Interview with Will Willingham, Author of Adjustments
19 Nov 2019
What can you tell us about your new release, Adjustments?
It’s a humorous and thoughtful story of a claim adjuster named Will Phillips, who works in a small town on the South Dakota plains. The story unfolds through his encounters with colorful characters and the deepening relationships with his landlady, a customer, and a neighbor. Overall, it explores how friendship changes us, and we change it, in unexpected ways.
But each time someone reads the story and talks to me about it, I find that they unearth more of the undercurrents that run below the surface: themes like identity, manhood secrets, the past.
Depending on one’s own frame of reference, there are themes that will jump off the page while those same themes will go unnoticed by another reader. For instance, one reviewer asked why the book was not being marketed as LGBTQ lit, while another didn’t see that at all and noted it was simply a story about a life. (Spoiler: there is no overt queer component in this story, but some will find a resonance all the same.)
You could also understand it as a story of poetry and literature, music, or the unique job of adjusting. In the end, it’s an exploration of the things that hold us back, and the unexpected ways we can move forward with a little help from our truest friends.
What or who inspired you to become an author?
I don’t recall a time that I did not want to be a writer, from the time I stapled the pages of my pilgrim story together in first grade. It may have been solidified listening to my 6th grade teacher read Poe’s “The Pit and the Pendulum” and being fascinated at how words arranged a certain way could make a guy feel.
What’s on your top 5 list for the best books you’ve ever read?
This list refreshes about every 5-10 years, but currently:
A General Theory of Love – Richard Lannon, Thomas Lewis, Fari Amini
Man Alive – Thomas Page McBee
Rumors of Water – L.L. Barkat
The Faraway Nearby – Rebecca Solnit
Donkey Gospel – Tony Hoagland
Say you’re the host of a literary talk show. Who would be your first guest? What would you want to ask?
John Keats figures prominently in Adjustments. If I had the chance, I’d sit him down at that talk show desk and ask him to say more about negative capability.
What’s your favorite thing about writing?
The writing process, for me, is about integration. I can have all the ideas in the world floating around in my head. But the process of writing brings those ideas together, in some ways knits fractured pieces into something cohesive. Seeing that cohesive whole is restorative.
What is a typical day like for you?
Well, unlike my character Will Phillips, I’m not running claims anymore. I train adjusters now. So a typical day for me is getting up early, going to the office and having a little breakfast and some tea or coffee, depending on the day, and trying to get some things done before I go into the classroom for 8 hours. After that, I come home, fix a little dinner, and sit down to read a bit, maybe catch up with friends and family, and some nights I might try to catch a glimpse of Schitt’s Creek on Netflix.
What scene in Adjustments was your favorite to write?
As the relationships in the story unfold, some very unexpectedly even for me as the author, one scene that was terrific fun to write and see personalities develop was when Pearl Jenkins, the protagonist’s landlady, has invited him and the new girl across the street for dinner in an obvious matchmaking scheme.
Will consequently invites Joe, his new friend, to join them in a counter-move to try to matchmake Joe with Pearl. Much of the dialogue in this story is written in a bantering style, which was always fun to write as I virtually acted the scenes out at my desk or at a table in a coffee shop. That banter hits its peak in this scene as Pearl is thrown totally off guard by the introduction of the fourth guest. There are chases around the kitchen with wet towel snaps, knives flourishing, and kicks under the table, along with clever conversation and a little poignancy to boot. Writing that scene was when I first realized that Pearl would be a force to reckon with in the story, a character who could (and must) truly stand on her own, and not just be a secondary figure to help move the story along. (In fact, she’s such a strong, endearing, and humorous character that she now has her own Ask Pearl advice column.)
Do you have a motto, quote or philosophy you live by?
I suspect there probably is, but I tend to think that it might be more clear to let others reveal to us the philosophy we live by—based on how they experience the way we live and move in the world. (That, probably, will tell you something about the philosophy I live by.)
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