BROWSE BY:     Title Number Subject Creator Digital Content

Interview with William (Bill) DiNome, October 25, 2007 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

pdf icon Get PDF Version
Title:
Interview with William (Bill) DiNome, October 25, 2007
Date:
October 25, 2007
Description:
Interview with Bill DeNome, author and lecturer in the Dept. of English and Graduate Liberal Studies at UNCW.
Phys. Desc:

Interviewee:  DiNome, William Interviewer:  Diesenhaus, Doug Date of Interview:  10/25/2007 Series:  SENC Writers Length  40 minutes

 

Diesenhaus: I'm Doug Diesenhaus and today, October 25th, 2007, I'll be interviewing Bill DiNome for the Randall Library Oral History project on creative writers. Perhaps the best place to start, if you could talk about how you got started writing.

DiNome: I think I'm no different than most people who enjoy writing. You do it from the time before you can even remember in one way or another. I remember when I first started noticing that I was doing it in any kind of systematic way was back in high school, where I was simply keeping a notebook that I would fill up, and when that was done, I'd fill up another one. I had a friend in high school who at that time was really interested in writing short stories. I was mostly interested in writing poetry at that time, what I thought was poetry. So we used to collaborate a lot. We'd share notebooks, we'd read each other's work. That was I think in freshman, sophomore and high school was really when I noticed that I was enjoying this as something to do a lot. I didn't start doing it professionally though until the mid-'80s when I sort of fell into it accidentally. It's often referred to as the accidental profession, publishing. I got started in book publishing there completely accidentally, because I was working as a musician. I basically needed a daytime job to pay my rent. I answered a temp job ad in the New York Times and before I knew it, I was working for Berkeley Putnam as a copywriter.

Diesenhaus: What kind of stuff were you writing, cover?

DiNome: At that time yeah. I started out doing catalog copy mostly. I gradually got into cover copy. After a few months, I started freelancing for other publishers and doing just a variety of things. Then I started moving into advertising agencies as well, and always keeping my day job. So playing less music as I went, doing more writing, realizing that I was probably a better writer than I am a musician, and I could certainly make more money at it. I was doing quite a lot of different kinds of copy for the publishing industry, canned interviews, advertisements, hard cover copy, flat copy as well as paperback. It was a pretty wide variety of things over time.

Diesenhaus: Do you think that kind of writing had a positive or negative effect on the kind of creative writing that you had first started with?

DiNome: Yeah, I think it's really helpful, because personally I think a professional writer needs to be a versatile writer, so being given regular deadlines, being given topics to write upon that you were unfamiliar with, it's exactly the same thing that journalists face every day, and you sort of become a professional student. In advertising or in book publishing, you tend not to be able to focus a whole lot on a particular subject or beat, so things are coming at you from every direction. So I enjoyed that. And coincidentally, I think being a musician also helped, because I was writing a lot of music in the late '70s and early '80s, and arranging it. That was a kind of composition that did feed into my verbal work. They really fed each other, because the grammar may differ, but the process is very much the same.

Diesenhaus: Can you talk more about the process, how it may be similar, especially thinking about rhythm and pace.

DiNome: Yeah, I'm a real believer in rhythm, whether it's prose or poetry. I pay a lot of attention to the way sentences and paragraphs begin and end, where the stresses lie, and simply the cadence. So it's not uncommon that I'll just read aloud whatever it is I'm doing before I decide that this is the way I want it. But the process, they talk about musicians playing music, and so the sense of play is really key to it. That's not necessarily the same kind of experience that I have in writing all the time. It just depends on the kind of writing. If I'm writing nonfiction, especially something business oriented, there's always an element of play necessary, but when you're writing fiction or poetry or something a little bit more playful, it really is fun, just for the hell of it, just to try something on for the sound or the rhythm, and hopefully some meaning, but not necessarily. So that process could start from the smallest spark of an idea, and you just keep working at it. I'm a real believer in free writing and brainstorming on paper. That get me through countless number of hours that I could otherwise be pulling my hair out trying to figure. So if I'm not sure where the next word belongs, or what the next sentence should say, I just shove it aside and sit back and start free writing. I think that's really key for my process.

Diesenhaus: When you talk about the sound, have you ever recorded or spoken what you've written into a microphone?

DiNome: I have on occasion. Not recently. It's a long time ago, but I also used to play, when I was in college especially, I was a music major in college. I remember taking a class with Mario Davidovsky, who was a Pulitzer Prize winning composer who experimented with a lot of pre recorded tracks with live performance. I remember experimenting then with previously published poetry, and I remember having a lot of fun, for instance, with "Jabberwocky," and then improvising some of my own stuff over that, processing the sound too, putting it through ring modulators and really weird stuff, just to change the sound. It didn't necessarily go anywhere, but it was a lot of fun. But to play off the rhythm, it was really just music in that sense, playing off the rhythm of what was already on tape, and just seeing what happens from there, so a little bit of experimentation there.

Diesenhaus: In your music life, did you ever work with lyrics and song book?

