Let’s look over your writerly bio. It says here you’ve written two books on your love of the rock band Queen (God Save My Queen I and II), a book of poems (The History of My World Tonight), something called “humorous nonfiction” (How to Be Inappropriate), and edited a book of sestinas (The Incredible Sestinas Anthology). What’s this book called?
It’s called Shader: 99 Notes on Car Washes, Making Out in Church, Grief, and Other Unlearnable Subjects.
That’s a pretty long-ass title.
You can call it Shader for short.
Where does the “99 Notes” part come from?
I wrote an essay every day for 99 days, all of which I titled “Notes on [fill in the blank here].” It ran on my website. I really like Susan Sontag’s “Notes on ‘Camp’” and wanted to be as smart as Susan Sontag, so I used her title convention and format. I did not become the next Susan Sontag, but I did write 99 essays, and it was fun to write in a segmented, numbered format.
It’s a cool number. There are a lot of associations. Nena sang about 99 red balloons, Jay-Z rapped about having 99 problems. Toto has a pretty cool George Lucas-themed song called “99.” There’s the 99% who don’t have the money or power. We throw 99 bottles of beer on the wall, shop at 99 Cents Only Stores. And “1999” is a pretty superb Prince album and song. Then there’s 99: The Press, which publishes books that are 99 pages or have 99 elements in them. We met and a book was born.
I noticed Billy Squier, the rock icon behind “The Stroke,” “Everybody Wants You,” “Lonely Is the Night,” and the most sampled drum beat in the world, wrote a blurb for your book. How did that happen?
I’m a big fan, but that’s not the reason he’s on the back of the book. One of the Notes I wrote came about the night I went to see Billy Squier at a concert in Long Island. He was just solo, playing a guitar, and he sang a song called “The Pursuit of Happiness,” from a solo acoustic album he put out, which affected me really deeply. Something happened the night I heard that song. You’ll have to read the book—I don’t want to give it away. But Billy’s song appears in the chapter that kicks off the whole book, the whole series of memories the leads me to ask those memoirist questions: Where do I come from? Why did I turn out the way I did? When I published the essay online, Billy linked to it, said some nice things, and he was kind enough to take a look at the book when it was finished.
So you’ve written poetry, essays, op-eds. What genre does this book fall under?
I call it a memoir of linked essays.
That’s pretty pretentious-sounding.
I’ll stop calling it that, if you want me to.
Please do stop. What is it really about?
The classic memoir theme: coming of age.
Where did you come of age?
Maple Shade, NJ.
Is that where the title comes from? It doesn’t come from “throwing shade,” defined as the issuing of a raised eyebrow that could be taken as coming from refined curiosity or mild disgust, or a compliment that could be interpreted as an insult?
I do throw shade sometimes, but people from Maple Shade refer to themselves as “Shaders” the same way people from Texas call themselves “Texans” or people from Liverpool might call themselves “Scousers.”
What’s Maple Shade like?
Like a lot of Shaders, I grew up in a blue collar, working class, staunchly Catholic family, where we had a lot of fun, drank beer, and struggled through the Reagan recession. When I graduated high school, I couldn’t leave the place fast enough—you can feel isolated in a small town. But leaving a place like Maple Shade is never that simple. Like someone once said to me, “it’s the original ‘Town Without Pity.’” Still, memories linger. Places come back. You go to other places where people might not have the most realistic perspective on what’s really important or what it means to work, and realize that growing up in a place like Maple Shade isn’t exactly as oppressive as you once thought. And when I started my own family, I saw Maple Shade much differently.
It’s a place that seems set apart from many parts of reality. In many ways, when I was there, we lived in a bubble, complete with a 5 & 10 store, our own ice cream stand and cheese steak and pizza joints. Everything you could need was right there, except for maybe a trip to the Cherry Hill Mall.
Oh, I’ve heard of Cherry Hill!
Of course you have. Everyone who isn’t from South Jersey seems to know someone from Cherry Hill. Or had a college roommate who was from Cherry Hill.
Why is that?
It’s a magical place. It’s named after a mall, and people as diverse as feminist icon Andrea Dworkin and Asteroids champion Scott Safran came from the Hill of Cherry. Cherry Hill is the capital of South Jersey.
South Jersey is not a state.
It is to a lot of people. Just ask Lisa Borders. South Jersey is not the same as North Jersey. People from South Jersey root for Philly sports teams, speak a completely different accent. We eat different foods, like soft pretzels, cheese steaks, and scrapple.
What is scrapple?
I have no idea. But it’s delicious.
Author photo by Thomas V. Hartmann
DANIEL NESTER is the author most recently of Shader: 99 Notes on Car Washes, Making Out in Church, Grief, and Other Unlearnable Subjects (99: The Press 2015). Previous books include How to Be Inappropriate (Soft Skull, 2010), God Save My Queen I and II (Soft Skull, 2003 and 2004), and The Incredible Sestina Anthology (Write Bloody, 2014), which he edited. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Morning News, The Rumpus, Best American Poetry, Third Rail: The Poetry of Rock and Roll, and Now Write! Nonfiction. He is an associate professor of English at The College of Saint Rose in Albany, NY, where he edits Pine Hills Review and runs the Frequency North reading series. You can also find him on Twitter.