Christina Robertson’s story “Everything Instinct” appears in Midwestern Gothic‘s Winter 2017 issue, out now.
What’s your connection to the Midwest, and how has the region influenced your writing?
I grew up in the city, Chicago, lived within its patchwork of ethnic and evolving neighborhoods, drank of its cultural offerings, sat silently upon rocks and cured myself of my ills gazing out at the astonishing lake. Like most city dwellers, I also sought escape. Even if that was only in the form of keeping an eye on the bird’s nest in the yew bush outside my apartment building.
What do you think is the most compelling aspect of the Midwest?
I respond to the extremity of, and amazing force the change of seasons has upon us here. Summer is hot and draws everyone to the water, fall is an unpredictable tumble of leaves and days, winter is harsh and beautiful. The snow is blue at twilight. We ski in parking lots. We bake and get fat. Spring, well, it’s turmoil…Spring means after the storms you really have to stop what else you’re doing to pay attention or you will miss the show.
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 parents only took two vacations (as opposed to family visits) when I was a child. Both times we drove to the northern tip of the UP Michigan, near Copper Harbor. It was very remote and unpopulated at the time and I spent my days reading, writing, and collecting stones. Its moody beauty, the coexistence of the almost prehistorically harsh landscape, the bitter cold, gunmetal gray lake water, the intoxicating pine scent of the woods and its delicate birdsong were inspiring. I have always been fascinated by Nature and its terrible beauty, even as it exists within people.
Discuss your writing process — inspirations, ideal environments, how you deal with writer’s block.
I think when I start building up connections in my head, things, people, ideas, questions, I know that they are clamoring to become something—a story, a sculpture with words. I’m often not sure how I’m going to connect everything on the page so the story takes shape as something relatable. That is the part of the process that takes the most time for me. When the essence emerges from the images and characters I am working with, I know I have something. I write in a small corner of a small room in our house, far from my ideal environment, but it is papered with words and images that I love. I often cure writers block by moving. I walk, I move furniture around. I sometimes write notes and letters at the coffee shop or in the car parked at the shore of Lake Michigan. I write initial drafts in longhand. I feel intimately connected to my characters that way.
How can you tell when a piece of writing is finished?
As every writer would say, it is never quite finished, not by our ever changing standards. We read someone else’s work, someone we love, and all of a sudden our own creation seems lacking, needs tweaking again, whatever. I think evaluation of one’s own work is kind of intuitive. You can cover all the structural bases, etc., but just like you would know your child, you know when you have the story the way you want it, or if it needs something else. In this way it is always, finally, a subjective assessment.
Who is your favorite author (fiction writer or poet), and what draws you to their work?
This is always a hard question. I love Barbara Kingsolver for the true hearts of her characters and accuracy with which she portrays the intersection between the everyday and the spiritual. I love Joe Meno for the same reasons, though their styles are so different. I love the voice, humor and heartbreak of Junot Diaz. I find Colum McCann wildly talented on so many levels. Just his rhythm, poetry and grit leave me speechless. And I am quite moved by the devotion in Mary Oliver’s early poetry.
What’s next for you?
I have a teen/ YA novel that needs a home. It had been accepted for publication with an independent press that, after sending their first round of editorial notes, suddenly folded (and broke my heart). I am now in the midst of searching for representation. I am also working on several other short stories, one influenced by a place I visited, Washington D.C., on an unending, unforgiving summer day.
Where can we find more information about you?
I am, for better or worse, a pretty private person. No website or twitter account. I try to give my best energy to my work, as it is my offspring. I cherish the opportunities I get to make it better. I can be reached for conversation at firstname.lastname@example.org.