Sunday, May 6, 2012

How a Stay-at-Home Dad Writes a Novel: Guest Post by Brad Parks, Author of “The Girl Next Door”

NOTE: Following a successful career in journalism, Brad Parks became a novelist, but not before he spent time as a full-time dad. This post is about this experience. Brad Parks’ third book, The Girl Next Door, has just been published.

by Brad Parks
www.bradparksbooks.com

I would like to start this guest blog with a solemn promise: My latest book, a page-turning murder mystery called The Girl Next Door, contains no puking babies.

There are also no references to nap schedules, well-child check-ups or whether some tiny human being is getting enough tummy time. And, I swear to Medela, no one cleans any part of a breast pump.

I can guarantee all this because writing this book was my escape from all those things -- at a time when I desperately needed it.

See, up until age 34, I thought I was a pretty tough guy. I was a journalist, and a fearless one at that. I had covered 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina. I had plunged into the toughest housing projects in Newark, New Jersey. I had even covered a flag football game at a nudist colony (trust me: most of the people at nudist colonies are people you do not want to see naked).

But none of that had, in any way, prepared me for the assignment I willingly accepted in my 35th year. Having left journalism to become a full-time author, I was going to take a half-year off and be a stay-at-home dad to my beautiful baby girl.

The funny thing is, I can remember thinking it would be a nice break. Because, yeah, we already had one kid, so I knew caring for an infant -- for all its joys -- could also be, y’know, a bit of a drag from time to time.

But otherwise I had been a pretty oblivious typical dad. I thought I was “doing my part” because I’d wake up and have breakfast with our son while my wife dozed. Then I’d shower, shave, put on unstained clothing, and announce to my wife, “Okay, honey, I have to go to work now!”

I was no more than two weeks into full-time care-giving when I started realizing just how wrong that sentence was. The problem is in the verb. It’s not “I have to go to work.” It should be, “I get to go to work.”

I get to go off to a place where people don’t cry for no apparent reason; I get to worry only about feeding, comforting and relieving myself for the next nine hours; I get to have stimulating conversations on worldly topics with people who have advanced language skills and fully developed frontal cortexes.

After about a month staying at home, I barely resembled the well-put-together, well-groomed YUPPY I had once been. I didn’t shower for days on end. Getting my wife off to work and my son off to daycare in the mornings meant it would usually be a minimum of two hours before I even stopped to, say, brush my teeth. I would wear the same sweater five days out of seven, simply because it comforted me.

My daughter refused to take naps during the day anywhere else except snuggled against me in a Baby Bjorn. Which seemed really cute at first. Except, of course, you can’t really sit down without waking up the baby. And newborns sleep all the time. So I spent roughly eight hours a day walking around with this 10-pound bowling ball strapped to my chest until I pinched a nerve in my neck, reducing me to a whimpering mess.

Don’t get me wrong, I tried to be conscious of cherishing this time spent with my daughter, knowing it was something a lot of dads didn’t have the chance to do. And it wasn’t all bad, getting to watch every season of Scrubs at least twice (one TiVo’d episode turned out to be the ideal length of time in which to feed my daughter her bottle).

But damn, could it get boring. That was the part that probably surprised me most: the monotony of spending hour after hour, day after day, with this little girl who was, while lovely, really crappy at holding up her end of the conversation.

Finally, at the end of this trial, came summer. My wife is an administrator at a school, so her work schedule relaxed a little. We worked out a deal where I wrote in the morning while she was with the kids, then swapped at lunchtime.

That made the four hours I would get to write -- note the verb: get -- my fun time. My reprieve. My chance to make grown-ups do very grown up things with other grown-ups, like have affairs and murder people and even, yes, go to the bathroom without someone bothering them. (I don’t state this explicitly in the text, of course, but always imagined that’s how it must have been).

And, hopefully, some of the fun I was having comes out in the story. My protagonist is Carter Ross, an investigative reporter for a newspaper in Newark, New Jersey -- yes, that should sound familiar -- and I think I let him cut loose more in this book than I did in the previous two that feature him (Faces of the Gone and Eyes of the Innocent).

I have him get chased by a bear through the streets of Newark. I gave him intern sidekick, a 6-foot-5, 250-pound former college tight end who everyone calls “Lunky,” but who turns out to be a closeted Philip Roth scholar. I get him drunk, give him thorny relationship problems, have someone shoot him -- all good, clean fun.

And through all 323 pages, if nothing else, I assure you this: He doesn’t change a single diaper.

Brad Parks is the only author to have won the Nero Award and Shamus Award, two of crime fiction’s most prestigious prizes, for the same book. That work, Faces of the Gone, introduced investigative reporter Carter Ross, who has gone onto star in Eyes of the Innocent and, most recently, The Girl Next Door in a series that Library Journal calls “a refreshing tonic for the mystery soul.” For more Brad, sign up for his newsletter at www.bradparksbooks.com/newsletter.php, like him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/BradParksBooks, or follow @Brad_Parks on Twitter.

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