DiNome: Quite a lot. I wouldn't say I was real proficient at it. I wrote several dozens of songs and performed them as well, and of course, some were more successful than others. But I don't think I have anything terribly enlightening to shine on that. Simply paying attention to stresses, because for me, if you're going to add lyrics to music, lyrics need to be understood. So accented typically unaccented syllables, or placing, wedging words into rhythms or places where it makes it difficult just to hear them doesn't make any sense to me. And then you're starting to move into the realm of Captain Beefheart where you're just using words for their sound and not their meaning, which is perfectly fine. That's another agenda. So if you're writing lyrics to be understood, they need to be heard.

Diesenhaus: Is it something that you're still doing now? Where's the music?

DiNome: The music has sort of fallen away. I stopped playing music back in the early '90s when I first came to Wilmington.

Diesenhaus: Was there something about coming to Wilmington that--?

DiNome: Oh, a lot of personal changes. Yeah, I think that whole creative part of my life shifted dramatically out of music when the woman I was living with died. I came to Wilmington really as a complete new start, and my life now resembles almost nothing to what it was before 1990.

Diesenhaus: I don't want to pry into your personal life, but given that was a shift in your creative energies, your shift was to a different form of writing. Was there something where writing felt like a better fit?

DiNome: It's a good question, and it's still pretty mysterious to me today. I kind of believe that to some degree, music, like poetry, is one of the last mystical languages left on the planet. I think Robert Graves said that about poetry. I had been writing prior to becoming a musician and after. So that's always been the thread, or the foundation that's always been there. I think the decade and a half or more where I was doing a lot of music, it wasn't a digression necessarily, but it was a real sort of adventure into nonverbal expression. Why that fell away and shifted is really mysterious to me, but I felt I was getting a valuable creative outlet in writing, whereas music is primarily nonverbal. Carrying idea, exploring idea in writing in some ways is more satisfying to me. You can't necessarily carry ideas in instrumental music. Like the romantics used to say, Walter Pater, the critic used to say, if I remember it, "All artists aspire to the condition of music." I think that's romantic, it's nice. One of the mysterious things about music was how just the sound of a major chord can give us a visceral response that different substantially from the sound of a minor chord. Nobody really, to my knowledge, understands the cause of that. What gives you goose bumps when you hear it, without any kind of idea necessarily attached to it? Because music is ultimately arbitrary. I don't always get that same sense from writing, because the ideas are really what's carrying most of the writing, but I have had that experience, for instance, when reading "Drum Taps" by Whitman, where I would just be thrown back in my seat, and realize that this book I'm holding is probably one of the most sacred things I could be holding at the moment, so it does happen.

Diesenhaus: You talked about the thread of writing being present both after and before the music aspect of your life. When you were younger, before you came to be filling notebooks with writing, was reading an important part of your life?

DiNome: Always.

Diesenhaus: Were there certain works that were really influential for you early on, or that you just enjoyed?

DiNome: I remember in high school and later grammar school, like most young kids, being really thrilled by Edgar Allen Poe. Anything macabre and mysterious was always fun. Specific ones don't stand out to me very much except when I was six years old, first grade or so, I remember loving Dr. Seuss, so vague connections, but always books. I think when I look at old photographs of myself as a child, it's surprising to me how many of them have me sitting with a book.

Diesenhaus: Were there adults or teachers who were influential in validating that, or helping you think about writing?

DiNome: Sure, along the way. Early on, I don't think any particular one stands out, except the occasional elementary school teacher who really responded very positively to something I had written for class. I remember one time especially, I'm not sure what grade it was. It might have been seventh grade where I had this one teacher just gloat over this one essay that I had written, which I didn't think was very good. I had tossed it off on deadline and she loved it. So the very next essay I wrote, I thought, "Well, I must be really hot, some I'm going to really pay attention to this one," and she tore it up. It was just the opposite response, so that was pretty funny. It was a nice balancing act.

Diesenhaus: You touched upon the mystery of why writing became your focus, but more specifically, why did you pursue the MFA here at Wilmington, the professionalization?

DiNome: It was a similar impulse I had when I went into college as an undergraduate. At that time, coming out of high school, I knew that the two things that I was most interested in at that time were literature and music. I dabbled in both in my first couple of semesters in college, and I decided I needed to major in music, because it was the most difficult thing I could think of doing. Literature came pretty easily. After years of working in book publishing and freelancing and so on, I was working in public radio here in Wilmington when I heard about the MFA program starting up. I had thought that having a graduate degree would be useful just professionally in terms of doing something else, and in Wilmington, quite frankly, if you're not involved with the university, there's not a whole lot else available back in 1990 or '95 or so. It seemed like that was the magnet that drew me. I was kind of intrigued by it. I don't necessarily put a lot of faith in degrees. You could write just as well without a degree. Maybe not with the same awareness. You never write the same way once you've gone through that kind of schooling, but I did want to professionalize it really as a job, just for the sake of employment. That was my main impulse. And I chose to focus on fiction because I was not a naturally good fiction writer, and I thought that would be the most difficult thing I could do at the time. So rather than continue doing nonfiction or something that came a little bit more naturally, I decided to try something really different, what seemed really different to me. And it was about as difficult as I expected.

