Contributor Spotlight: Scott Onak

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Scott Onak author headshotScott Onak’s story “L3 Loves Hudson” 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?

I was born and raised just outside of Chicago, went to school in mid-state Illinois, and have spent the majority of my adult life in the city—as have my parents, and their parents. The region has given my writing, more off the page than on, its earnestness, its humility, and its quiet, stubborn endurance.

What do you think is the most compelling aspect of the Midwest?

One aspect, at least around Chicago and a large part of Illinois, is the lack of elevation, and how it would change your mindset to live among mountains instead of prairie, or to be able to look down on towns. I sometimes think that’s why Chicago rose, and why cities rise in flat places, to give us some high distant mark to focus on. What an anomaly, especially when flying into and out of O’Hare, to see this abrupt assembly of buildings.

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 went out West for grad school, and there I was able to write about Chicago and discovered from that distance what visuals remained, for whatever reason: driving up the entrance ramp onto Lake Shore Drive, heading downtown, when the skyline is lit in a wall before you, the lake on the left in total darkness. Or the beach on summer evenings when the air still remains so hot, in the soft aftermath of sunset. These found their places in the novel I was writing at the time.

Discuss your writing process—inspirations, ideal environments, how you deal with writer’s block.

Where the writing gets done varies, but I usually seek out noise, coffee shops, just enough distraction around me to create a private sphere. Consistency is best, routine essential, but I give myself the room not to force it, to know when I need to recharge. Reading helps with blocks. Often if nothing is happening on the page I realize my reading has slackened, and I need to replenish the store.

How can you tell when a piece of writing is finished?

Feedback from a trusted reader + putting a draft away (a week, a month, longer) + the continuing experience and practice to develop a sense of when I’ve reached the core of a story, when it’s had its say.

Who is your favorite author (fiction writer or poet), and what draws you to their work?

One of them in Virginia Woolf, for her audacity, because her books grow more and more ambitious, constant challenges to herself, and for her exploration and sensitivity to time, both as a device and subject, which also occupies a lot of my own work: the passage of time, the longing inherent, the inevitability.

What’s next for you?

I’m working on a new novel set in San Francisco and very much enjoying the process, which is different from the previous one. I’m also writing a short story set there, though it’s a historical piece, which is new for me. I spent some time in San Francisco years ago and apparently I need and am ready to write about it.

Where can we find more information about you?

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