Christopher Profeta is here today to talk about his debut novel Life in Pieces, being a stay-at-home-parent, and how writers can make a difference.
Chris teaches writing at Macomb Community College and Davenport University. He has had various works published in the Foliate Oak online literary magazine, one of which was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. He attended school at Wayne State University where he was awarded two Loughead-Eldridge Scholarships in Creative Writing, and at Michigan State University where he was a winner of the Jim Cash Creative Writing Award. He lives in Clawson, MI with his wife and two kids.
Welcome, Chris. Please tell us about your current release.
Life in Pieces tells the story of an unemployed stay-at-home-dad who wakes up one morning and reads the paper only to find out he is running for congress. The unlikely candidate’s thoughts serve as a pointed satire of politics and the economy, as well as a moving love story about the strength and importance of family.
In the second “piece” of the story, Michael Langley, a college freshman, struggles to find his place in a new setting that doesn’t make much sense to him. When he finally meets a group of friends that make him feel at home, he realizes that if he is to build a life with what might be the woman of his dreams, he’ll have to give up everything he thought he ever wanted.
And somewhere, a crazy old man couldn’t care less about either of these stories. This last “piece” follows two old lovers who have figured out a way to ignore the struggles of the world around them and be comforted only by their love as they reach the end of their earthly lives together, and resolve the conflicts of their past.
In Life in Pieces, all these stories come gracefully together to show that we are never too old to come of age.
What inspired you to write this book?
In 2010, there was a fairly big story here in Michigan about leaders in the state Democratic Party putting fake Tea Party candidates on the ballot to siphon votes away from Republicans. I read an article in the newspaper about a woman who recognized her name on the ballot, and I just thought it was pretty funny. That idea helped me put a lot of other things I was working on together into one larger story.
Life in Pieces isn’t an overtly political book, it’s actually almost anti-political. I personally go through periods where I’m overly interested and involved in what’s going on in the world, and I always end up feeling like there are more important things in life. That’s pretty much the main point of this book, and I felt like writing about a character who is almost literally forced to run for office was a great way to make that point.
What exciting story are you working on next?
Having just turned 30, Life in Pieces was three decades in the making. When I finished writing it, I remember saying to my wife, “This is everything I’ve wanted to say about everything for a long time.” It addresses a lot of issues about family, getting married, having kids, but also the typical coming of age themes of finding yourself and your own identity, and it deals a lot with the plans we make and the goals we set for ourselves and how we get there. In the end, I think the point Life in Pieces makes is that you can set all the goals you want, but life’s going to happen the way it wants no matter what. The only way to really be happy is to be willing to let go of yourself a little.
So in that sense, I’m too busy living an exciting life right now to know what exciting story to tell next.
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I really don’t know if I even consider myself a writer yet. I’ve been writing for all of my adult life, but Life in Pieces is my first novel. I think that’s why so many of the characters in it are at the beginning of some big change in their lives, because that’s a lot of what I’m trying to work through as well. I mean, you have one character who has just gone off to college and is struggling to find his identity, make friends, and fall in love, another who has just gotten married and started a family, and yet another dealing with the loss of his wife and his family. All of these are major life changes that there’s no easy way of dealing with. In a way, I guess accepting the fact that you’ve become a writer is just as difficult.
Do you write full-time? If so, what’s your work day like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find time to write?
Like my main character in Life in Pieces, I am a stay at home dad. I teach writing classes on nights and weekends at a community college, but I consider my main job being a parent. Like the character in the book, it has been a struggle for me to find time to write while working at home and taking care of two kids, but I think that I’ve come to some of the same realizations that he does in the book. If my life wasn’t as stressful as it sometimes feels, I don’t think I’d like it as much as I do. Don’t get me wrong, there are times when I go through a lot of the frustration and anger that this character does, I actually think it was a bit of a release for me to write him. But, overall, with this book, I’ve found a way to take that frustration and turn it into something positive.
What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
As a reader, I’ve always been a huge fan of stories that aren’t told in chronological order, or any kind of logical order really. Books where there are two or three, or more even, threads, and it isn’t until the end that the reader really gets any sense of how the all fit together. Any of the Jonathan Safran Foer or Nicole Krauss books are exactly what I’m talking about here, especially Nicole Krauss’s Great House.
That kind of disjointed storytelling is very intriguing to me, and that’s why Life in Pieces is told the way it is, in flashbacks and narrators that sometimes seem to overlap and sometimes seem to not be connected in any way at all. In the end though, the reader can see how it all adds up to one unified story, and to me that makes the climax even more emotional.
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Two things. I always knew I wanted to write, and I always knew I wanted to be a parent. I remember starting college and not really caring if I was on the path to financial independence when I graduated so long as I was on the path to having a family of my own. Again, it’s interesting, to me anyway, probably not to anyone else, how those ideas kind of worked their way into some of the characters in Life in Pieces. A college kid without any real direction until he falls in love. A stay at home dad dealing with accepting the fact that he’s not ashamed of his socially unconventional role. These are universal ideas, but given current economic conditions, I think they are very timely as well.
Anything additional you want to share with the readers?
I’d like to pick up on this idea of the timeliness of Life in Pieces. Recently, to help promote the book, I sponsored a short story contest for stories dealing with issues of unemployment and economic hardship. The winners are posted on my website, but as I was reading these stories, I was reminded of the role writers can play in a world dealing with some of the issues that we are today. Authors may not be able to solve the economic problems we’re facing, but I think they play a big role in understanding them.
Think about a lot of the writing out of the depression era, Grapes of Wrath comes to mind first, but there are hundreds of examples. I’m not comparing myself to John Steinbeck, I’m just saying that we sometimes overlook the importance of writers in making sense out of the nonsensical things that happen in the world every day. My hope is that after people read Life in Pieces they feel like they’re in a little better position to deal with the craziness of their lives.
Thank you for being here today, Chris, and sharing quite a bit about your debut novel. Happy writing!