with Mike Wilson:
Q1: When did you start writing and first influences?
Mike: I first started trying to write when I was 17. I filled a notebook with this weird horror novella thing about a college student who gets stalked by his elderly neighbor and nobody believes he’s in danger because everyone thinks the sweet old man is a sweet old man instead of some sadistic monster determined to harm some guy who pissed him off. I remember having so much fun writing it, and it was very much a Stephen King rip off. I got a C in Algebra II but it was worth it.
Q2: Who are your biggest influences today?
Mike: I think the singer/songwriter Brandi Carlile is the artist who evokes the most emotion from me. The economy of her words to create these emotional bursts of story is flat out magic. Shirley Jackson will always have a certain amount of power over me. Scott McClanahan is really important to me, I think everyone should read him. And I’m really obsessed with how Vince Gilligan unwinds stories within stories.
Q3: Any pivotal moment when you knew you wanted to be a writer?
Mike: I think the moment I got really serious about it was when I was 20, and I was reading Raymond Carver’s story “Night School” in the break room at work. The whole collection was all these broke people drinking too much and chain smoking and being awful to each other, and I was like, “Oh this is the desperation I grew up with and I can just…write about it?” It took me a while to find my own voice after that, like so many other dudes who read Carver young, but that permission in that moment made me want to leave work and go home and just see what I could do with words.
Q4: Who has helped you most with writing?
Mike: That’s an easy one. My wife. She’s this incredibly smart person with great taste and the very best sense of humor, and I trust her artistic judgement way more than my own.
Q5: Where did you grow up and how did that influence your writing & did any travels away from there influence your work?
Mike: I grew up in Independence, Missouri, a suburb of KC, and when I was a kid it was the meth capital of the U.S. Back then you heard about some dude blowing the roof of his house all the time trying to cook meth in his bathtub or something. And when my wife and I went try to buy a house in our early 20’s, every other house we looked at had been a meth house at some point. That particular anxiety of things being not quite right beneath the surface of things has affected everything in my life. I’ve never lived anywhere other than KC, for better or worse.
Q6: What do you consider your most meaningful work you’ve done creatively so far to you?
Mike: Probably my dad’s eulogy. He died suddenly and after I left the hospital that night I went home and stayed up all night and wrote this thing that I read over his casket a few days later. We had this complicated, screwed up, but ultimately beautiful relationship, and I turned that eulogy into this sad essay that The Rumpus published a few months later, and he would have been proud of it.
Q7: Favorite activities to relax?
Mike: Eating some chips and salsa with my wife and watching good TV is hard to beat. Doing things that make my kids happy, things they’ll remember. Playing sad little songs on my guitar is fun for me. And I do love to cook — it’s definitely a happy place of mine.
Q8: What is a favorite line/stanza from a poem/writing of yours or others?
Mike: The John Prine lyric, “Broken hearts and dirty windows make life difficult to see, that’s why last night and this morning always look the same to me,” was the very first thing that came to mind. The final line of Denis Johnson’s story “Triumph Over the Grave” makes me cry every time I read it. The whole story builds to it, so I won’t quote it, but it hits hard. Can I say every single line of An American Marriage?
Q9: Any recent or forthcoming projects that you’d like to promote?
Mike: Well, I’ve been working on this novel for a couple years now, so I’m in sort of a short story drought, but I wrote a story called “Birthday” a few years ago that made it into American Literary Review that I am really proud of. It’s about those before and after moments in our lives, and it’s a little weird and maybe even a little funny in some parts, before it gets real sad, which seems like a decent way to process life sometimes. Here’s a link to it: https://americanliteraryreview.com/2019/09/26/mike-wilson/