Interview: Jared Yates Sexton

February 26th, 2015

author's photo 1Midwestern Gothic staffer Jamie Monville talked with author Jared Yates Sexton about about being a Hoosier in the South, the joys of teaching young writers, taking a stance in his writing, and more.

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Jamie Monville: What’s your connection to the Midwest?

Jared Yates Sexton: As a native of Indiana, a proud Hoosier, I’e found, regardless of where I go, where I move, how I change and how I grow, you can’t remove the Midwest. It’s there in everything I do, everything I say, everything I think. It’s a way of life, for certain, a heritage that can’t be shook.

JM: What do you see as distinct about being a Hoosier? How do Hoosiers differ from other Midwesterners (if they do)?

JYS: Vonnegut was fond of saying that Hoosiers were everywhere and they were good people. I think that’s true. Hoosiers, for better or worse, are trying to do what’s right. A lot of us are confused as to what that is, but I think there’s something inherently earnest in Hoosier folk, though sometimes it does slip toward the wrong-headed and the ignorant. But the intentions are good, mostly I think.

JM: How does it feel to be a Midwesterner living in Georgia? What of the Midwest do you bring to Georgia? How has Georgia influenced your work?

JYS: I feel like an expat sometimes, I’m not going to lie. There’s a lot the South has in common with the Midwest, for sure, but there are times where the culture’s rub against one another, inform one another. I can’t speak for what I bring to the area, but I can say that this place has changed the way I look at conversations, dialogue, and cultural heritage. This is a place in the world where the past isn’t the past, it’s constantly present, and whoever you’re dealing with you’re also dealing with generations of experience, thought, and struggle, regardless of who you’re talking to.

JM: Your debut collection An End to All Things, not surprisingly, focuses on the idea of endings—oftentimes failures of one kind of another, but not without a sense of scrappiness. What about this drew you in as a throughline to connect a collection of stories?

JYS: The first book found its genesis in the beginning of the Great Recession that really set in in the waning days of 2008. A really astute cultural philosopher or watcher could make the argument that the American Dream came to an end, or at least withered, in the following months, and I think that book lives in that realization. The stories focused, primarily, on relationships that were coming to their fruition, but for the most part they were allegorical, or at least influenced, by the economic realities of the day.

HookHaymaker_frontcoverJM: Your most recent collection The Hook and the Haymaker is described as picking up where An End to all Things left off. How do you see these works as connected? In which ways do you feel like they diverge from each other, if at all?

JYS: They’re related, for sure, though I think The Hook and The Haymaker has, at least, a little bit more hope to it. These people aren’t doing well, and they’re certainly not in the clear, but there’s a chance. It’s a real philosophical departure from the fatalistic reality that An End To All Things lived in. The characters in this new collection are capable of escaping from the orbit of their failures, it’s just a matter of whether that opportunity is cashed in on or if they choose, or lose their way into, I guess, to remaining in that cycle.

JM: I’ve noticed that you don’t use quotation marks for dialogue. What do you think omitting the quotation marks brings to your dialogue, and your stories in general?

JYS: The whole thing started because I hate the look of quotations. They’re so unnatural and they’re so inorganic looking with the text. Eventually that aesthetic choice was furthered when I read that Cormac McCarthy felt like quotes were superfluous and actually weakened dialogue. He was right, coincidentally. We rely on quotes to bail out our dialogue, as writers, and occasionally we get sloppy because of it. In short stories, where there’s such limited space, I like to leave them out in an effort to keep myself and the readers honest. Because stories are shorter glimpses, I want readers to labor over the dialogue, to sip it rather than gulp, to linger rather than race. The novels I’m writing have quotes because, though I have aesthetic tastes, I have to at least be kind in their willingness to stay with me for three to four hundred pages.

JM: How has teaching creative writing at both Ball State and Georgia Southern University influenced the way you write?

JYS: In more ways than I can even count. Teaching young writers has kept me consistently aware of what I write, why I write it, and has made me constantly consider what I’ve always thought to be well-worn, taken-for-granted knowledge. They keep me on my toes, keep me honest, and they keep me fresh.

JM: You have said in interviews prior that you’re “not afraid to say [you] want to take a political stance.” How present is this impulse when you start writing a story. Is the political stance there at the beginning, or does it come out more in later drafts?

JYS: Completely present. I don’t want to write anything, ever, that doesn’t somehow or another converse with culture. Any story that doesn’t have a political ideal or a societal message heart is a wasted opportunity. If you’re writing to write, you’re missing the train, as far as I’m concerned. Engage and change. That’s where it’s at.