Diesenhaus: You said the same thing about the challenge, that the most difficult thing you'd do being music. Is there something that you always like to put some insurmountable challenge in front of you?

DiNome: I don't like to do it. It's not comfortable, but I think if you don't do it, you're really just not living. What is life all about beyond that? I've never been one to do the same old thing for very long, even in terms of my employment. Not so much lately, but most of my life I've tried so many different things. I just enjoy that. I don't know if there's a much better explanation for that, except that I enjoy challenge.

Diesenhaus: Can you talk about your thoughts about the MFA, and your challenges to it, about whether writing can be taught?

DiNome: I don't believe writing can be taught, but it can be learned. I think a lot of composition teachers say that and I think it's pretty true. I never really thought much about it before going through the MFA-- and by the way, when I started in the degree here, the MFA program had not yet been authorized technically, so I started in the MA program, going through the more traditional track in terms of pedagogy. I was grandfathered into the MFA program. So I felt that I got a pretty good underpinning in pedagogy itself, the methods and the theory behind it. I do believe that writing really cannot be taught but you can show the way. I think it takes, to really become a good writer, it takes a lot of curiosity on the part of the writer, to look at other people's work and break it down to the last letter and piece of punctuation to understand why is this working or not working, and what has the writer done to achieve this? And to really test your own esthetic against what you see in the world. If you enjoy a particular piece of writing, trying to come to grips with why you enjoy it is really key, and that's not very different than listening to a piece of music, and when you get goose bumps, your heart rate goes up. To begin to look back again at that piece of music and try to figure out, why did it make me feel like that? What is it about this? It's an interplay of so many different components I think, that for most people it's a lot of work to look at and we don't tend to do it. But I find that's useful in teaching myself how to write.

Diesenhaus: In instruction, are there parallels to the music world? Do you feel the same way about the music world, that perhaps it can't be taught but can be learned? Are there elements that can be taught, such as structure or specific pieces?

DiNome: Yeah, you can teach structure and how to frame things in both cases. But I think that's just the beginning, because the really interesting artists are the ones who play with those structures. I think formulas, in whatever genre you're working in, work because they've been tested. But they only work as formulas until you start really pushing them to their possibilities. In music, I think there's a lot more technique necessary. Most people can push a pen or use a keyboard when they're writing, but music is much more complex in terms of just the sheer technical skill, before you even get to self expression. That's the major hurdle. That's probably why there are so few really good musicians out there.

Diesenhaus: Are there other parallels between technique in music and craft in writing? In music, is the technique superior or more complex to ideas of craft in writing?

DiNome: I'm separating technique in music by the actual physical movement of your hands or your breath, or whatever it may be, from the craft issues of composition. And I think when it comes to just pure composition, writing music is very, very similar to writing prose or poetry. To me, there's something ineffable about it. It's really hard to put my finger on-- we talk about various craft issues. Again, I think you could look at lots of models, and if you don't grock it, you're not going to get it.

Diesenhaus: Does that mean in music you might see more freedom to expand virtuosity?

DiNome: To some degree, because if words, if writing is ultimately limited to language, music doesn't have that limitation. Music can resort to anything available to you that's audial, so it doesn't have to be verbal, it doesn't have to be made from a musical instrument. It could be the sound of your feet rubbing against carpet. It doesn't matter. So the palette is much wider. Other than that, I think it's pretty much the same.

Diesenhaus: On the flip side, have you ever felt limited in writing?

DiNome: Oh sure.

Diesenhaus: Missing opportunities that you might have had in music?

DiNome: I don't know if I would phrase it as opportunities, but feeling limited in just trying to grasp or embrace the feeling that I'm after. I think a lot of art is in some ways the pursuit of a dream, and as dreams often are just feelings, trying to capture that feeling in any medium is the great challenge, and I think language is especially limiting in that way. It's probably, of course, the most useful mode of communicating ideas, but we all know how limited it is, and how easily misunderstood it is. Just capturing that just right combination of rhythm, structure, meaning, all in one sentence, that's a real trick.

Diesenhaus: You talked about pedagogy in your program. Have you taught writing or would you want to teach writing in any kind of way?

DiNome: Yeah, I think starting in the MA program, before it really got me into teaching, more than I expected I would be. And I really found that I loved it, so teaching a lot of composition over the years, and gradually started teaching literature as well. Since I've been working with student media, I'm teaching a lot more journalism, and a lot of the techniques and ethics in that. So yeah, I think I've had a fairly good range. I don't see myself as a poet. I've done poetry but it's not my forte, but yeah, I've taught it, I love it. I love to teach writing. It's really about coaching. Again, we call it teaching, but it's really about coaching. When the player's on the field, the game is theirs.

Diesenhaus: I took a look at your thesis, which is a novel with strong elements of historical fiction. I'm curious about where you are with creative works now, and since then, are you writing other novels. Are you working on various--?

