Midwest in Photos: Joy

July 22nd, 2017

“I write because I love you enough / to ask for what is terrible: run farther / than your feet can possibly carry your heart.” – Jamaal May, The Big Book of Exit Strategies.

Photo by: John Jeffire

Interview: Amanda Kabak

Amanda Kabak author photoMidwestern Gothic staffer Audrey Meyers talked with author Amanda Kabak about her novel The Mathematics of Change, the complications of transitions, not being able to connect, and more.

**

Audrey Meyers: What is your connection to the Midwest?

Amanda Kabak: I grew up in a suburb of Chicago then went to high school in another suburb (or, I should say, at the edge of another suburb – it was mostly corn fields at the time). After high school, I made a great escape to Boston and swore I would never return to the area. 16 years later, I shocked my parents by moving back – to downtown Chicago this time, where I lived for 8 years until I recently moved again.

AM: How has living in the Midwest impacted your writing style?

AK: Growing up, I never quite felt comfortable, not in my own skin, not with my peers, not with suburban Chicago’s uninspiring landscape. I always wanted to get away, either someplace else physically or deep into my own head, but disappearing was practically impossible at that time, in those places, around people who were into everyone else’s business. When I moved to Boston, I felt at home for so many reasons: being in a city instead of a suburb, being around “rude” people who weren’t interested in me or in chatting out of supposed friendliness, the Berkshire Mountains in Western Mass and their welcoming beauty. It wasn’t until I moved there that I fully understood how foreign I had felt before, and it is this feeling of being an outsider, of not quite being able to connect, that informs so many of my stories and characters.

AM: What inspired you to write The Mathematics of Change?

AK: I write in coffee shops almost exclusively, and there was one I used to frequent in Boston where I sometimes saw this woman who was androgynous in the exact way I always wished I could be: tall, whip-thin, angular-but-not-unfriendly face. I have long been a denizen of the in-between, and I admit I was fascinated by this creature, who used to snag a table with her girlfriend to study. She took up a sort of permanent residence in my mind, but it was a couple of years before I built a character around her constellation of physical traits. Not just the traits, but unpacking what those traits mean to those around her, what they may have meant to her own personal history.

The Mathematics of Change Amanda Kabak book cover

AM: What did you learn about yourself as a writer when creating this book?

AK: My whole experience as a writer is a bit of a cosmic joke. I lack both patience and the bent toward perfectionism that helps ease the path over the last 10% of any project, and writing requires both. Writing novels even more-so because the whole process is so prolonged. And yet, I am not myself when I’m not immersed in a long-form writing project. I get antsy and irritable and annoyed each time I reach the end of a short story and have to come up with another idea.

AM: Why are the themes of balance and change important aspects of your book? How do these two concepts interact in your character’s world?

AK: At my last job, my boss started to quote me: “As Amanda says, change is inevitable.” But that doesn’t make it easy, especially on an emotional level. When that change sparks self-reflection and doubt, it is even worse. Yet what are we to do? Entropy tells us, in a sweeping, metaphoric way, that there is no going back, but if change comes too fast for adaptation, we’re sunk as well. Enter the idea of balance. In the midst of change, we must balance holding fast to our idea of ourselves with reevaluating and adjusting. Both Mitch and Carol have these very deep-seated concepts of who they are – of how the decisions they have made in the past shaped what they feel is fundamental to themselves and maybe even their friendship, but they are forced to question this in very difficult ways.

AM: What character development traits are present during a midlife crisis? How did you explore these characteristics as your wrote The Mathematics of Change?

AK: I suspect mid-life crisis manifests differently for different people. I mean, I think I had mine at 19 or 20, but that’s another story. For Mitch and Carol, it is a reckoning. It is an outside force blowing through their lives that whispers, “Is this really what you want? Is this how you want the rest of your life to go? Can you imagine decades more of this?” It’s a frightening thought if you’ve successfully gone 20 or 30 years without much self-examination. There’s so much fear: what if I’ve made a terrible mistake and have to either live with it or try to rectify it? How have I hurt myself or others? How will I hurt myself or others if I try to change things? What will people think of me if I make a change? In the end, it is the attempt to answer the question of who we are at our core and, as a part of that, what is most important to us. Is it achievement? Connection? Family? Happiness?

