Midwest in Photos: Mom

July 23rd, 2016

“As a girl her mom had always said she needed this thing or that. Braces on her legs and teeth. Special classes after school for speech. A new hair-do so a boy might take her out for once.” –Jared Yates Sexton, “Need,” Midwestern Gothic Issue 10

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Photo by: RJR

Flash Fiction Round 2 Finalist: “Our Ruins” by Christine M. Lasek

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During the summer of 2016 we’re bringing back our flash fiction prompt series, inviting authors to respond to three different picture prompts. You can read more about the series here. Round 2 submissions responded to the photo prompt found here.

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Round 2 Finalist: “Our Ruins” by Christine M. Lasek

Rare sour milk glass.  Cataracted remains of windows, etched by weather, by dirt, their jagged edges smoothed by time. Not much more is left of the oil refinery’s transfer station on Fordson Island, a chipped tooth of land formed when federal engineers decided they could build a better Rouge River than God.

The island had been abandoned since the early 70s, right before we were born.  We grew up with the Fordson Island Bridge at one end of our neighborhood, where Downriver and the island almost kiss.

Crossing the bridge to the forbidden island was every kid’s rite of passage.  Our growth happened in a rush—one minute, we were the same thirteen, or fourteen, or twelve year old we had started the summer as, the next, we were different.  Questing.  Unsatisfied, suddenly, with the weed-grown baseball diamond, the hot black rubber and metal swings, the wavery asphalt of our neighborhood summer.

We gathered at dusk, at the corner of Heidt Street and Powell: best friends, students at Holy Redeemer, one girl’s older brother.  With fireflies already winking green and ghostly up out of the grass, we knew we had to hurry, before our mothers turned on back porch lights, summoning us home to baths, to bed.

Single file, through the bent metal guardrail with its yellow Dead End sign. Jean shorts, dirty Chuck Taylors, tanned arms reeking of Skin-So-Soft bath oil.  The Fordson Island Bridge was little more than a train track, wood and rusting nails squeaking under our weight.  We held our breath as we crossed the inlet, the water smelling of sulfur, of street runoff.  Mosquitos rose in clouds.

We ignored the wooded bank, the grass field on the north side of the island. We explored, instead, the industrial detritus—huge concrete tubes, pitted and graffitied; rusted rebar mesh; scaffolding turned on its side, flecks of yellow paint still clinging to the metal. The brick transfer station building had a dented aluminum door someone had jimmied open years ago.

In the gloam, the building’s air felt thick with dust.  We skirted curtains of cobwebs, trash piled in deliberate ways—a crusty bottle of Southern Comfort, an empty pack of Kool’s crumpled in its cellophane wrapper.

We climbed the metal stairs to the second floor and looked out of the broken windows, triumphant over our night kingdom. Our houses with concrete porches and shingle siding, our one-way streets, our world, cowering in the shadow of the Detroit Engine Works Building, where our fathers would work until the early 90s, when the plant closed and everyone, including us, abandoned this place.

This is what is meant: that you can never go back.  The skeletal transfer station is still here, shaded by the overgrowth along the inlet bank.  But the orange monolith of the Detroit Engine Works, converted now into gentrified lofts, shades only broken-up concrete, empty lots, scrubby grass and sapling trees.  The transfer station’s rusted windows frame the view of a neighborhood that never was.

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Christine M. Lasek spent the first 30 years of her life living in southeast Michigan.  She holds a BA in English from the University of Michigan and an MFA in Fiction from the University of South Florida.  Christine currently lives in Athens, Georgia, where she teaches creative writing and serves as the Academic Professional for the Creative Writing Program at the University of Georgia.  Her work has appeared in print and online literary magazines and her first collection of short stories, Love Letters to Michigan, is forthcoming from ELJ Publications. Find her online at www.christinemlasek.com

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Flash Fiction Round 2 Finalist: “A Tender Place” by Katherine Gehan

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During the summer of 2016 we’re bringing back our flash fiction prompt series, inviting authors to respond to three different picture prompts. You can read more about the series here. Round 2 submissions responded to the photo prompt found here.

