Anathema: Spec from the Margins. Books he’s worked on have themselves taken home multiple awards from the Sunburst Awards, the Eisner Awards, and most recently the Shirley Jackson Awards. His first novel, The Death Scene Artist, was released in Fall 2018 by Buckrider Books, an imprint of Wolsak & Wynn. Find him online at: andrewwilmot.ca, anathemaspec.tumblr.com, and on Twitter, hating everything about Twitter, @AGAWilmot.
1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
Honestly, in some ways it's too early to tell—the book has only been out in the world now for two or three weeks. So in terms of finances and impact (ie, increasing awareness, drawing attention to who I am and what I do), it hasn't yet changed my life. However, it has given my confidence a huge shot in the arm. If ever I doubted what I'm doing with my life, those concerns are now (mostly) gone. I have no idea if this book or any I write will be a success, but I love what I do and know that I need to keep doing it. Being able to hold a finished book in my hands only solidifies that feeling.
The Death Scene Artist compares to previous work I've done in subject matter and tone more than structure. It's sarcastic and self-effacing, and deals prominently with matters of body dysmorphia and identity. Put more broadly, I write a lot (without intending for this to be the case) about wanting or being able to escape one's body/skin. Often my work straddles the line between surrealism and horror (this book fits both, I think), but sometimes slips into science fiction as well.
It differs most in terms of structure. I don't write epistolary tales all that often, and actually write more short fiction than novel-length works—though I am writing/have written other long-form works that simply aren't ready for public consumption. I also don't write a lot of love stories, and The Death Scene Artist is very much a love story, albeit a highly dysfunctional one. Also, I haven't before or since mixed writing styles like I do in this book, going between prose and screenplay formatting.
2 - How did you come to fiction first, as opposed to, say, poetry or non-fiction?
Very simply, it's where my imagination takes me. I love using fiction as a means for reflecting/distorting the world around us. In terms of reading/watching/general entertainment, fiction is and always has been my first and most prominent love. It wasn't so much a decision to write fiction as it was a necessity of who I am and how my brain works—I'm always wanting to play with reality. I might one day write non-fiction—I certainly enjoy it enough on a semi-regular basis—but can't see myself going in that direction any time soon. That said, poetry... I like poetry, and I admire it and those who write it, but it's never been for me, at least not creatively (ie: I enjoy reading it, but have no desire to write it). I just don't think like a poet, and short of a really terrible limerick I wrote for one long-abandoned project that I hope to god will never see the light of day, I don't know that I ever will.
3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?
It differs from project to project. Like with paintings, I'm one to plan out as much as I can and spend the bulk of my time there, while the actual writing is done rather quickly, in long spurts. The first draft of The Death Scene Artist, for example, was written in just under a month. And recently I completed work on another project that I'd stopped and started over a period of five years, but again, once I sat down and just committed myself to finishing it, it was maybe a month, month and a half to the end of the first draft. That said, I also have a science fiction manuscript that is considerably larger than anything else I've done, and that took me a good five years to complete. Generally, though, the ideas and characters come quickly. I try not to treat my plans as concrete, though, to afford my characters the room to grow and take me unexpected places. Because character and plot should never be treated as separate entities: character IS plot.
All that said, while first drafts come relatively quickly, I do spend a fair bit of time on subsequent drafts. My day job for the past dozen or so years has been as a book and magazine editor, so I'm actually a fan of that second stage: editing and redrafting. My preference is to get the first draft done as quickly as possible, no matter how much of a mess it is, so that I can start playing with it/shaping it into what it needs to be. I'm more precious about the ideas than the words, so once I have the ideas out on paper, in front of me, it's time to play. It's easier for me to get into something and really figure it out/mess around with it when I know the full shape of things, if that makes sense.
4 - Where does prose usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?
