By Evan Hong
The summer sun rose over the small town of Hayward, Wisconsin, giving light to a new day. Hardly anyone walked the streets at 6:30 a.m., as most people sought the maximum amount of sleep before their early morning shifts.
But there sat Dalton Hessel, all alone in the local coffee shop with nothing to accompany him, except for his writing utensils and his little green notebook.
“I would wake up in the morning and write every thought that came into my head,” Hessel said.
Before his daily shifts at the go-kart track in his hometown at 9 a.m., Hessel, formerly a Hayward resident, spent his mornings with a pen and pad writing down short stories and ideas that came to mind. These ideas, over time, turned into Hessel’s fifth novel.
Hessel, a local author and a current senior at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, self-published his latest novel “The Little Green Notebook: Notes About Love and Other Things” this past summer. Using a small note pad he bought from a dollar store, Hessel spent his mornings writing down his relationship experiences as a form of therapy to release the thoughts that he was afraid to say out loud.
“There are a lot of things that people are afraid to say verbally, but if you put it into a song or write it down, it’s easier to let it out,” Hessel says.
Hessel approached Natalie Hegna, a friend and fellow UW-Eau Claire student, to help edit and proofread “The Little Green Notebook” before it was published. Hegna says she read through Hessel’s novel twice before sending it back to him about a month later.
“It took me about 12 hours total to edit it the first time around,” Hegna said. “The first time around is always looking for grammatical errors, but the second time is asking like “Does it make sense?”
Hegna complimented Hessel’s writing ability and his willingness to talk about his emotions through his stories.
“I think I was very impressed because he wasn’t afraid to say some of the things that some people are,” Hegna said.
Hessel says he started writing in the seventh grade, when he wrote music and songs for a band he had created with his middle school friends. At the time, he did not think he was a strong writer, but a school teacher discovered his music one day and encouraged him to write more short stories.
With the influence of Nicholas Sparks and other writers, Hessel began to read novels more often to help enhance his creative ability.
“I never really struggled with creativity,” Hessel says. “Stories have always interested me.”
Hessel published his first novel at just 18 years old. He called it, “Would You Go With Me?” The 96-page novel takes place in San Francisco, where a young boy embarks on a cross-country trip in search of a new life away from his boring Wisconsin home.
During the book’s production, Hessel consulted a high school teacher for editing advice. Other school faculty heard about his story and the school ultimately let him set up a stand and allowed him to sell the book in the cafeteria. Hessel also sold the books out of the back of his car.
As word of his novel began to spread around the community, Hessel earned the opportunity to sell his book at MuskyFest, which is Hayward’s largest community festival. He says the support from the close-knit community of Hayward pushed him to write more novels.
“Whenever you walk down the street in Hayward, you always know at least one person in each store,” Hessel said. “There was a lot of community support.”
The community continued to support him throughout the production of his other novels, titled “Save Me Chicago” and “Weird, But Cool With It.” Through a self-publishing website called CreateSpace, Hessel could release his stories independently and sell them online on various websites, with his newest novel now available through Amazon.
Hessel says his third novel, titled “Thoughts,” along with his newest novel are his favorites because they are more personal than the others. He believes it is important to share his own personal experiences with others and connect to his audience.
“As a writer, you are supposed to be vulnerable, you have to just put it out there and hope people enjoy it,” Hessel said. “It’s important to establish a form of human connection, something they can relate to.”
Hessel realizes, however, that sharing his personal stories can cause judgement. He worries about what people may think of him.
“I definitely feel that pressure,” Hessel said. “Like, ‘What if people don’t like it?’
To help his novels gain notoriety, Hessel has created a Facebook page called “Dalton Hessel Writings” where he posts a daily passage of his own for others to see. He says social media has helped a lot to spread the word about his work, and that the positive comments and reactions to his writings motivate him to keep writing each day.
“Sometimes I will randomly get a Facebook message from somebody I don’t know that well that will say ‘Hey, I really needed that today,’ and that’s pretty cool.” Hessel said.
Hessel, an elementary education major, says he wants to be a teacher one day, but says he would also enjoy writing full time. He is unsure of the details of his future, but said he hopes he can pursue new ventures in his writing.
“I really don’t know where I’ll be at,” Hessel said. “I just take it step by step.”