DiNome: That's a great question, because no I'm not is the short answer. Since I've been working as the media coordinator here at UNCW, that's such time consuming job, it's a 12 month position, that I really haven't had any time to set aside for that. Plus I love what I do, so I spend a lot more time than I probably would otherwise in doing that. This is interesting to me, because it kind of goes back to when I first started earning money as a writer, and I wanted to be, quote, unquote, a "creative writer," whatever that means. For me personally, I felt that I may or may not make a living at this, at times, and I may not be able to count on making a living at it all the time. So I'm pretty comfortable with the idea of going back and forth now and then earning my money one way or another. I think as time goes on, I'm sort of-- maybe it's a rationalization, but I'm separating my ego from what I write and what I do to a greater degree than I ever have before. To me, the satisfaction I get out of writing is largely about testing my perceptions against reality, whatever that is, and going back and forth, just testing myself, trying to understand myself. So the things I'm writing today that I'm not publishing help me do that nonetheless. So publishing is almost beside the point for me. I don't see myself needing the attention that publishing can bring, although that's not always true. I see myself doing it again, but I haven't been lately.

Diesenhaus: Your freelance career, has that been an element since the MFA, or is that something that was primarily before?

DiNome: I kept that up for a pretty long time. Pretty much up until just three or four years ago when that started sort of petering out. When I came to Wilmington in 1990, that's pretty much how I supported myself, right up until the time, wholly until 1998 when I got into this position. And then as they overlapped, I found myself doing more of one and less of the other. I'm not sure if I answered that question entirely.

Diesenhaus: I think so, but I'm also curious if you enjoyed the freelance lifestyle.

DiNome: That's a great question too.

Diesenhaus: Or if it was too much of a hustle.

DiNome: It's a hustle. It's very difficult, I think. I think until you reach a certain plateau, a certain level of accomplishment and notoriety, it's always a struggle. You're constantly working on three, four, five different items simultaneously while you're doing your own bookkeeping probably, and trying to keep track of your taxes, and coming up with new story ideas, keeping 20 things in the mail all the time. It's a real juggle as you probably know. Yeah, that was hard. I didn't always enjoy it. When I was a staff copy writer in the book industry, that had some of it's own satisfactions and dissatisfactions, but overall it was easy, because you've got your assignments for the month and you knew what you had to do and how to go about it. It left time to do other things as well. So yeah, that's a real struggle, I think. That's one of the reasons why I think a lot of freelancers who get started really beat themselves up if they're not successful in X number of years, and they think, "Oh my god, I'm going to have to take a part time job now." Well so what? Just keep writing.

Diesenhaus: Some of your work has been for travel and guidebooks, the "Insider's Guide." I'm curious about recreating a place through writing about it. Is that something you enjoyed? What was the process?

DiNome: I remember something that Bob Rees told me a long time ago when I was in the program here, which is, "Go to the place." You can't write about a place, even if you've done all the interviewing you think you need without going to it." So I used to do that all the time. It's a great excuse for traveling, even just locally. For that book, that series, my range was more or less from the South Caroline state line to the North Topsail. I was brand new to town. I was in town maybe six or eight months when I came across that opportunity, so it was just a great way to meet people. So I got to interview people who had survived Hurricane Hazel, and floated across the Intercoastal on a mattress. The oldest woman then living in Brunswick County. The first black family that owned property on Topsail Island. So just meeting people and visiting their homes, talking about them, seeing how they live, that's great fun to me. I really loved it.

Diesenhaus: And then through that process and then the writing, were you seeking to create a narrative of a place?

DiNome: Not typically, but I did have the opportunity in the early versions of that series to do that a little bit. They had these little items. They were usually referred to as oral histories, but they were basically short feature articles on particular topics, whether it was the Fort Fisher Hermit, or a lot of old beat up topics too. So there was a little bit of opportunity there to do that. But otherwise that particular series was really just trying to get across the character of a place or an event in a very short space.

Diesenhaus: You said that happened right when you first came. Interacting with the community like that, did that help you to kind of adjust to a new place?

DiNome: Absolutely. It was the best way to integrate myself into this community that I could imagine, because there's a lot of skepticism about the damn Yankees coming down here to stay, and I'm certainly one of them. I got to know this area better than some of the locals in a pretty short time, so that was kind of fun. There was the occasional bit of a rush when I'd be sitting on the beach and look over at people on the next blanket and they're reading a book with my picture on the back of it. That was kind of cute.

Diesenhaus: I believe that you've published two novels under a pseudonym.

DiNome: Three.

Diesenhaus: I want to ask what kind of books they were, and why under a pseudonym.

DiNome: They were pretty horrible! These are called genre Westerns, and more specifically, they're referred to as adult Westerns. Back in the '60s and through the '80s, these were largely the bread and butter of a lot of large paperback publishing genre list. They were very often-- I mean, probably the best known one is the Harlequin romances. They would use a corral of writers, very typically all writing under the same name. So there was a huge range of how they were done. Some were more formulaic than others, and the series that I wrote for was probably among the least formulaic. It was one of the older series too, and I think it's since been discontinued, because it just lost its popularity over time. But that was interesting, because it was like writing for a TV series, where you were given what they call the bible. It was a list of characters, a list of characteristics, some background. All the stories had to take place in 1872. What was the economic situation then, the political condition of the country and so on? This bible basically gave you a snapshot. They talked about what products and services were available then. Starbucks was the coffee of the day. It had nothing to do with today's Starbucks. What currency was in circulation and so on. So you really had to digest the bible and be able to write within the spaces, and make sure that you're not crossing over any taboos that they would reject.

