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Lori Tucker-Sullivan’s nonfiction piece “Detroit, 2015” appears in Midwestern Gothic Issue 19, out now.
What’s your connection to the Midwest, and how has the region influenced your writing?
I grew up in Detroit (the Warrendale neighborhood) and have lived all my life in the Midwest. I love writing nonfiction because I believe we all have such rich stories to tell. I think that comes from a Midwest perspective—things like rooting for the underdog, helping one another. Those are very American Midwest values that do influence my writing. I want to understand how I and others process life events, change, and growth; how we cope with our inherent flaws; how we answer big questions. I love investigating that through my writing.
What do you think is the most compelling aspect of the Midwest?
Hard to narrow to one. I think an ethic of hard work permeates the Midwest and a love of the landscape. Both of these things are different here than in other parts of the country. The West has its vastness and majesty and a work ethic of striking out on one’s own. The East and South as well have their own approach to work and natural environment. In the Midwest we love work for the sake of making something and we understand the need to rely on others to help with that. And we live within our landscape, not standing back and being in awe, but making it a part of our life. Living in Michigan, surrounded by water, you can’t help but feel that the geography is a part of who you are.
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?
The memoir included in this edition of Midwestern Gothic is all about that! Growing up in Detroit has meant dealing with the good and the bad of the city. Contemplating and ultimately understanding that much of life is good and bad is a concept I often explore in my writing. Loss is difficult, but something good often comes from it.
My parents are from the South and I spent a few weeks every summer with family in Tennessee. I am working on a book loosely based on my grandmother and mother’s lives in Tennessee. Many of my favorite writers are Southern writers. There are many elements of the South that also influence my writing—music, food, smells that I remember from my childhood, how people relate to one another. Those elements are distinctly different from the South to the Midwest.
Discuss your writing process — inspirations, ideal environments, how you deal with writer’s block.
I find I need to write for long hours at a time. I’ve never been one who can write for just an hour every morning. Partly this was borne of having family obligations that seemed easiest to work around in larger chunks of time. I usually write all day Friday and most of the day Sunday. I write in different places depending on how I feel. In my essay I write about an old farmhouse that we renovated and, since making an interim move into a cookie-cutter house in a subdivision while my Detroit condo is built, I have really come to understand how the place in which one lives can influence feelings of creativity. I now find myself looking for spaces outside the house in which to write. I’m lucky that there are two beautiful libraries nearby, one with a gorgeous view of the Huron River. I also have a few favorite coffee shops. I’m hopeful that a sense of creativity in the place where I live will return when I am in the city.
I have found, for me, that writer’s block is often associated with emotions. I had significant writer’s block after my husband passed away. I believe, looking back, that it was connected to having something I loved separate from my husband (writing) and reconciling myself to being ok with that idea. He was ok with it and encouraged me, but it still seemed like something I did that took me away from spending time with him. During his illness and after his passing, I wanted to have every minute back that we ever wasted on arguments, or work, or business travel. I had to think about whether I would like to have back the time I spent writing. When looking at it that way, it became a kind of selfish and frivolous pursuit in my mind. Eventually I came to terms with the importance of writing in my life and started writing about him and us which has really been helpful in my grieving process.
How can you tell when a piece of writing is finished?
I rarely feel that a piece of writing is completely finished. I can always tweak something. In writing an essay, I always try to make sure that it contains certain elements: my perspective usually based on personal experience, something historical that either informs or challenges my perspective, some truth that hopefully others can relate to, and possibly a resolution or understanding (or the realization that I won’t get to that place).
I find it helpful to have a reader or editor to get feedback as to whether a piece is complete or needs something more.
Who is your favorite author (fiction writer or poet), and what draws you to their work?
My favorite fiction writer is John Irving, and has been since high school. I kept thinking I would “mature” past loving his books so much, but I haven’t and I’m glad. He fills his books with such detail and yet I’ve never felt bogged down by them. Instead, I fall deeply in love with his characters. I’ve spent a lot of time reading Southern writers and really love Ron Rash and Silas House and the short stories of William Gay.
What’s next for you?
I’m really excited about a memoir project I’m working on. I’m spending a year tracking down and interviewing the widows of rock stars and musicians from the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s who died young. I have done five interviews to-date and each one is fascinating and wonderful. I can easily say that this will be a life-changing experience for me. We have a common connection in our widowhood and music has always been an important part of my life (another Detroit thing). They have been so generous with their stories, which are all amazing. I feel myself transforming each time I meet with one of them. So the book will be a combination of their stories (both with their partner and after his death), interwoven through my journey and what I learn from each one.
Where can we find more information about you?
I’m in the process of developing a website and a Facebook page for the widow memoir and the novel. In the meantime, you can read my blog at www.widowsapprenticeship.blogspot.com.