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Brenna Womer’s story “Patsy Sings For Me” appears in Midwestern Gothic Issue 18, out now.
What’s your connection to the Midwest, and how has the region influenced your writing?
I was 15 years old when my family moved from Alaska to Missouri after my dad retired from the Air Force. We followed my mom’s parents who had uprooted their lives in San Diego some years before, leaving their home of over 20 years and building on a quiet plot of land in Cape Fair. Even after six years—the longest I’ve ever lived anywhere—I still have trouble calling Missouri home, but it is ceaselessly charming and mysterious to me.
More than any other aspect of the Midwest, the people influence my writing the most. Perhaps it’s because I spent so much of my life hopping from coast to coast and country to country, but I am taken with the lives of those who were raised simply and continue to live in the same way, finding partners, raising families, never traveling far, if at all, from the state lines. Many of the small towns here function as microcosms of the Midwest—often underrepresented and overlooked, in my opinion.
What do you think is the most compelling aspect of the Midwest?
The simplicity of the Midwest is what compels me most. There is a quietness, a silent wisdom, that seems to dwell in the land and its inhabitants.
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?
I’m currently working on a memoir piece about my experiences growing up on military bases. They are this web of interconnected worlds with their own hierarchies, social structures, and customs. I didn’t realize it at the time because it was all I knew, but, as I’ve now spent almost a decade living off-base, I can see how unique a lifestyle it really is.
Discuss your writing process—inspirations, ideal environments, how you deal with writer’s block.
I need a relatively quiet, distraction-free environment to write, so I get my best work done sitting alone in a near-empty coffee shop or at home during the day. My greatest inspirations come when I’m not trying to think of a story idea—when I’m stuck in traffic, walking the dog, eating some late-night Waffle House—that’s often when lightning strikes and I think, “I should put this in a story.”
The notepad in my phone is filled with random scenarios, quotes, ideas, and such, and if I’m ever at a loss, I refer to those. I’ll pick something out and find a way to incorporate it into what I’m working on to keep the story moving.
How can you tell when a piece of writing is finished?
I’m a very feelings-based person, so most of what I do and the decisions I make are based on how I feel. (Yes, this gets me into a lot of trouble in the real world.) Writing, both fiction and creative nonfiction, is extremely cathartic, and I feel an almost immediate sense of calm and release when I’m satisfied with a piece.
Who is your favorite author (fiction writer or poet), and what draws you to their work?
Aimee Bender will forever be a favorite of mine, specifically her collection Girl in the Flammable Skirt. I’m taken with her portrayal of women attempting to deal with major losses and changes, and also with her exploration of sex and sexuality as a means of control and escape. Her writing is whimsical, but the subject matter she deals with is rarely so lighthearted. She strikes an enviable balance and I’m always captivated.
What’s next for you?
I’m gearing up for my second year of grad school at Missouri State University and working on my creative thesis, which will be a mix of fiction and memoir. I’ll be applying for Creative Writing PhD programs in the fall, and who knows where that will take me! As long as I’m teaching and writing I’ll be happy.
Where can we find more information about you?
Well, I don’t have a website, but if you’d like to read more of my writing, I have a short, “Chimera,” published online in NEAT Issue 7. Otherwise, you can find me on Instagram (brennawomer).