Adam Wilson founded and edits the online newspaper The Faster Times and is a regular contributor to The Paris Review Daily. His fiction and nonfiction have found publication in numerous journals and magazines from The Paris Review and Meridian to the New York Times. Wilson contributed to the anthologies Dirty Words: A Literary Encyclopedia of Sex (2008); A Friday Night Lights Companion: Love, Loss, and Football in Dillon, Texas (2011); and Promised Lands: New Jewish-American Fiction on Longing and Belonging (2010). His first novel, the comic and bittersweet Flatscreen (2012), follows its young male protagonist through stoner slacking and drug-fueled antics as he fumbles toward establishing a post-high school identity. The National Jewish Book Council chose Flatscreen as a finalist for the 2013 Goldberg Prize for Outstanding Debut Fiction. Wilson also received the Paris Review‘s 2012 Terry Southern Prize for Humor for his contributions to the publication, including the marijuana-laced “What’s Important is Feeling,” which was selected for publication in Best American Short Stories 2012. He is a graduate of Columbia University’s creative writing MFA program and currently teaches at New York University and the Sackett Street Writers Workshop.
Two nuns and a penguin approach you at a bar, and you tell them you’re a writer. When they ask you to describe Flatscreen, how do you answer?
It’s about an unlikely friendship between a young, spiritually tested nun and a wheelchair-bound penguin who is addicted to Oxycontin and loves hookers.
Points is a blog primarily for drug and alcohol historians. What do you think this audience would find most interesting about Flatscreen?
Well, there’s certainly a lot of drugs and alcohol in the book! There are a lot of great novels about marijuana, cocaine, heroin, meth, and LSD (among others), but I don’t know of any others where the primary drug of choice is Oxycontin. I’m not sure my book sheds too much light on the drug itself–it’s mostly about other things–but if you’re looking for OxyFiction, I’m not sure where else you’d go.
What led you to write about drugs and alcohol in the first place?
Drugs were a huge part of my life for a long time, and a large part of my social world. Because of that, I’m interested in their effect on people, and particularly their effect on interpersonal relationships. I’ve always been interested in the drug community, and the way it can be both insular and isolating at the same time.
How would you describe the way that drugs and alcohol function in your work, whether in terms of thematic concerns or the choices you make about how to craft a story? Do you think there are things that you wouldn’t be able to explore as successfully if drugs weren’t in your writing arsenal?
Well, it can certainly be fun to write characters who are drunk and high. Sometimes you use it as an impetus to get them to do things they wouldn’t normally do. It can be especially useful when you want two characters to have sex with each other and then regret it. I aspire to write things that are funny on the surface but dark and sinister overall. I think drug use can be a good source for both. Things people do on drugs are often hilarious until they’re not.
What do you personally find most interesting about how drugs work in Flatscreen? Are there any loose threads dangling from the book that you’d like to pick up in a future project?
In part, Flatscreen is a book about the way that television and mass media have compromised American imagination and created a generation of screen-gazing catatonics. Drug use, in the book, both exacerbates this effect, but it’s also there, in a sense, as a point of comparison, to show that this drive toward passivity and numbness is omnipresent.
BONUS QUESTION: Let’s hope Flatscreen gets made into a major motion picture. What song do you fantasize about hearing as the credits roll?
I could answer that, but I don’t want to jinx it!