Interview: David Trinidad

December 1st, 2016

David TrinidadMidwestern Gothic staffer Lauren Stachew talked with author David Trinidad about his collection, Notes on a Past Life, unsettling emotions in poetry, letting poems be and more.

**

Lauren Stachew: What’s your connection to the Midwest?

David Trinidad: I live in Chicago. That’s about it!

LS: You grew up and attended college in California, then spent several years living in New York City. Now that you live in Chicago, how has your understanding of the Midwest changed in comparison to when you lived in the West and East Coasts?

DT: When I lived in Los Angeles and New York, I had very little knowledge of the Midwest. It was that vast (seemingly mindless) space I’d sometimes fly over, on the way to either coast, and that I always equated with that Talking Heads’ song: “I wouldn’t live there if you paid me.” Well, I do live here now, and they do pay me.

I love the personal space here. After fourteen years in New York, I really longed for a more civilized way of life. People don’t push you here, they’re not always trying to edge you out. In general, I find people quite friendly. There are flowers and trees and this beautiful sky. There’s this real sense of nature. In New York, I forgot that nature existed. That the sky existed! I just never looked up. And in Los Angeles . . . well, you’re always in your car there.

It’s strange: I live in Chicago, but I don’t feel like I live in Illinois. What does it mean to live in Illinois? I don’t know!

LS: Your most recent collection of poetry, Notes on a Past Life, details your time spent in the New York poetry scene. In a sense, these poems are like memoir-verses, but you describe this collection as more of an “experiment in memory.” How did you begin the process of telling this story? Do you feel that memory and poetry are inextricably linked?

DT: Notes on a Past Life began as an experiment — I tried to touch, lightly, on some opaque moments in the past. Remembering a color or an object and letting the poem take shape around that. Before long it grew into a book-length project, and took on a — I hate to say “heavy” — a more “serious” tone. It all became very urgent and intense, to remember the significant incidents and relationships from those years, and pin them down in poems. I think I do believe that memory and poetry are linked. At least they are for me. I seem to need to write poems to make sense of what I’ve experienced. It can take me a very long time — years, decades — to be able to address painful or traumatic experiences.

Notes on a Past Life

LS: You’ve said in a previous interview that “certain poems should trouble you.” What do you think is the value in poetry that may yield unsettling emotions? Do these kinds of poems reveal a different kind of truth that other poems cannot?

DT: I do think they can, yes. These kinds of poems help you see things clearly, or for the first time. They shed light on the dark corners. I know that sounds trite, but it’s true. Poems that can help you live, that you can live by. I imagine such poems are different for each of us, and are not what critics usually tout as “great.” It’s more of a private thing, between the poet and the reader.

I like poems that challenge or disturb me, that I have to come to terms with. Obviously I’m thinking of what a poem is saying, its content, rather than any so-called formal or aesthetic innovation. That’s all just surface dazzle. I get impatient with poems that are too evasive. As much as I love James Schuyler’s poems, he does this thing where he gets right to the verge of really saying something revealing but then turns away, goes in another direction. You can almost feel it coming, that turn, that evasion. I prefer poems that go in more directly for the kill, so to speak.

One poem that bothered me for a long time is Thom Gunn’s “Famous Friends.” It’s about an encounter with J.J. Mitchell in a gay bar in New York. Mitchell, who is dying of AIDS, is still cashing in on his one claim to fame: that he was Frank O’Hara’s last boyfriend. Gunn is brutally honest in his portrayal of Mitchell as a shallow character. I thought the poem was insensitive, even cruel. I argued with this poem — it really unsettled me — but finally made peace with it. I talked about it with my students and they helped me see it differently. Certain of Sylvia Plath’s poems trouble people, don’t they? I think people find her anger “unjust.” Richard Wilbur says as much in a poem, “Cottage Street, 1953.” That’s another poem I’ve argued with.

LS: Your first collection of poetry, Pavane, was published in 1981, and you’ve since published many other collections. How do you feel your writing style has evolved or changed with each collection?

DT: My writing has gone through a number of phases over the years, for sure. All along I’ve been in conversation with the poets I’ve admired (though I might not have always known it). I suppose I’ve been drawn to them because they do something that I want to learn to do myself. Touch the reader. Describe something beautifully. Open a window on the creative moment. Engender a sense of intimacy. My recent books seem to take shape much more organically than my earlier books. I try not to overthink what I’m doing. I just do it. My last book I wrote without even trying to write it. It just happened. That was a first. It showed me how fluid the process of writing has become.

