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Salon Lit Jo: A Conversation with Fred Williams

an interview by Nicholas Deitch

I first saw Fred Williams at the Santa Barbara Writers Conference in 2019, shortly after I arrived on the beginning day. Even from across the room the man exuded style--decked out in dress shirt and pleated pants, flashing a beautiful white smile that shown from above a brightly colored bow tie. Within minutes after check-in I found myself sitting with Fred, engulfed within his warmth and enthusiasm. He handed me his card, and told me how grateful he was to be there, to learn as much as he could from anyone who would share, about the craft of writing.

Through the week I had occasion to hear Fred read, stories that walked the edge of normal before suddenly slipping over that edge into a realm of weird sensorial darkness, characters of innocence, or wrath, pursued by the spirit of Love, the central figure in much of his writing. But Love, in Fred's stories, isn't kind and soft. She isn't an angel of mercy. She is dark and dangerous, and in her presence you'd better tread softly.

And so, I might expect to find Fred roaming the backstreets of New Orleans. Yet here he is, six months later, sitting in my office, a few blocks from his home in downtown Ventura. We sit together on a Saturday morning. Outside, the noise of traffic on Main Street intrudes through the second-story window.

"This is a mind blowing honor, man. This interview, getting my story published in the Journal." Fred beams and his white smile lights the place up. We've shared some writing since the conference, and I can attest, his stories are deep and dark and strange.

So when did you start writing?

"About twenty years ago." Fred looks around the room at images of buildings. "I used to draw. I wanted to be an architect. But I told myself I could make better pictures with words."

Your stories are very human, and also deeply dark and spiritual, from my view. Where do they come from?

He smiles and nods, thoughtfully. "I had a guy walk up to me a few months ago, who said, 'God's spirit is in you.' And, yeah, I think it is. And I'm becoming who I'm supposed to be. Just let me tell a good-ass story! How do I help someone? Pull humanity forward? It starts within yourself, you know? A hummingbird has no idea how helpful it's being, just being a hummingbird."

This is an apt, and even profound observation, and it suits him perfectly. Fred Williams is a hummingbird. A conversation with Fred is an adventure. He's all over the place, with snippets and anecdotes and observations about life and love and failure and hope. He flits about from point to point, seeking the nectar in each encounter, each thought, each pause.

You're not from California, are you?

"I was raised in Saint Louis, Missouri, in a good family. I was motivated to be the best. But I accepted beliefs about myself that were not real. I had to escape other people's approval, you know? So I came to California in 2015, because here I can be whoever I want. And it's been the best thing. The water, the mountains. It's good fertile ground."

Do you find there are underlying themes that recur in your writing?

"So there's this character, Della. She works at a diner, and she sees people and the baggage they're carrying around, and she knows their orders, and she'll sit and talk and meet each person where they are. So my writing, it's self-analysis, self-improvement, self-love and compassion. It's like, you meet this chick, and you're high and it's great. But then it's all got to come down. Because, really, love comes from within you. And people need to deconstruct themselves."

And it's true, that as dark and strange as his writing may be, the stories of Fred Williams are, in the end, all about the pain, and the sweetest of nectar, that is the essence of love.

Can you share some about the story you are writing now? What it's about, and why you feel the need to tell this story. Love is an actual character, and I find this very intriguing.

"I’ve actually finished my latest work and I am going through to tighten my story. My first story, Chrome #22, had an arc about a man, Jonas Brooks, who caught his wife, Javette, cheating. Well I always wondered about the guy that Jonas’ wife cheated with. Why? What led him to that? What happened to him? In Love Unrequited, we follow that man, Hunter Bates, after his affair with Javette. After his fall from grace (an actual fall from a building), Love shows up unexpectedly and helps him back on his feet, physically and mentally, after he agrees to help Love stop an enraged woman who is hell bent on ridding the world of the men who disrespect her. Love is the only thing that can stop her madness. But is Love too late?

"I wanted to reveal a different perspective on true Love. Love ain’t the love you think it is. It’s something far more sinister. People mistake Love for her twin sister, Lust. True Love ain’t as pretty as Lust, sometimes. Lust always runs away. True Love sticks around. Love is patient, Love is kind....until she’s not. Love is the hand that helps you get back on your feet after life shatters you. Love slowly puts the pieces back together to make you brand new. Love is messy, strange. Love hurts, and heals. Love teaches, but most importantly, Love is a mirror."

You are very passionate about telling your stories. Can you share, where within you, do these stories come from?

"I write from a place of reaching back and trying to pull humanity forward. There comes a moment in life where you have to ask yourself, 'What is the point?' We can’t ask anyone else this question. We have to sit and calm our noisy thoughts, and see what comes to the surface. That point comes when the external qualities, which we use to define ourselves, just aren’t sustainable anymore. That’s because they never were and we just now caught up to that fact. We were taught who we should be at a young age, but never challenged the teachers. Most of my characters are working through that moment. Life wrecks ALL of us. Life wrecked them. The plan fails, or even worse, the plan succeeds. Success don’t feel like success should. Success and failure feel one and the same. 1+1 doesn’t equal two anymore and it’s a scary place. Some of my characters are re-invented by this reality check and others do not fare as well. The tree that bends never breaks. My characters learn as I learned, that Love arrives where ever you are in life to lend her hand, but you can’t look for Love outside. Her reach is inside."

Fred reading at our November Lit Jo event

Fred is a Network Service Manager for the local phone company, a devoted St. Louis Rams fan, and a retired natural bodybuilder. An awarded poet, he has fiction published in the Santa Barbara Literary Journal. You can find him at @della_drakes. 

You can find his story, "Love & Shoelaces" in Volume 4, "Star Dust," of the Santa Barbara Literary Journal.

Nick Deitch is a writer, teacher, architect, and activist. Originally from Los Angeles, California, he now lives in Ventura, with his wife, Diana. He is an annual participant at the Santa Barbara Writer’s Conference. He has been published in the London literary journal, Litro, the Santa Barbara Literary Journal, and Hurricanes & Swan Songs. He is currently writing his first novel, Death and Life in the City of Dreams.

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