AM: What drew you to writing about the complications during the transitions of life?

AK: Isn’t life just one transition after another? Over the last 15 years, I’ve had 8 jobs, lived at 7 different addresses in 3 different states, went from being the youngest at whatever company I’m working for to one of the oldest. The only consistent thing has been my sweetheart, and thank god for that! Change forces your hand, removes momentum from the equation, and that’s when things really get interesting.

AM: What life experiences helped you most to gain an understanding of the human condition?

AK: As I’ve said, I’ve always been something of an outsider – in one way, shape, or form. When I was younger, I was consistently just *flummoxed* by other people. They were maddeningly inconsistent, opaque, slippery chameleons. For a long while I was sure I would never understand someone or be fully understood in response. But then I was – or at least thought I was – and then, well, you can guess. Heartbreak is both universal and particular, and working through that was a formative experience for me. It is part of the human condition, as is the experience of being a prisoner of your past. That may be true, but I’ve also learned that despite history and trauma, we abdicate control of our own minds, emotions, reactions, and behavior at our own peril. So much of life is a tug of war between the ego and the id, but gaining mastery over ourselves is at the root of life, don’t you think? Moving consciously through your day, weaving kindness into your interactions (both to others and to yourself), seeing where you need to improve and tuning yourself like an instrument into something better, more gloriously resonant.

AM: What do readers take away from your book?

AK: At the very least, they probably end up knowing more about friction than they used to! But also that you must bend or you’ll break. Oh, and that forgiveness is at the root of change.

AM: What genre would label The Mathematics of Change?

AK: My publishers say it is “new women’s fiction,” but I think of it as straight-up storytelling. There’s something in it for many people, not just women, not just lesbians, not just mothers, not just people of a specific age.

AM: What techniques do you use as a writer to create authentic relationships between characters?

AK: I think of the inevitable gulf between what we think and what we do, what we intend and what actually happens. I write about people who want to be quality human beings but who make decisions that undermine themselves and hurt other people. I drive through dialog past what I intend to where someone says something wholly unanticipated and game-changing. And I get it wrong for about twelve drafts (during which time I think I get it right several times before realizing I’m deluded) until I find the contradictions and idiosyncrasies that make characters fully-realized people. Once that’s in place, when they interact with each other, those interactions will ring true.

AM: What do you enjoy most about being a writer?

AK: For me, writing is communication distilled then expanded. It is taking something so particular and laying down words and sentences and scenes that can evoke that specific experience in a universal kind of way. It is the challenge of pulling someone into a life wholly unlike their own but having them feel this “ah” of recognition. It is the daily exercise of submerging myself in the world I’m creating and the craft of staring out a window or over a barista’s head, trying to deeply imagine, trying to find the just-right word, trying to make this fuzzy thing that sits in my peripheral vision as starkly real as I can.

AM: What’s next for you?

AK: After four years, I’m finally putting the finishing touches on my next novel, and I’ve got one percolating in line behind it, so I guess you know where you’ll find me for the next few years!

**

Amanda Kabak

|

No Comments

|

Contributor Spotlight: Cailin Ashbaugh

Cailin Ashbaugh’s story “The Town Witch” appears in Midwestern Gothic‘s Winter 2017 issue, out now.

What’s your connection to the Midwest, and how has the region influenced your writing?

I grew up in Northern Michigan and have been told that when I talk I sound like I’m from the upper peninsula, Minnesota, with the occasional Wisconsin thrown in for some variety. This region has influenced the settings of my writings, I feel like I’m always trying to capture the cold that doesn’t quite hit your bones.

What do you think is the most compelling aspect of the Midwest?

I’m always drawn to the people and the ways that we interact with one another, it seems like every region of the Midwest that I’ve been in holds it’s own kind of backhanded politeness on the surface, but if someone is actually struggling people will do what they can to help, often anonymously and expecting nothing in return.

