Midwest in Photos: Uneasy

March 10th, 2018

“Yes. This is the place. / Where my shining treasure has been waiting. / Where my shadow washes itself in my fountain.” – Laura KasischkeSpace, in Chains.

Uneasy by Dawn Olsen

Photo by: Dawn Olsen

The Space Between by by Kali VanBaale (MG Press)

Our next MG Press title is something that’s becoming more and more important to us, especially as current events in the country continue to unfold: the digital re-release of Kali VanBaale’s award-winning first novel, The Space Between. 

Due out June 12, 2018, The Space Between follows Judith Elliott, a mother in the Midwest who is going about her normal Valentines Day when she hears the news that her teenage son, Lucas, has taken a gun to school. He has killed two other students, a teacher, and himself. This novel was originally inspired by the Columbine tragedy, but recent events have made this story incredibly, and unfortunately, relevant.

We hope that Kali’s contribution to the discussion is something that inspires meaningful changes in whatever way it can; she is a phenomenal writer, and this novel won an American Book Award in 2007, so we couldn’t be prouder to be helping her continue to share her voice with the world.

From the back cover: 

Winner of a 2007 American Book Award

Recipient of a 2007 Independent Publisher’s silver medal for general fiction

Winner of the 2006 Fred Bonnie Memorial First Novel Award

Valentine’s Day in middle America. Judith Elliott fixes breakfast for her affluent suburban family. She kisses them all goodbye, tends to the house, makes plans for later with her husband. Then comes the news: her teenage son, Lucas, has taken a gun to school. He has killed two other students, a teacher, and himself.

Judith, an ordinary wife and mother, must suddenly grapple with extraordinary grief and horror. As reporters gather and lawsuits loom, society shuts out the surviving members of the Elliott family—including husband and father, Peter, and daughter and sister, Lindsey—who are as blindsided by the tragedy as anyone. Judith struggles to be the center of what remains of her family but finds herself plagued by doubts and unanswerable questions that may eventually disrupt her life more completely than the initial tragedy.

In this digital rerelease exclusive, Kali VanBaale’s award-winning first novel examines the aftermath of this modern nightmare with a clear-eyed dramatic precision that will leave readers wondering what does indeed lurk in the dark, unknowable spaces that exist between even the most loving of family members.


The Space Between is a heart-rending, unflinching, lyrically powerful look into events both extraordinary and familiar, and an exploration of a family’s collective soul — how it trembles and aches and struggles to recover. By poignantly rendering the characters’ lives, what VanBaale reveals is as shocking as it is comforting: the space between us is an illusion, so we’re all in this together.”
Bret Anthony Johnston, author of Remember Me Like This, and Corpus Christi: Stories

“Kali VanBaale slices straight to the heart of a mother’s agony and guides us through her journey toward self-revelation; the triumph of this debut novelist lies in her compassion for those who suffer tragedy and learn from their mistakes. This is an important novel for parents and teenagers, for anyone who cares about what’s happening in our schools and homes. I read straight through the darkness into the morning hours that shimmered with new light.”
Bev Marshall, author of Walking Through Shadows, Right As Rain, and Hot Fudge Sunday Blues

“… every parent of a teenager in America should read this book.”
— Jim Barnes, managing editor of Independent Publisher

In addition, you can pre-order a copy of the book for only $3.99 and save 20% off the cover price (reg. $4.99) when it launches June 12, 2018.

Read more about The Space Between 

(Cover design by Lauren Crawford)


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Contributor Spotlight: Mario Perez

Mario Perez author headshot

Photo Credit: Zach Boyer

Mario Perez’s story “In a Rundown” 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’m a South Side Chicago guy just like Stuart Dybek. I left the city for China in my mid-twenties, but many of my stories are set in those blocks I scissor-kicked through as a kid. Chicago is constantly a returning character in my pieces.

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

People ask me about the Midwest on my travels. They don’t know much about the area as they do about the East and West. It has this duality to it: long stretches of flat nature or sprawling cities that thrive on the backs of the people. Chicago is the most compelling city in the states. It has an essence that generates stories which stir people when they read them.

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?

Every story has a piece of the writer contained within. If you want to know more about me you just have to read my stories. Honesty bleeds through my fingers when I write. I think the more attached you are to what you’re writing, the more intriguing it becomes. People want to see that mirror being held up.

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

At night and sometimes small spurts sprinkled in the afternoons. I have bursts and it can be tiresome sometimes. If I am struggling mightily, I’ll move to a spot outside and stay there till I get enough pages done. I’m in Mexico right now so there’s always a cool breeze and a few mosquitoes keeping me company.

