Midwest in Photos: Ann Arbor Fairy House

May 28th, 2016

“Any stranger can walk into any city at any time of day. Raising a family under trees could be good business.” –Mary Biddinger, “A Woodland Childhood,” Midwestern Gothic Issue 1

Ann Arbor Fairy House

Photo by: Alec Josaitis

8th Street Power & Light, a novel by Eric Shonkwiler (MG Press)

We are thrilled to share details of our third MG Press title to be published in 2016 (out this fall!), the novel 8th Street Power & Light by Eric Shonkwiler!

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(And we are so thrilled with this beautiful cover design by Lauren Crawford!)

From the back cover: In an abandoned Midwestern city, there’s one last vestige of order and days gone by: 8th Street Power & Light. Part government, gang, and power company, 8th Street tasks Samuel Parrish with keeping the city clear of meth and bootleg liquor. Most nights, Samuel tracks down criminals, while others find him navigating hazier avenues: in between drinking and fighting, he’s falling for his best friend’s girl. But when Samuel rousts a well-connected dealer, he uncovers a secret that threatens to put the city back in the dark.

Advance Praise:

8th Street Power & Light has already received some wonderful advance praise from folks we admire greatly:

“Shonkwiler is the fearless new voice of the American Heartland.”
Taylor Brown, author of In the Season of Blood and Gold and Fallen Land

“The twists and turns will leave you breathless, but it’s Shonkwiler’s restraint with language and dialogue that’ll keep you coming back for more.
Aline Ohanesian, author of Orhan’s Inheritance

“This novel is also a riveting tale of love, friendship, compassion, and violence, and would make Raymond Chandler and Cormac McCarthy proud.
Berit Ellingsen, author of Not Dark Yet

“Shonkwiler’s imagination wouldn’t pass any field sobriety tests. This is deranged stuff, but it’s also oddly tender.”
Joshua Mohr, author of All This Life, Some Things That Meant the World to Me, and Termite Parade

Pre-Order:

In addition, you can pre-order a copy of the novel for only $1, and save 20% off the cover price when it launches next March.

We are thrilled to be able to be publishing Eric’s work again, and to be adding 8th Street Power & Light—a dynamic and wild and poignant book—to our MG Press catalog.

Read more about 8th Street Power & Light

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Contributor Spotlight: Nina Buckless

image (53)Nina Buckless’s story, “Jupiter and Venus” appears in Midwestern Gothic Issue 21, out now.

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

I was not born here. I moved here five years ago to attend the Helen Zell Writers program at the University of Michigan. That aside, there is something powerful and irresistible about the Midwest that I can’t well explain. Sometimes it seems like there is a collective awareness that exists in the wind, rivers, landscape and people. It was not until I moved to Michigan that Descartes’s philosophy of “I think therefore I am” began to penetrate a deeper understanding in my mind. It might be the living history of the landscape. The shape of the place is foreign and familiar to me. I can recall moments of putting my feet in the dirt in Ypsilanti and discovering a dense but soft richness in it that doesn’t exist within the earth in any place that I have been to. In that moment it felt like I was at home for the first time in my life. I moved around a lot as a child and young adult. So, that feeling of being settled can be unsettling. I don’t mind that. Once, I went to Prospect Park and heard about children playing dangerously close to the frozen water in the tiny pond there, heard summer stories of rare birds rediscovered or new pollinators arriving. I’d heard that Prospect Park was particularly important to the Odawa, Ojibwe, Potowatomi and Wyandot. Before that, Ypsilanti was a seabed. The entire scape once an oceanic paradise of sorts. The dirt there is brown and dark and holds a lot of water. If one looks close they can find remnants of sand thereabouts. The names of streets, buildings, and abandoned places have made their way into my writing over the past five years. The last novella that I wrote was saturated with influences of the Midwest. I noticed a new element of openness that filtered into every nook and cranny of my imagination and work. I don’t see any mountains here.

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

If I had to choose one thing it would probably be the light. The way the sun works here is like no place that I have ever been. There is a lot of light in the summer. Very little light in the winter. I can hear the train running by at night. During the winter it might be six o’ clock in the evening when the train rushes by, howling in the wind, but it might as well be midnight because it is so dark. So lonesome. During the summer, six o’ clock in the evening feels like noon. As an artist, this jostles my imagination. It creates a way of interacting with the world that becomes uniquely surprising and overwhelmingly beautiful, at other times it can create a sense of eerie foreboding, as though the night has enclosed itself around the land, covering it with shadows that either bring people together or push them apart. When it stays light until 9:30 pm (during the summer) it sort of feels like time is on my side. I haven’t felt that in any other place.

