Interview with James Chesbro: A Lion in the Snow

Updated: Apr 23

The first thing I want to ask is where you got the concept for this book.

The concept came from an essay I was working on that was born out of this really unique daydream I had of imagining a lion walking outside my window during a snow storm. And in that piece, I decided to seek out the origins of what was going on in that daydream, so the title seemed like it was evocative enough to work.

Can you give a little summary of the book?

In this book, I talk about fatherhood. I became a father five years after my dad had passed away, and it really surprised me how much being a dad made me think of my own father. I was 24 when he passed, and we were just starting to get to know each other as adults, so the book goes back and forth between being a son and being a dad, and those intersections play out throughout the book.

What would you say was one of the most difficult parts of writing this? You said it took you about nine years to finish the project.

This was my first book, and in a lot of ways, I was really trying to figure out what literary non-fiction is all about. There were a ton of pieces that I wrote that I would never want anyone else to read.

I would say the hardest part was finding those universal launching points mentioned in the prologue that I'm trying to find for readers. I write about places and experiences that are most common to parents.

What was one thing that surprised you while you were writing?

I was surprised to learn how much my father and I were similar. Growing up, I always identified myself as an athlete, and my father was an artist and an art teacher. As a kid, I always discarded art as something I wasn't really into. I grew up outside Philadelphia, and when my dad would take me to the Philadelphia Art Museum for exhibitions, I would just be dreading the whole thing. So, those sort of memories were really good to work through and think about.

With the content of this book being so personal, did it ever feel like oversharing? Were you ever afraid to put something on the page?

Of course, and I think that just means you're getting to the good stuff! Someone once asked me how I know what material to put in, or when something is too personal, which is a common question for non-fiction writers, and the answer for me is whether it serves the narrative or not. If it does, then I think you've got to think about it. Give it a chance.

This book was written for most readers, but has there been a surprising demographic that has come to you and said the book has really helped them?

I mean, I love any sort of reader, but along the surprising front, I've been teaching at an all-boys high school for 20 years now, and it's been really surprising and rewarding to hear that my book has helped former students who are young men now and are becoming fathers.

When I was in my early 30s, being a first-time dad and grieving the loss of my own dad, there didn't really seem to be any books out there that dealt with grieving the loss of life and nurturing new life at the same time. I just felt those confluences so strongly in my early 30s, so I wanted to create the book that I wished I could've read at that stage of my life.

Now that you have this experience and knowledge of writing this book, what advice would you give that you wish you'd been given?

It sounds really obvious, and I'm afraid this is going to be too elementary of a thought, but I have to say that going into writing for an audience, I absolutely underestimated how important it is to read like a writer and to learn from other writers and allow them to be your teachers.

Thank you so much, James! We're happy to have you here.

I'm happy to be here. Thank you!

A Lion in the Snow is a series of essays written by James Chesbro, through which he explores the maddening moments of fatherhood that provide occasions for new understanding between parents and their children. James first started having daydreams of seeing a lion padding toward his house through a New England snowstorm when his wife was pregnant. He felt more like a son, still grieving over the early loss of his own father, rather than a prepared expectant dad.

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