Pushcart Prize winner and Best American Short Stories author Mark Wisniewski and his third novel, Watch Me Go, has received early praise from many reviewers and critics and we also had the chance to read this notable novel.
We were immediately impressed by how Wisniewski uses his outstanding writing skills to present a compelling plot to his audience. What comes below is a conversation with the author about his latest novel.
1) The genesis for WATCH ME GO was Straightaway, your short story that Salman Rushdie selected for Best American Short Stories 2008. What prompted you to develop Straightaway into a full-length novel?
Strangers at parties still walk up and say, “Hey, aren’t you the guy who wrote ‘Straightaway’?” They seem intrigued by how a Polish American guy born in Milwaukee related to a black guy from the Bronx—and how this resulted in a piece Salman Rushdie chose for Best American. And a lot of agents told me “Straightaway” was begging to be a novel, so I let Deesh keep talking, in WATCH ME GO.
2) WATCH ME GO is about hope and the search for happiness, as well as racism, sexism and taking risks. Yet it has been described as a “love story,” a “noir thriller,” and a “literary novel of suspense.” How would you characterize it?
If forced to label WATCH ME GO, I’d call it literary suspense, but my gut says it’s one of a kind. It offers suspense yet stirs the pot more. It faces gun violence, race, economic terror and the gender war with little reservation. It’s already irked a few bullies because it’s aggressively anti-hatred. It envisions love and candor as having the ability to patch the Tattered American Dream, an ability that some people, apparently, find disturbing.
3) You tell this story from two distinct perspectives in alternating chapters by Jan and Deesh. Why did you choose to employ two (very different) narrators? How do you get inside the minds of each one?
If two very different narrators—who, at first glance, have little in common—can swap stories for a few hours and end up validating each other and possibly saving each other’s lives, I think that speaks volumes about the power of both speaking up and listening.
4) In this book, you write intimately about the horseracing life—both the glamorous and the seamy sides of it. Do you have any experience in that world? What kind of research did you do?
Every August since I could walk, my family—grandparents and aunts and uncles included—would visit Arlington Racetrack. So for me horseracing has always meant family and celebration and splendor and excitement and beauty and heartfelt communication. For me, the sight of horses running has always represented love.
5) As the dual narratives develop and the details of the story are revealed, it feels like the pieces of a puzzle are coming together. Did your writing experience reflect that?
Yes. What got me as I wrote were the more subtle similarities between Deesh and Jan—I mean, apart from what you learn about their entanglement at the end. Both of them were into the danger and beauty of speed. Both embodied nerve and fear, and were aware of the coexistence of darkness and light. Both longed for love yet failed as lovers in the traditional sense, so both of their “love stories” are painful and tragic. This is no Prince-and-Princess tale they’re telling each other. It’s you and I and everyone real as we struggle to connect.
6) When did you first know you wanted to be a writer? Did it take you long to realize you could make a living writing fiction?
My second grade teacher told me that “Mark” meant a character made with a writing utensil. She said nothing about how long it would take a Polish American kid to sell a novel that would bring him a decent advance.
7) What was the best writing advice you ever received? What advice would you give to aspiring novelists?
Do your job.
8) You made your mark in short stories and poetry. Which comes most naturally to you: writing short stories, poetry, or novels?
I just love stories. I love hearing them and watching them and being able to serve a given story when I write. The form that comes naturally to me depends on the story—if you stick with a narrative through enough revision, it’ll let you know its optimal length.
9) For several years, you taught writing at the college level. How do you look back on this experience? What did you like about it? What did you dislike?
Teaching is my second love, so teaching writing was darned close to being a dream come true. If you’re a good writing teacher, though, you’re helping your students write and revise and publish, to the detriment of your own work—especially if you’re paid only $2, 000 per class and need to teach six classes a semester just to pay rent.
10) Who are your favorite writers, past and/or present?
Anyone who writes honestly and goes all out with revision has me spellbound. Toni Morrison, Ray Carver, Alice Munro, Ben Fountain—talent galore, sure, but what gets me when I read work like that is how, when you simply let the phrases flow through your mind, you sense a story being portrayed as precisely and extraordinarily as possible.