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

The common saying goes a piece is never finished. Short Stories are a bit easier for me to push away and say enough. I’ll send them out and see which one’s stick. The one’s that get rejected, I’ll look at them again, or send them to my editor Emilie Cherlet for some extra comments and suggestions. I highly recommend finding another set of eyes for your work. Don’t just pay for someone though, you need to find someone who can read YOUR work well and who offers productive and trusting advice. I am lucky to have her. This is hard to find.

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

Right now I am devouring all of Murakami’s early novels since I love his jazzy narrators and his weird magic realism techniques (I have actually caught on to a trick he does recently). I borrow from Roberto Bolano as well, I’ve read The Savage Detectives three times, when it comes to novels and Janet Frame, her short story collections are amazing, when it comes to condensed tales.

What’s next for you?

If you mean writing wise, I’m working on a novel set in China (I spent five years there) and I am still shopping around my first novel set in 1992 Chicago.

Where can we find more information about you?

I have a Twitter @Famous_PlumerM but I don’t find myself on it a lot. Many of these social media darlings are banned in China and I am more of an outsider when it comes to internet presence. I can try and fix that.


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Midwest in Photos: Converse

“It was one of those humid days when the atmosphere gets confused. Sitting on the porch, you could feel it: the air wishing it was water.” – Jeffrey EugenidesMiddlesex.

Converse by Shay Appold

Photo by: Shay Appold


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A Note from the Editors

Dear readers, writers, family and friends:

In 2019, Midwestern Gothic/MG Press will be taking a temporary hiatus from accepting new book projects as well as publishing new issues of the journal.

Please know, we are not permanently closing our doors. We love what we do at MG, but a short hiatus will allow us time to re-prioritize our focus, reconsider our best practices, and work on projects that have fallen by the wayside.

What does this mean for you? During this hiatus, the catalog will still be active and available for sale—back issues of the journal, as well as MG Press books. We will continue marketing our issues and books through social media, and will remain active in the literary community. This hiatus is only meant to enable us to evaluate everything we’re doing, see where we can grow and strengthen, and come back smarter and better.

In 2018, we will be publishing two issues of Midwestern Gothic (including the Winter 2018 issue just released), and we have a new novel we’ll be publishing in June from acclaimed writer Kali VanBaale (more info coming soon). Beyond this, the only change you’ll notice during this hiatus is that we won’t be producing new content. Otherwise, we’ll be responding to email and inquiries and we’ll, generally, be around.

We also want to take a moment to say thank you. We would not be here if it wasn’t for you and your support of us over the years. With absolutely no external funding, we have published consistently since 2011, and we have loved doing it. However, this small break is necessary so we can continue moving forward and delivering the best content possible. Please know that this hiatus will not dampen our commitment to the literary community, celebrating diverse voices, or promoting yours. This is crucial to who we are, and no matter what, we will be here for you.

Finally, we will be attending the 2018 AWP Conference and Bookfair in Tampa, Florida this year, from March 7-10, where we’ll have copies of our newest issue, Winter 2018, for sale. If you’ll be there, do stop by and say hi.

Thank you for understanding, thank you for all of your support.

—Jeff Pfaller and Robert James Russell



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Midwest in Photos: Michael and Matthew

“In youth there are always two forces fighting in people. The warm unthinking little animal struggles against the thing that reflects and remembers” – Sherwood AndersonWinesburg, Ohio.

Michael and Matthew by Michael Hess

Photo by: Michael Hess


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Views from the Heartland: Dawn Olsen

Views from the Heartland - Dawn Olsen photographer headshotMidwestern Gothic staffer Sydney Cohen spoke with photographer Dawn Olsen about her creative process, how her Midwestern roots affect her work, the nostalgia of stillness, and more.

Dawn Olson is an Oxford comma defender by trade and Iowan by birth. She has lived in Indianapolis since 2012 and serves on the board of two preservation-based organizations. She had never heard of sugar cream pie before moving to Indiana, and refuses to call the Sears Tower anything but “the Sears Tower.” Follow her on Twitter or Instagram.

Sydney Cohen: What is your connection to the Midwest? 

Dawn Olsen: I’m a Midwesterner through and through. I was born in southwest Iowa (near Omaha, Nebraska), and have lived in Indianapolis since 2012. Since my boyfriend lives and works in Chicago, I often find myself in the City of Broad Shoulders, too. This part of the country will always be home; it made me, shaped me, embraced me.

