3rd Annual (Massive) Midwestern Author Book Giveaway

August 4th, 2015

We’re thrilled to announce our 3rd Annual Midwestern Authors Book Giveaway, where you can win signed 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 the contest tweet. That’s it! We’ll be posting the contest tweet throughout the length of the event…and all you need to do is retweet it!

*You can get a bonus five entries for the grand prize only when you sign up for our email newsletter! Click here to subscribeyour entries will be automatically entered for the Grand Prize.

Contest Dates: Monday, August 10 – Friday, August 21.

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 18 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:

  • Every day: One (1) eBook winner –  choose any one eBook from Midwestern Gothic and MG Press’s catalog every day during the contest.
  • Mon, Aug 10: Michael Perry: Population 485, The Jesus Cow
  • Tues, Aug 11: Donald Lystra: Something That Feels Like Truth, Season of Water and Ice
  • Wed, Aug 12: Laura Kasischke: Eden Springs; Bonnie Jo Campbell: American Salvage
  • Thurs, Aug 13: Norah Labiner: Our Sometime Sinister, Miniatures, German For Travelers, Let the Dark Flower Blossom
  • Fri, Aug 14: Scott Dominic Carpenter: This Jealous Earth; Eric Shonkwiler: Above All Men; Julie Babcock: Autoplay; 826 Michigan: Tell Me How It Was
  • Sat, Aug 15: Derek Palacio: How to Shake the Other Man; Marjorie Celona: Y; Rochelle Hurt: The Rusted City; Various Authors: Booth 8
  • Sun, Aug 16:
    • BOOK PACK 1: Chloe Krug Benjamin: The Anatomy of Dreams; Susan Chehak: Smithereens (print); Susan Chehak: Rampage (E-book); Susan Chehak: The Minor Apocalypse of Meena Krejci (E-book)
    • BOOK PACK 2: Chloe Krug Benjamin: The Anatomy of Dreams; Susan Chehak: Rampage(print); Susan Chehak: Harmony (E-book); Susan Chehak: It’s Not About the Dog: Stories (E-book)
    • BOOK PACK 3: Chloe Krug Benjamin: The Anatomy of Dreams; Susan Chehak: Harmony(print); Susan Chehak: Dancing on Glass (E-book); Lesley Kagen: The Resurrection of Tess Blessing (E-book)
    • BOOK PACK 4: Chloe Krug Benjamin: The Anatomy of Dreams; Susan Chehak: Dancing on Glass(print); Susan Chehak: The Truth About Annie D. (E-book)
    • BOOK PACK 5: Chloe Krug Benjamin: The Anatomy of Dreams; Susan Chehak: The Truth About Annie D.(print); Susan Chehak: Smithereens (E-book)
    • BOOK PACK 6: Susan Chehak: The Minor Apocalypse of Meena Krejci (print); It’s Not About the Dog: Stories (print); Lesley Kagen: The Undertaking of Tess (E-book)
  • Mon, Aug 17: Claire Vaye Watkins: Battleborn; Marjorie Celona: Y; Jim Daniels: Detroit Tales; Various Authors: Booth 8
  • Tues, Aug 18: Derek Palacio: How to Shake the Other Man; Marjorie Celona: Y
  • Wed, Aug 19: Marjorie Celona: Y; Claire Vaye Watkins: Battleborn; Various Authors: Crab Orchard Review; Various Authors: Booth 8
  • Thurs, Aug 20: POETRY PACK 1: Rochelle Hurt: The Rusted City; Wendy Vardaman: Reliquary of Debt; POETRY PACK 2: Beth Ann Fennelly: Open House; Rochelle Hurt: The Rusted City; Wendy Vardaman: Reliquary of Debt
  • Fri, Aug 21: GRAND PRIZES: Various Authors

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 (the day after), 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.
  • All prizes will be paid out at the end of the contest. Winners will be contacted individually .
  • Winners of paperback or hardcover books must have their prizes mailed to a U.S. address, or forfeit their prize.

Happy Winning! Happy Reading!

Contributor Spotlight: Jason Marc Harris

Jason HarrisJason Marc Harris’ story “What the Storm Brought” appears in Midwestern Gothic Issue 18, out now.

