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Richard Peck Talks with Roger (Video Edition)

Richard Peck talks with Roger -- video edition

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Photo: Sonya Sones

Photo: Sonya Sones

The Best Man, Richard Peck’s newest novel, will be published by Dial Books for Young Readers in September. It was wonderful to have the chance to catch up with Richard — we are good friends who met in 1984 at an ALA reception introducing his Remembering the Good Times, an exemplar of what a YA problem novel could be in the right hands. Whether you know Richard Peck from his YA realism or his historical (and Newbery-winning) comedies for young readers, The Best Man will take you somewhere new,  even while there is in it a summing-up of the author’s persistent themes and styles developed over a career that has spanned forty-five years and thirty-nine novels.

This is The Horn Book’s inaugural video edition of Talks with Roger, and we couldn’t have asked for a better subject. We’ve included some text and video excerpts from our morning together at Peck’s Upper East Side apartment; the entire conversation can be found by clicking below.

 

Richard talks with Roger about fathers

RS: Tell me about your dad.

RP: My dad? He was home every night. And unlike the other dads, as a little kid I could go to work with him on the back of his Harley-Davidson.

RS: There’s a picture.

RP: No helmets, of course. I held onto his belt. And I knew not to let go.

RS: What was his job?

RP: He ran a Phillips 66 Gas & Oil — what we called then filling station; the phrase no longer exists — a service station, in the time when you washed the windshields and checked the air. And he ran it like a club, where old, old men hung out, old men who had nowhere else to go. I sat among them, and they told me stories. They told me what it was like to ride the great wheel at the World’s Fair of 1893 in Chicago. And it just burned into my heart. I thought, Nothing that interesting will ever happen to me. And nothing did. So later, when I was old, I wrote Fair Weather, about a farm family that gets to go to that fair and ride the Ferris wheel, see their first light bulb. But then all stories are about opening the door to the wider world.

 

Richard talks with Roger about technology

BestManRS: You and I had dinner with Rebecca Stead last year or the year before, while you were working on this. The two of you were talking about how to write about the contemporary life of young people with their immersion in social media and devices, when you and she both grew up—

RP: Without.

RS: —without any of that. How do you insert yourself in that generational thing?

RP: And [my characters] were in grade school, so we’re not talking about teen Twitter, we’re talking about kids going from first to sixth grade. It gave me six hard months of my life, because I let it become a problem. I would say to parents, “When does your kid have a phone for school?” “Oh, about fifth grade.” And I’d say to teachers, “When do they have phones?” “Oh, they all got ’em in third.” I wasn’t getting much help. And one day I was saved. I realized I could play it for laughs. So I created a teacher. It’s the most autobiographical character in this book. She’s the homeroom teacher, and she’s allergic to the computer. Every time she goes past it and the printer, it prints out hall passes for everybody.

RS: There’s a funny joke early on, when Archer, who’s the hero, meets this girl at a wedding — the book opens with a wedding and closes with a wedding. She saves him from something, and he says to her, “Don’t save me again. And later, when we’re allowed to have phones, don’t text me.”

RP: And she says, “Deal.” The thought of being saved by a girl is even worse than having to be a ring bearer in a wedding, for a six-year-old. But then the techno problems came along very soon thereafter. We have to deal with this. We have to make sure that technology and instant communication do not destroy the necessary tension of a novel. If everybody knows everything, it’s not a novel. It’s Twitter.

RS: I know. I’ll even be watching TV, a show like 24 or something, some spy show. And you realize that if these people were actually using their cell phones, the story would be over in a minute.

RP: Yes. And then there is the annoyance. I was traveling in Iceland this winter, of all places, with people, younger, and I would get a text in the morning when I was in bed. They’d say, “We’re in the dining room. Are you coming down soon?” And I thought, You’ll see me when you see me.

 

Richard talks to readers about bullying

 

Richard talks with Roger about marriage

 

Richard talks with Roger about indomitable old ladies
RS: We’ve got to have a trademark Richard Peck indomitable old lady, right?

RP: Of course. A tough old lady.

RS: Very.

RP: Yes. And this one is President for Life of the League of Women Voters, so yeah.

RS: Don’t mess with her, boys.

RP: And she is a woman who loses the love of her life in this book. And she remembers being young — she’s younger than I am. She remembers being young in the seventies and being married in a field of daisies, barefoot. So she, too, carries out the motif of marriage and the wedding scene, because she remembers when she was young in the seventies, and it’s sustaining her now that she’s lost her partner.

RS: And we see then, with that, marriage is something for everybody.

RP: Yes.

RS: It brings together two people, but it also brings together a family. And it can bring together a community at the same time.

RP: Yes, it can. Can make a community. And be an occasion for joy, not a car crash. [Watch the complete interview here.]

 

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Comments

  1. This interview is a delight.

    I feel it’s the hard work of those in Richard’s and Roger’s generation that lay the groundwork for my generation (X) and the millenialls to succeed as lgbtq individuals in this country.

    Thank you. What a pleasure to see this conversation evolve and unfold.

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