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Round 2 Finalist: “A Tender Place” by Katherine Gehan

Proximity to other failed institutions gave him a familiar satisfaction now that his marriage was over, so he now stumbled through Detroit’s abandoned schools with his camera. The No Trespassing signs were faded and he’d never seen another person, but he felt badass snapping shots of the dilapidation and posting them to his blog—even if his audience was mainly stay-at-home mothers eager to tsk-tsk the pictorial metaphor of the current state of American education.

Admittedly, this was a far healthier pastime than the pathetic gestures he’d made in the months after he and Sarah separated. Desperate for connection, he’d carried flower bouquets everywhere, cheap geraniums or chrysanthemums, and people he passed on the streets projected their stories onto him—men winked knowingly and women blushed hopefully. When asked about the occasion, he talked about a friend at rehab, his grandmother at The Home, or his very lucky lady. On days he particularly wanted a metaphor for all he’d lost, he wore a black patch over his left eye. He told those brave enough to inquire that a man named Red had gouged it out with a fork, a jealous lover had doused him with acid, or he’d just been born without it.

During his marriage, he and Sarah had made a pact to keep the contents of their bedside tables private. Neither opened the other’s drawers and for years this agreement was sufficient until one day, to him, it simply wasn’t. While she was out walking the dog, he hooked a finger around the brass handle of her top drawer and tugged. Inside was everything he’d ever wanted from her.

He thumbed through a stack of withheld nightly kisses—they were moist and perky, some promising sex, but most just chaste. A little box emitted a smoky moan when he opened the latch—morning lovemaking locked up tight. Beneath a backpacking trip to Montana and a fat envelope of weekend football games, he discovered a dusty tray of simple, dull compliments about haircuts and his biceps. None of it was revolutionary—mostly she’d kept kindness in the drawer, and the yeasty, bread-like smell of it made him weep as he realized its lack for so long.

Sarah had refused to view the contents of his bedside table when he admitted the privacy breach and that was more than he could bear. With all of it crammed into a shoebox, he walked through the grand hallways of a 104 year-old high school and searched for the perfect peeling, forgotten drawer. Then he spotted a room where an oak sapling pushed through a hill of geometry textbooks and ceiling tiles, its baby leaves reaching for the brightest squares of light through broken windows. He dug through the slipperiness and placed his box deep among the detritus, wondering if the best parts of his marriage would nourish or weaken the tree. He snapped a photo and decided he wouldn’t come back to look.

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Katherine Gehan’s writing has appeared in McSweeny’s Internet Tendency, Literary Mama,The Stockholm Review, Sundog Lit, Pithead Chapel, Split Lip Magazine, People Holding, Whiskey Paper and others. Find her work at www.kategehan.wordpress.com and say hello @StateofKate.

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Summer 2016 Flash Fiction Series – Prompt #3

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During the summer of 2015 we introduced our Summer Flash Fiction contest series, and we’re thrilled to be bringing it back in 2016! (And you can read all of our winners from 2015 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 every 2 weeks, 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 over 1 week, and we will take a few days for reading and balloting—the top 3 entries we feel best represent the photo in question will be published on the Midwestern Gothic website.

How long is the series? We will be doing this throughout the summer with three submission periods (3 photos). The winning entries of each round will be published immediately after the round ends.

How do you submit? Send submissions to Allison@midwestgothic.com. Use the subject line “Summer Flash Round X – Author Name – Name of Piece.” For example: Summer Flash Round 1 – 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 what you submit!

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 30, 2016

Prompt #3 winners published: August 4 – 6, 2016

Prompt #3: “Water Road” by Amin Kharazmi

2. Water Road

FIND SUBMISSIONS INFORMATION HERE

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Interview: Maryse Meijer

Maryse MeijerMidwestern Gothic staffer Sydney Cohen talked with author Maryse Meijer about her new collection Heartbreaker, reversals of power, writing as an act of fantasy, and more.

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Sydney Cohen: What’s your connection to the Midwest?

Maryse Meijer: My twin sister moved to Chicago seven or eight years ago, and when I came to visit her in the city I knew I wanted to live here. I feel like Chicago has just as much to offer as New York, but it’s a bit slower here, and cheaper, and we have the lakefront, which is beautiful. I’m from California, born and raised in the central valley, and I spent 10 years in Santa Cruz. I love California, but the midwest feels like home. It’s a cliche, but I missed seasons! And I am obsessed with snow. My husband is from Ohio, as is my brother-in-law, so perhaps there’s something about the people here, too…

SC: Your debut collection, Heartbreaker, spotlights women who live unsettled lives of disarray and fierce emotion. What inspired you to write about these women and their environments? It has been described as a book that “breaks open taboos about sex, disability, melancholy, and violence.” In terms of these themes, what would you say is the taboo, or expected, way of discussing them, and what was your purpose in shattering these expectations?

