Contributor Spotlight: Eric Boyd

August 20th, 2014

DSC00465Eric Boyd’s story “Thundersnow” appears in Midwestern Gothic Issue 14, out now.

How long have you been writing?
I started out when I was fourteen, I was visiting family in North Carolina, where I was born; a buddy of mine messaged me on AIM and said we ought to write a screenplay together. I don’t remember why that idea came up, I don’t remember, but we did it. At the suggestion of our high school video teacher, we posted the thing to some website and got a surprising amount of interest. Of course the script was never filmed, it wasn’t very good, but one of the guys who wanted to do it ended up becoming a big music video guy. He just did a thing with Matthew Mcconaughey not too long ago. Anyway that director reached out to us years later, when I was seventeen, and we did some adaptation work for him. I think we each made like twelve hundred bucks on a few drafts for some thing that never happened. That’s still the biggest chunk of change I ever made from writing, and that was before I even started doing short stories.

What’s your connection to the Midwest?
David Lynch told me to meditate; he said it to me through a television. It was late and I was tired and in a bad place. I mean, I was willing to listen out for any kind of sign to get me out of where I was. At that time I was eighteen and I was here in Pittsburgh, where I’ve lived most of my life, working at a damn drugstore at the time, having customers throw febreeze at my head and everything. What else was I doing? I was ready to go away. So I took Lynch up on his physic offer and moved out to Fairfield, Iowa, because I knew he practiced TM [Transcendental Meditation] and there was a school out there that did it. So I attended the Maharishi University of Management for a little while, meditating and studying video, mostly. That town was great. I miss it and I made a lot of friends there that I believe I’ll have for a good long while to come. There was this weird magic to that place. One time, I was playing pool in the Rec room of the Men’s dorm, and I saw a tornado. The outward facing wall of the Rec room was all glass and I could see everything. A barn flew through the air, perfectly intact, like it was going in slow motion. Then it just fell to the ground out in this field about a mile up. That tornado was coming straight for the campus but I really didn’t have any fear of the thing. It ended up going right around the town; it’d been going in a straight line and then it just moved around us. Later someone told me that the Maharishi promised the school that a storm would never affect the campus—or maybe it was because the town was flat and the campus was on a hill. I have no idea. What the hell do I know about weather? In Iowa it’s all crazy.

Incidentally, I did meet David Lynch while I was at the school. Everyone knew my little story about how I came to be at there, and Bobby Roth [the head of the David Lynch foundation] introduced the two of us. He goes, “David, I want you to meet Eric Boyd,” and Lynch comes up, shakes my hand, and says, “Oh yeah! The one I spoke to through the TVVVV!” He got a kick out of that.

How has the Midwest influenced your writing?
When I started meditating, I had this huge explosion of work. My first short stories, a lot of poems, short films, screenplays, songs. All of that. I guess that could have happened anywhere but I’m really glad it was in Iowa. Like I said, that place had a real magic to it, and it truly felt like I was in America. What they call a microcosm? There were so many people from different regions of the world, all out there in the heartland to capture this very spiritual thing. Plus they wanted an education and all that. So it was very much like a pilgrimage, searching for the American Dream or something. All these crazy people out in the cornfields. We used to walk on coals in this area called ‘Strawberry Fields’. It was apple pie, truly; in fact, that’s where I first learned of American cheese on apple pie! I still eat that to this day, but up here in Pittsburgh they just fucking microwave it and it’s disgusting.

Anyway, in Iowa there were so many burnouts and failed seekers, and I was certainly among those folks. Everyone was an underdog in some way, if only to society, or themselves; to their aching souls. That’s definitely in my work, I think. I hope. The idea that everyone is fighting for or against something. Everyone wants something to believe in, if only to get them away from the world.

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?
Probably has to do with edges. Look at a map and you can see where California ends. When the coasts stop, they stop. The Midwest is a little vaguer. It seems more like a mindset than a place, sometimes. It has that blue collar attitude and Pittsburgh certainly has that, but at best Pittsburgh is Appalachia. It’s probably those edges that people can clearly see. The Midwest is the heartland, right? Think about that. Where does your heart actually stop? You have the organ, sure, but it pumps blood to every part of you. The Midwest is like that. I don’t care if you’ve lived in Miami all of your life, you’ve probably eaten corn trucked in from Iowa. That was a part of you. So I think it’s harder to pin down in that regard.

Also, the voice is hard as hell to get right. Midwestern English is hard to pin down. It’s like Indian with all the different dialects. Pittsburghese is pretty hard to get right if you haven’t been there, and it’s totally different from Philly slang, but then that’s why you see more California and New York literature. Maybe it’s easier. I don’t know. I think, for my story, I ended up doing slightly more Southern drawl than Midwest twang, and I’m definitely a little ashamed of that. So maybe it’s more difficult to make a movement out of that. It seems to be taking off in Europe. I think, over there, they’re starting to really see the Midwest, especially the grittier authors like Frank Bill or maybe Don Ray Pollack, as being authentically American. Frank Bill is huge in France now, I’ve heard. It always takes the States a while to catch up, even with ourselves.

