Bill Peters, Rochester native and author of Maverick Jetpants in the City of Quality, recently took part in the Litquake panel "First-Time Authors Reveal All." Packed with great writers — Stacy Carlson, Belo Cipriani, Sarah Ladipo Manyika, and Elizabeth Percer were there, too — the event had me frantically taking notes on how to become a novelist. (Tip #1? Get good at writing query letters. Peters placed Maverick Jetpants without an agent, and the lengthy process of queries and rejections was invaluable in helping him learn to frame his book for other people.) Still, after the panel I felt like Peters hadn’t quite revealed all. So I took him out drinking.
We meandered through Chinatown, people-watching and lamenting the lack of extremely cheesy San Francisco postcards available for purchase. We decided to embrace the city’s artistic heritage and dine at Café Zoetrope, the bar/restaurant Francis Ford Coppola runs out of a beautiful patinated copper building (which also houses Coppola’s film production and magazine offices) at the border of Chinatown and North Beach. Over fancy pizza and old fashioneds, we tackled the serious topics: teen vandalism, sketch comedy, and Hollywood dreams.
But before we get into all that, a word about Maverick Jetpants. Set at the turn of the millennium, the narrative follows a young man named Nate and several of his close friends through the wilds of post-industrial Rochester. The boys are exiting their slacker years and edging towards adult responsibilities, and Nate struggles with what to let go of and what to cling to. (To complicate things, someone has been setting local buildings on fire.) Once I got to know these lost-boy characters — tuning into a sprawling slang vocab that includes phrases like "Sarcasmajaculation" and "Roasted Face of Satan" — I tended to worry about what they were up to when I wasn’t reading the book.
The City of Quality declined along with Kodak’s film sales, suffering serious urban disintegration: entire districts of nothingness, neighborhoods full of laid-off dads. For the kids, there wasn’t a lot to do but drive around, listen to loud music, and do stupid shit. “It was like really shitty performance art,” said Peters. “We’d do bad break dancing on the street. Also a lot of vandalism. It was stupid; I look back on it fondly.” The thing about your hometown, said Peters, is that “even if you’re bored, you’re rooting for it. There’s a sense of possibility there.”
But make no mistake: although the novel can gut-punch readers with moments of well-landed profundity, it’s also pretty darn hilarious. Peters’ artistic influences are unmistakable: “I learned what I know about plot through sketch comedy. I was a quiet kid, and comedy informed how I talked to people,” he said.
And should Hollywood ever come calling, what celebrity’s name could Peters see on the marquee? David Cross, in all the adult male roles. As for the soundtrack…when asked what he was listening to while writing the book, Peters admitted, “Well, there was a lot of Rush.”
We’ll let Neil Peart take it from here, Bill. See you on bookshelves…