MM: I don’t set out to write a certain kind of story, but there are themes and ideas I seem to circle around. I’m a feminist – I wish this would go without saying, but there are still women (and men) who hesitate to identify themselves as such – and I’m interested in how patriarchal ideas about love and romance and sex affect everyone in our society. Especially in terms of power. One thing that became clear to me as I was looking at the collection as a whole was how often the stories feature reversals of power; a young girl might become a stalker, another might menace a group of boys, a child might terrify an adult, an animal might have the upper hand in a relationship with a human, etc. I don’t know what’s really taboo in our culture these days, but I think confronting systems of power is always controversial. This is not to say, however, that anyone in this collection is using their power for good – most of the time, people are making a mess of things wherever they go, with whatever they have. So if a woman has the power in a relationship, as the girlfriend does in “Jailbait,” but she lives in a patriarchy, she’s probably going to behave the way men do when they have the power – that is, not well. Sometimes taking things out of their usual context sheds new light on old ideas.

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SC: How has the Midwest in particular inspired your work?

MM: Writing about places has always been difficult for me – I haven’t yet been moved to write about a place, per se. I’m more interested in spaces – interiors like cars, shops, bedrooms, etc. So the where of the stories feels claustrophobic, generalized, displaced. It’s not purposeful. Partly I don’t like the pressure of having to get a place “right” – if I said a story was set in Chicago, I know readers would grumble about how my Chicago doesn’t resemble their Chicago – and so I chicken out on being specific. It’s probably something I should push myself to try sometime. But I think weather affects me – my impressions of places seem to have a lot to do with the weather I experience there. Heat, for example, I will always associate with the central valley. And now that Chicago has introduced me to snow I find myself moved to write about winters – and thunderstorms, I love the storms here. I understand lightning a little better now. Chicago also has the most beautiful fall – my favorite season. I’d love to capture, someday, the particular fall of this place. If you see a leaf in one of my stories, it’s a Chicago leaf! And the rain is Chicago rain. And wind. Oh my god the wind.

SC: Your collection involves women who experience torrid and intense emotions. How did writing these characters affect your own emotional state, or the ways in which you view the world and others?

MM: Sometimes a story will scare me, or make me feel uncomfortable. I hope, usually, that this is the case! When I was writing “Fugue” I felt like I was casting a spell on myself. It wasn’t pleasant. The same with “Whole Life Ahead” – both of those were hard to write in the sense that I felt they went to a very ugly place, and I was just along for the ride. But the pleasure of writing mitigates any negative feelings I have about certain topics – if I feel a story is going to an interesting place, I want to be there, even if I’m scared. I want to see what happens next. In the first stages of a draft, the story is telling itself to you, and so there’s a pleasure in being your own audience.

As for how writing affects my view of other people…I don’t think I’ve ever written about someone I didn’t like, at least a little. So if anything, writing reminds me to be generous. People are lonely. People fuck up. People try. I’m still an optimist.

SC: How much of yourself do you find in the characters and stories you write? Do you find that this reflection is conscious or subconscious?

MM: I don’t write about my life, or people in my life, or things that have happened to me. The idea of writing directly from my experience bores and confounds me. My editor once expressed surprise that I’ve never written about being a twin, for example, or about having children. When I tried to imagine how I would go about doing those things I drew an absolute blank. I just don’t have the desire to rehash my life on the page; it’s enough to live it. And, too, I don’t think at all about how much of me is my work; to me, writing is an act of fantasy. Certainly my general concerns about people and life and ideas are reflected in what I do, but I don’t analyze it.

SC: What draws you to the genres of gothic, fantasy, and fairytale?

