This is the third of three profiles of Rockville authors whose work is part of the third annual Gaithersburg Book Festival. The festival will be held on Saturday at Gaithersburg City Hall. Click here for Wednesday's profile of Jasmine Smith and here for Thursday's profile of Phoebe Temkin.
Paul Stankus does most of his writing on Metro.
Last month, a daily 45-minute ritual of Red Line writing that allows the King Farm resident to balance fatherhood, his full-time job and his dedication to a craft he loves, resulted in Stankus’s second book.
Dad Desperately in Need of Training Wheels, chronicles Stankus’s humorous and often humbling tales of fatherhood through the first four years of life with his son Alexander.
“When my son was born, I decided I really want to start writing some of the stories down,” Stankus said. “One of the things I’ve heard over and over again from parents was ‘I really wish I would’ve written some of the stories down when I had a chance.’”
Stankus will be one of three local authors highlighted during a local authors hour at 10 a.m. on Saturday at the Gaithersburg Book Festival. He will give a 20-minute presentation about getting published as a first-time author and will take questions and read excerpts from the book.
Stankus is distributing the book through Amazon’s CreateSpace, which lets users self-publish and sell books, CDs and DVDs.
“I’m putting it out there and allowing the marketplace to decide whether they like the book or not,” he said.
Getting picked up by a major publisher could be a goal, Stankus said.
“It’s much easier for you to approach a publisher and say ‘My book is out and I’ve sold 400 copies. Would you like to publish the next version?’ than for me to say ‘Publish me! Please, please, please, please, please!’” he said.
Stankus, 41, began writing unpublished poetry, short stories and plays in high school and college.
When Alex was born, he began writing letters to friends. They wanted more frequent updates on the youngest Stankus. “They became my editors,” Paul Stankus said.
The letters and emails became the material for Training Wheels.
Stankus estimates that he’s written about 200 short stories in six years of Metro rides between Shady Grove and Dupont Circle, where he works as a project manager with the Universal Service Fund.
There’s a 10-minute window each afternoon, he said. “If I get a train in that 10-minute window, I get a seat. If I don’t get a train in that 10-minute window, then I’m hunting and giving dagger eyes for anybody who might possibly be getting up.”
Most days you’ll find him in the last car of the Red Line train, writing away at about a page or two a trip. He writes both longhand and with his laptop perched atop his brief case, angled in such a way that it’s not going to go flying if the train stops suddenly.
In Training Wheels, Stankus fleshes out some of the same stories he first told in his first published book, Hapless Papa. One such story is of Alex’s birth.
While expecting, Stankus and his wife, Candice, played the gender guessing game even after an appointment to get a sonogram.
“The sonogram technician said ‘I think it’s a girl.’ And my wife heard: ‘It’s a girl,’ and I heard ‘I think.’”
Candice had gone “pink crazy” by the time Alexander—not Alexandra—arrived.
“Of course, had she not returned all of the gender neutral clothing that friends gave her and bought pink, the gods would probably have granted her request for a girl,” Stankus writes in the first story in Training Wheels. “We call that hubris.”
Stankus’s stories offer a father’s perspective into parenthood.
“The first two years [of fatherhood], I was pretty much just running in place just to stay even,” he said. “I started to learn more about myself after that period and could actually start reflecting just a little bit more. So the second book is a little more philosophical. It’s a little bit more about what I have learned. It’s not just all about the beginning dates.
Stankus said he believes the roles of fathers in America has changed a lot.
“Our fathers’ generation, there’s a reason why they were kept out in the waiting room,” Stankus said.
In two-parent families, fathers now share more parenting responsibilities.
“If it had been my father writing the story, he wouldn’t have been able to write this,” Stankus said. “It’s changed so much in the last generation. And I’m sure when Alex is old enough and has a child of his own, it’ll be completely different.”
Stories from Training Wheels also prove that this is not your father’s generation of children. Stankus tells the story of looking in vain for Alex’s favorite television show:
I told him, “Sorry, it’s not on right now. I guess you’ll have to wait until next time it comes on.”
Alex looks up from the couch, and matter-of-factly stares me in the eyes—“Daddy,” he says in a huff, “just ‘Dot-com’ it.” Sure enough, with Google and a few keystrokes later, we found the episode in its entirety online available for his immediate viewing pleasure.
Alex, a kindergartener at College Gardens Elementary School, is aware that his dad is an author—and that he is the source of his father’s stories.
“He wants me to speak to his class about his dad writing about him as a kid,” Stankus said.
And at 6 years old, Alex is already displaying savvy that might serve him well in an age of media saturation and image management.
“The next book, Alex wants to write it with me,” Stankus said. “I think he wants to control the content.”
Paul Stankus will sign books on Saturday and throughout June at the following locations, with a portion of proceeds of each book sold at most appearances going to the charity shown in parentheses:
- Saturday: Gaithersburg Book Festival. Presentation at 10 a.m. followed by book signing. (Charity: VisArts KidsCreate.)
- June 2: Barnes & Noble Booksellers, Washingtonian Center, in Gaithersburg. 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
- June 9: Pike Central Farmers Market, 11806 Rockville Pike. 9 a.m. to noon (Charity: Kids Club.)
- June 10: Bethesda Central Farmers Market, 7600 Arlington Blvd. 9 a.m. to noon. (Charity: Kids Club.)
- June 16: Pike Central Farmers Market, 11806 Rockville Pike. 9 a.m. to noon. (Charity: Kids Club.)