Q & A with Author Adam K. Nelson

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Kindle: $3.49

Thank you, Adam, for taking the time for this interview. For readers who don’t know, Adam is my husband (known on this blog as “dear husband” or “DH”), and I’m excited to be the first person (of many, presumably) to interview him after his new book Daddy’s Day In was published this week.

Daddy’s Day In tells a humorous story about a dad at home with his kids. It makes light of some seriously difficult parental tasks and takes satirical jabs at social expectations of parenthood, but it also reflects on a dad’s role in the family and 21st century suburban fatherhood. Ultimately, readers are along for the ride as the main character discovers a deeper and more lasting love for his children.

Adam has previously published two other novels, which have gathered a lot of attention in our region, and he also works a desk job in the publishing industry. So, without further ado, on with the interview!

First off, what is your book, Daddy’s Day In, about – plot line, intended audience, etc.? And, for our homeschool audience, what connection does your book have with homeschooling?

The plot is a day in the life, and it’s driven by the idea that anything that can happen, will happen. Initially, as with all things I write, the intended audience was myself—the things that amused me and terrified me as the father of three young boys. I wanted to capsulize my experience thus far. I’m sure the experiences Tony (the main character) undergoes will resonate with other parents. I think the book is also a reaction against picture-perfect Instagram and social media parenting, where your kids always look and behave their best, and even when you take a picture of them crying, it still somehow looks perfect, angelic, heavenly, where even in its messy moments, life can be perfectly captured in some sepia-toned glory. Parenting is a maelstrom , a bag of unneutered tomcats.

I think for homeschooling parents, what they might find most identifiable in these characters is how energetic, outspoken, and curious homeschooled kids can be. Being at school and on a tight schedule all day can wear our kids out, and even on the weekends they’re sometimes deflated. I certainly was when I was a kid in public school. It took a while to warm up to the weekend, and just about the time I did, it was back to the grind on Monday. Homeschool kids don’t have that barrier. They get much of their formal schooling done early in the day, or at least in a smaller chunk of the daytime, and then they’re encouraged to live out and experience what they’ve been learning. Even the youngest of kids have enormous potential for imagination, and kids at home given lots of time for free play can really get up to some stuff because they’re not limited or confined or held back by a grownup schedule. I think that translates into more active daytime interests. It’s a delight, but it’s exhausting when your kids are active participants in their own lives and learning.

In your book, a lot of crazy stuff happens to your main character, Tony. Have you ever had a day quite like that?

Not quite like that. Not all at once. Some events in the book are physically impossible and presented here just for comic effect and exaggeration, for one thing. But also, by the grace of God, our kids kind of portioned out their trouble to manageable doses, so that “sufficient for you are the troubles of today.” For instance, one might kick me in the groin really hard, but then the worst I’ll have to deal with the rest of the day would be a smelly dirty diaper. Another might break some priceless heirloom, but then he’s pretty chill afterward, and the others recognize Dad really needs them on their best behavior so he’ll keep his head. And our kids are usually not all trouble all at once. They naturally take turns at it and wait a while before taking their turn. Again, this isn’t by their design—I think it’s the grace of God. Daddy’s Day In is a total worst-case scenario. It’s almost a spoof on the story of Job for the modern suburban dad. The devil says to God, “Take Tony, for instance. He seems to love his kids when things are going well, but let’s get his wife out of the house for a day, turn the kids into hellions, and see how he does. I wager he will hate those kids and put them up for sale by the end of the day.” What ends up happening is that, even in the worst of times, Tony still loves his kids. He’s still there with them, through the shouting, pain, poop, tears, and utter tedium and boredom.

Talk to me about fatherhood. I know one of the major themes in your book is how dads are sometimes treated like “the babysitter” – even by their well-meaning co-parent. What is it like to be Dad, and how can we as a society support dads as they strive to have a close relationship with their children?

I struggle with fatherhood, and not because of societal prejudice or bias against dads, which isn’t what it used to be. I used be a“male activist” type who became really offended anytime somebody insulted men or cast aspersion on them, especially in sitcoms like The King of Queens. I don’t notice such things anymore because I’m too busy worrying about if I’m getting this right. Am I equipped to be a dad? Do I know what I’m doing? I compare myself to other dads, men who make more money, take their kids hunting and fishing more often, build their own houses or remodel their own bathrooms. They’re hobbyist electricians, plumbers, and carpenters. Where and how did they learn this stuff? I recently screwed an outlet plate back into the wall and felt like Bob Vila. Meanwhile, it seems like real men build mansions for their wives. Knowing how woefully inferior I was, I was scared to death when our oldest was born, but when you’re in the mix with your kids and don’t have time for (sometimes unhealthy) introspection and self-examination, you find yourself instinctively doing whatever the dad thing requires at that moment. You may not know everything, but you’re theirs. Nobody else can do that job better than you. You know your kids. You’re there for them, and they love you.

