Guest Blog: How a Stay-At-Home Dad Penned His First Novel (And Win a Copy of His Book!)

March 12, 2012 at 3:31 pm , by

The Expats, a first novel by former book editor Chris Pavone, is an international espionage thriller that’s invited comparisons to Graham Greene, John Le Carré and Robert Ludlum. The protagonist, Kate Moore, is (as was Pavone for a time) an expat and stay-at-home parent living a typical expat life in Luxembourg. But she’s also guarding a tremendous, life-defining secret—one that slowly begins to unravel her neat routines. As she begins to uncover secrets about the people around her, she finds herself buried in layers of deceit so thick they threaten her family, her marriage and her life. This expertly crafted story will keep you guessing until the very last page.

In this guest blog, Pavone explains how a mysterious woman on a park bench inspired him to write the book. Plus, find out how to win your own copy of The Expats at the end of the post!

I’d spent nearly two decades sitting behind desks in New York City publishing houses when suddenly I found myself in Luxembourg, sitting on benches in playgrounds in the cold damp, making small talk with vague acquaintances about the things we used to do, the people we used to be, before we became people who did this, here. We were expat stay-at-home parents—in my case, to an energetic pair of then-four-year-old twin boys.

First-time novelist Chris Pavone, back in New York City, armed with the tools of his new trade: a cup of coffee and a manuscript ready for marking up. Pavone wrote most of The Expats in European cafés. Photo credit: Nina Subin

We stay-at-home parents had all arrived via roughly the same path: our spouses got interesting/exciting/lucrative job offers abroad, and we thought it sounded fun (or at least different). So we packed up everything we could bring, and left behind everything we couldn’t. For many of us, the latter included the jobs, the careers, the selves that we’d spent our adult lives defining. Now we had to become other people.

For all the fun of constantly traveling around Europe, and for all the newness of this adventure, it was hard for me to embrace the routine. Taking the kids to their international school, attending class-parents meetings, going to the gym or French lessons or the supermarket. Driving around a city I didn’t really know, ignoring traffic laws I didn’t entirely understand, in a language I didn’t properly speak. Looking for the things that my family needed, or wanted: underwear and raincoats, DVDs and sticker books, a vacuum cleaner and a toaster, a cordless drill and a metric measuring tape. Food that I could pack for the kids’ lunch that they wouldn’t reject.

Plus it took me a month—a month!—to figure out how to throw away the garbage. No kidding.

And every time I got to the end of the to-do list, I had to add something new. When I’d finished the household chores, it was always time to start them all again, and again and yet again, cleaning and tidying-up, cooking and washing-up, grocery-shopping and dog-walking, bathing the children and putting them to bed, then waking them up again.

I chatted with other stay-at-home parents—mothers, rather, because 99 percent of the people who led this life were women—at school drop-offs and cafés, at tennis courts and playgrounds. One day there was a mother at the playground who didn’t want to chat. She possibly thought I was hitting on her; or perhaps she was just shy; or she had secrets . . . Maybe she had something dreadful to hide? Maybe she’d done something horrible, back wherever she was from? And she’d come to Luxembourg to escape it! Maybe this woman was a spy!! My imagination got away from me, as it tends to do when I’m bored.

That’s when it began to dawn on me, that even though my everyday life was often dreary, there was material for a novel all around me—in fact, any number of different novels, in different genres. I could write a fun lighthearted romance centering around the hyper-social world of expats—the extramarital affairs with Swedish tennis coaches, the recreational shopping. Or an introspective literary work about the soul-crushing tedium of tending to little children and a household, every single today a stale repeat of yesterday. Or what about a sexy legal thriller set in the European Union Court of Justice, featuring constant travel to glamorous locales? Or a corporate intrigue in the world capital of private banking, with an international cast of devious financiers whipping around town in their Lamborghinis?

There were many ways to re-imagine this world around me, this life I was living.