How do you feel about social media to promote your writing, and do you use it?
I didn’t even have a cell phone for the longest time. I used a payphone a few blocks away from my apartment, and people kept saying, “But what if there’s a fire?” Well, call the firefighters. What the hell am I going to do about a fire? But I finally got a phone when I was about twenty-one. I still don’t have a smartphone, so I don’t know much about Instagram or any of that. I’ve got a facebook, and that’s pretty strictly for messaging friends, keeping in touch with people. If someone, like a fan, adds me on there, I’ll usually accept—but it’s mostly just for personal stuff. I don’t share too much on there unless it’s really important.

Mostly I’m on tumblr. I started a page a long time ago. In fact, I had a page before the one I have now, and I got no idea where that even is anymore. But I post a lot of stuff on there. Around 2008, when I was in Iowa, I started writing six word stories/poems. I was really into Hemingway at the time—in fact, I just bought damn near all of his work recently, but I haven’t cracked back into any of it yet—and his six word story is a knockout. Of course everyone thinks so, but that started me on writing my own. I had an old desktop computer that must have had a thousand or more pieces saved on it; I’d write a hundred at a time some nights. That thing crashed years ago, but I started my tumblr page and began posting six worders every day. Nobody cared much. I mean, I was getting maybe two or three people to like my stuff day in, day out. But eventually, I guess I was just doing it enough to where the tumblr gods, whoever they are, decided to ‘spotlight’ me on the poetry section of the site. I thought I was just going to be featured on that for a month or so; I was posting everything I had. Photos, poems, prose, drawings, scripts. Everything, just trying to make the most of it. But I never got taken down. I’ve got a bunch of followers because of that. I think I’m one of those people where—say you sign up for tumblr and they ask you what you like, and you say mayonnaise or something—they suggest you follow my page. I suppose it’s nice. A lot of people message me, asking for six worders. I enjoy doing that because it keeps me on my toes. They get a piece of writing and I get to try compressing someone’s entire life into six words. It’s a fair trade. In fact, I probably get more out of it than they do. I get to sharpen that knife, you know?

Past that I’ve got a few other things. I’ve got a twitter, but that’s mostly a dump-site for my tumblr posts. Every once in a while I’ll tweet something. The other day I tweeted a clipped version of this chili recipe I came up with. We didn’t have anything in the apartment worth eating on its own, so I threw a bunch of crap together and it ended up being pretty good. The secret ingredient there was espresso grounds.

Favorite book?
That’s tough for me to say. I really don’t read too much. I go in spurts. In Iowa I read a good deal, mostly JT LeRoy—whose work I think became criminally underrated after all that crap happened and the critics soured on her—and I read a lot of technical manuals. How-to’s on filmmaking and woodworking. Stuff like that. In jail I read a lot of Rimbaud and Céline. Real bitter shit. I watch more movies than anything else. But lately I’ve been trying to read more. I read Tobacco Road not long ago. It’s taken me over a month to get through Catcher in the Rye, and it’s not from a lack of interest; it’s just hard for me to read sometimes. If I’m ever stuck, but I really want to pick something up, Bukowksi’s Post Office or Hemingway’s Sun Also Rises have always been staples. The best book I’ve read in a long time, especially because I felt so close to it, was Cain’s Postman Always Rings Twice. Even though I just discovered that book, I feel like I’ve been ripping that guy off for years. The voice, the style, the pacing. When I write, I imagine a character telling me a story, and I hear it the way they tell it to me; I’m just a dictation machine at that point. Postman does that. You feel like you’re in the room, hearing this story. A while back, someone asked me whose work I thought spoke to me; they said how they felt my shit was like Denis Johnson—who’s a guy that I only read because so many people compared my stuff to his, and he’s good, but I didn’t see it that much—and I said I dug James M. Cain. I went on and on about Postman. They said, “That book is like seventy years old.” I guess that was supposed to mean something. I still don’t know what.

Favorite food?
Hot dogs. I couldn’t live without them. I’m pretty happy so many companies are starting to do uncured, all-beef ones. A little healthier, maybe. I don’t have any interest in living forever, but if I can spend fifty cents more for a hot dog that isn’t guaranteed to give me cancer, I’ll eat that hot dog. I’ll just stick them on a fork and heat them off the burner on the stove, like I’m camping out. If you do that, make sure you use a fork with a rod-through handle—plastic or wood, whatever—so you don’t burn yourself. But yeah, hot dogs. I also worked at a Thai restaurant for two years, so that grew on me. I quit there recently. I need a job now.

If you could have coffee (or tea or a beer) with any literary figure, alive or dead, who would it be?
I mentioned Frank Bill before, and I did have pizza and beer with him in Louisville once. A good man. Past that, I really don’t know. I want to meet people, not figures. It’s hard to meet an idol. I can’t imagine meeting with someone like Hunter Thompson and not feeling depressed after. Something about shaking a hero’s hand, feeling their bones compressing in yours. It ruins something, I think. You don’t know if they’re false idols until that moment, so I’ll skip it.

