Sunday, January 9, 2011

Story Rx: Write about Gnomes, or Other Quirky Things.

There's no getting around it. Gnomes are just quirky.

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.*)

Of course, by the time I became a teenager, gnome-pranking took on some serious cultural cache. The tongue in cheek practice of kidnapping gnomes and sending faux ransom notes, or photographing said garden figure in various sunny locales was surely the inspiration for the beloved Travelocity company's gnome. And of course then there's 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?


  1. Sayantani -- George has had the Gnome reference guide out on indefinite loan from the Tappan Library and I feel as if we need it to be part of our permanent collection! Today was fun. And, as I was driving back from picking up Tully (our dog), I stopped my car to admire uber-quirk. Made me smile so much that I raced home and asked with great urgency for Laura and George to join me for a ride to see the greatest, quirkiest, most fun snow sculpture I have ever seen. It's about 2 miles from BRS. You MUST drive by it with the kids. It's on Green Road. Not sure if it's Blauvelt or West Nyack. Thanks for coming today and I hope the family had a good time.

  2. Stas - we had a great great time. I absolutely LOVE that gnome reference guide! (and must find it again - my friend had it when I was a child) You are both the best - gotta hang with others who get what's quirky and wonderful! :)

  3. Amélie is quirky.

    Watch it. You'll appreciate why I say this all the more. (I was surprised someone else hadn't beaten me to the punch!)

    I have that same fairy book your daughter pours over, as I have often done myself. And I've been saying for years that I want/need to get the Gnome book. Thank you for the reminder. I think it would make a lovely Valentine's Day gift for my husband who, last year, brought home Ed, our very first (and so far only) garden gnome.

  4. Hi Satia - Absolutely. Amelie is super quirky. And a fabulous film because of that! Love that you have a garden gnome named Ed! I just ordered the gnome book myself - hope your husband enjoys it!

  5. Guess what? I think I STILL HAVE THE GNOME BOOK! Tucked away in my glass-front bookshelf along with the one on Faeries...and I think one on witches, too! I LOVED that book and I, too, remember pouring over it for untold hours looking at the daily lives of those quirky little critters. Loved. it. :) I have a pop-up book version, too, where the gnomes actually swing on a thread and you can twirl a doohickey to make the evil troll hold the poor gnomes' rear end to the grindstone! Hilarious!

  6. That gnome book, and the fairy one your daughter has, sound amaaaaazing. My boyfriend has a cryptozoology encyclopaedia from his childhood that I love to spend hours on. There's something a bit perfect in the way it says "yes, these things are "silly", but let's be serious about them for a moment".

  7. Kari - LOVE that you have the gnme book. I just ordered it for the kids - I used to LOVE that book. Claire - seriously, like Satia, look into getting this book. If you're quirky-o-meter is tickled by gnomes (and exquisite, faux-serious observations about gnomes) you won't regret it! (Similarly, read Libba Bray's book if you haven't!)

  8. I have the fairy book but not the gnome book, which is a shame because the gnome guide is so much like the "David The Gnome" cartoon (it's on youtube if you are curious) I watched as a kid that it HAD to have been an inspiration. I had no idea it could still be obtained, I must look into this.
    Personally I collect quirky people, my life is full of 'em. I laugh quite heartily and frequently.

  9. musyjr - the gnome book iss on amazon! (the something anniversary edition)just ordered it... and happily I too collect quirky people (takes one to know one I think) and laugh heartily and frequently (and embarassingly, at my own jokes)! :)