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LAist Interview: Antoine Wilson

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Over fish tacos at Snug Harbor in Santa Monica, we spoke with LA author Antoine Wilson about his darkly comic debut novel, The Interloper, and waxed poetic on writing and living in Los Angeles. Wilson will be reading tonight @ Dutton's, 7pm.

Your novel opens with the main character, Owen, making a somewhat unusual declaration, can you talk about that? In an earlier draft, Owen said “I hate books that start off with a bang.” Which is a bang – it didn’t fit because it’s him talking about writing books which is what I do, not what he does. It was a rant about first person narrators that run out and shake your hand at the beginning of a book – it’s never been my sort of thing. If you want to sell a book don’t begin it with “Hi, my name is...” So I did and I thought that was really funny. I like that he gave himself an 80% on the civilized person scale. Who would give themselves an 80%? I love that.

Without giving too much away, your book is constructed in a way that keeps readers guessing as to what is real, not real, who can be believed, not believed. Was this your intention from the outset or did this framework emerge over several drafts? Nabokov said the real drama occurs between the reader and the writer – or something like that. Or the reader and the text. He wasn’t as interested in the drama occurring in the work. I think I was playing with that idea and was very aware of it in the construction of the book – I wanted to play with readers’ expectations. I also wanted to pursue crime & punishment. The concepts, not the novel.

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Your book explores different ways that families deal – or don't deal – with loss. You mentioned at the LA Times Festival of Books that this was in part based on your personal experience. How so? I wanted to explore grief – the kind of grief where you talk about it all the time and can’t move beyond it and the kind of grief where you never talk about it and that’s another way to do it. My older half-brother was murdered when I was seven years old. He wasn't someone I saw every day, so I didn't feel that loss acutely. But the people I was living with became different. So it was removed -- me experiencing them experiencing the loss. He was missing for a period of months. They caught the guy, but he was eventually paroled. Through that experience, I saw that our justice system basically blows.

I don’t want to overstate the importance of this stuff in the book. It was just one of the sparks that got things moving.

You’ve done something that is rarely done well – but when it is, is our favorite kind of fiction – where the funny and the horrible meet. Neither feels forced, both amplify the human element of what is happening. How did this dark humor come about? After the book made its way into the world, it occurred to me that someone who never had a murder in their family might never write this kind of book. It’s dark, but the darkness that unfolds was something I had to live with and cope with using the full spectrum of emotions. I didn’t feel there was a clash with the funny stuff – I just kept thinking it was darkly comic. But if someone set out to write this book - decided to make it funny on purpose - the schism might be a little more obvious and it might not work. I meant it to be a funny book. It’s a train wreck. I think a train wreck should be funny to a certain extent. But a real train wreck isn’t funny…