MM: I like to be in spaces that feel a little extreme, and the genre elements of my writing maybe reflect that desire, though I do think of my work as mostly “realistic,” if that term means anything these days. I mean, when I write I feel like I’m writing about real people in real situations. For example, “Love, Lucy” is a story about the antichrist and while some people interpret the antichrist thing as being a metaphor, I actually consider Lucy to be, well, the antichrist. As well as a metaphor. And it seemed plausible to me as I was writing it, that, sure, the antichrist could be a real thing and this is what she might be like. In some ways I’m supremely literal and I believe what the stories are telling me. This is partly why I thought “The Blair Witch Project” was a true story for about 3 months after the movie came out…

SC: Heartbreaker is your debut collection. What is important to keep in mind when writing short stories?

MM: Hm…I think it’s important to keep in mind that you can do whatever you want in a story. There are no rules. If you believe it, if you work as hard as you can to be as precise as you can be about the world you’re in, then you’re there. I like to feel that a story is being honest – that it cares about its own truth, that there is nothing gimmicky or done just for effect or out of laziness. I think this sense of honesty is what draws us to the work we like – even if it’s a Stephen King horror novel, or a George Saunders story, or a sci-fi book about anorexic aliens with a dirty sock fetish – we believe it, we trust it. The content doesn’t matter – it’s the heart with which it’s presented.

SC: What’s next for you?

MM: I have a lot on my plate these days – I’m working on another collection of stories, finalizing a book of poems, starting a new novel, and revising a first novel. And then I’m taking a nap.

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Maryse Meijer’s work has appeared in or at Meridian, Drunken Boat, St. Ann’s Review, Portland Review, Dallas Review, actual paper, Joyland, and elsewhere. Her story collection, Heartbreaker, is forthcoming this summer from FSG Originals. She lives in Chicago.

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Flash Fiction Round 2 Finalist: “Broken Glass” by Anna Cabe

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During the summer of 2016 we’re bringing back our flash fiction prompt series, inviting authors to respond to three different picture prompts. You can read more about the series here. Round 2 submissions responded to the photo prompt found here.

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Round 2 Finalist: “Broken Glass” by Anna Cabe

The light on the ground like fractals. Cobwebs strung across the corners. Dust mounds as big as Everest. If your mother saw this place, she’d imagine tetanus lurking in every rusty nail.

You ask, “Why do you stay here?”

I don’t say anything. There’s no reason for me to live in this crumbling warehouse, bought with the last of my savings. You think I’m licking my wounds, worrying them like a beat-down dog. You think that, after time enough getting my water from a wheezy faucet, lightbulbs in the ceiling far and wobbly, asbestos clogging my lungs, that I’ll return to the outside world. Rub the dirt off my face. Talk to the living, those still warm with new, elastic flesh.

To live in this place and do nothing with it. This warehouse, with exposed pipe and brick, concrete floors — you can dream of the TV crew coming in with pickaxes and hammers. “Tear it all down!” Build it anew. Make it chrome. Make it worth millions.

What if I told you I like the disorder? That I like living in entropy — the middle of a breakdown. I’d rather be the keeper of this place as it is, as it falls back into the earth from which it came — metal, wood, stone. I’ve lived in the world that shines, and it’s too bright for me.

This broken glass crunched beneath our feet. The glint of the moon off them, as it rises in the sky. I can see enough here. You don’t have to understand.

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Anna Cabe is a MFA candidate in fiction at Indiana University and the web editor of the Indiana Review. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Toast, matchbook, Gingerbread House, Reservoir, Racialicious, Cease, Cows, and Alyss, among others. She was a 2015 Kore Press Short Fiction Award semifinalist and a finalist for the 2015 Boulevard Short Fiction Contest for Emerging Writers. Follow Anna on Twitter @annablabs.

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Contributor Spotlight: C. William Langsfeld

C. William LangsfeldC. William Langsfeld’s story “Little Man” appears in Midwestern Gothic Issue 21, out now.

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

Most of my connections to the Midwest are vicarious, friends who grew up there or have family there. My personal experience is limited. I spent half a summer going to hockey camp outside of Brainerd, Minnesota when I was in high school. A couple of weeks visiting a friend in Iowa City. I have had a lot of friends who are either from or have ties to Iowa.

From an outsider’s perspective, the Midwest seems like a very “American” part of America. Many Midwestern places are also fixtures of American identity. The Great Plains. The Grain Belt. The Rust Belt. The Great Lakes. The Mississippi River. I think you could set a lot of different stories in the Midwest and find a way to make it feel real and have most readers connect with it on a personal level. A lot of my characters have Midwestern ties.

