The Mark Blog

The Mark Interviews Antoine Wilson

Photo credit:*

Antoine Wilson is the author of the novels Panorama City and The Interloper. He is a graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop and recipient of the Carol Houck Smith Fellowship at the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing. He's taught creative writing at Iowa, Wisconsin, CSU Long Beach, UC San Diego, and UCLA Extension. A contributing editor of A Public Space, he lives in Los Angeles and currently teaches in The Mark program.

Many of our Emerging Voices and Mark program alumni pursue or consider pursuing an MFA degree. Can you tell us one of the most important elements of craft you took away as a graduate of the University of Iowa Writer’s Workshop?

You know, a lot of broad fiction craft stuff can be found in books. I've assigned Jerome Stern's Making Shapely Fiction to The Mark participants. Anything you're going to learn about craft in an MFA program can be found in there, probably, and in the old short story anthology Points of View. Those cover the basic toolbox.

What I really discovered at Iowa was a way to create a small amount of distance between myself and my work for the purposes of revision. Approaching the work of others with a conscientious critical eye, week after week, for the purposes of making that work better, helped me develop the ability to self-edit. As so many craft lessons have fallen by the wayside in favor of a more gut-level improvisational approach, that learned ability has helped me more than anything.

Can you talk about some of your early literary influences? Who are your current role models?

When I decided to bail on my plans to go to medical school and instead pursue novel writing, it was because of three books. I'd have been a doctor if it weren't for James Baldwin's Another Country, Paul Auster's New York Trilogy, and Thomas Pynchon's V. Later, when exploring shorter forms in graduate school, I fell in love with John Cheever and Alice Munro. And I went through a Nabokov period—in which I read all the novels—that now seems to me like some kind of opium dream. These days, I've been reading early 19th century English essayists on my iPhone. Carlyle, Hazlitt. David Foster Wallace's The Pale King recently destroyed me.

I'm currently in search of a healthy novelistic role model. My ship is on the rocks.

What is the most difficult scene you’ve had to write?

The next one. Sorry to sound glib. I enjoy nostalgia as much as the next guy, but I try not to remember anything about the writing process if I can help it.

You published two novels: The Interloper and most recently, Panorama City. You have a number of creative "side projects" on your website, like Shopping Carts of Panorama City. Can you talk about Shopping Carts and also your other means of self-promotion?

The shopping carts book was just something I did while shooting photographs of Panorama City for novel research. I came home one day and realized I had enough to put together a book. So I tweaked the pictures a bit in processing and uploaded the whole thing to under a pseudonym. More the outlet of a distracted novelist than any real side project.

A legit side project, Slow Paparazzo, has taken off a bit more, perhaps because it's more process-oriented. The concept is fairly simple: Whenever I see a celebrity, I take a picture of where they just were. I capture the afterglow of fame. These go up on a blog at A local art publishing house called The Ice Plant just released a book of some of them. It came out really nice.

However, I wouldn't call these side projects means of self-promotion. In fact, they sort of demand their own promotion. For the Slow Paparazzo book I've had to write pieces for blogs and sign copies and all that kind of stuff that comes with promoting a novel.

I do feel a certain duty to promote my work, on behalf of the publisher, and on behalf of the part of me that wants people to read it, but I'm not interested in, say, branding myself. I use Twitter a whole bunch, I've got a website, I do side projects—but these things are a result of my needing different creative outlets, not any kind of marketing strategy.

What are you working on now?

A novel.

How does The Mark differ from a standard writing program?

To my mind the most significant difference is that it is more goal-oriented. In a traditional writing program, you're focused on process as opposed to product—or at least you're supposed to be. The point is to hone your skills in preparation for a lifetime of suffering, er, I mean writing. The Mark is specifically oriented toward writers who have manuscripts that are almost ready to go out into the literary marketplace. It's a different focus.

If you had one bit of advice to a beginning writer starting their first novel, what would it be?

This is only your first novel. You don't need to cram everything you've ever thought about the world into it; you don't need to deploy every writing technique you've ever learned; you don't need to show us everything you know; it's not about you.

Who would you recommend apply to The Mark program?

If you've got a complete book manuscript in hand, i.e., one that you'd be comfortable sending on to an agent or editor, The Mark is for you. Odds are it's not quite as ready as you hope it is, but that's why we're here. Also, be ready to work.

*An explanation for this author photo can be found here.