LS: Do you ever revise your early poems, or prefer to leave them be once they are finished?

DT: I revised my early poems for the longest time. There seemed to be so many things wrong with them. I had to fix them! At some point I just surrendered. I had to accept that they were early poems, young poems. I had to let them be. It all moves much faster now. I rarely revise beyond a certain point. You work on a poem, it feels alive, you keep tinkering with the things that bug you. But then it’s done, finished. The door closes. The poem begins to feel inviolable.

LS: As a professor of Creative Writing and Poetry at Columbia College Chicago, what is a piece of advice you always give your students?

DT: Read as much as you can. Don’t put all your faith in contemporary poetry. The wind, to paraphrase Ted Hughes, will blow most of it away. Read dead poets. Read collected poems cover to cover. Focus on the writing, not the politics. Embrace variety.

LS: Which poets have had the biggest influence on your writing?

DT: Anne Sexton, Sylvia Plath, Ted Hughes, Ann Stanford, May Swenson, Frank O’Hara, James Schuyler, Alice Notley, Joe Brainard, Tim Dlugos, Amy Gerstler, William Carlos Williams, Elizabeth Bishop, Pablo Neruda, Emily Dickinson. Kind of, but not strictly, in that order.

LS: What’s next for you?

DT: I’m editing Ed Smith’s poems and notebooks. Ed was a wonderful poet, a friend from Los Angeles in the early ‘80s. His two poetry books are long out of print. He died in 2005. I’m also working on a prose memoir. And several other projects. Lately I don’t seem to be as single-minded as I have been in the past. There are a lot of projects in the works.

**

David Trinidad’s latest book is Notes on a Past Life (BlazeVOX [books], 2016). His other books include Dear Prudence: New and Selected Poems (2011) and Peyton Place: A Haiku Soap Opera (2013), both published by Turtle Point Press. He is also the editor of A Fast Life: The Collected Poems of Tim Dlugos (Nightboat Books, 2011). Trinidad lives in Chicago, where he is a Professor of Creative Writing/Poetry at Columbia College.

Contributor Spotlight: Nicholas Ward

nicholas wardNicholas Ward’s piece “All Who Belong May Enter” appears in Midwestern Gothic Issue 23, out now.

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

I’ve spent my entire life here. I grew up in Farmington, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit; I attended college at Miami University in southern Ohio; and I lived in Chicago for twelve years before recently returning to Michigan. I write primarily nonfiction about my life. The Midwest is a character in every story in a small way. The cities and communities I’ve known here have influenced how I think about both my relationship to other people and the stories we carry with us, as well as the country as a whole. To tell a Midwest story is to tell an American story, from its segregated cities and metro areas to its pockets of depressed industry; its resilient citizens, elites living in lakefront mansions, local government’s erosion of the public trust. And that doesn’t even begin to encompass the actors, writers, musicians, and visual artists who call the Midwest their home and/or their inspiration, and who’s export defines and challenges the American mythos.

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

I can’t write in public. When I’m working on a piece, on the first draft, I need to get it out as fast as possible, like vomit; to do so, I talk out loud and walk around and make notes and take breaks. I’m a restless active person, so I try to have a centralized location in my apartment with which to work. For writer’s block, or if I’m thinking through a tricky bit of text or thought, I often get on my bike and go for a ride.

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

It’s usually never finished. One of the privileges about also dabbling in live storytelling is that I can constantly go back to the work, shape and edit and fine-tune and craft it and deeply search to make it better.

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

Because this feels impossible to answer, I’m going to talk about what I’m reading currently. The History of White People by Nell Irvin Painter, is a survey of history that examines how “scientific thinking” and race theory and the worship of whiteness going back to the Scythians influenced thought, policy, and power structures all relevant to today’s white supremacy. It’s recommended reading for all white folks who want to study whiteness in order to abolish it (which should be all of us).

What’s next for you?

Well, I just moved from Chicago to Ann Arbor, where I’m still getting settled. Even though I grew up a half hour away, and Chicago is still really close, it feels like entirely new terrain for me. So finding ways to get in community with this place is my next on-going project.

Where can we find more information about you?

