Interviews

December 15, 2009      

An Interview With D. Harlan Wilson by David F. Hoenigman

D. Harlan Wilson is an award-winning novelist, short story writer, literary critic, screenwriter, and associate professor of English at Wright State University-Lake Campus.  His most recent works include two novels, Peckinpah: An Ultraviolent Romance (Shroud 2009) and Blankety Blank: A Memoir of Vulgaria (Raw Dog Screaming Press 2008), and a book of cultural theory, Technologized Desire: Selfhood & the Body in Postcapitalist Science Fiction (Guide Dog Books 2009).  Visit Wilson online at www.dharlanwilson.com.

David F. Hoenigman: What projects are you currently working on?

D. Harlan Wilson: I’m promoting two books that were published this year.  One is a short novel, Peckinpah: An Ultraviolent Romance, published by Shroud.  It’s been long-listed at a potential nominee for the Bram Stoker Award.  The other book is a work of literary and cultural criticism, Technologized Desire: Selfhood & the Body in Postcapitalist Science Fiction, published by Guide Dog Books.  This is a version of my Ph.D. dissertation, which I completed in 2005; altogether Technologized Desire is the product of about 10+ years of study, writing and revision.  I’ve very proud of both of these books—they are the best things I’ve ever written.

As for ongoing writing projects, I just finished the manuscript for Codename Prague, the second installment in my “scikungfi” trilogy, the first of which was Dr. Identity, or, Farewell to PlaquedemiaCodename Prague will be released in 2010 by Raw Dog Screaming Press, the publisher of the trilogy.  Now I’m drafting the third and final installment, The Kyoto Man, as well as another novel, 6BZ a.k.a. The Six Billion Dollar Zombie.

I’m also in the research stages of a “cultography” on John Carpenter’s film They Live for UK publisher Wallflower Press.  It’s a really cool critical series.  Other films that have been written on for it include Donnie Darko, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Blade Runner, Touch of Evil, Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia and Spinal Tap.  I’m excited to have the opportunity to tackle They Live, a formative film for me.  Find out more here: www.cultographies.com.

DH: When and why did you begin writing?

DW: I was in my early 20s, living in Boston, doing my M.A. degree in English at the University of Massachusetts.  I took a creative writing course with the novelist Patricia Powell.  I wrote two long stories extrapolated from, respectively, the novels A Clockwork Orange and Riddley Walker.  They were bad, although I didn’t think so at the time.  Over the next few years, I went on to write more bad stories and some bad novels, none of which were published.  Rightly so.  I know it happens, but I’ve never met a writer who doesn’t produce a pile of shit before he or she makes a sale.

I took up fiction writing for several reasons.  I liked the imaginative and intellectual challenge, and I liked world-building and creating characters and making them interact.  Delusions of grandeur played a role, too; I imagined myself, the Author, composing a book that would make millions and allow me to retire and bask in the glory of my immortality.  I had a Barton Fink thing going on.  “I’m a writer, you monsters!” I said to the cruel, insipid, banal world.  “I create for a living!  I’m a creator!”

That wore off eventually.  Yeah.  Now I write because I enjoy it.  As a college professor, it used to be that I had to write and publish in order to satisfy a scholarship requirement.  I received tenure this year, though, so those requirements don’t hold as much water.  But I never wrote because I had to anyway.

DH: When did you first consider yourself a writer?

DW: The moment I call myself a writer, I will stop writing.  Ergo—I am not a writer.

DH: What inspired you to write your first book?

DW: My first published book, The Kafka Effekt (Eraserhead Press 2001), wasn’t inspired by anything in particular.  It’s a collection of stories that I had written in my early twenties.  The stories aren’t connected and they don’t build on one another, although they are all written in the vein of irrealism.

My first novel, Dr. Identity, or, Farewell to Plaquedemia (Raw Dog Screaming Press 2007), was inspired by my critical study of the science fiction genre—I have a M.A. degree in science fiction from the University of Liverpool—and my shitty experience as a Ph.D. graduate student at Michigan State University (1999-2005).  The novel is highly ultraviolent and technologized.  Mostly it is intended to function as social and cultural satire, but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t purge me during a time when I was feeling pretty depressed, hateful, poor, etc.—common feelings among Ph.D. grad students in the humanities, especially during the latter stages of the process.

DH: Who or what has influenced your writing?

DW: Other writers, of course, including authors of fiction as well as criticism, theory and philosophy.  But my writing is more inspired by film and in many ways acts like and comments on the techniques of filmmaking (i.e., image/sound manipulation) as (mis)representations of reality.  I get a lot of ideas for stories from watching the news, too.

DH: How has your environment/upbringing colored your writing?

