Guest host Julie Chavez interviews author William Dameron about The Way Life Should Be, a tender and warm novel about two husbands enjoying their second-chance marriage after coming out…until their nearly-adult children descend upon their new seaside cottage. William reveals that this novel began as a memoir, sharing the details that stem from his own life (like the cottage rules!). He also talks about the chaotic messiness of blended families, his recent open-heart surgery, and his day job in cyber security. Finally, he shares his best advice for aspiring and first-time authors.


Julie Chavez: Bill, thanks so much for coming back on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.” I’m so excited to have you here today.

William Dameron: It is exciting to be back. I hoped I would be back with another book.

Julie: I bet. I have so many questions for you, especially since you wrote your memoir, and this is a novel. It just feels like it had to be such a different experience. Was it for you?

William: The experience started out to be very similar, to be honest with you, because this book, its life began as a memoir. About a hundred pages in, I switched it to a novel. I really learned on this book how to write fiction, how to switch from first person to third person.

Julie: Oh, my goodness. It’s so fascinating for me because I wrote a memoir, and I’m slowly trying to do the same thing, working on a novel. It is, it’s such a different headspace. Before we go any further, let’s clear up, we’re talking about your new novel, The Way Life Should Be, which, it turns out, is Maine’s tourist slogan. Is that correct?

William: That is. It’s one of the tourist slogans. The other one is Vacationland and Welcome Home. The Way Life Should Be resonates much more for me.

Julie: Will you give the listeners just a quick synopsis of what you would say the book’s about?

William: Sure. The book is about two dads who get a second chance, really. They get married later in life after coming out and finding each other, purchase a home in Southern Maine. They’re living an idyllic life as a second chance when one summer, all three of their nearly adult children descend upon their home, each in a crisis that threatens to tear the family apart.

Julie: I thought this book was so well done. It is beautifully written. Some of the ways that you express things will really stay with me. I especially loved how it feels like this book is about so many things. It feels like it’s about marriage. It’s about relationships. It’s about parenting. I really do think there will just be something for everyone in it. I’m so thrilled for you. I’m so happy it’s going to be out in the world. Congratulations on that. You really accomplished what you set out to do.

William: Thank you. I was going to say it is about a lot of things. That was intentional. I wanted the reader to understand all the different scenarios, all the different issues that extended families have to go through, especially when they’re in a tiny space and compressed into a small amount of time. I was trying to make the reader feel that sense of being crammed into a small space but also learning how to live with it and to laugh with it.

Julie: There’s such a tenderness to it. I loved reading about that. I know I shared with you before we came on that I live in a small home with my husband and two teenagers. I was texting them at swim practice just now saying, “Hey, don’t shower until I’m done with this recording.” There’s a whole different world for those of us that — we’re down a bathroom. Things get real. You do that so well. I think you do it so effectively by sharing the cottage rules. Before we talk about that, I want to tell you, when I was reading through them — my husband is kind of a — we won’t call him a militant minimalist, but he’s aggressively happy when things are being thrown away. As I was reading the cottage rules, I was cracking up. I had a moment where I was like, I think my husband would like to live with Paul. If he shows up at your door one day, you’ll know why.

William: He sounds like it.

Julie: Oh, my gosh, yeah. Tell us about the cottage rules. I know you have an author’s note in the beginning that that is the one piece of this book that is nonfiction. Will you tell everybody about that?

William: That’s right. As I said, I began the book as a memoir. My publisher said, “I love the premise, but we think it would be better as fiction.” It originally took place during the pandemic. I didn’t want to write about that. It was too constraining. I decided, turn it into fiction, make it go off the rails, put my family in situations they were never in, but I’m going to take the rules that Paul authored many years ago when we did have several of our children living with us. We would make them read them publicly. We would laugh at it. I thought, this is a great framing device for chapters. I took those rules. Paul, like your husband, is a militant minimalist. We had an amount of time, seven and a half minutes, for a shower, so I understand. You have to create those rules in order to live peacefully.

Julie: You really do. Otherwise, things will get ugly fast. People can really want to murder each other over a wet towel or something in the . You are not wrong. I loved it. Tell Paul he did well. The ones about having your chi aligned and all of those really cracked me up toward the end. It was such a perfect framing device for it, too, because I felt like in the reading of the book, that kept bringing me back to not only the real — it did bring me back to the realness of what you were sharing. This book is fiction, but it is true because there is so much truth inside of it. Really enjoyed that. I wanted to talk briefly — when Zibby interviewed you a few years back, the premise for this novel, what you were planning on working on, was different. I was surprised. How did that happen? Did you attempt the other project and then go a different direction?

