Praise for Above All Men

April 18th, 2014

A trio of book reviews have come in for Eric Shonkwiler’s Above All Men. If you haven’t grabbed a copy for yourself yet, take a moment and let these folks convince you to take the plunge:

“Shonkwiler renders the degraded deprivation…in artful, distinctively crafted language.” –Zach Kopp, Examiner.com

“Well-written and possibly prophetic.” –Tammy McCartney, San Franscisco Book Review

“It’s power cannot be denied…a strong contender for the best book I’ve read this year.” –Booksie’s Blog

Buy Above All Men

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Contributor Spotlight: David Faldet

df portrait river square3David Faldet’s piece “Dad’s Radio” appears in Midwestern Gothic Issue 12, out now.

How long have you been writing?
After writing poetry in college and working with David Wagoner in graduate school I shifted to academic writing. The local ArtHaus poetry slam got me reworking poems again two or three years ago; a good thing, because when family tragedy struck in the summer of 2012 poetry was there for me, the perfect medium through which to channel powerful feelings that might otherwise have overwhelmed me.

What’s your connection to the Midwest?
People on both sides of my family have been living in Northeast Iowa for six, going on seven or eight, generations. Though I’ve lived in the West, the Northwest, and in England for about a decade of my life, Iowa has otherwise been my home.

How has the Midwest influenced your writing?
That’s a bit like asking how air affects my breathing. The Midwest is what I write. I spent a decade working on a natural history of the river basin in which I live, the Upper Iowa. The work on that was transformative. It taught me that the minerals in that river now make up my bones. It taught me that the 70% of me that is water is a moving extension of that river.

Why do you believe there has never really been a regionalist push for Midwestern writing in the past like there has with the South or even the West Coast?
That question doesn’t ring true with my experience. The first long series of books I devoured as a child was Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House” books, set on the Midwestern frontier. In middle school my college-age sister’s boyfriend introduced me to Hamlin Garland because he knew chapter seven of Son of the Middle Border was set on a farm just miles from ours. My high school literature teacher made sure we read Carl Sandburg, Sherwood Anderson, and Edgar Lee Masters and put those authors on a pedestal similar in height to that on which she placed New England writers like Emerson, Thoreau, and Robert Frost. She also asked Joseph Langland, who taught at U Mass-Amherst, but who wrote poems about his rural childhood in my county, to read his work to my class. My college mentor, Gracia Grindal, was writing poems on subjects like the Iowa State Fair, and so the first books of poetry I purchased in my late teens were Lucien Styrk’s Heartland anthologies from 1967 and 1972. By the time I started college in 1975 I was a weekly listener to Garrison Kiellor’s reports from Lake Wobegon. Even today I don’t have time to read all the Midwestern authors I’d like. That’s too bad, because to take just two related examples, what books could have been as transformative for me as seeing Shakespeare with new eyes in Jane Smiley’s rendition of King Lear in A Thousand Acres or David Wroblewski’s heart-shattering version of Hamlet in the main figure of The Story of Edgar Sawtelle? Though I’ve outgrown Laura Ingalls Wilder, the frontier epics still basic to my fictional universe are My Antonia and Giants in the Earth.

Because the American publishing industry is concentrated in New York, because American cinema is concentrated in California, and because the bloodiest war in American history was fought over whether the South could retain is distinctiveness, it’s tempting to think that the literature of those places has a power lacking in other places, but that’s not true. I look forward to the “Talk of the Township” section of Tim Fay’s Wapsipincon Almanac because it does rural Iowa every bit the same poetic justice as the New Yorker’s “Talk of the Town.” I love that your journal has the title Midwestern Gothic. Since Midwestern speech patterns were chosen as the norm for national television news, and since Peoria, Illinois, was chosen as the “norm” in American demographics, it is tempting to think of the Midwest as the mind-numbing white bread standard. Instead, it has its own distinctive grit and texture, its own twisted family histories. Its funky renditions of “the normal” make people from elsewhere shake their heads in tripped-out disbelief (think here, in cinema, of the Coen brothers’ Fargo). When Grant Wood’s American Gothic is embraced as an “American” standard, that’s cultural colonialism at work.

