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INTERVIEW WITH IAN RANDALL WILSON

Ian Wilson

Write a bio about yourself.

Here's the official bio as Hollyridge Press might send it out:
Since concentrating his attention on writing literature two decades ago, Ian Randall Wilson has published nearly two dozen stories, a novella, and over a hundred poems in such prestigious literary journals as the North American Review, The Gettysburg Review and Poetry East.

Wilson's work, the novelist Chuck Rosenthal says, "is smart and funny, some of the strongest stories I've read."

In 2000, Hollyridge Press published Wilson's debut collection, Hunger and Other Stories, which brought together for the first time many of those published pieces.

The winner of the Cera Foundation Poetry Award and a semi-finalist in the 1996 New Issues Press Poetry Competition, Wilson is also a versatile writer with published critical essays in The Americas Review and the electronic journal Writer On Line. He has reviewed for New Times.

A fixture on the Los Angeles poetry circuit, Wilson has been a frequent featured-reader at such venues as Beyond Baroque Foundation and Big and Tall Books where his imagery and often humorous world-view never fail to elicit a response from local audiences.

Along with his writing, Wilson, a Boston native, has enjoyed a 25-year career in the entertainment business working his way from Norman Lear's mailroom to success as a television writer with credits on the NBC sitcom "Silver Spoons" and the first-run syndication special "Battle of the Videogames" which aired on stations in over 85% of the United States. He developed the critically acclaimed movies "The Man Who Broke 1000 Chains" (HBO) starring Val Kilmer, and "Samaritan" (CBS) starring Martin Sheen.

Wilson is currently the Vice President, Marketing Contract Compliance at Columbia TriStar Marketing Group, a Sony Picture Entertainment Company.

He is a graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and holds Master of Arts degrees in Communication from Stanford University and in English (with a Writing Concentration) from Loyola Marymount University where his first-place finish in all three of the school's 1995 writing competitions -- poetry, fiction and the critical essay -- remains unprecedented. He also has a Master of Fine Arts degree in Poetry from Warren Wilson College.

Wilson is on the faculty at the UCLA Extension where he is teaches classes in writing the short story and novel. He is a member of Alpha Sigma Nu (The Jesuit Honor Society) and Delta Tau Delta Fraternity. He is a BMI writer.

Describe the room you write in.

Because I've been in the film business for the largest part of my adult working life, I've had to find time to write within a busy work schedule. The rooms I write my fiction in are often company offices at lunch time. They started small, the first something like a closet with a desk and file cabinets on all the walls, the fire marshall mandating that the door be kept closed to enforce the fire codes. As I was promoted, my office got bigger and I got more floor space, managed to get the file cabinets somewhere else but never any plants. Just before leaving MGM, my office was huge. I had a full length sofa, a fabulous view of the Santa Monica mountains, and plenty of space. That lasted about a year. There's always the possibility of interruption by phone call or someone delivering someone that can't wait. I once read how Adrienne Rich wrote her early poetry when she was a wife and a new mother. It was something she did in between the spaces and that's what most of my writing life has been. Sometimes, I'm able to write poetry in what my fiance and I refer to as our "reading room." It's a back bedroom with two reading chairs purchased from Relax the Back that are able to tip the occupant into the zero gravity position. Very relaxing but not easy to write at that angle. Still comfortable even more upright. I'm surrounded by books because the only decoration in the room is about 10 bookcases, all of which are completely filled with books.

You write both fiction and poetry. Do you favor one over the other?

I don't favor one or the other. They're both doing different things and I've gone through different stages of development with each.

Where do you find inspiration for writing?

I'm not really an inspiration sort of guy. I make myself write every day, something. Even if it's a paragraph or a few lines of a poem. But let me come at the question in a different way. I'm prompted to write by what's around me. Small events. I'm prompted to write by reading other people's stuff. Almost like a research paper where one extends someone else's argument or rebuts it. Sometimes an image I read will strike me and I'm able to successfully riff off that. Sometimes students in my classes say they don't want to be influenced when they're writing so they don't read anything. I think that's such a load of crap. Unless they live in a cave somewhere and eat greens grown in their own garden the imperative of the market excercises a dominant and continuing influence on them almost every waking moment of every day. Even our clothing advertises to us with its designer labels. So why not be influenced by something good? That's why I'm always reading something. What I see myself working toward here is that if I have an a source of inspiration, it's ideas.

Who are you reading now?

I just finished reading Beasts of No Nation by an African writer educated at Harvard whose name I can neither spell nor pronounce. It was a deeply disappointing first novel but one I was interested in because I've also been reading the nonfiction Children at War by Singer and They Pured Fire On Us From the Sky by three Sudanese "lost boy" whose names again I can't spell. Beasts was disappointing because the first person narrator, cleverly conceived for a few pages, begins to feel like artifice as the short book unreels. That is, the mind behind the mind revealed itself as one careful constructor. It sustains fine for a short story but not an entire novel.

