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For Children’s Author Rob Buyea ’99, G’00, Writing Is Both ‘Humbling and Rewarding’
When Rob Buyea ’99, G’00 first began teaching, he remembers talking to his students about writing and challenging them in their skills—but he wasn’t doing that himself.
“Simply put, that didn’t sit well with me, so I got started. I said to myself, ‘You can talk the talk, but can you walk the walk?’” says Buyea, reflecting on his journey out of the classroom and toward publishing award-winning middle grades novels
These days, Buyea doesn’t so much walk as run. The former Orange wrestler, elementary and high school teacher, and wrestling coach is now the Penguin Random House author of two popular book series—”Mr. Terupt” and “The Perfect Score”—and the stand-alone novels, “What Comes Next” and “The Daredevils.” Much in demand, Buyea visits schools across the country and—virtually—throughout the world.
Despite his success—which includes numerous accolades for his books—Buyea, who studied biology and elementary education in the School of Education, remains humble about the origins of his vocation: “I began writing so that I could become a better teacher of writing, and that happened because of my students. They were my inspiration.”
With his inspirational students and inquisitive readers in mind, Buyea put aside his latest manuscript to discuss “creative concoctions,” why he prefers not to physically describe his characters and whether Mr. Terupt will ever star on the big screen.
01After challenging yourself to write more while still a teacher, how exactly did you start to “walk the walk” as an author?
I got in the routine of crafting short stories that I would share with my students as examples. But more than that, I was building energy, excitement and community around writing. Doing that work required I spend time thinking about stories more and more.
Eventually, there came a day when I got hit by an idea that grabbed hold of me like never before and that put me on the path of writing my first novel, “Because of Mr. Terupt.”
02You've said your books are "loosely based" on your experiences in school—can you elaborate on this?
Having been a teacher for many years, I met wonderful students, tried a lot of projects and shared unforgettable days with twists and turns along the way. It left me with a trove of classroom memories that have inspired characters and ideas.
I should make clear, when slipping these memories into my stories, I add plenty of imagination to make it better. That’s the fun. For instance, I had a great time with students during our biology plant unit. I will never forget the creative concoctions they invented when given the freedom to feed their plants their own special potion. That experience came in handy when writing “Because of Mr. Terupt.”
03How does what you learned while earning a master's degree from Syracuse's School of Education inform your stories?
What you read in my books is a reflection of my classroom, which certainly goes back to what I learned at the School of Education.
My undergraduate degree is in biology, and that was the extent of my reading until pursuing a master’s degree in elementary education. One requirement in Professor Donald Leu’s literacy class was to read a hefty number of books. I loved it. The idea of talking with students about the texts we were reading and pushing their thinking got me very excited.
It should be no surprise that my teacher characters are often book lovers. Any book they share is a book I’ve read and loved. Passionate readers like to talk about their reading.
04How do values—such as diversity, inclusion, and equity—infuse your books?
These values are definitely buzzwords—for good reason, as they are important.
My characters often come with complex backstories that touch on many different areas of life. In addition, when reading my books, you’ll notice I rarely tell my reader exactly what my character looks like. That hasn’t changed. It’s up to my reader to picture them any way they want. Trust me, they are visualized in all sorts of different ways. It’s fun for me to see the many different sketches and drawings students make for my characters.
Creating characters that young readers connect with and see themselves in is of the utmost importance. This is how diversity, inclusion and equity infuse my writing. It also speaks to the vital importance of books.
To read the unabridged version of this interview, visit the School of Education website.