AYCOCK: Let’s switch gears a little. Early in your career, you were a stay-at-home dad. Not a lot of men get an opportunity to do that. What was
PHILBRICK: Well, my wife was the breadwinner. She was a lawyer, and
we had made a pact that one of us was going to be home with the kids.
I wanted to be a writer, and there was no way I was going to make the
money she could make. I had gotten job offers to be a magazine editor,
but I wanted to write, and Melissa could make more money anyway, so
we decided I would do it. I expected that there would be a lot of dads out
there like me.
PHILBRICK: Right. There weren’t. It’s different now. I have grandkids, so
I’m watching a new generation deal with it. It was hard because when
you’re with little kids, you don’t really have the ability to concentrate.
When Ethan, my youngest, entered first grade and I was free until 2: 30
every day, that’s when I wrote my first work of history, Away Off Shore,
about Nantucket. I look back, and it was professionally frustrating. My
family members outside my immediate family were like “What are you
doing?” But it was the right thing to do. Also, at that time, I didn’t really
know what I was going to write. I needed to grow up some. I was thirty-six when I found my voice as a writer, and I think I had to be that old
before it would click.
AYCOCK: I’ve talked to other writers who rely on their spouse or their
children to be early readers of their work. Do you do that?
PHILBRICK: Yes. My poor wife! The typical pattern is, I write a chapter,
I Xerox it, I staple it, and I leave it on the kitchen table. Melissa arrives
home from work, she sees it and goes, “Okay, that’s what we’re going to be
doing after dinner.” We have dinner, and then while she does the dishes,
I read it to her. The act of reading it out loud is very important to me. It’s
a completely different perspective from reading it on the screen because
I get to hear when something isn’t working. She’s very good at catching
repetitions and things like that. I can sense whether she thinks it’s any
good or not. And she can be withering . . . not withering. Dispiriting. But