SC: What launched you into the world of photography?

DO: My dad used to be a photographer for a small-town newspaper, and I grew up around his equipment — he used to keep various lenses on the dashboard of his car. I remember being in the darkroom with him too, long ago. I was five, maybe six, and when I went to open the door, he stopped me — I hadn’t yet learned that light spoils a candid moment. At the time, I wanted to be a zookeeper, and the thought of being a writer or photographer was foreign to me. However, weekends at the newspaper exposed me to words, images, and information at an early age.

Beautiful Junk - Views from the Heartland - Dawn Olsen

Beautiful Junk

SC: Your featured work on Midwestern Gothic is both gritty and captivating. How would you describe your personal aesthetic?

DO: The subjects in my photos vary depending on my mood, the time of year, and where I’m at. But there is one thing my images have in common — honesty. I’m interested in capturing a place, person, or object as it truly is at that moment. I want the late-evening sun at the Indiana State Fair, the gritty underbelly of Chicago, the hint of a smile, and the smear of mud on an abandoned couch.

At Stumpy's - Views from the Heartland - Dawn Olsen

At Stumpy’s

SC: What does your photography tell about the physical and cultural landscape of the Midwest?

DO: Midwesterners are known for being helpful and hard-working, and are often described as “traditional.” That doesn’t mean we’re boring, however. There are always places to explore, and I try to showcase them in my photography. Dirt roads, rolling hills, and small town life are just as visually interesting as rooftop bars and West Coast beaches.

Mowing Hazard - Views from the Heartland - Dawn Olsen

Mowing Hazard

SC: Your work captures moments of stillness, seen in photos like “Mowing Hazard” and “A Functioning John Updike Story”. What interests you in the absence of motion, or the suspension of time? Is there something particularly Midwestern about this calm and unsettling stillness?

DO: I don’t find it unsettling; I find it nostalgic. One of my favorite sounds is the orchestra of crickets during the summer, who play nightly symphonies. It is then, in the pinks and yellows of dusk, that everything else falls still. If I were to move back to Iowa today — six years after I left — the crickets would sound the same. I, however, would be a different. Sometimes, my photographs are the same; they capture something that is, has been, and always will be a certain way.

A Functioning John Updike Story - Views from the Heartland - Dawn Olsen

A Functioning John Updike Story

SC: How do you come across your shots — are they random, or do you go searching for them?

DO: Both! If I’m in Indianapolis, Chicago, or Omaha, I photograph whatever or whomever I happen to be around. However, I have been known to map out road trips and explore rural Iowa and Indiana.

SC: What would be your dream project to work on? Something you would love to capture through the medium of photography?

DO: There are a few things I would like to do. First, I’d like to start taking more photos of my family — my parents, my brother, my nephew. Candid photos of who they are and what they do, because I don’t ever want to forget. I’d also like to do something for/of my hometown, Treynor, Iowa. When I was small, it had a grocery store, a pharmacy, a hardware store. Things have changed since then, and I’d love to create a photographic timeline that shows the transformation of our 900-person town. As for a big-picture project? I would love to document an Amtrak trip from Wisconsin to Arizona — it would be a trip that captures a nostalgic form of travel, and allows me to explore my genealogy. (My mother and grandmother were born in Racine, and my biological grandfather is buried in Arizona.)

Our Views from the Heartland series is a new series we started to give some recognition to the incredible photographers who submit their photos to us regularly. In it, we talk with some of our favorite photographers who we feel capture the essence of the Midwest in their incredible photos. Each month, we’ll post a new interview with a photographer in which we discuss their creative process, the intersection of photography and literature, and other fascinating topics.


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Interview: Raymond McDaniel

Raymond McDaniel author headshotMidwestern Gothic staffer Sydney Cohen talked with author Raymond McDaniel about his poetry collection The Cataracts, nuances of the Midwest, his inspirations, and more.


Sydney Cohen: What’s your connection to the Midwest?

Raymond McDaniel: I’ve lived in the Midwest — Michigan, particularly — since 1999, after a spell on the east coast. I also went to graduate school here, and that was the first time I had lived away from the Deep South and Gulf states. I have come to love the Midwest, but I remain very respectful of the multiplicity of Midwests, how complex their arrangements and histories are. When you are from Florida, you learn to be suspicious of touristic ideas about place; you also grow up with an idea of the Midwest that positions it as a sort of default America, the place from which every other place is a deviation. I feel lucky to have gotten to know it as strange and distinct, and not just the locale to which other locales refer.

