Friday, April 13, 2012

Up Next - Author D. Harlan Wilson

Up next in the interview arena, I'm pleased to introduce you to D. Harlan Wilson, author of the "scikungfi" series DR. IDENTITY and CODENAME PRAGUE.  Prof Wilson has been a joy to work with on this interview, and I've laughed out loud several times through the process due to his straight-forward and "devil-may-care" responses to questions.  His candor has been most refreshing indeed!  So welcome, Professor.

DAB:  At what point in your life did you realize you wanted to be an author?

DHW:  Not until after college.  I got a late start.  I went to Wittenberg University, a small liberal arts school in Ohio, to play basketball, and I joined a fraternity, too, so I was more interested in partying and having a good time, although I majored in English, acted in plays, and wrote bad poetry.  Not until graduate school did I start writing fiction and realize it was something I wanted to do.  I have a Ph.D. in English from Michigan State University and two M.A. degrees, one in English from the University of Massachusetts-Boston and one in Science Fiction Studies from the University of Liverpool, all of which I'm very proud of, but none of which had much to do with fiction writing, focusing on the critical study of literature.  Fiction is something I started doing on the side at UMass-Boston, prompted by the one creative writing class I took there to satisfy a composition requirement.  Since then I've always done it on the side, and I still do.  At first I was enamored by the prospect of fame.  In my naivete, I assumed anybody who published books was a kind of celebrity.  And I wanted to be a celebrity - preferably a movie star, but a famous novelist would do.  This idiocy didn't last long, and soon I was writing because it merely fulfilled me as a burgeoning scholar, teacher, and artist.  I'm a far cry from a best-selling author, but I've established myself in my field, creatively, critically, and pedegogically.  Writing continues to fulfill me as a relative nonentity.

DAB:  I see you've written quite a bit - is there a favorite work of yours?

DHW:  Every new book I write and publish is my favorite book.  Then, in a matter of months, sometimes weeks, days once, I come to hate it, or at least conjure a healthy skepticism about it.  In recent years, I'm better able to tolerate my work.  Since about 2009 and the publication of a short novel, PECKINPAH:  AN ULTRAVIOLENT ROMANCE, as well as a book of literary criticism and theory, TECHNOLOGIZED DESIRE:  SELFHOOD & THE BODY IN POSTCAPITALIST SCIENCE FICTION.  Prior to 2009 I was still searching for my voice and what I wanted to be as an author.  I'm still searching.  Just not as much.  I'm unhappy with some aspects of my recent work, but not as unhappy as I am with older material.  That's normal, I guess.  Cliched even.  In a decade I'll hate everything from this period.

DAB:  Have you ever had characters you found difficult to write?

DHW:  Not really.  Every character I write - i.e., every round character, and they're difficult to come by in my corpus - is a version of me.  For better and for worse (emphasis on the latter), my personality is multifaceted, almost schizophrenic, but not clinically.  So there's a lot to draw on.  And my ego is such that I take great pleasure in writing about the vicissitudes of Me.  More difficult is finding the time to write.  I write every day, but usually for only 15-30 minute intervals, whenever I can squeeze it in.  I romanticize a life where, four or five days a week, I would have 2-3 hours to sit down and bang it out.  But then I probably wouldn't write at all.

DAB:  Do you have a character with whom you closely identify?

DHW:  The protagonists/antagonists in my first published novel, and the first novel in my "scikungfi" trilogy, DR. IDENTITY, or FAREWELL TO PLAQUEDEMIA:  the human Dr. 'Blah and the android Dr. Identity.  They are polar opposites - one a meek English professor, one a homicidal maniac - but both cut from the same stock, literally and figuratively.  It's all imaginary, of course.  But most of my "personality" unfolds on my mindscreen.  What emerges in the real world tends to be less than interesting.  According to my definition of interesting, anyway.

DAB:  Tell us about a typical day in your writing world.

