Renee Bailey’s piece “When to Buy a Gun” appears in Midwestern Gothic‘s Winter 2018 issue, available now.
What’s your connection to the Midwest, and how has the region influenced your writing?
I grew up in northwest Ohio and graduated from Bowling Green State University. I live in Mississippi for the time being, and I’m surrounded by the overwhelming identity of southern literature; yet, I can never seem to write it myself. Instead, there’s a quiet tension from the Midwest influencing my work. Often, I think of my hometown, Lima, as the grid I most refer to. When I write about the stars or the country or a neighborhood, it’s always from the perspective of a Ohioan.
What do you think is the most compelling aspect of the Midwest?
The Midwest feels unsettled. It reminds me of the compost bin I used to have. I loved watching the bugs heave the dirt, food, and mold inch by inch. It’s an ecosystem working out a problem, and the Midwest feels that way. In the Midwest, conflicts thrive underneath the surface rather than on top of it.
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?
This is a recent revelation, but I will never escape my Catholic upbringing. Lima’s riddled with a rich Catholic history, and of course, that comes with the painful past the Church has in the US. Honestly, it comes with the Church’s long history of abuse and power. I can’t run away from it. I think of the odd campus of St. Charles Borromeo—I went to elementary school there. Even today, my parents attend mass there. The memories of mass, the rosary, and the sacraments layer so much of my writing. Recently, I wrote a story about a woman who sleeps with her priest. That was fun and felt like I hit the iron perhaps when it was too hot.
I also think of flat golf courses. I played competitively in high school. Golf in the Midwest differs from anywhere else, I’d say, because of the long scope and the temporal nature of the game—winter abandons it. I think of sitting on a tee, examining the hole and its intention. The green landscape feels inherently Midwest. Something about the groomed nature of it exemplifies what I think of when I describe the Midwest. Isolated in time and momentarily quiet. A visual distance, long and pocked with tension.
Discuss your writing process — inspirations, ideal environments, how you deal with writer’s block.
My primary source of inspiration seems to involve strong women. They’re magnetizing and empowering. I find myself reading so much poetry, too, by marginalized voices. Often it’s an image that I think about, or a verse, something burdened by identity.
Writing in a bar or restaurant, for me, produces a lot of work. I’m not sure why, and it’s probably a cliché at this point. Usually I want a busy place, not necessarily the hole-in-the-wall, but something teeming with voices.
Writer’s block? I write the bad stuff too. I put sentences on my hard drive and shake it out. Sometimes, I take a shower, and come back to the piece after.
How can you tell when a piece of writing is finished?
Perhaps nothing is ever finished, but recently, I completed a flash piece that I questioned if it was too brief. Except I had nothing else to say about this narrative.
Who is your favorite author (fiction writer or poet), and what draws you to their work?
Angela Ball for poetry. She just released Talking Pillow, and so much of it is about grief. Right now, I’m just stumbling out of a long period of grief, and these poems helped get me out of that tragedy. I read Han Kang’s The Vegetarian last summer and then I finished Human Acts a few weeks ago. She manages to take horrific displays of humanity and make them beautiful. I’m thinking of the protagonist’s deteriorating body and her love of having flowers painted onto it.
What’s next for you?
In the next half hour, I will take my dogs for a walk. In the next year, I will be finishing my PhD, and hopefully, wrapping up two manuscripts I’m working on.
Where can we find more information about you?
I’m a big fan of Twitter. It’s the best place to know what I’m up to: @renee_04chica