How do your experiences or memories of specific places—such as where you grew up, or a place you’ve visited that you can’t get out of your head—play a role in your writing?

I feel like I’m always trying to go back to somewhere in my writing. I’m trying to find a place. I think parts of that place are the woods that I grew up in, the arbitrary circle of pine trees that was a fairy circle, catching frogs with my cousins. I want to capture some sense of wonder and put it into words.

Discuss your writing process — inspirations, ideal environments, how you deal with writer’s block.

I’m not a very disciplined writer, things often come in spurts and I have to convince myself that they are worth sitting down for. In the beginning of a piece it is often scrawled on the back of receipt papers or napkins until I have enough of a character or a place that I need to sit down and let them out.

How can you tell when a piece of writing is finished?

There isn’t an urgency in adding anything else, the story that the character or place needed to tell has been told. I’m also lucky enough to have writer friends to share work with when I think I’m done, and they’ll more often than not tell me I’m wrong and we’ll workshop each other’s stories until they are the best they could hope to be.

Who is your favorite author (fiction writer or poet), and what draws you to their work?

I’ve just finished (yesterday) reading Helen Oyeyemi’s short story “What is Not Yours is Not Yours,” and I’ve always loved magical realism and I think I’ve fallen in love with the ways she presents the world of her stories. Your feet still feel grounded, but there is something off with how the ground feels. When I’m stuck writing I often turn to Woolf for her long and winding sentences. And this is always a very tough question because I have so many favorites it really just depends on the mood and what I need from a piece of writing.

What’s next for you?

I just finished a term as an intern with Milkweed Editions, and between shifts selling groceries I’m waiting to hear back from full time jobs and looking for housing in Louisville, where I will be starting an internship with Sarabande Press in August.

As of late writing has been coming out in spurts on old receipts and napkins under coffee cups but nothing is fleshed out enough to know what will come of it.

Where can we find more information about you?

My portfolio is working itself out of being in shambles at cailinsimone.com

|

No Comments

|

Summer 2017 Flash Fiction Series – Prompt #3

Midwestern Gothic Flash Fiction Contest Series 2017
 

During the summer of 2015 we introduced our Summer Flash Fiction contest series, and we’re thrilled to be continuing it this year! (And you can read all of our winners from 2015 and 2016 here.)

What is it? Our flash fiction series invites writers to write short pieces in response to photos we post.

How does it work? We’ll supply an image from our photography archive and invite writers to respond with flash fiction inspired by the photo, up to 500 words. Remember: You, or your piece, must have a Midwest connection. Each image will be open for submissions for just under 1 week, and we will take a few days for reading and balloting before beginning the next round. At the end of all three rounds, the top 2 entries we feel best represent the photos from each round will be published on the Midwestern Gothic website.

How long is the series? We will be doing this throughout the month of July and early August — which nets out to three rounds of images (three submission periods). Round 3 starts on Monday 7/17, when the third prompt will be posted via blog and social media. Winners will be announced and winning pieces (winner + runner-up) will be posted after the submission periods for all three rounds are finished, in the first week of August.

How do you submit? Send submissions to Ben at ben@midwestgothic.com. Use the subject line “Summer Flash Round X – Author Name – Name of Piece.” For example: Summer Flash Round 3 – Joan Smith – “Eyes of the Wild.” Remember: Include a third-person bio of up to 150 words with your submission.

You can find all guidelines here, including how to submit (and where!). We can’t wait to read your work!

Prompt #3: Take a look at the following photo, and create a piece of flash fiction inspired by it.

Prompt #3 due date (before midnight EST): Saturday July 22, 2017

Prompt #3 winners published: August 14 – August 20, 2017

Prompt #3: “The End of an Era” by Brandon Otto

Midwestern Gothic Flash Fiction 2017 - The End of an Era by Brandon Otto
Audible logoOur 2017 Flash Fiction Contest is sponsored by Audible. Get a free 30-day trial and 2 books, on us when you sign up. Start your free trial

|

No Comments

|

Midwest in Photos: Hotel Phillips

“In the end we had the pieces of the puzzle, but no matter how we put them together, gaps remained, oddly shaped emptinesses mapped by what surrounded them, like countries we couldn’t name.” – Jeffrey Eugenides, The Virgin Suicides.

