If you’re joining us today, I’m with Timothy Power, author of The Boy Who Howled. Last week, in part I of this interview, we donned disguises and spoke of his time in the Nickelodeon studies, among other topics. This week, we’ll begin with a portion of the back cover synopsis of TBWH as per his publisher, Bloomsbury Books.
As far back as Callum can really remember, he’s been living in the Wild as the furless mascot of a wolf pack. But when his pack sends him back to live with his own kind — humans — fitting in is quite a challenge. He doesn’t remember English very well, so he accidentally says his name is “Clam.” He’s spent most of his life eating fresh-killed elk, so dining with vegetarians is tricky. And when he tries to impress the Alpha student in the school cafeteria by stealing food, people seem offended!
You have a knack for writing dialogue in which each character has his/her own distinguishing speech patterns. Any tips on how to do so?
Wow, thanks! When I think up characters, they usually already exist as people to a big degree, which is weird. Maybe all writers are a little schizophrenic. In early drafts I tend to lazily give them speech and actions that don’t agree with them, and then they complain about that loud and clear during rereads. Sometimes I give them catchphrases. In THE BOY WHO HOWLED, Charlie the cabbie adds “am I right?” to his various proclamations, and world-famous wildlife wrangler Buzz Optigon says “and I’m not just whistling ‘Dixie’” to emphasize a point.
I love your website. It’s kid-friendly, but interesting for adults, too, and as such, I think tailored precisely to your target audience. How do you find all the interesting sites you’ve linked to? Any advice about website construction to the writers in the crowd?
All I did was shamelessly purloin links from websites of readers and writers I like. If anyone wants to purloin links off my site, they’re welcome. In fear of copyright infringement I studiously credit sources for all the pictures and media links I put up. I would hope that anyone thinking of starting a website is doing it because they want to, not because they feel they must. I love it when website creators stay true to their own quirky impulses. There’s nothing worse than when it’s clear they’re attempting to cater to a certain “audience.” I think you should start out in any creative endeavor really wanting to please yourself.
One last appeal to your inner educator: I found your book trailer quite delightful and thought it captured both the book’s sense of humor and its premise. In your opinion, should authors invest in a book trailer? If they should, what should be their goal?
I have no clue about what makes a good investment, Jan! Believe me, I wish I could give advice about that! I made the trailer because it seemed like a fun thing to do. Fun is a terrific motivator for me. To put all the elements of the trailer together took time but little money. I licensed the still photos from iStockPhoto for a nominal fee, and used the free sound effects in iMovie.
Timothy, I’ve said elsewhere that your fiction reminds me of Roald Dahl. Your humor is such an integral part of your book, I want to give our readers a taste of your actual writing. First I’ll quote from early in the book, when Callum is still with his wolf family. Then I have a followup question.
It was obvious that none of the rest of the family had the slightest idea where Callum fit in either, although Mom would sometimes call him her little Pig Face or Salty Lollipop. At least, he imagined she did.
To Dad, of course, he was more like dinner than anything else. There was no mistaking the voracious gleam in those glittering yellow eyes, or the buckets of foamy saliva that poured from his jowls whenever Dad looked at him. But Callum didn’t take it to heart. Everything reminded Dad of dinner.
I’m curious about how much of your humor is purely your own, and how much you learned from your family. Do your parents and sibs appreciate grisly humor? Were there running jokes in your childhood home?
My brother is hilarious, very deadpan. My sister can crack wise too. Maybe there’s a gene for it passed down to us through our Irish ancestry. I certainly learned how to hone a wiseacre remark from practicing with them when we were growing up. And no, we don’t have any running jokes. We are far too proud to work with stale material. 🙂
I’m a fan of satire. The Boy Who Howled pokes a lot of gentle fun at new-age behaviours which, to this outsider, seem to be epitomized by Los Angeles’ culture: positive affirmations, veganism, trendy activism, education systems and parents who contort themselves around building a child’s self-esteem. How has your environment shaped you as an author? Will your next book feature the same background?
Los Angeles isn’t the only place where the culture you describe exists, Jan! I like this Wild West Shangri-La, and will stand up for it! And I’ll remind you that the unnamed city in THE BOY WHO HOWLED is more like New York than anyplace else. I really think the “New Ageisms” in the story are the results of valid concerns. Animal lover Lila is a devoted vegan. Frieda, the bully Billy Bankson’s beleaguered nanny, has turned to the self-help book Dealing With the Troubled Child out of total desperation. Mrs. T-G sincerely wants to create a nature conservancy out of the kindness of her heart.
What I think I really satirize is human behavior, things like pride, pettiness, selfishness. All the stuff adults and kids share in common. The biggest lie in the world is that adulthood leaves childhood behind. Look at the childish behavior (I defy you, Canadian spellcheck!) in the US on Wall Street and the banks and our political system for proof that some people never get any wiser as they get older. Reading the news today makes me wish the so-called adults would step in and take over. America as a whole is incredibly juvenile, and not in a good way always (unlike me). When I’m not crying my eyes out about it, I find it quite hilarious. The part of America I love is childlike, not childish.
You are a tall man. You have a Masters in Fine Arts and have been known to play keyboard in an indie band. Will any of these handicaps make their way into your fiction? 😉
Stanley Kramer, the kid in THE BOY WHO HOWLED who’s in the Blue Level at the Hargrove Academy for the Gifted, Bright, and Perceptive Child, is tall. He’s actually apprehensive about how tall he’ll get, and worries that he might grow to be as tall as a building. Tinto the genius painter elephant at the zoo certainly knows his way around a canvas. And the “bell” that starts classes at Hargrove is actually four musical notes played on a xylophone broadcasted over the PA system. So my various handicaps have already made their way into print! 🙂
I can’t wait to see what you come up with for your next project. Perhaps some Barry Manilow, as we discussed in a super sekret conversation on Facebook the other day… ? 🙂 At any rate, thanks for being here today, Timothy. I’m sure good things lie ahead for you and your book!
And now, peeps, Timothy is available to take your questions. Also, there’s a copy of The Boy Who Howled still up for grabs. To be entered in the draw, leave a comment or question in either portion of this interview. The winner will be chosen by RNG and must live in continental North America to qualify. For a double entry, retweet this post, post a link on your Facebook page, or a link on your blog, then make sure to post the url below. Contest will be open until midnight MST November 28, 2010.
Thank you all for being here! Don’t forget to do an obligatory wolf howl on your way out. 🙂