What’s your connection to the Midwest, and how has the region influenced your writing?
I worked for four years (2004-2008) as a Visiting Assistant Professor at Michigan State University in the Writing, Rhetoric, and American Cultures department. Also, Spring 2014 I completed my MFA in Fiction at Bowling Green State University. My brother recently moved to Wisconsin, and I’ll be visiting that neck-of-the-woods regularly. I reunited with some Midwestern friends while at the AWP conference in Minneapolis this year too.

In terms of specific Midwestern influences, definitely my writing teachers Lawrence Coates and Wendell Mayo who teach at Bowling Green, OH, as well as Earnest Hemingway’s “Nick Adams” stories set in Michigan. And who doesn’t listen to Prairie Home Companion sometimes? Chris Lamb’s Wry Harvest: An Anthology of Midwestern Humor probably had some influence too.

More specifically to the work in the July issue, there’s a biographical aspect to the story, “What the Storm Brought.” One of my father’s cousins and her daughter actually did live in Belleville, OH, and a tornado struck that community May 10th, 1973. Although I refashioned my relatives into different personalities, as well as making up other characters and various features, the chaotic nature of that storm and the gist of the devastation happened as described. Also, when I lived in Michigan, I had the opportunity in May 2008 to tag along with some very experienced and strategic storm-chasers during a “High Risk” outbreak. As a consequence, I witnessed about ten tornadoes, most in Kansas but one particularly powerful one in Iowa (a different tornado from the same storm that produced the devastating Parkersburg tornado). Those experiences observing the dynamics of an evolving atmosphere reaching its supercellular potential to produce tornadoes also helped with some of the writing of this story. I also visited Belleville, OH to contemplate the layout of the town, the look of the buildings, the marks of the past.

Aside from those Midwestern influences on “What the Storm Brought” for this issue, I learned to downhill ski while living in Michigan, and I’ve enjoyed immersing myself in the wilder places of Michigan, the Upper Peninsula in particular. I got to witness the mysterious Paulding Light, and I interviewed some people about their legends about it. I wrote a story about Slender Man set amid some of the mining country up there. I’ve written about the Porcupine Mountains a bit too, particularly some bear-encounters. Visiting Isle Royale was a memorable experience in Lake Michigan, and that’s a setting I’d like to include one of these days.

What do you think is the most compelling aspect of the Midwest?
Overall, the way that people learn to define themselves in relation to the role of their environment. There’s a strong sense of place, but it varies quite a bit. There’s a lot of nuance in terms of how people interact with their environment and the force the surroundings exert, whether the weather or edifices of the rust belt. The landscape of prairies, hills, woods, great lakes—it’s primal. And while not idealized in popular culture as much as the high mountain ranges and rocky and broad beaches of the west, or the palm trees and warm water beaches of the Atlantic, it’s a meaningful landscape. Partly because of the Midwest’s four seasons, life feels fuller than elsewhere. Less delusional? I think in places that don’t have the four seasons, something’s missed with human experience. Time and memory meet in the seasons. The very struggle to define the Midwest may be part of what constitutes its identity. I probably haven’t lived long enough in the Midwest to claim great insights. On the other hand, people may miss certain features when they’re perpetually settled in.

How do your experiences or memories of specific places—such as where you grew up, or a place you’ve visited that you can’t get out of your head—play a role in your writing?
I grew up in Sacramento, California, and I was lucky enough to have a backyard with trees and bushes, and fences to climb over without getting shot or mauled by a dog. So, I got attached to playing in certain maple and mulberry trees or constructing booby traps in the pyracantha bushes. I wrote a poem as an undergraduate about pretending to defeat a monster formed from the twisted branches in those pyracanthas. Also, a few years ago, I wrote a story about a malcontent pyromaniac who stews over things while traversing subway cave in Mt. Lassen National park in California. So, definitely the influence of place percolates. Sometimes a banal place can have power too. I’d relax after class in high school laying down on just the slightest rise of grassy earth near a cyclone fence. That spot on the lawn became a kind of idealized retreat in my mind. I fondly remember my beagles, valley jays and magpies, the drone of small planes, clover, honey bees, Monarch butterflies, the soft coolness of the green.

