Excerpted from Man of the House by Ad Hudler. Copyright © 2008 by Ad Hudler. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
A Conversation With Ad Hudler
Ad Hudler sat down with his seventeen-year-old daughter, Haley, to discuss their lives and the characters from Man of the House.
Haley Hudler: Man of the House begins with Violet Menner’s entrance essay to Collier Academy.You say that I was your inspiration for Violet. That is the biggest understatement I’ve ever heard in my life. Dad, I know you fancy yourself a ﬁction writer, but I mean, come on. Violet is me, down to the “Oh, joy,” exact dialogue stolen from my preteen years. What was it like for you writing from my point of view? How did you have to change your writing style to do it?
Ad Hudler: Because I spend so much of my time with you, it really wasn’t that difﬁcult. I have spent hundreds of hours driving teenage girls around in the van, so I’ve certainly got the dialect down. Honestly, Haley, I did have to dumb Violet down a little bit; you have a better vocabulary than most English teachers, but I didn’t think that would be believable to the average reader.
HH: Man of the House is set about ten years after its prequel, Househusband. In that time many important things happened to the Menner family. How did you ﬁt all of this background history into the ﬁrst few chapters of the book without making it seem contrived to those readers who didn’t read Househusband?
AH: That was the challenge, indeed: making Man of the House a stand-alone book without testing the patience of all my readers who read Househusband. It helped that my editor read Househusband, so she could spot any over- or under-explaining. In retrospect, though, I realize I should have reread Househusband before writing the sequel because there were some things I forgot. For example, I was speaking at a convention, talking about the sequel I was writing, when one woman in the audience said, “Hey, what happens with Vio let now that she has a sibling?” I thought, “Holy crap!” I’d forgotten that Jo was pregnant at the end of Househusband, and I’d already written 80 percent of the book without the second child. A quick mention of a miscarriage solved the problem.
HH: Knowing that he could have made life much easier for his family by moving out of the house while it was under construction, why do you think Linc Menner insisted that they stay there?
AH: Two reasons: First of all, Linc, as I do, has this inexplicable masochistic streak; he likes to test himself all the time. He is deﬁnitely not a path-of-least-resistance kind of guy. Second, the novel would have been much more boring if they had been staying in a condo somewhere. Lots of the household tension comes from the family having to live in a construction zone.
HH: I remember that as you were writing the chapters from Jessica Varnadore’s point of view, you were worried that she sounded over-the-top, almost unbelievable. However, bizarre, abnormal characteristics are common in the characters in your books. What personality traits did you give Jessica to make her a believable character?
AH: I think it helped that she wasn’t drop-dead gorgeous, just attractive. I also think talking about how she’d been engaged three times showed a volatility and zaniness that made her actions believable.
HH: I have noticed that in almost every single one of your books, you like to add in parenting tips and advice. Is this your passive-aggressive way of correcting the child-rearing skills of others?
AH: Guilty as charged! No, in all seriousness, I think a lot of parents can be too absorbed in their own lives, and they try too hard to be their kids’ best friends. Parents negotiate with their young children too much. It’s perfectly all right–in fact, necessary–to tell a kid, “Because I said so!”
HH: Yes, but you frequently terrify my friends by attempting to parent them. This goes along with your whole philosophy that you voice in Man of the House: It takes a village to raise a child. How has that been working out for you in real life?
AH: I’ll admit it pisses off some parents, but that’s just too bad. I’ve also noticed that, in your older teen years, Haley, the kids have stopped hanging around this house.
HH: I was happy to see that you included my viewpoint on Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. I am sure that looking back on her book, there are many things she would have liked to change about it. After writing the sequel to Househusband, are there any things you would like to change about the ﬁrst book?
AH: I wish I would have made Jo less one-dimensional. I wish I would have ﬂeshed her out more. But, overall, I still really like that book. I think it’s funny, and I think it says some really important things about gender behavior and relations in our culture.
HH: Throughout the book, Violet begins to rely on her father less and less. In fact, she wants to exclude him from certain parts of her life. For example, when Linc takes Violet and her friends to the mall, rather than having him come to the stores with them as she usually would, she asks him to stay behind on “The Man Bench.” I know that I, for one, felt guilty reading these parts of the book because I know that I did do things like that. Was it hard for you to relive those moments as well?
AH: Actually, no, Haley. You’ve been so much better than most other teenagers in that department. You rarely appear to be embarrassed by me or your mother, and you generally show us great respect, and we really appreciate that. You didn’t even mind when I dressed up in an adult diaper and posed as a baby for your friend’s high-school photo project. It takes a cool, conﬁdent young lady to weather something like that.
HH: In real life, you began to develop your new masculine tendencies at around the same time our house was under construction and the hurricanes came. How curious. Response?
AH: I suppose the book is a little autobiographical in that way. I have undergone some kind of ﬁnding-my-inner-male-redneck metamorphosis, and I think it’s due to several factors. Those hurricanes did bring out the protector in me. Also, you going through puberty and your mother going through menopause have left me scratching my head several times, accentuating my maleness simply because you were experiencing things I could not relate to. But perhaps the biggest inﬂuence in my metamorphosis was my good friend Hans. We are a good ﬁt, Hans and I. He not only is in touch with his female side, but he also embraces all those very fun guy traits that I had all but forgotten in the years of being a caregiver. We have cut down trees together. He has taught me how to think like an engineer. We eat at Hooters. The scene in the book where Rod coaches Linc on how to address waitresses as “hon” and “babe” happened exactly like that, with Hans. Oh, one more thing: my boots. I bought my ﬁrst pair of work boots about three years ago. I’ll tell you what . . . putting on a pair of boots changes a man. You’re two inches taller, and you just start to naturally swagger. I’ve also discovered power-lifting in the last three or four years, and I’ve gained thirty pounds. That, too, has changed my personality somewhat because people react to me differently now that I’m a bigger man. All these changes have kind of fed one another.
