and make a big cushion for you if you pass out,” she says.
He goes up so far that she can’t see him. Eventually, she can’t keep making her cocoon tether, and, after a sudden pull, it goes slack. The tether tumbles from the sky, and makes a pile next to her. She wishes it away, and it fades away. It takes him hours to come back.
Matthew tells her he went all the way to the moon.
She has always liked the moon, and always wondered about it. She makes a little crescent moon in her hand when he says that, does it without thinking. It just comes out. When she notices, she doesn’t wish it away. She leaves it there.
RK: You’ve lived in Seattle for 13 year now. What do you think of the lit scene? Healthy? Fragmented? Lively? On the up or down? (also, I know you like metal music– is the music scene, metal especially, good for you here?)
MS: I like the scene here quite a bit. Or, at least, my little corner of it. I like that Seattle is small enough that I’ve managed to find a group of smart, talented people I feel comfortable sharing work with, and I like that it’s big enough that every few months I meet someone new who has produced or is in the process of producing something amazing. Feels like a healthy, supportive community to me.
I rarely get out to shows anymore. My feet hurt if I stand in one place for a while. And, honestly, my favorite way to listen to music is in headphones, turned down sort of quiet. And my favorite kind of metal is the kind made alone in a home studio by a guy who doesn’t want to be in a band with anyone else.
RK: You and I share the strange blessings and curses of Twitter and its serotonin heavens and nightmares? Your thoughts on tweeting and how it can be a useful, healthy part of a writer’s writing and self-promoting life?serotonin heavens and nightmares? Your thoughts on tweeting and how it can be a useful, healthy part of a writer’s writing and self-promoting life?
MS: I think Twitter is terrible for self-promotion. One can use it to establish a voice, maybe, and through establishing a voice, one might be able to win over a fan or two.
Twitter requires a certain kind of approach and a certain kind of discipline. There’s value in that, I think. I wish, though, that I were better about ignoring the mechanism of Twitter feedback.
Though, really a tweet has such a short lifespan. You fail so much more than you succeed. I’m a big fan of failing over and over until one succeeds. Feels like maybe that’s value, too.
RK: could you plz give us a 2nd sample of yr work?
Underlings: a rebuke
It was underlings. All of them, everywhere, underlings. I took me an issue or two.
But then what good was it? None. None at all good.
That one there in ceremonial green. This one here in matrimonial blue.
Underlings. The fuckers. Under-fucker-lings.
And I argued. I argued an argue that it seemed to me made a whole hell of a lot of better sense than all that that they were tossing off.
Tossing out into the air.
Underlings, all of them.
“Underlings, all of you,” I said loud. That one over there in obscene, obscene red.
I did this all because what it is that I am is a man. And I burned that building to the very ground it was there standing on.
[ note: Underlings: a rebuke was originally published in elimae ]
RK: I know you read a lot more fiction than you do poetry (smart man) but why do you read poetry? and how do you come to the poetry that you do find yourself reading?
MS: I don’t know much about poetry so I rely on recommendations from friends. I’m not sure if there’s a thread that runs through all the poetry I’ve enjoyed—some single thing that connects them—except that they inspired passion in someone I respect and like and trust.
RK: you told me how helpful your instructor/advisor teachers were at Warren Wilson (low res) but you said that you found one teacher’s reading of your work, suggestions and general passion for writing and reading particularly valuable. So, if you were now to mentor beginning or intermediate level fiction writing students what would you like them, 5 or 10 years from now, to remember about yr advice/guidance/manner?
MS: I’d like them to remember me as someone who paid close attention to what they were doing. That’s it. Just that I tried to be attentive. Everything else I liked about my favorite advisors, writing-wise, seemed to follow from the fact that they paid attention to what they were reading, and worked hard to engage with it for what it was.
RK: do you we’ll achieve “singularity” by the year 2050?
Kurzweil says 2045. Not sure if I can speak with any authority about this, but I’m willing to sit back and watch to see what happens. I’m really not equipped to join in immanentizing the Singularity, though I guess I can share the concept as often as possible to inspire others to do so.