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

The land and the people and how they interact with one another. I am fascinated with the plains. Their stark beauty. Also farming communities. The ones where people are farming the same land their grandparents farmed, or great grandparents even. I come from a small town in Colorado where most people are transplants. Of the 25 people I graduated high school with, I can only think of one or two whose parents were born there. I think a person’s sense of place and belonging in an area containing generations of shared history is different than for someone who is the first generation of a family to grow up somewhere. There is something about that continuity of tradition I find compelling, how some things change drastically while others stay the same from generation to generation.

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?

Everything in a piece of fiction has to be believable. How a character interacts with their surroundings is as important as the surroundings themselves. The same goes for how characters interact with each other or react to events, I have to believe it. A lot of the places in my writing are fictionalized versions of real places. A lot of the buildings are real buildings.

When I started writing it was easier to pull experiences and places from my own life than it was to fabricate situations that felt emotionally true. None of my fiction is autobiographical, though there are many occurrences in my stories that actually happened. I probably put a little bit of myself into many of my characters, though in a way that is far enough removed that it no longer resembles real life.

The more I write, the less I rely on concrete experiences as sources of inspiration. I can put myself in a character’s shoes and answer the questions, ‘How would this character react in this situation? How would they feel? What would they do, and why?”, without having to have had that experience myself. Still, many of my stories are born out of something personal, an idea, a question, concept, topic, or emotion I want to explore.

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

Routine is very important. My favorite time to write is first thing in the morning. I like to get up a couple of hours before I have to leave for work so I have time to write without feeling rushed. If I am not too tired, I will also write in the evenings. By making it something that I do every day, it comes easier. If I miss a couple of days, that first day back usually takes me a little longer to get into the groove.

That’s the closest I’ve come to writer’s block: trouble getting started. I just have to begin, even if it feels forced at first. I usually read aloud something that I like stylistically before I write. Helps me get in the mindset of thinking about language and sentence structure, etc. Currently it is James Salter. In the past it has been Kent Haruf, Marilynne Robinson, Cormac McCarthy, the short stories of William Faulkner. If I am stuck on something, writing about what I am writing helps. Kind of like an outline or a synopsis. Not as an organizational tool, but a way to help me form thoughts.

I usually let an idea for a story formulate for a long time before I start writing. Most of my stories have been bouncing around in my head for years. This is more a result of time management than adherence to a process. I’m a pretty slow writer. Writing stories is like checking things off a list. When I finish a project it is more a matter of picking the idea that is the most formed or feels the most imminent than it is brainstorming what to do next. I probably have enough floating around my head to keep me busy for the foreseeable future.

As for environment, I like it to be quiet, I like to be alone. I read aloud as I write and edit. I don’t like other people to be around while I do this. Makes me feel like a crazy person. Lately I’ve been doing first drafts by hand, then moving to a typewriter, and putting it on a computer only when I am done and ready to make it a ‘final’ draft. This happens somewhere between the third and the fifth time of working through a piece. I edit a lot as I write and rewrite and I like to have it physically in front of me to mark on as I go, to write in margins, cross something out but still be able to see what it said without the permanence of deleting.

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

As I edit, reading aloud over and over, I find those places where the rhythm or cadence of a piece feels broken, where some transition isn’t working. Discrepancies in plot/setting/character. Once I can read through a piece and everything feels right where it needs to be, that is my goal. I could do that forever and always find something to change around, though eventually I reach a point where the changes I am making are mostly superficial. That’s when it is time to get another perspective or let it ferment for a while and come back to it in a few days or weeks or months.

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

Kent Haruf and Marilynne Robinson.

For Haruf, the way I feel after reading his books, as if I’ve lived in Holt, Colorado for my entire life and known his characters for as long as I can remember.

For Robinson, the way she makes the small, everyday things seem almost holy in their importance, and the bigger things, such as God or mortality, seem like they ought to be simple. And all in a very elegant, poetic prose that might come off as contrived in the hands of less skilled writers.

And this is continually changing. There are a number of authors that I am just now delving into. If I can finish reading something and want to immediately read it again and then seek out everything that author has written, then they are probably going to be added to my list of favorites. Haruf’s Plainsong and Robinson’s Housekeeping did that to me.

What’s next for you?

I’m working on an extension of “Little Man” that will be of novella or short novel length when it is finished, hopefully sometime this summer. Also a couple of shorter pieces when I need a break from the longer one.

