I got a chance to really think about the art of balancing craft and mass appeal recently, when I was doing a newspaper interview and encountered this as the first question:
"The recent publishing trend in boys' books has incorporated toilet humor, blood and gore in an effort to gain boys' reading attention. Your Weenies series incorporates this type of humor. Despite what critics say, do you believe that these kinds of books have a place in reading today? If so, why?"
Yikers. That seemed to be a bit loaded, but here's my response:
My first story collection appeared in 1996, so I think I'm safely ahead of the bandwagon. I guess I'm ahead of the meat wagon, too, since there's actually very little blood and gore in my work. The stories have been called "Twilight Zone for kids," by more than one reviewer. While I do have some shocking endings, I tend to pull the camera away before things get graphic. I use some bathroom humor. I also use a bathroom. To deny this part of our existence seems a bit Puritanical. It's definitely not an either/or situation. I might have a story where a kid drops his pants and sits on a photocopier, but I have another that pays homage to Kafka's "Metamorphosis," and one that explores Zeno's paradox. I sneak a lot of philosophy into my work, in an attempt to justify the four years I spent getting a degree in it. The bottom line is that I've had countless teachers and parents tell me that one of my books turned a nonreader into a reader. As for the issue of quality, one of my stories was voted the best young-adult magazine story of 2005 by the Association of Educational Publishers . Others have been reprinted in textbooks. Teachers all over the country are using my story, "Predators," from The Curse of the Campfire Weenies and Other Warped and Creepy Tales, to teach Internet safety. I suspect that many of the critics haven't done anything more than glance at the covers. Admittedly, the Weenie theme suggests a certain level of frivolity. But while the cover gets a kid to pick up the book, it's the stories that hold the reader. And they do this not by virtue of the occasional splash of body fluid or whiff of gas, but by a richness of plot and wealth of ideas.
Maybe I protest too much, but it felt good to lay that out. I never saw the article, so I have no idea how much of my answer survived. I'll stop now, so you folks can go out and do your own WAD celebration. Be creative. Just don't leave fingerprints.
Oh -- one more thing. I need to send a huge grin and hug to Tracyworld for the brilliant and hilarious video she made. I laughed so hard, I hurt my back.