ATTITUDE + INSPIRATION + IMAGINATION = VOICE
by Tommy Greenwald
I’m often asked how I found the voice for Charlie Joe Jackson. (Does “once” count as “often?”) Voice is one of those million-dollar-words in children’s literature.
“I love your voice.”
“You need to work on your voice.”
“You’ve reached my voicemail, please leave a message, even though I’ll never call you back.”
Okay, maybe not that last one.
But what is “voice?” Is it an actual thing? For me anyway, it’s a combination of three things. Attitude, inspiration and imagination.
Attitude is the first step to a voice. When I sat down to write the first Charlie Joe book, I didn’t say to myself, “I’m going to create a funny, irreverent voice.” I don’t think you can be that conscious about it, because then it won’t happen. You can’t even allow yourself to be aware of the fact that you’re searching for a voice. All you can do is be inspired to create an attitude. And from that attitude comes a character. And from that character comes a story. And then, what do you know, you’ve written a book with a “voice.”
Attitude doesn’t just fall from the sky though, unfortunately. You need inspiration. And finding my inspiration for Charlie Joe’s attitude wasn’t easy. I had to walk three feet down the hall. And there it was. Or, more accurately, there they were.
Charlie Joe’s attitude comes from my sons, plain and simple. (And I’m not saying that just because their names are Charlie, Joe and Jack). Even though CJJ is in middle school and my kids are in high school, they’re all the same person. I don’t mean that my three kids are identical. Far from it. But somehow on the page, they’ve all blended together into one extremely lazy yet remarkably industrious kid.
So I was lucky. I found my inspiration in my own house. The attitude flowed easily. But then comes that last, most elusive part of the equation: imagination.
Charlie Joe’s personality comes from all my kids. His humor comes from my oldest son, Charlie. His resilience is based on my middle boy, Joe. And his laziness is extremely reminiscent of my youngest child, Jack. (Don’t worry – Jack thinks it’s a compliment). But here’s the thing. Even though Charlie Joe is all of them, he’s also none of them. Because a writer can only rely on inspiration for so long… eventually, the imagination has to take over, and create something entirely new and original. That’s where the story comes in. Everything that happens to Charlie Joe is made-up: his friends, his passions, his problems, his solutions, and his (short-lived) triumphs. And to help him deal with his own unique story, I had no choice but to give him his own unique voice. That happens by default.
Charlie Joe Jackson is part Charlie, part Joe, part Jack and entirely fictional.
CHARLIE JOE JACKSON’S GUIDE TO WRITING A SEQUEL
By Charlie Joe Jackson
As you can probably tell from the title of my first book, CHARLIE JOE JACKSON’S GUIDE TO NOT READING, I’m not a big fan of reading. And it might not shock you to learn that I’m not exactly big on writing, either. So when I was asked to write a second Charlie Joe book, my immediate reaction was, “Yeah, no.” But then I realized, hey: I could make the same amount of money (more than my allowance, but barely) by doing half the amount of work. I’m in!
Just follow these simple rules, and you’ll have a successful sequel. And by successful, I mean putting in the minimum effort required.
Use the same characters. Pretty self-explanatory. Coming up with new characters is hard. Who needs that?
Use the same setting. The middle-school cafeteria. We’ve all been there, right? So you don’t need to explain a lot about what it looks like.
Use the same font. One less thing to worry about.
Use the same title. Or, as much of it as possible. My second book is called CHARLIE JOE JACKSON’S GUIDE TO EXTRA CREDIT. I only had to come up with two new words!
Don’t worry about the first book. It’s not worth spending time reminding people what was in the first book. If they want to know about it, they’ll read it.
Well, that’s about it. There are probably some things I’m forgetting but I don’t really feel like writing anymore right now. Or ever.
Want a chance to win CHARLIE JOE JACKSON'S GUIDE TO EXTRA CREDIT or CHARLIE JOE JACKSON'S GUIDE TO NOT READING?
We've got an ARC of the sequel here, and Tommy has very kindly offered a signed hardcover of the first book. All you need to do is fill out the form below. (You'll love these books!)