Christi Clancy’s story “The Last Tannery in America” appears in Midwestern Gothic Issue 4, out now.
How long have you been writing?
I wrote for the school newspaper in college – that’s where I got my first real taste for writing. After college I had a corporate job working in marketing and communications, but about a decade ago I decided to get back into fiction and creative non-fiction. I joined a writing group, took some classes, got a few publications… hard to believe I’ve now got a PhD in English and a job teaching writing at Beloit College. Pays a lot less, but I’m really happy with my decision to follow my passion.
What’s your connection to the Midwest?
I’m originally from Denver. Some people in Colorado call themselves Midwestern, but I don’t understand why they make that claim. We moved to Milwaukee when I was a kid, and I’ve spent most of my life in Wisconsin and Minnesota. I think of the “real” Midwest as having a stronger connection to lakes, lawn ornaments, exaggerated vowels, binge drinking and rabid sports fanaticism. It’s taken me a long time to accept the Midwest as home. I think a lot of people grow up here thinking they are destined for something else, some sort of greatness they think can only be found near a coast. But I’ve finally let myself fall in love with where I am, cold winters and all.
How has the Midwest influenced your writing?
I’m a passionate observer of details, and the Midwest never, ever lets me down in the details department. From a dead deer strapped to the top of a Lexus to the world’s largest can of soup to the “Recall Walker” light brigade, there’s always something to observe, note, and anchor in writing.
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?
Probably because Midwesterners are, by nature, self-deprecating. I have a friend who moved to Milwaukee from the East Coast. He really loves Milwaukee, and as a venture capitalist, his job is to get people to bring their businesses here. He said one of the biggest problems he faces is getting native Milwaukeeans to sell our city to the people he’s trying to entice to the Midwest, and to even feel OK about being proud of where we live. Instead, we have an undermining “aw, shucks” attitude about the Midwest.
That said, I appreciate what Midwestern Gothic is doing in terms of promoting our unique regionalism because the writing coming out of the Midwest is really great, funny, insightful and real. I’m tired of the way writers who aren’t from here make random characters from Wisconsin or Ohio. There’s a Franzenesque condescension about shag carpeting, summer sausage and Velveeta that rubs me the wrong way – as though the Midwest is a place where time stands still and you’re better off escaping or you’ll get stuck in a cow pie. I like writing from the Midwest that doesn’t patronize or conform to caricature.
How do you feel about social media to promote your writing, and do you use it?
My grandfather used to clip articles from the newspaper and magazines and send them to us on a weekly basis. I think I inherited that gene, because I love sharing news and articles via Facebook. I need to start using my blog, living social, twitter, etc. a lot more. Since I have a background in marketing I feel pretty comfortable using social media to market myself.
The first book that I really loved was The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner. It was so hard, and then so gratifying, and I admired Faulkner’s crazy energy. More recently, my favorite book is The Book of Common Prayer by Joan Didion. I’ve recommended it to friends but nobody has loved it as much as I do. I just finished writing a novel that started out as my attempt to move her character Charlotte from a fictional Latin American country to exurbia, although it changed a lot as I wrote and hardly has anything at all to do with Didion’s book anymore – the only similarity is the character’s name. A friend of mine calls me a “Joan Didion migraine brain.” I take it as total compliment.
Indian. The long, cold winters have made me a slave to comfort food. What’s more comforting than curry?
If you could have coffee (or tea or a beer) with any literary figure, alive or dead, who would it be?
Maybe Lorrie Moore, because Birds of America showed me that I didn’t need to be so afraid of plot in short stories. But she’s so smart and witty I don’t think I could keep up. I once had a high school boyfriend who bought me a book called 101 Fast Comebacks because I was so slow on the up-take. Maybe writers are all like that in person, because on paper we can write down all the things we think we ought to have said.
I actually met Lorrie Moore a few years ago when she read at the Wisconsin Book Festival. I loved, loved, loved her story “The Nun of That” from Anagrams – I found it emotionally devastating. I asked her about the story and she said she didn’t really remember it. I couldn’t believe it.
Where can we find more information about you?