Diesenhaus: Was the bible enough of an introduction to that world, or did you have some experience with the Western genre?

DiNome: I didn't really have much experience, and I think at that time I was also a member of some writers' organizations. I was a member of several and I can't remember which one it was that published these really interesting genre glossaries. I used to research things like that to found out how people spoke in those days, and what the vernacular was like. I did a lot of research on them. I probably didn't have to, because some of the other writers-- and this is the other thing, I didn't see myself as wanting to do genre writing for very long, but largely it was a way to get my foot in the door with a particular editor and his publisher. So that was nice. I was going cross country, I was spending about six months on the road, and I wanted to collect information as I went. So before leaving, I was trying to get this contract signed. I don't know if I'm digressing too much here. For some reason, the editor wasn't ready to get this contract together, so before I left, I was up in the northeast. So I stopped into Manhattan, visited the guy's office and basically came to his doorstep and said, "I want that contract. Can we get this done?" And just as we're talking, the publisher comes running by. He was one of these guys, incredibly energetic, and he recognized me from when I was working there as a staff writer. He shook my hand, and says, "What are you doing here?" I said, "I'm trying to get him to give me a contract." He looked at the editor and said, "Sign him up," and he ran away. I ended up doing three of those and wrote off my cross country trip.

Diesenhaus: The research that you're talking about brings me back to your thesis a bit. If I'm correct, part of it was situated in medieval Italy. I looked a bit at your research in the back. It was very substantial. Is that something you're naturally drawn to? Do you like the research process?

DiNome: I love history and I don't know what I'll do with it next, because I love the idea of fictional-- historical fiction, but to break that out of any kind of genre mold is a real challenge. I've always loved history, and I can see myself some day probably writing something, some historical nonfiction. But I really love playing with ideas that come out of historical characters, especially when they're ideas that we have no solid sense about. Going back as far as the Middle Ages into a character like Dante really offers you a lot of material, because we think we know a lot about him, and at the same time, I'm reading between the lines thinking, "No, he's sometimes--" You're just not sure if he's representing himself honestly. But then also, coming up into the 20th century and seeing some of the work that Ezra Pound did on Cavalcanti and some of that. The way he plays with the ideas that they raised really struck me as interesting as well. So I'm not so sure how successful that experiment was, and since then, I've rewritten that thing dramatically. That's basically a draft. I don't think it's terribly successful, but since then I think I've smoothed it over quite a lot. It's a far fetch, I think, to have these alternating chapters between the 13th century Italy and contemporary America. There's a lot of numerology thrown into it because of that. Things like dates and times and stuff like that have meaning, and it was a lot of play.

Diesenhaus: With the research for your freelance work, I wonder how you came to your ideas. Were your ideas coming naturally, or were you seeking them out through research of various types?

DiNome: All of the above. Ideas are everywhere and I think the more you do this kind of work, the more ideas show themselves. When I talk to young writers and they're at work trying to find ideas, and they just can't come up with an idea. But once you begin to find it and see what's important about an idea, it starts spinning off into every other area. The old expression, "the more you do, the more you can do." I read a lot. I keep up with both current periodicals and I like to read old stuff. I love reading the classics as well, so ideas are coming at me from all over the place. When I talk to people, I get all kinds of ideas. I just try to be receptive and a I carry a notebook.

Diesenhaus: You've also published a bibliography about Leslie Marmon Silko. Is it a bibliography of critical sources on her, or of her works?

DiNome: Actually both. It's primarily critical works about her work, but there's also a bibliography up to that date of all of her own work. To this day, she's one of my favorite writers. And there too, she's got a range of work that some of it's not as successful as others, but I think "Ceremony" is one of the great novels of the late 20th century.

Diesenhaus: Can you talk more about your relationship to her work. Are there elements of it that you value or that you've seen and hope to carry over in your own writing?

DiNome: Even though I don't consider myself a spiritual person, I have an interest in spirituality. Her work, I think part of it is just sort of the fascination that a lot of white people have with Native Americans. There's that. I was exposed to her work in grad school, and I think "Yellow Woman" was the first short story I read. I was just really intrigued by how she brought her native myths into fiction so seamlessly. Really in some ways she wasn't writing anything, she was repeating things. She was just telling stories that had been told, and she was telling them in new ways. So to me it was kind of fascinating how she was sort of bringing these very old traditions in to a contemporary language. That just intrigued me, still does. So "Ceremony" is really-- she's got these alternating prose and poetry sections. The poetry sections, some people didn't like what she did, because she was actually repeating ritual, which was supposed to have been sacred and secret. And then the story in prose essentially mirrors the ritual. So you're really getting the same story twice, but in completely different language. That's fascinating to me, just the way she did it. She just blended it so neatly, and touching on a lot of contemporary issues that are important to her and her people in that part of the country, having to do with the war, racism, nuclear arms. A lot of things come into it finally.

