Saturday, November 11, 2023

Q&A with Jeremy T. Wilson



Jeremy T. Wilson is the author of the new novel The Quail Who Wears the Shirt. He also has written the story collection Adult Teeth. He teaches creative writing at The Chicago High School for the Arts, and he lives in Evanston, Illinois.


Q: What inspired you to write The Quail Who Wears the Shirt, and how did you create your character Lee Hubbs?


A: The seed for the novel was planted a long, long time ago as a short story. To continue with this agrarian metaphor, it took that seed a while to mature. Not that the novel is mature, far from it, I mean, the epigraph is from Foghorn Leghorn.


But I wrote a story even before I did my MFA about a guy who shows up to work and finds out that a coworker of his has died in an accident. The main character never really knew the guy, but he feels really bad and tries to find out more about him. Turns out the deceased was a terrible person.


I dusted off this story every so often and kept expanding it and reworking it and putting it away, then doing that all over again. But it didn’t really click until the quail people showed up.


As far as Lee Hubbs, I deliberately wanted to write from a voice that held many positions contrary to my own. It felt like a fun challenge. One of the best jobs I ever had was working at produce stands, so putting him in that setting gave me something familiar to work with. I had a voice and I had a place and off I went.

Q: How was the book's title chosen, and what does it signify for you?


A: A shirt plays a vital role in the story. It’s a western shirt with an eagle on the back carrying a ginormous snake in its talons. See, the snake thinks it’s a really bad dude because it’s huge and its got fangs and its venomous, but the eagle can fly!


The lesson, as far as the character Valentine sees it, is that there’s always something badder out there. It’s a reminder to those who think they’re on top that they’re only on top for so long. So what’s badder than the eagle, you might ask? Well, the answer’s right there in the title. 


Q: The writer Dan Chaon said of the book, “The Quail Who Wears the Shirt is delightfully strange yet it's grounded in sharp observation of ordinary life rendered in a wonderfully funny, laconic, charming voice.” What do you think of that assessment?


A: Dan Chaon is a brilliant writer. His words should be trusted without question. Honestly, it’s an honor to hear writers I admire say nice things about my writing. It doesn’t feel real sometimes. Nobody likes to ask for blurbs, so when they come back and they are kind and thoughtful it just makes the ask worth it.


And, yes, it is “delightfully strange” and I hope everybody else finds it “wonderfully funny.”


Q: Did you know how the novel would end before you started writing it, or did you make many changes along the way?


A: I never know where my stories are going before I start. There was a different ending to the novel at one time, but some wise friends as well as my publisher, suggested it was the wrong ending. And they were right.


It is vital to have other eyes on your work. We can fool ourselves into believing something’s fresh when it’s actually well beyond its expiration date.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I am working on a novel as well as short stories and on making a perfect cup of coffee.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: No quails were harmed in the writing of this book.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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