True-to-Life Characters

collection of short stories puts Twin City life on page

Zack Katz

In the midst of trying to publish her newest weave of short stories Six Months in the Midwest, author, blogging busy bee, and teacher Darci Schummer is on a roll of establishing herself as a veteran storyteller of the human experience.

The sixteen-tale assemblage, equal in tragic honesty and bittersweet sentiment, is born out of Schummer’s Midwest upbringing. Fittingly each of the character-driven stories are set in Minneapolis – whose unforgiving climate is reflected in the realist exploration of roles like a retired garbage collector and English professor at wit’s end.

Schummer said her writing process begins with feeling out the day-to-day social context of her Minneapolis surroundings, which often means leaving the familiar behind.

“I didn’t have a car for about three years when I lived up here (in Minneapolis),” Schummer said. “Every day I was on the bus. It’s a very different way of exploring a city. You see things you don’t when you’re in a car, you interact with people you normally wouldn’t. Seeing neighborhoods change, people change, it gives you a deeper appreciation for the city.”

This student of literature is still deeply involved in shaping her style while demonstrating it for others. Schummer said she benefits from answering questions in the classroom, and picking up feedback from her writing group comrades.
From writing poetry in elementary school, the Fall Creek native’s ideas quickly progressed into writing stories. Ideas flowed, and she said there was never a lapse in her persistence – all the way until her undergraduate studies at UW-Eau Claire, where her creative writing courses affirmed her choice to take on graduate school at Hamline University in St. Paul, the eventual backdrop of Six Months.

Schummer’s fiction is a different brand, as her characters aren’t always dreamed up. Instead, they’re founded out of her attempts to channel the persona of others.

“Characters for me might be based on someone I see: someone I see at the liquor store, or a peculiar interaction between two people,” Schummer said. “So usually my characters start with seeing someone’s face, or something they say, and I try to do some free writing from that perspective and hope I can formulate a plot.”

“There’s something about the poetry of this form. It’s not all wrapped up in a bow. ... I approach it like a puzzle instead, searching for the right fits between character and plot.
– author Darci Schummeron on short stories

Although Schummer is no stranger to other forms – having recently finished a novel broken into stories titled The Ballad of Two Sisters – the author said she enjoys the short story writing process because of how extremely difficult it tends to be.

“There’s something about the poetry of this form,” she said. “It’s not all wrapped up in a bow. ... I approach it like a puzzle instead, searching for the right fits between character and plot.”

As such a pronounced setting in Six Months in the Midwest, Minneapolis impacts much of Schummer’s story direction – she says while it might be cliché,  writing what she knows feels most natural.

“If I want to do research on a location – know what sits on a particular corner for example – I can go find it,” Schummer said. “It goes back to walking and taking the bus around the city ... it’s what made me fall in love with it.”

Darci Schummer & MP Johnson Reading: Weepin’ and Creepin’ • Saturday, Aug. 23, 3pm • The Volume One Gallery, 205 N. Dewey St. • FREE • (715) 552-0457 • VolumeOne.org

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