Books Magazine

Interview: Kevin Wilson, Author of 'The Family Fang'

By Bluestalking @Bluestalking


Familyfang"Annie and Buster Fang have spent most of their adult lives trying to distance themselves from their famous artist parents, Caleb and Camille. But when a bad economy and a few bad personal decisions converge, the two siblings have nowhere to turn but their family home. Reunited under one roof for the first time in more than a decade and surrounded by the souvenirs of their unusual upbringing, Buster and Annie are forced to confront not only their creatively ambitious parents, but the chaos and confusion of their childhood."




If you've read The Family Fang you'll be familiar with the wacked out, totally dysfunctional family at its heart, as well as the sometimes hilarious, other times heartbreaking impact growing up groomed to be  "performance artists" had for Annie and Buster.

Though busy with a newborn - and we parents know exactly what that's like - author Kevin Wilson was kind enough to answer a few questions I sent his way. I hope you'll enjoy the following interview and if you haven't read The Family Fang maybe this will give you the gentle push you needed to give it a try. It's sort of like Swamplandia! (my review here), similar to The Night Circus (coverage coming soon) with a dash of Little Miss Sunshine thrown in but it has its own distinct character. You won't have ever read anything quite like it. Trust me.

The film adaptation of Kevin Wilson's blockbuster first novel is slated to be released in 2014, starring no less than Nicole Kidman. I think you can say Wilson kind of hit it out of the park his first time out.

And it's going to make a really kick ass film.

A big thank you to Kevin Wilson.




LG: TFF being your first novel, receiving blockbuster success. Any worries your sophomore novel will suffer in comparison? And do you hate me for putting that suggestion in your mind?


KW:  It's a great problem to have, to even have mild success with a first novel, so it seems silly to worry too much about it, especially since I'm in the very early stages of writing the next book. Even if The Family Fang is the most successful book I ever write, which is easy to imagine, I'd be happy. 


LG:  How long did you shop around TFF before you found a publisher? Was it snapped up immediately, as off-beat and original as it is, or did that work against you?


KW:  I signed a two-book deal with Ecco in 2007 on the strength of a completed short story collection and the first 100 pages of a novel. That novel ended up falling apart and so I moved on to The Family Fang. Ecco, an incredible publisher, believed in the novel in the earliest stages, even though it wasn't the book they had originally accepted. Who knows if someone would have wanted it if I had gone out with the Family Fang on its own.


LG: What, or who, formed your delightfully unique style and off-beat sense of humor? Anyone you'd like to credit?


KW:  I have a few influences that seem clear enough to me. I love comic books, have loved them for as long as I could read. That fantastic nature of those stories, the weirdness of a world that is not quite our own world, definitely influenced me. For literature, the southern masters like Carson McCullers and Flannery O'Connor and Barry Hannah influenced me, their love of the grotesque and the strange but ultimately human characters. And George Saunders and Aimee Bender showed me how to incorporate fantastical elements into my stories. Finally, Ann Patchett's work has long been a huge influence, the way she assembles these complex characters in very unique situations and shows how they become stronger as they connect with each other.


LG:  Growing up, did you have an off-beat view of life? Did your reading have any influence on your writing style and were you a big reader as a child?


KW:  I read constantly as a child, not just comic books, but any books I could get my hands on. I read without worrying about genre or if what I was reading was worthwhile or not. I appreciated all forms of literature and I think that has seeped into my work. I loved Beverly Cleary and Judy Blume and Roald Dahl, as well as pulp writers like Max Allan Collins and Lawrence Block. My parents let me read anything I wanted, from William Burroughs to the Hardy Boys. I think that kind of breadth helped my view of the world.


LG:  Any writing routines, habits, superstitions and/or favorite specific location you need in order to write?


KW:  I don't have many habits; I don't write every day or even every week. I make time in my life for writing and hope that space leads to something worthwhile. I mostly need a little comfort to write, a soda and candy and my pj's. I like to write in bed or on the floor, almost never at a desk. You realize that your habits are perhaps only helpful to your own writing, but they do matter.



LG:  What are you reading now? Anything you'd recommend, favorite authors, etc.?


KW:  We just had a baby, so I'm finding it hard to steal reading time. I'm reading a lot of galleys for upcoming books and the two I've loved that will be coming out in the near future are Elliott Holt's You Are One of Them, a beautiful and complex story about our pasts and how it shapes our future, and then Sarah Stonich's Vacationland, a series of linked stories about a singular landscape. Both have such gorgeous writing, but what really sets them apart are the unique quirks of narrative that make them feel new and fantastic. 


LG: What's next in the queue? Have you started, or thought about, your next book?


KW:  I have just barely started a new novel, still very rough, but it's thrilling to get back into a larger work and start to assemble all the pieces and hope it comes together. The basic premise is that a young woman gets pregnant and then enters into a strange situation in the hopes of helping her child become a good and unique person. It has strangeness in it, but it's probably going to be a little less funny than Fang.


LG:  Being a writer from the South, do you consider yourself a "southern writer" in the popular sense of the term/genre? What do you feel defines southern writing?


KW:  I consider myself a southern writer because I grew up in a rural town in the south and that helped create my identity. All of these terms and genres try to, in some ways, limit the possibilities, but I find Southern Writing to be incredibly expansive and beyond definition. I try not to think about genres very much because I love all of them and hope to incorporate elements of them in my own writing.


LG:  Likewise, what defines "southern gothic," a term used to describe your short story collection "Tunneling to the Center of the Earth"?


KW:  I think writers like Flannery O'Connor and Carson McCullers helped define southern gothic: grotesque settings and characters, decayed worlds, elements of magical realism. I have a story in the collection set in a decaying Civil War mansion and bickering, grotesque brothers squabbling over the mansion, so I can see how I fit into that world. I'm happy to exist in that place, because I love those elements.


LG:  Your first novel is already in the process of a film adaptation. How do you stay grounded having hit it so big your first time out? Are you involved in the screenplay at all? I guess this is related to question one...


KW:  Well, writing fame is so small that it doesn't really change my day to day life. I live on a mountain in a very small town and so there aren't a lot of opportunities to feel like some kind of strange superstar. I'm so happy that the book has done well, but I get up in the morning and feed my kids and go teach my classes and watch tv at night. I am not involved in the screenplay, though the producers have been very kind to keep me informed. I got to meet Per Saari and Nicole Kidman and talk to them about the book and the adaptation and it was a huge thrill. It's not something I expected when I started writing the book, that's for sure.

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