Midwest in Photos: Michael and Matthew

February 24th, 2018

“In youth there are always two forces fighting in people. The warm unthinking little animal struggles against the thing that reflects and remembers” – Sherwood AndersonWinesburg, Ohio.

Michael and Matthew by Michael Hess

Photo by: Michael Hess

Views from the Heartland: Dawn Olsen

Views from the Heartland - Dawn Olsen photographer headshotMidwestern Gothic staffer Sydney Cohen spoke with photographer Dawn Olsen about her creative process, how her Midwestern roots affect her work, the nostalgia of stillness, and more.

Dawn Olson is an Oxford comma defender by trade and Iowan by birth. She has lived in Indianapolis since 2012 and serves on the board of two preservation-based organizations. She had never heard of sugar cream pie before moving to Indiana, and refuses to call the Sears Tower anything but “the Sears Tower.” Follow her on Twitter or Instagram.

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Sydney Cohen: What is your connection to the Midwest? 

Dawn Olsen: I’m a Midwesterner through and through. I was born in southwest Iowa (near Omaha, Nebraska), and have lived in Indianapolis since 2012. Since my boyfriend lives and works in Chicago, I often find myself in the City of Broad Shoulders, too. This part of the country will always be home; it made me, shaped me, embraced me.

SC: What launched you into the world of photography?

DO: My dad used to be a photographer for a small-town newspaper, and I grew up around his equipment — he used to keep various lenses on the dashboard of his car. I remember being in the darkroom with him too, long ago. I was five, maybe six, and when I went to open the door, he stopped me — I hadn’t yet learned that light spoils a candid moment. At the time, I wanted to be a zookeeper, and the thought of being a writer or photographer was foreign to me. However, weekends at the newspaper exposed me to words, images, and information at an early age.

Beautiful Junk - Views from the Heartland - Dawn Olsen

Beautiful Junk

SC: Your featured work on Midwestern Gothic is both gritty and captivating. How would you describe your personal aesthetic?

DO: The subjects in my photos vary depending on my mood, the time of year, and where I’m at. But there is one thing my images have in common — honesty. I’m interested in capturing a place, person, or object as it truly is at that moment. I want the late-evening sun at the Indiana State Fair, the gritty underbelly of Chicago, the hint of a smile, and the smear of mud on an abandoned couch.

At Stumpy's - Views from the Heartland - Dawn Olsen

At Stumpy’s

SC: What does your photography tell about the physical and cultural landscape of the Midwest?

DO: Midwesterners are known for being helpful and hard-working, and are often described as “traditional.” That doesn’t mean we’re boring, however. There are always places to explore, and I try to showcase them in my photography. Dirt roads, rolling hills, and small town life are just as visually interesting as rooftop bars and West Coast beaches.

Mowing Hazard - Views from the Heartland - Dawn Olsen

Mowing Hazard

SC: Your work captures moments of stillness, seen in photos like “Mowing Hazard” and “A Functioning John Updike Story”. What interests you in the absence of motion, or the suspension of time? Is there something particularly Midwestern about this calm and unsettling stillness?

DO: I don’t find it unsettling; I find it nostalgic. One of my favorite sounds is the orchestra of crickets during the summer, who play nightly symphonies. It is then, in the pinks and yellows of dusk, that everything else falls still. If I were to move back to Iowa today — six years after I left — the crickets would sound the same. I, however, would be a different. Sometimes, my photographs are the same; they capture something that is, has been, and always will be a certain way.

A Functioning John Updike Story - Views from the Heartland - Dawn Olsen

A Functioning John Updike Story

SC: How do you come across your shots — are they random, or do you go searching for them?

DO: Both! If I’m in Indianapolis, Chicago, or Omaha, I photograph whatever or whomever I happen to be around. However, I have been known to map out road trips and explore rural Iowa and Indiana.

SC: What would be your dream project to work on? Something you would love to capture through the medium of photography?

