Contributor Spotlight: Toni Nealie

Toni NealieToni Nealie’s piece “The Sediment of Fear” appears in Midwestern Gothic Issue 23, out now.

What’s your connection to the Midwest, and how has the region influenced your writing?

I grew up between the ocean and mountains of Aotearoa, New Zealand and moved to the Midwest as an adult. I write about the plains in contrast to the spectacular landscape I left. I’ve come to appreciate the beauty of the plains: “the muted splendor of the cornfields, nothing flashy or overly dramatic, just a quiet goldenness laid out between the horizons.”

What do you think is the most compelling aspect of the Midwest?

Chicago skyscrapers lined up with the lake rolling out in front — the manmade looks puny compared to nature. The way the storms roll in across the plain. My dog hides under the bed whenever there’s thunder and lightning.

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 Miles Between Me is largely about place, borders, distance and different perspectives on upheaval and memory. I use landscape as a way into difficult topics – in “Rupturing” I write about an earthquake in my hometown. The distress caused “when all that is known has been heaved up” refers to the loss of environment and loss in my family. In “The Sediment of Fear” I write about rocks, and wonder how the sediments connect us to our unstable histories, across time and place.

Discuss your writing process — inspirations, ideal environments, how you deal with writer’s block.

Right now I’m trying to generate new work. Clearing deadlines and making space for it is my biggest challenge. I like dreamy solitude when writing. And lots of coffee.

How can you tell when a piece of writing is finished?

When enough has been stripped away or added that it feels complete. I’m slow.

Who is your favorite author (fiction writer or poet), and what draws you to their work?

When I was writing this book, I was reading Maggie Nelson, Pessoa, Rilke, Baldwin… Currently I’m enjoying Chicago poets and fiction writers including Ladan Osman, Roger Reeves, Chris Rice. Ideas and language attract me, the sound, texture and rythym of the words on the page and an attempt to let me see a perspective I hadn’t encountered.

What’s next for you?

I’m coming to the end of six months of readings for The Miles Between Me. I’m co-editing The Sunday Rumpus, Literary Editor at Newcity, and I’m teaching writing. I’m in a pre-writing phase right now – hope to be into the writing soon.

Where can we find more information about you? and @tnealie

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