William: I can tell you what happened. I was working and still am working on a couple of other projects. The one I spoke to Zibby about was more historical fiction. That one, I’m still working on. Like many other writers, when the pandemic hit, I couldn’t write anything. Reality was just too much. I couldn’t even imagine a world beyond the one I was living in. My agent called me up and said, “Hey, how’s it going? What are you working on?” I unloaded. Then he stepped back and said, “Okay.”

Julie: That was a lot.

William: I think it was more than he expected. “Why don’t you just sit down –” I had been telling him about some of the things going on. We were taking care of my in-laws, who were older and declining in health. It was stressful. The world was falling apart. He said, “Just write down life happening. Take note like a journalist.” I started to do that. That’s when I realized a big part of writing is just showing up, just showing up and writing. I did that. I had a hundred pages. I said, all right, here’s my memoir. You can imagine my editor’s response. Oh, a pandemic memoir. Yay. Yes, please. No. We’ve heard enough. We want to escape. I did escape. I was able to get out of my bubble and just create this completely fictional account where I do horrible things to people who resemble my family members, but in the end, we come through it.

Julie: You do. It is such a strange exercise, it feels like, to shift from things that actually happened to shift to, oh, I can make whatever I want happen in here. What fits this story best? I really like the way that this book captures messiness. You can keep a clean house, but you can never keep the messiness out of our relationships and ourselves. I thought that this did such a good job.

William: That’s actually a good point because The Washington Post, that cited my book this weekend, they call it a “noteworthy book for July and August. The joy of Dameron’s novel is the chaotic messiness of a blended family that comes together in love and laughter.” I kind of love the way that summed it up. It is that chaotic messiness. There always is that. If at the root you’re honest and authentic, you can get through it.

Julie: Yes. I love that, chaotic messiness. It’s so true. It’s so true to life. We all experience that. Even when you’re in seasons that are maybe less volatile than others, there’s still just the messiness of our internal selves, too, that’s always informing that. I really loved one of the lines that you wrote. It was early in the book. You wrote, “We think we know our spouses better than they know themselves because in a way, we create them as if before us, they were waiting to be brought to life.” I have to tell you, I highlighted that. I dogeared the page. I have been turning it over in my mind since I read it. I say that my husband is a militant minimalist, which he is, but I also have my own control freak sides. I was so fascinated by that. Things like that, insights that you put in, is that something you see in yourself? Where do you pull that for a novel?

William: That did come from myself and the way that I knew Paul. Especially since we too are fathers who came out later in life, we weren’t our full selves before we married each other. I feel like, in a way, we create that image of the person that we love by loving them. They truly didn’t exist in that way before us. That’s the way I see it. Other people might see it another way. For me, that’s what it is. It’s also the absorbing of his memories and experiences. We have talked so much about everything that’s he done, what his family has done. I have watched old home movies. I do forget, wait a minute, was that my memory, or was that his? I think that’s what I do. When you meet the person you’re supposed to be with, you want to be them, in a way. You want to completely be them. I think that’s how we create them.

Julie: Does that ever weigh on you? Listening to you say that makes me realize that I feel that way. The fact that I can never fully inhabit the mind of this person that I love so much, sometimes that feels sad to me. Does that resonate for you at all?

William: It does resonate for me because I want to understand really — Paul is very good at being this happy-go-lucky person. I want to know when he’s genuinely hurting. He doesn’t always show that. I think that, for me, is sad. I think even worse is when I might say or do something that hurts him. I want to know how that feels, but there’s another part of me who does not want to know all of his thoughts.

Julie: No. It’s so true. It’s the dance of intimacy. It’s like, I need to be close to you, but there’s a too close that wouldn’t be good for us because I would know too much. Gosh, I love thinking about those sorts of journeys in our lives. I think you put so many really effective words to it because you did meet him later in your life when you weren’t — until then, you had been shielding this part of yourself. To have that wholeness and fullness in your relationship, I would imagine, is a very beautiful thing for the two of you.

William: It is. Our families are totally enmeshed. Not our families. We just call them our family now. It is a really great place.

Julie: The wonderful, chaotic messiness of living with people. I wanted to talk to you about — I read your Modern Love column, which still after all this time is just so wonderful. I want to go back and read your memoir after listening to the interview with Zibby and also just learning about that. I read the column. Then Anna Martin interviewed you last year because it had been fifteen years. The passage of time as I get older is really incredible. The speed at which things turn is insane. Did you enjoy revisiting that with her?

William: I really did because I was in a completely different place. Also, I just love the Modern Love column.

Julie: Yes. I’ve been rejected by them, which I actually was very calm about.

William: All of the best of us have. I have to tell you, I’ve been rejected by Modern Love too. This was my third that I submitted.

Julie: Third time’s a charm.

William: Three is the charm. I love when they interview the people who have spoken because I want to know where they are today. My Modern Love column, if you read it, is really pretty much unresolved. It is me leaving my ex-wife and saying goodbye to all of that. You as a reader have no idea what happened past that time. This was the most difficult thing that I had been through and my family has been through. I was really happy to get to revisit that with Anna and talk about where I am and where my kids are and that we’re all happy and whole. My ex-wife is now engaged to another Bill, strangely enough.

Julie: I love that detail.

William: I turned sixty this year. I was in my forties when that happened. I had open-heart surgery last December.

Julie: I saw that in the author’s note, that your heart almost expired, was the way you put.

William: It did. I was on the final edits for the book. I had no knowledge of anything that was wrong with me except for a pain in my neck when I walked. I went for a diagnostic procedure, and they wouldn’t let me leave the hospital. My arteries were almost — one was a hundred percent blocked. The rest were eighty to ninety percent. It was a quintuple bypass. That changed my life too. It’s interesting because in the book, I talk about near misses that people go through, these events where they almost die and how it changes them. Then here was fiction becoming real life as I’m writing the book. It was very profound.

Julie: How has that changed you?

William: I am much more relaxed. I am much more relaxed with this book than I was the first book. I worried about it. I checked the stats every day. How many reviews did I get? All of these things. This time around — I can’t change any of that. I’m in a much better place, though. It’s changed in a really good way. I have such gratitude to be alive.

Julie: I bet. How would you advise someone based on what you’re talking about, this experience versus your first? Some of that’s inevitable, obviously, because it’s just around how our lives unfold. What would you tell someone with a first book coming out? How would you advise them from the place you are now?

William: It’s a waiting game. When it’s bought by a publisher, you think, this is it. Now it’s all going to move ahead. No. Every step of the way is a waiting game, so don’t stress over that. You’re going to want to hear more. You’re going to want to be in more lists. You’re going to compare yourself to everybody else. Don’t do it because you are doing the best that you possibly can. Second, keep writing. When you turn in your book, work on the next one. I didn’t do that with my first one. Then I found myself years later writing this one that I had to get done in five months. It’s important that you just keep writing even as your first book is getting published and that you’re a good literary citizen. Read other books. Promote other books. Promote other authors because that rising tide lifts all ships.

Julie: That’s really excellent advice. You’re so right. I think sharing other authors’ work and promoting other authors is also such a tonic for the tendency toward comparison. I don’t think we mean to do it to be egomaniacs.

William: But we all do.

Julie: Yes, but we do. You just can’t help it. You’re in IT. I also want to talk to you about that because your day job is so fascinating to me. Does that tie in for you at all with the social media? First of all, tell me what you do. You wrote in your bio that it’s about the perils of social engineering in cybersecurity. What does that mean? I don’t understand.

William: It is so relevant to what I write about because I write about identity and the way that people pretend to be people they’re not for love or to gain trust or for some gain or just to hide who they are. A lot of my writing is about identity. I’m an IT director for an economic consulting firm. Cybersecurity is very important. I head that up for the firm. The way that most firms will be hacked or breached is through someone pretending to be somebody they’re not. Someone will trust them and give them something. It happens with phishing in emails. It happens through social media as well. This is the number-one way that that happens. It also happens in personal relationships. I experienced a catfishing incident where my picture was stolen. That’s in the first book. I think I’ve had thirty women and a few men now contact me and say they’ve had an online relationship with somebody who used my stolen photo to catfish them. They haven’t lost money, but they’ve lost maybe something more valuable, their trust and emotions. The two do dovetail. I actually use that experience to welcome every new employee so that they’ll remember, and they have my face, the face of deception, to remember.

Julie: Hi, I’m Bill, the face of deception. Welcome to our company.

William: Yes, and I’ll be managing your data.

Julie: But you can trust me. Have a great day. I will say, when you talked about that in your interview with Zibby, I said out loud to myself, what? It’s so true. Thank you for explaining to me what that meant. I’ve learned so much now. We just live in this crazy time. How we absorb some of these technological advancements that do have potential to give us life and give us connection and then also take things from us, like our trust, gosh, I always think about that right now. People that lived fifty years ago, did they feel like the world had changed as much in those fifty years as we do now? No one can answer that question for me, so I don’t know. I’ll work on it. Maybe I need to be a journalist.

William: I do think the tale of scamming people and pretending to be someone you’re not goes back to the beginning of time, doesn’t it? Technology makes it easier.

Julie: Yes. Thirty women, wow. You do have a wonderful face, so I could see how someone would say, this is the one I’m going to use.

William: Thank you. I asked. I asked a couple of them why. They said, your face is nonthreatening. That was their response, or there was a vulnerability. It wasn’t, oh, you’re really handsome. It’s, this is nonthreatening.

Julie: Really, could they just have told you a softball lie there? You’re the most handsome man I’ve ever seen.

William: I think at that point, they were going to be very honest.

Julie: I can only imagine so. In your life right now, what’s your favorite thing about being a writer?

William: It’s interesting. Now I have embraced fiction. It was scary before because I needed the structure of nonfiction in order to write. I still do that in essays. Working on novels now, it’s the ability to create an entire world and live in it and experience it as someone else. Again, I’m doing the same thing with identities. They really do seem to live in my head for a while. It’s really enjoyable to go to that place and know that even if it isn’t nonfiction, it’s emotionally true.

Julie: I love that. Is Paul a reader?

William: He is a reader. He reads a lot of historical nonfiction. He’s very interested in and he can tell you about all of the different figures in the monarchy in Britain and when they lived. He knows the flags of all the countries. He’s just that type of person, where I remember everything everybody says.

Julie: Yes, you said you have a very good memory. Is that still true for you?

William: Yeah, it is. Sometimes that’s good. Sometimes it’s not so good because that language might show up in fiction where I’ve used something that somebody has said.

Julie: Interesting. I didn’t even think about that, retaining that. I was thinking more that I’m a person with a good memory, and the part I don’t love is when my greatest hits of embarrassment start rolling at two AM when you’re not sleeping, that kind of vibe. That’s always fun. Why did I say that in 2005? Julie, think back.

William: As writers, we’re sponges. We just absorb everything.

Julie: It’s so true. What do you think is the most challenging thing when you are in the thick of it? I know you mention in the acknowledgments that in the writing process, you are in your head quite a bit. Is that something you combat, or do you just lean into it? Does that bother Paul? Is he okay with that? How does that work?

William: He is okay with it. My writing process is to get up early, five or six, and write for a couple of hours before I go to work. I’m typically doing that in the morning. I roll out of bed and do it. By the end of the day, I can’t really write anything because I’m just burnt out by that point. On the weekends too, especially when the developmental edits come back and I’m on deadline and I’ve really got to work on it, I do tend to ignore other things that are going on around me. My family is very accepting. I’m fortunate. My kids are all grown. If I was a young parent, that would be really difficult. At this point, I can do that. Paul is aware that it’s truly important to me.

Julie: What a gift to have that freedom and space in your life.

William: It is.

Julie: It sounds like it was just so well earned. I also love — you said it in the first podcast, and I think it’s where we should end today — when you talked to Zibby about how it is never too late. There are so many gifts that you are experiencing, to what you’re saying right now, where maybe there’s a little less chaos. It’s easier for you to kind of withdraw and do what you need to do. That wouldn’t have been the case for you earlier in life. Is that something you talk about a lot still, just it not being too late?

William: Oh, yeah, I do. I came out at forty-three, got married for the second time at forty-seven, published my first book at fifty-five, and now my first novel at sixty. I plan on continuing to try and achieve those milestones. In a way, I have so much more experience to draw from now. It really is never too late. What I’m writing about in my next book of fiction, it’s a man who goes through open-heart surgery and wakes up to the world. I’m using that personal experience for my gain again in my writing.

Julie: I love it. I was going to ask what you were working on next. That is so wonderful to hear. Waking up to the world, something we’re just constantly doing. This has been a joy to talk to you. One final important question. What is your least-favorite cottage rule? What is the one that’s hardest for you to follow?

William: When the house is full, getting everybody’s permission to use the bathroom. Sometimes I run to the clubhouse.

Julie: We got to do what we got to do. That’s right. We’ve got a pool down the street with some restrooms there. Saddle up, partner. I love it. This has been such a joy to talk to you. This book, The Way Life Should Be, is a beautiful end-of-summer read. I think it’s coming out at the perfect time in the year. There’s something about the end of summer that just feels so right for this one. I’m wishing it all the luck. Thanks so much for talking with me and sharing who you are and about this book. It’s wonderful.

William: Thank you, Julie. I’ve loved it.

Julie: Me too.

THE WAY LIFE SHOULD BE by William Dameron

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