We who are about to breed: Pete Anderson.
[In which WWAATD asks writers and other artist types about life as breeders/parents/kid-keepers.]
Name: Pete Anderson.
1. What are your kids’ names, ages?
I have a ten-year-old daughter, Maddie. She’s bright, cheerful, loving and funny as all get-out, and is genuinely one of my very best friends.
2. How do you balance your time between parenting and writing?
I balance parenting and writing by doing almost all of my writing while riding the train, to and from work. When I’m home I focus almost entirely on Maddie and my wife Julie, because as much as I love writing and have so many stories in my head that I want to share, my family is by far the most important part of my life. I only write at home while the two of them are totally occupied doing something on their own, and even then I usually do so nearby – writing something new in the kitchen while Julie makes dinner, or editing a rough draft on the couch while Maddie is playing Nintendo. And I never do any late-night writing sessions – I really need my sleep, and if I ever pulled an all-nighter I’d sleep most of the following day and miss out on whatever they were doing. The last thing I ever want to be is the kind of writer who locks himself away, alone, while torturedly laboring away on a manuscript. My writing simply isn’t worth the sacrifice of being away from my family. If spending quality time with them deprives the world of my magnum opus, oh well – I suspect the world will survive.
3. What is the best piece of advice about being a parent and a writer?
I’ve never gotten any advice like that, but if you’re referring to advice I’d give to others, it would be to always strive for that balance between parenting and writing. Which for me, as I’ve mentioned, means that family comes first, with writing occurring in any spare moments that come along. And parenting and writing shouldn’t be mutually exclusive – spend more time with your family, and you may be surprised at how much it inspires your writing.
4. How has your writing changed since becoming a parent?
I didn’t start writing seriously until Maddie was two years old. Until that time I worked exclusively from home, but then I changed jobs and started commuting to downtown Chicago on the train. So my writing hasn’t changed since I became a parent (since I didn’t really write before then) but my outlook on life certainly has, which definitely impacted what I would eventually write. Before Maddie, I was much more cynical and angry than I am now. But once this precious little girl came into my life, she really softened me up and made me more positive and optimistic. When you get home from work and your kid stops whatever she’s doing to run over and give you a big hug, it’s almost impossible to be angry about anything. And I think most of what I’ve written reflects that – while my fiction isn’t necessarily blissful in tone, it’s at least somewhat hopeful and optimistic. It often has dark moments, but ultimately the overall tone is positive.
5. Tell us something we don’t know about you and being a writer-slash-parent.
I just completed my first novel, Wheatyard (for which I’m trying to find a home - publishers, call me!), and Maddie was the impetus for the story. One day when she was about five, she thought up, right out of the blue, the name “Elmer Glaciers Wheatyard.” This got me wondering what kind of person would have such an odd name, and soon I conjured up an eccentric, unpublished writer with that name who lives in a small town in Central Illinois, and the unemployed business school graduate who implausibly befriends him during a long hot summer. So while the story itself was my own creation, without Maddie’s inventive inspiration it never would have happened. And that’s why the book will be dedicated to her (and also to Julie, for being a more general inspiration to me). I couldn’t have written the book without either of them.