That painting is a Depression-era imaginative reconstruction of Eldon, Iowa, by Iowa painter Grant Wood, and hangs with pride of place in the Art Institute of Chicago. It’s pure Midwest, and no one would mistake it for Manhattan, or Yoknapatawpha County, Mississippi or expect to have to travel to the Getty Museum to find it. The same is true for a Hemingway Nick Adams story, a Robert Bly poem, or a Louise Erdrich novel. Pure Midwest.

How do you feel about social media to promote your writing, and do you use it?
Social media is the new and current face of writing, but I’m not there yet.

Favorite book?
The book that has had the deepest impact on my life is Dante’s Comedy.

Favorite food?
Fresh green beans, seared and then sautéed with peanut oil and soy sauce

If you could have coffee (or tea or a beer) with any literary figure, alive or dead, who would it be?
A year ago my wife and I had dinner with Wisconsin novelist Jane Hamilton. I can’t imagine a better evening.

Where can we find more information about you?
https://sites.google.com/a/luther.edu/dsfaldet/.

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Contributor Spotlight: Rocco Versaci

Versaci PhotoRocco Versaci’s story “Not in Kansas Anymore” appears in Midwestern Gothic Issue 13, out now.

How long have you been writing?
Since grade school. My earliest work of note was a fifteen-page handwritten story in which I detailed every single play of a fictional all-star game. The critics were harsh; my older brother pointed out all of my spelling mistakes and my dad corrected me on key points of baseball terminology.

What’s your connection to the Midwest?
I grew up in Downers Grove, Illinois, which is a western suburb of Chicago. I ended up sticking around the Midwest for school—the University of Illinois as an undergraduate and then Indiana University for graduate school. Even though I’ve lived in southern California since the late 1990s, I’ll always consider myself a Midwesterner.

How has the Midwest influenced your writing?
We live in a country of mind-blowing landscapes, but I still find open plains, farmland, and tiny shopping plazas off of stark, two-lane highways to be the most stirring in terms of imagination. These images make me want to find out about the people who live there, to imagine their stories. I think it stems from when I was a kid. The suburbs where I grew up looks much different than it does today. There was much more open space back then, like a gigantic field behind my parents’ house and a working farm beyond that. I spent a lot of time wandering through that field, making up adventures and stories in my head. One of the most beautiful movies I’ve seen in the last ten years is Alexander Payne’s Nebraska; he’s an artist who knows how to show how evocative the Midwest can be.

Why do you believe there has never really been a regionalist push for Midwestern writing in the past like there has with the South or even the West Coast?
For most people on the outside, the Midwest remains a big blank spot on the map, and this attitude carries over to how those people see the Midwest in terms of landscape, history, and culture—all factors considered necessary inspirations for the best literature. To think that the Midwest lacks richness in these areas is, of course, false; many great writers—past and present—have mined this area for material and have most certainly created a body of writing worthy of its own regional consideration. But what is true is that the region lacks a set of clear, defining “themes,” unlike the West and South. I’ve lived in the shadow of Chicago and in rural Indiana, and I’ve traveled—by bike—through Kansas and Missouri, and let me tell you that all of those places are little worlds unto themselves. To establish a regional literature, one must find unifying thematic threads, and I suspect that even the staunchest proponents of Midwestern regionalism have difficulty in defining exactly what that Midwestern aesthetic entails.

How do you feel about social media to promote your writing, and do you use it?
With the possibilities of today’s technological world, I feel that social media is an amazing tool for writers to connect with each other and with readers. I use it, but only with moderate success—mainly by connecting my blog with Facebook and Twitter.

Favorite book?
When I was a kid, I obsessively kept lists of my favorite books, movies, and TV shows on these little index cards that I’d keep recopying and putting on the wall in my room. It took me a long time to realize the futility of rankings. Why quantify? That said, I can certainly come up with books that have had a profound impact on me—John Irving’s The World According to Garp and Tim O’Brien’s Going after Cacciato come immediately to mind. Lately, though, because I’ve been working on creative nonfiction/memoir, I’ve come to appreciate the brilliance of books like Lauren Slater’s Lying and Tobias Wolff’s This Boy’s Life.

