Today, I’m spotlighting another amazing Cybils-nominated author (the winners are going to be announced tomorrow! I can’t wait!), this time the author of the amazing Because of Mr. Terupt. Teacher, wrestling coach, father of daughters, and all-around nice guy, Rob Buyea (pronounced Boo-yeah) was kind enough to take time out of his busy schedule and answer a few questions for me.
MF: First off, the blurb on your book by one of my husband’s favorite authors, John Irving, got me wondering. How did that come about?
RB: John and I first met in the wrestling room at Northfield Mount Hermon School. I coach the team there, and at the time, John’s youngest son was attending NMH. We talked whenever was saw each other on campus over the next year. After I started to get serious interest from editors about Mr. Terupt, I told John that I was a writer. He asked to see my story, read it, and loved it. I’m very lucky to have such a great person in my corner.
MF: Very cool! That is amazing. Can you tell us a little bit about the process (from inception to publication) for the novel?
RB: I was working on a different manuscript when some of the voices first began talking to me. Peter, Jessica, and Luke started in on me first. I tried not to listen to them because as I said, I was working on something else. They didn’t leave me alone, so I began to put their voices on paper. I shared the beginning with some writing colleagues, and then I knew I was on to something. I attended a conference hosted by the SCBWI where there was a first pages panel. Peter’s voice was read and critiqued on the spot. Everyone loved it. I worked to finish the story and sent it out.
MF: Did you always mean to write for a middle grade audience, or did it just happen?
RB:I knew I was writing for a middle grade audience. In fact, I imagined being the teacher standing and reading aloud to his classroom as I wrote the story. I used to love to do that. Many teachers that have used Mr. Terupt as a read-aloud have sent me wonderful emails.
MF: I agree: it would make a great read aloud. Why did you decide to write the story of Mr. Terupt and his classroom from the point of view of several different people rather than a single narrator?
RB: I had finished reading Bat 6 by Virginia Wolff not long before I began Mr. Terupt. I think that had an influence, though I didn’t consciously think about it. Imagine saying to a student, “Tell me about school today.” You’d get twenty different responses from a class of twenty. I had seven kids that wanted to tell you about that year with Mr. Terupt. Naturally, they all had something to say.
MF: I think the different narratives added to the story; it was one of my favorite things about the book. Do you have a favorite character or scene in the book?
RB: No and No. I could never pick a favorite character. One week I’m really thinking about Peter, and then the next it’s Anna, etc. And there are a lot of parts I really liked writing. I had a lot of fun with the dollar words and the scene where you see the principal’s underwear. I liked writing the snowball scene, the hospital scene with Lexie and the other girls, and James with Peter. I also really liked writing about Danielle’s grandmother. She’s important to me.
MF: Is there anything you would like (or hope) your readers take away from reading your book?
RB: I hope it prompts thought and brings laughter. I hope my readers realize there’s much more to their classmates than just what they see in the classroom. I hope my readers have many connections—to self, to classmates, and if they’re lucky, to their own “Mr. Terupt.”
MF: It did remind me of my 5th grade teacher; she was absolutely amazing. How do your experiences as a teacher help you with your writing?
RB: I had lots of students and experiences that spark my imagination.
MF: Is there some one or something that inspires you to write?
RB: I was inspired, not by my own “Mr. Terupt,” but rather by the students I taught. They were amazing—in so many ways. I began writing because of them. Turns out that writing has also filled a void in my life. I trained as a very dedicated wrestler all my life. Once I graduated college and was no longer competing, I felt like something was missing because I wasn’t training. Writing has taken that place. The mental toughness and endurance that went into wrestling now goes into my writing. I love it.
MF: What’s the last book you’ve read and loved (and why)?
Hope Was Here, by Joan Bauer. I read it because it was on Jessica’s mind while I was working on the sequel.
MF: If you don’t mind telling us, what can we expect next from you?
RB: Mr. Terupt Falls Again. Scheduled for a Fall 2012 release.
MF: Thanks, Rob, for your time!