Thursday, August 3, 2023

Q&A with William Dameron




William Dameron is the author of the new novel The Way Life Should Be. He also has written the memoir The Lie. An IT director for a global economic consulting firm, he lives in Maine and in Florida.


Q: What inspired you to write The Way Life Should Be, and how did you create your cast of characters?


A: The year after my first book, The Lie, came out, the pandemic hit, and we were all shrink-wrapped into our little bubbles for a couple of years. My bubble was in a small town in southern Maine with my husband, two nearly adult children, and aging in-laws. Like many of us, I lost hope and creativity and eventually lost my beloved father-in-law to Covid.


My agent, Christopher Schelling, called to check in on me, and I was a blubbering mess. He told me to write down the events that were going on around me like a reporter. I captured the details of the people I love, but the plot was like any other story during this time, one day mindlessly blurring into the next. So, I took a few details, created new characters, and placed them in crises they never experienced.  


The American writer Grace Paley said, “You write from what you know, but you write into what you don’t know.” I began with what I knew, my family, Maine, caring for in-laws, and threw them into untenable situations where the pandemic did not exist, but replaced it with the personification of calamity in the form of other characters (Betty and DJ) and disastrous situations, like infidelity and disease.  


Q: The novel is set in a cottage along the Maine coast--how important is setting to you in your writing?


A: Maine is a character in my novel. It is as mystically beguiling and beautiful as so many have claimed, but it also has endearing quirks. This setting is critical as Maine represents the extended family, and the small cottage is a metaphor for a marriage, in this case, a second marriage.


The reader gets to experience Maine through the eyes of multiple characters, Thomas who views it as a paradise; Abbie, who first experiences it as a prison; Bex and Brian as a sanctuary; Annie sees Maine as the symbol of her brother Matt’s love for Thomas and DJ wants to protect Maine's borders from nefarious characters.


Q: The writer Karen Dukess called the book “an unflinching yet unabashedly romantic ode to family.” What do you think of that description?


A: I am such a fan of Karen's writing and loved her novel, The Last Book Party. Her praise means the world to me! I believe she is spot-on with her description. This novel centers around the idea that family can break us but then rebuild us.


Like the cottage in the novel, the time frame is compressed, one summer. Three generations are placed into a pressure cooker and must confront the collateral damage of divorce, the wrongs done to them, and the transgressions to others. We, as parents, have to confront our own demons if we ever expect to help our children tackle theirs.

This one summer in Maine is a reckoning, which makes it unflinching. However, beneath that is an undercurrent of love and acceptance that eventually pulls the family back together, ultimately making it a romantic ode to family.  


Q: Did you know how the novel would end before you started writing it, or did you make many changes along the way?


A: This question asks whether I am a “pantser” or a plotter. Pantsers fly by the seat of their pants and let the writing take them where it may go, and plotters plan out the story's arc. I am a plotter.


I generally knew where the story was going and how it would end. I created a profile for each of the main characters: Who they were, what they were seeking, what flaw existed that kept them from getting their desire, and how they would either overcome that flaw or not. Then I summarized the chapters and created roadblocks to keep my characters in conflict.


What surprised me while writing this novel were the detours my characters sometimes took. I think those will also delight the reader because they are unexpected and fresh. During the developmental editing process with my editor, we discovered ways to alter a few trajectories to make the story more cohesive and surprising. I am the type of writer who values input from an editor and will run with it!


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I am working on two novels. One is historical fiction, tentatively titled “The Valley of Heart's Delight.” It is based on my great uncle, who traveled from a small town in Minnesota to San Jose, California, in the late 1930s, was drafted, fought in the Pacific theater, and then lived out his days as a letter carrier in the 1950s. He died at 51, and in his obituary, one line struck me: “He never married.”


I have researched his life, looking at historical records, draft cards, and previous addresses, and know that he lived with a man, Victor, who he listed as someone who would always know him. They lived together before the war but not after.


I am creating and recording the story that many of our gay relatives who came before us could not tell. They fought for their country, and during the 1950s, their country turned on them, labeling them deviants and perverts.


The second novel takes place in a large development in Florida during the present day and follows John Darling after his wife of 40 years dies, and he undergoes open-heart surgery. It is a story of reawakening, identity, the preciousness of life, and the absurdity of all things Florida.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: While editing The Way Life Should Be, I visited Guernsey in the Channel Islands for the 50th anniversary of UK pride. I was invited by Liberate, the LGBTQ+ support group, and honestly fell in love with the people and the island. In honor of them, I named the town where “The Way Life Should Be” New Guernsey.


I also had open-heart surgery during the final stages of the production of this book. It was unexpected and, surprisingly, mirrored the “near misses” in this book. It was a life-changing event. In Portland, Maine, at Maine Health, my heart was saved, an emphatic exclamation point on my love story of Maine.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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