Archive for February, 2009

Peace, Love, and Sarcasm

Once when we were caught in the constant traffic jam that is Austin, Texas, my family began tossing around possibilities for family mottoes. You know, like the Windsors’ “God and my right,” although that one’s kind of snotty. Finally, my younger son suggested “Peace, Love, and Sarcasm.” That struck all of us as a great idea.

I’m a fairly sarcastic person. So is the rest of my family, probably because they’ve spent so much time with me. In most cases, this is not a particularly helpful trait. When I was teaching, I had to keep my sarcasm under very strong control. For example, there’s every teacher’s favorite question: “I was gone Monday. Did I miss anything?” Now the number of possible answers to that is legion. There’s even a famous poem by Tom Wayman that lists a stunning variety of them (my favorite: “Nothing. When we realized you weren’t here, we sat with our hands folded on our desks in silence, for the full two hours”). But if you say anything beyond something like “Check the syllabus,” or “See my PowerPoints on line,” you risk having a very pissed student who will definitely remember this day when teacher evaluations come around. Not being able to say what I was really thinking made me grumpy and probably helped to develop my reputation as the departmental terror.  

But writing has been my salvation, folks! While I try to limit my sarcasm in person, I can let my characters run roughshod over everybody in their collective path. They’re sarcastic to strangers, to each other, even to themselves in thought (Docia berates herself because after four years of college English, the only description of the naked Cal she can think of is “Wow”). And nobody ever takes offense, or if they do it’s because they’re sort of jerks themselves.

But, of course, nobody can be sarcastic all the time. Or almost nobody. That’s where Wonder Dentist comes in. Wonder sort of pushed himself into Venus In Blue Jeans without my anticipating it. When I wrote the first chapter, having thought about it for several weeks, I knew that Cal would be talking to somebody in the bar. At first I thought it would be one of the cops, perhaps Ham Linklater. But as I started writing, this character suddenly appeared at Cal’s elbow, smart, snarky, definitely sarcastic. What was his name? The answer—Wonder Dentist—popped into my brain without any prompting. In my Konigsburg books, Wonder functions as sort of an all-purpose sidekick: Cal’s best buddy in Venus and Pete’s guide to Konigsburg in Wedding Bell Blues. Originally I gave him an airhead girlfriend who ended up choosing Ham over Wonder, but she disappeared when Allie came on the scene.

Wonder is terrifically useful. He can comment on the scene, make snarky remarks about people or animals (he can always be relied on to always say something nasty about Pep), provide a sarcastic guide to Konigsburg customs (see the Liddy Brenner Festival), and nobody ever gets upset with him. It’s just Wonder, after all. The only problem came when, in my current Konigsburg WIP, I wanted Wonder to get serious. He loves Allie. Sooner or later the two of them need to get together for real. I’m still working on this problem (that’s why it’s a WIP), but Wonder seems to be up to the task. After all, everybody has to suffer occasionally, even sidekicks.

I’m still, I must admit, a sarcastic person. But I’m doing better about keeping it to myself. And now, when I find myself really wanting to put somebody in their place, I’ve got Wonder to do it for me! Believe me, that’s one of the many reasons I love Konigsburg!

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My big news for the week is that Samhain will publish Wedding Bell Blues, the sequel to Venus in Blue Jeans, sometime this summer (tentatively in July). In a lot of ways Wedding Bell Blues picks up where Venus leaves off. Cal and Docia are getting married, Reba is running the show, Wonder is sitting at the Dew Drop making sarcastic comments, and everybody drinks a lot of wine. But I’m also introducing some new characters, most of them Toleffsons.

Remember how Cal has three brothers? Of course they all come to the wedding. His brother Pete is his best man and his brother Lars is his groomsman. Pete’s a workaholic county attorney from Des Moines, trying to relax so that he can enjoy his brief vacation. But he’s a natural protector, and even though he tries not to get involved in the whole best man thing, he can’t help himself. Docia’s maid of honor is Janie Dupree, from Venus. Janie and Pete don’t exactly hit it off at first, but of course first impressions aren’t always lasting. Pete and Janie have a lot to contend with, given that Mama Toleffson and Reba Kent don’t exactly hit it off.

A bigger problem is brother Lars and his trophy wife Sherice. Since Lars is a Toleffson, he’s 1) a nice guy and 2) Mr. Responsible. He’s also an accountant, which means he may never be the billionaire that Sherice is looking for. Sherice, in turn, is ready to find a more promising husband, someone who’ll keep her in the style to which she’d like to be come accustomed. Texas seems like a good place to look for billionaires, but she has to get rid of Lars first. Needless to say this marriage doesn’t have much of a future, but Lars has a daughter to worry about, too.

So what about the other brother? That’s Eric, the oldest brother nobody likes much because he was such a bully when they were kids. Cal hasn’t invited him to the wedding. But that doesn’t mean Eric won’t show up, probably at the point when people least expect him.

Does the wedding take place? Of course. This is Cal and Docia we’re talking about. Will it be the wedding Reba envisions? That’s not quite such a sure thing. Will there be all kinds of problems, comic and otherwise? Also of course. Will Pete and Janie fall in love? Well, it is a romance, after all. 

I’ll be posting more about Wedding Bell Blues, including excerpts, as we get closer to the release date, but I hope y’all will join me back in Konigsburg. Like Tom Bodett used to say, we’ll leave the light on for you.

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