Interviewer: How would you describe your work?
Wells: Demented, but in a good way.
Interviewer: Where did the idea of The Secrets of All Secrets come from?
Wells: Firstly, so that readers won’t think I’m an insufferable prig, I’m going to forgive your dangling preposition. Secondly, there’s this troll who lives under my bed. He found a USB drive under there, which gave me the idea.
Interviewer: A troll lives under your bed? What does he eat?
Wells: Your dreams if you give them to him, and he’s responsible for hiding my car keys and sunglasses just before I’m about to leave the house.
Interviewer: One of the themes in your novel is “what is the meaning of life.” Why is that important to you?
Wells: That’s an interesting question.
Interviewer: When someone responds to a question by saying, “That’s an interesting question,” it usually means he or she doesn’t have an answer.
Wells: Wait a cotton pickin’ minute there, Bub. I said it’s an interesting question because it implied that you aren’t concerned with the meaning of life. Is that true?
Interviewer: Uh, I’m the one asking the questions here.
Wells: You got me there.
Interviewer: So, why is knowing the meaning of life important to you?
Wells: Since you asked, I have to confess I put it in the book because, since time immemorial, to coin a phrase, humankind has obsessed over this question, but there’s no definitive answer to what is the meaning of life, which means if I don’t reveal what the meaning of life is, I’m off the hook. No one else knows, either.
Interviewer: That’s pretty profound.
Wells: It’s what I get paid for.
Interviewer: Do you think writers should embrace politics in their work?
Wells: I wouldn’t embrace politics or politicians anywhere, especially politicians. And don’t shake hands with one. You might not get that hand back.
Interviewer: Well, The Secrets of All Secrets seems to cast you as left-leaning.
Wells: If so, I didn’t intend it.
Interviewer: After all, one of the book’s epigraphs is a quote by Karl Marx.
Wells: No. It’s by Harpo Marx. His witticism are priceless.
Interviewer: Wasn’t Harpo the silent Marx brother?
Wells: Exactly. You know, brevity is the soul of wit and all.
Interviewer: Then why is the epigraph attributed to Karl Marx?
Wells: I dunno. Printer’s error.
Interviewer: Yes, I see. Let’s move on, shall we? How would you describe your work ethic?
Wells: Eat, drink, write, drink, write some more, nap, drink, write some more, eat, drink, sleep.
Interviewer: When you say “drink,” does that mean alcohol?
Interviewer: Does alcohol improve your writing?
Wells: No, but it improves my mood.
Interviewer: Your novel lampoons many American character types. Why is that?
Wells: Hey, man. All you have to do is look around.
Interviewer: Right. The book satirizes corporate America, the government, and extremist groups. Why these three in particular?
Wells: One: they’re low-hanging fruit. Two: they’re the three entities that Americans fear and loathe the most.
Interviewer: One of the quirkiest characters in your book is Speque, the grandiloquent, courtly hit man with a Ph.D. What does he represent?
Wells: I believe it was D.H. Lawrence who said, “Trust the tale, not the teller,” so my interpretation is no more accurate than yours. I will, however, give my slant on it. Speque is particularly American in that he is two sides of the American character: the educated, scholarly professor who deals in the fictional depictions of violence, and the hired gun who makes it a reality. American culture pays little heed to intellectuals but is fascinated by killers. I mean, how many movies have you seen that featured an educated, articulate person as the hero versus how many movies have you seen that features a skilled gunman as the hero?
Interviewer: I saw Speque as simply a southern whack job with flowery manners and a penchant for aphorisms. I saw Zane and Dali, the two central characters, as sort of Everyman and Everywoman.
Wells: Interpretation is nine tenths of the law.
Interviewer: It is interesting that Speque comes from academia, like you do as a Professor of English. Do you think there are real Speques in academia?
Wells: Oh, more than you can possibly imagine.
Interviewer: What do you want readers to take away from your book?
Wells: As long as they don’t take away the book without paying for it, mainly I want them to laugh and recognize the world I have created.
Interviewer: Who are some of your favorite writers?
Wells: Snoopy, Tolstoy, Dr. Seuss, Groucho Marx, and the guy who wrote “Novel Writing for Dummies,” or is that “Novel Writing is for Dummies?” I think a lot of writers would agree with the latter title.
Interviewer: Wait a minute, did you say Snoopy? You mean the dog in “Peanuts?”
Wells: Yep. Have you ever read his work?
Interviewer: Can’t say that I have.
Wells: You should. He’s got “It was a dark and stormy night” nailed.
Interviewer: But Snoopy and Tolstoy together? That is odd.
Wells: Therein you have the yin and yang of Literature.
Interviewer: Many writers have an overall vision about the world which appears throughout their work. What is your vision?
W ells: About 20/70. Okay, that’s a joke, which the world often resembles, but seriously, everyone out there in reader land probably has at least some notion that the world is crazy, that 6 is 9, that our leaders don’t have a clue, that good doesn’t always triumph over evil, that idiots often get promoted over smart people, that love doesn’t always last forever, that there is no such thing as fairness, that our culture obsessively celebrates and worships the trivial, but that if there is any such thing as truth, you will find it in books.
Interviewer: Whoa, Nelly. That’s not only one helluva vision, it’s one helluva sentence.
Wells: Just wait until I get going.
Interviewer: Right, well, um, on that note, we’ll conclude this interview. One last thing, though. What is your advice to writers struggling to finish their work and get published?
Wells: Eat, drink, write, drink, write some more, nap, drink, write some more, eat, drink, sleep. Oh, yeah, and it really helps if you can live with rejection.
Interviewer: Thank you for sitting for this interview.
Wells: You didn’t think I was going to stand the whole time did you? But thank you for the opportunity.
About Douglas Wells