The Nitty Gritty Interview with Wilson Koewing

By Charlotte Hamrick

As I was reading Jaded by Wilson Koewing, I surprised myself with how often I would think this is one of the best stories I’ve ever read, only to think the same thing at the next story. There is something in the way Wilson writes that brings to mind oral stories passed down through generations. Maybe it’s because he is a native Southerner and storytelling is in his genes. He has a way of digging deep into the psyche of his characters, exploring the conundrums that people find themselves in and the hard work of trying to dig themselves out. This collection is all about the multi-faceted peculiarities of human relationships – an endlessly fascinating subject to me. I was also surprised by how detailed Wilson’s answers were to my questions. He really gives in this interview. Anyone who aspires to write will learn a lot from reading it and readers will get insight into some of the characters and situations in this collection. I want to thank Wilson for a very interesting and enlightening conversation.

The characters in this collection are always on the move. I’ve noticed you travel a lot. Talk about how your travels have influenced your writing.

Travel is such an enormous influence on me it really can’t be overstated. Setting is such a huge part of this collection. The fundamental framework of the collection, really. I just love movement. I’ve been settling down a little more lately (much to the detriment of my productivity) but for most of my adult life I’ve been a perpetual mover. Either moving from place to place, or traveling or even on a day-to-day basis. I’ve always been a searcher. Always looking for something. What? Who knows? Something that you have to be wherever you are to make it happen. That has long been the fundamental tenet by which I live my life, and it influences my writing as well. The majority of the time I find myself going on the journey with the characters in my stories to discover what will happen to them. I often have a pretty good idea where they’re going to end up, but how they get there is when the magic happens. Which is very much like what goes on when you’re traveling. The beauty of traveling is that every moment and every possibility is heightened, every experience is new, and therefore inherently more interesting. I think one of the reasons the stories are successful is because I’m able to channel that intangible feeling of travel into their design.

Do you integrate personal experiences in your stories or are they all purely fictional?

Most of these stories began with observations of people in the real world. Sometimes those people were random strangers, sometimes they were people I knew more intimately. And in others, the narrator is a surrogate for me. The plots of the stories, however, are almost entirely fictional, though they, at times, draw on my own experiences. Much of the process of writing JADED was an exercise in a sort of reimagining of reality. For example, in the story “Spyder” the character of Spyder was based on a woman I used to see while jogging in Wash Park in Denver because she was always parked in the same place in her car, which she lived in. I never spoke to this woman, didn’t know her name, I knew nothing about her, so I wrote a story about a completely imagined relationship between her and I. I created a backstory for her, I imagined how she arrived there, I created elements of her life and struggle, and I fabricated a relationship between her and a fictional version of myself. On varying levels, this is how all of the stories in the collection were constructed.

I loved “Bones” so much! It has the perfect confluence of daily life, struggle, secrets, and aging in a savory background of foodie culture. You tie it all together so skillfully. Do you have a background in food service? What inspired this piece?

I love “Bones,” too. Of all the stories in JADED that one maybe hits the closest to home, and for the reasons you clearly picked up on, which is that I do have a background in the service industry (7 years) and the story was very much inspired by my time working at The New Orleans Country Club. “Bones” was based on a guy who I worked with at the New Orleans Country Club whose name was actually Bone. When I first started at the club in 2012, while I was a student at UNO, I started as a dishwasher and Bone was the guy who trained me. I immediately loved him, but I also felt bad, from the beginning, that he was such an old guy doing such a menial job. This was all my projection, let me make that clear. He did his job and did it happily enough. He wasn’t overjoyed or anything, but he was a really positive guy. The version of him that I created for the story was more of a manifestation of how I felt management treated him, and how witnessing it made me feel. And especially how it made me feel as someone who was in a position of privilege. The New Orleans Country Club, like anywhere of that type in New Orleans, hasn’t changed a whole lot in its 100 or more years of existence. For example, the vast majority of the staff there is Black and when I was there, there wasn’t a single Black member of the club. The Sous Chef narrator was also representative of this because I found myself swiftly moving up the ranks when I started working there, while a guy like Bone wouldn’t have even been considered for any type of promotion.

