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Wendy A. Skinner’s story “Trespassing” appears in Midwestern Gothic Issue 17, out now.
What’s your connection to the Midwest, and how has the region influenced your writing?
I was born and raised in Minnesota with Scandinavian roots. I’m fascinated by junk yards, thrift stores disguised as antique shops and bait shops with monstrous walleyes and 10-point decapitated bucks mounted on the walls. But it’s the people who inhabit these spaces with which I’m most intrigued. My writing explores their hidden lives and what it takes to crack them open.
What do you think is the most compelling aspect of the Midwest?
The idea of tolerating even the worst situations. We often deny ourselves what we desire most until it bubbles up and we have no choice but to act with desire, jealousy, despair—and if we’re lucky, love and hope.
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?
If you were to read every story I’ve ever written, you’d see my characters often visit the same places: an Iowa farmstead, a kitchen filled with the scents of fresh-made jam, a northern Minnesota forest blanketed in snow, a log cabin smelling of pine pitch. And although I had what I’d consider a pretty darned good childhood, that was not true of other people with whom I grew up. These places show up with nostalgic affection, but often mixed with a deep sense of loss, yearning, and sadness.
Discuss your writing process — inspirations, ideal environments, how you deal with writer’s block.
I get a charge out of interviewing people living in interesting places. I use the setting and their lives as material for my stories. Then I make it my job to write–forget about “inspiration.” But writer’s block? I hate that phrase. I want to throw a brick through it and smash it into a bazillion pieces! “Writer’s block” exists because it’s been hammered into our psyche by popular culture as this mysterious force that makes writers helpless. Hogwash. Give yourself permission to take a guilt-free break–a day, a week, a year. Live life. Then, take a deep breath. Listen to your inner voice, sit down, and type and type and type.
How can you tell when a piece of writing is finished?
My greatest concern is for each word, sentence and scene to ring true. If anything strikes me as illogical, hokey, shallow, excessive or incomplete, I change it. Once it rings true on every level possible and if it still makes my breath quicken and my skin crawl, then it’s ready for readers.
Who is your favorite author (fiction writer or poet), and what draws you to their work?
I always come back to Jhumpa Lahiri. Her ability to explore deep into the heart of what it means to be human, to struggle with belonging, love, and family astounds me.
What’s next for you?
After writing the first half of my linked short story collection based on what it’s like to live in northern Minnesota with wolves, I need to complete the second half. This means applying for grants and residencies to focus on the task. Ultimately, I’ll send it to agents. The stories so far have attracted a good amount of attention and support, so I need to keep the momentum going.
Where can we find more information about you?
At my Web site: wendyaskinner.com