Photo by: Stewart Melton

|

No Comments

|

We Could’ve Been Happy Here review from Atticus

We’re so thrilled to share that We Could’ve Been Happy Here just received a stellar review from the wonderful Atticus Review! High praise from an excellent source!

Here’s what Atticus Review had to say about the “life rattling” MG Press title:

“There’s a wonderful endlessness in these stories.” – Barrett Warner, Atticus Review

Read the full review on Atticus Review‘s website.

WE COULD'VE BEEN HAPPY HERE by Keith Lesmeister book cover

For more information and to buy a copy of We Could’ve Been Happy Here, see the book page on our website.

|

No Comments

|

Interview: Jim Daniels

Midwestern Gothic staffer Audrey Meyers talked with poet Jim Daniels about his book Rowing Inland, being a poet of place, learning about oneself through writing, and more.

**

Audrey Meyers: What is your connection to the Midwest?

Jim Daniels: I was born and grew up in and around Detroit, spent three years in Ohio, and have spent many years living in Pittsburgh, which is where I believe the Midwest ends, though others would probably say it ends at the Ohio border.

AM: How has living in the Midwest impacted your writing?

JD: I am a poet of place, so a majority of poems are set in the Midwest, so it’s the firm ground on which my poetry treads.

AM: What inspired you to write about Metro Detroit in Rowing Inland?

JD: Most of my books, both poetry and fiction, use the Detroit area as a setting, so Rowing Inland is a continuation of my obsession with industrial, urban, Midwest landscapes. I find that a lot of literature—particularly poetry—tends to either ignore or distort working-class life, and I’ve always seen it as part of my work to say, hey, these lives are important.

AM: Since Rowing Inland is your 15th book of poetry, what inspires you to keep writing?

JD: Like most writers, I don’t need inspiration to keep writing. I need to write—it’s a big part of what sustains me in my daily life. I just hope I can continue to find readers interested in what I have to say.

AM: A lot can be said with just the placement of words in poetry. How did you use this technique when writing Rowing Inland?

JD: Since I write fiction and screenplays as well as poems, I work to take advantage of the poetic line to create music and emphasis, and work on the intense compression of language into imagery, important characteristics of poetry that distinguish it from other kinds of writing.

AM: Since Rowing Inland is about traveling through time and history, how do you think your style carries the emotions of your readers to another place?

JD: The challenge for me as a poet is to take readers to the times and places of the poems and bring them to life, no matter where or when they are set. I often use narrative to try and bring the readers into the scenes, and lots of concrete detail. I spend a lot of time thinking about titles and opening lines because I want readers to land in the poem with their feet on solid ground.

AM: How were your own emotions utilized when writing this poetry?

JD: The emotions are the sparks for the poems. Without the emotion, the poem is going to fall flat. If I don’t care about my subject, readers aren’t going to care.

AM: What did you learn about yourself as a poet when creating Rowing Inland?

JD: I am always learning about myself as a person when writing. As a poet, I was reminded what an important role Detroit continues to play in my work—I seem to still have a lot to say about it.

AM: How did you infuse humor into a community’s struggle for survival?

JD: While I’m not consciously trying to get humor into the poems, humor is certainly a survival technique to help us cope with hard times, and Detroit’s sure had more than its share of hard times over the years.

AM: What do each 4 segments of your book represent? Why did you divide your book into these parts?

JD: I see the sections as representing family, community, childhood, and social class, though there’s obvious overlap across the sections.

AM: What key life experiences influenced your poetry in Rowing Inland?

JD: One event that shows up in three poems in the book is the death of a girl who lived down the street from me in a freak fire. She was the first girl I kissed, and she was the first person I loved who died. First kiss, first death—that combination creates a pretty powerful haunting.