You can find me on Twitter @NicholasCWard, where I post too often about basketball (I’m a blogger for BTPowerhouse) and do a healthy amount of re-tweeting.

|

No Comments

|

Midwest in Photos: Eastside Lawn Party

“Humans haunt more houses than ghosts do. Men assign value to brick and mortar, link their identities to mortgages paid on time. On frigid winter nights, young mothers walk their fussy babies from room to room, learning where the rooms catch drafts and where the floorboars creak. In the warm damp of summer, fathers sit on porches, sometimes worried and often tired but comforted by the fact that a roof is up there providing shelter. Children smudge up walls with dirty handprints, find nooks to hide their particular treasure, or hide themselves if need be. We live and die in houses, dream of getting back to houses, taking great care in considering who will inherit the houses when we’re gone.” –Angela Flournoy, The Turner House.

Eastside Lawn Party

Photo by: Alec Josaitis

|

No Comments

|

Contributor Spotlight: Ben Tanzer

ben tanzerBen Tanzer’s piece “Never Better” appears in Midwestern Gothic Issue 23, out now.

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

I am a native New Yorker, sorry, but have lived in Chicago for the last twenty years. I had not written even one sentence before moving here, and while I want to believe I would have started writing, eventually, wherever I might have ended-up, the fact is I started writing here, and I have only lived here as a writer, and so whatever influences exist, or do not, I don’t know anything but what it means to be living in the Midwest and trying to write one word followed by another.

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

There is a sense of giving here, and support, and while one can probably overstate the whole concept of “Midwest nice,” especially when one is from New York, still sorry, the environment and the willingness to share one’s knowledge, time and connections is my experience of living here, which makes a big difference when you want to create and you don’t know where to start.

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 lived in big cities for nearly thirty years now, Chicago, before that New York City and before that San Francisco, and yet I am constantly drawn back to the small town I grew-up in, the bars, the dating, high school, the friends I had then, the childhood injuries, the parties, the drive-ins, the drinking and the sex. Those experiences were indelible for me and they remain a foundation for all the relationships and interactions that have followed, both on paper and otherwise.

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

I work full-time, I am married and I have children – none of which should sound like bragging, it’s all quite terrible actually – and I didn’t really get started writing until all those things were in motion, or nearly so, and so early on I decided that I would not allow myself to be precious about writing. No consistent setting, no proper music, time of day or perfect cup of coffee. And I have tried to remain that way, workmanlike, and focused on crafting and building, and so there are no true ideals for me, and no waiting for inspirations. Themes do hit me of course, and when they do, I nurture them, and there are the Ramones and David Cronenberg and Jim Carroll and Jay-Z and Lynda Barry, all who have influenced me in terms of beats and rhythms. But mainly I just try to sit down every day, think about what’s next, what comes after that and then staying focused on where I’m going.

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

When I read it and I no longer find myself stuck, or stumbling, when each sentence, and passage or chapter, flows, the language is streamlined and tight, and it feels like the words are the right ones, the fat has been stripped, and it’s my voice, slamming and quick, and as punk as I can be as an aging, 9-5, married, dad, graying, worker dude.

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

I love many writers, and many books, but I always come back to Jim Carroll, and by extension The Basketball Diaries, a book I consumed on repeat from 10 to 18, and recently re-read and wrote about in my new essay collection, Be Cool a memoir (sort of). The writing is electric, and real time, and pulsing throughout. Well to be clear, that’s the case in The Basketball Diaries anyway. I hope that’s also the case with Be Cool, but you will have to be judge of that. That aside, as a reader of The Basketball Diaries, I loved the feel of being in something so alive, even if that wasn’t clear to me then, and as a writer, I want to recreate that feeling, if not for the reader, ideally, then at least for me.

What’s next for you?

Well, Be Cool is happening right now, and so there are readings and hustling, and my essay “Never Better” in the new Midwestern Gothic is from Be Cool, and what evolved into the 1990’s section of the collection, and so I’m pushing on that, and everyone, everywhere, is welcome to not only buy copies, but read it and rate it, and invite me to visit their book clubs, or conferences, whatever, I’m in. After that, I’m hoping to see my novel, Foundlings, the follow-up to my science fiction novel, Orphans, come out, somewhere, and somehow.

Where can we find more information about you?

