Shane Wilson is represented by Creative Edge of Saskatchewan and joining us this week as part of the Creative Edge series of artists/authors.
When you visit Shane’s website, you are greeted by the following: Shane Wilson: Realistic Fantasy with a Sharp Edge and a Big Heart.
The sentence certainly makes me curious.
A further note tells us, …as he writes stories – with an emphasis on the magic of human experience.
Shane has kindly agreed to a Branching Out Interview and is sharing an excerpt from The Smoke in His Eyes.
Let’s have a chat with Shane.
Allan: Thanks for joining us this week, Shane. Before we chat about writing stuff, please tell our readers a bit about yourself, especially what we might not find in your bio. Born in Alabama and raised in Georgia, you now reside in North Carolina. Sounds like a story right there.
Shane: I don’t know how much of a story there is to the moving around. My folks were born and raised in Alabama. They got together and after a lot of trying, they popped out a little Shane Wilson. Sometime around my second or third birthday, my dad got a job at a papermill in Georgia, and we set sail for those greener pastures. I bounced around the state a bit for college and work before falling in love with a woman and moving to North Carolina. That particular relationship didn’t quite pan out, but I’m still thankful for all of it. North Carolina really feels like home now.
Allan: To quote a line from your website, which I mentioned above - with an emphasis on the magic of human experience. Perhaps you could expound on this.
Shane: I believe that the act of being human is a truly magical act. I mean, none of it makes any sense, and people have been trying to MAKE it make sense as long as they had the cognitive ability for reason. They invented stories and myths and gods forever all in the name of making sense of the chaos of life—love, loss, death, birth. It all feels like magic because at the root of it all, there is no explicit rhyme or reason to any of it. Artists are the people who make it their lives’ work to find the rhyme or the reason. Artists attempt to demystify in their explorations of the human condition. This curiosity that arises out of the magic—or chaos—of human experience is, at least, what drives my work.
Allan: Your debut novel – A Year Since the Rain – has garnished lots of great reviews. Tell our readers what to expect when they pick up their copy.
Shane: A Year Since the Rain is a story about dealing with unexpected loss. The protagonist, Alan, unexpectedly loses his father. He projects this grief onto the people around him and he isolates himself from the people who care for him. He’s stubborn, though, and refuses to deal with his grief. Meanwhile, a sinkhole has opened up and threatens to swallow his entire town. This narrative device forces Alan’s hand, right? He either has to move forward or be swallowed up—by his grief, in a figurative sense, or by the literal ground.
Allan: Please share a childhood memory or anecdote.
Shane: Because I’m starting to work on my first horror project, I’ve been thinking a lot about times when I experienced genuine fear. I keep coming back to this moment when I was a very young kid—maybe in first or second grade. I was pushing my bike up the big hill near my parents’ place and this big dog started barking. The people who owned this dog had an unkempt yard, and it was hard to even see the dog most of the time, but on this day, the dog came out of the brush and stood between me and home. He just snarled and barked.
I threw my bike in the ditch and cut through the neighbors’ yard to get home. I was terrified. I even wrote a story about it for school. I’ve also been wondering if Stephen King went through something similar. Maybe that’s where Cujo came from?
Allan: Again, back to your website, where we discover your second novel – The Smoke in his Eyes. Tell us about the story, but first, is this part of a series?
Shane: The Smoke in His Eyes is not a part of a traditional series. Instead, I’ve set these novels in the same shared universe governed by a shared mythology. This series is called the World of Muses, and so far, it is home to the two novels, A Year Since the Rain and The Smoke in His Eyes as well as a stage play called The Boy Who Kissed the Rain.
As for The Smoke in His Eyes—this is a story about art and creativity. The main character here, TJ, is a guitarist who is plagued by overwhelming visions as a result of trauma from his childhood. He meets a woman, a visual artist named Muna, who helps him find the song in those visions—essentially teaching him how to create art from trauma. The novel explores the different reasons why people choose to create and share their art.
Allan: Your short story – The Boy Who Kissed the Rain – won the 2017 Rilla Askew Short Fiction Prize. Congratulations Shane. It’s a wonderful feeling to be recognized for your writing. Tell us a bit about the story and how it feels to be an award-winning author.
Shane: Awards are kind of cool, I guess. It’s always nice to think that someone believes that your work is worth celebrating. “The Boy Who Kissed the Rain” is a short story that operates as a sort of spiritual prequel to A Year Since the Rain. It’s set in the same town, but several generations earlier. It’s a sentimental and romantic story. It’s easily the most saccharine thing I’ve ever written, but I think it’s a beautiful take on a classic Romeo and Juliet/ forbidden love kind of story. I also adapted this story into a full-length/ two-act stage play.
Allan: Favorite authors? Novels?
Shane: I always point to Salman Rushdie as a big influence. I read a ton of his work in college and wrote my Master’s thesis about his novels, Fury and Midnight’s Children. I think reading Rushdie is a major reason why I write in contemporary fantasy, which is a cousin to magical realism. My favorite novel of the last little bit has been Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel.
Allan: Do you still teach or write fulltime?
Shane: I do still teach. I teach composition, literature, and creative writing full-time at a community college here in North Carolina. I love teaching. I can’t imagine a life where I’m not in the classroom at least some of the time.
Allan: You are also a musician and songwriter with a two-person band called Sequoia Rising. What can you tell us about this?