DO: There are a few things I would like to do. First, I’d like to start taking more photos of my family — my parents, my brother, my nephew. Candid photos of who they are and what they do, because I don’t ever want to forget. I’d also like to do something for/of my hometown, Treynor, Iowa. When I was small, it had a grocery store, a pharmacy, a hardware store. Things have changed since then, and I’d love to create a photographic timeline that shows the transformation of our 900-person town. As for a big-picture project? I would love to document an Amtrak trip from Wisconsin to Arizona — it would be a trip that captures a nostalgic form of travel, and allows me to explore my genealogy. (My mother and grandmother were born in Racine, and my biological grandfather is buried in Arizona.)

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Our Views from the Heartland series is a new series we started to give some recognition to the incredible photographers who submit their photos to us regularly. In it, we talk with some of our favorite photographers who we feel capture the essence of the Midwest in their incredible photos. Each month, we’ll post a new interview with a photographer in which we discuss their creative process, the intersection of photography and literature, and other fascinating topics.

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Interview: Raymond McDaniel

Raymond McDaniel author headshotMidwestern Gothic staffer Sydney Cohen talked with author Raymond McDaniel about his poetry collection The Cataracts, nuances of the Midwest, his inspirations, and more.

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

Raymond McDaniel: I’ve lived in the Midwest — Michigan, particularly — since 1999, after a spell on the east coast. I also went to graduate school here, and that was the first time I had lived away from the Deep South and Gulf states. I have come to love the Midwest, but I remain very respectful of the multiplicity of Midwests, how complex their arrangements and histories are. When you are from Florida, you learn to be suspicious of touristic ideas about place; you also grow up with an idea of the Midwest that positions it as a sort of default America, the place from which every other place is a deviation. I feel lucky to have gotten to know it as strange and distinct, and not just the locale to which other locales refer.

SC: Your new poetry collection, titled The Cataracts, recalls both a waterfall and an opacity of the eye. Why did you choose this title for your collection, and how do your poems incorporate the book’s titular dual meaning?

RM: My dad went in for cataract surgery when I was ten years old; since he was a draftsman, the condition was making it impossible for him to work. Standard preparation for the procedure revealed he had lung cancer, and over the subsequent year-plus he had his lung removed, and a few ribs, and nearly died from a staph infection (still a sadly common consequence of spending time in a hospital). He survived, and eventually did get his cataracts removed, but by then he was no longer healthy enough to use his hands to draw. That’s the first context in which I knew the word, and so part of the book is about vision and what enables or complicates it, and how that influences how we make all sorts of things: art, meaning, objects. I didn’t know the other meaning of the word until later, but the way in which cataracts refer to a flood or a rush of water aligns with the environment I grew up in, and how I experience language and information. Seemed like too well-matched a pairing to resist.

The Cataracts book cover by Raymond McDaniel

SC: Murder (A Violet), your debut collection, tells the story of an enigmatic assassin seeking refuge from her sordid past. What intrigues you about the anti-hero, and how does this figure fit into the larger narrative?

RM: I don’t know if I am comfortable thinking of that character as any kind of hero, anti- or otherwise. The closest she gets to heroic is simply refusing to do what she never should have been doing in the first place, even if she was also raised for that explicit purpose. What interested me most about her was just that question, though: how do people come to decide against themselves, against their own inherited and manufactured norms? And when and if that changes involves a moral repudiation, how do we regard the person who has made it? Forgiveness is fairly straightforward: it is (or isn’t) extended by those who have been done wrong to the person who wronged them. But redemption is more complicated; no one can offer or declare it for you, and you surely can’t claim it for yourself. So it’s hard to grasp or imagine, but it’s still a necessary concept. Her suspicion of its possibility is what keeps her morally alert, but it’s also part of what makes her so variable and uncertain in both her properties and her behaviors.

