Keith Rebec resides in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and is the managing editor of Pithead Chapel, an online literary journal of gutsy narratives. His writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Shenandoah, Devil’s Lake, Hobart, Monkeybicycle, The Portland Review, and Underground Voices, among others.
Midwestern Gothic: First things first, tell us about your Midwestern roots.
Keith Rebec: I’ve spent much of my life in the Midwest. I grew up in a small town in northern Lower Michigan called East Jordan, which is about fifty miles from the Mackinaw Bridge and about ten from Lake Michigan. It’s a picturesque Midwestern town still supported by manufacturing, a place where everybody knows one another, a place that doesn’t favor change well. And, in truth, I’m thankful that I had the chance to grow up in such a community, in an area surrounded by woods and water, by good, hardworking people. It has definitely shaped my life and writing.
MG: Can you tell us a bit about how Pithead Chapel came to be? Why did you want to start a literary journal?
KR: After I started getting published, the next step seemed to start a journal, and that’s basically how Pithead Chapel came to be. Molly Bonovsky Anderson (the fiction editor) and I both work at the same place, and, after I kept saying we should start a journal, she decided to help with the idea. Our primary goal with the journal has always been to give back to the writing community by publishing the best material possible, and, I believe, we’ve succeed with that so far. We also began publishing nonfiction within the last few months, and that too is going well. I’m proud with what we’ve accomplished in only a year.
MG: In your experience, do you see a difference in story subjects and/or writing styles that come from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula vs. the Lower Peninsula?
KR: That’s a tough question. On the subjects, I think it just depends. There are writers from both peninsulas bringing out the gritty and the beauty of the entire state, and sometimes those from the Lower Peninsula (like Bonnie Jo Campbell) make those in the Upper Peninsula seem rather tame at times. However, this obviously goes both ways (factors like climate, land, etc. also play a role). In truth, though, it really all depends on what effect the author is after and what subjects he or she uses in the desired settings to bring the work to life. To me, it doesn’t matter where they’re from. It’s what goal they’re after. So, overall, I don’t see much difference other than certain settings, subjects, voices, and/or specific author styles that really sets the work apart.
MG: How do you judge what makes a “gutsy narrative” for the journal?
KR: The term “gutsy” is rather vague. When we read submissions at Pithead, we don’t necessarily gauge submissions on whether or not they are gutsy enough. Basically, we’re just looking for the best narratives. Usually, the pieces we like have strong and unique voices, fleshed out characters. The author has taken chances in the work and it shows by the end. We like writing that makes us feel something, writing that surprises, and moves toward something bigger. We want to be gut punched by the language, the images, the created world. After all, our job is to please readers and help promote writers. We feel we owe it to both to do a professional job.
MG: How has running a literary journal changed—if at all—the way you view your own writing, as well as the writing and publishing community?
KR: Good question. I’d say for me the biggest change is revision. In the past I’d revise a work a good deal, but I’d also be in a hurry to get it out there to a few places. This essentially hurt the piece because it wasn’t ready. Now, I see the same thing often with others, and I wish that the writer would just slow down and work on the piece a bit more to get it as perfect as possible, then send it out. The chances of publication improve greatly in my opinion with revision, with going over the piece, and then going over it again and again.
MG: Do you feel that social media plays an important role in the life of the writer these days—and in your case, in the role of publishing?
KR: I feel that social media definitely plays a role. If one has a strong social networking presence, he or she can gain a huge audience much faster than ever before. It just takes being open and helping others like they help you. It’s like a big family and the more a person gets involved the better. This goes for spreading the word about new publications or books or whatever. It helps tremendously if one is willing to put in the time.
MG: As someone with Midwestern roots, how would you define the Midwest?
KR: For me the Midwest is lakes and rivers and trees and hard winters. It’s hardworking folks and farms and two-lane roads. It’s steel mills and cornfields and cars and blackberries. It’s being involved in the community and being thankful to live where we live.
MG: At Midwestern Gothic, we often focus on how the region is somewhat overlooked, from a cultural/literary perspective. Why do you think this is or isn’t the case?
KR: I think there needs to be more of a focus on Midwestern literature. With the South and West always being recognized, it’s nice that Midwestern Gothic is focusing on that perspective. I do feel though that the Midwest has lots of great writers, writers that paint the region well. But the South and West have always been in a different league. Much of that likely can be attributed to history, the challenges of the people and the land in those places. The same goes for some big name writers that created attention on those places, which lead to more people seeking that material. The Midwest has lots of great history of its own; we just need to keep working on showing its diversity.
MG: What’s up next for you?
KR: My main goal is to keep writing. Other than that it would be nice to keep Pithead Chapel going for many more years. The future looks bright for both. So we’ll see what happens.