Almost everything I've done, regardless of length, started out as a short story, likely based on a single image. I subscribe to the "spiral" method: when a story is growing into a novel, it happens almost non-linearly; I'll just be working away when it will jsut start to spiral out of control, and before I know it I've written a 10,000-word "short" and have more than a sense about the world surrounding the story and all the places it will or could go... and then I just follow the characters. That sounds a lot more ethereal than intended, but I don't really know how else to describe it. In fact, my next project is just that: a novel or novella based on an already-written short that I now intend to use as backstory for the larger project.
5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
If by "enjoys" you mean "makes it through while slowly turning into an anxious puddle while onstage," then yes, I enjoy doing readings. In all seriousness, at this point I've only done four—two for anthologies I was in, and two for The Death Scene Artist—and was varying degrees of anxious/petrified throughout. What I enjoy from readings is getting the chance to interact with others, and to see my work out there, in the real world. Until I'm off that stage, though, my heart's racing as if its being chased by a knife-wielding murderer. So no, readings aren't so much part of my creative process as they are a part of life as a writer. That said, I'll continue to do them at every chance I get, because that's just one more way to get the word out. And since I'd ideally love to do this as my sole career (a pipe dream, I know, but let me have this), it's something I want to get used to.
6 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?
I didn't set out to make this my life's work by any stretch, but naturally my work has gravitated toward a few key areas: body image/dysmorphia/eating disorders; mental health; gender, sexuality, and queerness. All of these are issues/areas in which I have a personal stake, and the more personal I get with my work the more these elements find their way into my stories in one way or another.
7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?
The role of the writer, and the artist in general has never been more important than it is right now, as we're staring down the barrel of a worldwide pendulum swing toward all-out fascism. Our role is to not sit back and just accept the status quo like only the most cowardly among us are currently doing. Our role is to challenge things, to put all our rage and dissatisfaction and unwillingness to accept shit as it is at this moment in time on paper in whatever medium we choose. Because all art is political—because everything is political, and those who would claim otherwise are a) naive, b) oblivious, c) blinded by their own privilege, or d) do not on any level understand the function of art and of artists.
8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
Essential and delightful. But, again, I'm an editor by trade and know how this all works. I also know two key things about the process: how not to be a difficult asshole, and that editing is and always should be a conversation. Yes, there are things that are either right or wrong (grammar, spelling, etc.) but by and large everything else is up for debate. And no editor worth their salt is ever there to work against the author—no one would sink so much time and passion into a project just to spite an author unless they had an agenda all their own. In my case, my editor (Jen Sookfong Lee) and I got along wonderfully. She worked her ass off for my book, and helped me see it in a totally new light, which sometimes resulted in unexpected personal revelations... and subsequent appointments with my therapist.
9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
"Don't let the bastards win." —something my father has always said, about anything and everything. In terms of writing advice, I'm honestly not sure. "Kill your darlings" is old and cliched but still very good. That, and something I said above: character is plot—the two are never separate, not if you actually want your characters to feel three dimensional.
10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (fiction to essays to journalistic writing)? What do you see as the appeal?
I don't move between genres as you mention (fiction to essays to journalism) but in terms of style and aesthetic (ie: horror, sci-fi, surrealism, straight-up lit). And in that sense, it's never been too difficult—I go where the story needs me to go, though I do hang out more in horror than any other genre. When I'm editing, then I jump around genres as you describe them, though I spend the majority of my time going back and forth between non-fiction, academic work (PhD dissertations mostly), and a speculative fiction magazine that I co-publish and co-edit with two other friends and editors (titled Anathema: Spec from the Margins—a tri-annual spec-fic publication solely for queer non-white writers). In this regard, the appeal is that it keeps me sharp and satisfied (I'm an learning junkie), and also prevents me from burning out on just fiction all the time.
11 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?
