Friday, March 4, 2011

Winner Interview Series: Alan Silberberg, 2011 Sid Fleischman Humor Award

Alan Silberberg
In a recent post, I announced the winners of SCBWI's 2011 Golden Kite and Sid Fleischman Humor Awards. These award recipients will be present at the 2011 Annual Summer Conference (the 40th Annual!) to be honored and offer acceptance speeches, but the SCBWI HQ didn't want you to have to wait that long to hear from these outstanding authors and illustrators. So in the coming weeks, I'll be offering interviews with our winners...starting today!
To kick off my Winner Interview Series, I talked with Sid Fleischman Humor Award winner Alan Silberberg, author of MILO: STICKY NOTES AND BRAIN FREEZE. Alan is in good company (as you'll see below), and we're thrilled to have him among the talented and funny winners of the Fleischman, the only award espeically for authors of humorous books for young readers, started by, and now decidated, to the late, great author for which it's named.

"I really want to express my gratitude for receiving this honor," says Alan Silberbeg. "You know, a lot of the editing and much of the initial cartooning for this book was done while I was the Thurber House Children's Author in Residence and there's something really wonderful about getting an award for humor that connects back to James Thurber and that amazing experience. Thank you SCBWI. Let's all go out for iced coffees!"

Below Alan tells us about his award-winning book, reveals why he writes for tweens, discusses the importance of humor, and offers a few tips on being funnier. 

Tell my readers about your Sid Fleischman Humor Award winning book MILO: STICKY NOTES AND BRAIN FREEZE. What led you to write for a tween audience?

My book is the funny and heartfelt story of Milo, a quirky kid with a unique look at his life, who is starting yet another school and navigating the brave new world of junior high. He has to deal with everything that goes along with that: the prettiest girl he's ever seen; the new best friend who's even goofier than he is; the annoying girl next door, who isn't so annoying after all. But as Milo makes his way through this new year, he is also aware of the fog he has to push through every day. He is slowly realizing that he hasn't really been okay since his mother died, and the book tells the gradual story of how Milo figures out how to fully grieve and say the goodbye he never got to say. It's a book about remembering and honoring a lost loved one through the eyes of a funny kid, who worries too much.

I think I've always been on the path to writing for tweens. For one thing it's such a great age, when everything is changing and the world just stretches so far ahead of you. It's also an age I can still relate to for some reason. Maybe I'm perpetually stuck at 14, which would explain why my bedroom looks the way it does.

Alan Silberbeg won the 2010 Fleischman Award for MILO

What does winning this award from SCBWI mean to you? Will your acceptance speech at the Annual Summer conference be funny? (No pressure.)

 Winning the humor award named for Sid Fleischman has put me in a state of awe. Also, to have your work selected by peers and stamped with a big, bold, "HA-HA" is still a stunning feeling for me. On a deeper level, because the book is such a personal story and because it deals with the all too real issue of coming to terms with the loss of a parent--it is so gratifying to be recognized for the humor of MILO. The award really reinforces my initial goal to write a funny book that captures the pain of adolescent grief. All along that's what Liesa Abrams (my wonderful editor at Aladdin) had been saying to me. That this story is funny and real and needs to be told.

A funny speech, huh? I'm already worrying about that! But if nothing else--I can always read from my teenage journals. There's definitely some laughs there!

Humor seems to come naturally to you. Is comedy something you’ve always dabbled in?

It's fair to say that I have always had a decent sense of humor. But I am not now, nor have I ever been a good joke teller. I was always the kid who stood to the side of the group and waited for the moment to drop in a perfect one-liner that made the other kids laugh. I think that side of myself really came out after my mom died and I could use it as a defensive technique to avoid getting too close to people. But I always liked being funny. In high school I remember a talent show where this other kid and I were the running gag throughout the night. I got a taste for hearing audience laughter. In college two friends and I formed a comedy group called "Mashed Potatoes" and we did live performances and a radio show. That was when I started realizing how much I liked to write funny stuff and once that switch got turned on, there was no going back.

Why is humor important in books for young readers? Can writers learn to be funnier? Any tips?

In my opinion, humor is important EVERYWHERE, but especially in the books kids read. Funny books have such a special place in the evolving reading lives of kids as they grow up. CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS captivated my son when he was 6 and showed him that he could read on his own and laugh at the absurdity on the page. As a parent, it was powerful to watch that happen. When a book has something serious to say I do think that humor can sometimes be the package that the message gets wrapped inside. And I'm all for that. Not that all books need messages or that all message books need humor. I just think kids need to laugh as much as humanly possible.

Hmmm...Can writers learn to be funnier? That's a tough question because I do believe funny is something you either have or you don't. I mean, look at certain political people: not funny. But let's assume that a writer already has a good sense of humor and can write a funny scene or bits of funny dialogue. I would give the same advice I give to kids in schools--read as much funny stuff as you can and pay attention to what a writer does that makes you laugh. To me, shorter is funnier than longer. Dialogue isn't always funnier than action. And if all else fails, add a kid in a gorilla suit.

You said you’ve heard from past Fleischman Award winners Lisa Yee, Allen Zadoff and Donna Gephart. Give us the scoop—is there a secret club for funny, award-winning children’s authors that you’ve suddenly gained membership to? And what are the meetings like?

I did hear from some of the past winners and that was really nice. Of course, it also made me shudder to realize that I am now in such esteemed company. I mean have you read their stuff? They're really funny! I haven't yet been told what the secret club handshake is but have heard that there might be an initiation test involving hot coals, elf shoes and a rubber chicken.

What are you working on now? Do you have any upcoming project you can tell us about?

 I am just finishing the first draft (yay!) of my next book which is also a middle grade novel that will be illustrated with my cartoons. It's a funny, crazy story about two best friends who get more than they bargained for when they send away for an online cartooning kit.


Deniz Bevan said...

Congratulations Alan!
Great interview. Elf shoes, huh...
I really enjoyed Milo - can't wait till my niece Summer is old enough to read it for herself!

Wild About Words said...

Alan, who told you about the rubber chicken? It was supposed to be a secret.
So happy for you; so well-deserved.
Your new book sounds wonderful!

Anonymous said...

Congratulations. This world needs as much funny as it can get. Thanks, I enjoyed this interview.