Discuss your writing process—inspirations, ideal environments, how you deal with writer’s block.
I’ll start with the last part of the question, though I probably don’t have anything revelatory to add that others haven’t mentioned before. Writer’s block afflicts different people for different reasons, for some it’s anxiety, for others it’s the reality of having a lot of things on your plate, a lack of planning or perhaps perfectionism. I think for me it’s been all those things at times, but ultimately you have to just work, and I’m willing to write bloated and messy drafts and kick the inner critic down the road a bit. It can be intimidating because as I see the words running along into pages, I know many of them I’ll have to sacrifice in cold blood, though others are even harder to deal with because they have some value, but they’ll have to be carefully considered and revised. Perhaps they might have to travel to a different part of a story or even another story. I struggle each day with being productive, and I often come up short, but I also remind myself of what I heard George Saunders say about a day’s revision when he visited Toledo: “Even if you just add a comma, you’re doing great!” So, revision—as most all writers will say—is the key to moving forward. John Dufresne makes some great points in The Lie That Tells a Truth about consistent writing habits being the key to getting past any excuses of writer’s block. You can’t wait for the muses to grant inspiration or to discover ideal writers’ refuges deep in the woods or Paris.

That said, I try to give myself some variety in terms of hopping around coffee shops, writing at different times of day, and approaching a narrative from various angles. I used to always write a story from start-to-finish. These days, I’ll migrate towards what is most compelling. There’s a kind of procrastination in that I suppose, but also going where the energy manifests can lead to interesting results.

A basic trick, if you want to call it that, is just making a few notes to yourself before closing up your writing shop for the day or night. That way you can review the notes the next day and hopefully pick up where you left off, or at least have some direction to follow. But if it’s a digression that spurs action, go ahead and chase down that path. Even if it turns out to be some will-o-the-wisp. Also, if you’re settling in to write at home, go ahead and turn off the phone ringer.

How can you tell when a piece of writing is finished?
I’m not sure I really can. I know when I feel that I’ve done everything I can do with a piece of writing given a particular moment in time, and even after “sitting on it,” I might not find anymore to say; however, after the passage of some years, I’ve returned to older stories I thought were finished, and I’ve discovered new ways of improving those stories. Sometimes it takes sharing the stories with others to help realize what’s not finished or could be improved. That was certainly the case in BGSU’s MFA program, and this particular story, which I first wrote a draft of several years ago, benefitted very much from the input I received.

In general, pieces feel finished when I don’t find myself as a writer having more to add or alter or as a reader getting hung up on any particular phrasing. The flow of the story should proceed almost inevitably, and the opening and closing work to unify the focus of the narrative. Ultimately, the story should separate its tie to me and exist as a discrete entity. It can float and travel.

Who is your favorite author (fiction writer or poet), and what draws you to their work?
This question gets harder for me the older I get. I tried contemplating if I were on a desert island what book I’d want, but then I thought that practically that book would have to be How to Survive on a Desert Island and Get the Hell Back to Civilization. So, let’s go with Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Somehow those long novels compel one to read through them in a blaze of lightning. Depth of thought, compelling characters, plot momentum, crackling energy with diction and sentence structure. On the other hand, there’s other Russians, I could have picked: there’s something uproariously captivating about Gogol, whose narrative voice just throttles you. Tolstoy however, feels a bit more like the persistent lapping of waves on the beach of that desert island, though artful revelation of character, and a grappling with realistic feelings, particularly ambivalence. The power of nature at work, but without as much lightning. In terms of narrative investment and engaging voice, I always resonated a lot with Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, J. D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, and Albert Camus’s The Stranger. But now in this answer, I’m retreating to the impressions of my teenage years. Thomas Ligotti’s creative and bleak horror struck a chord in recent years. In another year I might think differently about some of these answers.

What’s next for you?
I’m currently working on producing a decent draft of a novel I began in the MFA program at BGSU, revising and submitting short stories, and finishing revisions of an article about ghost lore in St. Augustine Florida. Also, I’ll be doing more reading about the use of fairyland in horror fiction. I’ll be presenting at a panel in Long Beach, California at the American Folklore Conference. I’m beginning my second year teaching at Texas A&M University this Fall. Very excited to be teaching some creative writing courses.

