Congratulations on your newest and highly praised short fiction collection, States of Motion (Wayne State University Press, 2017). Tell us about some of the themes within your stories?
Thank you! In the stories, the characters often make choices, or chase desires, with the goal of forcing a reaction from their families or their communities. Some characters, like Marlin in “The Lavinia Nude” or Moor in “State of Motion,” don’t see, or won’t admit, their goal isn’t to change themselves or their circumstances, but to shift troublesome energies onto others.
The stories also question whether laws of the heart are as inevitable as physical laws. Many characters come to learn that love, or hate, are neither created nor destroyed, but only change form once they are set in motion. Another glue that connects these stories is Southeast Michigan. The great recession and its aftermath is definitely a recurring character too.
Why do you think the story of the “small midwestern town” is an important contribution to the literary world?
Ever since Hester Prynne’s town forced her to wear that scarlet letter, America’s stories have been small-town stories. Our great Midwestern authors— Laura Ingalls Wilder, Willa Cather, and Theodore Dreiser— continued this tradition of planting storytelling roots in townie soil. We wouldn’t have the same American literary tradition at all, much less Midwestern lit, without narratives that spring from the complicated, vivid and entertaining social enterprise of living cheek to jowl in a small community.
How long have you lived in the Ann Arbor area?
Most of my life. When I was 6 months old, my family moved to Ypsilanti from New Hampshire when my father landed a job with Ford Motor. My mother was taking evening classes at Eastern Michigan University at the time of the so-called “Michigan Murders.” In fact, we lived in the neighborhood where one of the murders took place! I’m a U-M graduate, from the LSA Residential College, and I now teach creative writing in the RC. My students are terrific, dedicated writers who write beautifully and devote themselves to artistic, challenging lives.
What are some of your favorite ways to relax in Ann Arbor?
I browse Literati Bookstore and Nicola’s Books, and never, ever leave empty-handed. I also relax by being that oddball who drinks red wine in the new craft beer breweries around town. I love the wheaty amber and burly aroma of specialty beers, and the brewing process is endlessly fascinating. Concerts in Hill Auditorium and the Michigan Theater are also amazing fun. And I just like walking around town, or along the Huron River. In so many other cities, you really have to plan ahead to have fun. In the Ann Arbor-Ypsi cultural powerhouse, you can figure out what to do and get there pretty darn quick, not squander the fun in traffic.