Author Talk: April 2002
Ad Hudler, author of HOUSEHUSBAND, gives some insight into why he wrote the book and just how much material is gleaned from his own experiences in this candid interview.
Q. Can you tell us what HOUSEHUSBAND is about?
AH: HOUSEHUSBAND is the story of a man struggling to make it in a woman's world. Linc Menner's masculinity and pride are under fire every day. His journey shows that many of the hazards associated with being a stay-at-home mom --- low self-esteem, a sagging sex drive and a feeling that no one appreciates all his hard work --- are not female-specific. More than anything, I want HOUSEHUSBAND to be a fun read. But beyond that, I want people to ask themselves: What makes a man a man? And what happens when a man takes on a traditionally female role?
Q. What prompted you to write it?
AH: I was at a writer's conference, talking in a small group about character development, when the topic somehow turned to potty training. Suddenly, I found myself surrounded by about ten women who were watching me with great interest and laughter. (They were amused by my very-male way of handling a situation in which my daughter had defiantly peed on the kitchen floor.) "Your life is hilarious," they said. "This is the novel you need to write first." I replied: "I do not want to write about my life. My life is Barney and Big Bird and folding the white load. Why would I want to write about my life?" Nudged by my friends, I reluctantly agreed.
Q. What research was necessary to write the book?
AH: Life in a woman's world. Period. I compiled my research at the McDonald's Playland by my house and in the line at the grocery store and over wine with my good female friends. People have wondered how I managed to portray women's feelings so accurately. The truth is, these feelings were my own. I guess I've learned that many traditional female traits and behaviors, including that so-called "women's intuition," are actually survival skills learned on the job.
Q. So are you saying HOUSEHUSBAND is autobiographical?
AH: I'm saying it is emotionally autobiographical. Yes, many of the father-daughter scenes truly did happen - including that awful one in which Violet tries to hide her poop - but the plot is fiction, and the character of my wife is actually three people rolled into one. My wife, however, says Linc Menner is Ad Hudler to the bone. I, of course, disagree. I'm a control freak, I'll admit, but not nearly to the degree that Linc is.
Q. You talk about female friends, but the book shows Linc Menner at odds with most women because they are suspicious of him. In your own life, what type of woman breaks through and offers a hand of friendship?
AH: Obviously, my best friends are women because they are whom I spend the most time with. Now that I've been in the women's world, I get bored when I talk with most men; they don't discuss things that matter, like human behavior and relationships. Oddly enough, the women who have befriended me are women who are more in touch with their male side. They understand me because there's a piece of me in them. And I understand them because there's a piece of them in me. Basically, we meet in the middle.
Q. How long did the novel take to write?
AH: Three years. And I had to rewrite it three times and revise it another. I'm praying that the learning curve for my second novel is way shorter than it was for the first.
Q. As a househusband, how do you manage to get any writing done at all?
AH: Like Linc Menner, I am very disciplined. After I get breakfast made for everyone and return home from the morning car-pool, I turn the ringers off on all the phones and I write like hell for three to four hours. Then, I have to put on my corporate-spouse and daddy hats and go about town doing my errands - picking up underwear at Target for my wife and hair conditioner for my daughter, and there's always a trip to the grocery store. I've toyed with the idea of making everyone get their own breakfast each morning, but I'm reluctant to give that up. The meal is our special time of the day. I make a great breakfast, and as my daughter and wife eat, I will read from our out-loud book, which sits on a windowsill near the kitchen table. Right now we're halfway through Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath.
Q. What prompted you to become a writer?
AH: I'm from a four-generation newspaper family on the high plains of eastern Colorado, so I've been writing since junior high school. I always thought, however, that I'd stick on the nonfiction side of things, but fiction is so much fun! I get to make people do whatever I want them to do. This has great appeal to a control freak such as myself.
Q. What writers have influenced you over the years?
AH: This may surprise you, but the writers I love are not comical at all. I have an affinity for female Canadian and English writers such as Margaret Laurence and Carol Shields and Anita Brookner. These women are so great at capturing the complexities and conflicts within the human soul. I also like Wallace Stegner; Angle of Repose might be my favorite novel.
Q. Are the recipes in the book really your own?
AH: Yes. But I rarely cook from a recipe, unless I'm trying something new, so it was a time-consuming challenge to find the exact amounts. I'm curious to know what you think of them. Leave me a note at my website, www.adhudler.com
Q. What is the significance of the passiflora plant in the novel?
AH: HOUSEHUSBAND is a light, fast read-not too shallow (I hope) and certainly not too deep. The passiflora was my one intentional literary device. It is a metaphor, of course, for Linc. Without knowing it, he sees himself in the plant, an exotic that thrives against all odds in an unnatural environment.
Q. Are any of your characters based on real people?
AH: Linc, of course. And Violet. Linc's mother is also my mother. Though my mom has never run away from home, it is her spirit that resides in the character of Carol. I've been surprised at how few people even mention the mother character. She's my favorite character in the book.
Q. How did the mother character come about, and why did you include her?
AH: I needed a device to help set a time structure for the book, and the mother's emails came to mind. I had invented the mother character three years earlier in a short story that I published in a literary journal named Acorn Whistle. I thought the mother would be an interesting counterbalance to Linc's situation. He suddenly finds himself stuck in the life of domestic servitude that she has decided to flee.
Q. In what ways do you think men make better primary caregivers than women?
AH: I don't know if they're any better, just different. I think men are less cautious with their children; they let them take more physical risks. I also think that because men tend to be less patient and tolerant they're not as likely to put up with bad behavior.
Q. Who picks out the bed sheets and wallpaper for your house?
AH: I buy the bed sheets. But we both have to agree on anything larger like wallpaper or furniture. Since my wife has no time to shop, I have to take a Polaroid camera with me when I'm buying a big-ticket item. At night, she gives her thumbs-up or thumbs-down.
Q. If you could give the men of the world an important insight about their wives' lives, what would it be?
AH: Women will not always express their true desires verbally. Be sensitive enough to read their body language and to note patterns of behavior. Also, compliment, compliment, compliment! At least weekly, try something like this: "Honey, I don't thank you enough for making sure I have a clean, starched shirt every day." Remember, men, that your world would fall apart without them.
Q. What is your next book about?
AH: It's the book I started writing before HOUSEHUSBAND. It is the story of three women in Macon, Georgia: A facially disfigured former beauty queen who works as a produce manager in a grocery store, an alcoholic wife of a neurosurgeon, and the daughter of a tyrannical abortion-rights advocate who has just died. These women, all searching for something new, touch each other in ways that one would see only in a Deep South setting.