The fine gentleman running Midwestern Gothic took some time out of their busy schedules to answer a few questions I had about their kickass magazine. I decided after some delibaration that their chunky (cost-effective/worth-the-money) issues are too much for a micro-review, so I’ll leave the reading and judging up to the readers. But I will say this: in my humble opinion, Midwestern Gothic is an important magazine for both its region and the American lit-mag scene. It’s got its own aesthetic — pronounced, gritty and enjoyable — and it demands to be read. Their Spring 2012 issue comes out soon.
Mud Schematic: Do you find that, since starting a journal focused on one region, you’ve been more interested in the Midwest? Less? Maybe just the same?
Rob: I have found myself more interested, to be honest. I’ve always been a bit of a travel nut, and a great deal of my childhood/early adulthood was spent not only traveling, but dreaming of traveling, seeing far-off places and whatnot, and so I saw the Midwest during that time in my life—as many do, I think—as sluggish and boring.
That sort of thinking started to change for me during my Master’s work while studying regionalism and putting together the initial thoughts of what Midwestern Gothic would become. And having been lucky enough to travel and see the world, and now doing the journal, seeing all these amazing poets and writers and what the Midwest means to them, setting roots here myself, has made me appreciate it so, so much more than I ever have. It’s crazy… now when I go places, even places I’ve been a million times growing up, I just seem to have this entirely different mindset about everything surrounding that place. I am absurdly proud of being a Midwesterner and seeing all the unbelievably talented artists it produces and work it inspires to is just so invigorating.
Jeff: More, definitely. The thing that stands out to me most about the Midwest is how it’s somehow smaller than any other region. We don’t have mountains, ocean coastline or a glut of massive cities. Things are a lot more subtle here, and you have to pay attention to really appreciate the beauty. I think that’s likewise reflected in the people that inhabit this place.
I’d like to think the stories and fiction we publish reflect that sensibility. The tiny moments in the lives of people living in all sorts of settings: rural farmland, urban Chicago, barren North Dakota. These subtle shifts have compounding meaning in the makeup of the region. And to me, that’s an incredibly powerful way to think about a region — that the only way to understand it is to stare relentlessly until it finally reveals itself.
Mud Schematic: Have you stumbled upon, in your internet-wanderings, any other mags that do something similar to what you’re doing?
Rob: Well, we don’t want to take credit for being the first magazine/journal to feature Midwestern writers—there are plenty of them out there—but what I think what we’re doing is a bit different from the ones we’ve seen in that we are focused 100% on the Midwest and the writers/poets it produces or inspires. That is our primary focus, our niche: to be at the forefront of a Midwest regionalist push of good literature and poetry.
Jeff: New Stories of the Midwest is the first title that pops into mind. Like New Stories of the South, their book is intended to be a celebration of the region, and a showcase for authors that normally get passed over by coastal publishing houses. Where ours differs, I think, is that we’re trying to capture the DNA of the region. We want to showcase the best writing, just like them, but I think our focus is more on opening a window to give readers an honest look inside the heart of the Midwest.
Mud Schematic: What are the benefits/drawbacks of running a magazine around one specific region?
Rob: There was a niche in the market for journals being primarily about the Midwest, something we recognized and have been trying to fill since our inception—that’s a great benefit considering how many great artists the Midwest houses, or, alternatively, has inspired and who now live elsewhere. So when people see that, see what we’re about, they’re more apt to take us seriously and submit to us, knowing that we are 100% committed to shining a spotlight on the region first and foremost. I would say these same geographical limitations are, in theory, a drawback as well, since those who submit do have to have a connection to a very specific region, but honestly, so far, it hasn’t been a problem. The amount of talent that we’ve seen, just the sheer number of submissions we get for each issue, sure gives us hope we’ll have enough to keep us busy for a long while.
Jeff: People definitely have an affinity for the region. In fact, I think that’s one of the most redeeming qualities of Midwesterners. We might not have the prettiest, sexiest or most affluent region in the world. Sometimes, it’s downright ugly. But damn it, it’s ours. Focusing on a region also makes it easy for us to clearly communicate our identity, something that I feel most literary journals and magazines are lacking.
Mud Schematic: The photos and headers and all that visual stuff for MG is always really great. How does that all go down? What’s the process for choosing the images and things?
Rob: Jeff and I are very visual people and we take the aesthetic of Midwestern Gothic very seriously (both with the print issues and our website). I think it’s something that completely sets us apart from many other journals out there. I mean, we designed Midwestern Gothic to look good on your book shelf first and foremost. And when we were figuring out what MG would be, we agreed that showcasing photos of the Midwest—submitted by readers, fans—would be an amazing way to go, showcasing how not only we see the Midwest, but how others see it too.
When we select a photo for the cover, we don’t have an agenda in mind, and we don’t necessarily pick something that fits the season, but I guess we think about the contributors going into that specific issue, what, if any, the overall theme is, and select what jumps out at us. We’ve been very lucky in the number of quality photo submissions we’ve received—I think that’s part of the reason of ours success is that we have this absolutely gorgeous pool of photos to choose from. And I do want to call out Jeff for his absolutely wonderful work putting the website and books together—he does a tremendous job.
Jeff: To be selected for the site, the photo either has to display a small slice of beauty from the region, or a small slice of tragedy. This obviously comes in many forms, but what’s interesting to me is that we don’t get many photos of people submitted. Landscapes and objects make up the lion’s share of the submissions we get, and they are interesting in their own right, but I think images and vignettes of people are incredibly powerful as well. I wish we got more.
Mud Schematic: What’s next for Midwestern Gothic? Any big plans?
Rob: Some very big and very exciting plans, actually. Not sure how much we can discuss publically just yet, but here’s something: there may or may not be a theme issue of the journal coming out this year with an exceptionally talented artist doing the cover—different than what we usually do, but it should be something special.
Jeff: One curse Rob and I share is having too many irons in too many fires. We’re not quite ready to announce it yet, but there is an expansion coming for Midwestern Gothic, something very much in line with our mission of capturing the feel of the region. It seems like a cop out to not divulge more than that, but stay tuned for great news.
Midwestern Gothic‘s website is located here, and their Spring 2012 issue comes out very soon.