Favorite food?
As with the previous question, it’s tough to pick just one. My tastes run in streaks, and those streaks tend toward Italian. Lately I’ve been craving some Chicago favorites—a beef and sausage combo with sweet peppers from Portillo’s or any stuffed pizza from Giordano’s. There’s a little mom-and-pop place near the school where I teach, and they make a great capicola sandwich. From my own kitchen, it’s the eggplant parmigiana. If you think you can get better than what I make, you’re wrong.

If you could have coffee (or tea or a beer) with any literary figure, alive or dead, who would it be?
Kurt Vonnegut. I devoured his books in high school and college, and when I was at Indiana University, I was lucky enough to hear him give a lecture. I remember thinking that he’d be the perfect writer to hang out with—I wouldn’t have to say a word; I could just sit back and listen.

Where can we find more information about you?
Two places: my blog and my website. My blog is at http://queasywriter.blogspot.com and my website is at http://www.palomar.edu/english/versaci.

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Contributor Spotlight: Julie Brooks Barbour

JBB1Julie Brooks Barbour’s piece “Repair” appears in Midwestern Gothic Issue 12, out now.

How long have you been writing?
Seriously, for nearly twenty years.

What’s your connection to the Midwest?
I’ve lived in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan for eight years.

How has the Midwest influenced your writing?
I write more about the weather, certainly, since winter can be brutal in these parts, but since I also live in a small town much like the one where I grew up in the South, where the countryside is very close, I write more about interior and exterior landscapes than I did before I moved to Michigan. I’m very interested in actual forests and the wilderness of the spirit.

Why do you believe there has never really been a regionalist push for Midwestern writing in the past like there has with the South or even the West Coast?
I think America is more interested in what exists at its farthest regions than it is in what exists at its center. There’s a darkness and wildness in Midwestern literature that isn’t like Southern Gothic. It’s raw and rusty, and gnaws at the soul.

How do you feel about social media to promote your writing, and do you use it?
I do use social media to promote my writing from time to time. However, I prefer to discuss the most recent poem I’ve read and loved, or my frustrations with my own work on these platforms, rather than to always promote my own work. I want readers to hear from the real me, not only from the published words I’ve written.

Favorite book?
The Ballad of the Sad Café by Carson McCullers.

Favorite food?
Cheese pizza.

If you could have coffee (or tea or a beer) with any literary figure, alive or dead, who would it be?
I would love to have tea with Eavan Boland.

Where can we find more information about you?
Visit my website at juliebrooksbarbour.com or follow me on Twitter @JulieBrooksBarb.

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Contributor Spotlight: Jennifer Finstrom

Finstrom pictureJennifer Finstrom’s piece “Almost Sonnet Begun on a Greyhound Bus in Northern Wisconsin While Contemplating What Really Happened in the Woods That Night” appears in Midwestern Gothic Issue 13, out now.

How long have you been writing?
I’ve been writing since I was in grade school, but fiction came a bit before poetry. I actually started out writing Star Wars fanfiction (before I knew what fanfiction was) when I was about twelve for my friend Lori. I went on to attempt a couple of high fantasy epics, one of which is about the height of a small child and sits on a chair in my living room. I started writing poetry in high school and continued until the present day, first taking workshops at UW-Green Bay and then many years later at DePaul University. I still do write fiction as well as poetry.

What’s your connection to the Midwest?
The Midwest is the only place I’ve ever lived, so I feel a very close connection. I was born in Milwaukee and went to school in both Green Bay and Madison. I moved back to Milwaukee for a time before finishing both my BA and MA at DePaul in Chicago. I’m now part-time faculty there as well as a peer writing tutor for the University Center for Writing-based Learning (UCWbL). At least for now, I don’t see leaving Chicago or the Midwest anytime soon. Both of my parents grew up in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, so I feel quite a connection there as well.

