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Award-winning author, D. Harlan Wilson, writes intelligent, surreal, and absurd Bizarro fiction, which blends elements of science fiction, fantasy, and horror. His work includes Dr. Identity, or Farwell to Plaquedemia, which is the first book in his Scikungfi Trilogy, and Blankety Blank: A Novel of Vulgaria, as well as three collections of short stories, including Stranger on the Loose, The Kafka Effect, and Pseudo-City. His next novel, which will be released sometime this fall, is called Peckinpah: A Ultraviolent Romance and has been blurbed by the comic writer Alan Moore (Watchmen, V for Vendetta, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen), in which he states:
A bludgeoning celluloid rush of language and ideas served from an action-painter's bucket of fluorescent spatter, Peckinpah is an incendiary gem and very probably the most extraordinary new novel you will read this year.
Wilson holds a M.A. and Ph.D in English and a M.A. in Science Fiction Studies. He teaches English courses at Wright State University-Lake Campus and is editor-in-chief of the online journal, The Dream People. He lives with his family in Ohio.
What inspired you to become a writer?
D. Harlan Wilson: Somebody asked me that in another interview I did recently. I said it had to do with delusions of fame and fortune, which wore off quickly, as well as an interest in world-building and creating scenarios and characters that amused me. Iíve always had an overactive imagination. When I was a kid I wanted to be a cartoonist. I drew stuff all the time, for years, inventing strange, usually science fictional creatures and ships. A lot of my inspiration came from the action figures I played with. I was an ok illustrator, but nothing special. So now I write. Itís the same thing for me as playing with Star Wars figures or drawing pictures of robots.
Many novice writers are interested in the writing process of established authors. Could you explain your own particular writing process, including schedule, rituals and methods?
I write every day, but I donít have a set schedule or any rituals, unless drinking coffee is a ritual. As a fulltime English professor, husband and father, life is pretty busy and I write whenever I can, although I prefer it in the morning, when Iím much sharperóafter 6 p.m. Iím a meathead and all I can really do is read or watch TV. My wife is a fulltime English professor, too, and we share child-rearing duties for our two-year-old daughter, so yeah, itís busy. But like I said, I write every day, even if itís only for 15 minutes. In fact, I prefer to write in short bursts like that. My ideal writing schedule for a day would be two solid hours in which I write for 15 minutes, take a 15 minute break, write for 15 minutes, etc. But that rarely happens.
In your own words, could you define the Bizarro genre?
Bizarro is an umbrella term for different kinds of speculative fiction. The term was coined as a marketing tool for a group of small press authors. I actually donít read that much Bizarro fiction. As I understand it, most Bizarro exhibits the general traits of a cult film (excessive gore, excessive goofiness, excessive so-bad-itís-goodness, etc.). This is in part the case with my writing. But I tend to be more satirical and metanarrational. All of my novels are essentially critifictions that tell stories while analyzing, interpreting and critiquing society and culture.
Could you please explain your own Bizarro style?
I write rather squarely in the genre of irrealism. Irreal fiction operates according to a skewed narrative physics; itís absurdist and dreamlike and the cause and effect schema differs from that of the real world. My writing also falls into the genres of science fiction, fantasy, horror. And itís often literary, experimental and, again, metanarrational. So Iím a mutt. Of course, Iím not unique in this respect. Lots of authors genre-blend. The practice grows more and more common. I think this has a lot to do with the increasing science fictionalization of reality and the pathologies incited by media technologies.
Iíve noticed that ultraviolence plays a major role throughout both of your novels, Dr. Identity, or, Farewell to Plaquedemia and Blankety Blank: A Memoir of Vulgaria, and is even in the subtitle of your forthcoming novel, Peckinpah: An Ultraviolent Romance. Why is this so?
Critically and creatively, Iím profoundly interested in the dynamics of violence and its emergence in real and unreal, conscious and unconscious matrices. Aggression is the engine of the human conditionóIím a Freudian on this issue. And Iím fascinated by the ways in which we negotiate that engine, suppressing, redirecting, and unleashing its power. Additionally, I like the comic and imaginative aspects of ultraviolence. Itís not real violence. Itís cartoon violence. Anything goes.
What inspires and influences your writing the most?
Dreams and the newsóI extrapolate most of my ideas from these two sources. Books and films, too. And environment. My longer works are directly inspired by places I have lived, jobs Iíve had, and people I have interacted with (and mostly didnít like).
Could you describe what Peckinpah: An Ultraviolent Romance is about? Does the novel have anything to do with the filmmaker Sam Peckinpah? If so, explain.
Yes, Peckinpah is a kind of ode to the filmmakerís ultraviolent oeuvre, but itís also informed by my experience living in a small town in northwestern Ohio, although I set the novel in a fictional town in Indiana called Dreamfield. For reasons Iíll allow the book itself to address, I donít like small town America. That includes the psychological as well as the physical terrain. I use this terrain as a vehicle to express my disdain and tell a story while exploring Peckinpahís cinematic artistry and his life. He was a fascinating guy and his films were wildly influential and ahead of their time.
