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Danny Caine’s piece “The Middle West” 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 suburbs of Cleveland. I recently moved to Lawrence, Kansas for graduate school, and only after moving away from Cleveland did I realize how much it shaped my worldview. Every landscape of my childhood shaped the way I see the world, from Applebee’s by the offramps to the blighted houses of the East Side. This is my world, and I haven’t really figured out a way to write about anything else.
What do you think is the most compelling aspect of the Midwest?
I think it can be best summed up in the experience of cheering for the Cleveland Browns. You know any given season is going to have a pretty high quotient of misery, not to mention ungodly cold weather, but you’re nothing if not proud. This pride-in-misery builds community. The nod from one Browns fan to another is like how Jeep owners look at each other. It’s a Cleveland thing. You wouldn’t understand.
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?
My current project, of which “The Middle West” is a kind of title poem, is an effort to capture the Midwestern landscape as I remember it. It’s a love story, but too often love stories only blossom in the glitzy cities of cinema. How many love stories can you think of that are set in New York or Paris? Now how many love stories can you think of that are set in the strip malls of Cleveland’s southern suburbs? People fall in love out here too. People hold hands in parking lots where gulls perch on light poles over seas of only asphalt. People go on dates at Bob Evans. Their stories are just as lovely.
Discuss your writing process — inspirations, ideal environments, how you deal with writer’s block.
I need a line first. I usually start with that single line which is the pebble that hits the windshield to make the spider crack. For “The Middle West,” it was the line about $2 margarita night. If I can’t think of that line, I listen. Whenever someone says something great, I write it down. I have a list of lines to bail me out of writers block. One of them is “the smell of other people’s backseats in summer.” I haven’t written the rest of that poem yet, but I will someday.
How can you tell when a piece of writing is finished?
I could answer this a few ways. First, when I feel comfortable reading it out loud. Second, when it gets published (and if that’s the measure, I’ve only “finished” a handful of poems). I realize both of those are dependent on outside validation, but I think that an audience really is a part of me deciding when something is done. Once it leaves my hands and I give it to someone else, there’s not much else I can do, is there?
Who is your favorite author (fiction writer or poet), and what draws you to their work?
Erika Meitner’s newest book Copia is really fantastic in ways a lot of Midwestern Gothic authors would appreciate. She tells these really image-heavy, totally affecting stories that are set in dead malls and Wal-Marts and Detroit and Niagara Falls—places that feel familiar to me but often get ignored for more exotic or “lovely” places. I also read a tremendous amount of fiction, and I’ve recently finished reading everything Elenea Ferrante has written. She’s incredible. I’m drawn to her because her books feel classic and current at once: she’s telling a story for the ages with a keen contemporary eye and ear.
What’s next for you?
I have one more year of my MFA left, then, who the heck knows.
Where can we find more information about you?
My website is dannycaine.com. Twitter: @mistercaine. Instagram: @dannycaine.