You work in a bookstore and have had the opportunity to attend a lot of author readings, right?

Yes. Lots and lots. Thousands, I imagine.


And you are having some trouble interviewing yourself?

Well, some trouble starting. Yes.


What’s the most frequently asked question during the question and answer period after a reading?

Often it’s a simple, “What are you reading now?”


Well, let’s start with that one. What are you reading now?

About a Mountain by John D’Agata. I just finished Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter by my fellow former Yooper, Tom Bissell.


How was it?

As amazing as I expected it to be, and then quite suddenly personal and moving and a touch harrowing. I forgot, I think, that Tom does that. When he writes, he will examine something that fascinates him—in this case, he’s produced a really smart critical assessment of where video games fail and where they succeed at being works of art—and then quite suddenly, he’ll reveal something about himself, and that thing might be self-deprecating and funny or it might be raw and painful.


Don’t you do that—or try to do that—with your writing?

Well, sure. Constantly. But at the same time, I’m hiding it behind the veneer of fiction. I’m a coward. I’ve given myself an out.


But doesn’t that mean you can be all the more honest?

Maybe. Certainly all the more cowardly.


What’s the next most frequently asked question?

“When and how often do you write?”


So, when and how often do you write?

On no set schedule and as heartbreakingly (my heart) infrequently as possible.


I don’t like this interview.

Neither do I. Let’s publish it.


Wait. What?

Yeah, what the heck. Let’s get it all out there.


Is this some half-assed attempt to make up for the “cowardice” you perceive writing fiction that is ribboned with bits of memoir? Because, if so, nice try. But no.

We find comfort where we can.


Like, say, in believing weird things? For example, believing we never went to the moon?

Sure, something like that. I like irrational people very much. That’s why I write about them so often. I think almost every character in HAPPY ROCK is convinced of something irrational. And, really, so am I. I’m convinced, at least on some level, that if I write something, maybe somebody will want to read it, and maybe that will connect me to people in some way. I’m convinced, at least on some level, that in the huge glut of consumable media in the world, my voice is missing, and I should do something to remedy that situation. And sometimes it seems to me that the greatest trick I am able to pull off is the one where I convince someone else that I’m right—that what I have to say is worthy of someone else’s resources or headspace.


Wow. That’s a shockingly ungracious thing to say about editors who have published you.

Looking back on it, I couldn’t agree more.  I certainly don’t mean it like that. I look, whenever possible, for places to insult myself. I have a self-deprecating veneer that, as one would expect, hides a massive, embarrassing ego.

Interestingly, that ego is also a veneer that hides yet another self-doubting, self-hating psyche.


You know, you could remove that answer. You are in control here. You have the delete key.

True. And yet, there it is. My stupid, self-centered comment is still a part of the interview. You know, this may be indicative of my writing as a whole. I’m often quite taken with early drafts of stories, and sometimes they don’t get the rewriting they deserve.



Luckily, I lose things often, and have to rewrite them because of carelessness. And also, I never really think a story is done, even after it’s been published. I reserve the right to tinker with everything until I die.



Oh, maybe.


You may never get published again.

You’re being dramatic. And, anyway, people stopped reading this interview long ago, I’ll  bet. Except Shya, who’s editing it.

Hi, Shya. How’s everything? Thanks for publishing this.


Oh, yeah. Hi, Shya. Looking forward to reading In This Alone Impulse again.

(Don’t suck up. It’ll make me look bad.)




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MATTHEW SIMMONS lives in Seattle. A PDF of his last story collection, THE IN-BETWEENS, can be downloaded for free from Civil Coping Mechanisms.

16 responses to “Matthew Simmons: The TNB 

  1. Shya Scanlon says:

    Why haven’t you written a novel yet? Is it that you think the novel form is dead? A Jello Horse is obviously partially autobiographical–why didn’t you just write a lyric essay?

    • I haven’t finished a novel. I’ve started a few. I think I need to take a run at it. Eventually I’ll figure out how to see the project through. I hope.

      A Jello Horse is fiction instead of nonfiction because I like making things up. For example, the giant animals in A Jello Horse are completely real, but everything else I just made up. The existence of cars, for example. And that people ride around in them. Fantasy.

  2. Shya Scanlon says:

    Okay then, um, how about: your book Happy Rock was written before A Jello Horse. Though they bear tonal similarities, the fantastical elements in the later work are not at all the overt, surrealism at work in the former. Is this evidence of an aesthetic shift, or do you see them more of a piece than I’m insinuating?

    • No shift. Or, well, some shift. But it’s not a global shift. I think any difference between the two came from my intention when approaching both. The stories in Happy Rock (many of which preceded A Jello Horse, but not all, actually) were intended to be a little more traditional. I wanted to write some short stories, so I sat down and wrote short stories. I noticed that a bunch of them were about growing up in Upper Michigan, so I gathered the core of Happy Rock, and after that, allowed more stories about Upper Michigan to annex the creative part of my mind. And a couple of placeless stories revealed ways that they, too, would fit—and it seemed to me—be improved by being dropped in Upper Michigan.

      A Jello Horse was far less deliberate. It just sort of happened.

      • Shya Scanlon says:

        Do you feel like A Jello Horse has helped you trust your writerly instincts? What is the difference between really struggling over a story, and having one kind of pour out of you? Do you think there’s any way to predict what will turn out well?

        • I don’t know if anything will ever help me trust my writerly instincts. Not entirely, anyway. But the reaction to it—this thing that I thought I would likely hide away forever—has been helpful. There was a moment when, reading a really good story by the author Ray Vukcevich, I decided that it was okay to add surreal and fantastic elements to a story as long as I took care with the other craft elements that made a story a story. That helped me trust my instincts a little more, too.

          If you struggle too much over a story in the earliest draft, that story may never come to anything. Story comes easy, I think. Rewrites should be struggles.

          As I thought no one would like A Jello Horse, I think it is impossible to predict.

  3. Shya Scanlon says:

    Can you name one or two excellent/promising authors among the “internet community” who have yet to release full length works?

  4. Shya Scanlon says:

    Also, can you explain what makes the Hall & Oates album “Abandoned Luncheonette” is so great?

    • Not being an expert here, I contacted my buddy Zane—who loves him some Hall and Oates—and got this response:

      “Dude! I LOVE that album!! Besides that, “AL” contains one of the all-time immortal Hall&Oates standards, “She’s Gone”, which was not a big hit right away but got re-discovered after a few people covered the song a couple of years later. So right there, that’s enough to recommend the album, but there’s so much more! It’s a five-star album! Just read RS or Allmusic if you don’t believe me! It’s the first H2O record that really put together the stuff that would define their sound in the ’70s – “Whole Oates” is interesting, but “Luncheonette” is the real deal.”

      I prodded him to say a little more, and he did:

      “Oh, fine. If you listen to the Greatest Hits collection “Rock N Soul, Part I,” “She’s Gone” sticks out – in a good way. The production on that song, and on the album, is quite sophisticated for a record made 36 years ago, especially when you consider it was only their second album together. It’s a very personal album, too. “She’s Gone” is about Daryl Hall’s divorce, and particularly poignant (at least for me, ’cause I’m a sucker for these things) is “Las Vegas Turnaround”, because it’s at least partly about Sara Allen, Hall’s muse and long-time collaborator. The two also were in a relationship for a time, but settled in as friends and songwriting partners. It’s a sweet story. Hall would get mileage out of this partnership on the song “Sara Smile” as well, which is another of their classic early hits.

      “Don’t know what else to say. It’s soul, folk and pop. It’s Solkop. It rules.”

  5. Bali Adventure…

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