Interview with Remy Wilkins, Author of Strays
Written by Jason Farley on August 2, 2018
Thanks for joining us at The Westminster Confession of Funk.
And thank you for such a delightfully named blog. It’s always been one of my favorite names.
Your novel Strays, what’s it about? What inspired the story?
It’s about a boy named Rodney who has to spend the summer at his weird uncle’s and gets caught up in a demonic invasion. The major influence is The Screwtape Letters, which is a book that never goes more than a couple of years without being pulled off my shelf. The other point of inspiration is Martin Luther, particularly his dealings with Satan. His legendary abuse of the devil has always tickled me. His hymn A Mighty Fortress is also a touchstone and I use its lyrics as chapter titles.
I love the title. Is it too much of a spoiler to ask what the name is about?
There are several characters to whom the title could apply and that’s part of the fun of the novel. Rodney has to determine who is trustworthy and even examine his own loyalties. Strays was an idea I’d had for years, which grew from a fairy tale I’d invented for my sons called Little Lost Demon. When that story was scaled into a full length novel a title change was necessary, especially since I find it very difficult to write without a satisfying title. Plus I was in need of a third act twist and Strays fit that need perfectly.
How long was the whole writing process of Strays? Were there any discouragements that you had to overcome as you were writing the book?
There were innumerable setbacks, the first being that I don’t have the ability to drop into a novel an hour here and there and write fruitfully. For me to write, at least in novel form, I need a stretch of days uncluttered by my day job. As a teacher I have a couple of months off, so after holding down a summer job for a number of years I finally decided to use the time to write. I began the first draft in the summer of 2012. Halfway through I realized that I had numerous plot problems so I shelved it until Christmas break. I ruminated on the problems and workshopped my solutions so that over the two week break I was able to rewrite and rework what I’d written. Then during the next summer I “finished” it. Put this way it doesn’t sound so bad, but trust me when I reached the end of the first summer and realized that I had half a broken novel it wasn’t the happiest of times. I’m also keeping an account of lost wages and holding it against the novel too. It’s my tiny act of revenge for all the suffering I went through.
When you are looking for character inspiration, where do you look? Are there people in your life that are secretly also characters in your fiction?
I do find that it’s easier to write a character when I have a visual, but I haven’t done that yet. I usually just take bits of people, someone’s walk, another’s laugh, and weave them into who I have in mind. For example, Rodney’s uncle is bristly bearded and full of chuckles, something that was helpfully crystallized by a couple of jolly bearded fellows I know. I do the same thing when I read to my boys. I’m much more consistent with the voices if I can tie them to an actor or (more commonly) a Muppet. When reading Harry Potter I used John Malkovich for Snape and a raspy Scooter for Ron Weasley.
Are there writers or books that Strays is interacting with or inspired by?
As I said above, The Screwtape Letters was the chief inspiration. I love the world CS Lewis created. It’s quite a sinister little book, but his depiction of the demons as petty, cruel and more than a little self-defeating is powerfully insightful. And the fun I had creating demon names was the most fun I’ve had during any project ever. I have a folder full of demon names that I didn’t use and more came well after I was finished writing. Here’s just a small sample of unused names: Scumwidget, Bilklog, Fog-jibbet, Ooze-rug, I could go on.
While you write, do you listen to music for inspiration?
During the writing of Strays I sang Luther’s A Mighty Fortress at least once a month in our chapel service. Each time was an opportunity to rehearse the story. Outside of that I try to match the music to the mood. Explosions in the Sky is my go to band, I know the catalogue well enough to find something to suit the scene I’m writing.
How do you hope people will respond to Strays?
If my readers move on to (or return to) The Screwtape Letters I will be a satisfied author.
What is the most significant lesson that you learned while writing your novel?
The first lesson was that I need to finish the outline. Strays was derailed by a pretty basic story point that I hadn’t thought through. The other lesson that I’m still learning is to not be overly concerned about the first draft. Finishing something is far harder than rewriting something and no amount of rewriting before it’s finished will save you from having to rewrite it later. I’ve gone through the book no less than seven times since I finished that first draft.
Where can we pick up a copy of Strays?
Any other projects forthcoming? Anything else that you re working on?
My second novel, Hush-Hush, should come out next year. The short pitch for that one is Invisible Friends Meets Bodysnatchers.
Currently I’m at work on several other projects. So far my imagination has outstripped my ability to put it all down on paper, but I’m excited to work through the idea file. The goal is to be able to write throughout the year. Hopefully I’ll be able to write more than one novel every two years.
Thanks so much for joining us here at The Westminster Confession of Funk.
Follow Remy Wilkins on Twitter @remywilkins.
Get yourself a copy of Strays HERE.