So that’s what I did: started re-imagining. I set to work on a novel about a woman reinventing herself, about a marriage under strain. I was writing about my life, the things I did, the people I knew. But before long, I began to lose interest in the manuscript. Then I remembered that secretive woman from the park bench, and I livened up things by introducing secrets and lies, spies and thieves into the story . . . a story that morphed into an espionage thriller.

Every day, I carved out a couple hours to sit in a café with my laptop and a large coffee. When I got hungry, or ran out of ideas, I left. Three, four pages a day, sometimes a bit more. At this pace, before a half-year was out, I typed “The End” on a first draft of a spy novel whose main characters are an expat couple in Luxembourg. This week, that novel was published by Crown, a division of Random House, and soon will be launched in a dozen languages around the world.

The core plot of The Expats is completely made-up. But much of the rest of the book—the situations, the conversations, the atmosphere, the life of the story—were drawn from my everyday experiences in a place, and a situation, where I didn’t quite belong. That was the nonfiction foundation upon which my novel was built.

And that same foundation is available everywhere, to anyone who wants to write a novel. You just have to pay attention to the interesting stuff that nestles in between all the boring bits.

Intrigued? We’re giving away 10 copies of The Expats! Just post a comment below and you’ll automatically be entered to win!

Official Rules

97 Responses to “Guest Blog: How a Stay-At-Home Dad Penned His First Novel (And Win a Copy of His Book!)”

  1. Sounds fascinating. I like the fact that you got a taste of what mainly women have known for years,that caring for a home and family is hard work. Never ending,sometimes mind-numbing,boring work. And its great that you used your background and talent to write a book in what spare time you write whats sounds like a great book. I’d love to read it!

  2. I think this is amazing! Too many times stay at home parents especially dads, get the raw end of the deal and are looked at as being lazy and unmotivated. In my experience as a stay at home mother of 4 for the past 14 years…it is one of the hardest underpaid jobs one will ever do!

  3. I am impressed! Good for him for utilizing his time! I am sure that he’s terrific stay at home father!!!

  4. I haven’t read anything good lately. This sounds like something I would like. Is it available on Kindle?

  5. Very intriguing! I too would LOVE to read it!

  6. Would love to read, look forward to seeing his perspective

  7. Not as easy as one thinks!

  8. I love to read! I carry my Nook in my purse, travel with it, I take it to work, I read myself to sleep. I would LOVE to get a copy of this book. I cant read enough books. I “jones” for it. Pick me! Pick me!

  9. This sounds like a book you just can’t put down, Would love to read it !!

  10. Sounds like a wonderful book! Can’t wait to get a chance to read this book for a different perspective. I hope I can win a copy!!

  11. Sounds like an great story……I would love to read it!

  12. Sounds like a great read.

  13. Mysteries are my absolutely positively f a v o r i t e genre.

  14. Sounds very interesting. It’s refreshing to have a member of the male gender write about what we women have known for years. That a stay at home parents job is just that. A job! Not happy fun time, although there are those moments. I’m excited to see if he reaps the rewards of a stay at home parent.

  15. This book sounds very interesting. I’m also happy to learn more about the adventures of a stay-at-home Dad…hoping they become as commonplace as stay-at-home Moms.

  16. sounds exciting. What a great way to get a story idea from what you see around you – and from what you don’t see , but imagine in other people’s lives!

  17. As an foreign service spouse, I have been an stay-at-home expat wife for many years. Would love to read this book.

  18. I would love to read this book!

  19. That sounds like a great book. Fascinating!

  20. Awesome! would love to read it!

  21. You never know where inspiration will come from.

  22. Intriguing! I am also impressed that he was able to write as a stay at home Dad. My time is so fractured that it is difficult to dedicate time to writing. Bravo!

  23. What a dream! A working spouse gets pulled overseas and I get to live abroad, frequenting cafes while writing my book. Fantastic! Can’t wait to read it!

