Catching up with Shane Wilson: New Stories, New Songs

Writer Shane Wilson. Photo Credit Michelle Winfrey

Shane Wilson is a storyteller. No matter the medium, the emphasis of his work is on the magical act of the story, and how the stories we tell immortalize us and give voice to the abstractions of human experience. His first two contemporary fantasy novels and a stage play, set in his World of Muses universe, are currently available. Shane also plays guitar and writes songs with his acoustic Americana/ folk band, Sequoia Rising. He writes songs as he writes stories–with an emphasis on the magic of human experience. Sequoia Rising’s debut album, Of All the Things I’ve Ever Said, I Mean This the Most, is available on all music streaming platforms. Additionally, Shane’s novels are A Year Since the Rain (Snow Leopard Publishing, 2016) and The Smoke in His Eyes (GenZ Publishing, 2018). Shane’s short story, “The Boy Who Kissed the Rain” was the 2017 Rilla Askew Short Fiction Prize winner and was nominated for a 2018 Pushcart Prize. Shane is currently at work on a new novel.

3 Things you can’t live without & why: I want so badly to say “a stiff cocktail” or “whiskey” or even “coffee,” but I’m afraid of what that might make me sound like, so I’ll go with something that plays music, something to write with, and a guitar. That might sound redundant, but I’ll explain. Something that plays music can be a stereo or a record player–something with speakers or headphones. I draw so much inspiration from music that the thought of life without music feels like a life not quite worth living. I’m listening to a ton of new and interesting stuff while I’m brainstorming new music, so I would hate to be without. Something to write with can be a pen and paper or a computer or a typewriter, but I need some place to scribble the ideas down that will become the next thing–song or book or play or, hell, film or musical. And I’ve listed a guitar because I need a way to make the music that I’m writing in my journal or on my computer. Also, if something happens to the thing that plays music, I can play a few things myself.

Local artist you admire: You know, I know this is probably the answer you get all the time, but it’s hard to talk about the arts in Fayetteville without showing love to Neil Ray. We’ve worked on projects together, which are experiences I wouldn’t trade for anything. He means so much to the Fayetteville area at large, but he also means a ton to so many of us, individually. This community is full of artists I admire — El’Ja Bowens, Lisette Rodriguez, Doug Burton, Michael Daughtry, Damien Mathis. Artists who are carving their own paths and celebrating original art are my people. This is just a smattering of those names who celebrate originality and the pursuit of genuine artistic expression.

What is one of your current artistic experiments? I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about the new Sequoia Rising album, Of All the Things I’ve Ever Said, I Mean This the Most. This was the project that I poured myself into when the world shut down last spring, and it’s finally come to fruition: I’m incredibly proud. It’s a collaboration with Michelle Winfrey and Jerry Smith. It’s the first full length album I’ve written and produced, and to have that record out in the world for people to interact with is a joy.

What changed about your practice in 2020? Will you keep this change? I think that living through a year that featured isolation in such heavy doses made me look for ways to mix it up, so to speak. I’ve started looking for more experimental sounds for my music and wilder plots for my stories. I think it started as a way to mentally escape the tedium of the day-to-day in COVID-induced isolation. I think I’ll definitely keep exploring these new avenues of creative expression. I’m hearing a lot of wild songs in my head. I just need to keep learning so I can record them. And the novel I wrote during lockdown? Whoa. It’s definitely a lockdown novel, but it’s also a ton of fun.

Where do you practice your art? Describe your work space. At home, I work in my office surrounded by books and music and instruments or outside on the balcony. I still have music with me, though, no matter where I am. I also usually have some caffeine or whiskey. I also think it’s important to have a physical boundary that can create physical space for creation. Of course, you also need to live with people who respect that process. I’m lucky enough to have that.

As much as I am able to get done at home, I still find time to isolate for a couple of weeks a year in the mountains. The western North Carolina mountains are a magical place for me. Spending time there has changed my art and my process in ways that I’m not sure I can articulate. So, I’ll use time away at a retreat or residency to create momentum in a new project so that when I’m back at home, I can ride the wave for a while.

Shane Wilson and Jerry Smith. Photo Credit Michelle Winfrey

How do you find your subject (next piece, idea, voice)? Oh sheesh. I wish I knew! Life would be so much easier if I knew where to look for that stuff. Seriously, though, I’ve spent so much time thinking about creativity and where inspiration comes from. I don’t know. It’s no wonder the Greeks created a mythos for the phenomenon. The thought that I can just set out and find the next “thing” is so strange to me. I think it just happens–like in a lightning strike that I don’t perceive.

Advice to newer artists in your genre. You can’t wait for anyone to take a chance on you if you aren’t willing to take a chance on yourself. Any artistic pursuit begins with the work. We all want to see our painting on the wall of a gallery, see our book in a library, or hear our song on Spotify, but none of that happens if you don’t pick up the brush, put your pen to the page, or pick up the instrument. Art is a pursuit, and if you aren’t chasing, then you aren’t going to get anywhere. The work of the artist is important, soul-cleansing, humanity-defining work. But it’s work. You have to resign yourself to the pursuit of the work and learn the steps by which you achieve what you want to achieve. We don’t do the work to be famous, though. That way lies only madness. An artist does the work because they don’t know how to not do the work. As Rainer Maria Rilke told the young poet who wrote him for advice, if you can imagine a life wherein you are not writing, then you should not write. In short, artists cannot imagine a life without their art, and if you can, then you should find something else to do with your time.

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