SC: You are also well known for your insightful and animated poetry reviews for The Constant Critic. What is your process when reviewing a poem? How does meriting the worth of other poetry inform your own writing process?

RM: Reading poetry and thinking about it in public has been a true pleasure, because writing one’s own poetry is — for me, at least — a cloistered, claustrophobic feeling. I am grateful for any poetry that isn’t mine, and what I’ve enjoyed the most about reviewing is simply trying to articulate some of the possibilities any given book offers its readers. Each book has the potential to add enormously to its readers’ capacities, and identifying what problems the poems detect and how they endeavor to solve or accommodate those problems can maybe present a reader a way to approach or inhabit the poems more readily. As for how that kind of reading informs my own process, well, I think it’s true that more closely you attend to others the more precisely you become yourself.

SC: You currently live in Ann Arbor where you teach at the University of Michigan. How has the vivacious literary community in Ann Arbor influenced or inspired your own writing? What aspects of your poetry, if any, would you consider distinctly Midwest?

RM: I was very lucky to host the reading series at an independent bookstore here in Ann Arbor (the late, lamented Shaman Drum Bookshop); I learned more as a bookseller, I think, than I ever did in graduate school. It’s simply the exposure to variety that matters the most: all those different titles in different disciplines, always new authors coming through, new customers introducing you to new works (or old ones that had shamefully escaped your attention). Literati has become my go-to bookstore here, and there, too, I can always count on the staff to have enthusiastic and richly informed opinions about a wider array of things than I could ever hope to learn on my own. Similarly, the kind of teaching I do means I am always meeting and working with students from all academic fields at all stages of development and scholarship; that range, too, means that I am always learning, always adding something new to the storehouse of ideas and perspectives. Writing in this environment, and in the Midwest, has allowed me to see my origins far more clearly and acutely than I ever would have had I stayed closer to home. So I doubt anyone would find anything they would characterize as Midwestern in the work, but I also don’t think the work would exist at all without the Midwest.

SC: Who are some poets that inspire you, and why?

RM: The poets to whom I return most frequently are C.D. Wright (because she was a heroic figure for me, and the first contemporary writer who struck me as saying “yes” to all her ways of being and speaking); Gwendolyn Brooks (because she was better at everything than everyone, and could deploy every one of her skills in a single poem in a way that was unified, effectual, and unmatched in its consequences); Frank Bidart (because his moral intelligence is more candid and rigorous than we might be able to see or admit); and Lorine Niedecker (because she was just so strictly and directly her own poet). I am also always impressed and increased by the work of francine j. harris, whose poetry is brilliant and strange and unlike anything else anyone else is doing or can do, and Paisley Rekdal, who simply goes from strength to strength, becoming wiser and more kind and more profound with each book.

SC: What’s next for you?

RM: I’m currently working on a nonfiction project about the history of namelessness. Other than that, more teaching, more reading, and trying to be as noisy and ferociously demanding a citizen as I know how to be.

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Raymond McDaniel is author of Murder, Saltwater Empire, Special Powers and Abilities and most recently The Cataracts, all from Coffee House Press. He is form Florida but currently teaches at the Sweetland Center for Writing at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

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Winter 2018 issue is on sale now!

Winter 2018 issue coverThe Winter 2018 issue of Midwestern Gothic is here, featuring new fiction, poetry, nonfiction, and photography about or inspired by the Midwest! Start your 2018 reading goal right, and settle in with some of the regions’s finest voices.

With cover art by the incredible Erica Williams, we’re thrilled with how this issue turned out!

Check out the Winter 2018 issue for fiction from Renée Bailey, Rebecca Berg, Kathryn Drew, Carol Dunbar, Hazel Foster, Mattie Ganson, Bruce Johnson, Halee Kirkwood, Chad Koch, Tyler Meese, Carly Anna Miller, Mario Perez, David Shieh, Ian Stoner, & Matt Whelihan.

