David S. Wills is the founder and managing editor of Beatdom, the world’s most popular Beat literary journal. He has written and collaborated on some amazing books all focusing on the poets and storytellers of the, “Beat Generation”. The Beat Generation was a movement of young people in the 1950s who rejected conventional society and favored Zen Buddhism, modern jazz, free sexuality, and recreational drugs. Among writers associated with the movement were Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs and Lawrence Ferlinghetti to name a few. David is also the author of, Scientologist! William S. Burroughs and the ‘Weird Cult‘, which examines the role of Scientology in the life of an American literary giant, as well as World Citizen: Allen Ginsberg as Traveller. David’s journey doesn’t end there he is a world traveler and literary teacher that continues to influence students all over the Western World. He took time out to sit with us and talk about reading, writing and the trials that are facing the future authors of today.
JF- So, David thanks for taking the time to sit down with us here at Komorebipost.com. You are an accomplished author, publisher, teacher and world traveler. Your writing and publishing focus on, “The Beat Generation” of writers and poets. A lot of biographical pieces and even a website, “Beatdom.com”. Tell us a little bit about your love for reading and writing. How old were you when reading and writing became a part of your life?
DW- I read extensively as a child, so it has pretty much always been a part of my life. I read for fun until high school, and at about age 15 or 16 I read a couple of books that you would call “literature.” That was a revelation for me. I hadn’t realized stories could be more than just stories before that. When I left school, I went to university and did a degree in literature, and from there I started Beatdom because I didn’t want a real job.
DW- As for writing, I’d been doing that since childhood as well. Mostly silly stuff, of course. In university I got good at writing essays, and continued working with fiction a bit. I never did get very good at writing fiction, but by the time I graduated I was able to write essays well enough to go off and write for magazines and journals.
JF- What emotions does writing invoke in you?
DW- It depends what I’m writing. If I’m writing something, I have to write for someone else – a job, basically – it’s usually dull and exhausting. I actually cut down the amount of writing I was doing about five years ago because it really became a chore. When I’m writing something that I want to write, usually it feels exciting at first, and later I just get lost in it – no emotions. When you get the end in sight, that excitement comes back again. The book I just published was in progress for almost 5 years, so you can imagine how it felt to get that finished!
JF- Where did the fascination start with the Beat Poets of the 1960’s for you? How did those American writers break into the European literary world?
DW- My first interest in Beat writing came in university, at around the age of 18. A friend gave me a copy of On the Road, which I suppose is a pretty common occurrence. Pretty soon I came to Burroughs and Ginsberg, too. I’d been studying a lot of Whitman and Blake on my course, and so I immediately appreciated the Beats, who were sort of descendants of both poets, among others. Towards the end of my time in university, I got to speak with one of my professors about Burroughs and that really got me seriously into the Beats. He had some interesting perspectives on their literary lineage. Then I went out and bought Paul Maher’s Kerouac biography, and that was probably the first I delved into the Beats beyond just their own primary works.
DW- The Beats broke into the European literary world in different ways, I suppose. Kerouac’s On the Road was a huge cultural phenomenon that swept across the western world. It was inevitable that it would hit the UK and other places. I remember reading, also, that Barry Miles’ Indica Bookstore used to have a book swap with City Lights, which let lesser-known Brit and American authors be sold on the other side of the Atlantic, reaching new audiences. Burroughs and Ginsberg actually spent a lot of time in Europe themselves, with Burroughs living there long-term. When the Swinging Sixties hit London in 1965, Ginsberg was there giving readings and mingling with the pop-rock stars of the day, so that no doubt helped boost their fame across the pond. Burroughs’ Naked Lunch was of course published in Europe well before it was in America (at least as a whole novel) and he was always pretty popular in France and Germany.
JF- I have a similar love for the, “Beat Generation” that comes out in my writings as well. The Beats were not only a writing style, they were really a cultural revolution and shift. Can you talk a little about that cultural revolution then and any correlation you see in today’s world?
DW- Yeah, I mean the Beats had no real writing style as such, except maybe a sort of confessionalism. The work of Ginsberg is enormously different to that of Burroughs, or even Kerouac, from whom Ginsberg learned a lot. Then look at the other “Beat” writers… They’re also completely different. As for their social and political views, well that varied enormously, too.
I suppose the Beats just found their own space in society, in a conservative society that utterly rejected their thinking. In doing so, they opened up cracks that were really exposed in the sixties, and from there on out everything was different.