One other thing that I found myself doing here was consciously trying to create a sense of Warren as a community as opposed to Detroit. I tend to say I’m from Detroit because most people outside the Detroit area are not familiar with Warren, but anyone from that area knows Warren is a very different place, on the border with Detroit, but very different. White working-class, mostly, but that is slowly changing.

AM: What do you hope readers take away from your poetry?

JD: For one thing, I value clarity in my writing, so I’m hoping readers find the poems clear and accessible, regardless of their geographic or economic backgrounds.

AM: What’s next for you?

JD: Current projects include two forthcoming books of poems, Street Calligraphy and The Middle Ages, and two anthologies, Challenges to the Dream: The Best of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Awards at Carnegie Mellon University, and, with my friend M.L. Liebler, I Just Want to Testify: Poems About the Music of Detroit. I continue to work on short stories and screenplays, and to collaborate with the photographer Charlee Brodsky, writing poems to go with her photos. We currently have an exhibit of our work on display at Michigan State University

**

Jim Daniels’ fifteenth book of poems, Rowing Inland, was published earlier this year by Wayne State University Press. Forthcoming books include Street Calligraphy, Steel Toe Books, and The Middle Ages, Red Mountain Press. His previous book, Birth Marks, was the recipient of the Milton Kessler Poetry Book Award, and the Poetry Gold Medal in the Independent Publisher Book Awards. His fifth book of short fiction, Eight Mile High, was a Michigan Notable Book and a finalist for the Paterson Fiction Prize. “The End of Blessings,” the fourth short film he has written and produced, appeared in sixteen film festivals in 2016. His poems accompanying the photographs of Charlee Brodsky were recently displayed in galleries at Robert Morris University and Michigan State University, and his poem “Factory Love” is displayed on the roof of a race car. His poems have been featured on “Prairie Home Companion,” Garrison Keillor’s “Writer’s Almanac,” in Billy Collins’ Poetry 180 anthologies, and Ted Kooser’s “American Life in Poetry” series. A native of Detroit, Daniels is a graduate of Alma College and Bowling Green State University. He is the Thomas Stockham University Professor of English at Carnegie Mellon University.

|

No Comments

|

Contributor Spotlight: Orey Wilson Dayne

Orey Wilson Dayne’s piece “Soundtrack for the Apocalypse” appears in Midwestern Gothic‘s Winter 2017 issue, out now.

What’s your connection to the Midwest, and how has the region influenced your writing?

I was born and raised in the Midwest. I could see cornfields from my bedroom window and my high school had fields on three sides (the last side was forest). My town didn’t have a McDonalds, a stoplight, or a gas station. For me, getting into a big city was always the dream. It wasn’t until I moved to Philadelphia that I realized how much of an Ohioan I was. I think the sky is different everywhere you go and I can always pick out a Midwestern sky. My Ohio-ness is something I hope always comes through in my writing.

What do you think is the most compelling aspect of the Midwest?

The most compelling aspect of the Midwest is it’s perceived normality. So many movies and TV shows are set here because of how “normal” everything is. To outsiders, it’s just a huge, flat expanse with nothing but cows, fields, and farmers. So, that gives us, as writers, a chance to exploit that stereotype. We can play off the normality of the things that happen here, even normalizing things that aren’t. Or, by letting my Midwestern settings shine through, even the smallest things can look extraordinary. In doing so, I can show how un-normal it all really is.

How do your experiences or memories of specific places—such as where you grew up, or a place you’ve visited that you can’t get out of your head—play a role in your writing?

My poetry tends to focus heavily on the concept of “Place”, un-doing and remaking it’s definition. I’ve done a lot of moving which has resulted in me forming roots in odd ways. Like a tree by a sidewalk, I have hooked onto places like my High School choir space and wiggled beneath the image of the peach tree in my childhood backyard. These memories and places resurface in my writing often; they’ve become motifs that I return to, even when I can’t go back to the true location.

Discuss your writing process — inspirations, ideal environments, how you deal with writer’s block.