With caffeine. Lots. I'm the sort of person who, no matter how much sleep I get, is slow out of the gate. And I do suffer anxiety and depression, so I try to start my days as offline and quiet as possible, and just focus on doing some reading, catching up on emails, etc. I'm a freelancer, so when I've got editorial contracts they're usually tight turnarounds and I will focus on those first and foremost. When I'm between contracts, I will try to fit in as much writing as possible. In those periods, it's a seasonal thing: often mornings and early afternoon during the fall and winter, and whenever I can in the spring and summer as I will often take my work with me and just wander around until I find a place to settle down, grab a coffee, and do some work. I also frequently work late at night, as I love it when the world just shuts up and goes quiet. Really, though, I'm not one of those authors who has a set daily routine, and sometimes I go weeks or months without working on something, just making notes of ideas and character sketches. And then I'll carve out a month or a few weeks of time to write and I will just power through, day and night. Possibly not the healthiest approach, but it's whatever works, right? The idea that you have to do the thing every day or you simply won't succeed is, I think, terrible advice. It works if writing is all you do, sure, but for those with outside concerns (other jobs, mental/physical health concerns, family/life responsibilities) it just isn't always feasible.
12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
Podcasts. Music. Non-fiction. Film. Re-reading old loves. Honestly, there's no one or even a handful of predictable sources for me. My brain will grip a single offhand comment from pretty much anywhere and spiral it into something at least interesting to toss around for a bit, even if nothing comes from it. Downside to an overactive brain, though, is that sleep is a luxury.
13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
My grandmother's chocolate chip cookies, which my sister still makes every year at Christmas, and gingerbread.
14 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?
Definitely music, though more often that inspires my painting (I'm partially synaesthetic, and paint visual responses to music). When it comes to my writing, it's as I mentioned above—it tends to be more random than anything. I do find, however, that I'm more frequently inspired by mediums other than books, because when I'm reading I'm thinking more critically than creatively. It's hard to shut off that editorial brain (even harder when you also have a history as a reviewer).
15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
This feels like a clever way of asking me to list my favourite books. :) My passions tend to be all over the place, but the books and authors that have stuck with me the most, for one reason or another are:
Hygiene and the Assassin, by Amélie Nothomb
Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel
The City and the City/The Last Days of New Paris, by China Mieville
The Shining Girls/Broken Monsters, by Lauren Beukes
Monoceros, by Suzette Mayr
Sub Rosa, by Amber Dawn
The Illumination, by Kevin Brockmeier
The Inheritance Trilogy/The Broken Earth Trilogy, by N.K. Jemisin
The Book of Dahlia, by Elisa Albert
A Visit from the Goon Squad, by Jennifer Egan
How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, by Charles Yu
Daytripper, by Moon and Ba
Also love most works from Haruki Murakami, Roxane Gay, and James Ellroy, but can't really pick out any one or two things I want to highlight.
16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
I'd love to write/edit for video games. They've been a life-long love/stress release, and as an industry there's a lot of untapped storytelling potential. I'd jump at the chance to dip my toes in that world to some extent. Also, perhaps, comic writing.
17 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?
Well, in my previous life I was an exhibiting oil painter—I actually have an undergrad degree in visual arts. Ultimately that world wasn't for me, but I do still paint and, if writing (and by extension editing) were no longer an option I could see myself diving back into that often unforgiving world.
18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
A need, really. I had shit in my head that I had to get out, and writing was the method that made the most sense to me.
19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
Well, I'm currently reading Esi Edugyan's Washington Black, which is so far pretty excellent. Hmm, this is a tougher than expected question, and I don't know that I can narrow it down to just one book. In terms of fiction, I really dug Craig Davidson's The Saturday Night Ghost Club. For non-fiction, it's a tie between Vivek Shraya's I'm Afraid of Men and Erin Wunker's Notes from a Feminist Killjoy. Next on the docket for me is Zadie Smith's Swing Time, which I've been meaning to get to for, oh, about a year now.
As for film, I'd love to toss a TV show in here instead: Netflix's The Haunting of Hill House. It's far, far removed from the Shirley Jackson book of the same name (the book is basically flavour text), but holy crap it's the best horror anything I've seen in years.
20 - What are you currently working on?
A few things, actually. I've got a second draft of one novella titled High Maintenance Machines, a second draft of another—a road trip revenge story called Gina and Rigby—and am currently tossing around character and story details for something I'd previously mentioned, an expansion of a previously written short story.
12 or 20 (second series) questions;