  24. I’m impressed that Chris not only seems to have been successful in the “stay at home” role and write a novel!! Neither are easy things to do. Having lived overseas in the past (wife of an Army officer) I know there are stories all around – many of them extremely interesting. So glad he could use them to write a great first novel! I would love to read his book!!

  25. It is great to see a stay at home dad shown in a good light. Men still feel its womens work but I say stay at home dads are the marines of the Home!

  26. I would love to read this (and perhaps my husband as well) as my husband is a stay-at-home spouse former heavy machinery operator.

  27. How intriguing. I wonder how he found the time to write it all down. I would LOVE to read Expats.

  28. So refreshing to read the male counterparts’ view of stay-home caregiver role; equal parts hilarious and assent and “I told you so” reaction I had reading it hence a great post! Would love to win a copy of his first novel!

  29. Can I read it too. Probably not eligible to enter. Rats

  30. Oooh I would love to read this!! It sounds great!

  31. I would like to read how a dad does it

  32. Well, I lived this life, minus kids, in Prague for 5 years. Everyone always told me I should write a book about it! I’d love to read this.

  33. I’d love to win a copy of this to read. Sounds very interesting!

  34. Thank you for the opportunity to win this book.

  35. Author Pavone has managed to make lemonade, both literally and literaturely (sp?). He has not only given “care” to his children, but has set an important example to them of time management and a work ethic. Good parenting, Chris! Mine are all grown (and middleaged) so I have lots of time to indulge my favorite activity – reading mystery/thriller/spy novels. This one sounds just up my alley, so I hope I will find it in my mailbox!!

  36. I would love a copy of this book…thanks for the opportunity!

  37. Great Story! I am impressed.

  38. This book sounds like a fun read. I am happy that a stay at home parent is still able to continue to work on things they love. This story really inspires me.

  39. I would love to read this book. Mystery, intrigue, human relations are among my favorite subjects to read about.

  40. Sounds interesting….we have many expats at our company and I’ve always wondered why someone didn’t write about their experience.

  41. Sounds like a winner – would love to have a copy!! Thanks!

  42. I would love to read this thriller of a book. Sounds like a book that you cannot put down.
    Thank you!

  43. Haha, I relate to the part about taking a month to learn how to throw out garbage. When I visit my relatives in taiwan laste summer, I was also confused by all the garbage categories you need to sort and the time it required to dispose of garbage…. regular compost, pigs’ feed, glass, bottles and of course regular garbage. Then everyday at a set time, you bring all the different bags and boxes out and stand by the curb to wait for the garbage truck and you dump everything in yourself based on the different categories. Regular garbage needs to be placed in plastic bags that cost money to buy and so this encourages people to sort as much as they can into the other categories. We take such easy garbage collection for granted in the US!

  44. The life of the person at home taking care of the family and house is difficult. It is wonderful when you can find a way to make your dreams happen while also providing this valuable asset for the family. Can’t wait to read the book!

  45. I adopted a baby, stayed at home for 11 years and now is trying to go back to the career I once had only it is met with frustration and bewilderment. I would love to read the book so maybe I could move past my old self and into my new self.

    Thanks :)
    Desperate for an answer to the mystery.

  46. I would love to receive a copy of this book. My dad got me started on Robert Ludlum books many years ago and I was hooked from then on. Thank you for putting my name in the drawing!

  47. I would love a copy! We are considering a move overseas, so this is coming out at a great time for me.

  48. Sounds delightful, in my days men didn’t even change diapers, let alone housework. The times they are a changing.

  49. I have been dreaming of writing a novel for some time now, and you have just given me the impetus and courage to do so. Thank you so much!
    I look forward to reading your book.

  50. Sounds like a good read.

  51. This sounds so intriguing and exciting, I’d really like to read this. And the author sounds so creative and perceptive to the world around him, that it just makes me want to get it together and finally sit down and start writing again :)

  52. How cool is that?! To be creative and have the chance to be a stay at home parent!

  53. This sounds like a very interesting book and I sure hope I win a copy!

  54. I would love to read this book—thanks for the opportunity to win a copy!

  55. Sounds like an interesting book and what a great use of his time. When one door closes another one opens………..would love to read it.

