One of the funniest performers in Australian schools is children’s author DC Green. Widely known as a surfing journalist for many years, DC is now better known for his very funny, fast-paced novels that are peopled by highly inventive, zany characters. Here DC talks about his latest book, Monster School, the first in a series.
Can you tell readers about your latest children’s book Monster School?
DC: Monster School is, literally, about a school for monsters! Monstro City is the home of vampires, mummies, giant spiders, five different goblin types, four million monsters all up – every monster type from every human civilization. Humans are the endangered species. The human prince Thomas’s horrible life is no sooner introduced in chapter one, when WHAM! He’s attacked by a monster assassin – Bloody Mary.
Plus every chapter features fantastic monster illustrations by Danny Willis!
What inspired the idea for the book – and the series?
DC: This is my attempt to write a Lord of the Rings for the Twenty-first Century! So there are goblins, ogres, trolls and yes, a dragon! The setting is an island metropolis in a flooded world, so the potential conflict levels are ratcheted high in every overcrowded suburb. After I came up with the original idea, I spent months planning the city, allocating monster types, jobs, populations and histories. Monstro City was like a giant writer’s play-pen. So, my main inspiration is simple fun. I had SO much fun planning and writing and even rewriting this story. Hopefully that sense of fun bursts through to my readers.
This is book one of a series. How many books are planned and what is the next one?
DC: There are three City of Monsters books planned. Each will tell a self-contained story that also forms an over-arching trilogy. I have plotted this for a lonnng time (fiendish cackle). Book Two: Mafia Goblins Rule!
You have a very distinctive writing style. Can you describe it and what you do to maintain a story’s fast pace?
DC: First, thank you! When writing dialogue, I must carefully select words that mimic consistently the voice, style, prejudices, slang and sentence structure of whoever is speaking. My style also alters depending if I’m writing a first rather a than a third person narrative, or describing thoughts rather than action. But I do have personal style rules I try to follow (mostly). For example, I like to use short, punchy sentences in action scenes and more expansive sentences when describing or entering a character’s thoughts.
I believe maintaining a story’s fast pace is crucial to retaining the interest of boredom-challenged young readers. All authors need to plan carefully to maximise every scene and keep their narrative engine rumbling. If an exposition info-dump is required, turn the minimum wordage required into dialogue and sprinkle through a fight scene. It definitely helps to keep conflict levels boiling in every scene, and to constantly raise the stakes and make bad situations worse. Also essential: editing brutally. If a connecting scene is dull or not pulling its weight on multiple levels, then cull, or add spice.
How do you go about writing a book? Do you plot meticulously or does it simply evolve? As a general rule, what is your starting point – character, setting, etc?
DC: First comes the idea: a city of monsters. Then comes plotting. Lots of plotting. With an entire city of monsters, I knew I would need plenty of research time and world building. I wrote over 200 pages of background notes before I even started my story. I think that qualifies as meticulous!
Can you talk about humour and how you achieve it in your books? What do you think makes kids laugh?
DC: I’ve loved making people laugh since I was a primary school class clown. It’s an honour as an author to bring laughter and cheer into the lives of so many kids who might not otherwise have many such opportunities. As for what makes kids laugh? That’s the million dollar question! I believe, as children grow, their senses of humour become ever-more complex, requiring different types of humour. My Erasmus James books (for ages eight and up) had more word-play, slapstick, insults and the odd gross joke, while the humour in Monster School (ages ten and up) is more organic and dialogue-based. But then, I also thought Monster School was easily my most ‘serious’ children’s book and have been continually surprised when readers tell me how many laugh-out-loud moments they experienced through the story.
How do you keep coming up with preposterous ideas for characters and stories?
DC: If by preposterous you mean remarkable, then… easily! I love mixing different story elements (e.g. a school and monsters) to create something new. I have to force myself to stop thinking of novel novel ideas for fear my brain will drown and I will never live long enough to craft them all into stories.
What sort of feedback have you had so far from readers and reviewers?
DC: As I type this, the book isn’t in stores yet. But, amazingly, the feedback I’ve received so far has been universally positive. Jenny Mounfield called Monster School ‘a beautifully illustrated and tightly-woven read… filled with snappy dialogue and wonderfully witty characters,’ while Ian Irvine dubbed the book, ‘A wild, wise-cracking ride. I loved it.’ Best of all, though, were the replies from my junior beta readers. I received multiple 10/10 scores and glowing praise. Many kids even wrote their own monster stories and sent me detailed artwork of their favourite monsters. Their inspiration has in turn inspired me.
What other children’s books have you published so far?
DC: I’ve had five other children’s books published. Three Little Surfer Pigs is a fractured fairytale picture book with amazing artwork by Simon McLean. Erasmus James and the Galactic Zapp Machine is a funny and fast-paced fantasy, and is the first in a three-book series for primary school kids. Similar to Monster School, Stinky Squad is a slightly darker tale for ages ten and up. It is also features the world’s grossest teen superheroes, and an apocalyptic gawk at John Howard’s Australia.
Can you talk about the work you do all around Australia as a schools’ performer?
DC: Every year I hit the road (and airport) to perform for several weeks in schools. I’ve done the world’s worst rap in every Australian state and territory from Groote Eylandt to Australia’s southernmost school on Bruny Island. I think next year I’ll reach my thousandth show! I feel privileged to be an ambassador for reading and writing and always try to bring my A-game. I also try to balance my shows with funny material that will entertain and motivate the kids, while also introducing ample creative writing tips to keep the teachers grinning too.
What did you do before becoming a children’s author?
DC: I’ve worked in a range of jobs, but have always been at least a part-time writer. For many years I had a freeloading career as a surf journalist. I still can’t believe I was paid to surf exotic surf spots around the world and laze in hammocks with the superstars of surfing. The job also had bleaker times though with psychopathic locals, double shark attacks and covering the Bali bombings.
Do you have any advice for new children’s writers? How do you go about getting a book published, for instance?
DC: Two things. One: love writing! There is not a lot of money in children’s writing, but the community of children’s writers is wonderful and I’d rather be poor and happy doing what I love than rich and miserable. Plus, loving what you do, you’ll enjoy every step, and rejection will sting a little less. Two: keep learning. Join a writers’ group, do writing courses, read writing articles (you have much wonderful advice on this very site, Di!) and don’t give up without a fight.
Anything else you’d like to add?
DC: Yes, I have lots of links I’d like to share:
My blog, with all the latest blog tour updates: http://dcgreenyarns.blogspot.com.au/
My facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/DCGreenAuthor
My publisher’s site (for book orders): http://www.fordstreetpublishing.com
My other publisher: http://barrelbooks.com/
Amazon.com (for a kindle Monsters): http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00FDKBTVQ
Thanks for being the opening act of my Monster Blog Tour, Di!