Where can we find more information about you?
Check out my website: jasonmarcharris.com Feel free to send an email too about any questions whatsoever and add me on Facebook. Maybe telepathy if you’re especially good at it? Just don’t believe any lies the voices may tell you. But be sure to write down the best ones.

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Submissions Are Open for Issue 20!

In case you missed the announcement this past weekend, submissions are open for Midwestern Gothic Issue 20, Winter 2016! From now until August 31, 2015, send us your fiction and poetry inspired by the Midwest!

In addition, we’re still reading for the 2015 Lake Prize, which you can read about here.

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, 2015.

Good luck, and happy submitting!

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Flash Fiction Round 2 Finalist: “Life, Heart, Head, Fate” by Hyl Norman

Midwestern Gothic Flash Fiction Series
During the summer of 2015, we’re launching a flash fiction 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: “Life, Heart, Head, Fate” by Hyl Norman

I brought you your crystal and some cigarettes. You won’t mind if I smoke one. Someone has been here before me and left you their pocket change and a dopey ceramic angel.

I remember when we rode our bikes to the palm-reader. We sat in her living room and handed over our damp ten-dollar bills. The wind blew in through the screen door. You had crosshatching, a sign of trouble, but my lines were forked. Frayed, she said. On the way back we raced to the lake and you gave me the crystal you’d stolen.  She didn’t see that in my palm, you said. We were thieving little kids.

We lay down by the water’s edge and even rolled together a couple times, our foreheads touching. We clasped our coded hands as we made our pact. In the afternoon glory I cannonballed into the water from a six-foot high rock and you found a ten-foot one.  The moment of impact was much greater. You were a showoff.

That, my friend, was one of the last easy days, when the sun was warm and our bodies fearless. Life was a long arc, a line to be written by us, a story told by our own hands.

We got older and shrank to eating-disorder thinness, drank too much, had regrettable sex with the nearest body when it got late. Failed our moms, skipped funerals, stole money from trusting uncles. Left school, left home, left the state. Left the church. Left jobs, left roommates.

At least that’s what I did. Somewhere on the way, I looked around for you but I’d left you behind.

Here’s something I didn’t have a chance to tell you. When I steered in front of an eastbound truck and it skidded and swerved around me I felt alive for at least five minutes. When I took 53 Xanax and walked outside to look at the world one more time I felt alive for nearly ten minutes. I cut my wrists and the drip of blood made me feel alive till I passed out. I ziptied my wrists to my ankles and stepped into the ocean. I felt so alive.

I am a terrible suicidist.

Finally you showed me how it’s done, crashing through the event horizon of your death. After all my ridiculous attempts, you managed it effortlessly, sailing off an icy road on a winter morning, on your way to work. Now you’re on the other side, incommunicado. And I’m not feeling too alive.

My landscape is post-tunguska and you were the comet. You wouldn’t be able to bear the winter light of my devastation if you were able to see it.

You will never say goodbye to one another, she said. That was one thing the woman got right when she told us our lines.

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Hyl Norman write novels and short fiction. She lives in an industrial town in the Ohio River Valley. She is working on a historical novel set in Cincinnati during the cholera epidemic of 1849.

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Interview: Kelli Christiansen

cbr_logo2Midwestern Gothic staffer Jamie Monville talked with publisher, editor and writer Kelli Christiansen about Chicago Book Review, which she launched in 2013, the Chicago publishing industry, and more.

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

Kelli Christiansen: I’m a lifelong Midwesterner and have spent my entire publishing career (over two decades) in the Chicago area, as a bookseller, writer, and publishing professional, working at such houses as Publications International, Ltd./Consumer Guide, McGraw-Hill, and ABA Publishing. As a freelancer, I’ve worked with other local houses as well, including ALA Editions and Sourcebooks.

JM: Part of Chicago Book Review’s Mission is to “Shine a spotlight on Chicago’s publishing industry, houses, titles, and authors, as well as on other Midwestern publishers, authors, and new titles.” Why do you think that Chicago’s Publishing Industry has been neglected in the past?