How has the Midwest influenced your writing?
I feel that there is an increasing connection with place in my work. My poem in this issue is a part of a series that I call almost sonnets (because they are almost, but not quite, sonnets), and they tend to have a nostalgic component that is increasingly bound up in place. These poems also quote Shakespeare’s plays and sometimes other works, and I like to see the juxtaposition of that with a specific time and place in my life. I’ve also been near Lake Michigan in all but one of the four places that I’ve lived, and it is a sometimes presence in my work.

Why do you believe there has never really been a regionalist push for Midwestern writing in the past like there has with the South or even the West Coast?
This is a really good question, and I’m really not sure. I feel that the writing communities in cities and regions of states tend to be localized, but I don’t know why that wouldn’t be the same for the South and the West Coast. I do love the idea of it.

How do you feel about social media to promote your writing, and do you use it?
I do absolutely use social media to promote my work. I also use it very frequently to connect with other writers.

Favorite book?
Oh, it’s too difficult to pick just one. For favorite works of fiction, I would say anything by Jane Austen, anything by J.R.R. Tolkien, and Laurence Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet if I had to name a few. Also, Margaret Atwood for fiction and poetry both. Additionally, I’m fascinated by the works of Samuel Richardson, oddly enough the little-read sequel to Pamela even more than the others. For poetry, I love the work of Louise Glück, Marie Howe, C.P. Cavafy, William Butler Yeats, Charles Algernon Swinburne, Charles Baudelaire, both Rossettis, and many more.

Favorite food?
I have many favorites, but I like them to be as spicy as possible. I can easily go through a bottle of hot sauce in a week at home. I do particularly like Thai food and Korean food. Here is an unusual food fact about me: I have loved anchovies ever since I was little, and my father still gives me a tin of them in my Christmas stocking.

If you could have coffee (or tea or a beer) with any literary figure, alive or dead, who would it be?
This might not be the best idea, but I would have to say Charles Baudelaire. And we would drink absinthe.

Where can we find more information about you?
My twitter handle is @jenfinstrom. Also, I have been affiliated with Eclectica Magazine (http://www.eclectica.org/index.html) for several years, first solely as a contributor and then as poetry editor.

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Above All Men Free Book Giveaway!

Haven’t had a chance to pick up a copy of Above All Men? Good news – we’re hosting a free book giveaway on Twitter!

To enter: RT the contest tweet, starting Monday, April 7th.

Grand Prize: One of Three (3) signed paperbacks of Above All Men
Runner-up Prizes: Five (5) eBooks (1 per day) of Above All Men

Contest Dates: CONTEST CLOSED

Above All Men Book Giveaway

The nitty gritty:

  • We’ll be giving away one (1) eBook copy per day (winner’s choice of format – ePub, PDF or Kindle), Monday, April 7th through Friday, April 11th
  • Must have a valid Twitter account to enter
  • Once you retweet the contest tweet you are automatically entered into the drawing for a signed paperback of the book at the end of the week
  • 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 eBooks, and you get 5 chances to win the signed book
  • Winners are chosen by Random.org random number generator after each RT is assigned a number
  • Daily eBook winners will be announced on Twitter, and only RTs from that day will count toward that day’s prize
  • If you enter and win an eBook copy, you can still enter, once per day, for the rest of the contest duration for a better shot at the final prize. Winning multiple eBooks isn’t allowed.

Shop for Above All Men, available in paperback and eBook

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Contributor Spotlight: Raul Palma

IMG_5021Palma_Raul Palma’s story “Amaranthus” appears in Midwestern Gothic Issue 12, out now.

How long have you been writing?
About three years ago, I sat down for a haircut. My stylist asked, innocently enough, “What do you do for a living?” “I’m a writer,” I said, and it was the first time I believed it, I think. Up until then, writing had been this thing I’d done in the evenings or when I was messing around at work. Even when I graduated from Columbia College with a degree in fiction writing, I identified with other occupations: retail, account management, business development. So while I’ve been writing all my life, it isn’t until recently—first at DePaul University and later at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln—that I’ve completely and utterly dedicated my life to it.

