9L: The Midwest is central to The Circus in Winter and the book features a combination of real and fictional places, were there any challenges in representing the Midwest in both a historic and a fictional way?
CATHY DAY: Do writers from New York or Los Angeles or Boston create fictional cities to disguise their hometown? I can’t think of any examples. I think writers from small Midwestern towns are more likely to create fictional places, fictional families, fictional histories because we need to psychologically. Re-naming provides anonymity. It allows us to say what we need to say without worrying so much about what our grandma or the mayor or our high school guidance counselor will say about it—although that worry never goes away completely, not for me anyway. When I celebrate Indiana, and there’s much to celebrate, I write nonfiction. When I’m criticizing Indiana, and there’s much to criticize, I write fiction. If it weren’t for good, old fashioned Midwestern modesty, we probably wouldn’t have Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Sinclair Lewis’ Gopher Prairie, Charles Baxter’s Five Oaks, William Gass’ B--, Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon.
We’d still have Michael Martone’s Fort Wayne, however, because Martone is that rare breed of Midwesterner who doesn’t care what people think. He sort of amazes me, actually.
9L: Does the Midwest lend itself to fictionalized histories more so than other regions of the country?
CD: The Midwest is very much like the South in that we are very good at lying to ourselves about the past and who we think we are. We have our own mythology, a story we tell ourselves that’s part Hoosiers/Field of Dreams/Rudy/Breaking Away, part Grapes of Wrath, part Prairie Home Companion. I am probably guilty of buying into that myth more than a thinking person should. I go through periods where I completely over-romanticize the Midwest, and then I go through periods where I think it’s all bunk. I’m like Quentin Compson at the end of Absalom! Absalom! "I don't hate Indiana. I don't! I don't hate it!” Where I’m from, people bowdlerize stories. They tell them as flat as the land, leveling off the peaks and filling in the valleys, nothing too dark, too depressing, too taboo, because "there's some things, Cathy, that you just don't talk about." Of course, that’s exactly what we should be writing and talking about. We should create fictional histories to counter the sanctioned histories, which are in many ways just as fictional.