Wednesday, September 8, 2010

I'm schizophrenic, and so am I

When I go to reading festivals as an author, they never know what panel to put me on. I’m kind of hard to peg. My books are all over the place.

 My first novel was treated more like an autobiography – and it should have been. "Househusband" was very much about my life as a stay-at-home dad. It got me great gigs on CNN, National Public Radio, The New York Times, even some foreign press. For some reason, it is hugely popular with Turkish women and the Mormon housewives of the American West.

Next came my novel "Southern Living," about Suzanne the chardonnay alcoholic who poisons the dogs in her neighborhood because, well, because she’s just that kind of lady. It’s one of those books about strong Southern women and how they'll do anything to survive. (In fact, at the end of the book, in the Q-and-A with me, I say, "Two species will rise from the rubble and dust of Armageddon: cockroaches and Southern women.")

The book is set in fictitious Selby, Georgia, which is a dead ringer for Macon, where we used to live, and the Atlanta newspaper called the book, "horrifyingly accurate." Oh, yeah … and the book was written in three different female points of view. People were shocked when they discovered that Ad was a guy and not a gal.

So, Ad … you’re a Southern writer, then. Right? But wait. You’re from Colorado, and you wear cowboy hats. You’ve lived all over the country, but you’re writing about the South.  Good! It's settled. We'll put you on panels with Southern writers. You are a Southern writer, Ad! Remember that, okay?

And then I confused them even more.

The character of Ellis Norton from my third novel "All This Belongs to Me" came to me in my sleep. Clear as day. His voice. His name. His clothes. He said to me, "I am Ellis A. Norton, and you must tell my story." The man would not leave me alone. He persisted for several nights.

So I wrote his story. Honestly, it was as if the whole book had been channeled to me. And it was a huge departure from my other books. It left my fans scratching their heads. ‘All This’ is a sweet story about an old man who is a docent at the Thomas Edison Winter Estate and Museum. He is lonely and out of kilter because he’s got a new boss, and then someone steals his identity, and the woman who does this actually infiltrates his real life and befriends him.

One of my favorite women’s fiction writers, Susan Elizabeth Phillips, who wrote me a fan note after reading "Southern Living," blurbed the book with this: "One of the freshest voices in women’s fiction is coming from a man."

Okay, then! So Ad’s a chick-lit writer. If Susan says he writes women’s fiction, then it must be true.

But wait. It was still set in the South … and, yes, parts of Florida do have southern flavor. My county is Lee County, named after the great general. We have some of the most liberal gun laws in the country. And you CAN buy watermelons and barbecue from the back of some guy’s pickup truck at Wal-mart. So … is Ad a southern writer? A chick-lit writer? Both? Okay, then, let’s put him on a Southern chick-lit panel.

And so, for a year or two, there was 6-2, 230-pound Ad, sitting on panels of female authors who’d written books with titles like "Love in the Strawberry Sunset."

Finally, my fourth novel, which brought even more confusion. It was time to write my last book under my Random House contract.  I’d been working on a comic story about Baby Boomers retiring when my editor called me one day to ask how I was doing.

"Not well," I said. "We’ve had four hurricanes this summer. My wife is in the throes of menopause. My daughter’s in the throes of puberty. And my house is under systemic renovation while we live in it. I’m not liking life much right now."
She said, "Sounds like a sequel to me. That’s the book I want: your life right now."

So … I wrote the sequel to "Househusband." And this time my protagonist Linc Menner gets fed up with being a caregiver and goes on a tear to discover his inner male during a turbulent hurricane season. There are power tools and strip clubs and crazy boys’ nights out. And while women readers have loved the book, it certainly isn’t chick lit.

Okay … so where can we put Ad now? Hmmmm. Everyone has to fit in SOME category, but what about Ad? Damn that man! He is hostile to classification.

Should we put him on a panel of bald authors? There are lots of them, after all.

Or authors who overuse elipses?

Sensitive-male authors?

No one knows what to do with me. So I just keep writing. I pen an occasional essay. One titled "Tree Bitch" was published in this year’s Best of the South issue of the Oxford American.

I’m now immersed in the toughest writing project I’ve ever undertaken: an empty-nest memoir. My daughter left for college last year. And then, two months later, my wife took a job in Nashville. So I am rattling around in this house in Fort Myers, talking too much to the cats and to myself and yelling at the neighbor boys who climb my fence … and struggling not to let cocktail hour begin before 4 p.m.

Meanwhile, I keep a blog called "AdLibbing" on my website, I tweet and facebook because if I don't express myself I'll probably explode.  And you’ll find me here, at this blog, now and then.

Or I’ll see you on the road. I like to get into my truck and just take off. This past summer, when the chain of Pulpwood Queen book clubs chose "Man of the House" as their July pick, I cris-crossed the South on my Tailgate Tour 2010, visiting Pulpwood Queens and fine bookstores across Dixie. (Thanks, Head Queen Kathy Patrick!)

The trip reinforced something I’d known for a long time: I love the South. I wasn’t born here, but I’ve lived here for 20-some years. And I ain’t goin’ nowhere.

Later, gator.


Libby McMillan said...

Great read, Ad. :-) I also grew up in the west and like you, find southern culture and the nature of southern women irresistible. While you're right about the challenge of classifying you as an author, your books cheerfully remind us all of the human capacity to evolve. Where's the damn shelf for that?

Renea Winchester said...

Welcome Home Ad, you fit in "just fine" in the south. Can't wait for the memoir. I think it will provide a glimpse into the heart of Dad's who also experience the "empty nest," but feel they don't have permission to express those emotions.

Laura Marcella said...

I think it's great you write so many different things. That's what being an artist is all about: exploration and discovery!

Peggy Webb said...

Loved this post, Ad. Part of the fun of being a writer is that we're wildly different. Though I'll have to say, you're more different than most!

SorryDuck said...

I'd classify you as an observant of human behavior channeling the departed Tallulah Bankhead, type of writer. That should get you a table, all to yourself, and a few askance looks as well.
As someone fortunately born south of the Mason-Dixon Line, I'd also like to commend your excellent choice of becoming a most-welcome addition to the south. I believe in 30 additional years you'll be eligible for the coveted title of a "Florida Cracker."

Kathy L. Patrick said...

Just back from BookMarks Festival of Books in North Carolina where my computer skills alluded me and not able to get online so catching up! Great post! Just think, we met just a year ago and I feel as if I have known you for years.
You are a trip and someone who I love to read and hang out with! So happy we can all share our stories, our lives, and our books all together on this blog!
See you soon in Nashville for the Southern Festival of the Books and hopefully all you other southern authors on this blog out there!

River Jordan said...


You're such a funny man but I do so love the serious, sensitive side of you. Really looking forward to the new memoir.


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