Where can we find more information about you?
Like I said, I’m on some of those different websites. Folks are welcome to reach out. And let’s face it, if you want to talk to me, you probably don’t have many friends—I’ll try to be your friend.

TUMBLR

FACEBOOK

TWITTER

YOUTUBE VIDEO OF ME TALKING ABOUT DAVID LYNCH / MEDITATION
(look at that hair)

What We’re Reading (Summer 2014): Averno

ww_bannerIn this series of summer posts, MG staffer Kelly Nhan will be exploring books and music, festivals and goings-on, anything and everything Midwestern-related, and reporting her findings.

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Averno, by Louise Glück

Averno, Louise Glück’s eleventh collection of poetry published in 2006, hinges around the Persephone myth (each of the two sections includes “Persephone the Wanderer” in different iterations) in which Persephone, traditionally considered the queen of the underworld but also the goddess over crops and plant life, is abducted and raped by Hades. Glück riffs on this tale, out of which she reaps content that places the collection in a distinctly elegiac and contemplative American “confessional” tradition, albeit with a sparse, terse and ambivalent tone throughout; Glück’s lyric draws on the dark hymns of Sylvia Plath. On the most basic level, she shares a similar interest in death and loss in her poetry, a theme that the Persephone myth serves well: Averno was considered the “entrance to the underworld”, the epigraph notes, and the collection’s opener “The Night Migrations” notes, “It grieves me to think/the dead won’t see them—these things we depend on,/ they disappear”.

The changing of the seasons, particularly the onset of autumn, becomes an extended conceit for the inching effect of age and decay, perhaps becoming more palpably felt for the senior poet herself, who has had a long and celebrated career over her seventy years. “October”, perhaps the collection’s most affecting piece, uses this conceit as a vehicle for the speaker’s self-expression: “It does me no good; violence has changed me./ My body has grown cold like the stripped fields; now there is only my mind, cautious and wary, with the sense it is being tested”. These weary “confessions”, however, cannot be taken as pure expression, but rather a performance of confessing.

Often, Glück creates a distance between the poetic voice and the reader. The voice, although quite often in the first person “I”, moves from character to character, embodying Persephone and Demeter, her mother, and also shifts perspective. We gain access to the thoughts of the characters within, but the narration remains fairly flat in affect, which even borders on academic discourse in the first appearance of “Persephone the Wanderer”: “Persephone’s initial/ sojourn in hell continues to be/ pawed over by scholars who dispute/the sensations of the virgin…”.

41cg81kxisL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_This emotional distance, in contrast to the collection’s themes of death, rebirth, and trauma at large, shakes the reader at first. Glück seems to prefer the short, heavily enjambed line and terse diction. These lines are most often spoken in retrospective voice, as in “October” (“I stood/ at the doorway,/ ridiculous as it now seems”) or even an unspecified omniscient third-person narrator sweeping over the characters in the Persephone myth. The effect produced is a coolness in her speakers, who in this collection stand in a liminal space and re-tell their transformation or experience. Averno deals with the process of a discursive retracing after trauma, specifically through the vehicle of Classical myth. In laying side-by-side what can be read as intimate personal details as in “Echoes”, detailing a move out to “lake country” or “Fugue” (“My childhood:/ closed to me. Or is it/ under the mulch—fertile./But very dark. Very hidden.”), and the retelling of the Penelope myth, Glück asks the question: How do the small details of a life become reframed in cultural and personal memory as mythic, and thereby worthy of retelling?

In the two versions of “Persephone the Wanderer”, Glück creates two possible endings to the myth: in the first she lives, and in the second she dies. The poems exist between these two possible realities and operate within this gap. She provides two interpretations that frame the myths and in their unfolding, completely alter the outcomes thereof. Many of the speakers in this collection exist in this paradoxical location, between life and the afterlife, earth and the underworld, god and human, the “smallness” of personal consciousness and the grandiosity of myth. This nebulous space leaves the reader, at times, (purposely?) lost in the abstract, unable to grasp the familiar referents that make up experience. Not only is this a disruption of unquestioned dichotomies as those listed above, but also ambivalence about truth-telling and the reading of “pure expression”. Her critical look at the process of memory, even in the case of a well-recorded Classical myth, is reflective of her larger tendency to hesitation.

At times, the speakers retrace their steps and qualify or negate previous statements, even those that initially read as off-the-cuff aphorisms. Following the thought processes of the speakers is often jarring, bordering on discomfort, for the reader. For not only do the words retrace, but the speaker often jumps from one thought or image to another in sparse free verse, largely leaving the thought process out. Glück also uses repetition of phrases that show the process of revision in the words of the speaker. The speaker in “Prism” notes, “The room was quiet”, then right after, “That is, the room was quiet, but the lovers were breathing,” and “In the same way, the night was dark”. Then, “It was dark, but the stars shone”. Eschewing definitive, fixed statements, the personal is less sure and as detractors of the “confessional” might say, less hubristic. It hesitates, it wavers.

