Interview With The Author: Wil Medearis
by John Dwaine McKenna
Today’s Mysterious Book Report interview is with writer Wil Medearis, whose recent crime novel, Restoration Heights, neatly combines a mystery with an illustration of the plight of those disappearing “affordable urban neighborhoods” as a result of gentrification. He’s got a lot of insight and much to say about the craft of writing, so let’s get right to our first question:
Why do you write?
I’m not sure the answer is available to us, as writers. What I mean is that writing is a kind of instinct, or compulsion, and like all instincts and compulsions, the source is unknowable. I can offer reasonable-sounding explanations—I have stories to tell, I like the way language sounds—and while those explanations possess a surface truth I’m not convinced they are anything other than rationalizations to justify doing a deeply irrational thing that, to be honest, I was going to do anyway.
Are any of your characters autobiographical?
A lot of people assume the protagonist of Restoration Heights is autobiographical, because we share a few details. We’re both Southerners who live in Brooklyn, and we’ve both been involved in the lower echelons of the art world. But he isn’t a stand-in for me. I gave him different interests, different skills and flaws, as well as a different hometown, all to try and create some distance. All the characters in the book are compilations of experience whether that’s my personal experience, or the experiences of people I know, or experiences that I’ve gathered from other books or media. Imaginations don’t invent out of whole cloth, no matter how much people argue otherwise—we always meld and merge and borrow until we arrive at something new, even if we aren’t aware that we are doing so at the time. It’s just the way minds work.
When do you write?
I write in the morning, as soon as I can get in front of my computer, ideally before answering emails or engaging with social media or introducing any other distractions. I find that whatever I do first sets a tone that is difficult to break free of, so, if I start the day with shallow pleasures like Instagram or playing a video game, then it becomes much more difficult to convince my mind to settle into the deep, sustained attention that writing demands.
Who’s your favorite author?
So many authors have influenced me as a writer and a person—far too many to name them all. I love James Ellroy’s frenetic anger for example, and the psychological tangles of Ross Macdonald’s plots, Shirley Hazzard’s perfect prose and James Salter’s perfect sentences. I think every writer should study Tolstoy and the way he gives his characters a wholeness and depth that makes you swear they were real people. But my most favorite author is Don DeLillo. His themes and his language resonate with me in a way no one else’s does.
Do you plot-outline or wing it?
I use multiple outlines. I have an art background, so I think of outlines as sketches. If you were painting a scene, you’d want to figure out where everyone in the scene was standing before you pull out the fine brushes and start rendering the details of their eyelashes—because—What if you painted someone beautifully, only to realize that you needed to move them two inches to the left in order to make the composition work? This is the role outlines play in my writing process. I want to get everyone more-or-less in the right spot before I start the first draft. Of course, since writing is much more forgiving than painting, there is still a lot of freedom to adapt and adjust as you proceed, and characters will shift and grow during the process. But the outline is a starting point, to give direction.
Where do you get most, some, or any your story ideas from?
My ideas generally come while I am doing something else. If I’m listening to music, walking, doing chores—basically anything where my body is mildly occupied and my mind is free to wander—that’s when I typically come up with solutions for whatever problems have been nagging at me. This applies both to questions of plot—what piece of information will lead character x to character y—as well as to issues of characterization and setting. Sometimes, after I’ve written a scene, I’ll be doing something else, listening to a podcast for example and realize, ah that scene needs to be in a different location, or the character introduced in it needs to a completely different kind of person. My phone is filled with notes I make to myself.
How can we, as writers, promote and encourage more people to read?
First, by writing good books. Every day on the subway I see people reading—people of all ages, races, and social classes, reading books by writers who are just as diverse. I think we should write the books that we ourselves would most want to read, absolutely well as we can. Then just trust that the experiences which prompted us to write it are experiences that other people share. Reading teaches us that there are far more things binding us together than separating us apart.
Thanks again for your insights and expertise, Will, and for taking the time to speak with our audience today. Please keep us in your contacts list and let the MBR know about your next literary project . . . it’s sure to be a good one!