Contributor Spotlight: Robert Young

Robert Young’s piece “11 Useless Kitchen Appliances: Crock Pots” appears in Midwestern Gothic Winter 2017, out now.

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

My connection to the Midwest is something that’s deeply ingrained in my character, but also something I’ve only recently begun thinking about. I’ve spent my whole life here: born and raised in Fort Wayne, IN, went to college in Muncie, IN, never going far. As I talk with writers and people who come from other parts of the country, I find myself seeing the ways that place and hometown inform personality more and more. The Midwest, like anywhere, is more than just a place. It’s a spirit. It’s a character and a personality unto itself, and when you spend as much time as I have in a single place, in seeps into you. I think the Midwest has made me and my writing more subdued, quiet on the outside, but with a lot going on under the surface, which I think is emblematic of the region as a whole.

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

I think what interests me most about the Midwest is how undefined the region is. All the states are so different in a variety of subtle ways, and yet they get lumped together so often. Heck, it seems like sometimes there’s debate about which states can even be considered Midwestern.

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?

I think that I, like many other writers, use locations from my youth or my memories as settings for my writing—a friend’s basements, a small wooded area near my parent’s house, an airport, etc. Sometimes you visit a place and you just got to write a poem about it, or set a flash piece there. As I said earlier, I think places are characters unto themselves with their own personalities. I think, beyond just setting a story in a particular place, I strive to have the personality of a that place shine through.

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

I always always listen to music when I’m writing. I like having a melody that I can lose myself in. I try and just write loose and let words flow once I get in the groove, and music can help me get there. Sometimes, when I’m really blocked, I’ll write a poem using only words that appear in the songs I’m listening too—pick a word out of a song, skip to another song, pick out another word or two, or a phrase even. At that point I’ve got a line or two to work with and I go stream of consciousness from there. In terms of writing environment, I don’t have an ideal place, but I do need to be alone.

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

Nothing’s ever really finished, but I think I consider something finished when I’ve done so many drafts and worked on something so much that I’m sick of looking at it. You can drive yourself crazy with editing, especially if you’re like me and you worry over the finite details endlessly. At some point you need to just stop, look at your piece, and decide that it’s good enough.

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

This question is something I agonize over, and the answer can change from week to week. Off the top of my head: I’ve always loved Kurt Vonnegut, fellow Hoosier, but in terms of poets I love Sharon Olds’ The Gold Cell, Rilke’s The Duino Elegies, and have recently gotten into Emily Dickinson. I also like a lot of genre fiction as well, stuff like Stephen Donaldson’s Thomas Covenant series, Frank Herbert’s Dune, Ursala Le Guin’s The Lathe of Heaven or The Left Hand of Darkness, etc.

What’s next for you?

Right now I’m working on a chapbook manuscript. It’s going to be a collection of poetry, prose-poetry, and flash fiction with unifying plot and character. I’ve also got some flash fiction forthcoming in The Evansville Review.

Where can we find more information about you?

I’m active on Twitter (@rjyoung1174), which is where you can also find a link to my website. I’ll also be at AWP 2017 so maybe I’ll see you there.

Leave a Reply