Plus poetry from Melissa Boston, Collin Callahan, Cortney Lamar Charleston, Greg Emilio, Lisa Favicchia, Ceridwen Hall, Justin Hamm, Gwen Hart, Elizabeth Kerper, Jacob Lindberg, Alysse McCanna, John McCarthy, Ken Meisel, Max Schleicher, M. Drew Williams, & Guinotte Wise.

And nonfiction from Tamara Dean, Melissa Grunow, Bronson Lemer, Nora Seilheimer, Brooke White, & Jason Zeitler.

You’ll also find photography by Dallas Crow, Dawn Eves, Gail Jeidy, & David McCleery.

Shop now for the Winter 2018 issue of Midwestern Gothic.

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Contributor Spotlight: Melissa Boston

Melissa Boston’s piece “Untitled” appears in Midwestern Gothic‘s Winter 2018 issue, out tomorrow.

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

I grew up in Sedalia, Missouri. I attended college at University of Central Missouri and if it could have been possible I would have attended graduate school there. At present, I live in Fayetteville, AR which has some Midwestern culture but, for me, the Midwest will always be home. I actually still have my permanent address and car tagged in Missouri.

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

There is a silence and openness that is very distinct to the Midwest. Its imagery is very present and uninterrupted by clutter to where the foliage, sedimentary, and fauna rule the space; it’s something that stays with me, and that makes its way into quite a bit of my writing. This is also why, for me, Midwesterners are so generous and polite: it’s not about them.

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?

Once I began to travel and live alone in unfamiliar places I found it easier to write even more effectively about what I wanted to write. For example, I lived in Las Cruces, NM for a year and I found it easier to write about Missouri, specifically Warrensburg because I felt so alienated from everything that was familiar, so writing about a place that I spent a lot of my formative years helped me establish my identity as a Missourian writer and Midwesterner.

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

Lately my better poems get done on my lunch break at work. My poem in MG was written in the Walmart Home Office café, which is currently my home away from home. It is guaranteed 30 minutes of solid, uninterrupted writing time because, in a corporate setting, lunch is sacred “me-time.” Also, knowing that I only have those 30 minutes forces me to write something, even if it is just one line of decent writing that I play around with at a later time.

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

It is really difficult to know when I have finished a piece of writing. I will send a draft to an outside reader when I am really struggling but, for the most part, I will read drafts to a few trusted friends until I feel that the silence is no longer awkward after the last line.

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

Like most writers, I’m continually reading, and what I read affects what I write.

But the first poet whose work I really fell in love with was Georg Trakl. I had an excellent instructor at UCM who introduced me to Trakl’s work and it opened doors for me. His work is silent, patient, and austere, something that has allowed me to write more directly and effectively about the Midwestern landscape.

What’s next for you?

Hopefully a full-length manuscript!

Where can we find more information about you?

I don’t have a website but my work appears in Moon City Review, I-70 Review, Bird’s Thumb, PMS, These Fragile Lilacs, Driftwood Press, The Fourth River Review, Blue Mesa Review, and Four Ties Lit Review.

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Midwest in Photos: New Years Day, Detroit, MI, 2011

“There comes a time when you’re losing a fight that it just doesn’t make sense to keep on fighting. It’s not that you’re being a quitter, it’s just that you’ve got the sense to know when enough is enough.” – Christopher Paul CurtisBud, Not Buddy.

New Years Day, Detroit, MI, 2011 by Daniel Farnum

Photo by: Daniel Farnum

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A Woman is a Woman Until She is a Mother Audiobook Available

If you’ve got a long commute, travel plans or just love listening to audiobooks, then we’ve got great news: A Woman is a Woman Until She is a Mother is now available as an audiobook!

A Woman is a Woman Until She is a Mother book cover by Anna PrushinskayaThe recording is just under two hours, produced by Blunder Woman Productions. It’s available now on Audible!

