Scott Dorsch’s story “Holes or Tunnels” appears in Midwestern Gothic‘s Summer 2018 issue, out now.
What’s your connection to the Midwest, and how has the region influenced your writing?
Although I was not born here, Michigan has been my home base since I was five. I grew up on the westside, near Grand Rapids, in a city squalled by industry, called Muskegon. If one was to overlook the severe divide of race and class in the inner city and the shuttered windows along the main drag, a beautiful wilderness of sand and choppy, massive waters exists there. A Great Lake, rivers, muskeg, dunes, and mixed coniferous forests dominate the area. This is where I was found fishing, frogging, and noodling for turtles when I was young. It is this cultural and geologic yin-yang of failing commerce backset by lake breezes and shade trees that both defines the region and my writing. This and the smiling faces that persist the six-month winters above the 45th, like the mailman who has helped me out of my snowed-in driveway more than once, the sun bathers on beautifully empty beaches, the hard-capped workers sandblasting and repainting the Mackinac Bridge, the sign-holding homeless, the seasonal songbirds, the swollen beer enthusiasts, and the orchardists hoping for a better year—they, too, influence my writing. And it was all there in my hometown, just as it is in the Midwest.
What do you think is the most compelling aspect of the Midwest?
Big water, sand, and the long lake-effected winters backset by the streams of commerce. This and the folks that love it no matter how cold and snowy Spring will be.
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 setting always comes to me first. Not the central character, not the plot, not the lede (although helpful), and certainly not the theme, but the place and the images therein, inspire me to put pen to paper. It’s typically a casted image from my time spent in the woods and dunes of the Midwest, or flashes from my days in the Cascades and Rockies that pique an idea, and it is from there that everything else clumsily falls into relative order.
Discuss your writing process — inspirations, ideal environments, how you deal with writer’s block.
I’m a pen guy. Sometimes a pencil person, but I start by manually scribbling stories out. I do not outline, and I do not plan. I use the Goldberg approach to preliminary writing (as in Natalie Goldberg and her wonderful guide, Writing Down the Bones).
As Goldberg suggests, I just go for the “jugular” and let the script out feverishly. From which point I take the shards of what could be a story and distill it down like white whiskey by typing it out and editing along the way. Also like whiskey, I let it rest and age before I come back to it, print it out, and work pencil to paper again a hundred times before it feels almost ready. From there, my gatekeeper, Julianna, looks at it and says, “I liked it, but…”. I take her suggestions and repeat the previous process until I get so sick of looking at it that I send the story out to some poor unsuspecting volunteer reader, who gives it a “maybe” and moves it along to the editor with well wishes. (Thank you, readers!) During the feverish stage, I require no particulars from my working environment. However, in the editing stage, I must be working in a well-lit, quiet, tidy space with a full stomach and lots of water nearby. That is ideal.
Just like all hard things in life, I find writer’s block to be a condition of a bad attitude. When stuck or upset about my progress, I lower my expectations, sip some water (because I’m likely dehydrated), slam down my laptop or pen, and then walk while listening to the New Yorker Poetry Podcast. Preferably the Ellen Bass, “What Did I Love” episode on repeat. I love that poem.
How can you tell when a piece of writing is finished?
Like most art, stories never feel finished. Not to me anyway. It never feels quite right or good enough, which is a curse in a way. However, this undone feeling can also be a blessed motivator when I’m done giving a damn. It’s only when I can’t even stand to hear the title read aloud that I know it’s done for me. Unlike a painting in the Louvre, there’s always a chance to rework lines in future editions or collections, or to just digitally burn a story with a firm touch of the delete button.
Who is your favorite author (fiction writer or poet), and what draws you to their work?
No one has changed my approach or inner dialogue like Annie Proulx. I will never be the same after reading The Shipping News. There’s a particular grace, meter, conceptual genius and abrasiveness to her work that keeps me smiling and crying through her stories. Place more than anything is central to her work, and I just can’t resist it. She almost exclusively writes in third-person, yet the narrator is often my favorite character in her work. I can’t stand a sanitized narrator in fiction anymore because of Annie. Did I mention meter? She’s got rhythm in her bones.
With that said, poetry was my first love. Billy Collins was there for me early on when I worked alone in an amusement park parking booth in my late teens, but my favorite writer is a Michigan poet named Bob Hicock. Bless you, Bob, for telling it however the hell you please.
What’s next for you?
With much gratitude and luck, I am heading to Idaho to study fiction as a candidate in the University of Idaho’s MFA program. There I will work on a collection of short stories and keep chipping away at a novel based on my short, “Holes or Tunnels.”
Where can we find more information about you?
I’ve been reviled by my family and friends for not having a social media outlet to date. Unfortunately, I cannot be found on the book of faces or Twitter or the like. I will be launching a website in the near future.