When it came to the inner workings and turmoil of the Chef Adam character’s life that was an amalgamation of a few different things. The relationship itself mirrors a relationship I had at the time where the two of us were just in totally different places and always destructively trying to come up with ideas (marriage, having a baby) that would make us feel like our relationship wasn’t doomed, which I think is such a common thing for couples to do. Then the secondary relationship he had, that his wife had no idea about, was a combination of just dreaming up the scenario while sitting in French Quarter bars late at night after work, but also somewhat based on my brother who has children with different mothers, and having witnessed the strain that dynamic has put on him over the years.

“The sky was peppered by tufts of thin clouds that resembled couch pillow innards torn out.” From Jaded – This is a great visual and you have a lot of interesting phrasing, metaphors, similes in your work. Does it come to you organically and do you think it’s important in your writing?

That line in particular just felt so New Orleans. I remember when I wrote that line and exactly where I was and how the sky looked that day. I was sitting on a porch in mid city and there were clouds that looked just like that, and I was writing the story. I just loved that dilapidated mid-city neighborhood. Wonderful, but aesthetically atrocious at the same time. And I was thinking, how most people write so flowery about clouds, and I wondered what is the worst, ugliest way I can think of to describe a cloud. I don’t know. It all came together in the moment.

Overall, when it comes to similes, metaphors, interesting phrasing, yeah, I mean it’s just feel and sound for me. Writing is about the rhythm in so many ways. But I’m weak just like anyone else. I love a simile and a metaphor, and I’m always searching for something perfect, transcendent, but I throw away 99% of them. But when a great one comes along then I have to keep it. I feel like that’s what great writing is. Knowing what to keep. I have no idea how many good similes and metaphors there are in JADED, but I know that I love them all and if they’re in there then they were the absolute best ones that came to me because they never would have made it in if not.

Aside from that, I would say my upbringing in rural South Carolina probably has a lot to do with the interesting phrasing. I grew up around some very, very southern people. I mean some of my uncles, my partner has met them and when we left she was like I didn’t understand a word they said, and she’s from Tennessee, so that can tell you a little. And I’ve always just loved southern speech, southern sayings, the southern accent, even though I never considered myself especially southern or country or whatever people might say. I always felt a generation removed from being “real” country. Maybe it came with growing up around the advent of the internet and having more of an interest in the outside world than maybe people around me did when they were younger. More interest in film, books, etc. But, I’ve always enjoyed classing up southern speech. Something interesting happens when you take a phrase or a way of talking that is normally seen as uneducated and elevate it into the realm of being literary. It can come off very wise, I’ve found.

“The Mountain Lion” – tell me how this story came about.

Haha. This is a difficult question to answer because it’s a combination of numerous disparate things. The setting is based on a house my uncle used to own in Conifer, Colorado. It was gorgeous. 9,000 feet up with amazing Pikes Peak views. It was just a beautiful property, and it always stuck with me, so I knew I wanted to use it as the backdrop for a story. The Mountain Lion element was in my head because I was living in Colorado at the time, and there was this viral news story about a guy who was out trail running in Boulder and got attacked by a juvenile mountain lion and basically they fought until the man managed to kill the mountain lion. As far as the characters, I wanted them to be inversions of each other in a sense. The narrator has left Louisiana and gone west because things went poorly with a woman, so he’s very much trying to find himself. And when he meets Mike (a guy who seems to have things pretty well figured out) Mike clearly sees something of himself in him, which is why he offers to put him in the efficiency apartment. Then we come to learn that Mike is kind of like a farther along version of the narrator. He’s still lost, still has that wild hair in him, but he’s got a stable life with a home and a loving wife and a child, but it seems the only thing he’s learned is that just because you have all those things it doesn’t make whatever that thing is that’s wrong inside go away. Maybe it buries it a little, but it’s still there. And when it comes to the actual use of the child in regards to the seeing of a mountain lion, I really can’t say what compelled me to write such a thing. My own fear of fatherhood was probably in there. And I’ve always been sort of fascinated by the indescribable pain that I imagine parents who have children with disabilities must feel. Not being able to do anything about it. That sort of visceral, nature thing where you have to remember that life isn’t fair, etc. I’m not even sure if I’m making sense to myself about how that story came about. Lol. I do remember writing it, funnily enough, because it was a story I wrote in a single evening. I was sitting outside of my Denver place, and I was drinking heavily, and it was back when I still smoked cigarettes, so I was smoking like a chimney, and it was kind of like a one take piece as far as plotting was concerned. Almost as if I transported myself to my uncle’s porch and just let the events come to me. Which I think ends up working out well for the story, ultimately. It lends it a sort of immediacy. Sheesh. That story was a personal journey.

