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Bruce Johnson’s story “All the Wild” 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?
I was born in Lincoln, Nebraska, and lived there until I moved away for my MFA at age 23. Though I haven’t lived there for a while now, my stories draw upon a lot of the settings and experiences I was exposed to while I did, and I think some of the recurring preoccupations of my fiction—especially a skepticism toward traditional concepts of masculinity—grew out of my experience as a midwesterner who often didn’t fit in with other midwesterners. But more importantly, I think the matter-of-fact speech common in the region will always be a part of my writing voice at the sentence level.
What do you think is the most compelling aspect of the Midwest?
I’m a little hesitant to generalize about the Midwest, because it’s such a large region and I’ve only ever lived in such a tiny sliver of it. But in the other places I’ve lived, different classes of people tend to self-segregate and often try to more or less ignore each other. That’s not the case in Lincoln. I miss seeing the coexistence of different classes in the same small space, and mingling with people from different economic backgrounds.
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?
The Midwest is a very unique place to grow up, and that gave me a lot of rich settings to draw upon that many writers and readers aren’t privy to. Lincoln in particular was a great starting place for me as a writer, with its college-city feel and its proximity to smaller towns and the wide-open country. Those settings have an obvious influence on my stories set in the Midwest, but also on the stories that take place in other regions or countries. The distinctiveness of my experience growing up in the Midwest has helped me draw contrasts in order to understand what makes other places unique as well.
Discuss your writing process — inspirations, ideal environments, how you deal with writer’s block.
When I start a new story, it often feels like I need to forget everything I thought I knew about writing and figure out a new process that will work for that particular story. Sometimes I have a clear idea of what a story is about before I start it, other times I just have a first sentence I want to play with. Sometimes a story demands a quiet room to write in, other times weird industrial music playing in my headphones. And inspiration can come from anywhere; I have a long list of story ideas written down in my phone, and I don’t remember where most of them came from. I can’t say I experience writer’s block much, though. I’m always writing. It’s not always good, but throwing out bad work is part of the process.
How can you tell when a piece of writing is finished?
It kind of depends on the story, but usually I can tell it’s finished when the changes I’m making are increasingly minor—fiddling with comma placement, for example, or re-inserting a sentence I took out the day before.
Who is your favorite author (fiction writer or poet), and what draws you to their work?
I read a lot of different types of fiction so my instinct here is to name a ton of different writers that I love, but that seems like a cop-out. So I’ll say Don Delillo, whose books I re-read more than those of any other author. His sentences are what draw me to his work.
What’s next for you?
I’m currently working on my PhD dissertation, which is a novel that follows a couple recent immigrants to Santiago, Chile. One of them is from Lincoln like me, so it will definitely have some Midwest influence in there as I tackle the collision of cultures that comes with any story of immigration.
Where can we find more information about you?