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?

In the words of Edgar Allan Poe, “While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping. As of someone gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.” I liken remembrances of specific places and their influences upon my writing in this way. I don’t know that I would be a writer if I didn’t have such memories of specific places. As I had mentioned, I moved around a lot as a child. I was born in Massachusetts and lived in New England until I was twelve years old. After that, I moved to Los Angeles. There are some spaces in New England that will show up in my writing either in a disguised form or through metaphor. Maine, with all of its dark water and claustrophobic lichen. Memories of navigating the woods as a child. Abandoned churches. Old stone walls. The feeling that my grandfather’s family has been living in New England for hundreds of years. My ancestral ghosts having the ability to choke my personal identity to death. I don’t write about specific events from my own life per say, but the work will be haunted by something born in a specific place somehow.

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

Part of my efforts in writing novels is to attempt to expand time, to put off death. This offers a certain freedom to take the writing at its own pace. On the one hand, there is also a contradictory feeling of urgency, time is going by, time may run out. This feeling pushes me towards productivity and completion. I want to have enough time to take all the time that I need to write my novel. On a basic level, I need my environment to be organized, clean and quiet. When I’m not writing my office is cluttered. But in order to sit down and write I need to clear away all the hindrances. Beethoven required a certain amount of isolation for productivity. Mozart was the opposite, he could write at an opera at a party, and gained inspiration from socializing. Some artists gain, what Nicholas Delbanco refers to as energencia from busy environments, other artists loose their energencia from busy environments. And vice versa. This question of an artist’s energencia is quite intriguing to me. It can’t be seen but when it is there it acts as a driving force. When I say energencia, I mean a certain creative energy, or force that transfers itself and is converted. If I am stuck or feel creatively bogged down, I will read. Sometimes, I go through notebooks to find words of wisdom that I have written down from mentors or teachers. Or, transfer that energy onto something else entirely, like cleaning my house. Usually, I need to feel like I am on a quest for something. I will use anything that I can access in order to fuel my process. Sometimes, everything inspires me. Other times, nothing does. The act of observing in silence might be the thing that I need. Writers have a tendency to feel that they should be focused on what they are looking at; sometimes we forget that the answer is in what we are not looking at. How do we find that thing?

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

I do not mean to give a short answer here but simply put –what’s done is done because I am no longer interested. That means that I have exhausted all the possibilities. I am not saying that a piece of writing is a new shiny toy to be put down after I’m bored. There is a pedagogical philosophy called Reggio Emilia, which begs the question as to how to find a new way to be interested in a project, to push the thinking further. Go to the edge of a cliff and decide whether to jump off of it or not. Find out why I am bored. What is not working anymore. Can I look at it from a different angle? Should I turn in a new direction? And other such questions which point to a critical and independent thinking process. If the possibilities continue to meet a dead end I know that I am done.

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

Well, what I love today I may despise tomorrow. My list of beloved writers is extensive. So I can’t name all of them. But if I had to choose one work that I could always go back to and be surprised at or inspired by it would be, The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha by Cervantes. It is a funny book. I love to laugh out loud.

What’s next for you?

I am writing a new novel. I am working on something longer, much, much longer. I am obsessed with it lately.

Where can we find more information about you?

My website: https://nina8buckless.wordpress.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/therealninabuckless
Twitter: https://twitter.com/BucklessNina

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Upcoming Kali VanBaale Readings/Appearances

Kali VanBaale’s The Good Divide officially publishes on June 14—and there’s still time to pre-order a copy for $1, saving 20% off the cover price—and we’re doubly excited to announce Kali’s upcoming readings and appearances in support of the book!

If you’re in the area, we hope you’ll find the time to stop by, meet Kali, pick up a copy of The Good Divide (and get it signed, too)!

Please note: We will update with links to the following events when we have them.

Printer’s Row Book Festival
June 11-12,  2016
Chicago, IL

WOW (Wonder of Words) Festival
June 19th, 2016
11:30am Main Stage
Downtown Gateway Park
Des Moines, IA

The Good Divide Book Launch Party
Monday, June 27, 2016
6pm-8pm
Artisan Gallery 218
Valley Junction
218 5th Street
West Des Moines, IA

Franklin Avenue Library Evening Book Discussion
August 9th, 2016
7pm-8pm
5000 Franklin Ave.
Des Moines, IA

Iowa City Book Festival
October 8th, 2016
Iowa City, IA

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Midwest in Photos: Peoria Bikini

“We live in a strange and terrible time for women. There are days when I think it has always been a strange and terrible time to be a woman.”-Roxane Gay, Bad Feminist 

Peoria Bikini

Photo by: David Thompson

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Interview: Travis Mulhauser

Travis MulhauserMidwestern Gothic staffer Giuliana Eggleston talked with writer Travis Mulhauser about his novel Sweetgirl, humanity in easily-villainized characters, the redemption to be found in humor and more.