DW: Not much in recent years.  I used to travel quit a bit and have lived abroad, but that was a long time ago.  In the 2000s I have lived in southwestern Michigan and northwestern Ohio and now Fort Wayne, Indiana, where my wife and I just bought a house.  We’re both English professors at Wright State University-Lake Campus and it’s about an hour commute.  We moved to Fort Wayne because we couldn’t stand living in the town where the Lake Campus is located, Celina—a cultural and natural atrocity, I always call it.  Comparatively Fort Wayne is a major metropolis.  Anyway, the point is, my adult life is rather boring and doesn’t significantly inform my writing (although living in Celina was my inspiration for writing Peckinpah).  In short, my writing is colored (and coded) by electronic media, i.e., by that which I see and hear on screens.

That said, I think I’ve always been an imaginative guy.  I spent a lot of time as a kid living in my own head, so to speak, daydreaming, and playing with action figures, and playing Dungeons & Dragons, and all that.  I drew pictures, too, for years.  Specifically I remember drawing robots and animal cartoons.  I spent hours and hours thinking stuff up and then giving shape to it visually.  Essentially I do the same thing with writing.

DH: Do you have a specific writing style?

DW: In many of my stories, my style is minimalistic, i.e., I write in short sentences, use little punctuation, use colloquial language, etc.  Camusian prose, I guess.  I consciously employ multiple styles in my book-length works, though, often to portray characters and worlds that are broken, fragmented and schized by hypermediatized futures.

DH: What genre are you most comfortable writing?

DW: None.  I’m most comfortable splicing different genres together.  Namely the speculative genres.  I do this in all of my longer works.  The problem is I get bored writing in just one genre.  I can’t sustain interest and need to mix things up.  I suppose this is an authorial shortcoming.  But I don’t write for a living, so I do what I want, more or less.

DH: Is there a message in your work that you want readers to grasp?

DW: Not really.  My writing isn’t moralistic.  I hope it doesn’t come off as moralistic.  But I write about different things so inevitably there are multiple messages.  If I had to pick one, I’d say this: Technology pathologizes the human condition for better and for worse.

DH: What books are you reading now?

DW: Mainly I’m reading stuff that I’ll be teaching next quarter.  Moby-Dick is the Big Guy—I haven’t read it since I was in college, but I teach Melville’s short stories regularly, and I’ve wanted to tackle Moby-Dick pedagogically for years.  I’m also re-reading The Scarlet Letter, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, The Awakening and Frankenstein.

For pleasure, I’ve just begun Martin Caidin’s novel Cyborg, the basis of the television series The Six Million Dollar Man in the 1970s.  Prep work for my upcoming 6BZ.

DH: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?

DW: My favorite contemporary fiction writer is British author Steve Aylett.  I discovered him in 2000 or so—his books Slaughtermatic, Toxicology and LINT have been essential to my own development.  More recently I’ve grown fond of Cormac McCarthy, but he’s been around for a long time, of course.  Offhand I can’t think of new authors that have made a considerable impact on me.  I read a lot, but I don’t like most of it.  I’m a tough sell.  Too demanding.  I’m not elitist.  I have a short attention span, though, and want narratives to consistently entertain and stimulate me.  It’s my problem, really.  I don’t like much contemporary writing.  I don’t like much old writing.  I don’t even like my own writing that much.  But I’m always on the hunt . . .

DH: What is the most misunderstood aspect of your work?

DW: That my writing is run-of-the-mill postmodernism.  Or postmodern juvenilia.  The latter is actually quite accurate if you look at my early stories.  But from Dr. Identity onwards, I try to write beyond postmodernism.  Actually beyond might be too pretentious or egotistical a term.  Let’s say behind postmdernism?  Call it unpostmodernism, or ur-postmodernism, or cockadoodledo-postmodernism.  Or my favorite: postmodernism.  Then again, this is a subjective view.  What I think might look like postmodernism or whatever might look like ordinary postmodernism to somebody else.  It’s a tricky category.  But postmodernism can’t live forever, right?  Anyway, I try to explore new narrative territory, whether I succeed or fail.

About the author:
David F. Hoenigman is the author of
Burn Your Belongings.

    3 comments to An Interview With D. Harlan Wilson by David F. Hoenigman

    • I used to play a lot with action figures as well (I basically collect them nowadays but…) and I even draw characters and small stories out of my figures however I didn’t turn into a writer and surely… I wouldn’t have any lack of creativity if that’s all it took…

    • Anonymous

      So D. Harlan Wilson has no problem taking money to teach at a place he finds a cultural wasteland. What a hipocrite. Why not get a job at an elite location such as Cambridge MA.? Oh wait, a place like Harvard would never hire a hack like D. Harlan Wilson.

    • donovan s. brain

      Anon, if you find someplace is a cultural wasteland, the logical thing to do is teach the land’s wasted some culture. Man, you really put the “hip” in hypocrite, but for no apparent reason . . .

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