About ten years ago I interviewed Rob Wilder about his books Daddy Needs a Drink and Tales from the Teachers' Lounge. Now I have even more questions for him about teaching, writing and parenting-writing, not to mention a few about his new YA Book Nickel, out now, praised by readers like Augusten Burroughs, Gary Shteyngart, and Lisa Loeb. (Yes, that Lisa Loeb!)
Your prior books are nonfiction/humor Nickel is your first foray into YA. What was easier and harder about this new genre?
I don't know if writing is ever easy. With nonfiction, you already have a world that you can furnish and lean on. With a novel, you need to create a world and everything in it from the ground up. Having a novel floating around your head is a huge undertaking and quite the commitment. Living in the world of NICKEL for years was all-consuming and wonderful and difficult. I always thought it sounded precious when I heard novelists say, "It was hard to leave the characters," but now I get it.
How did you decide what slang to include and how to employ it?
I've been teaching teenagers for half my life and all the interesting ones speak in some sort code or slang. I study my students' language and take notes daily. When it came to Coy (the narrator in NICKEL), I tried to create a vernacular that was specific to him and his close friendship with Monroe, and where he was at that time in his life. My early drafts were written almost completely in code, slang, and sound effects. They were pretty much unreadable. After some valuable feedback from fellow writers, I started to revise so Coy could retain his voice but readers could access his thoughts.
Where did you come up with your character names, Coy and Monroe?
I met a kid once named Coy, and I always wondered what it was like to have that attribute as a name. In my classes, I've had kids named Destiny, Justice, Peace, Joy, and I can't help but question whether they ever feel as if they need to live up to their monikers. Monroe is the name of a character in a student's graphic novel I really liked.
You teach students how to write memorable college essays. What's one mistake students seem to make these days that you try to steer them away from?
Writing what they believe college admissions officers might like instead of being authentic.
What is the easiest (or most fun) age to teach writing to? The hardest?
I think any age could be fun or difficult depending on the group and the day. Teaching is kind of ridiculous. You have all these different beings with different abilities and moods and backstories and needs and you are supposed to meet them on their own terms every day? That's crazy. The way you get better as a teacher is to teach everyone you can--all ages, all backgrounds, all locations.
When I last interviewed you we talked about parenting writing. Someone I spoke with recently observed that parents taper off writing about their kids when they get older and more aware of their privacy. Has that been the case for you?
Sigh. It has. My son London doesn't really care because he's a fifteen-year-old boy, but my daughter Poppy would like me to give it a rest for a while. I know it's complicated, but I love the excuse to spend time and reflect about my kids through writing.
The niche of parenting writing has exploded in the last 10 years, as I know from experience. What are your thoughts on this?
When I wrote Daddy Needs a Drink, there were far fewer contemporary parenting books than there are now. I wrote my essays for the parents out there who struggle but still maintain a sense of humor. The plethora of parenting books reminds me that parents will always struggle. It's a really hard job.
What are you drinking these days?
Two parts good anejo tequila; two parts fresh squeezed lime juice; one part Patron Cintronge Orange liqueur; a dash of simple syrup. Shake vigorously with ice. Salt on the rim only slows you down; leave it in the shaker.
What do teachers really want from their students' parents at holiday time?
The best question ever, Claire! Gift cards! Cash money! (Hint: take up a collection from fellow parents). Certificates for spa services, restaurants, grocery stores, airlines. Single origin coffee. Smartwool socks. Artisanal chocolate. Homemade cards are nice, but they're better with old Ulysses S. Grant hiding inside.
How does it feel to be the 5th person interviewed twice for Zulkey.com?
I feel like the 5th luckiest person on earth!