The Sweetest Debut: Kea Wilson on Bookselling and Italian Horror Films

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Welcome to The Sweetest Debut, a new and regular installment in which we reach out to debut (or near-debut, we’re flexible!) fiction, poetry and nonfiction authors working with presses of all sizes and find out about their pop culture diets, their writing habits, and their fan-fiction fantasies.

Kea Wilson’s We Eat Our Own, on shelves next week, is a scary novel about the filming of a horror movie deep in the jungle. She filled Flavorwire in on the films she watched to get inspiration, reading Joseph Conrad and Cormac McCarthy, and wondering what Freddy Krueger gets up to during the daytime hours.

What is your elevator pitch to folks in the industry describing your book?

We Eat Our Own is about the making of a horror film in the Amazon rainforest in the late seventies, loosely based on true events. (I have said this exact sentence more times than I can count).

What do you tell your relatives it’s about?

Pretty much the same thing, though I maybe don’t add that the original film co-starred a male porn star. (He’s not in the book, I promise.)

How long was this project marinating in a draft or in your head before it became a book deal?

I watched the film my book was based on when I was sixteen or so, so I guess about thirteen years? Though I didn’t give myself permission to write about it until a good eight years later, and it took me a couple of years to get a draft together after that, and another 9 months or so of revisions with an agent after that, and then my editor and I worked on it a lot too…it took a lot of forms, and it’s still hard for me to pin down a concrete beginning and end point.

Is there a canonical book you think is overrated?

I went to (and loved!) a school where everyone studies the Great Books in neurotic chronological order starting with Homer and ending with Virginia Woolf, so I have a hard time calling anything from the canon overrated—even if I hated a certain text (Kant, I’m sorry), I ultimately got more out of engaging with that book and having conversations about it than I did many of the books that went down easier.

What’s a book you’ve read more than two times?

I’m a chronic re-reader, but I’ve probably read Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy the most—probably about seven times over the years.

Is there a book or other piece of art that influenced your writing for this particular project?

The whole book is loosely based on the making of Cannibal Holocaust, but I also spent a ton of time with the work of other horror directors in the 70’s and 80’s—particularly Italian directors like Pupi Avati, Dario Argento, Lucio Fulci—as well as visual artists from that period whose work messed with ideas of film and what it means to be a spectator—Tony Conrad, La Monte Young, Walter De Maria. All of them were super present in early drafts as I was figuring out the landscape, and their influence is still in there, in subtle ways. I also re-read Heart of Darkness a whole bunch, watched Fitzcarraldo with Herzog’s director’s commentary on it about a million times; I could write a long, long bibliography for this book.

Do you have a favorite show to binge watch when you’re not writing?

I would be lying if I didn’t say I watch a ton of TV, from the scripted dramas that every critic loves down to the most numbingly boring competitive cooking shows. I’ve been on a Rick Steves’ Europe kick lately; I really strongly recommend the inadvertently hilarious episode where he goes to a spa in Baden-Baden.

What’s the last movie you saw in theaters?

My favorite movie theater in St. Louis does a free bi-weekly horror double feature thing that I go to pretty religiously; last week was David Cronenberg’s Shivers and It Follows, so sort of an STD theme.

Do you listen to music while you’re writing? If so, what kind?

I actually don’t listen to a ton of music, period—I usually prefer having TV or movies on in the background to pretty much everything I do, ha — but I did listen to Gang of Four’s Entertainment on repeat while I worked through a specific chapter.

Do you prefer working in a buzzing coffee shop or silent library?

I don’t really write in public, but if you’re asking, generally: bookstore, which I guess is sort of the midpoint between those two things.

Do you write at your desk, in bed or on a couch?

Couch. I used to have a really nice office with a desk and a lot of carefully curated knick-knacks placed artfully around, but I never used it, so when we moved I gave it up.

Is morning writing or late-night writing more your style??

Morning. I go to bed grandma-early.

Do you work best writing it all out in one big messy draft and then editing, or perfecting as you go (or something in between)?

Editing, editing, editing. If I don’t re-write a scene at least four times I don’t trust what I’ve done.

How do you pay the bills, if not solely by your pen and your wit?

I work full time in an independent bookstore, which is a great job for a writer; my day doesn’t start until 10am, so you have that extra hour to work before you have to go out and be a real person, and you get a ton of free books and good people to talk about them with. I also really love teaching fiction writing, so I usually pick up a section a semester at the university where I got my MFA.

What is your trick to finding time to write your book while also doing the above?

Honestly, making it the center of most of my life choices, ha. If I don’t make it a number one priority, I know it won’t happen; not-writing is too easy and fun. Working right after I wake up before I’ve eaten breakfast or had any caffeine or time to question myself helps, too.

If you could write fanfiction about any pop culture character, real or imagined, who would it be?

I think it’d be fun to write about Freddy Krueger in his off hours, when the Elm Street kids are all awake and he’s just doing whatever banal, chores-and-Netflix kind of stuff a hideous nightmare-demon gets up to.