Exclusive Antoine Wilson Interview
Hanging with us AT THE TABLE this month is star author, Antoine Wilson, whose second novel, PANORAMA CITY just spent its 6th week on the LA TIMES BESTSELLER’S LIST. A hit with both readers and reviewers alike, PANORAMA CITY has been named a BEA “Buzz Book of 2012” and has been described by author, Peter Carey as, “A book you will hold in your head all day long, a book you will look forward to when you get home from work, a book you will still be savoring as you drift off to sleep.”
Pretty cool, huh?
You can follow Antoine Wilson on Twitter @antoinewilson
Join us below for a TWK exclusive, plus an original exercise written by the author just for you. CHECK IT OUT!
At The Table with Antoine Wilson
The Writer’s Kitchen Questionnaire
TWK: What piece of art/artist most influences you/your creativity?
AW: I don't have a fixed single thing. I tend to be inspired by artists who are, I guess the term would be synthetic, who absorb all the various disparate and chaotic elements of the world around them and spit them back out via their own unique idiom. So that could be anything from the paintings of Jean-Michel Basquiat to The Beastie Boys’ album Paul's Boutique.
I’m also obviously influenced by what I read. While writing Panorama City I went through a whole series of books and stories which informed what I was up to at various stages, from Don Quixote and Candide to more contemporary stuff like Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead and Bohumil Hrabal’s I Served the King of England.
TWK: What’s the most essential ingredient in your writing life?
AW: Time to write. By which I mean extended periods free of distraction during which I can begin to figure out what I am trying to do. I try to avoid writing when I'm not writing, otherwise I get lost in conceptual fogbanks. After that, time to read.
TWK: What do you miss or not miss most about being 5 years old?
AW: As an adult, I never take for granted being able to choose what I want to eat. When I was 5, I had no choice in the matter, which sucked. Wait, was I supposed to write something inspirational?
TWK: What is the single most important virtue or combination of virtues in your writing life at the moment? (work/process) etc.
AW: The single most important virtue is, and always has been, showing up for work, whether I feel like it or not. (Tangled up in that one virtue are humility, tenacity, trust, faith, and patience.)
TWK: How would you define your personal relationship to clarity in your composing and drafting process?
AW: Even if I’m working on the roughest kind of sketch, if I feel that I'm not being clear on a sentence to sentence level, I stop. There's no point in pretending to write. The sentences have to make sense. A good piece of writing should invite interpretation, not speculation.
TWK: What is one question you have always wished an interviewer would ask you as an author but they never do?
AW: I'll tell you what I wish they wouldn't ask: any question starting with “why?” Artistic intention is unfathomable, especially to the artist, and so as soon as anyone asks me “Why did you do xyz?” I am forced to either (1) sound like a jerk who is avoiding the question or (2) make something up. And while making things up is my bread-and-butter, I prefer to do so under the banner of fiction.
My PSA is this: If you, aspiring writer, are reading an interview with an author, be aware that much of the stuff that sounds intentional is probably after-the-fact justification. Most of us are groping our way along in the dark, just like you.
TWK: Create a brief writing prompt for the site users and do a version yourself.
AW: Writing prompts are like appointment sex. The least spontaneous thing in the world. And yet, once you get going, does it really matter how you got there?
Here’s a fairly simple one I like to use sometimes, one that comes from a lifetime of people-watching, of thinking I’ve got someone pegged when they turn around and surprise me completely. Describe a character using details that convey a strong first impression of some kind, then complicate or counter that impression with a bit of action, dialogue, or additional description. Feel free to start with an actual person you’re observing…I did.
He walked like a gunslinger, parentheses for arms and legs, a ratchety march forward, as if a 2 x 4 had been tied across his shoulders. Denim above and below. Gritting his teeth as if he were going to explode right there in the store. He belonged on the range, I thought, twisting a rope around the legs of some animal, not here under the exposed insulation and skylight and fluorescents. But when he turned toward the condiment counter, abruptly and with a 90 degree military-type pirouette, I saw, by the way his jeans moved independently of his body, that his legs were alarmingly insubstantial. He set his coffee on the counter with two hands. He pulled three packets of sweetener from the dispenser, stacked them together between finger and thumb, and centrifuged their contents with a back-and-forth of the wrist, a sort of slow-motion flick that revealed bony arms under a billowing shirt. Then he suspended the three packets over the steaming O of his coffee cup and tugged at them, failing to tear them. He didn’t examine the material the packets were made of, or sigh in frustration or make any kind of sound. He simply set the packets down on the countertop and tore them open individually and poured them one by one into his coffee. It dawned on me that the physical echo of the western hero had only been coincidence, had been a false sign…
Antoine Wilson wrote the novels Panorama City (HMH, 2012) and The Interloper (Other Press, 2007). He is a contributing editor of A Public Space. More at: http://antoinewilson.com and twitter: @antoinewilson