Court Merrigan, author of Moondog Over the Mekong, forthcoming from Snubnose Press, and Spingetingler Award-nominated “The Cloud Factory.” Stories upcoming in Weird Tales, Big Pulp, Noir Nation, and Border Noir.
Age of kids: Ada, 4 and Waylon, 1
What was your writing schedule (ideal and actual) like before kids, and how has that changed?
Before kids there was this freedom – which I now palpably recognize as amazing – to sleep when you wanted. All I had to get up for was my day job. My wife and I were living by the beach in Thailand and we had breakfast at cafes. And sometimes lunch. And dinner. I’m painfully aware, now, of how much time I wasted. Mainly because I could. A long evening stretching before me, leisurely sipping a beverage, taking my time deciding what to do.
My wife used to work the night shift at a factory and I’d get up around 4 AM and write for a couple hours, go pick her up at 6 AM, then write for another hour or so before hopping on the motorcycle and going to work myself. Nighttimes I’d go to bed as early as 8 or 9, depending on my proximity to whisky and / or mood. My mood, see, not the kids’.
Nowadays I’m unable to work the Ben Franklin routine. Instead I stay up late. The kids go to bed at 8 on a good night, later on the weekends. Then I go to work. I try to get to bed by midnight but sometimes things are going well and I stay at it till 1 or 2 AM. Which makes the next day dark and long, but it’s like my dad used to say, you can sleep when you’re dead.
Getting up early hurts. Staying up late is more a matter of endurance. And the occasional nip of bourbon.
How do you remain present for your family even when you’re sunk deeply into a current project?
I come from a long line of workaholics. One of the things I promised myself when I had kids was that when one came to me, I would set the writing aside. I’ve held to that pretty well, I think; but it comes at great cost to getting things done. In short, I only get sunk deeply into my own stuff when the kids are unconscious.
On account of the growing inequalities in America, it’s an ever-more Darwinian struggle to obtain the goods of American life, and this competition will only increase as our kids get older. Not being in the private French tutor and $30k-a-year preschool set, basically the only resource I have to give my kids is my time. I don’t feel like I can or should deny them that, not when I’m fifty percent responsible for thrusting them into the struggle in the first place.
My wife’s a quick study, but she’s only lived in the USA for three years, not sufficient time to master the delicate language of mild hypocrisy that characterizes American middle-class life, the little white lies, the smiles and premeditated body language. To say nothing of the endless forms, the phone calls, the queries and follow-ups, the consumer choices and social arrangements. So I’m probably more involved in the minutiae of my kids’ lives than I would be if my spouse were fully cognizant of the daily viscera through which we swim.
How has parenthood changed the work itself, if at all?
In lots of ways, but here’s the most solid, for me: my daughter has made me vastly more conscious of women and girls in my own writing. For example, I’m currently reworking, page by page, a manuscript that I originally finished when Ada was just a cute little belly bump. I am continually astounded at what wasteland for women characters the story is. Needless to say, that is changing in this go-around. It’s a post apocalyptic Western and now the women are right in there, throwing body blows. The short stories I’ve written recently also usually feature women who aren’t just props to the desires and dilemmas of men.
Now, my writing tends to feature morally challenged individuals, so it’s not like I’m writing exemplars for my daughter or something. The women partake of the darkness just as surely as the men. But they’re there, is the thing, and they’re not fucking around.
What is the most challenging aspect of being a working artist and a parent?
Keeping focused. Come home from work, my wife giving me a Tebow-worthy hand-off with the kids, and who can blame her, the rambunctious little shits. Engage in a nightly Long March to get the kids into bed relatively unscathed – “Your tooth is only chipped? Not broken? Okay, sleep tight, honey!” – so that by the time I get to the computer to work, all I really want to do is mix funny cat pictures on Reddit with bourbon.
I may be blaspheming the Holy Writ of The American Church Of All-Consuming Parenthood but I’m going to say it anyway: I’d be a better writer without kids. But so what. I only learned what love was when I held that little baloney loaf for the first time. Love is nothing if not sacrifice. No words I’ll ever scribble will hold a torch to that.
In Thai culture, children are considered to bear a karmic debt to their mother and father and are thus expected to provide for their parents in their old age. My plan is to stress that half of their cultural heritage, in order to enjoy my golden years on their dime.
Do you have any advice to other writers with kids or who plan to have them?
Have kids. By all means. It won’t make you a better writer, at least in the short term – I can’t speak to the long term yet. But it will make you a better human being.
NOTE: Court’s forthcoming story collection will include “The Cloud Factory,” which has been nominated for Best Story on The Web. Do check out the story, and if you like it you can vote for it here. Voting is open until the end of April.