In the book, Tony has the same latent fears and talks about them with a lady he meets walking in the park. She’s older but has been where he is recently enough to tell him with some authority that he’s doing a great job. It almost makes him cry, especially in that he’s been holding himself to some unattainable standard for fatherhood in his mind. No dad is perfect, but being a full participant in your children’s lives is what we’re really called to do, and if we can do that, we’re about as close to perfect as we can be. I don’t know that you [Diana] ever treat me as or consider me just a babysitter, but you also understand I’m working outside the home in a stressful environment for 50+ hours a week. You don’t expect me to come home and run the kids ragged with excitement and adventure. We often talk of “taking the path of least resistance” when I’m home alone with the kids, and that’s fine, but much like Tony does when he takes the kids to the park to fly a kite, I want to rise up against that mentality of just maintaining and provide an experience they’ll dream about later. That doesn’t have to take a ton of work. It can be just playing catch with them, jumping on the trampoline, building a fire and making s’mores, or showing them a great movie they haven’t seen. You’re telling your kids they matter to you. You want them to enjoy life with you, too, and not just with mom.

This is your third published book/novel. You wrote the manuscript to your first book before becoming a dad and the second two after. How do you think fatherhood has changed you as an author?

Big-time. I feel emotions much more deeply. Learning to Live is a prime example of what fatherhood has meant to my writing, and I wrote the final draft of that when we only had one child, and he was two years old. Fatherhood has helped me to really find my footing, my voice. Heck, my muse.

The three books you’ve published are in three different genres. Why is that, and what genre of author do you think you are at your core?

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Kindle: $10.39 / Perfect Paperback: $12.99

I resist genre definitions. I write what comes to me. I don’t really know how to classify what I’ve written. A Night With St. Nick is considered a children’s book, but it has some deep themes that parents really need to walk through with their children. Learning to Live is considered sci-fi, but it’s really not. It’s a very spiritual and emotional journey, allegorical in some respects for the effects of and victory over depression, among other things. We’ve called Daddy’s Day In a work of humor, but then there’s a deeper message. At my core, I want to write what really flows onto the page, where my voice and identity are at any given time in my life.

You’re a big reader. Tell me, Modern Mrs. Darcy style, about three books you love (not necessarily your “top three” of all time) and one book you hate.

You know I practice this one in the car all the time. Here we go:

Books I love

  1. 11/22/63: The best darn romantic literature Stephen King has ever written. I loved this book from beginning to end. I was expecting a thrilling revisionist-history adventure, and I got that, but there’s way more to it. The book is not scary, but it is deeply spooky. King ties it into the Dark Tower mythology, for one thing, and deepens a thread underlying all of his fiction. There’s the idea of the most noble intentions for the past having insidious and nefarious implications for the present. Then there’s the Jake/Sadie romance. Beauty, tragedy, and triumph there that finds the sweetest resolution imaginable in the book’s final passages. For long passages of the book, you forget Jake is in the past to stop the assassination of JFK, and you’re swept away, captivated by Jake and Sadie. This book changed my life.
  2. The Sword of Shannara: This book turned me into a reader. It’s probably not even in the top 10 books I’ve ever read, but it was the first time a book of its length thrilled me so much I really could not put it down. It switched something on inside of me, much like Jurassic Park turned me into a film lover. It taught me a whole new language by which to experience life. It’s hard to put into words what it feels like to be captured by an exciting read for the first time in your life.
  3. This one’s tougher. I’m drawing a blank. Too many choices. I’m going to have to take a stab at something, though. How about The Smoke Jumper by Nicholas Evans? I get that Evans can be considered melodramatic or treacly by some, “chick lit” by others, but his writing resonates with me because he’s really good at digging into the heart of his characters and finding qualities about even characters you outwardly don’t like or agree with that you can nevertheless respond to. You come to love his characters as breathing, living entities. You understand their motivations and embrace them, even if you don’t like their choices at times. And there is tremendous nobility to this novel. In Evans’s work, happy endings are happy in every way imaginable because he’s walked you through the fire with his characters. I love how he does that. He brings tears to my eyes, and it takes a special kind of writing to do that for me.

A book I hate: We’re All in This Together by Owen King. Owen, you let me down, man, and it’s not because I was measuring you against your dad. You’re a different kind of writer, and I consider you on your own terms. Folks can read my Goodreads review for further commentary, but I found his writing so unattractive and disaffected and cynical. His characters ultimately sit around smoking “spliffs” and talking about how the world sucks while peeing in the snow. Yes, it’s not just that, but his style of writing reminds me of a creative writing class I took where everybody’s characters were extreme heroin or cocaine junkies, but their real problem was just that “they needed to get out of this town, man.” Self-indulgent, nihilistic, meaningless dreck. It didn’t come from a place of reality. These were not characters I wanted to know. The characters hated themselves, hated life. Their writers hated the characters, too, which showed. There was no heart, passion, or love in the writing. It does not contribute beauty.

What manuscripts are you working on right now?

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Kindle: $9.99 / Perfect Paperback: $15.99

The sequel to Learning to Live. I have big plans for it. Just trying to gain momentum.

You used to write film reviews as a part-time job. Do you have any plans to write more? A blog, perhaps?

A film review blog? That would be fun! Hadn’t thought about that. I did keep a blog for a few weeks back in … 2014, was it? It was hard to maintain because I tended to write on deep issues that vexed me and couldn’t figure out when I’d made my point and could quit. It took a lot out of me. Film reviews would be a different beast entirely.

Thank you for your time, Adam. I’m excited to share your new book with my readers.

For those interested in following you online, give us all your links.

Now, switching hats: Husband, will you take out the trash when you get home?

Ahem … I believe I did that last night between innings. It’s so much easier when there are no more poopy diapers to contend with.

Okay, readers. Until next Friday (or so).

I’m reading:

Novels:

Moderately challenging books:

Stiff books:

Diana

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