You can definitely visit my website tanzerben.com, as well as my Twitter feed @bentanzer, and if you’re remotely interested in my faux media empire, you can check-out This Blog Will Change Your Life at changeyourlifethiswill.com, where you will find me endlessly riffing on the cool things I love, as well as the various permutations of the blog, including This Zine Will Change Your Life and This Podcast Will Change Your Life, with handbooks, T-shirts and my denim line, God-willing, coming soon.

|

No Comments

|

Midwest in Photos: Winter through the window

“When he returned to his front door, he discovered it had locked behind him. He grasped at his pockets for a key, but he was wearing only boxer shorts. He limped around the back of house, to the fountain. Somehow the birdbath resembled the girl from the bowling alley. There was no end to the life inside the bird bath or inside the girl, for her blood and fluids kept flowing and flowing. Above him, at the top of the back stairs, the two women stood wrapped in their winter coats.” –Bonnie Jo Campbell, “The Burn,” American Salvage.

Samantha_Navarro-Winter_through_the_Window

Photo by: Samantha Navarro

|

No Comments

|

Interview: Gary Amdahl

Gary AmdahlMidwestern Gothic staffer Megan Valley talked with author Gary Amdahl about The Daredevils, musing vs. building, radical labor activism and more.

**
Want to get your hands on a copy of The Daredevils? We’re giving away three copies of the book — find any of our posts about the giveaway on Twitter and retweet to be entered to win. Only one book will be awarded per person, but feel free to RT as many times as you want to get multiple entries! Deadline is Sunday, 11/20 at midnight. US only please.
**

Megan Valley: What’s your connection to the Midwest?

Gary Amdahl: I was born in Jackson, Minnesota, on a farm with no running water, in 1956. My mother was born there in 1935, and carried water from well to house every day of her life until she left for college. Her father was born near there in 1890. His father was born near Mankato in 1857. Legend has it he saw the mass hanging of thirty-eight Dakota men in retaliation for the Sioux Uprising of 1862. They were from around Hallingdal, Norway. On my father’s side, my great-grandfather came from near Stavanger, Norway and settled in northeastern Iowa. I graduated from Robbinsdale High School in 1974 and took twelve years to get a B- English BA from the University of Minnesota, at which point I departed the Midwest for good (coming back only for my last play and to get married on Madeline Island in Lake Superior).

MV: You’ve written six books and nine plays; what’s the difference in writing those two types of literature?

GA: That’s a good question, and one I never get tired of thinking about. For starters, in a novel, I think, you can muse, whereas in a play you have to build. In a play, every line has to answer a question for the audience, and ask another one. There’s no time to lose. The audience has to be waiting for the next entrance, but the entrance, when it comes, has to be a surprise. I’m not talking about melodramatic contrivance — although a playwright can have a lot of fun, do a lot of good work with such silliness — I’m talking about actually constructing something with words and gestures that the audience can see taking shape before their eyes, something that holds together but which can’t be predicted. So it’s not quite carpentry and it’s not quite card tricks.

The Daredevils

MV: The Daredevils centers on a man who obsesses between performance and “real” life — how does this relate to the political themes, including radical labor activism?

GA: Wow. Thank you for asking the only question that mattered to me in the end. (Writing The Daredevils took a very long time; please see http://www.necessaryfiction.com/blog/ResearchNotesTheDaredevils for the story of the story.)  Hundreds of great books have been written on this subject, from Erving Goffman’s The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life to Galen Strawson’s Selves, and every major philosopher and sociologist deals with it one way or another; novelists have long played with the alternation of aspects of “the personalities of characters” as they change perforce or by calculation from situation to situation.

So I have this tremendous intellectual and artistic foundation, but I am mainly dealing with personal experience. I was outgoing as a kid, a budding decathlete, socially active and socio-politically adept — if a grade- and middle-schooler can be said to be such a thing, and I think he can — but became other-end-of-the-spectrum shy, and spent my twenties in alcoholic, suicidal despair. But because I was also in the theater, and hanging around with people who didn’t philosophize about acting, but instead simply acted, for better or worse, in sickness and in health, I somehow began to see that there was no self worth speaking of without action, and that if I thought too long about anything, I’d never ever act. My life would be the wholly interior life of the alcoholic. Mental health would become something I couldn’t take for granted. So I began to act in what seemed to me to be desperate, goofy, reckless ways. But to other people, apparently, I seemed to be coming to life.