As for now? I don’t know. We live in a different world, and there are still lessons to be learned from the Beats. They are often presented as angry young men… but I don’t think they were, really. They were into openness, compassion, independence, freedom, love, that sort of thing… I guess we could use more of that now.
JF- You have written books on a couple of the most famous of the Beat Generation, Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs. Can you shed any light on the similarities and differences between the two?
DW- They were best friends and have been lumped together in a literary category, but they were very different people and very different writers. I love that about the Beats. They were so utterly different, yet they loved and respected each other. They could talk about stuff, even when they didn’t see eye to eye. That’s gone from the culture now, especially among the left-wing. It’s either, “We agree, or you’re my enemy.” The Beats respected one another, despite differing views.
Ginsberg was very open and kind, and while Burroughs was both of those with his close friends, he was quite serious on the outside. He put on a tough exterior that Ginsberg never really had. You always hear of people meeting Burroughs and saying he was so nice… but I think he wore a lot of “armor,” a term he actually used early on. Ginsberg, on the other hand, well, he was the guy who invented free love and all that stuff. That was pretty much anathema to Burroughs.
JF- For those aspiring writers, what really goes into creating a book? I know for my book I through out timelines and carried a notebook around with me everywhere and made hand written notes on every writing surface I could find? What went into it for you and how should the next generation approach their book writing?
DW- Every book is different, I suppose. I wrote my Burroughs book, Scientologist! William S. Burroughs and the ‘Weird Cult’ over two years, I think. It was a lot of research and a lot of writing. My, Ginsberg book, World Citizen: Allen Ginsberg as Traveller took closer to five years, but I was stuck in China and the government kept stealing my materials because some of them mentioned the Dalai Lama. (He’s public enemy number one, if you can believe it.) In both cases, I read everything on the subject that was available, made copious notes, and then started slowly writing it. When I was done, of course, there was a lot of rewriting, adding stuff, and editing. It’s a long process, and probably more work goes in than most people suspect.
That’s one sort of book, but it’s different if you’re writing a novel, I suppose. Or poetry. I wrote a book about grammar that is quite popular among English learners. It hardly took any time to write because I’d been teaching its contents as a course for several years. It practically wrote itself. So, you see, every book is different. Some come easily; others don’t.
JF- Those aspiring writers we talked about earlier have a variety of mediums now with International outlets online, traditional publishing houses and self-publishing. What are your thoughts on today’s writing market? Is self publishing a viable option for new writers? What can writers do to get themselves published?
DW- Oh god, it’s tough now. Everyone is publishing, and not many of them are good. There is so much crap it drowns out the talent. Because of this, no one bothers to read books for review any more unless they’re published by a big company, and so knowing what is and isn’t worth reading gets harder. Small publishers are in a lot of trouble, and self-publishing gets the job done, but whoever reads the book? Friends and family, mostly. It’s brutal.
The best thing is to go along the traditional route to some extent. If you’re a serious writer, take yourself seriously. Read and write until you’re good at it. Get honest feedback. Write for journals, magazines, newspapers, etc. Take their rejections and learn from them. When you’ve published enough, write your book and take it to a publisher. If you’ve got experience, they’ll give you a shot.
There are so many shortcuts now, and that’s fine. I’m sure there are lots of great books that are self-published. But how many even get read? I bet most of them don’t sell 25 copies, and that’s very sad, especially when you think of how much effort goes into them.
I guess I’d like to say here that if your readers ever come upon a book they like – any book, self-published, indie press, or whatever – that they should tell people. Go online or go speak to your friends at the pub. Share it. We live in a damn sharing economy now, so do that. Spread the word.
JF- For me books and music have always gone together. Words and music for some, is really the perfect combination. I have always viewed music as a way of making emotions tangible. It can really give emotions a voice and spirit. What is your take on some musical artists that not only take on the spirit of The Beats, but gives voice to your emotions?
DW- I’m reading a book this now called William S. Burroughs and the Cult of Rock and Roll by Casey Rae. It comes out this summer, and it’s all about Burroughs and music. It’s crazy how influential he was, even though he didn’t play any instruments or know that much about music. Yet most major musicians of the sixties and seventies were influenced by him. If you follow that lineage of musical influence, there’s really no one nowadays who isn’t using Burroughs’ ideas. It’s amazing. Bowie, Jagger, McCartney, and Dylan were all into him, and of course all the punks and so much of the early metal scene. Even Kurt Cobain considered Burroughs his “idol”, as did others of that era. Of course, Ginsberg was in there as well, and Kerouac had a tremendous influence on so much of the culture, but Burroughs was really the one for musicians. You simply cannot overstate his importance.