KC: Chicago has long had a robust publishing and printing industry. Rand McNally, R. R. Donnelley, University of Chicago Press, Encyclopedia Britannica, Moody Publishers—many of these houses have been around since the 1800s. Today, Chicagoland is home to more than a hundred publishers, from large independent houses like Agate Publishing and Sourcebooks to university presses to education publishers to professional reference publishers to micro presses and niche publishers. In addition, the Chicago area is home to countless authors, and we have a thriving community of writers who not only publish great books but who are out at events doing book signings, readings, and other live lit events and supporting Chicago’s literary community in countless other ways.

The thing is that most of us who work in publishing here—whether authors or editors or agents or publishers—aren’t shouting from the rooftops how great we all are (or how much better we are). We just kind of stick our heads down and do our work, much of which is truly fabulous. I’m not sure we’ve been neglected so much as we haven’t always sought the spotlight.

I hope that Chicago Book Review plays at least a small part in actually turning that spotlight on the publishers and authors in the Midwest, because there’s no reason not to. I love Chicago, I love books, I love reading, and I love working in publishing. To me, it’s an honor every day—even on bad days—to be working here with professionals I admire in a field I love. And so I see no reason why we shouldn’t be shining a spotlight on the books that are published here and that capture the voices that come from here.

JM: What do you believe that Chicago’s Publishing Industry brings to the literary sphere that is different than New York’s, London’s, or San Francisco’s publishing industries?

KC: All of these publishing hubs are putting out great work. With the large international conglomerates based in New York, most of those houses are doing the kind of traditional publishing that traditional publishers do. That’s not at all a bad thing—it just is what it is.

But not one of these cities has cornered the market on good publishing, and what I see coming out of Chicago and the Midwest is some seriously inspired publishing that isn’t as beholden to conformity, that isn’t afraid to take chances on unknown authors, that isn’t reliant on author buy-backs to break even. I see some risk-taking, some creativity, and some vision coming from a lot of houses in the Chicago area that I don’t always see coming out of some of the other great publishing hubs across the country or even across the pond. That’s not to say that Chicago’s publishers don’t have discriminating taste; we do. But from where I’m sitting, it also strikes me that the area’s houses are more willing to try new things, whether it’s a different voice or a different format.

I feel here an enthusiasm that I don’t often sense when I’m in New York or Boston or London. Maybe I’m being too Pollyannaish, but I’m not always hearing publishers, authors, editors, and agents here going on and on and on about the impending demise of our industry. I’m not hearing all the gloom-and-doom talk about how ebooks and self-publishing are killing things. Instead, I see a lot of enthusiasm and energy surrounding publishing, whether it’s in embracing new formats, tackling underserved genres like street lit, or giving little-known but talented writers a chance that they otherwise would never get with one of the big five publishers in New York.

I also see here a literary community that seems much more encouraging and perhaps not as competitive. I see local authors supporting other local authors at various events, whether they’ve published with the same house or not. I see local publishers giving each other shout-outs on social media. I see writers groups cosponsoring events with niche presses. I see indie bookstores working with local publishers to host readings and signings. It’s not that these things aren’t also happening elsewhere, but it does feel less competitive and more cooperative, as though we’re all working together to support each other so that good publishers can publish good books from good authors.

JM: What’s next for Chicago Book Review?

KC: Chicago Book Review is a labor of love. I launched it in June 2013 and have since then signed on more than a dozen volunteer reviewers who work with me (and for whom I’m extremely thankful) to publish book reviews. CBR also runs features (look for our Summer 2015 Preview soon), and we have a robust calendar that highlights events in Chicago and the suburbs. CBR is also a great resource: We have links to dozens of publishers, writers organizations, bookstores, and literary blogs on our site.

What’s next is very much more of the same—book reviews, features, and events. As long as local publishers keep publishing and as long as local writers keep writing, we hope to be one of the area’s source of free literary information. There’s no subscription fee, no passwords required—anyone can sign up for free and follow CBR on WordPress.

We’re always looking to add more volunteers to our roster of reviewers, and we’re always grateful for the books we receive from local and regional publishers. We hope that this is a virtuous circle that continues for a long time—books–reviewers–books–reviewers–and on and on.