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

Travis Multiuser: I’m from Petoskey, Michigan and lived in northern Michigan through my early twenties. My grandparents from both sides lived in the Detroit area, and much of my family is still found in the Mitten. I will always claim Michigan as my home, so far have stuck to northern Michigan in my fiction writing, and maintain relationships with friends from Michigan I’ve had my entire life. And if we’re being completely honest, my fandom for the Detroit Lions and Michigan State Spartans very much keeps me connected to the state and identifying as a Michigander. My kids, to this point, have maintained those rooting allegiances and it still strikes me as odd that they are actually from North Carolina and not Michigan.

GE: How does the setting of a small northern Michigan town, specifically in the winter, play a role in your new novel Sweetgirl? Why did you choose to set the story in that place?

TM: I write about northern Michigan because it’s the place I know the best, even though I’ve been in the south for some fifteen years. I think the landscape will always be interesting to me, in part because it’s beautiful and severe, and in part because its where I spent my formative years. They were also pre-Internet years and when I think of my childhood I feel like I spent an inordinate amount of time staring out of windows — in the backseat of my parent’s car, in school, at home — I just have that landscape stamped in my consciousness in a way that I don’t for other places I’ve lived and visited.

My mom used to go for drives. She’d take me, my brother and sister on these aimless cruises around town and all the “country roads.” We’d listen to her 8 tracks, I particularly remember Kenny Rogers’ “The Gambler” and a whole shitload of Neil Diamond and I’d just listen to the music and stare out and let my mind wander. It might not sound like it — I know people have strong feelings on both sides of the Neil Diamond debate — but it was actually pretty wonderful.

GE: Going along with the small town setting is an atmosphere of drug use. Do you see the drug culture, specifically meth, as being an unavoidable part of the landscape?

TM: Yes, for these characters. But like anywhere I feel like drugs can be found if you want to find them, and in most places, for most people, avoided if you’d prefer to stay away. I think Shelton is the type of guy that would always be able to locate a buzz — if he was stranded on a desert island it would probably take him less than a week to figure out how to extract some sort of syrup from an indigenous mineral, mix it into a powder and smoke it through a bamboo shoot to get blasted. Shelton will be a handful wherever he is and I think the small-town stuff — he rides snowmobiles instead of the subway — is secondary to that core element of his character.

Sweet Girl cover

GE: How did you go about creating the relationship between Percy, the main character, and her mother Carletta, a meth addict? Was it difficult to write about a meth addict mother and a child that cares nonetheless?

TM: It wasn’t difficult at all. In fact, of everything in the novel, I might have been most comfortable writing about Percy and her complicated feelings about her mother and her mother’s addiction. I have never thought of addiction or drug use as a moral failure. Ok, maybe I did when I was seven years old and the War on Drugs was being launched — a catastrophically stupid war, even by war’s standards — but the thing about “the enemy” in that war is that at every level it is our friends and family members, our actual selves, that we are fighting. I’m not saying anything new here, but it’s what makes addiction so God-awful and such fertile ground for stories — it’s complex and rife with peril and it happens in our living rooms and in our hearts.

GE: Some of the characters in Sweetgirl could have been easily villainized for their dependency on drugs and violent actions, yet you seem to be able to bring a sense of humanity to each that the reader can relate to. What was your process like in creating these characters with such a wide – and human – range of characteristics?

TM: My wife is a death penalty attorney — she represents people on death row and tries to keep them from being executed — and watching her do that work has taught me a ton about the incredibly wide spectrum of actions people are capable of. People who commit violent crimes should go to jail for those crimes, but there is, in almost all cases, a lot more to those people than the worst things they’ve done. I think that’s where I’m coming from with Shelton and Carletta.

GE: Sweetgirl is at times so incredibly heartbreaking that it seems impossible anything in the story could be funny, yet humor is also a large part of the novel. How do you go about finding humor in the situations that seem most bleak?

