We’re back with Lisa Doan, author of the hilarious middle grade series The Berenson Schemes: Jack the Castaway, Jack and The Wild Life, and coming in March, Jack at the Helm. In case you missed it, this is the first part of Lisa’s interview.
Berenson Schemes Book Giveaway! Leave a comment and you could win signed copies of Jack the Castaway and Jack and the Wild Life.
Here’s more of what makes Lisa tick.
FLH: Jack is the practical, responsible one, and clearly his parents are not, which is unexpected and hilarious. How have your young readers responded to this role reversal?
LD: Kids like that they are in on the joke. They can see that Richard and Claire’s ideas are bound to go wrong, and they know what they would do in a similar situation. And, it’s fun to imagine having parents like them – no rules and as much candy as you want!
The other appealing thing is the survival story aspect – kids can consider what they would do with the supplies Jack is left with each time he’s lost. There is no right or wrong way to use the supplies – Jack picks one way, but there are multiple variations on what might be done with each item.
FLH: What’s the most fun thing about writing about Jack and his parents?
LD: Well, it’s always fun to devise the new way that Jack will be lost. Richard and Claire Berenson really want to be good parents, so when they lose Jack they take steps to make sure that particular thing doesn’t happen again. But like a leaky dam, as soon as they plug one hole, another one bursts out.
FLH: Who are you most like… Jack or his parents?
LD: Oh, as I said, I’m Richard and Claire. I think everybody is born with a risk-taking temperament and mine has always been on the high side. I backpacked alone from Morocco to Kenya before cell phones, quit a good paying job to move to the Caribbean and teach scuba diving, and opened a restaurant without ever having worked in a restaurant (or cooked much). The times when I have been terrified are the times I’ve felt most alive.
FLH: Given his parental experience, do you think Jack will ever have kids of his own some day?
LD: Absolutely he will. And when he does, he will be torn between implementing what he learned about risk-taking, but also wanting to be the parent he wished for – the ultimate helicopter parent.
FLH: What’s your advice for someone who wants to write a funny story?
Strong humor seems loose and light, as if the writer just scribbled away with not a lot of revising and shaping, but humor is very structured and all about timing. I’m a fan of character-driven humor, so my best advice is to clearly define your humorous character’s worldview. That skewed view, whatever it happens to be, will be the basis for the wit of the story. Also, go back to a passage in any book you read that made you laugh out loud and really look at the structure of it. What was the set up? How did the writer lead you down a primrose path before blindsiding you with something unexpected? Often, a joke falls flat because the set up isn’t right. If you don’t allow the reader time to process the set up then it just doesn’t work. The brain needs to be mentally ready for the punch line.
FLH: What are some of your favorite humorous middle grade books that you’d like to recommend to us?
LD: I love British humor, some are so incredibly witty – The Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾ by Sue Townsend, and The Bagthorpe Saga series by Helen Cresswell are two of my favorites. For Americans, I would say my favorite, though the humor is dark, is The Canning Season by Polly Horvath.
Brilliant! Thanks, Lisa!
Now it’s your turn, Readers. What are some of your favorite humorous books? Leave us a comment, and you’ll be entered to win signed copies of Jack the Castaway and Jack and the Wild Life. Good luck!
Frances Lee Hall earned her MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts and writes middle-grade fiction for young readers. Find her at www.francesleehall.com and on Twitter @fleehall