Friday, August 7, 2020

Q&A with Ross Wilcox

Ross Wilcox is the author of the new story collection Golden Gate Jumper Survivors Society. His work has appeared in a variety of publications, including The Carolina Quarterly and Nashville Review. He teaches at the University of North Texas, and he lives in Fort Worth.

Q: Over how long a period did you write the stories in Golden Gate Jumper Survivors Society

A: I wrote these stories over a period of four years while I was in graduate school. I'd say about half of them I wrote for workshop classes, while the other half I wrote whenever I could find time between teaching, grad classes, and general life activities. 

Q: How was the collection's title (also the title of your first story) chosen, and what does it signify for you? 

A: When I was submitting this manuscript to publishers, I actually had a few different titles. In addition to Golden Gate Jumper Survivors Society, I also had the manuscript submitted under the titles Broken Vessel (the title of the second story in the collection) and Visual Contrast (the title of a story that ultimately didn't make the final cut).

One day, I was talking about my collection with my colleagues in the offices at the University of North Texas. I told them I'd submitted the manuscript to various places, and they asked me what I had titled it. I told them the three titles.

And I remember one of my colleagues was adamant: the title of the story HAD TO BE Golden Gate Jumper Survivors Society. He'd read all my work, and he said that was the best story and the most representative of my aesthetic. Deep down, I knew he was right. Plus, it's a catchy title. I know that's a shallow answer, but that's how I ultimately decided on the title! 

Q: What themes do you see running through the collection? 

A: One theme that really jumps out to me in the collection is the idea of knowledge or truth and humanity's relentless but consistent failure to achieve or discover truth.

For example, in the story "Year of Our Lawn," the townspeople are erecting progressively elaborate scenes of their town using taxidermied animals. It becomes a raging obsession, and the townspeople become convinced the scenes are revealing a profound truth about themselves. Thus, they believe the more scenes they make of their town, the more truth will be revealed to them.

Without totally spoiling the story, suffice to say that truth ultimately eludes them. Which isn't to say that the human quest for truth is pointless. I actually think it's very important and worthwhile, even if our limitations doom us to failure from the beginning.

I'm not sure whether we make truth ourselves or we discover truth that is already there, but I do know that in our human attempt to harness truth, we learn a lot about ourselves. To me, that makes it worth the effort. 

Q: What do you hope readers take away from the book? 

A: First and foremost, I want them to be entertained! I hope they have a good time! Many of my stories are fun and humorous, and I hope people enjoy reading them.

I also hope to provide some food for thought. A good deal of the stories are speculative in nature, and they exploit a speculative conceit in order to examine the characters in ways not accessible in realism. I think it's so awesome that you can make up a completely different reality, with different rules and different ways of being, and use it to learn more about our own reality. It's almost paradoxical.

But then again, much of our meaning is derived from comparing and contrasting unlike things. For example, I was reading this book about evolution where the author was comparing and contrasting human behavior and chimpanzee behavior in an effort to determine what behavior is uniquely human.

In some ways, speculative fiction is doing the same thing in examining the human condition, just with something made up rather than empirical.

But the fact that something made up can reveal truth boggles my mind. It makes it sound like I'm giving art - especially storytelling - a lot of power. But I guess I wouldn't be a writer if I didn't think stories were powerful. 

Q: What are you working on now? 

A: I'm happy to say I've currently got my nose to the grindstone on a novel! Right now, the first draft is about half-done. I've got everything mapped out. I just need to get it down and then make it pretty, as we used to say in workshop.

It takes place in the remote desert mountains of far West Texas. It's about a park ranger whose being followed by the man responsible for his father's death. The man was a cult leader, and he died over 20 years ago. From there, things get even stranger. For example, an ostrich is killed and resurrected. 

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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