What’s your connection to the Midwest?
I was born and raised in Miami, Florida. And so I spent most of my free time at the beach, in the Florida Keys, or exploring the Everglades. But perhaps because I was an undergraduate student—commuting, balancing work and a full course load, figuring out what college was all about—I never quite connected with my peers. Midway through my undergraduate work, I moved to Chicago for the first time and attended Columbia College. I loved Chicago so much that seven years later, newlywed, I moved back with my wife. Now I’m in Lincoln, Nebraska.

I love the Midwest, the cities, the country, even the snow and the sound of shovels scraping the sidewalks on cold winter mornings. I didn’t grow up with any of this—the changing of the seasons—and there’s something invigorating and productive about it. So while I may yearn for family and the ocean at times, I very much identify as a Midwest writer, reflecting on my Cuban heritage.

How has the Midwest influenced your writing?
I didn’t realize how Cuban I was until I moved away from Miami. There were certain things I took for granted: a cup of Cuban coffee at a local bakery, a croquetta preparada sandwich, dominos with my family and friends, a kiss on the cheek for hellos and goodbyes. In many ways, distance helped me understand and appreciate my cultural background as it clashed with the Midwest. At times I even found myself speaking Spanglish to my peers, out of habit. But it also helped me realize that being Cuban-American was only a single thread in my identity.

It took me a long time to write Chicago-based stories. I needed to become intimate with the city—it’s history, culture, literature. Even now, I realize how little I know about the Midwest. My first drive out from Chicago, to Lincoln, was the first time I’d seen Chicago’s urban center slowly become the suburbs and slowly become the countryside. It’s easy to forget, living in Chicago, that the city is surrounded by farmland. These observations may seem commonplace to anyone originally from the Midwest, but it’s new to me, and I’m fascinated by it, so I write about it sometimes.

Why do you believe there has never really been a regionalist push for Midwestern writing in the past like there has with the South or even the West Coast?
There’s certainly a long history of Midwestern writing: Willa Cather, Lewis Sinclair, Sherwood Anderson, Theodore Dreiser, Gwendolyn Brooks, and so on. But when I think of these authors, I don’t think of them as regionalist in the way that I consider, for example, Faulkner and O’Connor Southern. There isn’t a certain style, story, author, representative of the Midwest, I think, and this works in the Midwest’s favor. We’re a rather flat crossroads between the oceans and the mountains—at once rural and culturally sophisticated—and I could see how pushing for a specific regional identity, diverse as Midwest writers are, might be rather complicated, maybe even alienating for some Midwestern writers.

How do you feel about social media to promote your writing, and do you use it?
Every so often, I’ll share some news on Facebook. It’s for my family and friends, really. But I follow a whole bunch of writers and journals. It’s a great way to stay connected or distracted.

Favorite book?
The Coast of Chicago by Stuart Dybek.

Favorite food?
Ropa Vieja, rice, with a side of malanga frita.

If you could have coffee (or tea or a beer) with any literary figure, alive or dead, who would it be?
Spalding Gray. Whenever I’m stuck, I listen to his monologues, or I read his novel Impossible Vacation.

Where can we find more information about you?
E-mail me at RP7983@aol.com.

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Submissions for Issue 14 (Summer 2014) Are Open

Okay, so maybe we just got the first real hint of spring, but it’s never to early to think about summer, right? Exactly! So bust out the shorts and tees, and here’s hoping we’ve seen the last of those freak cold weather spells: submissions for Issue 14 (Summer 2014) are now open for Fiction and Poetry until May 4, 2014!

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 May 4, 2014.

Good luck, and happy submitting!

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Contributor Spotlight: Sara Leavens

1506074_529428749722_1530346885_nSara Leavens’ story “How to Conserve Water in a Drought” appears in Midwestern Gothic Issue 13, out now.

