We’re back with Dennis Bates, author of “Under the Burr Oak Tree” and the newest release, “Sharon’s Song.”
What kinds of books do you read? Why do those appeal to you?
I read all over the place just because I love to read. I read about history, about people’s lives, and any good story I can get my hands on. Of course, I read love stories, because that’s what I do and I want to see how other writer’s handle things. I want to know what they think is important enough to write about. Give me a good love story any day and I am happy. My wife likes mysteries so every now and then I try to build a mystery thread into my books, but I don’t really care so much about “Who done it;” I’d rather know who they done it with.
Your books have a definite old-style quality as they are more literary and less pop-fiction. Is that by design? Why or why not?
I was an English/Journalism major so I was exposed to the classics. Shakespeare, Dickens, Hemingway, and the like To me good writing is good writing. I personally don’t think a lot of pop-fiction is good writing, but I think the public has been numbed and dumbed down to accept it as the way things should be. So have a lot of writers for that matter, but I promise not to name names. As I said earlier, I love words. I love the way they sound, how you put them together and how they can be worth reading just for their own sake. Metaphor, allegory, simile: I love all of them. I think a lot of people do too if they are exposed to them and somebody takes the time to show them how much richness they can add to language. All that to say, yes it is definitely by design. It’s how I think writing should be. It’s like the English poet Robert Browning said, “Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, Or what’s a heaven for?” Writing should be about reaching beyond our grasp, not grabbing the low hanging fruit and consuming it as fast as possible. Writing should challenge, question and cause people to think because the end result is worth it and we are better for it. A lot of pop-fiction is entertaining and quite enjoyable, but so much more of it is just one more way to waste time, and pass our lives away without trying to better them. Sure it allows us to escape and get away from the trials and troubles of daily existence, but wouldn’t it be so much better to escape to heaven than purgatory? Yes, I am old school, and I can’t be any other way, nor do I want to be.
You spoke about challenging people and causing them to think. What has made you think in your stories? What story have you written that changed you?
I purposely allow my characters to get themselves into trouble and compromising situations, and then I try to imagine how real people might respond. Sometimes they respond irresponsibly and do the wrong thing, at least according to the text book answers. Sometimes they don’t; they get it right. It doesn’t really matter to me sometimes what the characters do or decide, because all I really want the reader to do is think about what they should do and then ask themselves why. We assume far too many times that there is only one answer that is always right no matter what the situation. I think that stifles our growth. Maybe there is and maybe there isn’t. I do believe that there are some absolutes, Jesus Christ being one of them, but I also believe that a lot of our answers are driven by easy, overly simplistic dogma. We at least ought to examine that dogma to make sure it is valid. One example, and I hope it doesn’t ruin the scene, is in Burr Oak. I have a scene where my major heroine is standing in her bedroom wearing nothing but a blue dress shirt when the man she has fallen in love with walks by her open door. He stops and looks at her standing there and she unbuttons one or two buttons. The question I always ask people about that scene is simple: did they or didn’t they. I never say in the book, but everybody I ask has a definite opinion, and I find that to be so much fun because it tells me a lot about how they understood the book and that scene in particular.
What story changed me? All of them. I go through the stories with the characters and always end up different at the end in some way. The story that probably changed me the most will never be published in the original form. You know what it is because you are one of the only people that ever read it. Use this answer or don’t; it doesn’t matter to me. However, I suspect a lot of writers have a story tucked away somewhere that they wrote for themselves instead of for publication. I know I do.
If you went back in time to Dennis before writing and could tell him something, what would it be? Why?
I have always written to some degree since I can remember. However, if you are talking about my current efforts, I would ask Dennis, “What are you waiting for? Just do it.” It’s just too much fun to miss.
Thanks, Dennis! This has been awesome!
Be sure to check out Dennis’s new book “Sharon’s Song” at: http://www.lulu.com/spirit-light