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Chicago Book Review was launched in June 2013 by publishing veteran Kelli Christiansen. With more than two decades of experience in the industry, Kelli has spent her entire career in the Chicago area, first as a bookseller with B. Dalton (a long-gone division of Barnes & Noble). She worked as a reporter and city editor for Press Publications before becoming an acquisitions editor, first at Publications International, Ltd./Consumer Guide and then at McGraw-Hill. Following a stint as an executive editor with ABA Publishing (part of the American Bar Association), Kelli launched bibliobibuli professional editorial services, in 2007. She also is the founder of Chicago Publishing Network, a LinkedIn group with more than 1,600 members. An editor, writer, and ghostwriter, her work has appeared in a variety of media, including Book Business Magazine; Carol Stream Press; Chicago Life; Collections & Credit Risk Magazine; Faith, Hope, & Fiction; Midwest Book Review; Sacramento Book Review; and San Francisco Book Review.

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Flash Fiction Round 2 Finalist: “Five Stages” by Matt Young

Midwestern Gothic Flash Fiction Series
During the summer of 2015, we’re launching a flash fiction 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: “Five Stages” by Matt Young

Asteroid 12533, colloquially known as Edmond, is on a collision course with the lunar surface. It will knock our satellite from orbit and send an Alaska-sized chunk of the moon into Earth’s atmosphere.

We are going to die.

We go to work, though some of us quit our jobs to pursue lifelong dreams like mastering the art of impressionist painting. Some of us quit and pursue nothing.

We travel home to the Midwest to be with our families and when we realize they were the reason we moved away in the first place we leave again.

We ignore safety warnings. We take cough medicine and operate heavy machinery and let our kids smoke.

We live the dreams of our teenage selves.

We are honest. We tell our children their art is mediocre and they’d never be world famous athletes or actors even if the world weren’t ending.

Some of us change our names to Edmond and name our children Edmond and worship the rocky mass of death hurtling towards us. Praise be to Edmond, destroyer of worlds, we say.

Some open their veins with straight razors, or swallow pills, or hang themselves by extension cords in cluttered garages, and we leave them where they lay because if we have to be here, then so do they.

We search for God in the pages of books and under our beds at night. We pull our teeth and leave them under our pillowcases. We leave hair and fingernail clippings and vials of tears, and think maybe God might come and take us bit by bit leaving quarters in our places.

We beg forgiveness and make amends and hold hands across the world and confess our sins and wish for the best.

Then one day, after our retinas burn from watching the sky and the news reports a miscalculation in distances, a near miss, a miracle, we drop our hands at our sides and wonder what next.

We’ve snapped the tabs off the puzzle pieces and made a picture full of holes.

We start up drills and pumps and grids and we flip switches and turn keys and the holes fill a bit.

We hold our children at night and tell them how special they are and buy them nicotine patches to wean their addictions and the picture starts to clear.

We bury our dead. On their graves we leave offerings of their former lives—a lucky penny, some cigarettes, the porcelain guardian angel Nana gave them when they graduated high school—and the picture comes back into focus.

Still, late at night in our beds, we wonder about Edmond careening towards the black hole’s gravity in which he is caught. Are you lonely up there, Edmond? Where are you, Edmond? Why did you forget about us, Edmond? Why did you stop loving us? We imagine his gentle rotation and tumble in the blackness, and as we drift off to sleep we can’t help but envy any planet in his path.

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Matt Young is a veteran, writer, and teacher. He holds an MA in creative writing from Miami University. His work can be found or is forthcoming in [PANK], BULL: Men’s Fiction, Midwestern Gothic, and O-Dark-Thirty.