HH: Well, the reason I brought that up is because I noticed that the language associated with hurricanes, like “Cat Five” and “cone of uncertainty” seemed to correlate directly with your newfound sense of masculinity. Why would this be? Is this because hurricanes are powerful and unpredictable? Or am I reading too far into this?
AH: You’re reading too much into it.
HH: You frequently complain about the huge lengths we had to go to in order to protect ourselves from the hurricanes. However, in the book you almost seem to look back on these days fondly. You seem to actually enjoy putting so much time and effort into maintaining a stable environment during a disaster. Why is that?
AH: I’m one of the most anal-retentive people I know. Preparing for impending disaster appeals to my need to control my environment. I also have this weird feeling that if I overprepare for something horrible, then it won’t happen. It’s like, “Oh, great, now I’ve wasted all that time worrying about something.” It’s as if by worrying about it I can will it not to happen. In a similar way, I personally keep the plane from crashing whenever I am ﬂying. You all need to know that it is my constant worrying while airborne that keeps us in ﬂight.
HH: In Househusband, the book was entirely from Linc Menner’s point of view. Only he got a say in what was told to the reader. However, Man of the House is from four points of view. Why did you do this?
AH: People cannot see themselves change as much as those around them can. I couldn’t have Linc talk about his metamorphosis because he himself doesn’t understand it. I needed other characters, those people who were close to him, to observe his actions and comment on his transformation.
HH: Throughout the book Linc tries to hide the small changes he is making in his life, almost as if he’s ashamed of them. For instance, he hides his muscle magazines from Jo. Why does he do this? Why is he ashamed of changing?
AH: I’m not sure. I think maybe he feels like a traitor for abandoning his female traits that he’s practiced for so long. Does he feel as if he’s moved over to the competition? But hiding the muscle mags . . . At ﬁrst glance, they do really kind of look pornographic, all that bulging, bare skin and all on the covers, and the photo spreads of nearly naked people. I think most people would agree that the magazines look like they need to be hidden beneath the mattress.
HH: In chapter 22, Linc uses the phrase “she has a great spirit” to justify his reasons for liking Jessica Varnadore, who happens to be wearing Daisy Dukes when he comes to her apartment. A euphemism, perhaps?
AH: I had to be careful in showing that, despite Linc’s metamorphosis into manliness, he also remained a caregiver in a woman’s world, and by having him notice her “spirit” as well as her boobs, I was able to show he was a man who saw the world both from the female and male perspectives. Also, I’m not sure my female readers would like him to be all locker-room-talky about her. You notice that I never use the “t” word for breasts, even though most men use that word when referring to them.
HH: Well, now that we’ve ﬁnished up this question and answer session, I’m curious about something. How does it feel to be interrogated by your own daughter?
AH: It’s a pleasure, Haley. And I want to say “thank you” because I know it’s hard to have a father who writes so intimately about his family. I know you must feel very exposed at times, and I appreciate your maturity and self-conﬁdence. And I’m sorry that I admitted to the listeners of National Public Radio that the poop scene from Househusband was real–I just couldn’t lie to a national audience like that. Some day, long after I’m gone, I hope these books give you comfort and help you to remember me.
1. The characters in Man of the House are all trying to ﬁnd an inner balance between masculinity and femininity. Linc is attempting to break free from his feminine role as a caregiver and to get in touch with his masculinity. Jo is a woman who has a profession that usually belongs to a male. As Violet is going through puberty, she begins to become more of a teenage girl and less of a companion for her father. Jessica is a femme fatale, but has the aggression of a man. How does the mixture of characteristics from both genders affect each character?
2. How does the popular saying “Be careful what you wish for” apply in this novel?
3. How does Linc’s transformation affect his marriage with Jo? What are the positive changes? What are the negative changes?
4. Women who have read Househusband frequently say that they want a househusband of their own. However, throughout history women have generally wanted the typical masculine man as a mate. Which of these types of men is the most appealing and why?
5. As the book progresses, Linc begins to forget small details he usually pays close attention to. What are some of the things he forgets? What are some of the small details that get forgotten around your household during hectic times?
6. Explain how Jo’s “intervention” with Linc and the foreboding Hurricane Arturo foreshadow disaster ahead in the novel.
7. Everyone knows that kids change with puberty. However, Violet goes through some very big personality changes. Can some of these be blamed on puberty? If so, which ones?
8. The construction at the Menner household makes it so Linc is surrounded by macho men every day. How did this contribute to Linc’s metamorphosis?
9. Discuss Jessica Varnadore’s progression into a stalker. What does she start out doing that hints to trouble later on in the novel?
10. In chapter 9, after Violet gets her braces off, Linc wants to call someone and share his emotional moment. However, he has no one to call. Why do you think male caregivers often feel so alone? Do they forge relationships as women do? Why or why not?
11. Judging from Linc Menner’s experiences, what can men bring to caregiving that women cannot?