Between now and the shortlist announcement on Sunday 28th July we will be putting the spotlight on each of 2019's longlisted authors in turn.
Today's author is Kevin Wilson, author of 'Biology', a story about the unexpected impact the death of teacher makes decades later.
What inspired you to write the story? Is it drawn from personal experience?
I’m constantly reaching back toward childhood, those moments when you believe that everything you do will define the person you’re going to be, when every action feels so momentous. It’s thrilling and terrifying at once. As a kid, I was so shy, so isolated within my body, and I believed so much that adults had the answers and could tell me who I was. There was a teacher who was incredibly shy and thoughtful and he would let a few of us weirder kids skip pep rallies or assemblies and just hide in his classroom. And there was a kind of charge as I got to see an adult up close. And there was once a bet, involving money, on an athletic event between the teacher and a student, and I remember being maybe the only person rooting for the teacher to win.
How does writing short stories differ from writing full-length fiction, and what do you enjoy about writing in the genre? I love both forms, but short stories have magical properties for me. They feel so much like incantations, these compressed, incredibly powerful forms where it’s almost like I’m trying to tell the entire story in a single breath. I feel a little out of control as I write them, always about to crash and burn. And to me there’s something so amazing about how such a short work can have the emotional resonance that can absolutely change you.
How do you write? Longhand or typed? Why does your chosen method work for you?
I only work on the computer. So much time is spent in my own head that there’s something so satisfying about putting it into this machine, as if it can contain what won’t stay in my own brain. And I love the feeling of typing, the sound it makes, the speed of it. And I’m a messy writer, so I love looping back through the document, over and over, changing it and changing it. I think if I wrote longhand, I’d be too lazy to tear it apart as much. My hand cramps just writing a birthday card.
Which short story collection by another author would you recommend?
Always Happy Hour by Mary Miller. Without a doubt I think Mary Miller is the absolute best Southern writer right now, the very best representation of what Southern writing can be. She is virtuosic in the short form, so sharp, so funny, so wild.
What’s your favourite short story of all time? Who would you cast to read it?
“The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson and I would love to have Joan Crawford read it. A living reader would be Julianne Moore.
Who would you cast to read the story you have entered?
What are you reading now?
Ann Patchett’s new novel The Dutch House, which is stunning.
Please read on for a preview of 'Biology'
Last night, someone from my hometown posted on Facebook to say that our eighth-grade biology teacher, Mr. Reynolds, had died. There was a link to the local funeral home’s memorial page, where I stared at a picture of Mr. Reynolds as I remembered him, twenty-five years previous, his thick, black-rimmed glasses and buzzcut, his hair so blonde it looked white. He had grey eyes. His face was always red, not like a rash but like a tint to his skin.
My boyfriend asked me why I was crying, though he didn’t look up from his book. I was someone who cried a lot, over the slightest things, but what was strange was that I didn’t realize that I had been crying. And once I noticed it, I thought more about Mr. Reynolds. His first name was Franklin, and there was a time when I would call him by that name. And I cried and I cried, and finally Bobby said, “Oh, god, what’s wrong? What is going on, Patrick?” and he held me, and I put down the tablet, and I didn’t say a word because I didn’t know what to say. Because nothing I said would have made sense to him. It wouldn’t have made sense to anyone else in the world. The only person who would have understood was dead.