Although Averno utilizes the Persephone myth throughout as either the foreground or as more of a meta-textual element for some poems, the variety of themes and tropes with which it engages leaves the collection feeling a bit disjointed. Overall, Glück’s post-confessional lyric works well within the conceit, which allows for a nuanced look at the oft-retold myth. Her diction and syntax often refuse readers’ attempts at close reading in the academic sense despite their surface simplicity. Although these formal choices do contribute to the project of the collection, some pieces wander too far into the oblique and elision, especially in such pieces as the twenty-two section-long “Fugue”. What Glück lacks in diverse images, she makes up for in sudden drops in syntax or heavy enjambment, formal qualities that are jarring but effective for her project.

For fans of Sylvia Plath, Anne Carson, and Rae Armantrout.

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Kelly Nhan is a senior studying English and Women’s Studies at the University of Michigan, and originally from Connecticut. She loves finding good coffee places, exploring cities, reading good poetry, and chatting about feminism. She is interested in going into book publishing, or eventually going to grad school to study post-colonial literature and feminist theory.

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Contributor Spotlight: Rebecca McKanna

RebeccaMcKanna-2Rebecca McKanna’s story “Watch Out for Lions” appears in Midwestern Gothic Issue 14, out now.

How long have you been writing?
I’ve written stories since I was little. In college I studied journalism. When I interned at a local newspaper, I used to write short stories while monitoring the police scanner when I worked the Sunday afternoon shift. I started taking my writing more seriously in the years after I graduated college when I realized I was spending all my downtime writing.

What’s your connection to the Midwest?
I was born and raised in Iowa and graduated undergrad from the University of Iowa (Go, Hawkeyes!). Now I’m living in Indiana as I earn my MFA in creative writing from Purdue University.

How has the Midwest influenced your writing?
In my early and mid-twenties I commuted an hour each way to work, driving past the farmland on either side of Interstate-80 in Iowa. I think seeing that landscape in all four seasons—beautiful in summer, barren and ominous in winter—permanently changed how I viewed where I was from. It got into my blood in a weird way, and I realized what a rich and fascinating place I had grown up in. From then on, the majority of my writing was about Iowans.

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?
This is a hard question, because I think there are a lot of reasons. Partly, I think it has to do with Midwesterners’ personalities—polite, often averse to attention, hard-working. Partly, I think it has to do with how people outside the Midwest view Midwesterners—as boring people living in flat, boring “flyover country.” Partly, I think it’s hard to boil the Midwest down to one aesthetic. That’s why I think Midwestern Gothic is so important—it helps highlight the diverse stories and writers coming out of the Midwest.

How do you feel about social media to promote your writing, and do you use it?
I use social media—especially Facebook and Twitter—to let people know when I have a story appearing somewhere. I think it’s a good way to let people know what’s going on in your writing life, but I never want it to come off in a gross way. I loved Rebecca Makkai’s post for the Plougshares blog about this.

Favorite book?
I just finished House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski, and I’m obsessed with it. He created a very creepy book that is also a beautiful love story.

Favorite food?
A burger and fries.

If you could have coffee (or tea or a beer) with any literary figure, alive or dead, who would it be?
If I could get drinks with Cheryl Strayed, I’d die pretty content. If I could get drinks with Cheryl Strayed, Marilynne Robinson, and John Steinbeck, my head would explode.

Where can we find more information about you?
Visit me at rebeccamckanna.com.

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2nd Annual Massive Midwestern Author Book Giveaway

We’re thrilled to announce our second annual Midwestern Authors Book Giveaway, where you can win books and eBooks from some of the best talent the Midwest has to offer. And the best part is, all you need is a Twitter account to enter.

To enter: Retweet any of the contest tweets next week. That’s it!

You can get a bonus five entries when you sign up for our email newsletter! Click here to subscribe – your entries will be automatically entered for the Grand Prize.

Contest Dates: Monday, August 11, through Friday, August 22.

We’re giving away a slew of prizes daily, with bigger prizes at the end of the second week. The big prizes at the end of the second week are:

Grand Prize: 1 Yearly Print Subscription to Midwestern Gothic (4 issues), 1 Midwestern Gothic: Summer 2014 – Issue 14 paperback, 1 signed copy of This Jealous Earth, and 1 signed copy of Above All Men.

1st Prize: 1 Yearly Digital Subscription to Midwestern Gothic (4 issues), 1 Midwestern Gothic: Summer 2014 – Issue 14 paperback, and 1 Midwestern Gothic eBook (Issues 1-13) of your choosing.

2nd Prize: All 14 issues in the Midwestern Gothic catalog in eBook format.

