Bad Mommy’s Shorty Q&A with Peter Rock


James Ellroy says that, “My Abandonment is an electrically charged, bone-deep, and tender tale of loss and partial redemption.” I say that, “My Abandonment is written by Pete Rock! I love Pete Rock! He’s so cool and funny and smart and I wish my last name were Rock. Your first name could pretty much be anything and sound good with ‘Rock’ at the end.'”

But in all seriousness. My Abondoment is inspired by the true story of a father and his thirteen year old daughter found living in Portland’s Forest Park. The novel recounts the ingenious ways the two survive and escape detection. The actual father and daughter had lived in this wilderness for over four years; after being captured by authorities, they were relocated, and then suddenly disappeared.

Ladies and Gentleman I give you Pete Rock…

The Rumpus: Describe your book in one sentence.

Peter Rock: Sometimes you’re walking through the woods when a stick leaps into the air and strikes you across the back and shoulders several times, then flies away lost in the underbrush. (That’s the first sentence of the book, too; need one go further, if this does it?)

Rumpus: Describe your book in one word.

Rock: Bittersweet. or Pretty.

Rumpus: You have a little girl and a baby on the way. When do you write? Do you make your wife do everything?

Rock: I finished this book before my daughter was born; I was racing her. Since then, hmm. When teaching, I try to stay in contact with the current book; this means sometimes half an hour, sometimes an hour a day, sometimes more on weekends. Usually around 3 in the morning or something, which is when I wake up.

My wife does do everything! However, she is 8 months pregnant and works about a hundred hours a week as a physician, so a large part of my existence involves driving a car with three carseats in it (my daughter Ida and my two nieces) all around town. A lot of diaper changing, bath taking, cleaning up, cooking. I’m completely domesticated and I do need to write to be happy, but my inability to get to it the way I like is a source of confusion and bewildering pain. If I didn’t have a teaching job, maybe I would be writing more or better; I wouldn’t trade the daughter, though.

Rumpus: Do you have any problems with alcohol?

Rock: Yes! I like it. I can’t drink like I used to, however. Mostly because I just don’t have time and I don’t recover well, and most of the people I’d drink with are bigger than I am. If I drink more than one beer I tend to wake up at 2 in the morning and be unable to sleep again. And insomnia’s a problem anyway; I get pulled into these terrible alcohol and caffeine spirals. There are many delicious drinks, however. I wish I could drink them more often. Someone was just mentioning making an album of children’s songs called Daddy Drinks Because You Cry. Anyway, not a problem (and I realize that my denial, here at the end, is a sinister sign); my life might be easier if I didn’t drink at all, but would it be happier?

Rumpus: That would be a great album. The follow up could be, Mommy Cries Because You Drink. So, how else do you unwind?

Rock: I spend a lot of time swimming. It’s quiet. I also like riding bicycles and reading books about talking animals.

Rumpus: You teach at Reed College. What do you like least about your students?

Rock: How much they talk about how hard they work. I love them for it, too; it’s an exhausted kind of swagger.

Rumpus: Remember when I visited your class and in your introduction you said something about me drinking at playgrounds? That was awkward.

Rock: I do remember that. I am really sorry if you felt it was awkward; I felt like when I was told that story it was a testament to how cool and together and still untamed you were, but maybe without that context it sounded different. I was meaning to show that you were a renegade outsider and that I could give you a hard time in public and thereby suggest that you and I were tighter friends than we were/are. So that was a mistake, I think. I did mean it as a compliment because I think you’re cool and want to be your friend.

Rumpus: I don’t feel so awkward about it now. Cool, together, untamed? Wow. I’m flattered, and feel like I could be in a deodorant commercial. Anyway, who would you choose to be your daughter’s nanny: Sarah Palin, Ann Coulter or Amy Winehouse?

Rock: Would I be paying them under the table? Do I really have to choose? I guess if any of these three were my nanny I’d stay home, as well, to watch them, or to point out to my daughter how not to do things. So, they could all be entertaining. I think I’d go with Amy Winehouse, even though her hours might be hard on everyone.

Rumpus: What’s your stance on Caillou?

Rock: (After a quick web search.) No stance as of yet. Ida hasn’t really watched any TV yet. I try to distract her with Elmo videos on the computer; she’s only interested in watching the videos of herself that I take with my cheap digital camera. For example.

Rumpus: I’m jealous you don’t have Caillou in the house. He looks like a penis and acts like a pussy. I’m also jealous that you sold a book in this economy. Is there a dog in it? I feel like to sell a book you need a dog in it or someone retarded.

Rock: Well, I sold it about two years ago, when everyone was feeling rich. That said, my books tend to never sell beyond three figures (i.e. units sold), so it is a minor miracle involving people I’ve known for a long time, serendipity, delusion, and the fact that the book is one of those Father/Daughter survival narratives that some people find exciting? My brother just pointed out to me that it’s actually just a rip off of Island of the Blue Dolphins; he sent me an e-mail saying, “Oh man, you mean the wild dogs get little Ramo in your book too? I’m not sure I can take that twice in a row.” Which is to say: yes, there are a few dogs. Some feral dogs. And then, later, a dog named “Chainsaw.” And I think, toward the end, some dogs being bred with wolves.

Thanks, Pete!! Now everyone go buy MY ABONDONMENT.

I'm Kaui. Mother of one, author of House of Thieves, The Descendants and the blog, How to Party with an Infant. I live in Hawaii. I'm working on another novel and child. More from this author →