Here’s a short synopsis and some of the press if you’re not familiar already:

In A Woman Is a Woman Until She Is a Mother, Anna Prushinskaya explores the deep life shifts of pregnancy, birth and motherhood in the United States, a world away from the author’s Soviet homeland. Drawing from inspirations as various as midwife Ina May Gaskin, writer and activist Alice Walker, filmmaker Sophia Kruz and frontierswoman Caroline Henderson, Prushinskaya captures the inherent togetherness of motherhood alongside its accompanying estrangement. She plumbs the deeper waters of compassion, memory and identity, as well as the humorous streams of motherhood as they run up against the daily realities of work and the ever-present eye of social media. How will I return to my life? Prushinskaya asks, and answers by returning us to our own ordinary, extraordinary lives a little softer, a little wiser, and a little less certain of unascertainable things.

“Heartfelt and honest…full of sincerity.” —Ashley Supinski, Hippocampus Magazine

“Prushinskaya’s essays are an intriguing compilation of a woman’s flight through child bearing, told with care, pain, and freshness.” —Surmayi Khatana, The Coil

“An important contribution to the world of women’s stories.” —Cameron Finch, Hunger Mountain

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Interview: Tayari Jones

Tayari Jones author headshot Midwestern Gothic staffer Carrie Dudewicz talked with author Tayari Jones about her book An American Marriage, her identity as a Black American, the timelessness of American conflicts, and more.

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Carrie Dudewicz: What’s your connection to the Midwest?


Tayari Jones: I have a special relationship with Urbana, Illinois. My parents met there at an NAACP meeting on the campus of UIUC. This was in the sixties. Love at first sight, married just a few months later! It’s also where I took my first tenure track job.

CD: Even though your time in the Midwest was relatively short, do you find that the experience of it impacts your writing?

TJ: Now that you mention it, I think so. When I lived in the Midwest — Urbana, Illinois and Iowa City, Iowa, I was constantly struck by the extremes of weather. It gave every day a sort of drama. A good novel should feel like that — a unpredictability waiting just under the surface.

CD: Much of your writing revolves around families. Why is this such a strong theme in your work? What works well when writing about the relationships between family members?

TJ: Well, I am a member of a family. As a matter of fact, I was born into one! But seriously, I think that each of us is brining into the middle of a family saga of some type. I’ve always been fascinated by this. 
When writing about families, the key is to remember that each character has a different role in real life than they occupy in family life. This dual identity should always be a source of tension.

CD: Your recently-released novel, An American Marriage, is about the conviction of an innocent man. In the light of current political events — specifically police brutality against innocent people of color — how important is it that stories like this one are told?

TJ: 
It seems from your question that you already know the answer. I don’t think the real issue here is whether such stories should be told, but the more challenging question is how the story is best told. I tried to approach this story by concentrating on the characters — their personalities, back stories, and idiosyncrasies. I made sure that they were more than their predicaments.

An American Marriage book cover by Tayari Jones

CD: Two of your previous books are set in the 1980s, whereas An American Marriage is set in the present. Why do the events of your latest novel fit into the present better than into the past?

TJ: Actually, the conflicts of the story — love, marriage, prison — these events can fit in any time period. I think the stories are moving into the present as I get older. My characters are almost always my same age — born in 1970 or so. We’re just moving forward.

CD: You’ve lived many places around the country, yet all four of your novels are set in Atlanta, Georgia. Why do you keep returning to Atlanta in your writing?

TJ: Atlanta is the only place that I consider home. I was born there and the dynamics of the urban south provide endless inspiration. After all, it’s an under-explored subject. There’s so much room for a writer to grow.

CD: With the title An American Marriage, are you implying that this story is somehow unique to American people only? Or, why did you choose to specify “American” in the title?


