Hilary Leichter of Electric Lit interviews the author of Nickel on the codes, traumas & mysteries of teens:
In the new novel Nickel (Leaf Storm Press 2016), we meet Coy and Monroe, two best friends with hundreds of pop culture references at their fingertips. Their lives are one long stream of jibs and jabs, a sort of zany Howard Hawks back-and-forth, madcap dialogue for the millennial. They sit comfortably on the fringes of their school’s social scene, comfortable in their comfort with one another. When Monroe starts getting sick, Coy’s world slips into harsh focus, raising questions about their friendship, and whether or not he can save it, let alone save his friend.
‘Nickel’ is not only a coin, it’s the source of Monroe’s allergy. But it’s the coin that kept popping into my head while reading — more money than a penny, but not enough to really get anywhere good. Larger than a dime, but worth much less. As big as the outsize emotions of high school, and just as undervalued.
I spoke with Robert Wilder over email about metal poisoning and teenagers.
Hilary Leichter: You did such convincing work creating the maximalist, pop-culture-soup of Coy’s inner monologue. He has a very specific way of articulating the world around him, and every sentence feels packed with allusions, puns, and slang. How did you go about building his vernacular?
Robert Wilder: All teenagers speak in some sort of code, not only to their friends but to themselves as well. This unique style of slang serves so many vital purposes and is constantly changing. I’ve studied my students’ slang for 25 years, not only in terms of their oral communication, but in their prose and poetry as well. Coy speaks code to his best friend Monroe because they are a unit and their unique shorthand unites and protects them. It’s really a form of intimacy . . .