Please welcome Robert Wilder today and help me celebrate his new book, Nickel (Leaf Storm Press), with its can’t miss cover!
When I handed an early draft of NICKEL to my friend Christopher to read, he said the first person voice of my narrator Coy was almost impossible to understand. I had based Coy and his best friend Monroe on many teenagers I’ve taught over the years as well as my son London. Many of my living inspirations spoke in a unique type of shorthand—inside jokes, abbreviations, obscure sources and special effects. I once had two ninth graders who would recap their weekend with all these noises, song lyrics and references to things I had no access to. I would happily eavesdrop (all teachers eavesdrop), trying to decipher their cryptic language. Even my son London, who is now fifteen, can talk to me for 45 minutes (I’ve timed him) on Magic: The Gathering or FNM (Friday Night Magic), and I have no idea what he is talking about. I mean, I know the words are English, but they are part of a lexicon I’m not privy to.
I realized in those early drafts that I’d cast a very small net, as my friend Claire Watkins says, when it came to audience. I’d basically written a book for those few students I’d been thinking of. As I revised, I had to make choices as to which terms or jokes kept Coy’s character intact and which needed a bit of translation for a reader. I wanted people to have access to Coy and Monroe’s world, but I needed to keep that world as authentic as possible. Those choices are not always easy. I remember one early reader objecting to a line where Coy thinks something happens “all the forking time.” The reader thought that any teenager worth a Pokemon would use the F-word (censoring myself because I am a guest here), but I’ve known many people who avoid certain words because they just don’t like them. My feeling is that Coy avoids the F-word as a tribute or connection to his mother who lives in a rehab-type facility. For years, I had my creative writing class write down the “worst words in the world” on the board and you’d be surprised by what they offered. Sure, we had your usual run-of-the-mill profanity and slang for body parts, but the most interesting words told a story. My student Zoe (who now is a successful supermodel) said, for her, the worst word was “neglect.” That silenced the room far more than some crude bit of slang offered by a kid trying to shock us.
“All your writing is a draft until you die,” someone just told me at a writer’s conference. I could tinker forever with Coy’s voice, not only because it’s like a type of music to me, but also because Coy evolved over the course of writing the book. As I look toward giving readings in support of NICKEL, I know I will make small changes as I go. I’m sure Coy would be just fine with that.
Robert Wilder is the author of two critically acclaimed essay collections, Tales From The Teachers’ Lounge and Daddy Needs A Drink, both published by Delacorte Press.
A teacher for twenty-five years, Wilder has earned numerous awards and fellowships, including the inaugural Innovations in Reading Prize by the National Book Foundation. He has published essays in Newsweek, Details, Salon, Parenting, Creative Nonfiction, plus numerous anthologies and has been a commentator for NPR’s Morning Edition. Wilder lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.