I Have Always Loved Stories About Losers: An Interview with Ross Wilcox
Interview conducted by Jaya Wagle
Ross Wilcox is the author of the upcoming story collection, Golden Gate Jumper’s Survivors Society. He has a Ph.D. from the University of North Texas. His short stories and poems have appeared in The Adirondack Review, The Carolina Quarterly, Nashville Review, Pembroke Magazine, and are forthcoming in Green Mountains Review and Harpur Palate. He lives in Fort Worth with his wife and two cats.
Jaya Wagle: In your stories everyday people confront their challenges with escalating absurdity and the mundane gains a whole new perspective. Can you speak a little bit about how you choose the subjects of your stories?
Ross Wilcox: With short stories, the spark always seems to come from a unique idea, an unusual premise, or a new wrinkle on an existing trope. In fact, if there isn’t something sufficiently odd about the story’s premise, I feel like it’s not worth writing. That’s just me. I envy writers who can capture everyday experience in compelling ways without going beyond the bounds of realism. For example, Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie’s The Thing Around Your Neck, Kali Fajardo-Anstine’s Sabrina and Corina, and Jhumpa Lahiri’s Interpreter of Maladies are three of my favorite short story collections ever. They all write about everyday people living everyday experiences. Their stories are brilliant, their characters are amazing…and I think if I tried to write a story like theirs it would just be boring. So, I must stick to weird things that border on surreal. Although there are a few stories in my collection – “Nora’s Sweatshirt,” “Puddin’ Suitcase,” and “Backwater” – that probably fit the bill of realism.
JW: The main characters of your stories are generally “losers,” (your words, not mine) struggling to make it and failing at it over and over, like the main character in “Symptoms.” What is the attraction to writing characters that seem to be always failing, never succeeding?
RW: I have always loved stories about losers. I have a few reasons. One, I generally have a pessimistic view on life. I think most people’s lives don’t turn out the way they want. I think there are a lot of people who, if given the choice, would do something other than what they’re doing for a living. Do you know what I mean? I’m not saying people aren’t happy. Obviously, lots and lots of people are happy. But I think if people were honest and you asked them: deep down inside, are you doing what you truly, truly love? I think a lot of people would say no. I think people settle. We all settle in some ways. Unless you’re Willy Loman. Willy Loman is one of the biggest losers in all of American Literature. Consequently, he’s also one of my favorite characters of all time. And even though his relentless, even delusional pursuit of his dream is the thing that’s destroying him, I think there’s something beautiful, heartbreaking, but ultimately life-affirming in his refusal to ever give up, even though he’s doomed to fail.
JW: How do you draw the line between writing biographical events into your fictional stories? I am thinking of two stories out of the eleven in your collection, “Nora’s Sweatshirt” and “Puddin’ Suitcase.”
RW: You know me well, Jaya. The two stories you mentioned are the only two autobiographical stories in my collection. Both are based on real events. I did have a great aunt who loved her poodle more than anything, and she asked my uncle to dig the dog up and bury it in her new house. But he r