SC: Your new poetry collection, titled The Cataracts, recalls both a waterfall and an opacity of the eye. Why did you choose this title for your collection, and how do your poems incorporate the book’s titular dual meaning?

RM: My dad went in for cataract surgery when I was ten years old; since he was a draftsman, the condition was making it impossible for him to work. Standard preparation for the procedure revealed he had lung cancer, and over the subsequent year-plus he had his lung removed, and a few ribs, and nearly died from a staph infection (still a sadly common consequence of spending time in a hospital). He survived, and eventually did get his cataracts removed, but by then he was no longer healthy enough to use his hands to draw. That’s the first context in which I knew the word, and so part of the book is about vision and what enables or complicates it, and how that influences how we make all sorts of things: art, meaning, objects. I didn’t know the other meaning of the word until later, but the way in which cataracts refer to a flood or a rush of water aligns with the environment I grew up in, and how I experience language and information. Seemed like too well-matched a pairing to resist.

The Cataracts book cover by Raymond McDaniel

SC: Murder (A Violet), your debut collection, tells the story of an enigmatic assassin seeking refuge from her sordid past. What intrigues you about the anti-hero, and how does this figure fit into the larger narrative?

RM: I don’t know if I am comfortable thinking of that character as any kind of hero, anti- or otherwise. The closest she gets to heroic is simply refusing to do what she never should have been doing in the first place, even if she was also raised for that explicit purpose. What interested me most about her was just that question, though: how do people come to decide against themselves, against their own inherited and manufactured norms? And when and if that changes involves a moral repudiation, how do we regard the person who has made it? Forgiveness is fairly straightforward: it is (or isn’t) extended by those who have been done wrong to the person who wronged them. But redemption is more complicated; no one can offer or declare it for you, and you surely can’t claim it for yourself. So it’s hard to grasp or imagine, but it’s still a necessary concept. Her suspicion of its possibility is what keeps her morally alert, but it’s also part of what makes her so variable and uncertain in both her properties and her behaviors.

SC: You are also well known for your insightful and animated poetry reviews for The Constant Critic. What is your process when reviewing a poem? How does meriting the worth of other poetry inform your own writing process?

RM: Reading poetry and thinking about it in public has been a true pleasure, because writing one’s own poetry is — for me, at least — a cloistered, claustrophobic feeling. I am grateful for any poetry that isn’t mine, and what I’ve enjoyed the most about reviewing is simply trying to articulate some of the possibilities any given book offers its readers. Each book has the potential to add enormously to its readers’ capacities, and identifying what problems the poems detect and how they endeavor to solve or accommodate those problems can maybe present a reader a way to approach or inhabit the poems more readily. As for how that kind of reading informs my own process, well, I think it’s true that more closely you attend to others the more precisely you become yourself.

SC: You currently live in Ann Arbor where you teach at the University of Michigan. How has the vivacious literary community in Ann Arbor influenced or inspired your own writing? What aspects of your poetry, if any, would you consider distinctly Midwest?

RM: I was very lucky to host the reading series at an independent bookstore here in Ann Arbor (the late, lamented Shaman Drum Bookshop); I learned more as a bookseller, I think, than I ever did in graduate school. It’s simply the exposure to variety that matters the most: all those different titles in different disciplines, always new authors coming through, new customers introducing you to new works (or old ones that had shamefully escaped your attention). Literati has become my go-to bookstore here, and there, too, I can always count on the staff to have enthusiastic and richly informed opinions about a wider array of things than I could ever hope to learn on my own. Similarly, the kind of teaching I do means I am always meeting and working with students from all academic fields at all stages of development and scholarship; that range, too, means that I am always learning, always adding something new to the storehouse of ideas and perspectives. Writing in this environment, and in the Midwest, has allowed me to see my origins far more clearly and acutely than I ever would have had I stayed closer to home. So I doubt anyone would find anything they would characterize as Midwestern in the work, but I also don’t think the work would exist at all without the Midwest.

SC: Who are some poets that inspire you, and why?

RM: The poets to whom I return most frequently are C.D. Wright (because she was a heroic figure for me, and the first contemporary writer who struck me as saying “yes” to all her ways of being and speaking); Gwendolyn Brooks (because she was better at everything than everyone, and could deploy every one of her skills in a single poem in a way that was unified, effectual, and unmatched in its consequences); Frank Bidart (because his moral intelligence is more candid and rigorous than we might be able to see or admit); and Lorine Niedecker (because she was just so strictly and directly her own poet). I am also always impressed and increased by the work of francine j. harris, whose poetry is brilliant and strange and unlike anything else anyone else is doing or can do, and Paisley Rekdal, who simply goes from strength to strength, becoming wiser and more kind and more profound with each book.