Not only does retweeting the contest tweet put you in the running to win one of these prize packs, but it also enters you automatically into the drawing for a daily prize. Daily prizes include:

Mon, Aug 11: Michael Perry: The Clodhopper Monologues (a humorous monologue recorded live at the Stoughton Opera House), Population: 485, Visiting Tom, From the Top: Brief Transmissions from Tent Show Radio, Coop; 1 signed copy of Eric Shonkwiler’s Above All Men (MG Press), 2 Midwestern Gothic eBooks (8 total daily winners)

Tues, Aug 12: Matt Mason: The Baby that Ate Cincinnati (Stephen F. Austin University Press) and Things We Don’t Know We Know (The Backwaters Press); 1 signed copy of Scott Carpenter’s This Jealous Earth (MG Press); 2 Midwestern Gothic eBooks (5 total daily winners)

Wed, Aug 13: Mariela Griffor: The Psychiatrist (Eyewear Publishing); Hobart back issue bundles; Heavy Feather Review back issue bundle (Issues 2.2, 3.1, 3.2, 3.3 included); 1 signed copy of Eric Shonkwiler’s Above All Men (MG Press) (8 total daily winners)

Thurs, Aug 14: Marick Press: Assorted book bundles comprised of Compass Bearing by Per Wastberg, Lend Me Your Voice by Kje Espmark, The Fortunate Islands by Susan Kelly-DeWitt, A Northern Habitat by Robin Fulton MacPherson, and Poemas Militantes by Raul Zurita; 1 signed copy of Scott Carpenter’s This Jealous Earth (MG Press) (7 total daily winners)

Fri, Aug 15: (Midpoint Prizes): 1 Midwestern Gothic back issue, 1 print subscription to Midwestern Gothic and 1 copy of the latest Midwestern Gothic issue (1 winner); 1 Midwestern Gothic back issue and 1 copy of the latest Midwestern Gothic issue (3 winners); 1 Midwestern Gothic back issue (1 winner); (5 total daily winners)

Sat, Aug 16: Marisa Silver: Mary Coin (Blue Rider Press); Sarah Stonich: Vacationland (University of Minnesota Press); Brian Kimberling: Snapper (Pantheon); Frank Bill: Donnybrook (FSG Originals) ; 3 Midwestern Gothic eBooks (4 total daily winners)

Sun, Aug 17: Bill Hillmann: The Old Neighborhood (Curbside Splendor Publishing), Justin Hamm: Lessons in Ruin (Aldrich Press); Abby Geni: The Last Animal (Counterpoint Press), Laura Relyea: All Glitter, Everything, 3 Midwestern Gothic eBooks (6 total daily winners)

Mon, Aug 18: Aaron Burch: Backswing (Queen’s Ferry Press); Mid-American Review one-year subscription plus current issue , Susan Chehak: The Great Disappointment, Annie D, Dancing on the Grass, and Harmony (Foreverland Press), 1 signed copy of Eric Shonkwiler’s Above All Men (MG Press) (8 total daily winners)

Tues, Aug 19: Winter Goose Publishing: Assorted book bundles comprised of Terroir by Sheila Scobba Banning, Theory of Remainders by Scott Dominic Carpenter, The Way We Were by Brenda Montgomery, Roma Series: Books 1, 2, and 3 by Gabriel Valjan; Booth Literary Magazine: one year subscription, 1 signed copy of Scott Dominic Carpenter’s This Jealous Earth (MG Press) (7 total daily winners)

Wed, Aug 20: Wayne State University Press (Made in Michigan series): Strings Attached by Diane DeCillis, Making Callaloo in Detroit by Lolita Hernandez, Until the Full Moon Has Its Say by Conrad Hilberry, Strange Love by Lisa Lenzo, Quality Snacks by Andy Mozina; Ninth Letter Literary Magazine: One year subscription; 1 signed copy of Eric Shonkwiler’s Above All Men (MG Press) (7 total daily winners)

Thurs, Aug 21: Quiddity International Literary Journal:1 subscription, 2 back issue bundles; Chloe Benjamin: The Anatomy of Dreams (Atria Books); 1 signed copy of Scott Dominic Carpenter’s This Jealous Earth (MG Press) (9 total daily winners)

Midwestern Gothic Book Giveaway
The nitty gritty:

  • Once you retweet the contest tweet you are automatically entered into the drawing for the prizes for that day and both of the end of the week prizes (the Midpoint and the Grand Prize)
  • Must have a valid Twitter account to enter the giveaway or to be an email subscriber
  • You get one entry per day—that means if you RT the contest tweet every day of the contest, you have a shot at winning all the daily prizes, and you get 12 chances to win the Grand Prize at the end of the week.
  • Winners are chosen by Random.org random number generator after each RT is assigned a number
  • Daily winners will be announced on Twitter, and only RTs from that day will count toward that day’s prize
  • If you enter and win a daily prize, you can still enter, once per day, for the rest of the contest duration for a better shot at the Grand Prize. You can only win one daily prize per Twitter account.

Happy Winning! Happy Reading!

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Interview: Peter Ho Davies

informalauthorphotoMidwestern Gothic staffer Kelly Nhan talked with author Peter Ho Davies  about geographic place and identity, short stories versus novels, his background in physics, and more.

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Midwestern Gothic: What is your connection to the Midwest?

