Interview with the guys behind Daddy Cool, an anthology of dads writing YA stories and essays targeted at their kids
James Joyce, Margaret Atwood, Oscar Wilde, Gertrude Stein, Aldous Huxley, Toni (with her son Slade) Morrison, Michael Chabon—these literary lions have not just influenced western Literature, they’ve also written books for their kids. It makes perfect sense to pass along your love of something to your love for someone, and passing stories down to your children is as natural as genetics.
Artistically Declined Press is in the process of bioliterary engineering with Daddy Cool, an anthology written by contemporary author dads for young adult audiences. Edited by Ben Tanzer (who contributed to Dads & Families here), the anthology is an act of love.
“As dad writer, I am especially enamored with dad writers,” Tanzer said in an exclusive interview along with Ryan Bradley, publisher of Artistically Declined, on the GMP. Our chat was interrupted by two bedtime stories, a sleepless son, a puking daughter and other career challenges for the father writer.
Ben Tanzer is the author of the novels Lucky Man, Most Likely You Go Your Way and I’ll Go Mine, You Can Make Him Like You, My Father’s House, and the story and essay collections, Repetition Patterns and 99 Problems, and the faux media empire “This Blog Will Change Your Life.” He and his wife have two sons, 12 and 7; they live in Chicago.
Ryan W. Bradley is the author of three poetry chapbooks, a story collection, Prize Winners, a novel, Code for Failure, and a poetry homage to Pablo Neruda, The waiting Tide, due in 2013. He lives in Oregon with his wife and two sons.
GMP: Why are you enamored with dad writers?
Ben: I think it’s about seeking, or building, a sense of community when writing can be so isolating. Especially when you have a day job as I do that has nothing to do with writing. When you’re a parent, which can be a further disconnect. Community is so important, connection, reducing isolation, sharing, all of it, and seeking people who have something in common with you is such a big part of that. For me that’s dad writers, regardless of what they do otherwise.
Ryan: I ran a children’s bookstore for two years, and that was my real education in the medium. Until then I was really dismissive of books for kids. Then the deeper I plunged into fatherhood I realized nothing I write is appropriate for kids, and naturally I want to share my passion with my children. I wrote a middle grade novel for my stepson and then a short story (which will be in Daddy Cool) and I’ve bandied about some picture book ideas. I think the coolest part of the idea was that it was a chance for all of us to share our writing with our kids for a change.
GMP: What were some things (one thing) that struck you as a dad/reader/writer as you were culling submissions? (Disclaimer: the 20+ contributors include Robert Duffer, Dads & Families editor, and Matthew Salesses, Fiction editor)
Ben: One thing I am struck by is that adults writing YA stories don’t drift far from the themes they usually tackle and struggle with, they just adapt them to what they think these pieces should read like.
GMP: What do your boys like reading? What do you/have you liked reading to them?
Ben: My wife and I both read with them. The boys are in such different places. Myles, my older son, reads The Diary of the Wimpy Kid, there are comic collections we read together, Baby Blues, but also the Hunger Games trilogy, which we devoured together. He’s also really into ghost stories, and scary books. Noah, who is younger, is into the little kids series, The Witch Next Door, Clifford, and lately Mercy Watson. Together the three of us read MAD magazine and Spy Vs. Spy, which I read as a kid, so I quit love that.
Ryan: I have a 14-year-old stepson, and a four-year-old boy as well. My 14 year old has recently gotten into Stephen King and Lovecraft. My 4 year old is still into anything with good pictures. When my wife and I were first getting together I suggested she read Rushdie’s Haroun and the Sea of Stories to her son, he was 8. She still reads to him every night. I read stories to the little one, and we read to him throughout the day as well. We’ll read anything, but I’m really excited to mold the four year old the way I have with music. I’m looking forward to his attention span increasing so I can read him stuff that I loved as a kid like the Moomintroll books. But really I tend to gravitate toward certain illustrators. Sendak is one of my idols, and I have one of the Wild Things tattooed on my calf, so we read a lot of Sendak.
GMP: Why is story important to you, as a father?
Ben: There are so many layers to unpack there. It’s time together, and so intimate and peaceful, lying in bed, losing yourself in something besides school, the tensions of the day, the frustrations of parenting. I’m also quite obsessed with reading, and it’s brought so much to my life, both as an escape and a source of pleasure. And then my dad predominantly read to us, and told us stories, when my brother and I were kids, and he took it very seriously, checking books out of library, learning stories, so it becomes generational in that way, but also allows me to connect with him, someone who could be hard to connect to, and someone who I lost so long ago now.
GMP: With that in mind, what do you as the editor want to accomplish here?
Ben: And one thing I want to accomplish, besides my own entertainment, which dictates so much of what I try to do, is to provide a forum for so many wonderful writers, many of whom I really love, as writers, and friends, who I feel deserve more attention. This is a means for creating that attention and that is a very cool thing when coupled with everything we have discussed, building community, making connection, and making art, which is a gift in and of itself
Ryan: I think there are a lot of different levels on which Daddy Cool will intrigue readers. For parents its a similar appeal as I feel it is for the contributors, but because of the range of age groups in the book it is unique in that it can grow with your kids. As an adult reading the book I think it’s a chance to see writers stretching their imaginations outside their usual mode of operating. It is definitely a stretch for me to write something that doesn’t involve adult themes, so as a lover of writers it’s really interesting to see writers I really respect trying something new. And that’s the element I think really has a chance to make this more than just a book for parents or kids, it’s a book for lovers of writers/writing.
Ben: It will also change your life. A lot.
Daddy Cool is kicking up funding at Kickstarter.