L.L. Wohlwend’s story “Maddie” appears in Midwestern Gothic Issue 21, out now.
What’s your connection to the Midwest, and how has the region influenced your writing?
I grew up in Superior, Wisconsin, which is right next to Lake Superior. Superior is a bar town, always has been, probably always will be, but it doesn’t take long to find the beauty of the region: the surrounding countryside, the deep-snows, the piercing cold. The more I write, the more I realize how much this landscape influenced me. Because of the lake, even summer weather is moody, difficult and vacillating. All of this provides a great backdrop for characters.
What do you think is the most compelling aspect of the Midwest?
The landscapes really compel me, but I find that to be true of many places. Here in New Mexico where I’m currently living, you can’t really ask for more in terms of natural beauty. But I find that when I’m home visiting Superior, I’m drawn to Lake Superior in a way that I wasn’t when I was a kid. It really is a glorious lake, if just a bit chilly for swimming most days.
How does 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?
Right now, I’m in an MFA program at the University of New Mexico working on a memoir about my father’s suicide and the effect this had on his nine children. My dad lived in northern Wisconsin, and the places he knew are sprinkled throughout the book. My memories of him are also threaded through the farm he owned, and the land he loved. Landscape and homescape are so often the same.
Discuss your writing process — inspirations, ideal environments, how you deal with writer’s block.
Writer’s block is usually just a lack of confidence, something I’m all too familiar with. But I’ve been trying out a version of my advisor’s “treadmill journal.” Basically, you log your hours and goals for each day and try to get at least three hours of writing time each day. I’ve fallen pitifully short these last few weeks, but I found it’s important to write in quantity without putting so much stress on yourself to write well.
There is no ideal environment for writing. There is just the writing. In the best of worlds, one should be able to sit down anywhere and start typing away.
How can you tell when a piece of writing is finished?
Ha, I don’t think I’m a good person to ask about that. I don’t know that a piece is ever really finished.
Who is your favorite author (fiction writer or poet), and what draws you to their work?
My favorite authors are many, but I’ve been reading a lot of James Baldwin lately. I just finished his wonderful book Giovanni’s Room and his nonfiction treatise The Fire Next Time. I also recently re-read his classic short story “Sonny’s Blues,” (I teach the story in my creative writing class at the University of New Mexico). “Sonny’s Blues” hits every note right. The sentences are beautiful; the characters are sharply drawn and original, and the story is so carefully plotted. It’s impossible to think of anyone who does writing better.
What’s next for you?
I’m finishing my MFA this spring. If all goes well, I should have the first draft of my memoir completed, and maybe a bit of the second draft as well. After that? Well, only the Fates can tell.
Where can we find more information about you?
@LLWohlwend on Twitter