TM: The funniest book I’ve ever read is Wolf Whistle by Lewis Nordan, which is a fictionalized account of the murder of Emmett Till. The tragedy is profound and deeply felt in that book, and while there is not a single note of false hope, there is redemption in the humor — which is explosive and seems directly correspondent to the depth of despair. I don’t know why that is, or exactly how it works, but I think the funniest stuff often comes from the most painful. I think laughter, real laughter, is a healing agent and probably the most powerful one for me, personally.

GE: When and why did you decide to write this novel? Did it form all at once or did the idea take a while to grow?

TM: It started with the image of a young girl discovering an abandoned baby. The girl was wearing a hooded sweatshirt and I had the sense that she was in as much danger as the baby. I don’t know where the image came from or why I sort of became possessed by it, but that was what I followed — that image and the sense I had that the baby and the young girl would be able, somehow, to help each other.

GE: How do you know when a piece is finished?

TM: Great question. There are two answers: 1) I don’t. 2) Gut feeling.

Both of these things are simultaneously true, I think. Deep down I think I usually know if something is done, and by done I mean it’s ready to be handed off to a reader. Maybe my wife, or a writer friend, maybe my agent or editor. Done in the sense that I’m done with it for now. I think on some level I know when I have reached that place, but it can be obscured pretty easily by fear, or by impatience.

The fear says: You’re not done! (I actually am done, but am afraid it sucks)
The impatience says: You’re done! (I actually am not done, but really wish I was)

Impatience has caused me to rush manuscripts and fear has made me sit on them for too long. I wish there was an easier litmus test. An actual litmus test would be ideal — dip the manuscript in the solution and if it turns blue it’s done, red if it’s not. A digital litmus test would obviously be preferable, but I’d be happy to start with something in a lab. Old school.

GE: What’s next for you?

TM: Working on my next novel, also set in Cutler County. And I’m almost to the point where I can start talking about it in specifics! (Fear and impatience aside…)

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Travis Mulhauser is from Petoskey, Michigan. He is the author of two works of fiction, most recently the novel Sweetgirl from Ecco/Harper Collins. He lives in Durham, North Carolina with his wife and two children.

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Issue 22 cover and contributor listing

It’s been a glorious spring, but summer is right around the corner—yay!—and to celebrate, we’re beyond excited to show off the Issue 22 (Summer 2016) cover!

Issue22_Summer2016_cover (3)

Cover image copyright (c) Steven Lang.

And check out our stellar contributor line-up for this issue:

Issue22_Summer2016_cover_contribs

Issue 22 drops on July 1, 2016—mark your calendars!

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Contributor Spotlight: Gregg Sapp

Gregg Sapp’s story “Drop Zone” appears in Midwestern Gothic Issue 21, out now.

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

When James Thurber was living in New York City, he wrote that he loved it there, but still wished he could move his entire hometown, Columbus, Ohio, to Manhattan. Like him, I consider myself fortunate to have been born, came of age, and went to college in Columbus, where my reality was enriched by exposure to such unique characters and sociocultural oddities as Thurber, Flippo the Clown, Fritz the Night Owl, Brutus Buckeye, the ghosts on Walhalla Drive, and the Marching Fidels at Doo Dah. Columbus is located where Appalachia, the Rust Belt, and the Farm Belt all converge to form the Heartland. It is where the Midwest begins. Further, it is well known that Columbus is America’s leading consumer test market for anything.

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

The people. Let’s face it – Midwestern folks often have the reputation of being, well, somewhat reserved and impassive, even ordinary. I’ve always believed, though, that people who seem most normal on the surface embody the greatest inner passion and complexity. With a soft grunt, a simple shrug, or a passing glance, they can communicate a whole repertoire of opinions, feelings, emotions, and attitudes that other people with more demonstrative sensibilities can express only through exaggerated and vociferous display. The Midwesterner often exhibits a kind of Zen subtlety, whereby if you have to shout, you’ve already failed to make your point.

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?

Since departing from the Midwest, my life and work led me to dwell in five different states, from one coast to the other, as well as to spend significant time abroad – all in places that I learned to love and call home. But, in fiction, I never left Ohio. I’ve found that I cannot summon any credible sense of place, much less characters that seem rooted and believable, unless I situate a story in those Central Ohio environs from whence I hail. My novel, Dollarapalooza, is an unabashed paean to the glories of Columbus.

