Sweet Sixteener Laura Shovan recently spoke to Fearless Fifteener Alison DeCamp about her middle grade humor novel MY NEAR-DEATH ADVENTURES (99% TRUE!) (February 24, 2015 from Crown Books for Young Readers/Random House).
Alison DeCamp grew up in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan where the winters are long and conversations are short. She attended Michigan State University, taught middle school and high school, had a couple kids, and now lives in the woods with her two teenagers, husband and assorted pets. When she isn’t writing, she might be at the bookstore or reading or watching House Hunters International. She leads a very exciting life.
There are many things that 11-year-old Stanley Slater would like to have in life, most of all, a father. But what if Stan’s missing dad isn’t “dearly departed” after all? Who better to find this absent hero/cowboy/outlaw than manly Stan himself? Unfortunately, Stan’s fending off his impossible cousin Geri, evil Granny, and Mama’s suitors like Cold-Blooded Killer Stinky Pete. If only he could join the River Drive, the most perilous adventure of all, where even a fellow’s peavey is at risk.It’s a wild ride for Stan as he finds out about true manliness. But at least Stan has his scrapbook, full of 200 black-and-white 19th-century advertisements and photos, “augmented” with his commentary and doodles.Stan’s tale will leave readers in stitches, but not the kind that require medical attention.
Laura: My Near-Death Adventures has elements of a traditional tall tale. How did you come up with idea for Stan’s Story?
Alison: You know what’s funny? I didn’t realize it until you asked me this question, but you’re right! It does have elements of a tall tale! I suppose there’s a little of the Paul Bunyan influence there, but the idea for Stan’s story came directly from family history—my great-grandmother, Cora, her daughter, Alice (my grandmother), and Alice’s son Stan spent several winters in lumber camps in the early part of the 1900s in order to make ends meet. That Stan was just a baby, but I wondered just what it would have been like to be a young boy in that environment.
Laura: Were the illustrations and Stan’s scrapbook always part of your vision for this novel? How do those elements help tell the story?
Alison: The idea of including a scrapbook came, as many ideas do, while I was writing. My great-grandmother had a scrapbook, which I have now and which has the best old ads and pictures from the 1930s. I think the ads and trading cards and old pictures help set the scene for what society and life was like during the late 1800s. They also serve to illuminate Stan’s over-active imagination and sense-of-humor, as well as showing the differences and similarities between life then and life today.
Laura: There are some outlandish supporting characters in your cast. Who was your favorite to write and why?
Alison: I kind of love Granny and Geri, but Stinky Pete really took on a life of his own. In the beginning I intended Archibald Crutchley to be the main man in Stan’s and Mama’s lives but, in one of those fun writing turns, that’s not what the story dictated. And now one of my CPs even likes to tag #teamstinkypete on everything she posts on Twitter.
Laura: Writing humor feels scary to a lot of authors. What are your best tips for making a book laugh-out-loud funny?
Alison: Seriously?! I have absolutely NO idea. Humor is so subjective. I just try to write things I find funny, but that sometimes backfires since not everyone finds me funny. I also read things I find funny. I think Diary of a Wimpy Kid is great. I appreciate some good ol’ Captain Underpants. Mac Barnett and Bob Shea never fail to make me laugh. I think I just have a skewed way of looking at the world. I do tend to find humor in most things.
Lightning Round Questions:
Oddest job you ever had?
Babysitting for a couple who were married and had a 3 y.o. but refused to buy furniture because that was too much commitment.
Book review reader or avoider?
Music to write by?
Pandora Hipster Cocktail Party. Or Reggae. Or Asgeir. Or the soundtrack to Guardians of the Galaxy.
Time travel: Back in time or glimpse at the future?
Uh. Neither? I’m fond of modern-day conveniences but have read too much dystopian literature.
Most manly (according to Stan) thing you’ve ever done?
Ridden on a horse without a helmet. I’m not very manly. I’m mainly a big chicken.
MY NEAR-DEATH ADVENTURES (99% TRUE!) is available at Amazon, Powell’s, Books a Million, Barnes & Noble, and Indiebound. Alison is also making signed copies of her book available through her local independent bookstore. Visit her website for information.
About the interviewer:
Laura Shovan’s middle grade novel-in-verse, The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary, in which a fifth grade class fights to save their school from demolition, debuts in 2016 from Wendy Lamb Books/Random House. After graduating from NYU’s Dramatic Writing Program, Laura taught high school, worked as a freelance journalist, and now works with teens with learning differences. Laura is editor of two poetry anthologies and author of the Harriss Poetry Prize-winning chapbook, Mountain, Log, Salt, and Stone. She is a CYBILS judge and a Poetry Friday blogger at AuthorAmok. Laura lives in Maryland, where she is a longtime poet-in-the-schools for the Maryland State Arts Council.