I didnít know much about him until last year, maybe the year before, when my brother-in-law turned me on to the directorís cut of The Wild Bunch. I started reading criticism and biographies on Peckinpah and at some point I decided to do the book. Itís being published by Shroudís Signature Novella Series. Shroud is a relatively new press run by Tim Deal thatís receiving a lot of attention and award nominations. Iím very happy to be part of their momentum.
Please give a short description of your upcoming nonfiction books, Technologized Desire: Selfhood & the Body in Postcapitalist Science Fiction and They Live: Cultographies.
Technologized Desire is basically my Ph.D. dissertation. I completed the degree in 2005 and have been retooling the dissertation since then for publication in book form. I have tried to develop a theory of technological selfhood and subjectivity in order to demarcate the coordinates of a dawning ďpostcapitalistĒ space within our current technocultural era, which is witnessing the science fictionalization of reality. The primary texts I study include novels (e.g. William S. Burroughsí The Soft Machine and Max Barryís Jennifer Government) and films (e.g. Vanilla Sky, Army of Darkness and The Matrix and its sequels). My reading is also reified and problematized by a lot of postmodern theory (e.g. Jean Baudrillard, Guy Debord, Deleuze and Guattari, the Frankfurt School). Technologized Desire comes out in a few months and Iím really excited about it. Itís the hardest thing Iíve ever written.
Iím only in the research stages of the book on They Live. That isnít slated to come out until 2012. Itíll be published by Wallflower Press, an independent UK publisher known for its books on film criticism and media studies. Their cultographies series is a new project thatís rapidly gained attention. So far there have been six cultographies: Donnie Darko, Bad Taste, Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, This Is Spinal Tap and Touch of Evil. Each one is structured according to the same template, asking authors to write about their personal involvement with the film, provide details regarding production and reception history, perform a nuanced critical analysis, and finally evaluate the significance of the film within the wider context of cult film studies.
Define Scikungfi. Can you share any information about the upcoming installments of the Scikungfi trilogy, which began with Dr. Identity?
Scikungfi is a term I am still coming to terms with, so to speak. That is, Iím figuring out what it is as I write this trilogy. I made it up as a joke. As the term suggests, it combines the aesthetics of kung fu film with the science fiction genre. Films like The Matrix and Equilibrium are good contemporary examples. But Iím trying to push it beyond the mere integration of stylized fight sequences and futuristic technologies. My scikungfi has a lot to do with the fragmented structure of narrative, for instance, and the schized manner in which stories are told and retold. Narrative as an ultraviolent, technologized organismóthis is at the heart of my idea of scikungfi.
Right now Iím putting the finishing touches on the second installment in the trilogy, Codename Prague, a pseudo-spy novel set in a future where reality has ďexpiredĒóinstead of A.D., the time period is A.R. (After Reality). Recently I began the last book in the trilogy, The Kyoto Man, regarding a man who in every chapter metamorphoses from a human into the city of Kyoto.
How did Lou Diamond Phillips find himself as a character in Blankety Blank?
That question came up at a reading I did last year. The answer is: I donít know! I guess I just think his name is funny. And I always picture him as a young man, like in La Bamba, so I thought it would be funny to cast him as an old man; heís in his 80s or 90s in the novel. No offense to LouóI have nothing against him.
You have a masterís degree in science fiction. I didnít even know there was a degree in sci-fi until I read your bio. Could you explain what that experience was like and how it has helped your writing?
There are not that many M.A. programs in Science Fiction Studies. To my knowledge, the most accredited program is at the University of Liverpool. I completed a SFS M.A. there in 1997-98 before doing my Ph.D. at Michigan State University. SFS programs are run at the University of California-Riverside and the University of Reading, if Iím not mistaken, and I think there are a few others. I never would have discovered the ULiverpool program without the guidance of Bob Crossley, my advisor at the University of Massachusetts-Boston, where I completed my first M.A. degree in English in 1995-97. Bob, in fact, is an avid science fiction critic and turned me on to the genre as a site of critical study.
ULiverpool was probably the best academic experience of my life. Certainly better than my experience at MSUódoing my Ph.D. was a life-sucking calamity, partly because of the rigor and length of the fucker, but mainly because of the incompetence of the people who ran it and the whimsical structure of the program itself. But Ph.D.s, of course, are by nature harder than M.A.sóthatís why so few people finish them. Anyway, at ULiverpool, all I did was read, write and talk about science fiction for a year straight. It was a program in the critical study of SF, but I was writing fiction on the side. In addition to numerous critical essays and a M.A. thesis, I wrote two or three novels that year. They werenít good enough to be publishedóI never even submitted them for publicationóbut they were seminal formative experiences for my later creative and scholarly work.
Besides being a teacher and author, youíre an editor for the online journal, The Dream People. What type of work are you looking for specifically at TDP?
All facets of irreal fiction. No genre horror, science fiction or fantasy. We get a lot of genre stuff, but thatís not what we want. To even be considered, stories must violate the codes and causalities of reality. Despite our submission guidelines, we receive very few pieces that do this, let alone do it effectively.
Thank you for taking the time to answer these questions. Iím a huge fan and look forward to reading your future works. Is there anything else you would like to share with the Fiction Factor readers?