Thursday, August 1, 2013

FOUR FATHERS interview series: Tom Williams

Welcome to the first installment of our four-part author interview series! We partnered with Cobalt Press, a brand spanking new small press publisher, to help spread the word about their kickstarter event for FOUR FATHERS, a collection of fatherly essays and stories by contributing authors Tom Williams, Ben Tanzer, BL Pawelek, and Dave Housely. (The kickstarter event closes on Monday. Feel free to check it out and if you are so inclined, throw a few bucks at it. You know you want to. Would I steer you wrong?)

If you missed the publisher's introduction yesterday, click here to get yourself caught up. And then sit back and enjoy as Ben Tanzer asks fellow contributor Tom Williams why he parents and how parenting has impacted his writing..... 

The Four Fathers Interview Series:
 Tom Williams

Ben Tanzer: People always say why do you write, so I would like to ask why do you parent?

Tom Williams: To both questions, I think the answer’s the same: do I have a choice?

In parenting, though, it seems there’s a difference between being a parent and parenting. You can’t have one without the other, but to parent implies one is doing more than providing chromosomes, one is actively trying to balance a desire to shape and mold with a desire to open and avail one’s child to the world around him. I parent because I was parented well, too, and want to know that my son feels the kind of connection to me that I feel to my parents.

BT: How does being a father impact you as a writer, be that approach, time, themes, any, or all of it?

TW: I think we all have less time to do the kind of doodling and ceiling-staring that we used to do before. And in that way, I think that becoming a father has made me use that time more wisely and use it in a way that’s more productive. Also, when you’ve got, as I do, a little guy running around and wanting to hear ghost stories about his friends, the fiction I might be trying to put together at my desk becomes less important. And in becoming less important, that fiction becomes easier to write, because, like the ghost story I’m telling my son, it’s just finding the right words.

It’s funny. Whenever Finn wants a story, I’ll set up the exposition and he’ll say, “Suddenly, they heard a spooky noise.” And while I’ve not incorporated too many spooky noises into my fiction, I have been keenly more aware that all readers want more than just set up and intellectual endeavor; they want something to shake them up.

And you know, another significant change, which is evident in my second story in Four Fathers, “What It Means to Be,” is that fatherhood has made me think a lot about being a son: both the child I was and the adult I am now. I know that you, too, Ben, had the tragedy of losing a parent while you were rearing children of your own. And it feels so unmooring, so thorough, such a loss, and yet the one thing that never disappears is the connection you have. The memories you keep. And I don’t think I’ve even got that stuff started yet, that writing.

My biggest fear, though, is that becoming a father has turned me soft. My wife and I can’t even hear mention of tragedies involving children, will turn off the TV if the news anchors are talking about a day care scandal or school bus accident. Yet it’s hard not to be sentimental when you see a little human learning new words or eating with a utensil for the first time or chasing a butterfly he will never catch.

Of course, I wouldn’t be any kind of parent at all were it not for my amazing partner and wife, Carmen Edington. Since conception, she's the one who's been doing the real work.

BT: Has writing about being father caused you to re-think how you parent or your previous perceptions about the experience?

TW: I feel like I didn’t want to write about being a father, to be honest. Every time I’d start to write “What It Means to Be” I’d worry that in writing down my fears that they’d come true—which echoes fully my character’s concerns in sharing his past with his son. In actually committing to completing the fiction, I found myself maybe exaggerating rather than examining, as if to distance my true fatherly self from that in the fiction. I hope that I’m a better dad than James, my protagonist, is. Plus, I think there’s a certain narcissism in writing about yourself as a great father. And, to go back to one of my earlier thoughts, who wants to read about a dad who has nothing go wrong? What spooky noise upsets the balance in that idealized portrait?

BT: Even when writing fiction, what obligations do you think we have to our children in terms of reflecting some of element of their lives in our work?

TW: I think we owe them a fair analysis of their lives. It’ll be interesting to see my son when he’s four—the age of the son in my story “What it Means to Be”—because I’m doing a lot of guessing what a four year old is like. Yet I’m fixing for that character a foundation where he shares much more with my son than with my imagination.

BT: Do you think it’s possible to write pieces such as you have for this collection and not think about your own father and you relationship with him?

TW: Right now, at the risk of sounding schmaltzy, it’s the best it’s ever been, my relationship with my dad. But what’s particular to it is that we never had an easy relationship before. Here’s why, I think: My dad grew up without a father and in being my father he had no one clearly to model himself after. Now he’s a grandfather and it’s different: he did have a grandfather (even though that gentleman, my great-grandfather, was born in the 19th Century). And I’d have to say he’s warmed to the role of grandpa far better than I have as a dad.

But looking forward, and spinning off far from your question, Ben, I’m projecting into a future where my son has a son and how he’s got so much more to look back to for guidance. Not just me, but my dad. His stories. I hope I’m around then. And if I’m not, I hope Finn shares with his son my stories (the ones in this book and the ones I’ve told him), and my dad’s stories.

Did I mention my fear that becoming a father has made me the worst kind of sentimentalist? Cue sunset. Cue Ian Dury singing “My Old Man.”

Tom Williams is the author of two books of fiction, The Mimic's Own Voice, and the forthcoming novel Don't Start Me Talkin' (Curbside Splendor). The Chair of English at Morehead State University, he lives in Kentucky with his wife, Carmen Edington, and their son.

1 comment:

  1. Same deal as yesterday: Pledge $30 or $50 to the Cobalt Press Kickstarter campaign and reference TNBBC and we'll send you FOUR FATHERS signed by all four authors. Just shoot an email to after you make your pledge, and we'll replace the usual reward with this awesome bonus!