Peter Ho Davies: I’ve lived here since 2000, though of course that doesn’t necessarily qualify me as a Midwesterner. I’ve lived in the US since 1992, after all, and I’m still a British citizen. Still, I do feel an affinity for our region. I grew up in England in an area called the Midlands, which had some of the same fly-over state sense of neglect that folks in the Midwest sometimes feel. Instead of the east and west coasts, we were caught between the south (of London) and the north (of Manchester and Liverpool). The Midlands was also the heart of the auto business in England and since my childhood has faced some of the same economic challenges as Michigan.

MG: Your work spans across a staggering variety of geographical locales, historical events, and across time. What is your research process like?

PHD: Sporadic and haphazard. There’s a vision of research, in an academic or scientific context, being very methodical, but when I’m working on fiction I usually do just enough research to spur my imagination and then get to writing. When that inspiration runs out, I go back to the research, waiting for something else to stir me. It’s easy to imagine a neat before-and-after process, where a writer does all the research first, then writes the book, but for me it’s much more of a back-and-forth.

MG: In reviews of your work as a writer, there is always explicit mention about your “Welsh-ness”. Does geographical place, and the culture, dialect, feel, and customs of a geographical place and perhaps its effect on identity, figure as a thematic consideration in your work?

PHD: Identity is certainly something I’m interested in, but often its identity vs place. I’m half-Chinese, half-Welsh but I wasn’t born and haven’t lived in either place, and don’t speak either language. The question for me is often how am I Chinese or Welsh, or both, in the absence of those more direct claims.

51J+adHzifL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_MG: You grew up in Coventry, and have moved across the United States since, including Oregon and Georgia, and now the Midwest. How does the Midwest compare to the other places you have lived?

PHD: I’m going to take the fifth on that one! I learned fairly soon after arriving in the US that it was difficult and dangerous to generalize about the US after living in only one part of it (what did I know then, or now, of the South West, say), and I suspect the same goes for a region like the Midwest. I feel I know Ann Arbor pretty well, but our community is hardly representative of Michigan let alone the region.

MG: You have a lot of experience as both a short story writer, as in your collection, The Ugliest House in the World, and as a novelist. Which do you prefer writing: novels or short stories? How does the process of preparing and writing look different for each?

PHD: I like (and hate) them both. The novel is a freer, more forgiving form, more like life arguably; the story is more confining, but also perhaps more precise, more artful. I’d like to say I prefer the one I’m doing at any given time, but human (and writerly) nature being what it is, I probably prefer whichever one I’m not engaged it at the moment.

MG: You majored in physics as an undergraduate. What inspired you to become a writer?

PHD: I wrote the first story I published just as I started my physics degree and it pretty much ruined me for science! That said throughout my teens I read almost nothing but SF and that’s what I first aspired to write, so science in some sense fed my fiction writing.

MG: As a professor of creative writing, what is one piece of advice you have for new writers?

PHD: The great French novelist Flaubert has a line—”Talent is long patience”—which I like to quote to my students. It’s an odd line, and a hard one to hear when you’re a young writer (when I first heard it I felt something had been lost in translation!) Young writers after all—myself included—see talent as a kind of rocket fuel, something that helps us get where we want to go faster, and easier. That kind of impatience is the enemy of good work for many of us though, I suspect.

MG: What’s next for you?

PHD: Trying to finish my current novel, and maybe to write some fiction set in Michigan.

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Peter Ho Davies is the author of a novel The Welsh Girl, long-listed for the Man Booker Prize, and two story collections The Ugliest House in the World and Equal Love. His work has appeared in Harpers, The Atlantic Monthly, and The Paris Review, among others, and his short fiction has been anthologized in Prize Stories: The O. Henry Awards and Best American Short Stories. In 2003 Granta magazine named him among its “Best of Young British Novelists,” and he was a 2008 recipient of the Pen/Malamud Prize for excellence in the short story. Born in Britain to Welsh and Chinese parents, Davies now lives in the US, and teaches in the MFA Program at the University of Michigan.

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Contributor Spotlight: Sarah Howard

SHSarah Howard’s story “Migration” appears in Midwestern Gothic Issue 14, out now.

How long have you been writing?
I have been writing since before I could write. I remember having my mom write down stories I told her when I was about three or four years old.

What’s your connection to the Midwest?
I grew up on a farm in Northwestern Minnesota, went to middle and high school in North Dakota, moved to Minneapolis for college and have been here ever since.

How has the Midwest influenced your writing?
It can’t help but influence my writing since it’s where I’m from and what I know. I like to explore themes of isolation and escapism in my work and focus on characters who don’t quite fit into their worlds, which certainly draws on aspects of my time living here.

