Kevin Wilson is the author of the collection, Tunneling to the Center of the Earth (Ecco/Harper Perennial, 2009), which received an Alex Award from the American Library Association and the Shirley Jackson Award, and a novel, The Family Fang (Ecco, 2011). His fiction has appeared in Ploughshares, Tin House, One Story, Cincinnati Review, and elsewhere, and has appeared in four volumes of the New Stories from the South: The Year’s Best anthology as well as The PEN/O. Henry Prize Stories 2012. He has received fellowships from the MacDowell Colony, Yaddo, and the KHN Center for the Arts. He lives in Sewanee, Tennessee, with his wife, the poet Leigh Anne Couch, and his sons, Griff and Patch, where he is an Assistant Professor in the English Department at the University of the South.For this segment of our Author Interview Series, we asked Kevin what inspired his writing, how he found an agent, as well as a host of other questions. Here's what he said:
WHAT INSPIRES AND INFLUENCES YOUR WRITING THE MOST?
Other writers. I was a reader before I was a writer and I mostly became a writer because I wanted to emulate all the awesome stuff that I read, to be connected to those writers in some small way. Reading a really fantastic novel or a particularly great short story immediately makes me want to write something to try to measure up to it. It's been a weird thing, now that I teach creative writing, to get a student's story and find something really cool in it; it makes me excited to try to write something of my own.
DO YOU HAVE AN AGENT? IF SO, HOW DID YOU FIND HIM/HER?
I do. My agent is Julie Barer from Barer Literary. She read a story of mine in the Greensboro Review back in 2004 and asked to see some other work. I sent her some more of my stories and we decided to work together. She's awesome. She's one of the first people who reads my drafts and she's a fantastic editor. Most importantly, she's an incredible agent. I owe a large part of my career to her and her belief in me.
WHAT SURPRISED YOU MOST ABOUT THE PUBLISHING PROCESS?
Just the fact that there are so many people working very hard to make books happen. Writing, for me, is so isolated, and it's always strange to remember that there are so many people, in book publishing and the literary journal world, who are working tirelessly to make good literature available to others. It made me very happy to understand this, very grateful.
DO YOU MARKEY YOURSELF? WHAT (SPECIFICALLY) DO YOU DO TO BUILD/MAINTAIN YOUR READERSHIP?
I try my best to have some kind of public presence. When I published my first book, I made a website and kept up a blog and joined Facebook, all in the hopes of making connections with other people and sharing my work. Over time, however, I had more and more trouble keeping up with it. I'm very shy and struggle with fairly intense anxiety and depression. I keep to myself, mostly. And I found that the persona that I put forward on Facebook and in my blog felt inauthentic to me, kind of phony. I don't think I'm the best person for social media. So, instead, I've tried to simply do more with email and, when I go to readings, to reach out to writers that I really admire and to communicate with readers in more one-on-one ways. Again, I don't think I'm above the need to promote one's book. I do as much as I can, but I'm awkward and I prefer to keep that awkwardness as private as possible.
BASED ON YOUR EXPERIENCES IN THE INDUSTRY, WHAT ADVICE CAN YOU OFFER WRITERS?
I really felt this intense pressure to publish something and get famous by the time I was twenty-five. It was entirely arbitrary and stupid, but I really thought I had to make a big splash and get noticed. And when that didn't happen, I realized how much better it was for my career, because I was not a very good writer in my twenties. I think it's important to remember that writing is, for the most part, a lifetime pursuit, and it doesn't make sense to try to get everything at once. So, patience, I guess, is the thing I'd stress the most. As long as you feel good about the work, the rest will come. I also think it's important to read as much as you can, to see what other contemporary writers are doing, and to get a sense of what's out there. The more you read, the better your own work will be, I think. And, finally, if you dig something that someone else has written, reach out to them. Send an email and tell them that you read their story in a journal and enjoyed it. It's just another way to be a part of the community of literature, to support each other.