Last week the Summer Book Club talked about Happy Kid! This week author Gail Gauthier answers the girls’ questions about the book and writing.
When did you know that you wanted to be a writer?
In fifth grade. I had been attending a one-room school for a few years, meaning we had the same teacher year after year. She definitely wasn’t into creativity, literature, or art. (We traced pictures a lot.) In fifth grade, though, we had a student teacher who had us write a short story. That got me started down the road to becoming a writer.
Which characters, if any, are based on people you know?
I would never, ever, truly base a character on someone I know. It’s too much like using people. The possibility of hurting someone is too great. However, I do pick up little bits and pieces from various people I know or run into sometimes from people I’ve only seen once or twice. For instance, Jamie and Beth were inspired by a couple of girls I saw at an elementary school where I was volunteering quite some time ago. I exaggerated their behavior in the book. I once knew a high school teacher who was working on his doctorate and sometimes spoke about his graduate work. I used that with the teacher, Ms. Cannon, and, once again, exaggerated the behavior. And, to be perfectly honest, we do have a couple of family members who are quite negative, though I don’t believe anything that happens to Kyle has happened to either of them. (Though the boy next door to us did get sent to the school office for having in his possession a screwdriver that he’d made in tech. ed. class. But that’s as far as it went. And he’s not negative.)
Is there a back story about the magical self-help book? Is it really magic or is it all in Kyle’s head?
A few years before I wrote Happy Kid! a friend gave me a self-help book. I do read self-help books on fitness, creativity, and organization/time management, but this was one of those books that are just supposed to make you a happier person. It really did have only a paragraph or two on each page. When I finally started reading it, every few pages I’d find something that actually made sense to me, something I thought really could make someone’s life better. But, being me, instead of thinking that yes, this book could make me a happier person, I started thinking about how funny it would be if someone tried to follow the suggestions in a self-help book but not only did the suggestions not work, they made everything worse.
My books always go through many drafts, and during the writing of Happy Kid! the magical idea started creeping in. Yes, the self-help book is magic. When a magical element of some sort is added to an otherwise realistic book, the kind of writing you end up with is sometimes called magical realism. So, you see, Happy Kid! isn’t a totally realistic book.
How did you come up with the passages from the self-help book?
While I was thinking about writing this book, I started saving any interesting sounding self-help articles from magazines. The original self-help book my friend gave me was a small paperback, and I cut it up and saved those pages that interested me. So I had a stack of ideas that I thought I could use as a spring board to come up with my own self-help passages that might lead to funny scenes or some action. I can remember coming up with pieces of self-help advice and trying to write the book around them. After I’d written a few drafts, I went back to see if the passages still fit the story. Sometimes I had to move passages to different chapters or I had to create brand new ones because what was happening in the book no longer fit with my original self-help idea for that spot.
Why did you choose to feature taekwondo as helping Kyle?
I am a second dan black belt in taekwondo, and I’ve now been training for six years. When I was first working on the book, I just wanted Kyle and his friends involved with a sport so I could get them out of the school. I thought keeping everyone in the school most of the time would get dull. I wasn’t planning on the sport helping him. I ran into a problem because I don’t know much about traditional sports. I definitely know very little about team sports. So that’s why taekwondo came in. I had only been training for a couple of years then, but I certainly knew what a taekwondo class was like. I badgered the young man who teaches my morning class with questions, as well as the man who runs my school.
Taekwondo ends up helping Kyle because I was worried that the taekwondo scenes didn’t seem connected to the rest of the book. I was afraid the taekwondo material seemed like another whole story. Everything needs to be connected in a book. So I went back and added a thread about Kyle having trouble controlling himself emotionally. His lack of control feeds his negativity and his obsession with Chelsea. Therefore, the control he has to learn in taekwondo has an impact on the rest of his life, and the taekwondo storyline and the school storyline became woven together.
Thanks to Gail Gauthier for fitting in our questions before heading out on vacation. (Have a great time!) Next Wednesday the Summer Book Club will discuss The Dark Hills Divide, by Patrick Carman. Snack options are still open, but I’m not sure that I can top this.