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?
For whatever reason, the Midwest has been portrayed in popular culture as some boring pastoral land full of harmless, simple-minded yokels that “talk funny.” I’ve always actively pushed against that idea when writing things about the Midwest, so until recently I thought that precluded me from being considered a Midwestern writer, even though I am, and I’m guessing I’m not alone. I’m grateful for publications like Midwestern Gothic that are focusing on darker, more realistic aspects of Midwestern life, because as in any region, that’s where the most powerful writing material is. I think it may be difficult for those of us raised in a social environment of passive-aggression and “what will the neighbors think?” to put our true feelings and observations, no matter how complicated, about life in the Midwest into our work, but I feel it’s necessary and worth it.

How do you feel about social media to promote your writing, and do you use it?
I do use social media to promote my writing on occasion, but I tend to use it more to talk about what I’m watching on TV. I think it’s a great way to connect with other writers and let people know what you’re doing, but it’s best used in moderation.

Favorite book?
I love so many books but the first one that really had an impact on me was Matilda by Roald Dahl. I read it in third grade and realized for the first time that maybe there was a place in the world for smart, weird kids like me. I’ll always treasure it for that reason.

Favorite food?
This is an impossible question that varies daily. The great thing about Minneapolis is it has food from every cuisine I could imagine craving. But it would most likely be some kind of comfort food, like wild rice soup, prosciutto and Brie on a baguette or the marshmallow cookies my family makes each Christmas.

If you could have coffee (or tea or a beer) with any literary figure, alive or dead, who would it be?
I would have drinks at the Algonquin with Dorothy Parker. She would find some amazingly clever way to insult me, and I would be honored.

Where can we find more information about you?
I have an online portfolio at http://sarhoward.tumblr.com, and you can find other things I’ve written and contact info there.

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Upcoming Events/Readings (Summer/Fall 2014)

Not only do we have further entries in our Summer Reading Series coming up, but a couple wonderful bookfairs that we’ll be attending, too!

All details of the readings are below, along with links to public Facebook events (where even more information resides, such as author bios), so if you can make any of them, stop by, say hello, and support local writers!

READINGS

Literati Bookstore
When: Monday, August 11 @ 7 PM EDT
Where: 124 E Washington St, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48104
Who’s reading: Julie Babcock, Fritz Swanson, Michelle Webster-Hein, Jeff Vande Zande
Facebook event link

City Lit Books (co-hosted with Curbside Splendor)
When: Thursday, August 21 @ 6:30 PM CDT
Where: 2523 N Kedzie Blvd, Chicago, Illinois 60647
Who’s reading: Peter Jurmu, Megan Stielstra, Sarah Carson, E. Ce Miller
Facebook event link

Well Done Marketing (co-hosted with Punchnel’s)
When: Friday, August 22 @ 7 PM EDT
Where: 1043 Virginia Ave, Indianapolis, Indiana 46203
Who’s reading: Jen Bingham, Angela Palm, Anne Valente
Facebook event link

BOOK FESTIVALS

What: Kerrytown Bookfest
Where: Ann Arbor, Michigan
When: September 7, 2014
Additional details: http://www.kerrytownbookfest.org//

What: Detroit Art Book Fair
Where: Detroit, Michigan
When: September 14, 2014
Additional details: http://www.dittoditto.org/2014-detroit-art-book-fair/

What: Pygmalion Lit Fest
Where: Champaign-Urbana, Illinois
When: September 25-28, 2014
Additional details: http://www.thepygmalionfestival.com/

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Submissions Are Open for Issue 16!

It’s that time again—submissions are open for Midwestern Gothic Issue 16, Winter 2015! We know it’s a way off, but we’re in a bit of a transition period to allow us a bit more time on the back end to get issues ready. So, from now until August 31, 2014, send us your fiction and poetry inspired by the Midwest!

And don’t forget as well, you still have until the end of August to submit to the inaugural Lake Prize competition. Details

Haven’t submitted before? Please take a few minutes and read through our Submissions Guidelines—they’ll fill you in on what Midwestern Gothic is all about and exactly what we’re looking for. Or you could check out one of our previous issues to get a sense of our aesthetic.

Please make sure you submit through Midwestern Gothic‘s Submittable page. (All the relevant details are there, too.) And remember: Submissions are only open until August 31, 2014.

Good luck, and happy submitting!

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Autoplay, a poetry collection by Julie Babcock from MG Press

We are delighted to able to announce the next title from MG Press (due out November 2014): Autoplay, our first poetry collection by the talented Julie Babcock.

Autoplay by Julie BabcockFrom the back cover:

In Julie Babcock’s first poetry collection, the state of Ohio appears as an astronaut, a cowgirl, and a waitress at Big Boy. Cultural and personal histories collide on worn-out stages, back roads, and gravel pits in order to explore the paradoxes of home– how it holds shovelfuls of experiences we want to simultaneously bury, unearth, and transform.

