Wednesday, November 12, 2008

2 1/2 Questions for Kevin Wilson...

...whose double-plus-good short, "Tommy Explained: Album One, Side One, Track Three: 1921," has just gone up @ Wigleaf. (Other pieces from the project are in the excellent new web journal Robot Melon. Check them out--and go to Kevin's blog for some entertaining background.)


SG: You've got a book coming out from Harper Collins next year, Tunneling to the Center of the Earth. Man am I looking forward to that! Let me give people a little taste, this from your Ploughshares story, "Blowing Up on the Spot."

"I am not sure how my parents felt about each other. I think they loved each other. It seems like a reasonable answer. Still, they didn't like each other very much at all sometimes. I guess they were like any couple in that they loved each other and didn't love each other, depending on the situation. I really can't say."

Here Katie, an insomniac who each day counts the number of steps it takes her to arrive at the factory where she searches for Q's in mounds of Scrabble tiles, is considering her parents, who have the distinction of being, as she puts it, "the first recorded double Spontaneous Human Combustion in history." This is odd stuff, but as an author you seem to approach it in a fierce and direct way. There's more compassion, maybe, than is to be found in Flannery O'Connor, but I think of her all the same. You know what's coming now, don't you? The Southern Writer question. Does that label still mean anything, if it ever did? Or if you don't like that question, answer any of the others that could be derived from all this.

KW: I think of myself as a southern writer because I was born, raised, and still live in the south. Aside from two years in Boston and two years in Gainesville, FL, I haven't even lived outside of Tennessee. So, yeah, I'm a southern writer. I love Flannery O'Connor (so much it's unhealthy) and Truman Capote and William Faulkner and Barry Hannah and Padgett Powell. I don't think their work suffers or changes if you call them southern writers. These are writers who are/were obviously shaped by the oddness of their lives in the south (as opposed to the oddness of life in the Midwest or Northeast, which are just as odd but in different ways). I'm not some southern-by-the-grace-of-god motherfucker, but I know living in a tiny town in the rural south affected my writing and I'm happy about it.

That said, if someone called my work "southern" as a way to dismiss it, I'd want to kill that person.


SG: I could totally be wrong about this, but I get the sense that as a writer you work easily and happily within the short story form. Is that the case? And if so, what draws you to the short story, and what's there to say about the distinction between it and longer stuff, as you see it?

KW: I love the short form. I work with wacky modes and I find that it's better in the short story form. You can ask for suspension of disbelief with more confidence when the length is shorter. If I fuck up a short story, I feel like I can walk away from it without much incident. No one got hurt. Ten pages got spoiled. Oh well. The novel that I'm working on, if I mess it up, I'm going to drive my car into a tree.

Most of my favorite writers have a facility for the short story, even if they also write incredible novels. What's not to like? It asks of the reader less of a commitment in time but can offer as much emotional resonance as a novel.

I have a seven-month-old baby. I've been trying to read Michael Chabon's The Yiddish Policemen's Union for seven months and even though I like it, I'm not even halfway through it. There is no time. I have chunks of fifteen minutes when I'm not attending to the needs of the baby or buying action figures on ebay or hiding the action figures that I've won on ebay so my wife doesn't find them. It's just difficult for me to come back to the novel and pick it up with the same intensity each time. But I've read a ton of short stories in that time. I've been blown away by stories by Lucy Corin and Blake Butler and Alix Ohlin and Chris Adrian and Holly Goddard Jones and Matt Bell and a lot of other writers in the past seven months. How can you go wrong?


SG: Has it ever occurred to you that your career might benefit from your deciding to…?

KW: Honestly, Scott, if I had any clue what that would be, I would go do it. I'm shameless.


Ravi Mangla said...

great interview and great story. i'm looking forward to the collection.

Amanda said...

Hey, I didn't know who wrote that story "Blowing Up On The Spot"! It was one of the first stories by people I'd never heard of before that really made an impression on me when I was starting grad school, a good four years before I befriended Kevin at Sewanee. I even mentioned it in a cover letter to Ploughshares.

Agreed -- that collection's going to rule.

hobart said...

1) Kevin Wilson rules.

2) Hearing him say he's loved stories in the past few months by people like Blake and Bell and Holly, alongside Alix and Corin and Adrian is just rad.