“Weighty in brevity”: An interview with Brandon Wicks

by Tara Laskowski See all Guest Readers
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Congrats on the publication of your first novel! What does that feel like? Are you burning hundred dollar bills and taking selfies with the flames? 

Of course not. The good lighting that you see in my selfies is from burning the first complete Chatto & Windus edition of Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past, page by page.

As you know (congrats yourself on Bystanders), the only thing that changes is time. Or rather, the lack of it. With the publication of a book comes a thousand responsibilities, big and small, that I’ve been ill-prepared for and do my best to bumble through. The gratification is there, of course, but oddly peripheral. I’m eyeballs deep in revising another book, so that’s where I am, mentally, most of the time.

Your novel American Fallout is at its core a road trip story. Can you tell me what drew you to this framework? Do you like long car rides? Do you get writing ideas when driving? What do you do to pass the time?

I think you hit a nail straight through my psyche with this question. I’ve spent so much of the past two decades on the road, alone, that it’s hard for it not to seep into my writing. For AF, in particular, I felt the road trip was an important incubator, not just for covering time and geographical distance, but for bringing all the itchy minutiae that lay between the characters up to the surface of their skin. Long trips—especially interstate travel—offer this illusion of freedom, but really, they’re quite claustrophobic. There is no escaping your destination, you can’t escape each other, everyone’s flaws become magnified—all you can do is contend with it. Or leave someone by the side of the road.

As for being a writer-on-the-road, it’s certainly a space where I work out ideas. A well-timed 9-hour drive can do wonders for reimagining a failing scene or trite character conflicts. So mostly, when I’m behind the wheel of a car, I’m either talking to an imaginary person in the passenger seat or belting out Morrissey at 80 MPH. (Yep, I know. I apologize.)

You’re one of those natural novelists. By which I mean, you enjoy unraveling the story and don’t mind the occasional off-path dead ends, unlike folks like me that would rather stab their tongues with toothpicks than work on a novel. So, with that in mind, what kind of flash do you like to read? Are you drawn to the flash that feels weighty and novel-like even in its brevity, or do you like the opposite?

Thanks! I think “weighty in brevity” is pretty dang close. I’m old fashioned when it comes to fiction—I like complex human beings, I like it when they do things because their appetites and needs are being thwarted in novel but emotionally plausible ways. The kind of compression I look for in flash centers on that: an emotionally resonant center that captures someone’s experience off the page as much as on it. Steve Edwards’ story, “Sometimes My Father Comes Back from the Dead,” is a great example of this. I certainly enjoy experimental forms of flash, but there has to be a purpose—they have to be in service of an evocative experience.

You get trapped in an elevator and they won’t be able to get you out for hours. But you get to pick the three other writers that you have to be stuck with. Only one of them can be a friend writer. Who’s hanging with you and your claustrophobia?

Wow. I immediately hate this.  I’ll refrain from including any writing buddies, so here goes: Dan Chaon, Kara Walker, and the ghost of Lewis Nordan. Okay, I cheated. One of those is a visual artist. But who could stand to be in a room of any size with that many writers?

About the Reader:

A native of South Carolina, Brandon Wicks lives in Atlanta, where he writes, teaches, and contributes as an associate editor to SmokeLong Quarterly. He is the author of the novel American Fallout. His short fiction, essays, and poetry have appeared Pembroke Magazine, Sou’wester, The Southern Poetry Anthology, and other publications. He earned his MFA in Creative Writing from George Mason University.

About the Interviewer:

Tara Laskowski has been editor at SmokeLong Quarterly since 2010. Her short story collection Bystanders was hailed by Jennifer Egan as "a bold, riveting mash-up of Hitchcockian suspense and campfire-tale chills." She is also the author of Modern Manners For Your Inner Demons, tales of dark etiquette. Her fiction has been published in the Norton anthology Flash Fiction International, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, Mid-American Review, and numerous other journals, magazines, and anthologies. Tara lives and works in a suburb of Washington, D.C.