Thursday, May 01, 2008

In The Coop with Katie Davis

She writes. She illustrates. She makes fabulous jewelry, sculptures and sweaters. Her hysterical books are loved by children all over. What's not to love about Katie Davis? We can't get enough of her, and we think that after reading this interview, you won't be able to either. In fact, we think you'll love her so much you'll want to sign up for her "every so often announcements" on the homepage of her website, Lots of fun stuff--check it out!

How do you know when what you write is funny?
Laughing is a dead giveaway.


Actually, I’ve thought a lot about this because in my new book, The Curse of Addy McMahon, I use humor a lot as a way of leavening the serious aspects of the story.
I also used illustration in addition to writing, because the main character, Addy, keeps her diary in graphic novel format- it’s her life in a comic book so she calls it her
autobiogra-strip. I used it as a humorous vehicle to carry the most emotional and serious parts of the book. It makes it a lot easier to absorb sad things if you get some comic relief.

One scene at the end was resolved as I was driving. The solution came to me in a flash, and I burst out laughing in the car. Readers will laugh when they get to this passage too, but they’ll have been reading something emotionally intense. Without the humor to balance the impact, it would be too hard to take.

Do you have any tips for writing and/or illustrating funny books?
Yes. Be funny.

Actually, simply being funny doesn’t always lead to the desired effect. I can write funny, but learning to balance that with the poignancy in The Curse of Addy McMahon was really difficult. But I now think it’s that hard-won balance that gives depth to both the humor as well as the heartrending moments.

In fact, the manuscript was rejected a few times because though editors overall loved the voice, they weren’t comfortable with the juxtaposition of the comedy and the reality of Addy’s losses. Her father had died, her mom has a love interest, Addy loses her best friend, who then becomes BFF with her archenemy… I thought it was just like life, but novels are NOT like life. They have to be constructed for maximum effect.

That’s when I thought of using the graphic novel structure for Addy’s diary. I extracted all the hardest emotional scenes and put them in the autobiogra-strips. All of a sudden, the comedy stood out, and instead of fighting with the poignant moments, they supported each other.

It took me years to figure out that balance. So I guess it’s not just your average “Gee, I’d like to write a funny book” kind of situation.

Has being funny ever gotten you in trouble?
I wasn’t aware of my ability to make people laugh waaay back when I was a kid. Now, though, I’m pretty sure I’ve been considered rude at times because I’ll interrupt to get a laugh. I tend to be funniest in a crowd so I might blurt out something – though when people get a good laugh they’re usually pretty forgiving, luckily for me.

What are some of your favorite funny books?

Present company excluded, I love the picture book, The Cow That Went Oink by Bernard Most. When my son was little he would shake silently, he was laughing so hard. Of course it was contagious, and we’d laugh until we were both crying. I also just read the middle grade novel, The Facttracker by Jason Carter Eaton and was caught laughing out loud in public, same with The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex, and I love A Barrel of Laughs, a Vale of Tears, by Jules Feiffer. And I love Clementine by Sara Pennypacker, and the Minnie and Moo series. Oh, and I love anything by Mo Willems – the Elephant and Piggie books just slay me. So do the Lemony Snicket books. I just re-read this answer and there is a lot of love here and who can blame me? Funny books are like potato chips, once you eat one, you can’t stop.

Yes, I do eat books.

What is your dream job for a day?

To sing like Aretha Franklin. The fact that I can’t sing would not be a problem, since you did say it was a dream. And if I can’t have that for real, then the job I have now is pretty dang dreamy.

Clown vs. Mime deathmatch. Pick your winner.

Everyone knows mimes do not deserve to live, so I’d have to go with the clown. However, since my daughter is afraid of clowns, I’d be compelled to at least bend his pinkie back.

If you could live in one of your books, which one would you choose?
I’d like to live in The Curse of Addy McMahon because Addy is funny and can draw and write, and I’d love having friends like that. Wait. I do have friends like that. Never mind. I’d choose Mabel the Tooth Fairy and How She Got Her Job because if I were a tooth fairy I could fly and I would like to do that. Notice it never occurred to me that I’d be the dentist.

Do you prefer the Marx Brothers or The Three Stooges?

Marx Brothers, hands down. Are there girls who like The Three Stooges?

What was your best Halloween costume ever?

Uncle Harry’s Human Head Soup without a doubt.
It won me $2,000 in a costume contest!

I made a life-size oven out of foam core and used cables for 3 stove coils, but cut a hole where the back burner should’ve been. I bought one of those disposable heavy foil bastings pans, cut a hole in the center, and wired it over the “back burner” hole, attaching smaller foil tins inside that and put dry ice in them. I placed carrots with long green stems over the edges so you couldn’t see the dry ice. After I stuck my head up through the hole from underneath, a friend dressed like a chef basted the dry ice with water, making “steam” and voila! My head was cooking on the stove. It was proportionally correct so the effect was fantastic!

However, my mime costume was scarier.

Funniest dead person you'd like to meet?

Danny Kaye, even though I already met him. But he wasn’t dead at the time, so can I still count him? (If you haven’t seen his funniest movie, Wonder Man, check out the “Palpably Inadequate” scene. When I watch it’s good to keep a diaper handy, because I laugh so hard. That might have been TMI…)

Do you have any new books coming out?

Why yes, as a matter of fact, funny you should ask. My first novel, The Curse of Addy McMahon just hit the bookstores. If you see it, buy it. If you don’t buy it, it would be nice if you put it face out. Don’t worry, no one at the store will yell at you. And if they do, threaten to sic a mime on them.


Wendie O said...

Great Blog, Chicks. My 8-year old always wants to see if the Chicks are dressed up to suit the holidays.

And I check out your blog for great books to use in storytime. But it frustrates me when the books you review aren't out yet and I need it NOW for a storytime.

Hey Katie. (waving) Wonderful interview.

Court Jester is my favorite Danny Kaye film, mainly because I can't remember the others. Hey, your husband works in the film world. Do you think he could pull some strings to get the Danny Kaye films out on DVD?


Three Silly Chicks said...

Hey Wendie!
Thanks for the note. We love to dress up for the holidays and are glad your daughter gets a kick out of it.

We're sorry if you've gone looking for books we review that aren't out yet. We try to avoid that as much as possible and pretty much review books as we find them out in the wild. We'll try to pay closer attention that we don't review them too early!

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Anonymous said...

Hi Wendie!

Thanks for the kudos!


MotherReader said...

I have to admit that I didn't know Katie Davis by name, but I was interested enough after your interview to check her out. I do, as it turns out, know some of her picture books. And if she says she's funny - and I believe her - I'll look for her novel.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for believing me, Motherreader!



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