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Cailin Ashbaugh’s story “The Town Witch” 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 Northern Michigan and have been told that when I talk I sound like I’m from the upper peninsula, Minnesota, with the occasional Wisconsin thrown in for some variety. This region has influenced the settings of my writings, I feel like I’m always trying to capture the cold that doesn’t quite hit your bones.
What do you think is the most compelling aspect of the Midwest?
I’m always drawn to the people and the ways that we interact with one another, it seems like every region of the Midwest that I’ve been in holds it’s own kind of backhanded politeness on the surface, but if someone is actually struggling people will do what they can to help, often anonymously and expecting nothing in return.
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 feel like I’m always trying to go back to somewhere in my writing. I’m trying to find a place. I think parts of that place are the woods that I grew up in, the arbitrary circle of pine trees that was a fairy circle, catching frogs with my cousins. I want to capture some sense of wonder and put it into words.
Discuss your writing process — inspirations, ideal environments, how you deal with writer’s block.
I’m not a very disciplined writer, things often come in spurts and I have to convince myself that they are worth sitting down for. In the beginning of a piece it is often scrawled on the back of receipt papers or napkins until I have enough of a character or a place that I need to sit down and let them out.
How can you tell when a piece of writing is finished?
There isn’t an urgency in adding anything else, the story that the character or place needed to tell has been told. I’m also lucky enough to have writer friends to share work with when I think I’m done, and they’ll more often than not tell me I’m wrong and we’ll workshop each other’s stories until they are the best they could hope to be.
Who is your favorite author (fiction writer or poet), and what draws you to their work?
I’ve just finished (yesterday) reading Helen Oyeyemi’s short story “What is Not Yours is Not Yours,” and I’ve always loved magical realism and I think I’ve fallen in love with the ways she presents the world of her stories. Your feet still feel grounded, but there is something off with how the ground feels. When I’m stuck writing I often turn to Woolf for her long and winding sentences. And this is always a very tough question because I have so many favorites it really just depends on the mood and what I need from a piece of writing.
What’s next for you?
I just finished a term as an intern with Milkweed Editions, and between shifts selling groceries I’m waiting to hear back from full time jobs and looking for housing in Louisville, where I will be starting an internship with Sarabande Press in August.
As of late writing has been coming out in spurts on old receipts and napkins under coffee cups but nothing is fleshed out enough to know what will come of it.
Where can we find more information about you?
My portfolio is working itself out of being in shambles at cailinsimone.com