Talk about your book, Hunger and Other Stories, by Hollyridge Press.

Hunger brought together a group of stories published in literary journals, some my earliest work. The stories tended to be about unrequited desire whether it was for love or sex or respect. The stories are generally Realist. As an example of responding to ideas, the title story "Hunger" was written in response to Susan Minot's "Lust." I thought, what would be the male side of this equation. For the story "Ritz," I'd like to tell you that I actually did dance on the grave on a former nemsis, but given the James Frey debacle now unfolding, I can only say that I wished I had danced on his grave and the story gave me a way to do it.

Červená Barva Press will be publishing your chapbook, Out Of The Arcadian Ghetto, this year. Please talk about this chapbook.

The two stories in the chapbook are part of my move away from Realism toward something more postmodern. "I am For My Nose Known" has elements of fabulism in it. It was prompted by something a friend of mine told me. He described how, in the mid 1960s while he was at college, he participated in a paid study. He had to shower with the same soap every day, and every day researchers from the soap company would literally smell his armpits after he'd finished showering. Gross. A hell of way to make a living. I simply extrapolated for my piece. "The Three Bears" I think is a distinct move into postmodernism. It employs of a variety of discourses to retell this fairytale. It actually treats the fairytale as a sociological drama.

When did you start 88: A Journal of Contemporary American Poetry? How long has it been in existence? What sort of writing do you look for? How many journals do you print a year? I read it is one of the best journals in the country. That's got to feel great! Talk about the journal some. Who are the other editors?

88 started in 2001 with Denise Stevens as managing editor and me as one of the contributing editors along with Eve Wood. It was a huge amount of work and I think doing one issue burned her out. So I took over and have been solely editing issues 2-5. She'll occasionally read something and give me her opinion but the selection and the production and the marketing all fall on me. I'm looking for a variety of different poetries. I don't have any allegiance to one particular school. I find that there is so much competent poetry out there, well written. But well written makes it only average. So it's what strike me. It's highly individual and I have no set criteria. What I don't want are odes to trees or a grandmother dying in every poem. I'd also like some more humor. That doesn't mean jokes but work that recognizes the absurdity of the human condition. That's why work from Charles Harper Webb, Dean Young and Tony Hoagland are of particular appeal. It's kind of you to say that it's a good journal. We publish annually. The journal is printed print-on-demand so all issues are always in print and remain in print.

What is your biggest challenge as an editor? as a writer?

As a one man show with 88, the biggest challenge has been keeping all the balls in the air. It seemed with Issue 5 that we weren't going to have enough material. I put out big call to the Poetics List out of Buffalo and got a whole lot of experimental and post-avant poetry. Another challenge is burnout from the amount of work that sometimes comes in. In an earlier issue, I put classifieds in Poets & Writers and AWP The Writer's Chronicle. I got something like 2500 submissions. You see so much that you begin to lose your sense of what's working, what's good, what you want to take. Yet I feel a responsibility to try to respond in a timely fashion because when I submit my work, it's maddening to wait a year for a response.

The biggest challenge as a writer is less than the writing but in maintaining a belief that it's the writing that matters, not publication, not public recognition, the work itself. That's a hard thing to do in this culture, and even harder here in Los Angeles where I'm reading contracts everyday that have compensation paragraphs awarding millions. Some years ago, the husband of a cousin of mind insisted that because I wasn't getting paid (much) when I got a story published, because it wasn't a principal source of income that the writing was a hobby. From a distance I can see that he was trying to mask his own insecurities in what he did. But it didn't feel that way at the time.

Are you still teaching? At the UCLA Extension school? What do you try to teach your students about writing?

I am still teaching at the UCLA Extension, and as I write this, the Winter term begins in just a few days. I try to use some of the language and ideas of Narratology in my teaching. The discipline has an established set of terms and meanings which I find useful. Narratology offers a way of seeing the functioning of certain aspects of stories.

You have worked as an executive at MGM Studios. What was that like? What did you do there?

I worked for MGM for 17 years. I was in charge of credits for the studio which meant that I worked on all the titles at the beginning and the end of the films, and the legal requirements for paid advertising. It's a technical job which requires reading contracts, proof reading and familiarity with guild agreements. It's highly specializied. There's only about 15 or 20 people on Hollywood that actually do the same kind of job.

What are you working on now?

I'm 3/4 of the way into a novel. It's something I started 18 years ago and never finished. I went back at the manuscript some time ago with a new approach, updating it, and it's coming along. It's an adoption story. Unlike a lot of my other work, it has a happy ending.


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