TJ: When the came time came for a final title I did a lot of brainstorming and I threw out An American Marriage as a place to begin and I had no idea we would end with that title. I knew I’d like the vibe of it but honestly it felt like a very big title for my book. The editor liked it a lot, and everyone else did too, but I was apprehensive. I thought that An American Marriage sounded like a book about, say, white people in Connecticut getting a divorce. My editor asked me if I didn’t like the title because I thought it misrepresented the book, or was I, as a black writer, afraid that my ideas, my experience, my world, my culture, wasn’t capital-A American. I feel that for most of my life when I would see the word American, I didn’t think that it was talking to me. I think it was due to my alienation as a black American and in accepting this title I do feel that I am staking a claim for my characters, claiming space for this story. What happens to Celestial and Roy is completely American.

CD: What writers inspired you to write and why? What are some of your favorite books and why?

TJ: The author that has influenced me most is Toni Morrison. I read Song of Solomon at least every year. When I teach it, I’m that crazy English professor reading aloud with tears streaming down my cheeks. I love the way that Morrison takes the experience of average people and raises it to a mythological level. She can make an insurance salesman from Ohio seem like Icarus. But I am also deeply influenced by poets. When I was writing An American Marriage I read a lot of Neruda because of the way that he makes love poetry intersect with politics, never sacrificing one for the other. And I am also influenced a lot by writers of crime fiction. I love the way crime writers know that the point of the story is the story. I have read every word that Patricia Highsmith has written. My favorite of hers is her debut, Strangers On A Train.

CD: What do you wish you had known when you started writing?

TJ: 
I wish I had known that writing is supposed to take a long time.

CD: What’s next for you?

TJ: Another novel, God willing.

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Tayari Jones is the author of the novels Leaving Atlanta, The Untelling, Silver Sparrow, and An American Marriage (Algonquin Books, February 2018). Her writing has appeared in Tin House, The Believer, The New York Times, and Callaloo. A member of the Fellowship of Southern Writers, she has also been a recipient of the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, Lifetime Achievement Award in Fine Arts from the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, United States Artist Fellowship, NEA Fellowship and Radcliffe Institute Bunting Fellowship. Silver Sparrow was named a #1 Indie Next Pick by booksellers in 2011, and the NEA added it to its Big Read Library of classics in 2016. Jones is a graduate of Spelman College, University of Iowa, and Arizona State University. An Associate Professor in the MFA program at Rutgers-Newark University, she is spending the 2017-18 academic year as the Shearing Fellow for Distinguished Writers at the Beverly Rogers, Carol C. Harter Black Mountain Institute at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

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Contributor Spotlight: Carly Miller

Carly Miller author headshotCarly Miller’s story “Inside the Smoker” appears in Midwestern Gothic‘s Winter 2018 issue, coming February 20th.

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

I was born in Michigan, which is part of the Midwest but sometimes does feel a little different from where I currently live. Michigan has a lot of forests, a lot of lakes and rivers. Now I live in Illinois, which feels to me more like the essence of the Midwest. It has the fields, the huge skies, in some places even remnants of the great prairies. The skies of Illinois really influenced Inside the Smoker—there is a scene where the main character is sitting outside gazing up at the stars. I used to climb onto the roof of one of the buildings at my college, which I’m not sure you’re supposed to do, exactly, and I’d spend a lot of time there, just looking up. When I moved to Illinois there was a lot more sky than in Michigan—the trees tend to block it out—and it was completely startling, unsettling. The Midwest sky is an important part of almost everything I write.

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

I’m almost certain this is a very unpopular opinion, but for me the it is the winters. I know that sounds…absurd. But the winters here are so fierce—they’re awe-inspiring. I’ll walk out the door completely draped in coats and scarves to go to a night class in February, and every single time the sheer force of the cold takes my breath away. I think this is a unique disposition; I hate the summers. Midwestern summers are the least compelling aspect 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?