I’m one of those annoying people that doesn’t believe “Writer’s Block” exists. There are scheduling issues that keep me from writing. Often my to-do list overshadows my list of poem ideas. But, if I can buckle down at my laptop, I can always crank something out. I wish I had more elbow room in my schedule, but work pays the bills and, as of late, I tend to eat food. As far as process goes, I work better with a keyboard than pen and paper. I also like working in the early morning/late evening. I also find myself building up ideas over a span of time and bursting out with a few pieces all at once during a single sitting. This is better for me because I see most of my poems as pieces of a bigger concept or collection.

How can you tell when a piece of writing is finished?

Deciding when a piece is “over” isn’t easy for me. I could pick at a piece endlessly. Like I mentioned, I typically think of my poems as limbs of a bigger creature. So, I don’t always feel done with a piece until I’m done with the whole collection. This might not be the most efficient way of doing things, but it’s what puts my inner-editor at ease.

Who is your favorite author (fiction writer or poet), and what draws you to their work?

My favorite writer (at this exact moment) is Billy Collins. He is able to take little moments from his life, work them in his hands like Silly Putty, stretch them across a page, and, when he pulls it back from the paper, there’s an imprint of him that is artful and precise. He also has some really great titles, of which I’m totally envious.

What’s next for you?

As far as writing goes, I’m working on completing my poetry collection, Soundtrack for an Apocalypse. Meanwhile, I’m attempting to get pieces of my collection Edges of Men & Kings published. Basically I’m trying to feed one toddler while the other one runs under my feet, screaming and throwing toys.

Where can we find more information about you?

If you want to know more about me, I have information and a blog on my website oreywilsondayne.com. I also am constantly tweeting nonsense on my Twitter, @OreyOreyOrey.

|

No Comments

|

Summer 2017 Flash Fiction Series – Prompt #2

Midwestern Gothic Flash Fiction Contest Series 2017
 

During the summer of 2015 we introduced our Summer Flash Fiction contest series, and we’re thrilled to be continuing it this year! (And you can read all of our winners from 2015 and 2016 here.)

What is it? Our flash fiction series invites writers to write short pieces in response to photos we post.

How does it work? We’ll supply an image from our photography archive and invite writers to respond with flash fiction inspired by the photo, up to 500 words. Remember: You, or your piece, must have a Midwest connection. Each image will be open for submissions for just under 1 week, and we will take a few days for reading and balloting before beginning the next round. At the end of all three rounds, the top 2 entries we feel best represent the photos from each round will be published on the Midwestern Gothic website.

How long is the series? We will be doing this throughout the month of July and early August — which nets out to three rounds of images (three submission periods). Round 2 starts on Monday 7/10, when the photo prompt will be posted via blog and social media. Winners will be announced and winning pieces (winner + runner-up) will be posted after the submission periods for all three rounds are finished, in the first week of August.

How do you submit? Send submissions to Ben at ben@midwestgothic.com. Use the subject line “Summer Flash Round X – Author Name – Name of Piece.” For example: Summer Flash Round 2 – Joan Smith – “Eyes of the Wild.” Remember: Include a third-person bio of up to 150 words with your submission.

You can find all guidelines here, including how to submit (and where!). We can’t wait to read your work!

Prompt #2: Take a look at the following photo, and create a piece of flash fiction inspired by it.

Prompt #2 due date (before midnight EST): Saturday July 15, 2017

Prompt #2 winners published: August 7 – August 13, 2017

Prompt #2: “Hands” by David J. Thompson

Midwestern Gothic Flash Fiction 2017 - Hands by David Thompson
 

Audible logoOur 2017 Flash Fiction Contest is sponsored by Audible. Get a free 30-day trial and 2 books, on us when you sign up. Start your free trial

|

No Comments

|

Midwest in Photos: Passing Springfield, Illinois

“I would hurl words into this darkness and wait for an echo, and if an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight, to create a sense of the hunger for life that gnaws in us all.” – Richard Wright, Black Boy.

Photo by: Justin Hamm

|

No Comments

|