DHW:  I'm an English professor and father of two small girls, and my wife is an English professor, so things can get hectic hectic, raising the girls, taking them to and from school, doing our teaching and writing, working out, etc.  Ideally I like to write in the mornings with coffee, but there's endless paper grading to do on non-teaching days; I spend most of my time reading student papers, and I write my fiction and criticism in the interstices, which are few and far between.  But the writing gets done.  My life would be much easier if I stopped writing altogether.  I'm going up for full professor this year, the highest academic rank in the United States, and at the university where I teach, technically I'm not obligated to produce any more scholarship, if I don't want to.  My writing has never been a means to financial ends, and it's rarely manifested as such, but that's never been why I've done it.  As much as I hate to admit it and sound affected, I need to write, and that's why I do it, if only for the intellectual and artistic challenge.  Blech!

DAB:  There's the eternal debate whether to outline or not.  What is your preference?

DHW:  Outlines are good, generally speaking.  For novels.  I always make them.  And I always deviate from them.  Massively.  But my outlines are loose, threadbare in some cases, and they invariably develop in tandem with the narrative.  For novels, my outlines essentially devolve into "notes" that I keep at the end of chapters, which are never written in chronological order.  For stories, these days, I just erupt (or cough) onto the page.

DAB:  How long on average does it take for you to write a novel from start to final edit? 

DHW:  Whether it's novels or fiction collections, anywhere from six to nine months.  I suspect that's average, but it's tough to say.  I know writers who compose novels in days, others in years.  It's really a matter of what authors want to do and what they have the capacity to do given time, intellect, imaginative prowess, command of language, etc.  I put care into every paragraph that I write and spend time thinking about its global implications on the narrative.  I like to think it shows, but most readers aren't interested in literary aesthetics.  That's fine.  I do it for me.  As many a reviewer has pointed out, I'm not writing for a wide audience.  Not that I'm oblivious to a readership.  I simply apply a heavy intellectual onus on readers and expect a lot from them.  Not a popular thing these days - has it ever been? - but I perceive my writing as art, with high and low arcs, and I'm not interested in readers who want cookie-cutter dynamics.  They have a billion other books to choose from.

DAB:  Usually authors are also avid readers.  What are you currently reading?

DHW:  I read more literary and cultural theory than fiction.  Lately I'm on a Lacan kick and I'm reading and rereading his seminars and books about his work on psychoanalysis.  Basically Lacan reinvents Freud through the sieve of structuralist principles.  His theories on language as the architect of identity, the psyche, culture, etc. has informed my fiction and criticism for years and I want to finally master it, which is the say, to become more fluid in it (the moment one becomes a "master" is the moment it escapes into the void).

I always have a novel or two going, though.  I just finished Daniel H. Wilson's ROBOPOCALYPSE, which I'm reviewing for the British science fiction journal Foundation.  The D. in my penname, also my real name, is for David, but a number of readers have mistaken me for Daniel H. Wilson, even contacted me about the novel, thinking the name is a permutation.  So I figured I might as well read it.  It didn't resonate with me at first.  Seemed like the same old shit.  But it grew on me and I've come to respect what Wilson's done, despite the fact that Spielberg bought the rights long before its publication and will surely turn it into some gloopy family-oriented blockbuster.  I lean heavily toward literary fiction, and as a science fiction author, Wilson's more of a Crichton than, say, a Gibson.  Still, ROBOPOCALYPSE is pretty good.  Wilson has a Ph.D. in robotics and weaves his expertise into the novel in interesting ways while telling the story through a sprawling pastiche of media and perspectives.  Tough to do well.  And unaffectedly. 

DAB:  Do you have any pointers for the authors in our audience?

DHW:  I have given many pointers in the past, but as I get older, I think they're more or less useless.  Writing is so subjective.  As is reading.  Most books are shit.  But most people like shit.  And there's all kinds of different shit.  So giving advice, essentially, amounts to:  Do this shit and (eventually, maybe) you will produce this shit, and people will consume the shit, and you, too, can make a living as a writer, living in your mother's basement, pulling in anywhere from $5,000-$30,000 per year (the average salary for a professional writer is close to $5,000).  But this doesn't account for my shit.  My shit is elitist, literary, anaphylactic, would-be high modernist (but in no way affected and prissy MFA-caliber) shit, and shit like that doesn't make you rich, it's "artistic" shit, and why would I give neophyte writers pointers on becoming a shitty artist like me?