Shane: Sequoia Rising really only exists because of The Smoke in His Eyes. I taught myself guitar while I was writing that novel because I wanted the story to feel legitimate, and I thought that having experience with the instrument that the protagonist played would help me add that extra texture to the narrative. I learned a few songs off the radio, and I was hooked on the act of making music. I got together with a friend who plays percussion, and we started playing shows and writing music. Think: story songs in the vein of Springsteen and Jason Isbell. We just released our first record of acoustic narrative-driven songs. The album is called Of All the Things I’ve Ever Said, I Mean This the Most, and it’s streaming anywhere music streams.
Allan: Anything else you’d like to tell us about?
Shane: Honestly, I just hope people check out the stories and the music and find something they can enjoy. I’m all over the social medias at @ThatShaneWilson. Follow me and stay tuned for my next novel, which is due out in Spring 2022.
An Excerpt from The Smoke in His Eyes.
(Copyright is held by the author. Used with permission.)
Munira was removing her winter clothes and hanging them up in a closet by the front door. “I did.” He looked toward her. She was in a tank and jeans, and he noticed how far the tattoos ran up her arms for the first time. She always had on long sleeves when he saw her, but here, with the skin of her arms exposed, he could see the intricate lines and images that populated her flesh. He turned back to the painting. There were figures there, but they were hard to make out. It was abstract, but the colors were bright.
“Do you like it?” she asked.
“I think so,” he said.
“That's an interesting answer.”
“I'm not very good at art,” he said. “I don't get abstract stuff.”
“That's no big deal. Here,” she took his hand and lead him to the sofa. “Let me show you something.” She pulled out a sketchpad and handed it to him. “Flip through that.”
Inside, the sketch pad was filled with pages and pages of drawings that were of clear and specific things—not abstractions. There were dragons and other fantastic characters. There were portraits. There were landscapes. “Some people hate abstract art,” she said, “because they think that people make abstract art when they can't make other more traditional types of art. They are wrong, usually, but whatever.”
“These are really good,” he said, still flipping through the book.
“Isn't that interesting,” she said, “that you look at these drawings and you know they are good, but when you look at the abstract pieces, you don't 'get' art? What makes these good?“ she indicated the book of drawings. “The fact that they look like something that you've seen before?” She paused and took his face in her hands, moving his gaze to the large painting against the wall. “What makes that bad? Because it doesn't look like anything?”
“I didn't say—”
“Shhh. I know. But maybe abstract art is about something else—maybe it's not about looking like it's supposed to look. Maybe it's about looking like it's supposed to feel. You make music. You should be able to appreciate that there are other ways to experience the world—other than with your sight. But if we could see some of the things that we can just feel. What would that be like? What if you could see your music instead of just feel it or hear it. That's abstract. And it's beautiful.” Her face was very close to his, and her hands had dropped from his face and fallen onto his leg. “And your music is beautiful,” she said.
He didn't know what to say.
She started again. “Earlier tonight, when Gill came up, you were saying something about your music. You seem to be frustrated or angry or hurting—your vibe is all messed up.” She moved to the kitchen and poured him a whiskey over ice. “You do drink this straight when you’re not hiding it at the bar, right?” He nodded. She poured herself a double shot of vodka and a gin and tonic. She was playing some version of catch-up, but she couldn’t catch up with TJ—not on that night. “Talk to me about your art.”
“I don’t know, Munira—”
She interrupted him again, “Please, TJ—call me Muna. Everyone in my life that I’m closest to calls me Muna. I want you to be one of them.” She looked long into his eyes, and he could feel his heart pounding in his ears. She made him nervous, but a lot of women did. Now—you were telling me about how you didn’t know about your art.” She smiled and leaned back into the corner of the sofa against the arm and drank her gin and tonic.
“I can’t write.” This confession snuck out of his mouth. He was used to hearing the words bounce around in his head whenever he was trying to write, but he wasn’t accustomed to hearing them out loud.
“What do you mean?”
“I sit down with paper and pen and guitar, and I try to write every day, but everything that comes out is shit. It’s worse than what I played tonight.” And he explained the way he used to write, and he told her about Lila’s directions and how she pushed him in a positive way, but it ended up making him doubt his abilities. “I know I have enough talent, and I know that I know enough to write good music, but I don’t know how to unlock it—I don’t know how to put it together in a way that sounds natural. I don’t want people to feel like they are listening to a song. I want them to experience the song.” He could have thanked Lila for this evolution in his craft, but he wasn’t thinking about it in those terms quite yet.
“Exactly,” she said. He had clearly said something by accident, and she must have read the expression on his face. “You need to get out of your head,” she started. “Think about what you said—‘I know, know, know.’ When you sit down and try to write, you’re thinking about what makes a good song—just like you did with the sketches in that book. A song is only good if it sounds like something you’ve heard before. But you know better than that. You want your audience to experience the song—you have to get out of your own way. You need to find something to write about instead of finding something to write.”
“You’re right.” What she was saying made sense to him. She was so passionate when she discussed art, and he was drawn to her. Her brown eyes got big, her voice got louder, and she leaned forward, gesturing with her hands, and touching his leg. She finished her drink and put the glass on the floor. She looked at him. He wanted to kiss her, but he remembered being rejected by Lila all those weeks earlier.
“Of course, I’m right,” she said.
“I think I want to kiss you,” he said.
“Then you should,” she said, moving her face even closer to his. His hand moved to cover hers, and as he tightened his fingers around the flesh of her hand, he leaned in toward her face to feel the skin of her lips brush against the skin of his—just for a moment—before he fell into the kiss—his eyes closed and mouth open. He moved his hands over her little body and found all the creases of her that he could find through the fabric of her clothes. And she kissed him back and pushed her body against his and worked to find his creases as well.
Thank you for being our guest, Shane. Wishing you continued success with your writing.
And thanks to all you fantastic visitors and if you want to discover more about Shane and his writing, please follow these links: