Wednesday, October 16, 2013

YA Author Brenda Kearns Answers the Question "What’s the secret to writing a stupidly funny novel for teens?"

Thanks for sharing with us today, Brenda, and introducing us to your extended family. Every author seems to have their own process for writing their novels and hearing about them is always interesting and fun.

"What a delightful little book about empathy" Kandy S.
"Hysterical and Adorable" Lauren A.

What’s the secret to writing a stupidly funny novel for teens? 

Step One: Surround yourself with stupidly funny people (and drink enough wine that their antics strike you as amusing, instead of irritating). 

Step Two: Stock up on earplugs, so you’ll be able to tune them out while you write about them. A lot of crazy things happen in The Day I Washed My Face in the Toilet—and most of those things have actually happened in my extended family. A few examples:

Monica—the novel’s long-suffering main character—ends up trapped on a plane with her older sister, Shelley. That wouldn’t be a big deal, except that Shelley develops a nasty bout of motion sickness when the plane hits turbulence. Shelley fills (and then overfills) the airplane barf bag, overdoses on Gravol and then passes out, breathing acidic vomit-breath on Monica for the remainder of the eight-hour flight. It was a miserable experience—and it happened to me. I found out that my oldest daughter was prone to motion sickness just 20 minutes into a long plane flight. There were only two washrooms on board, and one had to be shut down because my kid threw up in the sink instead of the toilet. I discovered pretty quickly that “not making eye contact” is the key to getting through a painfully-long flight when your child is the reason there’s only one usable washroom on a crowded plane.

Have you ever seen a drunk parrot? There’s one in the book, and his character is based on Mortimer, a wildly eccentric parrot that my family fell in love with 20 years ago. Mortimer’s owner never wanted his beloved parrot to feel left out. So if we were drinking wine, Mortimer was drinking wine. Unfortunately, Mortimer couldn’t hold his liquor. He’d polish off his serving, then strut around on the kitchen table in sloppy circles, muttering to himself and shaking his head. Then he’d spend the rest of the evening on his perch, trying (unsuccessfully) to groom himself without losing his balance and crashing to the floor.

In the book, Monica’s sister ends up setting her hair on fire with a curling iron, because she misunderstands the difference between American and British electrical outlets. Sadly, one of my kids did that the first time she travelled to England, and she lost a big enough chunk of hair that we were able to see what she’d look like with bangs (hint: not good).

Okay, so that’s Step One—surround yourself with wacky people. But what about those earplugs I mentioned? The problem with writing stories that aren’t pre-sold is that it’s tempting to put off the work—you don’t have to clock in, there’s no looming deadline, and there’s no one tapping their fingers waiting impatiently for you to finish. To get your ideas down—and polish them to the point where you won’t cringe when someone else reads them—you need some sort of “cue” that puts you in the mood to write, no matter where you are or how hectic life is. For me, that cue is earplugs. Once I put them in, and I can hear that loud buzzing in my ears (some call it tinnitus, I think of it as the sound of my brain hard at work), then I know it’s time to write. It doesn’t matter if I’m in my office, on the porch, or trapped on a plane with a Gravol-soaked kid leaning on my shoulder. Sticking in those earplugs—and hearing that buzzing sound in my head—puts me in the mood to write every time.

So don’t shrug off the possibility of writing funny gems. Watch your family—there are bound to be a few crazies there who can provide you with the stories you need. Then find a way to shut yourself off from the world so you can really focus—if you have tinnitus, earplugs work beautifully. Have fun!

Brenda Kearns


Brenda Kearns lives on a 52-acre farm with her seven kids, two cats, and a big, goofy Great Dane. Brenda worked as a science teacher until she realized that writing was a lot more fun—and having a home office meant she could work in her pajamas. Brenda is the author of The Day I Washed My Face in the Toilet, Sleepover Zoo, Parrots and Popcorn, and There's Nothing Wrong With Claudia. All four are available in English, Spanish and French.


Twitter: @Brenda_Kearns 

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