SC: What’s next for you?

RM: I’m currently working on a nonfiction project about the history of namelessness. Other than that, more teaching, more reading, and trying to be as noisy and ferociously demanding a citizen as I know how to be.


Raymond McDaniel is author of Murder, Saltwater Empire, Special Powers and Abilities and most recently The Cataracts, all from Coffee House Press. He is form Florida but currently teaches at the Sweetland Center for Writing at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.


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Winter 2018 issue is on sale now!

Winter 2018 issue coverThe Winter 2018 issue of Midwestern Gothic is here, featuring new fiction, poetry, nonfiction, and photography about or inspired by the Midwest! Start your 2018 reading goal right, and settle in with some of the regions’s finest voices.

With cover art by the incredible Erica Williams, we’re thrilled with how this issue turned out!

Check out the Winter 2018 issue for fiction from Renée Bailey, Rebecca Berg, Kathryn Drew, Carol Dunbar, Hazel Foster, Mattie Ganson, Bruce Johnson, Halee Kirkwood, Chad Koch, Tyler Meese, Carly Anna Miller, Mario Perez, David Shieh, Ian Stoner, & Matt Whelihan.

Plus poetry from Melissa Boston, Collin Callahan, Cortney Lamar Charleston, Greg Emilio, Lisa Favicchia, Ceridwen Hall, Justin Hamm, Gwen Hart, Elizabeth Kerper, Jacob Lindberg, Alysse McCanna, John McCarthy, Ken Meisel, Max Schleicher, M. Drew Williams, & Guinotte Wise.

And nonfiction from Tamara Dean, Melissa Grunow, Bronson Lemer, Nora Seilheimer, Brooke White, & Jason Zeitler.

You’ll also find photography by Dallas Crow, Dawn Eves, Gail Jeidy, & David McCleery.

Shop now for the Winter 2018 issue of Midwestern Gothic.


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Contributor Spotlight: Melissa Boston

Melissa Boston’s piece “Untitled” appears in Midwestern Gothic‘s Winter 2018 issue, out tomorrow.

What’s your connection to the Midwest, and how has the region influenced your writing?

I grew up in Sedalia, Missouri. I attended college at University of Central Missouri and if it could have been possible I would have attended graduate school there. At present, I live in Fayetteville, AR which has some Midwestern culture but, for me, the Midwest will always be home. I actually still have my permanent address and car tagged in Missouri.

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

There is a silence and openness that is very distinct to the Midwest. Its imagery is very present and uninterrupted by clutter to where the foliage, sedimentary, and fauna rule the space; it’s something that stays with me, and that makes its way into quite a bit of my writing. This is also why, for me, Midwesterners are so generous and polite: it’s not about them.

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?

Once I began to travel and live alone in unfamiliar places I found it easier to write even more effectively about what I wanted to write. For example, I lived in Las Cruces, NM for a year and I found it easier to write about Missouri, specifically Warrensburg because I felt so alienated from everything that was familiar, so writing about a place that I spent a lot of my formative years helped me establish my identity as a Missourian writer and Midwesterner.

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

Lately my better poems get done on my lunch break at work. My poem in MG was written in the Walmart Home Office café, which is currently my home away from home. It is guaranteed 30 minutes of solid, uninterrupted writing time because, in a corporate setting, lunch is sacred “me-time.” Also, knowing that I only have those 30 minutes forces me to write something, even if it is just one line of decent writing that I play around with at a later time.

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

It is really difficult to know when I have finished a piece of writing. I will send a draft to an outside reader when I am really struggling but, for the most part, I will read drafts to a few trusted friends until I feel that the silence is no longer awkward after the last line.

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

Like most writers, I’m continually reading, and what I read affects what I write.

But the first poet whose work I really fell in love with was Georg Trakl. I had an excellent instructor at UCM who introduced me to Trakl’s work and it opened doors for me. His work is silent, patient, and austere, something that has allowed me to write more directly and effectively about the Midwestern landscape.

What’s next for you?

Hopefully a full-length manuscript!

Where can we find more information about you?

I don’t have a website but my work appears in Moon City Review, I-70 Review, Bird’s Thumb, PMS, These Fragile Lilacs, Driftwood Press, The Fourth River Review, Blue Mesa Review, and Four Ties Lit Review.


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