Everybody’s Favorite Book is pitched as “The Monster at the End of this Book meets Wreck-it-Ralph.” What is it about these stories and other examples of meta-fiction that appeals to you?
I love the playfulness of meta-fiction. It gives the audience a sly little wink as if to say “C’mon, let’s have some fun. Whadaya say?”
I was always a fan of the fourth wall-breaking comedies of Groucho Marx and Mel Brooks. The Sesame Street books of the 1970s were also wonderfully meta. The Monster at the End of this Book is fantastic, but my personal favorite is the Bert and Ernie melodrama parody, The Perils of Penelope. Every decision Ernie makes in Penelope is based on his desire to create an action-packed story to entertain the reader. Bert, of course, suffers the consequences of Ernie’s actions and delivers his own exasperated asides. At the end of the book, Bert even begs the reader to never pick up the book again! How cool is that? (Answer: Very.) As a kid, I was simply dazzled. Heck, that book still dazzles me.
You’ve written everything from a picture book biography to a middle-grade series to this, a meta-fiction picture book. How does your writing process change for each new project?
I’ve been writing professionally since the late-1990s; that was when I accepted a vow of poverty to become a newspaper reporter. Despite having to spend a few extra years in my parents’ basement, my reporting career was invaluable. It taught me how to modulate my tone and style to best serve the story I needed to write. My experience at the paper informs my writing today.
Each of my children’s books required a different degree of preparation.Sarah Gives Thanks, my picture book biography, was a research-heavy endeavor. I spent a couple of months poring over archival documents before I started writing.
Everybody’s Favorite Book, on the other hand, was the literary equivalent of jumping into a pool yelling “CANNONBALL!” I just went nuts.
The Prince Not-So Charming chapter books are longer stories with more complicated plotlines, so I came up with a detailed synopsis before writing each book. This helped me a great deal; since I knew where the story was headed, I could focus more of my energies on creating fun, relatable characters.
Was there anything particularly challenging about writing Everybody’s Favorite Book?
Compared to my other manuscripts Everybody’s Favorite Book was a breeze. Once I came up with the general concept—an unseen narrator attempts to create the best, most perfect book ever—the ideas just poured out of me. I had so much fun testing the narrative limits of a picture book: Could I add spies? Zombies? A glittery princess? Something educational? Something scatological? A board book? A Space Ninja Cow? (Answer: Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes and yes.)
I had so many ideas I could’ve written a Tolstoy-sized picture book.
So the challenge of Everybody’s Favorite Book was in the self-editing—picking out what I hoped were my best ideas and shoehorning them into a story that makes sense, builds to a nutty climax, and gets readers giggling.
Is there anything else you would like SCBWI members to know about Everybody’s Favorite Book?
Yes. Everybody’s Favorite Book also features a guinea pig the size of a mastodon. His name is Snuggy and he wants to be your friend.