Long story short: politics is a particularly desperate and goofy and reckless kind of action that affects everybody on the planet willy-nilly. It is also particularly visible, often brazenly and ridiculously so. The actions often seem cowardly or calculated, rather than genuine and brave, which was how I wanted to perceive my own “personal political actions.” The difference between what I came to think of as my personal radicalism and a larger more inclusive political radicalism was just a matter of venue and connection. The difference between radical politics and mainstream/center politics is the same as the difference between an actor and a member of the audience. “Radicalism” isn’t associated with “activism” for nothing (not that they are the same thing — they aren’t). There is a great deal of pressure on all of us to do nothing. And I am generally a proponent of that Pascalian proposition that evil flows from people who are not content to sit quietly in their rooms. But: we are simply not capable of sitting in our rooms quietly forever. I meditate, and I know some Big Meditators: we all agree that you can’t do it for very long, and if you press it, you get weird. There’s a difference between letting it be and not caring, between apathy and disinterest. We have to act because we have bodies. We’ve got great opportunities to go with the flow, to be passive spectators, both of light entertainment (TV, movies, etc.) and heavy entertainment (politics), but in the end, our physicality forces us to act.

Ideally, I can act simply and surely, with a cool head and clean hands so to speak, in a spirit of constant improvisation as the present happens and my brain lets me know that means to me — but only if I improvise. Calculation is forbidden, and much, much worse is expectation of success, expectation of anything, really. If you start depending on and calculating for and expecting success…you are doomed. Wickedness and misfortune can ensue just as naturally as riches and fame. You start to buy into…wait for it…the narrative, and the narrative starts to direct the action rather than the action directing the narrative. A subtle difference, perhaps, but a fundamentally important one. Cool improvisation will always be seen as radical in a passive environment devoted to maintenance of the status quo, even if the status quo isn’t particularly comfortable or desirable; but somewhat paradoxically, cool improvisatory radicalism is always the way to restore comfort to a tormented soul, family, city, country, world. (For example, I’m hard pressed to think of a more radical outfit than Alcoholics Anonymous.)

I say this as a human being whose illusory self is composed of nothing but competing narratives offered up by the people of his time and place — here’s how to succeed, here’s how to be happy, etc. — but also as a dramatist and a novelist. Stanislavsky’s major question was something like “Does the emotion elicit the act or does the act elicit the emotion?” The answer isn’t simple, but it was clear from the start that the actor had to get up on the stage and move before anything else could happen. I’m not a postmodernist (I think most artists reject categories like that, even “artist” when you get right down to it) but I do despise tired conventions, and I have a special dislike for the infantile melodramas that currently dominate our literary narratives. The two main characters in The Daredevils, Charles Minot and Vera Kolessina, are poised just on either side of the line that divides improvisation and narration. Vera, a poor mill girl, has quite a story of success already behind her, and is inclined to want her improvisations to continue to propel her forward toward greater success. And who could blame her? Charles is fantastically wealthy. We have seen countless upper-class twits disgusted by their inherited fortunes, and countless more devoted to them, but I don’t think we’ve seen many who are radically disinterested in them.

MV: Which writers have most influenced your style?

GA: Style, as opposed to inspiration, and including method:  James, Proust, Faulkner, Halldór Laxness, Malcolm Lowry, Patrick White, Pynchon.

MV: In your novel, Charles Minot starts in San Francisco and relocates to the Midwest. What role does setting play in The Daredevils?

GA: I wanted the novel to open with that feeling that San Francisco still has, of vast wealth and land’s-end bohemianism, the Golden West and the corruption, opera and motorcycles, mild climate and wild desires — and then show how ephemeral or indeed illusory it all is. The move to Minnesota was inspired by my growing awareness that nice little Minneapolis was a seat of power every bit as corrupt and wealthy as San Francisco — and they had a Socialist mayor in the middle of it all! Minneapolis was Big Timber, Big Iron, Big Grain in the way that San Francisco is now Silicon Valley. And the state and the Twin Cities were run by men who would have loved to have a clown like Donald Trump as their public face.

MV: What do you wish you had known before you began writing?

GA: I wish I had known that it was more important, and healthier for both body and soul, to write what I could write, and not worry about what I couldn’t write.

MV: As someone’s who written many plays, how did that influence your writing of The Daredevils, which focuses on the themes of performance and theatricality?

GA: I answered this over-thoroughly above, so I’ll just add this: I wanted to say everything about the theater and acting in the novel that I couldn’t say or do in a play. Now of course I wonder how I might adapt the novel to the stage…

MV: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever gotten on writing?

GA: This is going to sound arrogant or weird, but…I’ve never gotten a piece of advice on writing. Unless it’s the bromide my near and dear ones have kept handy for decades: don’t let the assholes get you down.

MV: What’s next for you?

