Editor’s note: Writer Dad is a series of interviews with professional writers who are also fathers, discussing how they balance the two, what the real challenges are, and how it affects both their writing and parenting. You can read more about how the series came together on Guy Gonzalez’s blog. Read the first installment with Tobias Buckell.
“You must not come lightly to the blank page.”
Ro Cuzon is arguably living the dream, but the path he took to get there can hardly be considered a traditional one. His bio mentions that “the Blues and getting punched in the face were the two biggest influences in [his] development as a writer,” and if you’ve read his debut novel, the no-holds-barred, sexy and violent noir, Under the Dixie Moon, you wouldn’t doubt it for a minute. Said novel (along with its prequel, Under the Carib Sun) was published by the innovative startup Rogue Reader, an interesting story in its own right, but for another time. With a personal and professional resume Hemingway and Bukowski could relate to—twice-married; former boxer, bartender, and construction worker, among other things—he brings an unflinching authenticity to his genre of choice, crime fiction, balanced by the fact that he’s a genuinely nice guy, happily married, and a loving father of a three-and-a-half-year-old daughter. He also lives in New Orleans, so in some ways, he’s living MY dream!
This interview was conducted via e-mail over the course of a few busy months in the summer of 2013 and updated in December.
Gonzalez: How do you balance time for writing, time for family, and time for yourself?
Cuzon: Since Oona was born, I’ve adhered to a strict schedule in order to balance all of these things. Being a stay-at-home dad (or a house-husband, as my wife calls it, because I also cook and clean), I quickly realized that the only way to secure uninterrupted time for writing was to wake up before my daughter did. So I set my alarm for 4:30 a.m. Monday to Friday. But as soon as my daughter is awake, I switch from writer to Dad. The only real time I have for myself—say, to read a book or watch a good TV series—is about one hour each night before I go to sleep. And when I cook, which is very therapeutic and essential to my day. All in all, my life is pretty regimented, but then I’m a Virgo and likely OCD, so I’m completely okay with that. And Oona just started pre-K, so I should be getting a bit more time to myself now.
In the wake of my interview with Tobias Buckell last month, an interesting discussion broke out about the different perceptions of writer dads and mothers, where the former tends to get “credit” for doing things that the latter does not. How do people react to your being a stay-at-home dad, and does it reflect in any way on their perception of you as a professional writer?
A lot of people seem to think I’m doing something really out of the ordinary, which I still find a bit baffling. Just being out with my daughter at the grocery store or the park or getting a bite to eat, I get a lot of knowing smiles and praises (“That’s great” or “What a lucky little girl!”). I dig it, but I think it’s a little unfair because I don’t notice mothers getting this kind of attention. As for how it reflects on their perception of being a writer, I’m not sure. I tend to keep my conversations with strangers as brief as possible, so the subject of what I do for a living rarely comes up. When it does, I think people mostly realize what a lucky guy I am. My wife and my friends certainly do: getting paid for doing what I love and spending every day with my kid? You think along those lines and it’s hard to bitch about not having enough time to yourself.
After “twenty years spent pouring drinks for people,” you’re now a full-time writer, partly thanks to the success of the non-traditional Rogue Reader platform. How do you make ends meet?
My books did very well—Under the Dixie Moon especially—for several months after they were out, generating a totally unexpected income for me. But it’s thanks to my amazing wife that I am still able to write full time at this point. She’s the one who told me to quit my bartending job after Rogue Reader published my two novels. How have things changed versus five years ago? Is it easier, harder, or just different? Harder, but also much more rewarding. As far as writing is concerned, I think that having to stick to a schedule—the pressure to get things done in a limited amount of time—has greatly improved my focus and thought process. Although I do miss that time when I could read and watch movies all day, or ride my bike and daydream about an idea until the beginning of my shift.
You live in NOLA, where the cost of living is lower than, say, New York City or Los Angeles. What concessions do you think you’d have to make to live in closer proximity to major publishers or Hollywood, and why would they be worth it, if at all?
We actually moved here from NYC, and there’s no way we’d have the quality of life we enjoy in NOLA either there or in LA. And while the cost of living in New Orleans has steadily risen in the eight years we’ve been down here, it’s still a very affordable city. I spent the first twenty years of my life in France, and enjoying life has always been very important to me. And that’s very easy to do down here—I wouldn’t sacrifice that for anything. Besides, when I need to, I can fly to New York in three hours, and LA in under four.
There are basically two stereotypes of fathers portrayed in most media, at opposite ends of the spectrum: the taciturn, man’s man, and the sensitive, philosophical fount of wisdom. How would you describe yourself as a father?
I guess I’m somewhere in the middle. I’m an introvert, like a lot of writers, and I like to listen to people more than I talk to them. That said, I think I’ve lived a pretty interesting life so far. I hope that my daughter can benefit from some of those experiences, especially the mistakes I made. Although I also believe that fucking up all on your own can be a very healthy thing, at least after a certain age.
Who is your favorite literary father figure you think defies stereotypes, and how?
I keep coming back to the last interesting father figure I came across in a book: Junior Bender, the protagonist in Timothy Hallinan’s hilarious series. I just love Junior’s relationship with his daughter, his complete lack of bullshit with her (he told her at a very young age that he was a criminal) and the banter it generates between them. I believe it’s extremely important to be honest with kids about the fucked-up world we live in. The trick of course is to decide how early to do it without messing them up.
How has being a father changed your writing, whether style, process, goals?
Being a father has made me a more empathetic person, a bit less of a cynical bastard, which I think might find its way into my work. Or not. I write crime fiction, after all.
What’s one piece of advice you’d give a writer who wants to have kids but is concerned about being able to balance being a full-time writer and being a father?
Prepare yourself to be disciplined and just go ahead and do it. Purely from a writer’s perspective, you’ll miss a crucial part of the human experience if you don’t. Trust me, I didn’t think I wanted to be a father for a long time. But I’m really glad I took the plunge.
Born in Brittany, France, Ro Cuzon boxed as a teenager then dropped out of high school to play in a band. He has lived in France, San Francisco, the Caribbean, and Brooklyn, and finally settled in the Tremé neighborhood of New Orleans. He’s earned money as a waiter, bartender, cook, construction worker, painter, landscaper, as well as other unmentionable activities. His fiction has appeared in CrimeSpree Magazine and the Noir bimonthly Thuglit. Named by George Pelecanos as “among the rising stars of the new generation of noir novelists,” Ro is the author of Under the Dixie Moon and Under the Carib Sun. Connect with Ro on Facebook or on Twitter at @rocuzon.