Diesenhaus: The process of researching it and writing it, it obviously parallels to the research that you've spoken about just previously, but were there parallels to creative work, in time of the writing process, and then gathering the information, but also presenting it in a form or organizing it?

DiNome: In my case, I think so. I couldn't speak for others. I know that there are a lot of writers out there who are really comfortable with improvisation in writing. I've never been terribly comfortable with that. I think that's maybe one of the challenges I might take on. I like to do maybe too much research sometimes. Knowing when to stop is really difficult, but I do like to map out what's coming next, where I'm headed. I sometimes like to play with the architecture of a longer work, looking at the symmetry of it, if that's what I'm after, or the asymmetry. Just understanding the plot points, as much where they occur as why they occur. So yeah, I think the process is very much the same, although I don't think the method is necessarily very close. If I'm writing a purely research work, I'm going to be using note cards probably, and all kinds of stuff, whereas with fiction, I'm not. With fiction, I've adopted a method, for longer work that is, that I still use, which is I wake up really early in the morning, 3:30, 4 AM or so. I might have the coffee pot programmed to be ready for me at that time. I got this idea originally from Dorothea Brand, who wrote a book back in the '30s. It's called "Becoming a Writer." I read that in high school, and it's stuck with me. But also, a friend of my who owned a business used to do this, so he wouldn't be interrupted by phone calls. Get up first thing in the morning without turning on any TV or radio, without reading any newspaper, without reading anyone else's work of any kind, without talking to anyone. Literally get up from the bed, sitting down at the desk and just diving in. Now I've prepared myself the night before by either reviewing what I've written to that point, or making notes, free writing, probably, about where I think I'm headed the next day, getting to bed early, 8:30 or so, 9 o'clock at night if I can, and really coming out of almost a dream state and heading into it that way. That's something that I would never do in a research project, I don't think. But for fiction, it leaves me open to whatever possibilities may exist, and I have a great sense, based on what I've sort of prepared myself with, I think I have a pretty great sense of the feel of it.

Diesenhaus: That sounds like a fairly complicated way of preparing yourself to be able to write. Does that mean that writing doesn't come easy to you, that you have to do that kind of prep work, or is it just a matter of, it's necessary to be able to do that?

DiNome: I think it's more that I enjoy doing it, because I don't do that most of the time, for shorter work especially. But I enjoy doing it, because to me, it makes me less hung up about what I need to say and how it needs to be said. It also sets aside my day, and by that I mean, if I write say at the end of the day, I've probably consumed a lot of media throughout the day in ways that are not conscious, and that's going to enter my writing somehow. If I'm attempting a long work, I stop reading everybody else's work. I'll stop reading novels especially, just because I know that if I'm reading someone whose style I like, whose style's going to creep in. So I think heading off the day in that sense, coming out of my subconscious as much as possible, makes it more about me and whatever my mind is processing, and hopefully there's some distance between me and the last thing I consumed, that it's a little bit more about what's coming out of me.

Diesenhaus: If you're working on other types of writing, apart from fiction or longer works, would that happen in another part of the day, later in the day, or does that also happen in the morning?

DiNome: I think it happens whenever it can. It just depends on my day. If I'm doing something under deadline, you know how that goes. You're doing it whenever you can, you're making time. Especially now when I'm not doing much of that because of my job, anything that I have done recently like that, I'm squeezing it in. Lunch hours, and before dinner and that kind of thing.

Diesenhaus: Are you trying to meet certain goals, page or line quotas, or is it because you're day might be prescribed, you do what you can do in the time?

DiNome: Unless I was working under deadline, I never worried too much about quotas, although there have been times. Those genre novels that you mentioned, I had pretty tight deadlines for those, and I was really churning them out at an insane pace. I literally looked at how much time they gave me to do it, and essentially divided the work backwards, and tried to figure out how much I need to accomplish each week, but most of the time I don't do that. I think now though-- and I think this is one of the practical issues of my life, being fully employed not as a writer, that one of the things I'm looking at now is the notion that a lot of writers use of writing a certain amount a day, just a little bit. I think it was Anthony Trollope, his motto in Latin was-- I don't know what it was in Latin, but the translation was something like, "A line a day, every day one line," or something. I've heard of other people. I don't know if it was Graham Greene perhaps, 500 words a day. You keep that up long enough and you've published 20 novels. I think that's probably the method that I'm looking at next, because I constantly have to reinvent my approach to this. Making a living doing other things that I enjoy doing are not always going to allow me to write as much as I'd like. I have a certain amount of attention deficit to the point where, if I'm on a project, I really like to immerse myself, really to the detriment of everything else in my life. I can't do that practically, so I've really got to work on that next. I see that as sort of the next phase.

Diesenhaus: John Updike was here in the last couple of days, and he said three pages a day works for him. Either waking up in the morning or at any other time, is there a specific place that you're doing your writing, an office or something?

