February 22nd, 2007

Going all the way

Today in the paper was a story about a Portland writer whose first novel, Clown Girl, is getting a lot of buzz. And I thought about Laura’s last column about finding ways to make your writing stand out.

 The author Monica Drake says in her earlier drafts, her main character had “clownesque tendencies.”

 “I was erring on the side of subtlety,” she said. She quickly changed her character into a woman who is an actual clown. “I shifted the novel’s focus, playing up the character as a clown, amping up all the clown language and references. That made it funnier, but also played up the sadder riffs, too.” (You can see the full interview in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, here.)

 She pushed her concept to the envelope’s edge and then beyond.

 The other night, there was a re-run of The Simpsons annual Halloween show. In one segment, Bart is replaced by a robot boy, who outclasses Bart in everything.

 “Hey, that’s my story!” I protested. And it was. My book, My Brother, the Robot, which is now out of print, is all about the main character getting a robot for a brother and how much cooler the robot is than he is.

 In The Simpsons, Bart tries to show up the robot by squirting milk out of his nose. The robot promptly dispenses soft ice cream out of his nose and distributes cones to all the kids (chocolate and vanilla swirls even!) I have my robot do cool things—like instantly read and memorize a book in seconds, play the radio through his ears, clean up a room with laser like precision. (Hey, it’s funnier in the book!)

 The thing is he’s supposed to be like a real kid, only better. As Simon, the robot, says their programming is deliberately “fuzzy.” “This gives our new family the joy of ‘teaching’ us, as if we are not actually perfect, which we are, but still there is the illusion that we are like human sons, who, of course, need a lot of instruction.”

 Not being able to fly and things like that was part of the idea, but even so, maybe my robot just had “robotesque tendencies.” Maybe he should have dispensed Oreo ice cream with sprinkles out of his nose.

 Maybe it would still be in print.


Life, you are strange

Sometimes life is just oddly serendipitous. I just got this e-mail. It's not like I get mail about "My Brother the Robot" every day. And, Laura, thanks for your nice words about Robot, too. You two made my day!

Hi Ms. Bonnie Becker.

 My Name is ___________ and I'm 10 yrs old and I was doing a book report on your book called My Brother The Robot. I’m in 5th grade and I go to this new school called __________ in Texas. I thought that the book was really interesting. I liked how you described all the characters like Chip, Simon, and their Dad. You described Chip like he is a cool kid who is on the swimming team. Simon was the perfect son until Chip found out that he wasn’t. Dad is just plain strict. I'm now doing a book report project and it says that you can type or write a letter to the author and I really wanted to do that because it sounded really cool. If I was to rate that book from a 1-10,  I would rate it a 10. It would be really cool if you came to are school or e-mailed us. I think you’re an awesome author.