S. I. Wells has worked in foreign diplomacy, public broadcasting, the Federal court system and health care during his career. A fan of history, his special area of interest is the period from 1929 to 1940, with an emphasis on the economics of the Great Depression and the travails of Winston Churchill leading up to World War II. He has collaborated with some of the great minds of his day and spends many hours thinking about the current and future condition of the United States. Born and raised in the Midwest, today Wells travels the U.S. to meet with and learn from real people living real lives. He is a senior columnist for staythirsty.com and writes on topics that range from the economy to social policy to politics. THIRSTY was fortunate to catch up with him on the road for this conversation about his debut novel Special Dispensations.
THIRSTY: Why did you decide to write a novel?
Wells: The story came to me one day while I was fishing. After that, the characters just made me do it.
THIRSTY: Your book Special Dispensations pits the criminal justice system against the Catholic Church. Why did you choose this particular conflict to write about?
Wells: The clash between Canon Law and Common Law provides a magnificent conflict - the tension between Heaven and Earth. Watching colorful figures in the Catholic Church interact with colorful figures in the criminal justice system is a sport unto itself. What could be better entertainment - the lions eating the gladiators or the other way around.
THIRSTY: Special Dispensations is a very “Chicago” book. Is Chicago your favorite city?
Wells: I grew up in Chicago and was educated there. The Chicago of my youth was filled with iconic figures, but the city was gray and tired. Today, the icons are all dead, but the city is alive, vibrant, architecturally beautiful and real.
THIRSTY: When writing your novel, what was your process?
Wells: Just sit down and listen to your characters. Don’t get in their way. Let their voices be heard. Keep yourself out of the story.
THIRSTY: In your work as a columnist for Stay Thirsty you cover many diverse topics. What are you trying to tell people with your columns? Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the future of the human condition in America?
Wells: America is a great country. America is a wealthy country. America can have a bright future. All three statements are true unless Congress continues to squander the opportunity to fix the key problems facing America today. It is not that America is broke or bankrupt. It is that our government misallocates our resources and refuses to listen to the real needs of real people. Last I looked, corporations are not permitted to register to vote in any election for people seeking to hold public office yet they hold an outsized power over our elected officials. Last I looked, millions of children are undernourished every day in America. Last I looked, people are being thrown out of their homes, living on food stamps and realizing that their economic prospects for the future are poor to none. I believe that we are better than what the American condition currently reflects and I believe that if you “throw the bums” out of Congress and only elect men and women who understand and are willing to reach compromises and truly govern, then there is little that America cannot do.
My columns are designed to spread ideas, concepts and the currency of reasonable thought. It is not revolution that I seek, but evolution for the greater good. No governmental system will prosper and continue unless supported by the people. In today’s world of instant communication, I hope that my efforts provide some food for reflection and highlight that inequities, tragedies and human misery do not have to rule our headlines or our lives.
THIRSTY: Do you have any advice for young writers?
Wells: Write what you know. Never forsake the importance of a reader’s time. Think long term and remember that what you write today could live for a hundred years or more.