By Seija Rankin
December 09, 2020 at 12:00 PM EST
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Credit: Courtesy Casey Wilson

Casey Wilson's new book isn't a memoir, but she is okay if you call it — in the words of Kris Jenner — a mem-wah. The tome, titled The Wreckage of My Presence, is a collection of personal essays about her relationships, her friendships, the (lowbrow!) pop culture that feels like a friendship, and the grief and joy that have marked her twenties and thirties.

"I'm a person of excess," the actress and writer tells EW with a laugh. "As my friend Kulap [Vilaysack] says, I live a celebratory life. I'm about excess in every way, shape, or form, and curbing excess is a full-time job. I just tried to start there, and work in anything in my life that has stayed with me because it's either funny or totally crazy."

Wilson, who recently turned 40, has long been a fan of the genre: Nora Ephron and David Sedaris, of course, but she counts Erma Bombeck as a longtime inspiration, having read the humorist's collections as a preteen thanks to her mother's bookshelves ("I was reading about her child-rearing and laughing out loud"). She began thinking more seriously about putting her own pen to paper as the landmark birthday approached. "I always wanted to do this, but I would say I never really had the confidence for it," Wilson says, noting that the sheer volume of material helped convince her otherwise. The book's title came from an interaction during a business meeting (well before she began work on the book). Below, Wilson reveals the cover of The Wreckage of My Presence (which is set to hit shelves May 4), explains what exactly that wreckage is, and opens up about the friendships that helped bring the stories to life on and off the page.

Credit: Harper

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Can you share the meaning of the book's title?

CASEY WILSON: I was at just a general meeting with a bunch of people and we were all sitting around and everybody had coffee cups, like you do during a meeting. As we were walking out, our boss turned back over his shoulder — incredibly casually — and just said to everybody, "Hey, don't forget to take with you the wreckage of your presence." Referring to our Starbucks and our Snapples. And I just stood stunned by the phrase — that dramatic phrasing — but I also thought it was just so incredible and kind of summed up my twenties and thirties. It was just the wreckage that I had left behind, and it always stayed with me. I thought it was funny and tragic and meaningful and absurd.

How did you eventually come to decide on the specific subject matter of the essays you wrote?

I worked with this great agent, David [Kuhn], who's kind of this legendary book agent, and he had an interesting way in: He said it's great to write down just a list of your obsessions. And so I have an essay about my disdain for opening an Afrin — how you can never get the top off an Afrin bottle — to the depth of depression that I plunged into after my mom's passing. And then there's the time my dad got a perm after she died. You know, wide-ranging topics that I feel equally strongly about. My husband said, "You really seem to be a magnet for the insane and unwell." Maybe you've heard this story, but my dad found a $20 bill and felt he bore a great resemblance to Andrew Jackson and would look more like him if he got a kind of large-barrel perm. That was really upsetting to process in the wake of my mother's passing. It was almost as bad.

Do you keep, or have you kept, a diary?

I will say I've had some of these stories just kind of in my heart; they're things that I think need to be told — some real doozies. But I also kept very dramatic journal entries about who I was going to murder, for example, that I was able to pull from as well.

What's the story behind the photo on the book's cover?

It was taken at my 30th birthday, and the full photo shows my now-husband [David Caspe] and I, but we weren't dating at the time. I had just started doing the show Happy Endings and had invited everyone. My life was just all over the place — I had been let go from Saturday Night Live, I had started this new show. I didn't know where it would go, but I was so excited to have a job that I loved. I just thought it was sort of a funny photo turning 30 of a midway point, emotionally, in my life. The photo is very much candid.

Are you in a bar?

Yes, I was in a bar and had had a few drinks and then strangely did karaoke by myself — and to "Crazy," by Patsy Cline. No one was in the back room with me, I was just doing it alone. I followed it up by "What's Up?" by 4 Non Blondes.

What was your writing process for these essays? Especially since it's such a different medium than the screenplay.

You know, I joined the Jane Club, which is this organization that was started by my best friend June Diane Raphael, and we did a two-woman show together when we were 21 and have been kind of comedy partners, if you will, for our entire lives. And then she started this kind of incredible workspace for women — and somewhat specifically, mothers — to come and have a place to do their work. It coincided with the kicking off of the book. Even though writing is so solitary and can be difficult, I really felt like there was something about getting to do it surrounded by other women who were working on their passion projects — it was so inspiring. To be honest, I'd see everybody tapping away and think, I gotta get to it. I really wrote the whole book at the Jane Club.

What would you say is the major theme of The Wreckage of My Presence, if you could sum it up?

June really is a great example — she's kind of the anchoring friendship of my life. We started our careers together and made many mistakes and I think got very far together. So it's about my deep female friendships — and in my [romantic] relationships, I never liked bad boys. I only liked like good guys and I was the bad boy, if anything. I was just terrible with everyone and horrible. And then it's also about the grief surrounding my beloved mom's passing, and the spiraling that transpired afterwards. It even spiraled into a podcast, which is so silly on its face, about The Real Housewives — but the Housewives played a role in my healing after my mom died. I think I hesitate to say the book is expansive, but it kind of is. There's a lot about motherhood and anger and the general wreckage of my life in different areas.

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