I am THRILLED to have debut middle-grade author Molly Burnham on our blog. In fact, you might say I could set the WORLD RECORD in thrillsy-ness because Molly is the author of TEDDY MARS: ALMOST A WORLD RECORD BREAKER!
Teddy is determined to set a world record, no matter what it takes! What world record do you think you could conquer? Do you have a favorite world record? Did you do any unusual research for this book?
Teddy is the kid I wish I had been: persistent, determined, and obsessed. I’m certain I don’t have the qualities required to break a record on my own. Although one friend suggested I break the record for sleeping in a sweater for the most days in a row (I do sleep in a sweater all winter because I’m always cold).
Really, I’d like to do a community event-it’s part of my punk ethic-something where a group needs to chip in. I do better with loads of people around (this is true for many parts of my life except writing). So I think it would be a record for the largest group to pick up trash, or paint a mural, or create a park, or paint a school, or build a library.
I have to say, I don’t have a favorite record. I really appreciate the creativity of everyone who breaks a record. There are definitely records that don’t appeal to me as much, like having the most Twitter followers. It just doesn’t seem as amazing as running in flippers, or eating jellybeans with chopsticks.
Some of Teddy’s ideas are pretty outlandish – including a scheme involving pigeons and POOP. Where did you get these ideas? Did you have to go through a lot of ideas to get to the gems?
First off, I try to hang out with kids as much as possible. They are geniuses and they are hilarious. They remind me of all the creative ways we might approach life. Second off, I keep my eyes open for moments of funniness in everyone (including myself) like the fart scene with all the relatives. That came because my husband and I seem to fart a lot lately. (I definitely didn’t farted as much when I was a kid.) I thought it would be even funnier to have a whole family of grown-ups farting. Because what’s funnier than that? And, yes, sometimes I go through a lot of ideas to find the best one. I often sketch these out in drawings instead of writing them down, because the book is very slapstick humor, and pictures help me with that.
When/how did the idea for Teddy first come to you? Did the situation or the character come first?
Aspects of the story had been swirling in my brain for some time. I had taught third grade and was struck by how the students still loved The Guinness Book of World Records, and how much I had loved it as a kid. So I was interested in writing about a kid who loved the book. I also thought a lot about siblings and about feeling seen by your family. That came from my experience as a child, as well as with my children who sometimes do not feel like I see them, or understand them.
The first sentence came out of me like a satisfying burp. One day I was writing in my kitchen, at the time we had a cat and an enclosed cat box, and I thought, what if a kid liked climbing into a cat box? Right away Teddy started speaking, and he wouldn’t let go. After that, it was up to me to follow him and the rest of the characters around until the story was written.
Teddy has many siblings, including a little brother known as THE DESTRUCTOR, who is always ruining Teddy’s plans. Did you come from a large family? As a writer, was it hard to portray these dynamics/manage all the characters? Do you use charts, index cards, Scrivener?
I come from a small family, just an older sister. I do have a number of friends from large families, and my husband has quite a few siblings. I found in talking with them that the emotions are very similar in whatever family size you’re from, but how much attention is paid to you changes with the amount of children. Although, I would say, as a child of the 1970’s, I don’t think parents paid a lot of attention to us no matter how small the family. But I’ll be curious how my kids reflect on their childhood. Most of the characters are little bits of me, or people I know, and then a lot of imagination.
I start writing by hand in notebooks. I keep those around and scribble in them. I love sticky notes for writing notes to myself, but I don’t carefully post them on a bulletin board. I don’t even own a bulletin board. I just make piles on my desk. Mostly my rule about writing is to not have any rules. I have to embrace the chaos in my own life. Sometimes I write all day, sometimes my kids are sick, sometimes I have to go to the dentist, sometimes I get up at five in the morning, and sometimes I stay up late. I really don’t have any rules. (I tried Scrivener, but it’s too organized for me).
I do have a treadmill desk, and I walk when I’m writing. But when I’m editing I sit. Or else I feel like I’ll throw up.
Teddy has some fabulous tips on how to set a world record. What are your tips for writing a FUNNY book?
I wish I could answer this question better than to say I read a lot of funny books. Then I keep them close to me so that whenever I get serious (which can happen rather more easily than I’d like) I open one of those books and read a passage and then remember I’m writing a funny book and revise with that in mind. Right now I have a Junie B. Jones book on my desk and Emily Jenkins’ book Toys Go Out. I also watch funny TV shows.
What’s next for you?
There are two more Teddy Mars books coming out. The second book, Teddy Mars Almost a Winner, is with Trevor Spencer (the extraordinary illustrator) right now. And I’m working on the third book. I have lots of other stories I’d like to offer the world. But Teddy Mars is my priority right now.
Thanks, Molly! If you have a world-record contender in your life who would like a copy of TEDDY MARS: ALMOST A WORLD RECORD BREAKER, leave a comment about what world record YOU’D like to break!