Kevin Wilson: Children Bursting Into Flames… Metaphor or No?
The Author of Nothing to See Here on The Maris Review
On inserting humor into serious issues:
Kevin: I don’t have much confidence in myself as a serious writer. When I’m dealing with serious issues, my way into it is lightness. If I can figure out how to make it silly at first, once I get comfortable with it I can turn the light down and get darker and darker as I go. I think the reader might trust me a little better because I’m slowly dimming it instead of trying to be dark from the start, which I’m not good at.
Maris: Thank goodness, because we need more writers like you.
On embedding the fantastical into reality:
Maris: Spontaneous combustion seems like the perfect metaphor for so many different things.
Kevin: Spontaneous combustion definitely makes sense to me with my kids. A child that might burst into flames … I hope it’s not just my children. That seems entirely plausible to me when they get to that stage.
Maris: Sure. I love that Lillian is a lay person. She is not a mother, but she comes up with a list of different things they can try to calm them. I just have a dog, and I feel like I’ve considered this list.
Kevin: [laughs] I love that. For me, at the early stages of figuring out the book I was like, I have children that burst into flames. What would you do in the real world if that were possible? Lillian’s list, which is stuff like yoga and therapy, was how I started. What realistically would you do to save these children? Her list is my list at the very beginning.
On creating fairy tales:
Maris: I do think the metaphor extends to disabilities of all sorts. Thinking about the practical ways that our world isn’t equipped to handle any kind of disability.
Kevin: I struggle with mental illness, and one of the ways that I have survived it is because I have support. Without that, I don’t think that I would have. Thinking about these kids again and again where we have people in vulnerable states and there’s nothing really in place to protect them, and it’s terrifying to me. Not just because I am a parent. It’s terrifying to me that we live in a world where a lot of people are not protected.
This is my little fairy tale. This nanny comes in and saves them, like Mary Poppins. It’s what I needed in my brain after how the world has worked these past couple of years.
Kevin Wilson is the author of the New York Times best-selling novel The Family Fang (Ecco, 2012), Perfect Little World (Ecco, 2017), and Nothing to See Here (Ecco, 2019). His fiction has appeared in Ploughshares, Tin House, One Story, A Public Space, and elsewhere. He lives in Sewanee, Tennessee, with his wife, the poet Leigh Anne Couch, and his sons, Griff and Patch. He is an Associate Professor in the English Department at the University of the South.