DiNome: I typically use my computer at my desk. I have a small-- it's not exactly an office. It's sort of a cleared out space in an upstairs room. I've got pretty much what I need. I'm a nester. I've got reference books nearby, within arm's reach, pretty much. It's mostly at my computer. I'm a really good typist, so in terms of technique, I don't have to think about my typing. I don't have to think much about the computer when I'm writing. And there have been times when I'll dim the screen, where I can't see what I'm writing. I'll just write.

Diesenhaus: I've heard that from other people as well. You mentioned nester. Are there other rituals or habits or a certain quality of space that you need, or is it irrelevant to you?

DiNome: It's very important, but I think it's important for all the wrong reasons, because if you're too much of a nester, as I can be, it's really another way of procrastinating. And procrastination is all about fear. But what I like to have is a really clear desktop. I don't like to have any stuff on my desktop. So I will spend my time, really the day before, just clearing a workspace, so I don't have to deal with clutter. There have been times where I've literally swept the desk clean onto the floor and got to work. That's me. I like a cup of coffee if it's morning, and I like to have a blank scratch pad nearby so that every time I'm ready to free write-- I like free writing by hand more than on the computer. All of that's fairly malleable, but that's typically how I behave.

Diesenhaus: If you're free writing by hand on paper, is that then becoming something you transmit into the computer and then work with?

DiNome: Frequently, and I think the metaphor that occurs to me is digging for gold. Free writing is really looking for that nugget under all the piles of dirt. So you're going to have to excavate huge amounts of stuff before you get to one good thing. So yeah, there might be a phrase out of five minutes, and pages and pages of writing.

Diesenhaus: So it's not necessarily that you're bringing that work in and then maybe revising it on the computer. You may be starting from a very small phrase.

DiNome: Absolutely. Yeah, it may just be looking for a particular image. If I just need the right visual image for an idea, it's just finding the image.

Diesenhaus: Is there something about the paper and writing by hand that you think is more natural to the free writing on the computer?

DiNome: It just feels good to me. I haven't really thought of it that consciously. I just like the feel of it. Maybe it's just visceral enough for me. I've always wondered about how writing on a computer changes my writing, and I haven't spent enough time to really examine that. Like I said, I'm a good enough typist where the typing is sort of second nature. I don't need to think much about that. But I think I kind of envy people who write by hand, who right longhand, because it's such a slow process. Unless you're a really fast writer, I imagine that your ideas are changing as you're writing, and the sentence may not come out exactly as you thought it would. That's kind of interesting. I don't have the patience for it all the time.

Diesenhaus: I feel like that relates a bit to your position here. Forgive me if I'm wrong, but you're coordinator of student media, and you're the liaison to student publications and other kinds of media.

DiNome: Yeah, I think that's a good summary.

Diesenhaus: I wonder if you could talk about how younger people and college students are interacting with written media, and how you might experience that in your job, and if it's changed.

DiNome: It's changing enormously. They're not reading long forms. They're dipping and sampling. They're texting and the language is becoming like Newspeak. They're dealing in much more multimedia, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. I think because of the amount of information that visual media can bring to you, they're getting quite a lot, but I don't know, unless they're really working at expressing it, they're not articulating what they're getting all the time. So to some degree, I see, even among the really good students that I work with, I see a certain shallowness of experience when it comes to what's out there, but it's also age appropriate. They're still quite young, and they're getting younger every year, it seems to me. It's a combination of issues.

Diesenhaus: Do you think, in a cumulative way, that will have an effect on writing and reading?

DiNome: I'm sure it must. I don't like to speculate too much, because it's too easy to become pessimistic. I may be cynical, but I'm not a real pessimist. I've never believed, for instance, that days gone by are necessarily better. I think illiteracy has always been the majority bloc on the planet. Literacy is at its highest point today than it's every been and that's a good thing, so I'm not too worried about it.

Diesenhaus: So from a professional and technical standpoint, it would have an effect on the marketplace for writers, in the creative world or the freelance world or even research based world?

DiNome: Certainly in research and in nonfiction writing. As you know, anybody who freelances, and especially if you work directly for newspapers or magazines these days, you've got to be pretty web savvy. You've got to be able to handle multimedia instruments and that's not always been true. But at the same time, I feel that paper based media are never going to disappear. Nobody likes to bring a computer to the beach, and to have an external power source to make it reveal itself is really a drag when who knows if this thing's going to last in another 100, 200 years. So there's a lot up in the air about that. It will affect the way we express ourselves, I'm sure. There's an expression among journalists these days that newspapers don't necessarily have to be based in paper to still do what they do. It's about information really, but again, the paper's never going to disappear. So those old traditional ways of writing will always be with us. And who knows? It might be a good basis for a science fiction novel about what survives and how.

Diesenhaus: In the same way that you might do different kinds of work on paper by hand, and on the computer, do you think certain kinds of creative work can be experienced by reading them on the screen, e-books or quality writing in the blog form, or on the screen in digital form?

DiNome: How that experience changes?