Advance Praise:

Autoplay has already received some wonderful advance praise from folks we admire greatly:

“These poems…pulse staccato with keen, austere observation. They blurt out, find reason and dream.” —Marianne Boruch, author of Cadaver Speak

“Wild and smart, utterly unique.” —Keith Taylor, author of If the World Becomes so Bright

“Babcock shows a range rarely seen in one American collection of poetry.” —Sean Thomas Dougherty, author of All I Ask for is Longing: New and Selected Poems

“Julie Babcock manages to elevate everyday experiences and to make them into art, not just for those who are already in love with the Midwestern landscape, but for anyone who wishes to ponder the importance of lived moments.” —Mary Biddinger, author of A Sunny Place with Adequate Water

“Julie Babcock’s first poetry collection is a wonder…The beautiful terror shifting subtly through Autoplay will not let you go.” —Alex Lemon, author of he Wish Book and Happy: A Memoir

“These poems—full of heartache, wonder and awe—dream spectacularly.” —Matthew Olzmann, author of Mezzanines

Autoplay is a dizzying compendium, a secret textbook that doesn’t leave much out, all of it converging to form a clear whole picture.” —Nate Pritts, author of Right Now More Than Ever

In addition, you can pre-order a copy of the collection for only $1, and save 20% off the cover price when it launches next March.

We are thrilled to be able to share Julie’s work, and to have Autoplay—a truly unique and evocative work—as our first poetry collection under the MG Press banner. Read more about Autoplay

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What We’re Listening To (Summer 2014): Neutral Milk Hotel

ww_banner_listenIn this series of summer posts, MG staffer Kelly Nhan will be exploring books and music, festivals and goings-on, anything and everything Midwestern-related, and reporting her findings.

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Wednesday, July 16, marked the second coming of Jeff Mangum for a thousand Neutral Milk Hotel fans at The Crofoot Ballroom in Pontiac, Michigan. This divine analogy is only somewhat hyperbolic, considering Mangum has been described as the “Salinger of indie rock” after disappearing out of view shortly after the band’s much-lauded sophomore album, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, was released in 1998. The aura of mystery surrounding the Neutral Milk Hotel frontman and lyricist is owed in equal parts to the band’s strict no-cameras, no-recordings policy, of which the venue’s security guards repeatedly reminded fans waiting eagerly in line two-hours before the doors opened. In fact, most live recordings of the band performing prior to their triumphant return in the way of an expansive global reunion tour consist of bootleg, scratchy videos with the band largely in silhouette, the sketchy sound quality adding more distortion to the band’s distinctive fuzz-folk sound.

Neutral_Milk_HotelAs such, the band’s promotional photographs flashing on screens inside The Crofoot Ballroom pictured the members as they appeared some fifteen years ago, a strange dissonance that soon hit me as I stood waiting for the band to appear during the 45-minute turnover after the rollicking Circulatory System opened. Mangum, his eyes shadowed by the signature newsboy cap atop now-grayed, chin-length hair and heavily bearded, ambled on stage casually following a flurry of stage technicians. The applause and cheers upon his initial appearance were somewhat subdued, given that most of the crowd had no idea what Mangum looked like a decade and a half after his last appearance with the band. Without a word, Mangum, alone on the stage, launched into the acoustic “I Will Bury You In Time”, which then melted into an almost-uninterrupted stream of hits off Aeroplane. The audience members (whose average age would be somewhere around eight years old at the time of the album’s release) sang along to almost every song without pause together with Mangum’s pinched, yet resonant, voice, a testament, perhaps, to the album’s enduring affective impact on listeners, many of whom shed tears during the emotionally resonant and melancholy “Two-Headed Boy”.

The band played through their set with very few words edgewise, save for a concise, yet genuinely felt, “thank you” from Mangum with a bow and hands clasped like a prayer, and a similar sentiment expressed by the more talkative Julian Koster who otherwise spoke words of gratitude to the jumping and screaming crowd. The band members were most animated in their visible passion for playing together the songs, despite their dreamlike and illusory imagery, that have touched now-two generations of indie rock listeners. Spillane and Thal sang along with audience members in between their trumpet and french horn solos; Koster, on the bass, accordion, and singing saw, swaying with eyes closed as he played. All of which is to say: the band not only replicated the expansive sound of the eighteen-song set constituting much of the band’s relatively slim discography, they added a new layer of affective longing (evidenced by the raucous cheers peppering the show) and sonic abandon to the mix. Neutral Milk Hotel rose out of the annals of nostalgia and built on their sound as a live band, mirroring the rapturous energy that spilled out of the audience into the performance as the night wore on.

Setlist:
I Will Bury You In Time
Holland, 1945
The King of Carrot Flowers, Pt. 1
The King of Carrot Flowers, Pts. 2 & 3
Naomi
Ferris Wheel on Fire
Two-Headed Boy
The Fool
In the Aeroplane Over the Sea
Gardenhead / Leave Me Alone
Song Against Sex
Ruby Bulbs
Snow Song, Pt. 1
Oh Comely

Encore:
Little Birds Ghost
[untitled]
Two-Headed Boy, Pt. 2

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Kelly Nhan is a senior studying English and Women’s Studies at the University of Michigan, and originally from Connecticut. She loves finding good coffee places, exploring cities, reading good poetry, and chatting about feminism. She is interested in going into book publishing, or eventually going to grad school to study post-colonial literature and feminist theory.

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