An interview with Best of 2016 author Dennis Bouldin

Best of 2016 Dennis Bouldin
Best of 2016 Dennis Bouldin

Our nonfiction editor, E.T. Perry, recently had this exchange with Dennis Bouldin, who will be reading his work at the upcoming The Best of the Burlington Writers Workshop 2016 book tour event at 51 Main at the Bridge in Middlebury. Here’s what Dennis had to say about how his writing and literary influences.

How did you become involved in the Burlington Writers Workshop and how long have you been a member?

Close to three years ago, I stumbled across the BWW looking through the listings for Burlington.

How long have you lived in Vermont and how would you describe your connection to the state and to where you live?

We moved to Vermont in 1974, mostly motivated by a job offer from IBM that promised much more interesting work (and money!) than…in the route 128 area of Boston [where I was working]. We had no particular connection with Vermont, but we did feel that it would be a wonderful place to raise a family. We were not disappointed.

How would you describe your relationship to creative writing and perhaps how it has (or hasn’t) changed over time? Do you feel your professional background as a scientist and engineer has influenced your writing at all?

I have always had an interest in articulating my thoughts through writing, including working as a technical writer before we moved to Vermont and some minor involvement [I had] with technical writing and education as part of my work through the years at IBM. My non-work related output while I worked was limited. My most notable focus was an intense correspondence over the years with an old high school friend in Texas. After I retired I began giving more thought to the craft of writing, mainly sharing various works with friends and family. I received positive feedback and this led me to want to see if what I was writing was of interest to a broader audience. The BWW has offered an excellent opportunity to do just that. In as much as I’ve had a life-long interest in science and [since] my professional career was in engineering and technology, as I write about myself at least on occasion the inclusion of some technical topics is unavoidable—which, needless to say, can present a challenge in terms of retaining the interest of most readers!

Have you studied art or writing at any point?

Not formally. But I can tell the difference between a Van Gogh and a Matisse (admittedly not always Monet and Manet). My awareness of writers has slipped substantially with the coming of the twenty-first century, but the BWW connection does involve some focus on “craft.”

How would you describe your writing style and do you feel it or your writing in general has evolved at all in your life or in the recent past? If so, how?

I like to think that what I write has some intellectual content, yet doesn’t take itself too seriously. (Just as well, those who know me would add!) This often shows up as humor or at least irony. I’ve got a couple of pieces I wrote in high school (i.e., a long time ago!) and the voice is quite recognizable.

Do you usually stick to creative nonfiction when you write or do you experiment with other genres as well? Which are you most drawn to and why?

I have written a little poetry and fiction, particularly several works featuring the comic “inside stories” of the “By Jove” exposés of the (now) over-the-hill writer “Jovian St. Laurent”—e.g., “Celebrity Scrabble in Monaco.” But I fear these have gotten past their “best used by” dates. (Do you know who Princess Grace and Sofia Loren was/are!?) For now my comfort level, and thus focus, is mainly on creative nonfiction.

One of your essays in this year’s Best Of tells the story of your experience walking part of the Camino de Santiago in Spain, and it sounds like you and your wife are avid travelers. Why is traveling meaningful to you, and what has been your most significant experience while traveling that you can recall? If you could pack your bags and leave tomorrow, where would you go?

I was raised as a service brat and lived in England and France as part of my father’s assignments in those countries—so travel has always been in my blood. Perhaps my most memorable experience was a night spent with my son, Graham, just after he graduated from college, at a Japanese Inn run by monks on Mount Koya, a preserve holy to Shingon Buddhism. It was foggy and at least in the evening as we walked the paths among the trees, tombs, and shrines, no one else was there, at least no one having the corporeal forms we are used to in the western world. Where might my wife and I go next? Betty has suggested going to Bali…but that is an awfully long plane ride!

Who are some of your favorite authors and why? Do you feel their work influences your writing?

Given my interest in traveling and [my] Anglophile and Francophile tendencies from living in those countries, it’s hard to resist Adam Gopnik and Alain de Botton (both well beyond me in erudition), and especially the comfortable style of Bill Bryson. Perhaps reflecting a residue of my youthful Catholicism, in the fiction realm I’ve enjoyed Graham Greene’s work—but I read much more nonfiction than fiction.

Where do you usually like to write? Is there a space or time in which you find it is most conducive for you to write?

I usually write in a study over my garage, but timing is irregular. I have spoken with some writers who get up at 5:00 every morning to write for an hour or two. For me, unimaginable!

How would you describe your writing routine? Do you have any rituals or helpful habits? How has it changed over time?

I am not and have never been disciplined enough to spend so much time per day writing. I generally get some idea in my mind and then work intensely for a relatively short time to get it expressed on paper (well, really in a computer file someplace). Once it’s in this form I re-read and revise repeatedly—maybe every day for another week or two—until I feel it is good enough to offer to others for comments. I don’t think I’ve written anything yet that I could read a few days later and not find room for improvement. Consistent with my practice, I have not attempted to write anything that would extend beyond a one-session reading.

How does your writing influence other aspects of your life, personal or otherwise?

Not intensely—but I have been very stimulated by interacting with my BWW co-writers who, like me (and often to a much more intense degree!) are confronting the challenge of expressing themselves in a way that others find entertaining and stimulating.

Do you feel you have a particular goal you aim for with your writing or when you write? Can you tell us about it?

In reading Michel de Montagne’s essays, I was struck by the following phrase from the introduction, “To the Reader”: “[this work is] dedicated…to the private convenience of my relatives and friends, so that when they have lost me…they may recover here some features of my habits and temperament, and by this means keep the knowledge they have had of me more complete and alive.” (Of course if you’re not a relation or friend and I can elicit a “bravo!” or at least “not bad” from you, so much the better!)

About Dennis

Dennis Bouldin retired in 2001 after a twenty-seven-year career as a scientist/engineer at IBM. Besides writing, Dennis enjoys travel, tennis, golf, watching Jeopardy with an evening cocktail, and planning to clean up his basement. Dennis and his wife, Betty, live in Essex Junction, Vermont.

About The Best of the Burlington Writers Workshop 2016

This book is the fourth installment in the Best of the Burlington Writers Workshop series. Founded in 2013, the annual anthology features work that is written, selected, and edited by BWW members. The mission of the anthology is to showcase the work of new, emerging, and established Vermont writers while offering Vermonters the opportunity to learn first-hand about the editing, publishing, and book marketing process. The 2016 edition is available for purchase on our website or in the BWW space at 110 Main Street, Studio 3C in Burlington. Buy your copy now >