Where was the strangest place that inspiration hit you for a story and how did it turn out?

I went to a writing retreat in February of 2021 down to Elephant Butte Lake, New Mexico which is on the outskirts of Truth or Consequences. It was a great place to write, secluded by the lake, but it was also the most isolated place I’ve ever been in my life. Especially that time of year and especially at night. There is just nothing out there. And it is so incredibly dark. Plus my internet barely worked, which made it feel even more isolated. I know that’s so sad to say, but it really put into perspective how much I rely on the internet on a daily basis. During the days, when I was searching for inspiration I would often drive out into the desert. You could drive for miles and miles out there and see no one, no houses, just that sagebrush desert and endless sky. One day I was riding around and I was startled, scared half to death really, by an amber alert going off on my phone. The alert was about a boy who had been kidnapped by his father and they were headed toward the border. I knew the second I read that amber alert that I wanted to explore what could go so wrong that a father could find himself in that situation. That moment became the inspiration for the story “Rodeo.”

Which story did you have the hardest time writing and why?

The most difficult story to write by far was “Point to Point.” That story is the most difficult story I’ve ever written. It is a conceptually complex story that deals with several subplots interspersed with an almost real time, borderline horror movie scenario involving a woman hiking alone in the woods. Not only did I have to create and sustain the mystery, rising action and plausibility of the main narrative, I also had to seamlessly integrate the various flashbacks about the character’s relationship with her dad, her fiancé, her lover and her mother. It was a juggling act, a piecing together of a puzzle, that’s difficulty and tediousness is almost impossible to explain. There were times where I felt like I simply lacked the talent to execute that story. I felt like giving up on it so many times, and really, when I sent it to Meagan Lucas, here at Reckon Review I was at my wit’s end. I sent it to Meagan because I felt like she was the only editor I knew of who could help me with it. When she responded and wanted to work with me on it, I was terribly relieved, but the work was really just starting. I’m not sure where Meagan would rate it as far as pieces she’s helped writers edit, but I can tell you we spent at least a month working on it, emailing back and forth probably a dozen times and there were moments, even then, that I wondered if the two of us combining forces could wrangle it. But eventually we did, and man was it gratifying. The story was published in Reckon Review, received a great response, and I was honored, recently, to find out that it was named a distinguished story of 2022 by Best American Mystery and Suspense, so I guess it was all worth it.

Who are some of your greatest influences?

Hemingway, Bukowski, Hunter S. Thompson, John Williams, Norman Maclean, Stanley Kubrick, Quentin Tarantino, Terrance Malick, Bob Dylan, Jay-Z, Nas, Bret Easton Ellis, Pedro Juan Guttierez, Peter Orner, Shirley Jackson, Greg Tebbano.

Do you have any advice for someone looking to publish their first book?

Unless you have a passion deeply ingrained in you, an utter and inescapable need to write, do anything else with your time other than trying to write and publish your first book. 

Wilson Koewing

Wilson Koewing is a writer from South Carolina. His work has appeared in Reckon Review, Pembroke Magazine, Wigleaf, Hobart, Maudlin House, New World Writing, The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts and Gargoyle. His essay “Woodstown” originally published in Pembroke Magazine was named a notable essay of 2020 by Best American Essays. His story “Point to Point”, originally published in Reckon Review, was named a distinguished story of 2022 by Best American Mystery and Suspense. His short story collection JADED is available from Main Street Rag/Mint Hill Books and can be purchased here. His hybrid collection QUASI is available from Anxiety Press here. He lives in San Anselmo, California with his family.

author Charlotte Hamrick
Charlotte Hamrick

Charlotte Hamrick’s creative writing and photography has been published in a number of literary journals and anthologies including Still: The Journal, The Citron Review, Atticus Review, Reckon Review, Trampset, and New World Writing, among many others. Her fiction was selected for the Best Small Fictions 2022 and 2023 anthologies and she’s had several literary nominations including the Pushcart Prize, Best of the Net, Best Small Fictions, and Best Microfiction. She is the former Creative Nonfiction Editor for Barren Magazine and current Creative Nonfiction Editor for The Citron Review. She also writes intermittently on her Substack, The Hidden Hour. She lives in New Orleans with her husband and a menagerie of rescued pets where she sometimes does things other than read and write.