Brooke White’s piece “Study of Hands” appears in Midwestern Gothic‘s Winter 2018 issue, out now.
What’s your connection to the Midwest, and how has the region influenced your writing?
Growing up, I spent most weekends in the car with my parents, driving to Ohio to visit family. Now I’m in the driver’s seat. I make the trip when I can. Those sweeping soybean and corn fields, property lines dotted by saplings along I-75, that’s my idea of home and the Midwest. I write nonfiction, and the Midwest informs everything I say.
What do you think is the most compelling aspect of the Midwest?
Some say the Midwest is boring because it’s flat. That’s a big criticism of Ohio. Still, the flat terrain is my favorite part of this region. There’s something instinctively calming about an expanse of land, seeing the ground embrace the sky and staring at the line that divides them until it’s indistinguishable. The seasons, an abundance of trees and those fields the Midwest is mocked for make this place beautiful. The shimmering lakes in Michigan, big and small and everywhere, the sound of trains howling, cicadas chattering in the summer, of leaves bumping into each other like people on the subway in Chicago.
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 want to know what defines a home, and why we become attached to the places we live. Between my parents’ divorces, foreclosures and then college, I’ve lived in nearly twenty homes and apartments. The places I lived as a child, and the houses of friends are featured in my writing as lifestyles I’ve experienced or wanted, the ways of living I’ve had access to and been denied.
I live in Dearborn now, where I race Detroit Metro airplanes on my way to work, pass Ford’s World Headquarters, the largest mosque in North America, and a surreal collection of historic homes (Greenfield Village) filled with actors and artifacts.
Discuss your writing process — inspirations, ideal environments, how you deal with writer’s block.
When a piece of information, a story or memory keeps coming back to me- in the shower, while I’m cooking, driving, then I know it’s something with a deep emotional resonance, something I need to explore. A professor of mine once said that emotional topics are a gift to writers and are worth mining. I’ll start with that thought and free associate, writing stream of consciousness for my first draft. Later, I’ll scour the draft for patterns and connections between the words, images, themes. After I find the shape of the story I shake it through a mental sieve, omitting clunky phrasing and irrelevant details. I do this again and again until the story is easy to read aloud, makes sense, sounds lyrical and feels meaningful.
How can you tell when a piece of writing is finished?
Writing is never finished. More years and experiences provide a new perspective or the skills to better tell the story. In Stephen King’s On Writing he says most writing benefits by being locked in a drawer for weeks or months, resurfacing when the writer’s mind is clear and they can look at it again with fresh eyes. That being said, I think it can be healthy to put a pin in your work, to treat that piece of writing like we do pictures. That story is a snapshot of you, how you felt at that time about that particular experience or idea.
Who is your favorite author (fiction writer or poet), and what draws you to their work?
Recently, I’ve been obsessed with Hanif Abdurraqib’s essays. His Midwestern background makes many of his stories feel familiar. He once wrote “I learned to write in the Midwest, To the Midwest, For the Midwest.” Abdurraqib’s work is honest. When writers reveal everything about themselves, no matter how it makes them look, that’s captivating. I’ll always be hungry for honest writing.
What’s next for you?
Hopefully an MFA program and work at a university. In the past, I worked as a writing consultant and English tutor. I really enjoyed sharing what I love– writing and reading- with students and helping them feel more confident about their capabilities. No matter what, I plan to travel and keep working on my craft.
Where can we find more information about you?
Facebook: Brooke White, BrkTheWriter