William Dewey on Writing: The World of Wicked Joy

Will (William) Dewey is an old college friend. We met first semester there and it stuck. I’m lucky, so lucky that he took the time to enter into this email conversation with me. He’s about to embark on a tour to present his latest book The Homeland of Pure Joy. In short, he’s awesome.

Could you describe what you do? What’s unfolding for you in the next few months? Goals? Plans? My latest book, The Homeland of Pure Joy, is going to be released in the United States by a new press called Maybeparade in May, and in New Zealand by Lawrence & Gibson in September. I’ll be heading to the Pacific Northwest to celebrate the book’s release in a couple of weeks, and I like to imagine that a New Zealand national book tour lies somewhere in the near future.

What did it take for you to get to where you are today? It took writing.

That is, I’ll grant, a forehead-slappingly obvious answer, but writing — the actual act of sitting down and writing — is all that matters when you talk about writing, and it’s something is occasionally left out of discussions of writing as a sort of abstract thing.

There’s a paradox that I’m still trying to wrap my head around, that if publication is your absolute goal, then you’re just going to be frustrated and dissatisfied and you’re going to compromise your writing. Maybe I shouldn’t use the general “you” here; I’m going on my own experience. I saw the passion melt away, and I started writing stuff that I thought writers were supposed to write, rather than writing for the sheer joy of writing, and of course I got nowhere. I had to rediscover the passion, which meant writing selfishly again and abandoning those dreams of success where “success” meant the approbation of some faceless readership.

I really do believe that if you’re not writing selfishly, your writing’s never going to appeal to anyone else. That’s where the paradox comes in. Some of my stuff that makes its way out into the world could probably be considered self-indulgent, but erring the other way leads to pandering.

It’s a fine line. I obviously haven’t figured it out yet, but I’m working on it.

Where do you draw your greatest inspiration? Most of the inspiration comes from my peers. I know so many talented, ambitious, creative souls, and seeing them doing what they love makes me want to try harder.

What’s the biggest hurdle that you’ve loved tackling in your process of becoming the fabulous you? The self-doubt.

What’s the highlight of your day? Depends on the day. For the past few months I’ve been working full-time with an organization called the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, and sometimes that work leads to very rewarding experiences. And sometimes it’s tedious and demoralizing and I want nothing more than to get away from my desk.

Writing can be like that too. It is very often frustrating, and I’ll go for weeks where I feel like I’m not accomplishing anything. Then it all clicks into place and it just feels right, and I forget about all the anguish that preceded it.

What’s it like doing what you do in Colorado? Could you describe the literary scene in the state as well as your experiences in New Zealand? How often do you travel for work?Whatever literary scene exists in Denver, I’m outside it. I’ve met some writers here I admire, and there are some neat little presses and literary journals, but I just linger on the outskirts, a faceless creep.

Wellington was a little literary hub in the South Pacific. Lots of publishers, lots of bookish sorts of events, but it could also be very insular. I started to receive some acknowledgment there, and almost wormed my way into the fold, and then I left. I like to think some goodwill lingers for me in that city.

The Homeland of Pure Joy features two epigraphs, one the translation of a Friedrich Schiller poem by a German language scholar in Denver named Ross Etherton, and another from the New Zealand poet Lynley Edmeades. Those speak well to the literary communities in both places, I reckon.

Theme song/album of your youth? The album that probably got more play than any other in my teens was Infernal Love by Therapy, a collection of brokenheart songs alternating between rage and despondence. Like most teenagers, I expect, I fell prey to a lot of unrequited love and suffered accordingly.

When you look back at the decades of your life, what do you feel makes you proud to be part of our generation? The work my peers are doing. Ravi ZupaWes HopperGrawlix. I could go on.

Best piece of advice given or received? My mother used to tell me that we cannot make bad decisions. We make the right decisions based on the information we have at the time. I suppose that kind of thinking could lead easily to unapologetic arrogance, justifying all sorts of shitty behavior, but that misses the point. My mother’s counsel, tempered with genuine humility, is really about living in the moment and avoiding regret. We need to learn from our mistakes, obviously, but then apply those lessons to the present, rather than dwelling on them, miring ourselves in what could have been.

If you could get one thing back from your past, what would it be? My mother. That’s easy.

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