In Monday’s profile, Lisa Peet looked at April Wilder’s debut short story collection, This is Not an Accident, from a reader’s point of view—the ways in which time and experience enable a person to more fully take in the complicated lives of others. Today we continue the conversation from the other side, with some thoughts from Wilder on her writing process.
“One thing you have to guard against, if you are going to populate an absurd landscape, is making the people, also, absurd. Otherwise you end up with a double negative effect—in a madhouse nobody’s mad. So if I’m going to strain your credibility on one level, then it seems to me good manners to hold something else constant. In this collection (in general) my constant is the thought processes of one or more characters. By constant, I mean trackable but not (necessarily) trustworthy.” —from a 2014 interview at American Short Fiction
“I have no commitment to quantity. If I wrote two or three books in life, that would be fine with me. Nor do I need a story or whatever to be perfect; but I need to feel like I’ve slept on it properly. By “sleep” I mean any sustained access to the subconscious, usually while you’re doing something else. So my process is to take a riddle (plot impasse, scene, character pickle), feed it into the machine, then wait. The machine will solve the riddle whenever the fuck it feels like it.”—from an interview with Corduroy Books, 2014
“The fun thing about being a fiction writer is your job is not to ask too many questions about people, but to just observe and make things up.” —from a 2014 Authorlink interview
“For a long time Eckhart had been fascinated by the resilience of street kids, and how they kept doing what they did—it was disorienting enough arriving early at a hotel and being told you can’t check in for another hour, which should be perfectly pleasant, but there was always that dull background pang of belonginglessness until you actually got in the room, dumped your bags, claimed your plot of land; and that was going without for just an hour. But now when Eckhart saw a kid like this he understood (he saw in the arc of the boy’s shoulders) that that resilience was the change that comes naturally once you’ve lived that awful day, that horror of horrors, when you learn—after hours sucking on the barrel of a gun you now know you will never shoot the chair you will not kick out, the hose you won’t suck—you learn that you are not suicidal, that this switch is not in you, that instead apparently you’re going to stand there and take whatever comes. And then you might even decide to walk head-on into the worst of it so at least you can’t be ambushed.” —from “You’re That Guy” in This Is Not an Accident
“The first story [“This Is Not an Accident”]. I wrote that story, I rewrote that story, I un-wrote that story, I de-wrote that story—in the end, that story (Kat in that car) is about the writing of that story. One day I walked into a therapist’s office, one with whom I’d awkwardly run out of things to talk about, and I told her the only thing really bothering me was a story I was writing and would she mind, if it wasn’t insulting or illegal or whatever, if we spent the session analyzing a fictional character (Kat). She said sure and set her timer. We had a blast. At ten till she excused me out and charged her usual fee.” —American Short Fiction interview
“I had it in my head that I wouldn’t be a ‘poor struggling artist’; I would get a useful degree, find a comfortable career, and write on the side. I did pension consulting for 7-ish years after college . . . eventually it became clear that there would be no writing on the side, that if I really wanted to get somewhere with prose, I had to stay in daily contact. So I switched to working part time and writing half time. I didn’t know any other writers or artists and I had no idea what I was doing—which eventually drove me to get an MFA—but looking back now at (what I think of as) ‘my time in the hole,’ I know that that period was essential, because that was when I officially hired myself as writer.
For a while I didn’t like the idea of throwing the math away, but I have now come to seriously question the (artificial) divide in this country between math/science on one hand and The Arts on the other; between left and right brain. For one thing, higher-level math is as creative as anything in any art museum, and any successful work of art will have at its heart some grand design or unifying conceit. When I am in the thick of the editing stage with a story, it feels very much like working with equations and proofs: how do I get from here to there most elegantly? Somewhere, Einstein defines the qualities that make a proof ‘elegant,’ and his list applies more or less verbatim to any writing. The poet Kate Coles once told me a story about sitting at the beach with her father—a mathematician—when he looked over and asked her how she knew the book she was reading (The Iliad) was good. ‘I mean, how do you KNOW?’ he asked. Kate replied, ‘How do you know when a proof is true?’ and he thought a minute and said, ‘Because it’s beautiful.’” —in conversation with Lisa Peet for Bloom
“I think anyone who grows up in a chronic state of Outsider will come naturally to pay attention to the pace of life here versus there, what’s cool and who’s cool and how can you get that way yourself quick; even, what these things might have to do with the climate and sun’s slant, the beer or chocolate factory on the outskirts of town. As a reader, I get excited when it feels like a story couldn’t happen anywhere other than it does. Part of me would like to think you could fall in love with a guy in Chicago on a certain night who would escape your notice entirely in Santa Monica on the same night.” —Corduroy Books interview
“For me, that’s one of the richest things about America, that we don’t all get each other’s jokes, and we’re not always sure whose jokes we do get, and who’s joking and who’s not joking one fucking bit.” —American Short Fiction interview
Click here to read Lisa Peet’s feature piece on April Wilder.
April Wilder photo credit: Alex Adams