Guest Blogger: Jill Wolfson
The four novels that I’ve written for the middle-reader and the young adult audience all deal with heavy topics – foster care, unemployment, depression, death, medical emergencies. In COLD HANDS, WARM HEART, I actually killed character – a likeable teenage girl – in the first chapter, and found myself crying while I was writing it.
My newest novel, FURIOUS, also doesn’t shy away from a heavy emotional load. It’s a contemporary re-telling of the Greek myth of the furies; the furies gave us the words fury and infuriated, so that gives you the gist of their personalities. In FURIOUS, the main characters – three high school girls with a lot to be angry about – deal with bullying, revenge and betrayal – gritty topics that would seem to indicate a serious, even gloomy reading experience.
But I think my books are pretty funny, and most readers and reviewers agree. This is definitely a reflection of my personality and the way that I view the world. Underlying all the sadness and unfairness, deep in the heart of our human experience, I happen to hear a belly laugh. I can’t help it; when things look dark, I see a cosmic joke in it.
That’s why I like writing stories that are “seriously funny” – that make you think, feel and laugh at the same time, that hold up a mirror to the uncomfortable situations that we humans frequently find ourselves in (or put ourselves in).
It’s a tricky process to write the humor in challenging life experiences, such as bullying. For me, it comes down to creating a character who reflects my own “belly laugh” sense of the world, but then changing the externals to suit the plot. In FURIOUS, the character closest to me is actually the character that least resembles me from the outside. Raymond is a gay teenage boy with an outsized, irritating personality, a genius for music and languages. He can speak Pig Latin in Latin. I’m a middle-aged mom, kind of quiet, who can’t carry a tune or speak anything other than English.
But still, in the middle of epic chaos with goddesses, Raymond has the ability to step outside of himself – a writer’s skill – to find the humor in every situation. As his closest friend, Meg, says: “He’s by far the youngest, smartest, most accomplished person in our class, but also kind of an idiot…His most recent form of self-amusement is saying things like: What I lack in maturity, I make up for in infantile behavior.”
And yes, that kind of idiotic self-amusement certainly describes the writer in me.
Thanks so much to Janice for hosting this post.
Now, I want to put out a question for all of you. Some of my favorite “seriously funny” middle-grade/YA writers include Libba Bray, Roald Dahl, Judy Blume, Sherman Alexie and Jack Gantos. How about you? What writers make you think about deep subjects, but in a way that makes you laugh?
Jill Wolfson is the author of award-winning novels for young readers, including WHAT I CALL LIFE; HOME, AND OTHER BIG, FAT LIES; COLD HANDS, WARM HEART; and the newly released, FURIOUS, all published by Henry Holt. She is also a long-time volunteer in a writing program for incarcerated teenagers. Jill lives with her family in a Northern California beach town (where FURIOUS is set). In addition to her website, you can find Jill at her blog or on Twitter.