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Lia Swope Mitchell’s story “Sunfish” appears in Midwestern Gothic Issue 18, out now.
What’s your connection to the Midwest, and how has the region influenced your writing?
I’ve lived in Minneapolis all my life, with the exception of a couple years in Wisconsin and a year in France. So the influence is deep and probably present in ways I don’t even recognize. But what stands out to me is a certain aesthetic of understatement, a pragmatic and self-deprecating attitude that attempts to keep emotions restrained—stuffed in a box under the bed, maybe—with occasional, spectacular failures.
What do you think is the most compelling aspect of the Midwest?
The world is so changeable here. Minneapolis in winter is an entirely different environment than Minneapolis in summer, or spring or fall. Cycles of life and death are going on all around us, all the time. There’s a certain humility that comes from that. A certain awe.
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?
Like a lot of city people, I have these pastoral fantasies about an idyllic life in the country, either on a farm or in the wilderness. Pretty absurd, I’m sure. My family has a vacation house in northern Minnesota, near the Boundary Waters, and my story in Midwestern Gothic, “Sunfish,” comes from trying to imagine, more realistically, what it might be like to grow up in that region.
Discuss your writing process—inspirations, ideal environments, how you deal with writer’s block.
I’m pretty erratic, but I try to show up at the computer daily, turn the faucet on, see what comes out. Sometimes I’ve got a few pages in me, sometimes I’ve got nothing. I keep an idea bank, a list of phrases or story seeds for when I’m not sure what to write about, and sometimes that helps. If I’m really blocked, though, I don’t push it. There’s plenty of other work I can do.
How can you tell when a piece of writing is finished?
I start agonizing over really minor things. Should this be an em-dash or a semi-colon? What about a period? No, semi-colon’s better—no, em-dash—wait, what about… And that’s when I need to set the story aside for a week or so, revise it one more time, and then send it off.
Who is your favorite author (fiction writer or poet), and what draws you to their work?
Narrative voice is what attracts me to a story most. I love sharp, interesting, individual voices, and mixtures of poetry and prose. So for favorite authors, I’d list Toni Morrison, Margaret Atwood, Chuck Palahniuk, maybe Cormac McCarthy.
What’s next for you?
I’m planning to finish my PhD in Spring 2016. After that—conquer the world, I suppose. I wish I knew.
Where can we find more information about you?
I have a website at liaswopemitchell.com and I post my random thoughts on Twitter @lswopemitchell.