Hi everyone… if you want to make a comment for the contest that started yesterday, go back one entry–but not before you read this GREAT guest blog by an absolutely wonderful debut author, Brad Parks. You’ll immediately like the guy and I know I’m going to be grabbing his book as soon as possible now. Brad Parks is an escaped journalist, having done time at The Washington Post and the (Newark, N.J. ) Star-Ledger as both a sports and news writer. A graduate of Dartmouth College, he is a washed-up jock, a veteran of community theater and a terrible gardener. But if you see him at a conference, he will be happy to serenade you. He lives with his wife and two small children in Virginia, where he’s currently at work on the next Carter Ross mystery.
Brad is the author of Faces of the Gone — a fabulous mystery. In the Library Journal’s starred review, they said:
“This is the most hilariously funny and deadly serious mystery debut since Janet Evanovich’s One for the Money. Former journalist Parks has learned the art of making words flow and dialog zing. Fans of the NFL’s Cleveland Browns will find the Brick City Browns street gang an added delight.”–Library Journal (starred review)”
And none other than Harlan Coben blurbed the front of his book with, “Terrific debut.”
But enough introduction. Let me let him tell you about himself and why having kids made him a better writer:
by Brad Parks
Between the diaper explosions, the mealtime tantrums, the middle-of-the-night shout-outs, the early-morning-wake-ups and the other joys of parenthood — none of which have been known to spur creative genius out of anyone besides perhaps Erma Bombeck — I never thought I’d type the following sentence:
My kids have made me a better writer.
At first blush it seems wildly counterintuitive. By way of introduction, my children are a 2 ½-year-old boy who enjoys running away from Daddy as fast as he can the moment he realizes there’s traffic nearby; and a sweet-as-a-gum-drop little girl who just turned one and whose current method of walking involves a terrifying amount of falling down.
They are lovely children, bright and beautiful — they take after their mother in both of these respects — and I feel utterly blessed to have them in my life, but as any parent of young children can attest:
They absolutely suck the life out of you.
Their little motors run non-stop, and the basics of keeping them fed, changed, alive and engaged is a thoroughly exhausting enterprise, mentally and physically. By 7 o’clock most nights, which is when the little dears have finally worn themselves out, my wife and I simply have nothing left. We take turns closing our eyes while we read our son his last books.
So how is it possible these wonderful-though-soul-sapping beings have made me a better writer?
Yeah, yeah, I suppose experiencing the joy and wonder of their births and early milestones have broadened my life’s experience and opened me to a greater depth of feeling … and all that other greeting card stuff.
No, what it really comes down to is they’ve changed how I view my writing. I used to think of writing as work. Now it’s my escape from the real work.
As I type this blog post, I’m sitting in a Hardees, which has become my favorite writing spot because 1) it is just far enough away from my house (about five miles) that I can’t hear my kids screaming; 2) it is the last place in American without wireless Internet, thus saving me from time-wasting myself; and 3) it has free Coke Zero refills.
I basically have three hours here. That’s how long my battery lasts (no plugs at the Hardees) and it’s about how long I can leave my wife alone with the kids on a Saturday without feeling incredible paternal guilt.
My Hardees time is the only writing time I’ll get today. I cherish it.
Because I know how hard writing time is to come by these days. In my blissfully selfish pre-child existence, I wrote whenever I pleased. Maybe it was before work (I was a full-time journalist while I wrote FACES OF THE GONE and the next scheduled installment of the Carter Ross series, EYES OF THE INNOCENT). Maybe it was during lunch. Maybe it was at night. It didn’t much matter: Other than the eight (or nine or ten) hours a day I devoted to the newspaper, my time was my own. I had the luxury of writing when the muse spoke to me, inspiration hit and Venus was rising in the third house.
Not anymore. Now I have this small-but-precious period each day in which I’m allowed to write — note the verb choice, “allowed” — and, through the restorative powers of Coke Zero, have the energy to do it. I’m conscious of the fact that I have to make the most of it.
And I’ve started to notice something: There are a lot of authors out there whose road to publication included hard time as a stay-at-home parent. I think of Sophie Littlefield (www.sophielittlefield.com) and Carla Buckley (www.carlabuckley.com), two authors I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know at conferences (and two other new authors imminently deserving of your attention). They both talked about how their careers blossomed when the kids went back to school because they found themselves maximizing their writing time. Nothing makes you realize what a privilege it is to write until you have a period in your life when you simply can’t do it.
This past winter, after my daughter was born, I was the stay-at-home parent while my wife went to work. (Oh, and let’s just get this out of the way: Yes, I’m a dude, and I stayed at home with a kid. I’m not under the illusion this makes me some kind of hero. Just a parent. It’s 2009. Let’s get over it people.)
Now, I guess I’m supposed to say I treasure the time I got to spend with my beautiful baby girl, that it bonded us forever and that I felt immense fulfillment nurturing my daughter through those critical early months of her development. But the reality is I was stuck inside a tiny house with an infant who was a lousy conversationalist and yet required the majority of my attention. It was pretty much a drag.
For the first four months, the only place she would nap during the day was strapped to my chest in a Baby Bjorn. And, like most babies, she napped a lot. At 6-foot-1, a (mostly solid) 185 pounds and 35 years of age, I fancied myself a rugged male of the species in the prime of his physical capacities… until carrying a 10-pound, power-napping bowling ball on my chest eight hours a day reduced me to a whimpering shell of a man crawling to a chiropractor for relief.
Best of all, if I sat down, she woke up. So I placed my computer on top of the television — we still have one of those old-fashioned, non-flat-screen kinds that you can use as furniture — and was able to do some work, an odd bit of freelance or some light editing of previously written copy. But real, original writing? With taught action and snappy dialogue and well-paced plot development and witty turns of phrase? Not a chance.
It was the longest winter of my life.
I didn’t resume writing again until this past June. My wife is an administrator at a boarding school, so she works part-time during the summer. We worked out a daily schedule where I’d write in the morning while she watched the kids, then we’d trade off and she’d go to the office in the afternoons. I attacked my writing eagerly each day, knowing I had to capitalize on what time I had, and by the end of the summer had finished the third installment of the Carter Ross series.
Now my kids are in daycare and/or pre-school full-time, but I live with the knowledge I’m only one phone call away someone needing to be picked up due to illness or injury. So I still find myself greedily protecting my writing time, valuing it as I never did before I had children. And that outlook has made me a better writer.
In what ways have your kids made you better? Or worse? C’mon, it’s time to give the little buggers credit (or blame)…
To learn more about Brad or FACES OF THE GONE, visit www.BradParksBooks.com. You can also sign up for his newsletter (http://www.bradparksbooks.com/fan-club.php), become a fan of Brad Parks Books on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/pages/Brad-Parks-Books/137190195628#) or follow him on Twitter (www.twitter.com/Brad_Parks).