JM: What’s one thing you wished you’d known when you first began writing?

JYS: That it was going to be as hard as it is. That I could make mistakes and it would be all right. That I could write what I wanted to write, which is something it took years to come to.

JM: What’s next for you?

JYS: Right now I’m about eighty percent done with a new novel about a failed Tea Party candidate and his family and am beginning a novel about a world where all memories, personal and cultural, are spontaneously wiped out. As for the present, I’ve got a crime novel (Bring Me The Head of Yorkie Goodman) coming out with New Pulp Press this summer and another collection, I Am The Oil of The Engine of The World, coming out with Split Lip Press.

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Jared Yates Sexton is a born-and-bred Hoosier living and working as an Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at Georgia Southern University. He is the Editor-In-Chief of BULL and the author of three short story collections, from Atticus Books and Split Lip Press, and a forthcoming crime-novel from New Pulp Press. His stories have appeared in publications around the world.

Tell Me How It Was from MG Press and 826michigan

We’re absolutely thrilled to announce our latest book from MG Press, Tell Me How It Was: An Anthology of Imagined Michigan Histories.

Created in partnership with the non-profit writing center 826michigan, this historical fiction anthology features the work of the eight-grade writers at Scarlett Middle School in Ann Arbor, Michigan, as they explore new perspectives on history through fiction.

Tell Me How It Was: An Anthology of Imagined Michigan Histories

The book will be released on March 21, 2015—available through all our usual sales channels—and we’ll also be hosting a release party at this year’s Voices of the Middle West festival that very day at 12:30 PM. So stop by if you can!

We are so excited with how this came together, and it’s vitally important to us to showcase the great work of our community, and highlighting the next generation of Midwestern voices. In addition, Rebecca Scherm, author of the novel Unbecoming, was kind enough to write a foreword for the anthology, saying: “These young writers are doing that hard, rewarding, and sometimes sublime work of imagining lives outside their own.”

Read more about Tell Me How It Was

Reserve a copy for $1 and save 20% off the list price

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Contributor Spotlight: Mike Wilson

unnamedMike Wilson’s story “John Wayne Cancer” appears in Midwestern Gothic Issue 16, out now.

How long have you been writing?
I really became addicted to reading and writing when I was a junior in high school.  I got my head bounced off the turf during a football game that year and experienced a pretty nasty concussion, and that’s about the time the need to write really got going for me.  I’ve always kind of joked that maybe something was jarred loose inside that gray matter of mine by banging it around like that.

 
What’s your connection to the Midwest? 
Born and raised here, and this is where I’m raising my family.
 
How has the Midwest influenced your writing?

There’s a particular kind of blue collar grit and sincerity that arises out of the Midwest, I think, and this is the kind of writing to which I’m most attracted.  I like getting the sense that the writer is chasing something, you know, searching for some sort of meaningful depth, and this lends itself to a type of desperation that is alive in Midwestern settings and characters — the kinds you find in Marilynne Robinson’s Iowa or Daniel Woodrell’s Missouri or Toni Morrison’s Ohio.  This is what I’m drawn to and influences me the most.

Why do you believe there has never really been a regionalist push for Midwestern writing in the past like there has with the South or even the West Coast?
Well, I think this is the case because when we talk about regional fiction there is really only one region that dominates as a genre unto itself, and that’s the writing that comes out of or is about the Southeast.  A parade of  traumas occurred there that began in the plantations and escalated with Sherman’s campaign and continued with the Civil Rights Movement and in many ways still hasn’t ended.  William Faulkner and Eudora Welty — two of the most important writers in the culture — spent their lives probing these traumas.  And such a richness of talent and content came out of the South, with writers like Walker Percy and Shelby Foote and Flannery O’Connor and Alice Walker and Katherine Anne Porter and Barry Hannah and William Styron, all writing about similar things.  To Kill A Mockingbird has to be one of the most read novels in American history.  Toni Morrison greatest work, Beloved, might be the best novel I’ve ever read, and is probably the best example of a Southern Gothic novel that I can think of, even though most of her other books are set in the Midwest.  And people will be reading Jesmyn Ward’s Salvage the Bones for decades.  So it’s just hard, I think, for any other region to compete with all of that in terms of the literary canon.
How do you feel about social media to promote your writing, and do you use it? 
I’m on social media but not solely to promote my writing.  My writing is a part of me, so it’s there in some of my Facebook posts and tweets, but I’m kind of shy about it for some reason.  But it doesn’t bother me when other writers are on social media to promote their stuff or, more importantly, to engage with their readers in a way that is as real and personal as the art they create.
 
