Category Archives: blank stares

blank stares

the german edition of me

Ein Mann Von Welt (with English Subtitles) from Antoine Wilson on Vimeo.

When my German publisher Suhrkamp / Insel asked me to introduce myself to the German readers of PANORAMA CITY (titled EIN MANN VON WELT over there), I couldn’t resist trying to speak their language.

For the record, I speak not a word of German.

Location: Oxnard, CA, standing in for the dunes of Sylt.

I hereby invite any and all crowdsourced book trailers for PANORAMA CITY.

So today I got an email from my old school writing homie John Woodward, sympathizing with my book trailer plight. Not only sympathizing, but linking to a trailer Woody himself threw together:

THIS IS SO MUCH BETTER THAN ANYTHING I AM WORKING ON.

In exchange for his fine work, Woody gets my eternal gratitude.*

*Which he had already.

Proust Questionnaire: AW

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

I don’t have one.

What is your greatest fear?

Dying abruptly.

Which living person do you most admire?

My wife.

What is the trait you most deplore in others?

Salesmanship.

What is your greatest extravagance?

Custom-painted orange wheels on my white Audi station wagon.

What is your favorite journey?

Oman: Muscat and the Wahiba Sands.

On what occasion do you lie?

I avoid lying, because I’m not good at it.

Which living person do you most despise?

My personal shit list is zeroed out right now.

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?

In print: ostensibly and perhaps. Aloud: dude and fucking.

What is your greatest regret?

Pulling back and not going on one particular heavy wave in the winter of 2009.

Where and when were you the happiest?

At the birth of my son.

What is your current state of mind?

Woolgathering. Paranoid about seeming lazy. Anxious about time.

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

I would want more artistic confidence.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

Writing my second novel, Panorama City.

If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, what would it be?

A beloved cat named Whiskers.

What is your most treasured possession?

My newest surfboard.

What do regard as the lowest depth of misery?

The piped-in music at our local Ralph’s, a grocery store.

Where would like to live?

Paris.

What is your favorite occupation?

Novelist.

What is your most marked characteristic?

An inability to keep so-called inappropriate thoughts inside my own head.

What is the quality you like most in a man?

Intelligence, sense of humor, language, taste.

What is the quality you like most in a woman?

Intelligence, sense of humor, language, taste, flirtability.

Who are your favorite writers?

Nabokov, Proust, Hrabal, Nicholson Baker, Pynchon, Thomas Bernhard, Cheever.

Who are your favorite heroes of fiction?

Franz-Josef Murau, Arno Strine, Jesus, the Cat in the Hat.

Who are your heroes in real life?

My wife. After that the list is always in flux: James Alan McPherson, Yves Klein, Tom Curren, Gabriel Orozco…

What is that you most dislike?

The sound of someone smacking their lips while eating.

How would you like to die?

I’d like to know I’m dying and be able to say a few words about it first.

What is your motto?

Seize the daybed.

Why I Love Your Book Group

One of the pleasures of publishing a book is getting to hold a reading at your local bookshop. Family and friends show up, along with a few fans, former students, and, if it’s been promoted well, a handful of curious strangers.

You sell books, which is nice. And no matter how modest your advance, or how small your pin on the publishing map, a good bookstore reading can make you feel, for one night, like your writing habit has resulted in something other than narrowing career options, crushing debt, and a dwindling social life.

But, to be frank, it’s only a blip.

The thing you’ve labored over for years, and are now trying to sell to as many people as possible, has become a ten or fifteen minute excerpt, a brief Q & A, a cover, and a title page held open for signing.

The real experience, the real purpose behind all of it only starts when someone gets home and opens the book and starts reading, alone.

Just like you wrote it, alone.

It could happen that night, or in two years, or a hundred, or never.

The book party, the reading, the signing–it’s the flashy liftoff moment. Everyone gathers to watch the thing take off. Then what? It’s in space, doing its thing.

Sometimes you hear back; usually you don’t.

I was recently invited to participate in a book group hosted by Diane Leslie, at Diesel, a Bookstore in Brentwood, for my novel The Interloper.

It had been a while since I’d done an Interloper event, so I brushed up on the book, tried to remember what I’d had to say about this book four years before.

I even went so far as listening to an old recording of the Q & A from my Prairie Lights Bookstore reading. It didn’t really end up helping, preparation-wise. Rather, it only highlighted how the book group wasn’t like a reading at all.

There were no vague questions about premise and background, no need for the usual meta-narrative about how the novel came to be, or the elevator pitch, or awkward introductions of fragments to be read. No fragments to be read.

Everyone had already done the reading, and everyone had something to say about it–about the content of the book, the characters, the language, the plotting. The real stuff. They had tough questions, too, only some of which I could answer. Half of them even disagreed with me on a fundamental “what-if” scenario. (What if CJ’s brother had never been killed? Would Owen have been able to lead a semblance of a normal life?)

This wasn’t selling, this was engaging with readers.

And it was awesome.

Why I Gave You that Blank Stare, and Why You Gave Me One, Too

When you publish a book, and people read it, and they want to say nice things to you about it (or maybe they’re avoiding saying mean things about it), they often tell you that some part of your work reminds them of some other book they’ve read.

These encounters can be some of the most satisfying kind a writer can have with a reader–especially when you can bond over a mutually beloved book, thereby not having to talk about your own work anymore.

R: Writer, I loved that nod to Lolita at the end, when your guy ends up going the wrong way down the highway.
W: I put that there especially for you! [Unsolicited bear hug.]

But more often than not, shit comes out of left field.

R: Your narrator really reminded me of the guy from Travels with My Aunt.
W: [Blank stare.]
R: The Graham Greene novel.
W: Ah, um, I’ve read The Power and the Glory.
R: [Blank stare.]
W: I’ll have to check it out.

Later, the writer checks it out, can’t figure out what the fark the reader was talking about. Which is just a reminder that readers have intensely intimate experiences with books that authors have nothing to do with. We provide a diving board and a pool. What they do in the air is up to them, and sometimes baffling to us.

Finally, there comes what I like to call the Lando, when a reader makes a strong connection between the author’s work and some other work, works, or genre that the author has not read.

R: Writer, I love the James L Cain set-up!
W: [Blank stare.]

I call it the Lando because when it happens to me, I feel like people are wanting to talk to me about Lando Calrissian and the only movie I’ve ever seen is Spaceballs.

Second time.

R: What made you decide to write a neo-noir?
W: [Blank stare.]

Third time.

R: There’s that scene in Chandler’s…
W: Um, I’ve never read any Chandler, or Cain, or any noir or crime books, really.
R: [Blank stare.]

Which is what happens when your influences were influenced by that stuff, and you’re living unknowingly under second-hand influence. Or third-hand. Which is not a problem, but rather a testament to the richness of our culture. Which doesn’t mean you’re not going to feel awkward as hell.

SO, if you see me in person, like at a reading for my next novel in 2112, please, please talk to me about books I haven’t read. The blank stare is inevitable, so let’s call it a tribute–a moment of silence in honor of the gap between what I’ve created on the page and what you’ve created in your mind.

Then let’s toast to that necessary gap without which we would have no literature.