Between the Lines: Life in Black Hawk

May 12, 2017

Credit Alex Raths / iStock Photo

When it’s time for WrestleMania, you’ll find Daniel Mancilla glued to the television, watching the fight. And when he’s glued to the keyboard, some of those bigger-than-life characters find their way into his stories. A Sou’wester Award finalist for his novel-in-stories, All the Proud Fathers (Dock Street Press, 2017), Mancilla received his doctoral degree in creative writing from Western Michigan University.

“This is different from the traditional story collection,” Mancilla says. “There’s this fictional city of Black Hawk in Illinois that is the line that connects everything. I didn’t think of each story as being separate. I saw each one as informing the other, or at least building the world, so they are all linked in some way.”

Mancilla describes himself as “author, teacher, man of letters, lapsed Catholic, redeemed Cubs fan, and professional wrestling aficionado.” The Grand Rapids resident now teaches at Kendall College of Art & Design and Aquinas College. But he grew up in Elgin, Illinois, a small town north of Chicago. And, in part, it's the model for the fictional town that also includes aspects of Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids.

Credit Dock Street Press

When writing about Black Hawk, Mancilla says, “I would create certain mythologies in the stories, and then write other stories to answer those questions that came up.”

When he tried to write about Elgin, Mancilla says he soon found himself mired in the details of the real place, chasing accuracy rather than creating the stories and the characters that intrigued him. That led to the birth of Black Hawk's fictional world.

As for his interest in WrestleMania, Mancilla says: “That’s my not-so-guilty pleasure. There’s something about the characters of professional wrestling that immediately draws me in. When I first started writing fiction seriously, I was writing stories about wrestlers. For one thing, they already had these made-up, already established character traits, good guy and bad guy. And then of course there's that idea of identity and realism. What are these people doing? Are they projecting something that they really are or want to be? I’ve been preoccupied with the idea of what happens when the mask comes off.”

Mancilla says he was inspired by several of his WMU professors, especially Stuart Dybek and his short story, “Hot Ice.” Mancilla could relate the gritty reality of the small town near Chicago that Dybek describes. And that freed Mancilla to tell the stories of his own experience and imagination.

Listen to WMUK's Between the Lines every Tuesday at 7:50 a.m., 11:55 a.m., and 4:20 p.m.

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