Favorite book?
Elegies for the Brokenhearted by Christie Hodgen.  It’s one of those books about which I can only say just do yourself a favor and read it.  You will be entranced.  You won’t want it to end.  It will stay with you for a long time.
 
Favorite food?
Anything my wife makes.  She makes some seriously mean fajitas.  And her homemade marinara sauce is insane.  I could go on and on.
 
If you could have coffee (or tea or a beer) with any literary figure, alive or dead, who would it be? 
I would love to have coffee with Charles D’Ambrosio.  His stuff just wrecks me.  He’s probably my favorite living writer.
 
Where can we find more information about you?
I’m on Facebook and Twitter and there you’ll find me gushing about my wife and kids and tweeting about baseball and college football and some of the books I’m currently reading.
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Welcome Stephanie Bucklin!

Our staff continues to grow, and we are continually thrilled with the new people/voices we’re bringing into the Midwestern Gothic family. Case in point: We are beyond excited to welcome our newest Editorial Assistant, Stephanie Bucklin!


Stephanie Bucklin is a writer and freelancer originally from Connecticut. After earning a Bachelor’s from Harvard University, she worked in various areas of publishing, from New York to Boston. A writer of middle grade and young adult fiction, she has minor addictions to coffee, podcasts, and reading, and is thrilled to be working with the Midwestern Gothic team.
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Contributor News

Linda Niehoff, who has work upcoming in Issue 17, recently had a story, “Like Magic Waiting,” in TriQuarterly, which you can read here.

Charlotte Pence, who has work upcoming in Issue 17, recently had her first poetry book, Many Small Fires, published by Black Lawrence Press. Check it out!

Brian Petkash, who was featured in Issue 16 and won our inaugural Lake Prize contest for fiction, saw his story “Flood” shortlisted in the 2014 Seán Ó Faoláin Competition, which you can now read online at Southword.

Mark Maire, who had work featured in Issue 14, was recently named a finalist for the 2014 Codhill Poetry Award.

Sam Slaughter, who has work upcoming in Issue 17, was recently voted “The Best of There Will Be Words 2014,” and will see his debut chapbook of flash fiction, When You Cross That Line, published in May. Read about it!

Congrats to you all!

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Contributor Spotlight: Marlin M. Jenkins

pic_faceMarlin M. Jenkins’ piece “A letter to Marshall Mathers” appears in Midwestern Gothic Issue 16, out now.

How long have you been writing?
I started writing in middle school, mostly because I hated reading. I loved stories and talking about writing, and I figured if I wrote a story I’d be much more interested in reading that than what was assigned in school.

I started to write poetry in high school. A friend and I got bored one day and tried to write rap verses. We weren’t any good, but I had a lot of fun so I stuck with it and soon started to write poetry as a more serious counterpart to rap (not to say rap isn’t serious, but it was super casual for me personally); the writing part of the process was my favorite and I wasn’t really any good at the delivery part anyway.

What’s your connection to the Midwest?
I grew up on the west side of Detroit, and then moved to a suburb just south of Detroit right before I went to college in Saginaw. And for the last few years, much of the travel I’ve done has been throughout the Midwest (Chicago, Ohio, Indianapolis, etc.) as a competitive dancer and DJ in a dance called west coast swing, which—despite it’s largest presence California—has a pretty cool community in this part of the country.

How has the Midwest influenced your writing?
Growing up in Detroit has had a huge influence on my writing. The biggest influences have been the unfortunate state of decline the city has experienced—and my childhood neighborhood got hit hard—and the diversity of Michigan’s communities. Where I grew up was very ethnically diverse, especially being right on the border of Dearborn and its prominent Arab population. These geographical experiences are a major part of why much of my writing is about urban struggle and/or culture in some form.

Why do you believe there has never really been a regionalist push for Midwestern writing in the past like there has with the South or even the West Coast?
I think part of it is the whole “flyover” thing—how we’re sometimes perceived as kind of boring and forgettable and all that. Also, the character of the Midwest might be a little harder to pin down than other regions. It’s like with rap, I feel more comfortable talking about East Coast rappers as a category with a fairly distinct sound; same for West Coast and the South, but Midwest? There’s definitely no shortage of prominent rappers in the Midwest, and there are lots of good arguments for how they’re categorically and aesthetically similar, but is “Midwest rap” really a thing? Geographic and aesthetic categorizations in the Midwest get messy, like those terrible Pure Michigan ads where Tim Allen is talking about lighthouses and dunes and skiing and I feel much more isolated than proud as a result because the category has little to do with the Michigan I know and love.