Of course I'm jaded.  Jadedness is the end-product of any writing career, whether it's "successful" or "unsuccessful."  But I make a comfortable living as an English professor and I can say these things.  I suppose I'm not as jaded as I think, sometimes.  Sometimes, in fact - I'm happy.

DAB:  I hear you have something new you're working on for release later this year.  Care to tell us a bit about it?

DHW:  Later this year, a limited hardcover edition of the third and final installment in my scikungfi trilogy, THE KYOTO MAN, will be published by Raw Dog Screaming Press, who published the first two installments and several of my other books.  Then, in 2013, the paperback will follow in the wake of the regular hardcover edition.  I'm really thankful for RDSP.  They're a small press and have published some of the best fiction I've read.  Typically this isn't the case.  Most small presses aren't very sharp and publish authors who can't get an agent and/or can't get published by bigger, more lucrative presses.  But there are a few small presses like RDSP who take on writing that bigger publishers don't like because it's too innovative, artsy, experimental, iconoclastic, avant-garde, etc. - in other words, not fit for (du)m(b)ass consumption.  I consider RDSP as the Grove Press of its time.  Over the years they have published one after another badass, award-winning author.  I'm thrilled that they let me play in their sandbox.

As for THE KYOTO MAN, it's about a guy who transforms into the city of Kyoto over 10,000 times, terminally rupturing the fabric of society, the ecology, and the spacetime continuum.  Strange as it sounds, my agent originally cut a deal with a NYC publishing house to put it out, but I wanted to do it with RDSP, so I never signed a contract, even though I knew my agent, who will remain nameless, would "let me go."  Like always, though, he came crawling back.  They always crawl back...

And on that happy note, I just wanted to thank you again, Professor Wilson, for stopping by to visit my humble blog.  The interview process has been a distinct pleasure, and I hope our audience finds the frankness of your words as humorous and fun as I have.  I can think of several off the top of my head who will probably feel the same.  My abs thank you!

So for now, be sure and pick up a copy of DR. IDENTITY and CODENAME PRAGUE to read before the release of THE KYOTO MAN.  I look forward to reading these myself.  You can also find links below to purchase D. Harlan Wilson's works or contact him for further information.  Enjoy!

For a professor at Corndog University its quite acceptable to purchase a robotic doppleganger and have it teach your classes for you.  But how does it reflect on your teaching skills when your doppleganger murders the whole class?

Follow the Dystopian Duo (Dr. Blah Blah Blah and his robot Dr. Identity) on a killing spree of epic proportions through the irreal postapocalyptic city of Bliptown where time ticks sideways, artificial Bug-Eyed Monsters punish citizens for consumer-capitalist lethargy, and ultraviolence is as essential as a daily multivitamin. 

Since he assassinated the Nowhere Man, Vincent Prague hasn't been the same, haunted by the ontological impossibility of the kill.  His celebrity status has skyrocketed, however, and everybody wants a piece of him.  The MAP (Ministry of Applied Pressure) promotes him to Anvil-in-Chief, the catbird's seat of special agents.  Under the so-stupid-it's-a-genius alias of "Vincent Codename Prague," he works a case that leads him to the Former Czech Republik's Prague, a dark cirque du city where androids run wild, femme fatales chronically manhandle him, and a mad chef named Doktor Teufelsdrockh has created a Hitler/Keats/Daikaiju hybrid that would make Frankenstein's monster sing like a Von Trapp... In an overtechnologized world of constant reckoning, all Vincent has are his wits, his weapons, and a briefcase full of replaceable extremities to crack a mysterious code that, he soon discovers, resides within himself.

D. Harlan Wilson is an award-winning novelist, short story writer, literary critic, editor, and English prof.  To purchase his books, visit him online at and



  1. D. Harlan,

    Your series sounds like a wild and crazy ride. I've got it on my reading list!

  2. Thanks Gordon. I certainly aspired for Wild & Crazy. Hope you enjoy it.