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

As much as I’ve strived for discipline and routine, my life, much less my muse, has tended to be erratic. For twenty or so years, I dedicated myself to professional and academic writing, to the sad neglect of my fiction. I think of that period as an upside-down kind of writers’ block, during which my written output was prolific, but not a word of it truly meant anything to me. Today, my work tends to be project-based. When I’m in the middle of something, I keep it rolling in the back of my mind constantly. In this state, I often stumble and forget what I’m doing, but some of my best ideas come from what looks to the rest of the world like I’m spacing out. Also, I find it impossible to generate creative intellectual energy when sedentary. Thus, most of my best ideas occur to me when I’m walking. I only sit down in front of a computer to put them into words after I’ve stirred up a critical mass of thoughts and images, and then I type as fast as I can before I forget them. When I run out of ideas, I go for another walk.

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

When an editor tells me that it is finished. Left to my own devices, there is nothing that I’ve written that I would not revise ad infinitum. My characters have this stubborn tendency to continue to evolve, even when I’m done with them. Sometimes they wake me up at night demanding to be re-written. That’s why I refuse to read anything that I’ve written after it has been published.

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

Historically, I contend that Mark Twain is the most broadly influential American author, as much for his celebrity as for his body of literature. I consider him to be the archetypal voice of a folksy, populist intellect and a characteristically American brand of satire.

Among contemporary authors, I especially appreciate Garrison Keillor, whom I regard to be one of Twain’s most celebrated successors. Although Keillor is known more for other accomplishments than his writing, his books resonate with wit, artistry, sincerity, and of course loss-of-bladder-control hilarity.

What’s next for you?

I am currently putting the finishing touches on the final revisions on a new novel, Fresh News Straight from Heaven, about the life, times, and adventures of Johnny Appleseed. The real Johnny was even weirder than the mythology built around him. A vagrant, pacifist, vegetarian, proto-environmentalist, fringe Christian missionary whom most people considered to be a little wacko, I think that it is possible to think of Johnny as the first distinctly Midwestern character in American popular culture. Soon, I’ll be shopping for an agent or publisher.

Also, while I have never for one moment considered myself to be a poet, I’ve lately challenged myself to write a sonnet a week. These are not nature or love sonnets, but rather explore such subjects as security cameras, lawn sculptures, flesh eating bacteria, and gods who are no longer worshipped. Maybe this stuff will find its way into a chapbook.

Where can we find more information about you?

From my mother – she’d love to tell you all about me. Other than from her, though, check out: www.dollarapalooza.com.

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Midwest in Photos: Yellow Springs

“It’s horrible asking you to keep a secret, which is pretty much the same as lying. How is it not the same thing?” –Marnie Bullock Dresser, “He’s Probably Talking Too Much for This Date to End Well,” Midwestern Gothic Issue 20

Yellow Springs

Photo by: David J. Thompson

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Announcing the 2016 Lake Prize

The Lake Prize from Midwestern Gothic
We are so excited to announce The Lake Prize for 2016. The Lake Prize is our annual literary prize for fiction and poetry that best represents the Midwest. We have been consistently wowed with submissions, and previous years’ finalists perfectly exemplified our mission: rewarding those who see the beauty of the Midwest, whether that be quiet forests, gutted industrial wastelands, small towns or vibrant urban neighborhoods.

Lake Prize submissions will be open July 1 – August 31, 2016. Entries will be a flat rate of $5—only one entry per person.  One winner will be selected for each category, and they will receive $300 and publication in the Winter 2017 issue. One finalist will be selected for each category as well, and they will each receive $100 and publication in the Winter 2017 issue.

We are also excited to announce our 2016 judges:

Emily Schultz

2016 Fiction Judge: Emily Schultz is the co-founder of Joyland Magazine, host of the Truth & Fiction podcast, and creator of the blog Spending the Stephen King Money. Her family hails from Michigan and Schultz grew up across the border in Canada. Her newest novel, The Blondes, was named a best book of 2015 by NPR and Kirkus. Her forthcoming novel, Men Walking on Water, is set in 1920s Detroit and inspired by her family’s rumrunning history. She currently lives in Brooklyn.







Airea Dee Matthews

2016 Poetry Judge: Airea D. Matthews, a resident of Detroit, is the winner of the 2016 Yale Series of Younger Poets for her manuscript collection, simulacra, which Yale University Press will publish in 2017. Her poems and prose have appeared in a number of periodicals and anthologies, such as Best American Poetry 2015, Missouri Review, Muzzle, Indiana Review, Four Way Review, American Poets, Michigan Quarterly Review, Vinyl, Callaloo and elsewhere. She is the Assistant Director of the Helen Zell Writers’ Program at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, where she earlier received her MFA in creative writing.






Submissions for the 2016 Lake Prize will open July 1, 2016.

For additional details, plus all guidelines, please visit the official Lake Prize page.

Looking forward to reading your work!

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