Beloved creative writing and English professor, Kevin Wilson, is releasing his newest novel, Now Is Not the Time to Panic, on November 8, 2022. Wilson has written three novels prior to this one, as well as two collections of short stories.
Now Is Not the Time to Panic is a coming of age novel about two loner teenagers, Frankie Budge and Zeke, growing up in Coalfield, Tennessee in the ‘90’s. One life-changing summer, the two meet and as romantic and artistic sparks fly, they create an art project, an unforgettable poster, that becomes a national phenomenon.
“It’s really about a woman in her 30’s in the present day, who, through some circumstances, is looking back to her past,” Wilson said. “She’s thinking about this one summer when she was 16, where she met this boy. Over the course of summer they created this art project and it got way out of their control. Nobody knew who was making it. It became this huge kind of panic.”
Years later, a reporter reaches out to Frankie, now a famous author, wife, and mother and Frankie has to decide if she’s willing to reveal her past to the public and to her family.
“Now in the present, somebody has discovered that she was one of the people that made it,” Wilson said. “She’s having to reckon with, ‘How did I become the person that I am? What did this summer mean for me?’ It’s really a book about nostalgia. Looking back to figure out who you are now, so that you can figure out how to keep going.”
While Wilson was growing up, similar to his protagonist, one summer he met someone who changed his life forever.
“The summer between my freshman and sophomore year of college, I lived with two guys, one was my cousin, and one was this boy Eric,” Wilson said. “They were both five years older than me. Eric had gone to NYU film school, and had just finished his MFA at Alabama for acting and theater, and he was moving to LA after this summer.”
Eric was a creative person and he and Wilson made “little movies” all summer long and spent a lot of time together, sharing their artistic abilities with each other.
“I became really close to him,” Wilson said. “He was really interesting, and he was the first person I met who didn’t think that art was something you couldn’t do. He was the first person who thought about me as someone who could write.”
Eric was the one who came up with the phrase that becomes the centerpoint of this art piece and the “throughline of the book.” Wilson discussed how during that summer, Eric wrote the line and how it became special to Wilson.
“He ended up writing this line. ‘The edge is a shantytown filled with gold seekers. We are fugitives, and the law is skinny with hunger for us,’” Wilson said. “It was just this line, it didn’t mean anything. But I said it over and over again for the rest of my life, I say it about two, three times a day.”
Tragically, during the pandemic Eric died of liver failure and Wilson was faced with a decision.
“The moment he died, I was like, ‘I don’t think I want to write this book,’” Wilson said. “It took me a while to figure out that the book is about someone else. That’s why I write fiction, it’s a story I want to tell.”
Now Is Not the Time to Panic is “dedicated to Eric” and Wilson honors his memory through the beautiful story he tells of two teenagers trying to find their way through an overwhelming and confusing world.
“It was kind of a way to pay tribute to this guy that meant a lot to me,” Wilson said. “I feel like the book coming out is good for me psychologically, as I think about missing him and him not being around.”
Outside of writing, Wilson is a dedicated professor at Sewanee and is working hard to launch the newly started creative writing major off the ground. 2023 will be the first year that students will graduate with the major, and Wilson wants to make sure they feel proud of the work they’ve done and the degree they’ve earned.
“I never thought of teaching and writing as separate things,” Wilson said. “I love teaching, I love talking about literature and talking about how you make something. It’s really helpful for me to every semester have to redefine my thoughts on writing. Writing and working with students, they funnel into each other. When I read something one of my students has written, it makes me excited to get back into my own work.”
Wilson is looking forward to taking a break from publishing and spending his valuable time working with his dedicated students.
“I’m always writing, it’s something that means a lot to me,” Wilson said. “But right now, what I’m trying to focus on is the creative writing major. It’s brand new, and we will have five or six students graduate next year with a major in creative writing. I want to make sure those students have a really wonderful experience, and feel like it was worth it to decide to do this.”