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Flash Fiction Round 2 Finalist: “Offering” by Jessica Berger

Midwestern Gothic Flash Fiction Series
During the summer of 2015, we’re launching a flash fiction 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: “Offering” by Jessica Berger

It was a dare first. Corli shimmied up the high cemetery gate with a pair of shoelaces as her only gear and undid the latch we could not reach. Alex Prose had bet that she couldn’t do it, had insisted her legs were too short and the muscles of her arms undefined. It had nothing to do with her being a girl, Alex Prose had insisted one foot weighing down the edge of a beat up skateboard, it was that he couldn’t do it either. Corli could, though. Corli could do anything. She had pulled her sister’s flask from her satchel, taken a swig of the magic potion: all jungle juice and party fouls, whatever wouldn’t be missed from her parent’s liquor cabinet. Bad bourbon and Midori and Mike’s Hard and chocolate liquor, a pinch of cinnamon, a double dose of dissolved aspirin. The runoff dribbled from her chin, slick in the sickly glow of a heavy moon.   She’d thrown herself at the gate, bleached-out hair looking bluish over here, yellow over there. We could only cheer her silently, we were sentries, eyes open for cops, cars, the usual neighborhood watch.

In the cemetery Corli locked us in and walked us to Tricia Lin’s grave. Tricia Lin, 1989-2006. Beloved daughter. Cheerleader. Would-be burnout. We all remembered people talking about the tangled wreckage of her sea green Charger, the way the twin racing stripes on the hood became a python’s unhinged jaw, wrapped around the trunk of a too-solid oak tree. Tricia Lin, survived by that tree, by a grieving single mother, by a boyfriend who’d had designs on knocking her up straight out of college. We knew she’d been beautiful, that girl. The type with glitter on her eyes to match the glitter of her platforms, the type with perfectly lined lips, the type with hair immortalized in dozens of teenage love poems.

Corli had told us about the things people left on Tricia Lin’s headstone; the collections of ceramic angels and plush toys, drying flowers, jars of candies, and plastic charms. Rumor had it her friends came by every so often to sprinkle glitter over the grave, to bedazzle it, but it was her boyfriend’s contribution that was most important. He brought cigarettes, a fresh pack of Marlboro Reds every Friday morning before first period. They sat there, rain or shine, an offering to Tricia Lin, to the spirit of a girl not destined to be knocked up. Corli sparked up a lighter and revealed them, a full pack, a little damp, a little busted looking, safe on the granite. Tricia Lin, 1989-2006. We pretend at a prayer. Corli tells us she would want us to have them, would want them to go to use, would want to know her dumb jock boyfriend wasn’t throwing away his hard-earned allowance. Alex Prose holds up the potion flask as Corli lights the first limp cigarette, as we all reach for our own, “To Tricia Lin,” he says, “who we never knew.”

**

Jessica Berger is fiction writer, editor of The Account, and PhD candidate in the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Program for Writers.  Her work has appeared in PankMetazen, Trnsfr, The &Now Awards, and elsewhere.

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Summer Flash Fiction Series – Prompt #3

Midwestern Gothic Flash Fiction Series
During the summer of 2015, we’re launching something brand new: our flash fiction series!

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 3 weeks, and invite writers to respond with flash fiction inspired by the photo, up to 500 words. Each image will be open for submissions for 2 weeks, and we will take a week 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.

You can find all guidlines here, including how to submit (and where!).

We are so excited for this celebration of the visual and literary, a new way for us to experience the landscape, and we can’t wait to read what you submit!

Note: Prompt #3 is the final prompt!

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

Prompt #3 submission period: July 29 – August 12

Prompt #3 finalists published: August 19 – 21

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(Photo: copyright George Stein)

FIND SUBMISSIONS INFORMATION HERE

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Contributor Spotlight: Catherine Rankovic

Catherine RankovicCatherine Rankovic’s piece “Stand By: Your Man” appears in Midwestern Gothic Issue 18, out now.

What’s your connection to the Midwest, and how has the region influenced your writing?
Born and grew up in Wisconsin. After several years out East, I settled in Missouri in 1988. As a writer, I found it difficult to pay rent anywhere else but in the Midwest, where I live in a cabin on 100 acres for $500 a month.

What do you think is the most compelling aspect of the Midwest?
It’s borderless physically, and it’s borderless conceptually. Minds can roam.

Discuss your writing process — inspirations, ideal environments, how you deal with writer’s block.
Inspiration is most powerful when I’m injured somehow. But one can’t wait for inspiration or injury in order to write. The cure for writer’s block or any kind of reluctance is to have a 45th birthday and realize you’d better write or it won’t get written.