How do you feel about social media to promote your writing, and do you use it?
Social media is a useful tool; so naturally I shamelessly share my published writing and similar things on Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr.

Favorite book?
Cane by Jean Toomer.

Favorite food?
Fish. (Insert lame joke about my name here.) Salmon, Tilapia, Mahi, you name it.

If you could have coffee (or tea or a beer) with any literary figure, alive or dead, who would it be?
Jean Toomer, for sure.

Where can we find more information about you?
I don’t update my Tumblr often, but it does have links to stuff I’ve published and links to my YouTube and Twitter and all that, so marlinmjenkins.tumblr.com.

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Eric Shonkwiler Reading at Taylor Books

Above All Men by Eric ShonkwilerLit friends and fans in West Virginia, Eric Shonkwiler, author of Above All Men, is coming to your neck of the woods to read from his novel. Here are the details:

Eric Shonkwiler Author Reading and Signing at Taylor Books
When: Thursday, March 12, 2015
6 p.m. Meet and Greet, book signing, mingling in bookstore
6:30 p.m. Reading in Annex Gallery
Where: Taylor Books, 226 Capitol Street, Charleston, West Virginia 253019

Hope to see you there!

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Contributor Spotlight: Alisha Erin Hillam

AlishaErinHillamAlisha Erin Hillam’s piece “Inez and Old Barney, Early 1930s” appears in Midwestern Gothic Issue 16, out now.

How long have you been writing?
I have been writing stories for as long as I can remember being able to write with a pencil. I first discovered poetry in fourth grade and, encouraged by a wonderful teacher, decided then and there to become a writer. Twenty years later, I’m still at it. It’s who I am.

What’s your connection to the Midwest?
Although my husband’s work has taken us all over—currently to New England—I was born and raised in Indiana, on the farm my grandmother grew up on. Some of my ancestors came to live in the county I grew up in nearly two hundred years ago and many of their descendants have been there ever since. I was educated and married in the Midwest (I’ve lived in Indiana, Missouri, Illinois, and Ohio) and most of my family still lives there.

How has the Midwest influenced your writing?
How hasn’t it? I am a Hoosier to my core. My culture and values are rooted in the Midwest and the landscapes of it have captured my heart. The world is an amazing place and I have been lucky enough to experience some of it, but at the end of the day, the images and ideas that most strongly resonate in my mind and spring from my fingers are from home.

Why do you believe there has never really been a regionalist push for Midwestern writing in the past like there has with the South or even the West Coast?
The Midwest is saturated with down-home-ness, a constancy of farm fields and labor, friendliness, and a sense of comfortable existence. As Indiana Beach advertises, “There’s more than corn in Indiana,” but the value of what is there is, I think, lost in the face of familiarity. The powerful human experiences that come out of the Midwest are disguised by their ordinary context.

How do you feel about social media to promote your writing, and do you use it?
I think social media is an amazing tool for promoting writing, because it is how so many people connect and spread their interests, ideas, and—perhaps—a favorite new poem. That said, I personally haven’t used it to promote my own writing, except among friends.

Favorite book?
I first read Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy in its entirety in fifth grade and I have never gotten over it.

Favorite food?
I am a little bit obsessed with Rice Krispie treats, Hollandaise sauce, and cheddar cheese. (But not together.)

If you could have coffee (or tea or a beer) with any literary figure, alive or dead, who would it be?
I would love to sit down with Jhumpa Lahiri, because her writing wrestles so much with the issue of identity, cultures, and place—and does it so eloquently.

Where can we find more information about you?
Come straight to the source. I can be reached via email, alishahillam dot gmail dot com.

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Autoplay reviewed at The Best American Poetry blog

Kristina Marie Darling recently reviewed Julie Babcock’s Autoplay for The Best American Poetry blog, and had this to say:

“This is a stunning debut, and Babcock is a poet to watch.”

Read the full review.

And for more information on Autoplay, click here.

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Issue 17 cover and contributor listing

While we’re experiencing a bout of cold, at least the dream of spring is alive. And here to help? The cover for Issue 17 (Spring 2015)!

Issue17_Spring2015_cover_full!

Cover image copyright (c) David J. Thompson.

And check out our stellar contributor line-up for this issue:

Issue17_Spring2015_contribs

We are so excited for Issue 17, and hope you will be too. It is slated to release April 1, 2015—mark your calendars!

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