GA: The Daredevils sold very poorly, so I am looking for a new publisher. I have three books ready to go: a short novel told entirely in dialogue, Three Clowns, Or, Bellus Spectaculum Gazebo: A Transcript of a Midsummer Night’s Dialogue in Three Acts Concerning the Supreme Fiction; a collection of essays, stories, and poems; and a long novel, The Treaties. I am also looking for a theater to produce the first play I’ve written since 1989: Dharma Comes to Dinner.

**

Gary Amdahl‘s most recent works is a collection of stories, The Intimidator Still Lives In Our Hearts (Artistically Declined Press 2013); two novels, Across My Big Brass Bed (ADP 2014) and The Daredevils (Soft Skull 2016); an essay, Much Ado About Everything: Oration on the Dignity of the Novelist (Massachusetts Review Working Title, 2016), and a play, Dharma Comes to Dinner. He lives in a cracked and dusty test tube filled with fifteen million people that lies between Los Angeles and Palm Springs, with his wife, PEN award-winning writer Leslie Brody, and their dog and cat.

|

No Comments

|

Midwestern Gothic at the Book Fort Fair

bookfortfair
The first annual Book Fort Fair hosted by Curbside Splendor is coming up this Saturday, November 19th! Come stop by the Midwestern Gothic table to say hi to Rob and Jeff!

The event will be a chance to gather the literary community together to chat about the importance of books and publishing, with awesome activities like a letterpress workshop, a button-making station, and more! We’ll be at the event, but even if you don’t come see us, there’s plenty for anyone who appreciates literature.

At the event you can browse and buy books and literary magazines from more than 25 publishers, presses, and organizations! There will also be an all-day DJ and literary-themed cocktails. Yum! Be sure to check out the event’s Facebook page for more info!

Book Fort Fair
Where: Revival Food Hall, 125 S. Clark St., Chicago, IL
When: Saturday, November 19th 11am – 4pm
How: FREE! Just be sure to RSVP here!

|

No Comments

|

Interview: Tiffany McDaniel

Tiffany McDaniel Midwestern Gothic staffer Lauren Stachew talks with author Tiffany McDaniel about her novel The Summer that Melted Everything, what’s in a name, midwestern gothic as a genre, and more.

**

Lauren Stachew: What’s your connection to the Midwest?

Tiffany McDaniel: I was born and raised in Ohio. I think every author is shaped by the land they come from and the Midwest has certainly shaped my own writing, particularly the southern reaches of the state, which is where my parents were raised. I spent my childhood summers and school-year weekends on the hilly acreage my father was left by his parents. The Summer that Melted Everything takes place in the fictional town of Breathed, Ohio, which is a landscape reflective of my time spent in southern Ohio, where the nights are mythically starred while the hills sing you to sleep. I’ve always said cut me open and fireflies will fly out with blood of rust and some moon-shine magic. How can it not?

LS: Your debut novel, The Summer That Melted Everything, is set in the fictional town of Breathed, Ohio during the summer of 1984 – the year a heat wave scorched the entire town, and the year main character Fielding Bliss befriends the devil, who takes the form of 13-year old boy, Sal. The short synopsis in itself is both compelling and wonderfully unusual. When and how did you formulate the idea for this novel?

TM: The novel started first as a title. It was one of those Ohio summers that was so hot I felt like I was melting. All of me dripping down onto the dandelion ground. I always start a new novel with two things. The title and the first line. These two things determine the course of the story. I never outline or plan the story out beforehand, so the idea evolves with each new page and word that I write. Outlining or planning the story domesticates the idea and I want to preserve the story’s wild soul so it can beat on with the thunder.

The Summer that Melted Everything

LS: The characters in this novel have such beautifully strange names – Fielding Bliss and his father Autopsy, in particular. Why did you prefer these names as opposed to something more conventional?

TM:  I’ve found in my writing that I tend to stray from those conventional names like John or Mary. There’s so much in a name, and using a name as a subtle tool to drive a theme home is something I take advantage of as an author. I feel like the characters already know their names and it’s up to me as the author to name them their truth. In the case of Autopsy, I had seen the word that day I was naming him. We’re all familiar with the word autopsy from crime shows and movies. The dead body on the cold slab. But when I looked up the definition of the word and saw it’s meaning of ‘to see for oneself’ there really was no other name for a man who one day puts an invitation in the newspaper inviting the devil to town.

