Contributor Spotlight: Renee K. Nicholson

renee4Renee K. Nicholson’s nonfiction piece “Certified” appears in Midwestern Gothic Issue 19, out now.

What’s your connection to the Midwest, and how has the region influenced your writing?
I’ve lived in big, Midwestern cities: Milwaukee, Indianapolis, Columbus. Each became important to how I learned to be an adult, and I have probably been influenced in the way one can be both sophisticated and self-effacing at the same time.

What do you think is the most compelling aspect of the Midwest?
The Midwest is often dubbed the heartland, and it does have that kind of visceral sense of being a place that keeps the nation’s cardio-vascular system going.

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?
Place always influences my writing—so much of the particulars of experience are tied to a specific place. I don’t think one has the same experience in two different locales, because place roots experience in the physical landscape, the emotional tenor, the weather, the major topographical details that can only come from one specific place and not another. I suppose that place is unique the way that fingerprints or snowflakes are singular.

Discuss your writing process—inspirations, ideal environments, how you deal with writer’s block.
I must always carry a notebook, because my best ideas come at inopportune times to be in front of a screen, and because I love the connection of writing with pen and paper. My background as a dancer and my teaching of classical ballet are a big part of my writing, if not process then in engagement. It’s impossible to put the dancing experience down on paper, but I find the challenge of it a deep source on motivation or inspiration. Not sure which one. I feel most whole when I’ve written something, and so I try to write every day, at least an hour, to try to keep honest to myself. And if I don’t, I get crabby. I’m not a fussy writer—no “must haves” like certain drinks or music or anything. My writing friends tell me I’m disciplined, and that has to be a carryover from dancing. Dancers take class each day, so I’m trained-up to think that art happens through daily repetition.

How can you tell when a piece of writing is finished?
I can never really tell. A few trusted readers can usually say, “It’s ready.” Most of the time, I listen.

Who is your favorite author (fiction writer or poet), and what draws you to their work?
Favorites are such a problem for me, because I end up forming crushes on authors and then read more and form new writing crushes. I review books quite a bit, so the crushes come in waves. Currently I am reading a review copy of Bonnie Jo Campbell’s new collection, and she influences me greatly because her voice is so authentic. She lets herself be on the page what she should be on the page. I find that exhilarating. I have always admired Dean Young and Campbell McGrath, and often turn to them when I’m feeling uninspired. Ann Pancake is another prose writer I’m drawn to time and again, as well as Mark Brazaitis, who mentored me during my MFA and whose work always pushes me to try to reach further with my own. Steve Almond has a way of cracking me up while also breaking my heart. Matt Bell’s Cataclysm Baby blew my mind and I still admire the lyricism, and Aaron Teel’s Shampoo Horns was lovely and heartbreaking and is another I admire, and his publisher, Rose Metal Press is an offbeat and wonderful press. Adrienne Sharp’s collection White Swan, Black Swan is the book I reach for when I feel like it’s too hard to try to write compellingly about dancing, because she nailed it, both as a writer and as a dancer, and that’s a tough balance to sustain.

What’s next for you?
I am always into mischief. I’m working on various writing projects, and choreographing a ballet for young dancers about the wild west. And yes, you can get an all instrumental version of “Happy Trails to You” just in case you were wondering.

Where can we find more information about you?
I keep a website: Come say hello! Also twitter:@summerbooks1 and a literary podcast called SummerBooks at

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