Cobalt: Start off by telling us a little about your new book Fathermucker. Let’s make the case for the American Stay-At-Home Dad in literature.
Greg Olear: There are very few overt instances of the American SAHD (as he is known). Little Children is the best known example, but Perrotta’s book is not about being a stay-at-home dad, like mine is (although his riff on Raffi vs. Cobain is really funny).
Cobalt: There really has been a rise books dealing with fatherhood; not to mention resurgence into dark humor. You mingle in both. What are your thoughts on the rise of fatherhood fiction, and how do you think dark humor is defined today?
Olear: I hope that fatherhood fiction—or “dick lit,” as my friend Thelma Adams calls it—is indeed on the rise. Is tumescent, if you will. I don’t think there has been a flood of fatherhood novels; I hope Fathermucker opens the floodgates. As for dark humor, as Potter Stewart once said of pornography, I can’t define it, but I know it when I see it.
Cobalt: Your books are filled with social and political commentary, which often seems to be drawn from your own standpoints. What upsets you and how do you approach bringing it to your writing in a tasteful and meaningful way?
Olear: What upsets me? Almost everything. Injustice, apathy, sloth, ignorance, American Idol. I think I default to humor as a defense mechanism; otherwise I’d have no other outlet for my anger and outrage. For example, I don’t understand why any sentient being would not support equal rights for gays and lesbians because of an odd passage in a book written two millennia ago. I don’t understand why poor people vote Republican. I don’t understand how Dick Cheney and George W. Bush and Donald Rumsfeld can sleep at night. I don’t understand why we’re still in Afghanistan, or why we were in Iraq in the first place. I don’t understand how anyone could have enjoyed Independence Day or The DaVinci Code.
Cobalt: Your debut novel, Totally Killer, came out at a time when every young American was facing an awful job market, with seemingly nowhere to turn. I remember going from agency to agency in my time living in NYC, but never being placed in a job I was actually right for. I chose moving back to New England as a solution. You chose something a little more drastic for this novel. Tell us how you got there.
Olear: What’s ironic is, I came up with the concept of that book—kill someone to get the perfect job—in the early 90s, but it took me awhile to write the book. I sent the first draft of the novel out in the mid-90s, and agents were like, “Dude, the market is great right now; this is totally not of the moment.” I really wish I hadn’t been so prescient on that point.
Cobalt: There are some obvious similarities between Fathermucker and Totally Killer; but what are some of the more subtle differences between the two that readers should pay attention to?
Olear: Well, they are both told by first-person male narrators who exhibit a dizzying knowledge of pop culture, they both are grounded in a particular time and place, and they both involve a mystery; those are the similarities. But the first book is much more plot-driven, I think; Fathermucker is more about the voice, about the character, than what actually happens. I think Totally Killer is sort of a bleak book, ultimately, while the new one is hopeful. I think the new one is more ambitious.
Cobalt: Were there any moments, when writing Fathermucker, in which you thought “This is way too transparently me…”? And how many of those scenes still made it into the book?
Olear: I’m more concerned—and my wife is more concerned—that readers will assume (as I’ve more or less invited them to do) that this is thinly-veiled memoir. It’s not. It’s fiction. When I write, I tend to have a lot of pages that I don’t use. That wasn’t the case for Fathermucker, probably because it was all set in one day, and that made it easier to plot out. There’s very little that I wrote that didn’t make it into the book.
Cobalt: Okay, your child wakes up crying. You go to find out what’s wrong. They say, “There’s an author living under my bed!” You calmly lift the sheets, look underneath, and say “Don’t worry it’s just ________________.” Fill in the blank.
Olear: Shel Silverstein.
Cobalt: Most important thing a writer should know about becoming a parent. Ready? Go.
Olear: I’ve been writing novels since I was 22. I got married in 2002, at age 29; I found an agent a few years later; we had our son in late 2004, and our daughter in 2006; my first novel—which was the fifth one I’d completed—was published in 2009. Note the chronology: marriage, agent, kids, book deal. I probably would have gotten a book out eventually if I were childless or unmarried, but not these books. There’s no question that my writing has benefited from my wife and kids. My love for them makes me deeper, makes me care more. And that comes out, I hope, in the work.
About Greg Olear:
Greg Olear is The Nervous Breakdown‘s senior editor and the author of the novel Totally Killer (Harper, 2009), also available in French (Éditions Gallmeister). His second novel, Fathermucker (Harper, 2011), concerns a day in the life of a stay-at-home dad; he describes it as “Ulysses by way of Us Weekly.” He blogs at Huffington Post Parents, and his work has appeared at Babble.com, The Rumpus, and The Millions. He teaches creative writing at Manhattanville College. Please follow him on Twitter (@gregolear), friend him on Facebook, visit his website (the cleverly-URLed gregolear.com), check out his parenting site Fathermucker:The Blog, and, if it’s not too much trouble, compose a Miltonic sonnet in his honor.