How can you tell when a piece of writing is finished?
When after six months of not looking at it I read it, and then read it aloud, and still think it’s good.

Where can we find more information about you?
Google my name. It’s unique.
Twitter: @rankovic

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Contributor Spotlight: Christopher Merkner

Christopher MerknerChristopher Merkner’s story “A Lesser Trouble” appears in Midwestern Gothic Issue 18, out now.

What’s your connection to the Midwest, and how has the region influenced your writing?
I was born in Oak Lawn, IL, just outside of Chicago, and I grew up in Wauconda, IL, which is in Lake County, IL, north and west of Chicago. I spent a good deal of those years in northern Wisconsin, because my family would frequently summer there with parishioners from my father’s Lutheran Church. And I went to college in Northfield, MN. After college, I came back to Illinois to live with my parents for about a month — and then that was it. I never really came back, except to periodically visit my extended family.

Regarding “influence”: I’m not going to let myself say that the Midwest as a whole has the market on unhappiness and self-loathing, but I’m usually unhappy with my writing and generally cannot tolerate hearing myself talk about it, and I think that comes right out of my experience of the heartland. There was something in my semi-rural, semi-suburban Wauconda upbringing—the Lutheran Church, the relentless clouds, the cheerless schooling, the fishing for pike and coming up perch, who knows what—that I believe has made me just tirelessly tired of myself.

What do you think is the most compelling aspect of the Midwest?
Almost all of my not-small extended family lives in the Midwest, and I like them a lot. So, for me, they are the most compelling part of the Midwest.

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?
Well, again, I am probably addressing this in your first question, when talking about “influences,” because the emotional evocations I feel from the specific places I lived, stayed, or visited in the Midwest are dominated by fairly powerful feelings of unhappiness, frustration, anxiety, inadequacy, futility, etc. And yet these feelings are also competing with the powerful feelings of my youth and all the feelings that come with youth: my innocence and slow awarenesses, or what I guess we call discoveries, and my friendships and love, and acts of kindness and mercy.

The lake across the street from our house in Wauconda is a good example of this: you couldn’t pull me off that lake through my years from 10 – 16, summer and winter, for fishing, skating, swimming, everything. Day and night. As many hours as I could squeeze out of a day and night, I’d be out there. Amazing memories. My head and heart go there all the time still. But these are also the years my parents were working through major problems with their drinking, and I was no doubt using this lake, this place, as a space of escape and refuge.

It wasn’t just fun that I experienced at that lake, that’s for sure. That lake doesn’t just represent a place of freedom and innocence and youthful discoveries, or whatever. It was also a sort of self-imposed ad-hoc sanctuary: Where else could I have gone to get out of that house? In semi-suburban, semi-rural Illinois? Nowhere, really. Maybe the Arby’s. And what was on my mind when I was out there on that lake? Surely not just, “How wonderful this is!”

Discuss your writing process — inspirations, ideal environments, how you deal with writer’s block.
I try to write in the morning, every morning, before the kids are up. This is a pretty common practice for writers, I’ve heard. Once the kids are up, my real life begins and, from there, I try to squeeze words in where I can. I’ve given up on ideal environments to write—that’s a luxury I do not seek any more. I just write where I am sitting, usually with pencil.

How can you tell when a piece of writing is finished?
I really don’t think of a story or writing as finished. It will go away for a while, I’ve found, and ideally it’s published, but writing—published and otherwise—always seems to come back, requesting new attentions, new accommodations, new requests. It’s never done.

Who is your favorite author (fiction writer or poet), and what draws you to their work?
Anyone who knows me knows I am too poorly read to commit to this question. Of what I am reading right now, I can say that I am most drawn to Bernhard’s The Voice Imitator and Kawabata’s Palm-in-the-hand Stories. I’m getting ready to teach a class on compressed fictions, and I am finding a great deal to admire in these two collections.

What’s next for you?
I have several writing projects I’m working on, but let’s talk about these after they’re “finished.” I think I am just going to try to focus on being a better husband and father right now.

Where can we find more information about you?
I post various milestones on my author’s page on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/ChrisMerkner), and I tinker on Twitter (@CCCmerkner).

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