JF- So often here in America it feels like the soul in writing is missing today. Gone are the days of Ginsberg Kerouac and Burroughs. Do you see anyone on the horizon we should be on the lookout for?
DW- No. I was talking about this a few nights ago with a friend. I’m not saying there are no good writers, but I think all the greats are dead… And then I remembered, there are lots of great writers, it’s just they aren’t from the western countries now, writing in English. I think the Beats were right in paraphrasing Spengler: the west has fallen, and that’s ok. I look to places like Japan and some places in South America, and that’s where the great writers are now and will be.
JF- Now, Beatdom didn’t just appear one day. It seems like it was a labor of love. Tell us if you can about the origins of the site and publishing company. Dating back to its early days as a newsletter and the evolution to what eventual became Beatdom Books.
DW- I started Beatdom in my final days as a student because I didn’t want to go get a real job. I just started it up and didn’t tell anyone it was new. I acted as though it was an established magazine. It was meant to be political, sort of a magazine inspired by the Beats. Soon it morphed into a literary journal, and lost all the political stuff, which is for the best. We changed a lot in the first few years, mostly printing big colorful glossy issues that were super expensive, but then giving the writing away online for free. At some point, it was Beatdom #9, I think, we settled into a good format and have been pretty steady since then. We publish once a year, a little black and white book with great illustrations on the cover by Waylon Bacon.
JF- Now Beatdom Books dates back to 2011, with the release of, Zoning by Spencer Kansa. The next year you tapped Larry Beckett as your next author who wrote, Beat Poetry. I have had the pleasure to speak to Larry and interview him in the past. His work is amazing and he truly experienced the Beat Movement here in Southern California in his daily life. How did you come to know Larry, and what drew you to his writing?
DW- He approached me long ago about publishing his book, and I read it and of course agreed. It was really wonderful and yet so odd. It’s insightful and intelligent, but it’s not written like you’d expect a “textbook” (as he called it) would be. It’s very poetic even when analyzing poetry, and that’s unusual. It’s been a pleasure to work with Larry all these years. We’ve been fortunate to put out other great books by poets like Eliot Katz and Bob Rosenthal, and scholars like John Tytell. It’s been a real honor.
DW- I think I was travelling in Africa at the time, and it sort of came to me. I’d wanted to start a new book for a while, and nothing was really working out. I decided to write a travel book about my own journey… but I wasn’t a particularly interesting protagonist, I guess. Then it stuck me that Ginsberg had travelled really extensively during his life. I got home and started to look into it and it all just came together, as things sometimes do when you’re researching them. It happened with the Burroughs book, too. You know you’re onto something when your initial hunch turns out right. For me, I just felt that travel had been important to him, more so than the biographers seemed to give credit. I also just wanted to tell this weird biographical story of his life but only through travel. He visited 66 countries, so there was a lot to say.
JF- Describe some of the feelings seeing your books in print for the first time?
DW- It’s the best feeling in the world. I’ve had it happen quite a few times now, and it always completely floors me. I love it. When I got the early copies of World Citizen, I was speechless. Even now I can’t describe it. When you’re writing, sometimes you’re just playing with words and it has no real meaning, but then you see them in print and it’s like all that work finally added up to something tangible.
JF- Following your social media accounts, I love to live vicariously through you. Your opportunity to write, teach and travel are so inspiring. What do you find most gratifying of the three?
DW- Teaching, for sure. I love it. I get a massive kick out of helping students these days. In the last week, I’ve had e-mails from two former students and two current ones, who each recently passed an exam and wanted to let me know. It’s an amazing feeling. I’ll be teaching until I drop dead, I think. I wouldn’t want to give it up.
JF- What is next for David Wills and Beatdom Books?
DW- I’m on the lookout for a new book project, but have nothing started, although an idea is sort of in its early stages. I’m busy teaching writing skills to a few students at the moment, and that keeps me occupied. As for Beatdom, we have a new issue of the journal coming out soon. (Maybe before this is published.) There are no books being edited at the moment, but there is something we might announce soon.
David Wills is a renaissance man in the world of books. He writes, edits, publishes and most importantly reads. He is a creator that isn’t afraid to give back to the world that has inspired him. Information on his projects can be found on his website, Beatdom.com. His books can be found on Amazon.com to peak and exceed all your reading expectations.
You can find David’s work on social media as well at the following links