Deborah Burand’s nonfiction piece “Elephant Summer” appears in Midwestern Gothic Issue 19, out now.
What’s your connection to the Midwest, and how has the region influenced your writing?
I spent most of my childhood and all of my teenage years living in the Midwest – Indiana, Ohio, and Michigan. In 2008 I returned to the Midwest to teach at the University of Michigan. (I left Michigan this past July.)
The biggest influence of the Midwest on my writing is the reading I did while living there as a child and teenager. I’m not sure that I would have read as compulsively or voraciously while growing up if I had not been such a bored kid.
What do you think is the most compelling aspect of the Midwest?
The kindness of its people. Midwesterners expect the best of each other and often we get it.
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?
Places feed my writing and writing feeds my places. I have kept travel journals since the age of 12. This habit of writing travel journals taught me how to pin place to page with word pictures.
I also write to remember. While visiting the Soviet Union in 1985, I was detained by the KGB. In a fit of fright, I obliterated passages from my travel journal so that KGB officers could not read them. Although much of that journal is illegible, it is not lost to me. Thirty years later, I can still look at a journal page and remember exactly what was once written there – stories of places I saw and people I met.
Discuss your writing process — inspirations, ideal environments, how you deal with writer’s block.
The key to my writing process is to take a spin through the clouds. I travel a lot for work – often internationally. So my ideal writing environment is an economy seat in a transatlantic flight where there is no crying baby within at least ten rows and the person in front of me does not fully lower his or her seat into my lap. (If I get upgraded to business class, all I do is drink fizzy cocktails and watch movies so no good writing comes of it.)
More seriously, am I the only one who cries a lot on airplanes? There must be something about the air pressure in a plane that pumps emotions to the surface. As a result, I never experience writer’s block when writing in a plane, quite the reverse. Tears and words pour from me, sometimes simultaneously.
How can you tell when a piece of writing is finished?
I have no idea. That may be why I’ve been working on the same novel for over a decade.
Who is your favorite author (fiction writer or poet), and what draws you to their work?
Carol Shields for passages that read like a handful of my favorite Chex Mix recipe, salty crunches intermingled with sweet nuggets – all in one bite. I wept when I learned that she died. And then I cried harder when I reread her last book, Unless. On that second reading it seemed to me that she was saying goodbye to the world on nearly every page. How brave and pissed off she was; how blind this reader was.
What’s next for you?
Finishing the novel that I dreamed up while high on fertility drugs, and unpacking a few more boxes left over from my recent move from Chelsea, Michigan to the Chelsea neighborhood of New York City. I’ve made the Chelsea-2-Chelsea transition, but my shaggy sheepdog is still in shock.
Where can we find more information about you?
You can email me at email@example.com.