LS: The language and atmosphere of this novel feel almost cinematic at times. Because you are also a screenwriter, were there any films that provided inspiration or imagery into this narrative?

TM: I do love film and when I write I tend to write with the hope that the story will be translated to the screen. For the most part I’ve always been pretty visual. It’s almost like a movie filming in my head. I can’t say there were any films that provided inspiration for the story. You’ve got to allow your story to be its own self and not the echo of something else.

LS: This novel has been described as “Southern Gothic” by several reviewers, yet both the novel’s setting and your upbringing are in Ohio. Why do you think the qualities of southern fiction have been ascribed to this narrative, as opposed to recognizing its Midwestern environment and perspective? Do you think southern Ohio, and perhaps other parts of the Midwest, exist in a liminal space between these regions, having the ability to hold their identities in both places at once?

TM: I think people who are unfamiliar with southern Ohio will think after reading The Summer that Melted Everything that the story is more southern, just because when we hear that dialect or twang we immediately associate it with the southern portion of the United States, which is a shame because there’s so much culture in the southern reaches of Ohio that most, even those living in the central and northern part of the state, aren’t too aware of. Things like making moonshine and swimming in the creek is something we’ve seen over and over again in southern books, shows, and movies so that particular lifestyle is strongly associated with the south and the south only. Furthermore, I think Midwest Gothic isn’t as ingrained in readers’ minds as Southern Gothic because Southern Gothic is a genre that has been long-established by some of the finest authors we’ve ever had like Harper Lee, Flannery O’ Connor, Carson McCullers, Shirley Jackson, and William Faulkner. Because they are authors who are so prominent, that southern genre has swallowed other gothic genres, Midwest included. It’s unfortunate because there’s so much magic in this land and in its literature. There is its special brand of gothic that rises to its own occasion.

LS: What does a typical day of writing look like for you?

TM: I don’t have a schedule or routine. I don’t set a goal of writing a certain amount of words or pages a day. For me, it’s just about being present and ready. It’s like going out to a big ol’ faucet. Turn that faucet on and just be ready with a big ol’ bowl to catch what comes out.

LS: Which author(s) have had the most influence on your writing?

TM:  I’ve been writing since I was a kid. I grew up on R.L. Stine. His Goosebumps and Fear Street series. I didn’t read the heavyweights of my literary genre until I was older and had actually already had my first novel written, so I can’t say there’s been a particular author or book that has influenced me, but some of my favorite authors are Ray Bradbury, Shirley Jackson, Harper Lee, Donna Tartt, and the poet James Wright.

LS: What’s next for you?

TM: I have eight completed novels and am working on my ninth. The novel I’m hoping to follow The Summer that Melted Everything up with is titled, When Lions Stood as Men. It’s the story of a Jewish brother and sister who escape Nazi Germany, cross the Atlantic Ocean, and end up in Ohio. Struggling with the guilt of surviving the Holocaust, they create their own camp of judgment up in the hills of Breathed, Ohio. Being both the guards and the prisoners, the siblings punish themselves not only for surviving, but for the sins they know they cannot help but commit.

**

An Ohio native, Tiffany McDaniel’s writing is inspired by the rolling hills and buckeye woods of the land she knows. She is also a poet, playwright, screenwriter, and artist. She is the winner of the Not-the-Booker Prize for her debut novel, The Summer that Melted Everything, which is a Goodreads Choice Award 2016 nominee.

|

No Comments

|

Contributor Spotlight: Christi R. Suzanne

christi r suzanneChristi R. Suzanne’s piece “Whispers” appears in Midwestern Gothic Issue 23, out now.

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

I was born in Cleveland, Ohio, but lived there for maybe two years so I don’t remember that. My main connection is my parents who grew up in a small town called Napoleon, Ohio off the Maumee River. We, including my older sister, visited every other summer and got to take trips to Cedar Point with my Aunt and Uncle and cousins. That was the best! We also took our uncle’s boat down the river and visited the local Frosty Boy for some ice cream. We still go back every few years. My most recent visit was just a few months ago for my grandpa’s 95th birthday.

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

I always found the opportunity to explore a type of nature that was so different from where I grew up in Arizona compelling. I was always scared of it because it seemed like so much was hiding. In the desert it’s pretty flat and the saguaros or prickly pears can’t hide much. It felt dangerous in Ohio to eat berries off the vine when my grandmother or dad took us on walks. Once I told my grandma I felt sick after eating some really good berries. I felt like I ate poison! She laughed at me. I guess I was a city kid from my time in Arizona.