How long have you been writing?
I wrote my first short story—an escapist piece about an old man who lived in a lighthouse and his pet whale when I was in Kindergarten. I had my first reading later the same day during “Show and Tell” on the exclusive Numbers and Letters Carpet. It was a hit through all three recesses. I’ve been hooked ever since.

What’s your connection to the Midwest?
My family has inhabited the same one-stoplight towns and steamrolled countryside in north central Iowa for over 100 years. I attended state universities in Iowa for six years before moving to Kansas for my MFA.

How has the Midwest influenced your writing?
I fought writing about the Midwest for so long. I don’t think anyone who grows up in the rural or—especially—suburban Midwest doesn’t dream of leaving or escaping at some point in their lives. I wrote fiction to escape reality, not to confront it head on. The impulse was always there, but it wasn’t what I was reading or thinking about—which is completely ironic because I’ve never lived anywhere else.

The Atlantic Monthly’s online supplement published Stephen Bloom’s “Observations From 20 Years of Iowa Life” right around the time I was trying to piece together the short story collection project I composed for my master’s degree. Although I was a literature student fully capable of grasping satire and irony, it made my ears hot. It drove me to write an entire collection of depictions of Iowans and Upper Midwesterners that were honest, true, and humane. Above all, it made me an activist.

If Midwesterners don’t want “outsiders” misinterpreting who we are, we need to take the time to write about ourselves. We need to make people care. Make people realize we live rich, worthy, and fascinating lives in “flyover country.”

Why do you believe there has never really been a regionalist push for Midwestern writing in the past like there has with the South or even the West Coast?
There was a false narrative in this country about Midwesterners being polite and reticent yokels—certainly not innovators or radicals. If it is assumed that you won’t use your voice, no one will be interested in hearing it. I see this narrative changing more and more every year and it excites me. Publication venues like Midwestern Gothic and the ascendancy the Minneapolis literary/arts scene have done a lot to make this happen.

How do you feel about social media to promote your writing, and do you use it?
I think its great and I try to use it whenever I can.

Favorite book?
Extraordinary Changes at the Last Minute by Grace Paley. I find something new to fall in love with every time I read it.

Favorite food?
Pie. A poet and book review editor friend of mine reviewed Kate Lebo’s A Commonplace Book of Pie recently and we’ve been baking our way through those recipes for a few months now. I fully recommend all of them, especially the Ginger Peach.

If you could have coffee (or tea or a beer) with any literary figure, alive or dead, who would it be?
I’d love to have Schlitzes with Danielle Steel in a roadhouse in northern Wisconsin and learn about how she makes her megamillions, but I think a few rounds with Grace Paley’s ghost would be a more realistic choice.

Where can we find more information about you?
Certainly follow me on twitter: @sara_alyse or drop me an email: sara.alyse@gmail.com.

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Issue 13 is here!

issue13Midwestern Gothic Issue 13 (Spring 2014) is here! Thaw out and discover new and established voices with some of the region’s finest fiction and poetry inspired by the Midwest.

The Spring 2014 issue features a diverse group of poets and writers, collecting fiction and poetry from around the region. Issue 13 is available in hardcopy ($12) and eBook formats ($2.99), including Kindle, iPad, Nook, and PDF. Click here to pick up a copy.

Issue 13 features work from Michelle Collins Anderson, Chloe Krug Benjamin, Bonnie Jo Campbell, Laura Citino, Scott Daughtridge, Michael Don, Jacob Gajuardo, Sean Richard Higgins, Gail Jeidy, Amanda Kabak, Sara Leavens, Forest Lewis, Adam Michaud, Casey Pycior, Debbie Urbanski, Charles Joseph Valentine, Rocco Versaci, John Woods, Matt Young, Katie Booms, Cathryn Essinger, Jennifer Finstrom, Zac Fishel, Casey Francis, Marianna Hofer, Matthew Landrum, Mark Magoon, David Mathews, Cindy Hunter Morgan, Stacy Post, Adina Schoem, Carrie Shipers, and Claire Tinguely.

Shop for Midwestern Gothic Issue 13 (Spring 2014)

(And don’t forget we offer some great deals on subscriptions too!)

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