Sunday, January 9, 2011
Story Rx: Write about Gnomes, or Other Quirky Things.
Maybe they didn't always used to be. Maybe they still aren't everywhere. I'm sure in some idyllic suburban, er, haven, there's someone out there (with the most darling gardening gloves) who takes her yard gnomes very seriously and gushes, "oh, how charming, how sweet" every time she spots one peeking out from behind the begonias.
But besides that one lady with the begonias, I'm pretty sure the rest of the world thinks gnomes are quirky.
Unless, of course, you happen to be between five and, say, ten. In which case gnome hats (with ears sticking out) and gnome shaped cupcakes and such ROCK. And rightly so.
My kids were at such a party today. Thrown by my exceedingly talented and wry friend, who made exquisite decorations including terraria and many other such gnome-ish acoutremonts that scored high on my quirky-o-meter.
As I waded through a gorgeous gnomey cake (well, not really waded through it, you know what I mean), gnome-themed decorations, gnome-based arts and crafts, and even a gnome shaped lamp, I couldn't help thinking of this faux naturalist type book on gnomes my best friend had when I was young. I used to POUR over those pages, noting the habits and habitats of gnomes as if I was reading a work of biological science or some kind of anthropological field notes. (My daughter has a similar one on fairies, and I note that she POURS over the details, including the acorn-as-bathtub, the leaf-as-bed-canopy, etc. *Note to self: must get kids book on gnomes pictured above.*)
Libba Bray's faboo Prinz Award winning novel - Going Bovine - which references not just gnome pranking but undoubtedly cow tipping (and of course mad cow frenzy). I mean, there's a road-tripping gnome in her novel who thinks he's a Norse god. Seriously. How much quirkier can you get?
In fact, the older I get I get the more I realize that quirk is my favorite type of humor. Writers who are comfortable enough with themselves just to let their wack-a-doodle all hang out, if you know what I mean; Authors who take something from pop culture, or childhood, or the ranks of social earnestness, and just turn it on its head. The best writers are those who can do this while not just getting caught up in their own witty irony, but rather be both quirky and emotionally true/vulnerable at the same time. I think this dual quality - quirkiness and heart - is part of what makes Going Bovine such a wonderful book.
Kristin Clark Venuti, whom I had the pleasure of interviewing recently, is similarly Quirky. The protagonists of her "Bellweather" novels not only live in a place called The Lighthouse on the Hill in a town called Eel Smack By the Bay, but do things like save viscious endangered animals and commit activism for the Oppressed (whether the Oppressed like it or not.) Oh, yea, and she Capitalizes Important Things. A Lot. Just her sheer degree of Capitalization makes her books Pretty Darn Quirky. And Pretty Darn Hilarious besides.
So I've been working on a really, really quirky series of picture and chapter books lately. Stuff that's so out there it makes me wonder if anyone but my equally quirky friends will 'get it.' But I guess that's the beauty of taking such a risk - by laying out there the things we think are really funny, we actually make ourselves more vulnerable than if we, say, write some melodramatic scene of woe. Real humor, real quirkiness, requires equal parts soul-bearing - cultural, personal, geographic, class, gender, age-related, you name it. Show me what you think is funny, and I'll be able to learn a heck of a lot about you.
So I think garden gnomes are funny. And Barbie. And Pez dispensers (do they even make those any more?).
What do you think is funny? What pushes your wack-a-doodle quirky button?