Portland author and publisher Dan DeWeese’s feet are firmly planted in two literary worlds.
This spring he published his first book, You Don’t Love This Man, with the well-established HarperCollins Publishing house.
But DeWeese also labors quietly in the world of independent publishing, churning out an online art and literary glossy, Propeller Quarterly. Plus he founded the indy publishing company, Propeller Books, in 2010.
When he isn’t busy managing the details of his publishing ventures, DeWeese is writing fiction. His first book took roughly nine years to complete and treads on familiar territory — fatherhood, marriage and mid-life angst. But it is DeWeese’s lovely prose and engaging dialogue that makes this book so absorbing.
What most surprised DeWeese about founding his own publishing label? Watch our video to find out.
You Don’t Love This Man spans one full day in which a morning bank heist, a missing daughter and the details of an imminent wedding keep the story’s protagonist, Paul, busy solving mysteries, both personal and professional. It’s a poignant read, and DeWeese has scored a handful of well-deserved reviews that highlight his cinematic scene building skills and deft dialogue style. The Huffington Post named him an emerging star in literary fiction, where you can check out a video of DeWeese reading a passage from his novel.
Seven Questions: DeWeese on the Nature of Family and Creating a Character Who Isn’t a Hero
We sat down with DeWeese to ask him about his writing craft and his new novel, You Don’t Love This Man.
Q: You call one of your characters a “sidelined character.” What do you mean by that term and why did you choose to write about a protagonist who is neither a charismatic hero nor a louse?
A: I think the sidelined character is … a person who would not normally be a main character in a story. But certainly every person we know, if they’re alive, they have a rich history of experiences. But we consider some people to be interesting or to have charisma or to be important and others to be less so. … I’m deliberately going to choose a character that normally would not be the center of a story, and then I’m going to find out what that person’s story is. The challenge is to find out why he’s very interesting and to find out that the stakes for him are actually quite high. I think that the most honest answer is that you don’t know why you’re writing about the character and that is why you write about the character. There is something there that you’re trying to figure out, and if you knew it, the character would become boring to you.
… I think I was at an age when I started writing [You Don’t Love This Man] where certain potentials for me as a person were shutting down. You get old enough and you realize I’m never going to play pro basketball. So you start experiencing limitations. You start becoming a person and you have look at yourself and say, ‘I guess this is who I became. I thought I was going to be super significant, I told myself that, but I guess that wasn’t true.’ So, I think there was something about the character in the novel, and I don’t know that I knew this at the time, that I think that he is in a more dramatic and higher stakes version of that experience.
Q: In your novel, you chose not to name the city where the story is placed. Why?
A: My editor wanted me to name the city, and my simple answer is that when I was writing different locations, I had different cities in my head. [The city in the novel] does not conform to the actual layout of any one city, and so I was able to resist my editor’s desire to name the city.
Also, though it might be childish, I like being drawn into a story as a reader, and I like it when writers don’t name cities because sometimes I’ll read more alertly. It’s not so much that I’m trying to solve the mystery of the city. It’s that I now want to figure out this city, and I’m involved in the story. I’ve read a couple of [responses] to my book, saying, ‘It’s in a city very much like Portland,” where [readers] feel like it’s Portland, but I just wouldn’t name it. I didn’t feel like [the city in my novel] was Portland.
Q: Your book deals primarily with a father-daughter relationship and coming to terms with the inevitable changes that happen as children grow up and take major steps toward independent life. How has your own role as a father informed your writing on the subject?
A: Once you have kids you know they’re going to leave. Everybody who has kids knows that you have a kind of fierce attachment to them that can be positive and negative. Everybody who’s been a kid knows it can be positive and negative. It’s weird because it’s your fiercest attachment … but the “we’re all living together” relationship is only going to last 18 or 22 years. If [your family life] is good you feel like, ‘This is the coolest band. We have a great band,’ but you also know that this band is going to break up. So there is this built-in pain where you realize this won’t last.
… I think maybe the way I access that in the book was [by asking], ‘What happens when your kid is going to have her most intense relationship with another person?’ So, it’s not just that she grew up and moved out; it’s that you’re second string, third string, eventually. And that may not be the truth, but it feels that way.
Q: How did you initially become brave enough to write?
A: I don’t think it was brave. Well, I was trying to write screenplays because I went to film school. And the more I worked on screenplays, the more I wanted that prose, that text, to do more. And I also wanted control. And everyone who has worked in film knows that it is a medium in which you must give up control because it is collaborative, unless you’re the director. Well, I was interested in screenwriting. The more I worked on it, the more control I wanted, and the more I wanted that prose to do something that in a screenplay it should not do … I realized I want to write fiction. So, after film school I just started writing little stories because it was gratifying to me for some reason. And then there was a day when I realized that I’m not a screenwriter.
Q: What was the difference for you between writing screenplays and writing fiction?
A: Well, the relationship to the reader is the difference. I mean, when I’m writing fiction there’s a big responsibility on the writer because the reader’s experience is up to me. But if you like control over the creative product, then you want that responsibility.
In a screenplay I am writing what are essentially notes, plus I’m giving story structure and some dialogue to other people. And they’re going to make decisions about that, actors will make decisions and they’re going to have the interaction with the audience and the screenwriter will fade. A positive way to say it is that I wanted a better relationship between myself as a writer and the reader.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I’m always working on the magazine, short stories and I’m working on a new novel.
Q: Are you prepared to tell us anything about your new novel? Any details?
A: No way! (laughing) The goal is for it to be very different from [You Don’t Love This Man].
A Brave New Publishing World
Though he went through traditional venues to publish his own fiction, DeWeese became interested in the possibilities of independent publishing. In 2009, DeWeese began publishing Propeller Quarterly, an online magazine devoted to all things literary and artistic. The mag is high-brow quirky and serves to spotlight notable fiction and essays from writers that DeWeese and his managing editors, Lucas Bernhardt and Benjamin Craig, find compelling.
In 2010 DeWeese launched Propeller Books with the aim of publishing one good piece of writing per year. The first book DeWeese birthed under his label was the well-received Nine Simple Patterns for Complicated Women by Portland-based writer Mary Rechner. DeWeese says he’s learned some surprising lessons along his path, including how the publishing business is less complicated than he once thought it was, and how social media helps him connect with readers.