Eric G. Wilson is no stranger to publishing. As a professor at Wake Forest University, he has written several literary nonfiction books which have received critical acclaim. He has also been published in several esteemed literary magazines and other publications. But, his newest release marks a new step in his literary work. “Polaris Ghost” launches Wilson’s career into fiction with a psychologically compelling collection of short stories.
Wilson gave a talk at Scuppernong Books on Thursday, followed by a reading from his book. “Polaris Ghost” is a coming-of-age-story of a character called Polaris, who later breaks into two separate entities known as Otto and Ella. This gives way for Wilson to explore ideas of identity and dissociation through the eyes of a child growing up in the world. The collection of vignette-like fragments centers around themes of life, death, childhood and divorce. He described some of these stories as those of his characters, and some as “whacked-out fairy tales.”
One of Wilson’s prime sources of inspiration is an artistic thread which he claims ties together William Blake and David Lynch. While popular culture’s obsession with nostalgia combined with the “Twin Peaks” revival has made Lynch a household name, Blake is not as immediately recognizable. William Blake was a Romantic-era British author best known for two collections of poems titled “Songs of Innocence” and “Songs of Experience.”
Wilson spoke of his fascination with the works of David Lynch—his favorite work is “Mulholland Drive”—and how this perceived connection to Romanticist poet and painter Blake has inspired him.
“He would write these amazing poems, and he would set images beside the poems. But, images that didn’t exemplify the poems so much as sometimes oppose the poems, or mock the poems, or were kind of ironically positioned toward the poems,” he said. “And this is what David Lynch does in his films. You see a David Lynch film and the images, and the words often don’t quite go together, and that’s what makes those films feel so weird.”
Wilson went on to speak of the thematic ties that connect these two artists over centuries of literary canon.
“Both are very interested in this move from innocence to experience. I’ve always been fascinated by the weirdness of childhood, and what it feels like when you lose that,” he said.
Wilson’s “fairy-tale” vignettes illustrate his point. They follow an unnamed boy through surrealist rites of passage wherein he grapples with such concepts as the significance of death.
Wilson’s former work includes many academic books, and some philosophical essays such as 2008’s “Against Happiness,” which explores American culture’s obsession with happiness and challenges the idea that we should be happy all the time. But, after two more books, he became bored with the genre.
“I knew I could write that kind of book endlessly, and I just got sick of it,” Wilson said.
Writing fiction, he said, can be very different from writing more analytical work.
“This book was more organic and more spontaneous,” Wilson said. “I wouldn’t write unless I really felt an urge to write. So, I would get kind of a weird buzz in my ear, a weird snatch of sentence I would hear somewhere, or even sometimes after a dream… wherever it came from, high or low, I would try and play it out.”
His writing process comes across in the book’s fragmented vignettes. “It wasn’t as systematic; it was a more chaotic composing process,” he said.
Wilson also spoke about his new experience while writing “Polaris Ghost.”
“I started trying to feel comfortable with my obsessions, and my own weirdness, and feel confident enough to let that come out in a voice that I had not really used before,” he said. “And it became really intoxicating and liberating to go into that very strange world of this voice that I had discovered.”
“Polaris Ghost” is available for purchase at Scuppernong Books.