  56. I would love to read this book. I lived for three years as an expat in Germany with my very young twin daughters as my husband worked and traveled. I could relate to his sitiation of trying to get on in a world so different than ours here in the States. One’s imagination can run wild when you don’t have many acquaintances to help you make sense out of this strange place you have chosen to make your home for a while.

  57. Awesome author!!!!!

  58. I heard that The Expats was a great book, and put it on my list of books to download. My expat daughter told me that her life was as normal and boring and anyone’s even when she lives in exotic places. But my imagination tells me otherwise.

  59. I too am very intriqued to read this book. I hope to win a free copy, but even if I don’t, it’s definitely going on my to read list. First book in a long time that’s really peaked my interest.

  60. I love it that the author has an imagination like mine! When I’m somewhere “people watching”, I imagine what must be going on in their life. This sounds like a very good book. I’m hoping to win a copy, but as others have said, if I don’t, I’ll probably buy it.

  61. A first time author and first time stay-at-home Dad, what a combination for run-away thoughts. Congrats on taking what we all have each day – interesting experiences – and turning them into a great story.
    Hope the book does great out there in the wide-world of publishing.

  62. You certainly have my attention, I know I would truly enjoy reading this and getting a man’s take on all the daily challenges and solutions in running a home.

  63. I have been scouring the internet for giveaways of this book, I’ll keep my fingers crossed I win.:)

  64. Your expat life sounds like the life my sister led while her kids were growing up but in 10 different places around the world. The reviews on the book are great and would love to win a copy. I’ve read some great books by winning them!

  65. Got my fingers crossed!

  66. Sounds like an awesome book – can’t wait to read it

  67. Sounds like an interesting read. Would love a

  68. would love to read!

  69. I love Belgium! Sounds like a great read.

  70. sounds like just the book I would love to read. I am interested to read about a female expat…from a male writer’s perspective.

  71. It definitely sounds like a great read. I would love to win it.

  72. I would love to win this book since I saw it on goodreads!

  73. My husband was a stay at home Dad for the first nine years of my sons life. I would love to read The Expats.

  74. sounds great. would love to read this

  75. love to read this

  76. My, this is such a great win.

  77. sounds like a great book

  78. summer read

  79. Sounds like a great book!

  80. Sounds like a great book, just in time for summer reading.

  81. Sounds interesting.

  82. Sounds great. I would love to win!

  83. like the book

  84. I would LOVE this…thank you for the chance!

  85. thanks !

  86. would love to read

  87. This sounds like a fascinating book. My college English teacher (many years ago), said we should keep a diary because it is the everyday things around you that a novel make.

  88. Congratulations for pursuing your dreams!!!!
    I wish you much success!!!! I am looking forward
    to reading your book!!

  89. Sounds like an interesting book.

  90. I love books with strong female characters

  91. Sounds good to me, and also, that’s my dream, too, to write a novel. Maybe I’ll be inspired!

  92. i look for originality and good writing…this sounds like it will meet standards…

  93. I love that Chris Pavone was able to write this book and still be a stay at home dad…I am very intrigued and want to read it!

  94. as an expat and trailing spouse for many years, i’m intrigued. expats are often running away from something. we lived in a place which became “the marriage graveyard” for many couples. i have written about this subject. an expat stay-at-home-dad was seen as a pariah. he couldn’t lunch with the ladies or go for manicures. what many don’t realize is that many expats exist in a bubble, rarely immersing themselves into the local culture. i can tell you stories that will shock you. i have needed some distance before i could return to that material.

  95. About to embark on my own little expat journey myself…this story sounds exciting and just what I need to read to start my adventure!

  96. As a reader of mystery and suspense this book sound like a great read. can’t wait to read it.