Where can we find more information about you?

Come to Colorado. You can find out anything you want to know over beer or a cup of coffee.

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Contributor Spotlight: Bridget Apfeld

Bridget ApfeldBridget Apfeld’s story “Black River Woman” appears in Midwestern Gothic Issue 22, out now.

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

I’m a Wisconsin native — from the Milwaukee area — and lived there for eighteen years before heading to Indiana for college. I’ve only left the Midwest three years ago, when I moved to North Carolina for graduate school, and the change has been enormous.

Growing up in Wisconsin gave me a distinct sense of physical place and the way location influences culture and people; it’s hard to imagine a story set in the Midwest that doesn’t, in some way, take into account its geography, whether literally or figuratively. In my writing, I try to engage with the emotional resonance of a place I’ve lived in for the vast majority of my life: not always a strictly literal Wisconsin, but the Wisconsin in my mind and memory—a mythical landscape that shapes its characters and their narratives.

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

How varied the landscape is — the Midwest is an enormous region! I’m always surprised by the idea that the Midwest is just flat cornfields, flyover region. But there’s so much: lakes and woods, cities and tiny towns, marsh and prairie and pine forests, kettles and moraines and glacial sediment — and yes, cornfields too.

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?

Generally, place plays the biggest role for me: the feeling of living in a particular location, existing in a physical spot. Sensory memory fills my stories, even if I never pull directly from my personal experiences.

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

Most often, I find that my stories begin in two ways: either with an image, or a sentence. If it’s the latter, it usually ends up being the first sentence of the story, and that process is fairly mysterious—lines floating into my mind from who knows where. But with images, things I’ve seen that I find arresting or unusual or meaningful in some way, I save them in the back of my mind, sometimes for months, letting them percolate and interact with everything else I’m thinking about. And I do that until I can see what story wants to grow up around the image, or how the image might fit into a larger system of events and characters, and then — the story begins.

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

I’m actually terrible at this—I always think a story is done when clearly there’s more work I need to do! I’m working on developing my sense of completion, though, and it involves learning to look at the different layers of a story, craft-wise, as well as learning to let the story fall apart for a little. In the end, when I can’t make a change to the story without feeling—honestly and objectively—as though I’ve changed what the story wants to do and be, rather than what I want from it, then it’s done.

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

I’m not sure I could ever pick a single author as my favorite; I love Margaret Atwood, Bonnie Jo Campbell, Kent Haruf, Sharon Olds, Michael Cunningham, Jesmyn Ward…the latest author I’m reading, though, is Hanya Yanagihara, who wrote the unbelievably good A Little Life. I’ve haven’t read a book that is so psychologically complex, so expansive, and so emotionally engaging in years; I’m in awe of what she’s done with the story.

What’s next for you?

Having recently graduated from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington’s MFA program, I’ll be polishing up my first novel manuscript, and am excited to begin work on a second novel project I’ve been planning for a while. And, of course, writing short stories in the meantime.

Where can we find more information about you?

Facebook?

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Midwest in Photos: Barn and Car, near Amble, Michigan

“After more than a year of travel their frames sketched into the truck’s seat like two skeletons from a discerning past with no future.” –Frank Bill, “What Once Was,” Midwestern Gothic Issue 10

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Photo by: Roberta F. King

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Interview: Mo Daviau

Mo DaviauMidwestern Gothic staffer Giuliana Eggleston talked with author Mo Daviau about her novel Every Anxious Wave, time travel, the influence of indie rock music in her novel, and more.

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Giuliana Eggleston: What’s your connection to the Midwest?

Monique Daviau: My ex-husband, actually. He is a chubby beer-and-cheese loving Wisconsinite, who I happened to find at a comedy club in Austin, Texas. Bob is constitutionally Midwestern, down to the fact that he never owned snowboots growing up–he wore his white sneakers in the Sheboygan snow. I’m not sure if that is a constitutionally Midwestern thing–I for one am in favor of appropriate seasonal footwear.

I lived very briefly in Chicago with Bob and hated it. Then I moved to Ann Arbor for my MFA at Michigan, which I loved. I’ll be honest–I am incredibly happy being back on the west coast. I grew up in California and now live in Oregon. I just got back from a trip to see one of my college pals in her hometown of Des Moines, Iowa, and was totally charmed by the city, so I do make it back to the great Midwest every now and again.

