Interview with Dan Denton
Dan Denton works as a chief union steward at the Toledo Jeep Plant, and he’s a writer and podcast host. He is the author of four chapbooks of poetry, and his writing has appeared in dozens of zines, newspapers, and anthologies. His debut novel $100-A-Week Motel is out now on Punk Hostage Press and has thus far received rave reviews.
When did you first start writing? Did you start with poetry?
I first started trying to write poetry in 2nd or 3rd grade when I discovered Shel Silverstein books, and I’ve always tried to write stories, too, but probably poetry first.
What are some of the hardest lessons you’ve learned between then and now?
Always back up your work. I accidentally deleted an entire manuscript, once. It was supposed to be my next book out on Punk Hostage Press, and it was good. I could feel it. Then, it was gone. Hours of tech phone calls to no avail. I was sick for days. But I re-wrote it, and version 2.0 is pretty good, too.
That lost book still haunts me some.
What are some of the best lessons you’ve learned between then and now?
Always back everything up!
Also, for me, being an active part of a local arts community was critical to learning and growing as a writer.
What does poetry, and the written word in general, mean to you as a human being?
Well, I read poetry every day of my life, and I keep buying more books even though I already have an intimidating to-be-read pile. Poetry and words have become part of my everyday life.
What do you think it means to your audience?
I don’t know what it means to my readers, except one of the things that I always enjoy hearing is “I haven’t read a book since high school, but I couldn’t stop reading yours. Only took me two hours.” I’ve heard that from a few of my factory coworkers that I know only bought the book because they were curious or to be supportive. Then they wound up liking it.
A few have mentioned that they’ve found a deeper meaning to my work, and it is interesting to receive those kinds of notes from folks several states away, and now have received kind words from readers in Canada, the U.K. Belgium, France, and Australia. It’s pretty wild.
How do you know when you’re satisfied with an individual piece?
When it seems as seamless as possible. When I read it and I don’t stumble over any words, or lines. I might read the same stanza or paragraph a dozen times to make sure everything fits.
You just released a book. Can you tell us about $100-A-Week Motel? What was the inspiration behind the book? How was tackling a novel different than writing poetry? Any advice for someone who wants to write a book?
$100-A-Week Motel was published by Punk Hostage Press this past January on their 9th birthday.
The book started because I was thinking about this motel I lived in for a while, and when I can’t write, or nothing seems to be flowing for me, I often give myself homework. So, I wrote a piece describing that motel room. Weeks later when I was looking for something to write again, and came across that piece, and it seemed pretty good and it brought back a couple of memories about some of the neighbors I had in that Motel, and away I went.
I’ve written short stories for years, but I’ve had far more success getting my poetry published. Writing a novel is definitely a lot more work. It was a 3-month long grind, and working so many hours in the factory while I was finishing it, and there were a lot of days that I couldn’t get to it until 10 at night, but I thought about it all day, every day, while I was working on it. Writing a poem might be like that for a day, or three, but never for months.
Advice for someone that wants to write a book? Read as much as you can. Work at it. Don’t quit.
Can you tell us about some of your larger-scope projects?
Sure. I’m currently working on my next book due out early next year on Punk Hostage Press. They’re a writer’s dream press by the way. I’ve got to get cracking more diligently on the audiobook for $100-A-Week Motel. I built a recording studio in my basement while the factory was shut down, too. So, I’ve got all the equipment to record the audiobook.
I’d wanted to start a podcast for a few years now, so I started The Blue Collar Gospel Hour. The first episode aired just around Labor Day last year, and I’ve released 30 episodes to date. I want it to be a podcast that provides entertainment to working people, and I often feature working artists as guests.
Tell us a bit about your literary/poetic style. What kind of stuff do you write? What drew you to that particular niche?
There are some reviews online of $100-A-Week Motel, and a couple of unbelievably positive book reviews that compare my writing style to some pretty infamous dead writers. “Blue Collar” if that can be a style, is mine. My work comes from a lot of poverty, trauma, struggle, and way too many long factory shifts, because that’s where I come from, so it’s going to be grittier than your average bestseller displayed on the shelf at your local Meijer’s.
Who are your literary idols? Can you recommend some titles for people who like your work?
Charles Bukowski. Hunter S Thompson. James Baldwin. Richard Brautigan. Amiri Baraka. Tom Robbins. Steinbeck. Robert B. Parker. Alice Walker.
S.A. Griffin, Iris Berry, Michele McDannold, A. Razor, and Catfish McDaris are all living idols, and I’m lucky today to call them all friends, and mentors. That’s been one of the wildest things I’ve ever experienced. To become friends with your living heroes. I still can hardly believe it most days.
Titles? Heck if I know, but here’s a few of my favorites: East of Eden by Steinbeck, The Color Purple by Alice Walker, The Outlaw Bible of American Poetry, Still Life with Woodpecker by Tom Robbins, and Revenge of the Lawn by Richard Brautigan.
Who are some local artists/writers you recommend?
All of them. There’s so much talent in the Toledo area. Huntor Prey is incredible. Bob Phillips might be one of the best living poets anywhere. Check out Michael Grover who used to be local. He’s in Florida now, but his work has a lot of heart. Jonie McIntire, Kayla Marie Williams, Kerry Trautman, Lorraine Rose, all incredibly accomplished writers. Adrian Lime writes factory poems that make even me jealous. Drew Coomer is in Kentucky, but with local ties. So many great local artists. As always, when you rattle these lists off you forget a few.
Is there anything else you would like to tell us?
Support local art, and local artists.