ENCINITAS, Calif. — Gwen Goodkin writes with a strong Midwestern voice, despite leaving the region 17 years ago.
That doesn’t mean the 1994 Ottawa-Glandorf graduate, who recently published a collection of 10 short stories, “A Place Remote,” doesn’t think of things in a distinctively Midwestern way. You can see phrases like “got to be too much” and “he sure has you fooled” pop up in daily lives in the region, yet they fit in naturally in her short story, “Winnie,” about a high school classmate rediscovering a girl who went to college to reinvent herself.
“They find me, the characters. This sounds crazy, but in (“Winnie”), I heard R.J.’s voice. I heard it. I could hear him. He was insistent,” Goodkin said via telephone. “He had a story he wanted to tell. He wanted to process his story to me. It sounds odd and crazy, but I could hear him in my ears. I don’t set out to choose the characters; I feel like the characters they choose me. I know it sounds crazy, but that’s how it is.”
Goodkin won the Folio Editor’s Prize for Fiction as well as the John Steinbeck Award for Fiction. Twice, she’s been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. “A Place Remote,” published by West Virginia University Press, is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and bookshop.org. It’s also available at Gathering Volumes in Toledo, and autographed copies are online at chevaliersbooks.com.
The book of short stories started as a series of unrelated pieces. Another one is “Just Les is Fine,” where the protagonist, an optometrist going through a midlife mental crisis, argues over characterizations with the author. The most most joyful of the collection, “A Month of Summer,” follows a high school student’s growth by traveling to Germany.
Over time, Goodkin realized they all had something in common, the Midwest and a fictitious town that felt a lot like Ottawa. There’s a national draw to hear these stories, as people around the country look at the region as “salt-of-the-earth-type people,” she said.
“People always talk about Midwestern nice. I say, ‘Well, Midwesterners can be just as mean as the next person. But they are considerate,’” she said. “They’re generally not going to be late to a meeting. If they say they’re going to be somewhere, they’ll be there. They’re not going to waste your time. … A lot of people find Midwestern values to be admirable.”
It’s part of who Goodkin is, even if she did move away to Detroit and eventually different parts of California after earning a bachelor’s degree from Ohio Wesleyan University and a master’s degree from the University of British Columbia.
She has a husband and three daughters to anchor her in California, but she often thinks about her upbringing, first in Strongsville near Cleveland and then in Ottawa, where both of her parents’ families were. Her mother, Patricia Goodkin, survives in Ottawa, but her father, Bill, died when she was 7.
“That was difficult,” she said, pausing. “High school was not the most fun for me. The first two years of high school were very difficult. You reflect on all of that. As I got older in high school, I had a great time. My best friend now is still my best friend from high school. It was fun to party in plowed fields. It was fun and free, and I loved that part of it. It was difficult too. You reflect on all of that.”
Her current project, “The Plant,” is also anchored in Ottawa. She’s started work on a novel about life inside the former Philips television tube plant, inspired by family members who worked there. She hopes to speak to others who worked there who contact her via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. She’s also working on turning it into a screenplay for a television series.
“All types of drama happens in a factory. There’s drama with the product, there’s personal drama. It intrigues me in terms of the life cycle of the plant, that it had a start and a finish,” Goodkin said. On a larger scale, a lot of people have said America’s greatest export is our culture. I think television had a lot to do that. On the world stage, that was important. In my opinion, television won the Cold War. I’m thinking at a high level, about how Ohio fit into the world stage and what our role was in that.”