Love song to small-town Illinois disguised as a novel: Laura McHale Holland’s The Kiminee Dream

You’ve created nonfiction before: your memoir, and the anthology on sisterhood. Which do you prefer to write, fiction or non-fiction? Is your creative process different for each genre of writing?

Right now, I enjoy writing fiction more than memoir. I’m a pantser, not a plotter, at heart. With fiction, I’m free to follow my imagination into places I haven’t envisioned previously. It’s a delightful process of not knowing what’s going to happen in any given writing session — at least in the initial draft stages. That doesn’t mean memoir writing doesn’t hold surprises. It does, particularly in terms of insights gained about oneself and others and emotions that become clarified and released while revisiting the past. But there’s nothing quite like having a character show up on the page and add new dimensions to the story.

Another way the process of writing memoir differs from writing fiction is that with memoir I constantly question myself and make decisions along the way. Is this important? Did it really happen that way? Am I being honest or fudging a little bit? Am I hiding something? Will I be able to live with revealing that about myself? These kinds of questions don’t enter my mind when writing fiction. I just have a focused sort of fun, and bring a different sort of questioning and intellect to bear during the editing process.

One thing my fiction and memoir writing have in common is that I focus on scenes. Picturing scenes, really getting inside of them, poking around and then creating them for readers is where I thrive. It’s how stories, both real and imagined, open up for me. Without a healthy dose of them, my writing is flat. Also, imagery is essential. I love a beautiful turn of phrase and get tingles up my spine when I read them in other people’s writing and when I am able to create them myself.

How does The Kiminee Dream reflect the people and culture of that part of Illinois?

I hope The Kiminee Dream is emblematic of the people of Illinois as a whole. For a time I subtitled the book, “A love song for Illinois disguised as a novel.” I ultimately decided not to use it because it gave one of my beta readers, a highly intelligent woman, the impression the book would be about Illinois per se, and I don’t want to miscue people, even though I love that subtitle because it nails what was going on with me emotionally while writing the novel. I have to admit that what was going through my mind and heart while writing the book probably doesn’t matter much to people who will read it. I expect they want a gripping, emotionally engaging and satisfying read, which I hope this novel gives them.

I was born in Chicago and raised in and outside of the city. Initially, I didn’t know why I situated the town of Kiminee so far from my childhood haunts. Some realizations have since come to light. A dear friend of mine in junior high school had lived both in southern Illinois and along the Illinois River in central Illinois before her family moved to the Chicago area. Her stories of life in those places, and the welcoming people there, left a lasting impression on me, despite the fact that her family moved on again and we lost touch before entering high school. I also attended a Catholic girls’ boarding school in my senior year of high school. It was surrounded by cornfields far from Chicago and housed girls from all over the state with a range of ethnicities and socioeconomic backgrounds. I never felt more loved in a group than I felt there. We all belonged together; the differences, though at times problematic, just melted away most of the time.

Another factor affecting my choice of location is the fact that while my parents were born and raised in Chicago you don’t have to go far back in time to reach their rural roots, and while many of life’s activities and circumstances changed with the transition to the city, there’s something about their inner core and outlook on life that didn’t really change at all. We did a fair amount of visiting with friends and relatives who lived in the country, and to use an old expression, we were like peas in a pod when we were together.

There’s something at the inner core that’s hard to define that I found in people wherever I went in Illinois that I’m striving to honor in The Kiminee Dream. It’s a goodness that goes deep that you can count on and a way of doing amazing things routinely without fanfare.

What would you like to tell the rest of the country about the Midwest, and what misconceptions do you think they have? (FYI a publishing colleague of mine says he subconsciously finds himself preferentially hiring Midwesterners)

I don’t think I can speak for Midwesterners at this point in my life. I’ve lived in California since 1975. The Midwest, particularly Illinois, holds a special place in my heart. The older I get the more I realize how much it shaped me and how much I’ll always love the place where I was born and raised. But the fact that I’m from Illinois rarely comes up in my daily life. And when it does, people usually light up a little and say they have another friend from Illinois. And they’ll tell me a little bit about that friend. I guess when it comes to misconceptions, people might think folks in the Midwest are homogenous and monolithic, and that is so far from true. People living in our great prairie states are nuanced and full of treasures to share with people who want to stop and set a spell with no ulterior motive.

How did these characters come about? The young girl and the dog and the tornado remind me of The Wizard of Oz, but this is a quite original plot otherwise.

I didn’t set out to write a novel. I was going to write a short story about a brilliant girl who faced daunting challenges. I’ve written a fair amount of flash or micro fiction, a genre I’m very comfortable with. But the characters in The Kiminee Dream just arrived and took over, pushing me to write about an entire community. They swept me away, and I didn’t resist. I loved seeing the threads that tie them all together, which I strengthened in the editing process. After having written one novel, I want to write more. I didn’t have The Wizard of Oz in mind when writing the book. I’m a dog person and wouldn’t be surprised if I worked a dog or two into future novels, too. And, well, I was lucky no tornado ripped through a community where I lived when growing up, but a few came close, and they were an ever-present, frightening possibility during the spring and early summer. It might be a negative that the book calls to mind The Wizard of Oz, a beloved American classic, but I’ll just have to live with it.

How did you choose magic realism as a genre?

I think magic realism chose me. It’s just where my mind takes me when I write fiction. I don’t sit down and say, “Now I’m going to write a magic realism story or novel.” It just happens. When I consider the strengths of magic realism, though, I think it’s a creative way to show what’s going on inside of characters and the effects they have on others and their surroundings, as well as a way to create the world as I wish it were, not as it appears to be day to day. Plus, there’s so much we don’t know about what exists outside of rational reality and how much power our minds might have. We get glimpses from time to time of other dimensions that could be at play, and I like to dwell on that cusp of possibility. Something about it makes me very hopeful.

Laura McHale Holland
Author, Dreamer, Storyteller
Gold medal winner, Next Generation Indie Book Awards
Finalist, Indie Fab Book of the Year
Gold medal winner, Indie Excellence Awards

Book comes out 2020 and ARCs are available from the author in exchange for reviews!

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