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?

Definitely, Napoleon, Ohio. It’s a place that holds a lot of secrets and a lot of memories for me. I always wanted to know more about the place where my parents grew up. Sometimes to see if it was better than my experience and sometimes because I wanted to know how they came to be the people they are. I have always been curious about origins and how we as humans become who we are. This is great for creative non-fiction.

Ohio is a place that has some really cool old buildings and abandoned farmhouses or barns. There are tons of settings that lend nicely to imagination for my fiction.

I also love Cedar Pointe in Sandusky, Ohio. My aunt and uncle and cousins brought my sister and I along a few times and it was amazing. I’ve used that setting at least once in my writing recently.

I could go on, but I’ll spare you.

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

Generally, I am inspired by some real or imagined event. I also tend to ask a lot of why questions. Like why would someone want to buy a skull from a curiosities store? or what if you thought you saw a crime from atop a ferris wheel? I start with a question and go from there.

As far as ideal environments go I write best in the morning with a cup of coffee. I have a full time job so I mostly write only on weekends, which is unfortunate for my husband who rarely gets to go out to brunch with me, unless it’s after noon, and then you can’t really call that brunch.

Writer’s block? I guess I write through it or think through it. I do a lot of simmering when I’m having trouble with writing. I walk with my dog and let my mind wander a bit. If that doesn’t seem to be working I talk to some of my writer friends or my husband. A good talking it out session usually helps.

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

Sometimes I can’t. However, when I can, I feel something like extra synapses have connected in my brain or some kind of stretching in that area. I think it’s because I was able to convey something the way I wanted to. I feel excited by the prospect that the piece has meaning beyond me and my process and I often get a sense of satisfaction that feels like a sponge sucking up water, maybe that’s the feeling of growing as a writer.

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

I’ve always loved Margaret Atwood, but I would also add Octavia Butler and Banana Yoshimoto as well as Yukio Mishima. Other authors include, Roxane Gay (I was blown away by her book Untamed State) and Yoko Ogawa. Oh, there are too many. I like the raw emotion that these authors convey as well as the social and/or cultural implications they often bring to light in their writing.

What’s next for you?

I have a work in progress, a novel, my second long form endeavor. My first has yet to be published, but I’m working on a new project and other short creative non-fiction and fiction pieces as well.

Where can we find more information about you?

www.christi-r-suzanne.com or @christirsuzanne.

|

No Comments

|

Contributor Spotlight: Toni Nealie

Toni NealieToni Nealie’s piece “The Sediment of Fear” appears in Midwestern Gothic Issue 23, out now.

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

I grew up between the ocean and mountains of Aotearoa, New Zealand and moved to the Midwest as an adult. I write about the plains in contrast to the spectacular landscape I left. I’ve come to appreciate the beauty of the plains: “the muted splendor of the cornfields, nothing flashy or overly dramatic, just a quiet goldenness laid out between the horizons.”

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

Chicago skyscrapers lined up with the lake rolling out in front — the manmade looks puny compared to nature. The way the storms roll in across the plain. My dog hides under the bed whenever there’s thunder and lightning.

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?

The Miles Between Me is largely about place, borders, distance and different perspectives on upheaval and memory. I use landscape as a way into difficult topics – in “Rupturing” I write about an earthquake in my hometown. The distress caused “when all that is known has been heaved up” refers to the loss of environment and loss in my family. In “The Sediment of Fear” I write about rocks, and wonder how the sediments connect us to our unstable histories, across time and place.

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

Right now I’m trying to generate new work. Clearing deadlines and making space for it is my biggest challenge. I like dreamy solitude when writing. And lots of coffee.

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

When enough has been stripped away or added that it feels complete. I’m slow.

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

When I was writing this book, I was reading Maggie Nelson, Pessoa, Rilke, Baldwin… Currently I’m enjoying Chicago poets and fiction writers including Ladan Osman, Roger Reeves, Chris Rice. Ideas and language attract me, the sound, texture and rythym of the words on the page and an attempt to let me see a perspective I hadn’t encountered.

What’s next for you?

I’m coming to the end of six months of readings for The Miles Between Me. I’m co-editing The Sunday Rumpus, Literary Editor at Newcity, and I’m teaching writing. I’m in a pre-writing phase right now – hope to be into the writing soon.

Where can we find more information about you?

Toninealie.com and @tnealie

|

No Comments

|