Diesenhaus: How the experience changes, or if you think you can equally experience quality creative work.

DiNome: Yeah, I think it's possible. Again, I think the variety of people and the way they think and behave is just out of-- it's beyond my ken most of the time. So yeah, sure I can imagine that. It doesn't always work for me so much. I get impatient sitting at a computer, and I think a lot of people are like me in that sense. It's too easy to go elsewhere. There's just something I love about sitting with a book, and being able to write directly in it, mark it up as I want. It's just a little bit more immediate.

Diesenhaus: I want to come back to some of your own writing and process. When you do have things that you're working on, are you having people read them, giving feedback, much like the workshop process?

DiNome: On occasion. It depends. If I can find somebody who I feel is not only receptive, but sort of in the same frame of mind that could give me worthwhile feedback, yeah, I will do that, but not all the time. I'll very often wait until a draft is completed, rather than give them installments. I used to do that quite a bit, and I've had friends here in town, with whom I used to just get together and share work. Yeah, on occasion, but I also work in isolation. I don't know if that's always the best way to go, but I don't think that the writer's life is necessarily an isolated one as some people imagine. It's a lot more social than they think it is.

Diesenhaus: Given how you described the process that you set yourself up for fiction writing in the morning, have you had experience block, and if you have, how have you dealt with it or tried to get your way out of it.

DiNome: Yeah, I think inevitably you have block. For me, physical exertion is helpful, so it might mean going to the gym or going for a walk or a swim or something. It may mean just stopping for a while and doing something completely unrelated, and doing something menial like gardening or raking leaves. I don't have any real strict method to curing it. I haven't experienced long drafts of it, so maybe I'm lucky that way. It's not like I'm producing mountains of stuff either. But beyond that, just getting distracted for a while. One thing actually that I started doing a long time ago that probably helps, although I haven't really examined it very closely, is that for some years, I've been practicing meditation. A lot of that is not necessarily about blanking the mind, as a lot of people think, but really just being mindful of the moment. That kind of centering and focus can really help just clear out what we like to call monkey mind, and get rid of the noise. It really just helps focus again. So that helps, I think. Again, I haven't examined that real closely to see a necessary cause and effect relationship, but I'm sure it doesn't hurt.

Diesenhaus: If I'm correct, you're also involved in, not necessarily movements, but certain kinds of advocacy, free speech, humanism and peace, things of that sort. Does that occupy a different part of your world, or do you see connections to your writing life?

DiNome: I used to try to keep it pretty separate, and it's beginning to invade everything, which is a good thing. Yeah, it's becoming-- it's perceptive of you to even bring that up, because it's been on my mind a lot the past few months, just about how now do I need to start integrating this into everything else I do. In many ways I do need to keep it separate from my work here at the university, but in terms of writing and every other part of my life, I think it will certainly begin playing a larger part. One of my models here is a professor down in University of Texas, I think it's Austin, named Robert Jansen. He's a journalist and he's an interesting writer. He writes on similar issues, and he's the type of person that would say he's not a particular original writer, but he's very good at synthesizing, or I should say summarizing, issues. He's a very, very clear writer. It's like reading through crystal when you read his writing. It's just so clean and sharp. I really looked at him as a kind of model for someone who has integrated all of these things into his work, and he does it really well.

Diesenhaus: I want to ask two more questions, somewhat related to what you just said. You've occupied so many different roles in different areas of writing and even as a musician. How do people perceive the job of writer? If they ask you what you do, and you say, "I'm a writer," what's the reaction?

DiNome: Usually they'll say, "Are you publishing?" They don't know what to make of it when you say no. "You're not really a writer. What's on your tax form?" I don't care. To me, it goes back to what I said earlier about ego. It doesn't matter. I have this idealistic notion about living an artful life, and art, for the greatest period of history, has been anonymous and a lot of art is ephemeral. I think ideas, or at least their expression, are evanescent necessarily. That more and more appeals to me. But going back also to the activism and advocacy, it is important to get ideas out there that have some sticking power. So there's going to be a balance there, but that, to me, is a different issue. Living an artful life, being a writer, to me it's really about being a student and an educator outside of any institution. Because I think all writers in one way or another are teaching people something. They're teaching themselves of course, but by communicating anything, no matter if it's Captain Beefheart, using words just as words, or communicating important ideas, you're teaching somebody about this experience. That's what a writer is to me.

Diesenhaus: That might relate to my last question, and that is if you have any advice for aspiring or younger writers, either in the freelance and journalistic side, or creative side with novels, essays, poems.

DiNome: I'm probably the wrong person to give advice, but I would probably just say, try to be honest about whatever fire it is in you. Find mentors and do one small thing consistently for a very long time.

Diesenhaus: Sounds good. Thanks very much.

DiNome: Thanks for having me. Great questions. You're good at this. That's really sharp. You just kept coming. It's nice.

Diesenhaus: Thanks.

Repository:
UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database
Found in:
Randall Library | UNCW Archives and Special Collections | Online Database | Contact Us | Admin Login
Powered by Archon Version 3.21 rev-1
Copyright ©2012 The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign