William L. Alton’s book, The Tragedy of Being Happy, will be released by Pact Press, an imprint of Regal House Publishing, on January 12, 2019.
There’s a fair bit of interest, scientific and otherwise, in the links between creativity and insanity. How crazy must someone be to be a good author?
I find that for me, insanity is the core of my creativity. I have lived with Schizo-Effective Disorder since I was 13. I spent 2 years locked in a maximum security psychiatric hospital until I escaped. Yes, I am literally an escaped lunatic. It took until my early Forties to find the right cocktail of drugs. I still live with some symptoms but have found a balance that works for me. In the beginning, I made up stories to justify my feelings and symptoms. I used them to pass the time. I used them to create worlds in which I was more than the drug addled, angry young man I was. As I got older, writing became the lens through which I interacted with the world. I am always looking at people and situation and asking myself, What if? The balance between madness and functionality is what allows me be both an educator and a writer. I am driven to go out into the world but require a lot of “down” time. As a writer, I find that I need to be open and willing to let go while maintaining the drive and stubbornness and need to sit alone in a room believing that the shit in my head is interesting to more people than me. To me, writing is about moving from survival to thriving.
Who or what inspired you? How so?
I became a writer because I was a troublemaker. I grew up in Arkansas in the Seventies. Back then, they still had corporal punishment in schools. I was in the office three or four times a week getting paddled. In the third grade, I had a teacher who was a Quaker. Instead of having us paddled when we caused trouble she would assignment poems for us to memorize and recite the next day to class. The first time, I refused. The teacher called my mother. My mother was not a Quaker. She absolutely DID believe in corporal punishment. After that, I memorized the poems and recited them. Because I was a hellion, I memorized a lot of poems that year. Later in life, I became an addict and lived with mental illness. When I sobered up and started my recovery, I had a teacher who introduced me to Shakespeare and Milton and Poe and Hawthorne. As important as that was though, that teacher also gave me the guiding principle of my life. I had done something stupid and was making excuses and he looked at me and said: “Bill, you can be as crazy as you need to be. Don’t be an asshole.” These two teachers are the reason I write. They are the reason I perform. They are the reason I am the person I am today.
What social issue or problem does your work address?
I write about mental illness, poverty, addiction and survival. I write about the hidden things and the hidden people. I write about the monsters in the closet and hopefully, one way of kicking their asses.
What difference do you hope your book will make?
I want people to know that they are not alone. I want them to read my books and maybe see ways to love the unlovable. I want people to see that those of us in the shadows are people too.
William L. Alton has a BA and MFA in creative writing from Pacific University and has published a collection of flash fiction, Girls, two collections of poetry titled Heroes of Silence and Heart Washes Through, and two novels, Flesh and Bone, in 2015, and Comfortable Madness. He lives in Beaverton, Oregon, where he works with at-risk youth.