William Bernhardt Interviews Amy Susan Wilson, Author of “Want v. Need: Stories From Pottawatomie County”

WB: First of all, congratulations on your first collection, Want v. Need. It’s a magnificent achievement. You write exclusively about community and bonds rooted in contemporary, small-town American South, specifically, Pottawatomie, Oklahoma, in rural Oklahoma. Where did these characters come from?

ASW: The different protagonists sprang to life when the factual world of Pottawatomie County intersected with my imagination.

William Bernhardt

William Bernhardt

Characters were based on what I learned about a person’s circumstances. For example, Janis Lynn Wiggins, the heroine in “Love Bug,” works at a Pay Day Loan outlet, loses her job, then finds herself homeless. For six weeks, she sleeps in a fellow Overeaters Anonymous member’s laundry room and next calls “home” the inside of a lime green VW Bug.

I wrote “Love Bug” because I’d learned about a woman I knew who had recently become homeless. I was utterly shocked. This hardworking, middle-aged woman was now sleeping on a friend’s futon in the laundry room since she’d lost her job of eleven years. Each fall, she had helped organize a coat drive for kids; even without a home, she was still organizing that annual community coat drive.

At a feed store, I spotted a woman paying for birdseed with a fist-full of change and a wad of crumpled ones. She looked to be in her late forties; her shoulder-length brown hair was a little greasy; her jeans were clean but not stylish. Instantly, I knew this woman was the prototype for the character of Janis Lynn: big-hearted even though lacking in basic resources.

WB: One of the aspects I liked best about these stories is your willingness to use humor, not crazy, zany humor, but humor that provides insight into the characters or situations. Was this a conscious choice?

ASW: Any book that includes the preface “Luctor et Emergo” must contain moments of humor! So yes, I was quite conscious of planting humor in these stories about female struggle and survival. Yet the humorous scenes that I include in my fiction always find me at the most unlikely moments.

Recently, I attended a baby shower. A young woman, just married, and a newly minted pharmacist, told us that her labradoodle, Marilyn Monroe, “had been fixed a year ago, but now was completely, utterly pregnant.” She then asked, “Does anyone know of a new vet for Marilyn? And where do you find cute, canine maternity sweaters?”

I had been struggling with injecting humor into “Goings On in Pottawatomie County & So Forth & So On” because it is such an intense story. When I heard the anecdotal “Marilyn Monroe” snafu, I knew I’d found the light, quirky humor that my story needed.

WB: What’s particularly impressive to me is that while you’re writing these wonderful stories, you’re also Editor of Red Truck Review: A Journal of American Southern Literature and Culture. You also have started Red Dirt Press, LLC. Where do you find the time?

Amy Susan Wilson

Amy Susan Wilson

ASW: And don’t forget that I also work full-time, hit yoga classes four times a week, and try to keep my home spotless, or at least a “dust-free” zone.

I don’t have a writing schedule. When I’m at Walmart or watering begonias and rose bushes in the backyard, I am also writing in my head. Throughout the work week, I email myself notes about a story’s timeline and so forth.

When developing an issue of Red Truck Review I tie on my managing editor’s bonnet and shift into “editor-mode.” I don’t write at all, and dust does hang out on top of the coffee table. And I often times skip yoga classes.

Yasser El-Sayed and Tim Peeler, both writers, edit Red Truck Review with me. Yasser and Tim work in demanding professions, so they, like myself, prioritize their time and energy so that Red Truck Review will remain a sustainable, enduring journal. I couldn’t do it without them!

WB: Everyone who reads your book will be asking the next question: What are you going to do next?

ASW: I’m at work on a novel about the men of Pottawatomie County. The novel centers around character Jake Howard and explores Pottawatomie County beginning a few generations back, when the land known today as “Pottawatomie County” was not yet identified as such, and Oklahoma was “Indian Territory.” The working title is Home, Again.

Yasser El-Sayed, Tim Peeler and I will work with our interns and plow through submissions during our open reading period for Red Truck Review; Red Dirt Press, LLC will release Terry Barr’s essay collection, Don’t Date a Baptist and Other Warnings from my Alabama Mother, Spring 2016.

If there is a scientific breakthrough in cloning in the next year, I’m going to be the first one to sign up. If I can clone myself, you’ll also see a koi pond and authentic English rose garden adorn my backyard, complete with gazebo. It will look so fabulous that Southern Living will want to feature my backyard in their next spring issue. Since cloning is highly unlikely, it’ll just be the writing and Red Truck Review, Red Dirt Press, projects.

Click here to purchase Want v. Need

I am, however, going to do a better job keeping the house dust-free and allergen-free during Red Truck Review, issue 4 development, which is right around the corner.

This go-round, you won’t find visiting nieces and nephews writing Chinese characters on my dusty furniture or pressing the cat’s feet into the glass coffee table top to make “dust prints” of paws.

Writing and editing make for a hectic schedule, a house that isn’t always Southern Living perfect-o like I want it to be, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

WB: Thank you Amy, for visiting with me about your work. I have enjoyed our discussion, and wish you much success on your forthcoming projects.

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