What happens when an American President who keeps heart-shaped lollipops on his desk gets impeached? Well, in Rob Poulin’s All-American Kidd, former President Charles Bentley Kidd does some soul searching. He leaves his former First Lady wife, meets a young hotshot named Kenny Kernick, who gets kicked out of Harvard, and takes a road trip from deep in stuffy New England to the bright lights in L.A. Along the way, Kidd rediscovers his roots, and finds dignity after disgrace. Kernick learns confidence, and how to live his life boldly.
The settings in this novel are diverse, from the White House, to a small town diner, from stately Connecticut to crazy Las Vegas. All-American Kidd is saturated in Poulin’s love for his country. It’s also a significant accomplishment for him. Other than his wife and kids, Poulin’s first novel is his proudest achievement. As the daughter and stepdaughter of prolific novelists myself, I understand the tremendous effort and sacrifices involved in writing fiction for a living. I’m eager to promote up-incoming literary talent. After thoroughly enjoying all 795 pages of All-American Kidd, I had a good long chat with Rob Poulin. (He talked my ear off!)
The cover of All-American Kidd has a picture of one of the star-spangled heart shaped lollipops former President Charles Kidd used to keep on his desk in the presidential office. Was that the idea of Colt Press’ art department?
That was my idea. I suggested that. It’s what I envisioned. I love the white background. The former cover had a picture of Kidd adjusting his tie. I didn’t like it.
Are there any real American presidents who inspired Charles Kidd?
That’s the question I always get! I’ll tell you how he was inspired. I thought of him just after the year 2000 election. Things were crazy, no one knew who the next president would be. I was trying different things, all of a sudden Bill Clinton got in my head. what would it be like if Bill Clinton were impeached. I literally just had this thought. I grabbed my notepad, and the first chapter came out. It grew in scope to what it became. The first paragraph or two never changed. I thought he took on a few characteristics of other presidents, like Nixon. It’s interesting to see some of the presidential traits come out in him. I took pains to make him different from Clinton – I didn’t want to write a Clinton knock off.
Like Primary Colors?
Exactly. Also, I had to have a place and a city for him to meet Margaret Kidd, and Chicago was that city. If the road trip was going to St. Louis, Chicago was a place I had experience in, and contacts for research. Between Clinton and Kidd, there were coincidental similarities, but nothing that I intended. Clinton provided the model, and Kidd grew from there.
There is a lot of nostalgic Americana throughout your novel, especially during Kidd and Kenny Kernick’s road trip. What influenced you to create the various settings in the book?
I had finished the first seven chapters by 2001. I knew I wanted Kidd to be from Ohio. The sixth chapter is where they (the Kernick family) live. I had never been cross county, so I had to get in my car and do it. I did the research between Connecticut and Chicago. I went home and wrote those chapters. I didn’t know where they were going. I said to my girlfriend at the time, who’s now my wife, that I have to take this trip. I didn’t know what I was going to find. I flew to Chicago, and just drove. I stopped in La Clair, Iowa, to Nebraska, through to Colorado, to Las Vegas. I was following the road someone would take to L.A. I found these great places for my characters to get into. A year later, I said I have to verify this. I got in my car and did it again. The Americana grew from there. La Clair is a town on the river. I stopped there. I could just see this scenario. What would Kidd and Kernick do? I write sequentially. I spent 10 years writing All-American Kidd. I spent 10 years with these characters. It’s method writing, sure.
Have you ever known any kids in your life like Kenny?
I haven’t. Kenny is an amalgamation of different pieces of people I’ve known. I’ve known quiet and shy types and brilliant people. I plucked these characteristics out to make one character. He fulfilled what I needed the character to be for my theme.
Charles Kidd’s sensuality and weakness for lust got him impeached. Is that trait connected to his love of food?
I think that trait in Kidd is connected to his need for love. Kidd’s love of food is connected to his need for love. When I began to flesh him out, I knew he’s always someone who needs to be loved and approved of. The food fetish was just a symptom of that need to be loved. He settled for someone he didn’t truly love, so he found love in other areas.
I guess he got married because you have to have a spouse to look credible when you run for public office.
You bet. He also is someone who needed to be managed.
That’s kind of ironic, because he was in a position where you’re kind of considered a manager of the world.
Exactly. But most of what he achieved was driven by his wife. He just went along for the ride. It’s easy for people who don’t develop a strong sense of self to settle for a manager. Just because he enjoyed that position, he failed gloriously. But he redeems himself. It goes back to Elvis. Las Vegas was invented for comebacks.
In your first novel, you seem to have mastered the art of the third person limited perspective. That’s the technique of writing in the third person, but from the inside of your character’s head.
As a novelist, you have to learn how to handle viewpoint. I stuck to that religiously. I’d tell one part of the book from Kidd’s perspective, and another from Kenny’s. Rosemary’s Baby is the perfect viewpoint movie. She’s always there, seeing it through her eyes.
Do you feel Kidd was a good influence on Kenny or a bad one?
I think Kidd was the best influence Kenny could ever have in his life. You could see that his father thought Kidd would destroy him. Kidd taught Kenny he could face adversity and stand tall. You have to take your characters to rock bottom depths. He and Kenny hit rock bottom in chapter one. I like to take my characters to the lowest depths.
Are there parallels between your two protagonists?
The real parallel is, there are a lot of similarities between their values. Each character has three values. For Kidd, they’re love, confidence, and maturity. In my book, he went from fake love to real love, from fake confidence to real confidence, from fake maturity, to real maturity. Kenny’s values were confidence, maturity, and self determination, two out of Kidd’s three values. They both had to go through their journey to gain real adult confidence. Kenny found freedom, and Kidd found love.