GE: Your new novel Every Anxious Wave, takes place in many different locales–Boston, Portland, Seattle, and Montana to name a few–but Karl’s time travel base is his apartment in Chicago. Why did you choose to set it there? What made Chicago the ideal location?

MD: I started writing the book while living in Chicago, and it worked because there are a lot of bars and its a city where there is a critical mass of physicists. I’ll be honest, I’m actually the world’s worst person to wax rhapsodic about Chicago. Chicago is the least important or interesting thing about my novel, to me at least. But it seemed like the place where Karl would land and Lena would get her PhD. There is a bar in Chicago–the Inner Town Pub–that is the basis of Karl’s bar in the novel. Chicago has a unique bar culture that Karl could easily capitalize on.

GE: Did you have any difficulty writing a time travel plot? How were you able to work out all the time travel plot changes? Did you enjoy writing about time travel?

MD: I didn’t find it difficult at all! It’s actually a pretty linear novel, time-wise, with jumps backwards here and there. I am pretty obsessed with time travel, insofar as I am inconvenienced that my life starts in 1976 and will end in 20?? and I will never have access to life and people outside of that time frame.

The changes caused by time travel I kept track of in a separate document. They were mostly character changes, with regards to how, say, erasing an abusive stepmother might change a character’s demeanor and outlook.

Every Anxious Wave

GE: Was there any research necessary to write about the different times? Specifically Mannahatta 980?

MD: A little bit. There is no recorded history from North America in 980, so it was all speculative, and vaguely based on recorded history from the 1500s and from the book Sex at Dawn, which describes hunter/gatherer societies.

GE: Music–specifically indie rock–seems to be a large part of this novel, beginning with Karl initially using the wormhole in his apartment to allow people to see concerts in the past, and setting up the action of the story when Karl’s best friend, Wayne, gets stuck in 980 Manahatta in a failed attempt to save John Lennon. How were you inspired to write the musical aspects of this novel?

MD: I’m a big indie music geek and have been for over twenty years. In terms of research for that, I only looked up on the internet the dates and locations of a few shows. The musical knowledge was all in my head thanks to years of obsession. I think I had read something once about, if John Lennon had not been murdered, music in the 1980s would have been completely different. I’ve thought about this a lot and have concluded that I’m not the one equipped to supply reliable conjecture on how music in the 1980s would have been different if Lennon had lived. But that was where the idea of Wayne saving John Lennon had come from.

GE: How did you go about creating the characters of Karl, the bar-owning protagonist of the novel, and Lena, the helpful astrophysicist and romantic interest? How did you form their romantic relationship?

MD: My characters find their personalities and desires over time. Whenever I start a novel, I get angry with myself because the characters in the beginning seem so flat to me, but over time they get more real.

A lot of people have commented that they don’t find Karl and Lena’s romance to be realistic, but that just tells me they haven’t run into the kind of guy who meets a girl he can talk to about music or whatever, falls madly in love based on that, and that’s it. He’s all in. I’ve come across a few guys like that in my life, and the fact that Karl’s still doing that at 40 makes even more sense–you meet older men who meet and marry women on a timeline that I might think of as rushed, but that happens a lot. That’s why their romance is so sudden.

GE: What was your process like developing the relationships in the novel? Did they always come naturally or were some more difficult to unfold?

MD: I say that writing a novel is like doing a long improv scene in my head over the span of years. I suspect that their relationship developed in some of the scenes that I ended up rewriting or cutting from the novel altogether. Even when I’m not actively writing, I think about my characters doing things like shopping together or having a fight over something trivial. A lot of this comes from my years of improv comedy training. If you want to write really solid characters, take an improv class.

GE: Are there any authors or books that have inspired you in your writing?

MD: I’m going to pass on this question.

GE: What’s next for you?

MD: I’m working on a new novel, and am about halfway done with it. This one is about a relationship guru and a New Age retreat center like the Esalen Institute. I’m sad to say there is nothing Midwestern about it.

**

Mo Daviau was born in 1976 to a very unusual couple in a widely disliked city in California. A graduate of Smith College and the Helen Zell Writers’ Program at the University of Michigan, she now lives in Portland, Oregon, with her stuffed crocodile.

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