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How long have you been writing?
I started thinking about being a writer seriously when I was sixteen and reading Other Voices, Other Rooms by Truman Capote. I remember the picture of a very young capote on the dust jacket of the book made me think a young person could be a writer too. I didn’t write for a number of years. I went to a Bible College in southern Missouri when I was in my twenties and while I was there I read Wise Blood by Flannery O’Connor. I had good intentions of serving God as a pastor, but reading Wise Blood awakened my first calling.
I’m 44 now.
What’s your connection to the Midwest?
My connection is a natural one since I was born in central Missouri.
How has the Midwest influenced your writing?
It’s made me the person and the writer I am today. The way people talk and act and the stories they tell aren’t just midwestern though. I’m very much like Missouri as much as I hate to admit it. It was once the gateway to the West…it’s referred to as “the heartland” when it makes the news, and has a southern heritage as well. I’ve read interviews with many writers who claim they love their home state. Well, it’s always been a love-hate relationship for me. It’s complicated. I just bought a t-shirt that reads, “Missouri—it’s not too bad after a few beers.” We moved around quite a bit when I was growing up. I lived all over Mid-Missouri and down in southern Missouri. We lived for a short time in Arizona, Nebraska, Colorado, California, but we always made our way back to Missouri. The midwestern state of Missouri in my memory has a lot of grit to it. There were alot of things we didn’t have growing up but somehow that inspired me to use my imagination…to dream.
I had a fiction workshop with Michael Pritchett at the University of Missouri when I was a little-older-than-average undergraduate and he said, I’d say your genre was “midwestern gothic”—no kidding.
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 remember reading a piece that Mark Winegardner wrote for the Oxford American several years ago. He said he was on a reading tour with an unnamed southern writer. Every bookstore they went to the manager showed them the southern writers section, but of course there is no special section for midwestern writing. He hit the nail head on the head for me because midwesterner attitudes are, ‘If you’re so good, why are you still here?’ I won’t speak for all of the midwest, but I feel that in Missouri we don’t love our own writers like we should. Often when someone does become well known they move to New York and become a “New York writer.” I went to grad school in North Carolina and let me tell you, there’s a state full of writers—they love their writers there! We only love them in the Show Me state if they’re from somewhere else. My favorite Missouri writer is Daniel Woodrell, but most Missourians probably don’t know who he is and if they do it’s more because of Winter’s Bone—the movie. Woodrell is unflinchingly from Missouri which I respect.
Also, it’s a cliché but the standard storyline is people who grew up in the midwest and wanted to escape to California or a large city. You don’t hear about young people growing up in New York or LA pining away to one day escape to rural bliss in the midwest–maybe that’s more of a middle-aged dream for people who once lived in the midwest. There’s so much variety to midwestern writing it makes it difficult to fit into quotation marks or categorize which is hard to promote from a marketing perspective.
How do you feel about social media to promote your writing, and do you use it?
Anything we can do to help promote ourselves as writers is all to the good in my view. I’ve embraced it.
Of contemporary writers I’d say: Father and Son by Larry Brown, The Death of Sweet Mister by Daniel Woodrell, Bastard out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison, Aliens in the Prime of Their Lives by Brad Watson, The Gospel Singer by Harry Crews, American Salvage by Bonnie Jo Campbell, Knockemstiff by Donald Ray Pollock…well, it’s constantly changing.
I like spicy food. Put Sriracha on anything and it will make it your favorite food!
If you could have coffee (or tea or a beer) with any literary figure, alive or dead, who would it be?
I would have liked to have had a beer with Larry Brown.
Where can we find more information about you?
I just had a story published in The Oklahoma Review and Yemassee. I’m the Fiction Editor for the online literary magazine CEDARS. Check it out at cedarsmag.com. I’ll be teaching writing and literature at LSU in Baton Rouge this fall.