Michigan has the great lakes, of course, but also so many inland lakes, and rivers too. I always joke that you can’t drive more than 20 minutes without hitting water. I spent so much time in the water as a kid. In the spring, as soon as the ice melted we would start swimming, so I have pictures of my cousins and I swimming in the lake by my grandmother’s home in March. So I can’t get water out of my head. I almost never write anything that’s void of water; I’m just not interested in that.

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

Writing is a lot of work, obviously. I’m a twelve draft person. I can’t write a good first draft to save my life, but I’m okay with that because I’m always changing my mind about how I want a story or a poem to go. So it gives me something to do. And when I just can’t write, I don’t make myself. I go do something else. I feed my brain something different. I’m a psychology student, so I’ll hang out in the lab if I need a break.

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

I can’t yet. I normally stop working on a project because I’m obsessing so much it’s making me sick and then someone, one of my friends—bless them—will tell me to stop.

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

There are too many. I will say that right now I’m working on a project which is influenced and inspired by Catherine Lacey’s Nobody is Ever Missing and Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life.

What’s next for you?

Well. Graduate studies? I hope.

Where can we find more information about you?

I have a Facebook page—Carly Anna Miller. I also can be reached through Unify Galesburg’s website.

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Contributor Spotlight: M. Drew Williams

M. Drew Williams author headshotM. Drew Williams’ piece “A Bastard of Transit” appears in Midwestern Gothic‘s Winter 2018 issue, coming February 20th.

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

I moved to Omaha, Nebraska a year and a half ago to begin my MFA at Creighton University. Whereas my writing prior to this move was predominantly introspective in its focus, my poems have since become more apt to incorporate more descriptions of things in the external/physical world. Because I had never personally seen or admired a Midwestern landscape before moving to Omaha, I feel as though my new surroundings served as a catalyst to the aforementioned descriptive shift in my poetry.

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

As is true for any place, the best aspect of the Midwest is its people. This may seem like a cliché response, but I feel it to be true nonetheless. In the short amount of time that I have been living in the region, I have met numerous people whom have simply been amazing. To me, the people who occupy this portion of the country are genuine, sincere, and incredibly passionate. Here, there seems to be an undeniable sense of togetherness that I have personally never experienced in any other place I have lived.

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 have made it a habit to not explicitly declare the exact locations which my poems either take place in, or pull specific identifiable details from. In doing this, it is not my goal to reject or deny the places from which the inspiration for my poetry was gained. Rather, I hope to provide readers with a more generalized conception of place onto which they may more easily apply personalized place-centric details from their own lives. With this being said, while my own experiences and settings were necessary to a poem’s conception and eventual realization, it is ultimately irrelevant to the reader’s interaction to said poem.

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

I consider my process to be one long, drawn-out method of combating writer’s block. First and foremost, I try to read for at least two hours every day: the less time I spend reading, the less likely I am to gain the inspiration needed to write anything of merit. Throughout my workweek, I try my best to jot down a few interconnected lines (or interesting words). By Saturday, I often force myself to write a poem, and even though I am not always successful in my efforts to do so, the effort itself at least gets me one step closer to actually writing a worthwhile poem.

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

Usually, I equate the completion of a poem with a kind of hunger: it is finished when I am satisfied and cease to feel a pit in my metaphorical stomach. While this explanation is admittedly vague albeit pretentious, it is the only one I have for now.

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

While my answer to this question could be different from one day to another, today I would have to say that may absolute favorites are Cormac McCarthy (fiction) and Mark Strand (poetry). The work provided by both of these writers is imbued with a compelling starkness and realism. Because both of them are able to expertly incorporate minimalism into their craft, I have to commend the clarity of their prose and verse respectively. Honorable mentions to William Faulkner, J.D. Salinger, Hart Crane, John Steinbeck, and Richard Hugo.

What’s next for you?

I have been gradually sending out the manuscript for my second chapbook for publication. Apart from this, I will be graduating with my MFA this May.

Where can we find more information about you?

Find me at my tumblr page which I update sporadically: m-d-williams.tumblr.com

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