A publishing specialist is an expert on literary forms that most readers don’t care about, such as a book proposal, acknowledgment section, or author’s note. While the average reader might skip the introduction and turn right to the first chapter, the professional publisher is more likely to read the introduction and feel they have understood the gist of the book, and skip the rest of the book.
Fans of paratext publishing will be kinda excited to know that the kitchen of Kevin Wilson’s latest bestselling novel, Now is not the time to panic, contains one swirl of author’s note. Entitled “In Writing Now is not the time to panicThe brief note tells a deeply personal story about the novel’s origins—a story that is also, in a way, the story of Kevin Wilson’s life as a writer. But more on that later.
“I’m 43,” Wilson says, speaking on a video call from his office in Sewanee: University of the South, in Tennessee, where he teaches writing. Wilson smiles easily, worrying when the occasional motion-controlled desk lights go out. “Now I’m at that point where I spend a lot of time looking into the past, trying to determine: How did I get from point A to point B? There is no real answer to that. You can’t really figure out all the things that make you what you are. But there is one thing. In terms of looking into the past, and reliving that moment in your mind, that becomes really seductive.”
Wilson’s literary career appears to be part of an earlier era in publishing. He is a distinguished literary novelist who writes books that people actually read. Fang familyhis first novel (after the popular 2009 collection of short stories, Digging tunnels to the center of the earth), about a family of performers with two children known as Child A and Child B, became a bestseller and was made into a movie starring Nicole Kidman, Jason Bateman, and Christopher Walken. His publisher, Echo, stuck with him in a difficult slump that followed, and his third novel, There is nothing to see hereMarked his return to the bestseller list. Wilson writes the rare genre of fiction: the grotesque, kind-hearted, and unique literature that critics and readers alike eagerly await.
However, it took Wilson years, and a lot of mistakes, before he found his voice. He got his first agent very early on, as a result of some stories that were spread during college. He says, “I was 20, and I had an agent, and I was like, OK, this is so easy. And then, of course, there was nothing — because I had nothing else written.”
So Wilson landed a series of secretarial jobs that allowed him to write, including a job in the Harvard Gender Studies program. “She gave me health insurance, and no one really knows what she’s doing. They think it takes six hours to make copies. So I’ll just type on my computer and send stories.” Then, in high school, he wrote his first novel—”It Was a Magical Realist Baseball Novel set in 1996″—and realizing it was a niche subject, he left it on the shelf.
Finally, when his stories started to be a hit, Agent Julie Parrer called him. They shopped a collection of short stories, as well as some pages from a novel Wilson was working on, to Ecco.
“The novel I was working on was about half human and half baby in the Tennessee woods, which is a Cormac McCarthy fairy tale,” Wilson says. ‘I’m not sure about this,’ said the editor at Ecco. That’s weird.’ Barr convinced them to seize the opportunity of the partial novel though.” Then I wrote it down, and Echo said, ‘That’s disgusting. This works in the exact opposite direction of what you are good at. “
“I was really sad,” Wilson said. “But I also knew I needed to write a book so that I didn’t have to get a refund. So I just started writing—super fast because I needed to.” Fang family It was published in 2011 and was a critical and commercial success that put Wilson on the map as one of today’s preeminent young literary writers.
Unsure whether he would ever have the opportunity to publish again, Wilson hid a short, personal message that meant a lot to him in the script of that first appearance. The letter was the kind of secret spell he carried with him for decades, dating back to the summer—and to a friendship—that changed his life.
Wilson tells the story in that whirl of author’s note: One college summer, Wilson had a best friend named Eric, an aspiring actor who encouraged Wilson to write. Eric’s dedication to his art made Wilson feel that pursuing a career as a writer was possible. One day, as a joke, Eric suggested that Wilson sneak a poetic, semi-nonsense letter into a dry technical manual that Wilson had a digital job. The message was: “The Edge is a shantytown full of gold seekers. We are the new fugitives, the law is weak and we are starving.”
It was as if Eric had shown him how strange a language alone could contain. The letter was an inspiration to Wilson, and it took root in his head over the next twenty-five years. conceal it Fang familybut he knew that in the end he would put it at the center of the novel–as a mild exorcism, a benign desire to get the message across out of his head, but also as a kind of homage or reimbursement to the creator of religion, for his friendship with Eric.
This book has become Now is not the time to panic, which will be published by Ecco in November. It tells the story of two children, Frankie and Zeke, and one fateful summer during which they both realize they can create art, with beautiful but disastrous consequences. The art they make focuses on the vague, and possibly meaningless, sentences Eric made. Now is not the time to panic It’s about how intimate and not reducible the moment of creating any kind of art, but it’s also about friendship and its ability to ignite a person’s creative life.
“I always imagined that the book would bring Eric and I firmly back into each other’s orbit,” Wilson wrote in the author’s note, “that he told me this line as a secret code, and if I used it correctly, we would be friends like we were that summer.”
However, Eric died when Wilson was halfway to writing the book. Wilson was devastated, and nearly abandoned the novel altogether. His closest readers – Barer and his wife Leigh Anne Couch – kindly reminded him that his work was fiction, and that, despite its origins in reality, it should not be restricted to it. Only then was Wilson able to finish.
Wilson tells this story poignantly, but his publisher, Echo, says this author’s note will not be in the final published version of the book. On the one hand, it’s a shame, because Kevin and Eric’s story deserves to be told by a smart and heartfelt writer like Kevin himself. On the other hand, it might be for the better. Instead, the average reader will be treated exclusively to the different, but equally powerful, story of Frankie and Zeke – two kids whose desire to create something beautiful is still raw as Kevin Wilson on that fateful summer.
“This is not my story, Eric and I in any way, shape, or form,” Wilson told me. “It’s a story about an artist, about a person discovering their life. Eric made something that, in my opinion, was just kind of perfect. When the book comes out into the world, one of the things that makes me happiest is that Eric made this strange little thing that was for us.”
Andy Kiefer Mutualism: building the next economy from the ground up Random House with Sarah Horowitz working on a book of true stories about America’s secret cities.
A version of this article appeared in the 05/09/2022 issue of Publishers Weekly Under the title: The Next Literary Canon of Kevin Wilson