Alina Borger’s piece “Family History, c. 1970” appears in Midwestern Gothic Issue 21, out now.
What’s your connection to the Midwest, and how has the region influenced your writing?
I was born and raised in the Midwest, went to college here, and now am raising my family here. I’m not sure I can extricate myself or my work from the Midwest and have anything left.
What do you think is the most compelling aspect of the Midwest?
Well, it’s home. But also, it’s practically Eden–lush, fertile, full of rivers and lakes–and just as hidden. And the people here are sturdy and generous and deeply thoughtful and odd in all kinds of beloved ways.
But at the same time, it’s not a monolith. I’m talking now more about Iowa City or Grinnell than I am about Glen Ellyn or Naperville. But twenty years ago, it’d have been the opposite.
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?
Almost everything I write starts with a specific place, actually. That’s maybe even more true in my fiction than in my poetry, since most of my poems lately begin at my mother’s kitchen table. One of the main challenges of writing (for me) is knowing a place well enough to evoke it on the page with just a few gestures in its direction, and the Midwest is really the only place I know like that, know with my eyes closed.
Discuss your writing process — inspirations, ideal environments, how you deal with writer’s block.
Whoa. This is a big question. Most of my work comes from personal experience and emerges into a broader context as it develops. A poem might begin with a memory or a tiny domestic drama, but at some point, I’ll realize I’m writing about something much larger. A central image in the poem might open up into a metaphor or the poem might take a turn that pushes it outward.
As for environments, Most days, I write for an hour or so in my studio, but I’m also perfectly happy to sneak in fifteen minutes anywhere I can. Coffee shops and hotel lobbies and Friday afternoons in the computer lab with the students in writing club.
And about writer’s block, I’m an odd duck. Beginning a piece of writing is never a problem for me—I love new ideas and I find it liberating to look at an empty page, my cursor blinking at me cheerfully. In fact, part of what I love about the poetry component of my work is the potential to start with a blank page each time I begin a new poem.
I save my terror for the middle. Facing a not-quite-there poem or a half-finished fiction manuscript often calls on all my creative tricks and tools—doodling in cafes, writing down my dreams, and keeping notebooks in every conceivable corner of the house. Occasionally when I’m stuck in the muddy middle, I’ll use my affection for the blank page as a tool, dropping the manuscript in a hidden sub-folder and writing new scenes, each as its own new document. Other times, I’ll write an ending that will never work just to get myself out of that middle space, then spend months writing new scenes and working my way up to a real ending.
How can you tell when a piece of writing is finished?
When I desperately want my husband to read it, I know I’m feeling good about it. That’s not to say it won’t need more revision (often a LOT), but that’s how I know I have a revised draft worth its salt.
Who is your favorite author (fiction writer or poet), and what draws you to their work?
Impossible! My go-to list: Jane Austen, Sharon Olds, Ted Kooser, Elizabeth Bishop.
But I’ve recently come through a phase of reading a lot of Mary Oliver poems. I love the simplicity of her images juxtaposed with really startling, revealing thoughts about our place in the universe.
In fiction, I’m firmly committed to Rainbow Rowell and Jandy Nelson just now. I don’t know any contemporary writers who are doing character better.
What’s next for you?
I’m working on two manuscripts–a poetry manuscript and my third novel. The novel has most of my attention just now.
Where can we find more information about you?
My website, www.alinaborger.com is full of information. But I also tweet pretty regularly @AliBG, and I love making new writer friends there!