With my novel BIG MOUTH debuting in stores, the time has come to launch the “Me and My Big Mouth” behind-the-book blog series. And I figured the most appropriate way to launch this sneak-peek series would be to interrupt it with a commercial break before it even gets started. After all, BIG MOUTH is full of commercial interruptions. Jingles, ads, TV commercials…they’re all in there.
There’s a logic for this commercialization of literature, I swear. It goes something like this: Competitive eaters are called “athletes”, a controversial term for those who like to debate, and debate it they do in BIG MOUTH. I mean, it’s easy to call a baseball player an athlete, isn’t it? And you’ll call a wrestler and a ping-pong player and a maybe even a fisherman “athlete” if pushed to do so, yes? How about a racecar driver? Is he an athlete? Drivers sit in the car and steer, how athletic is that? How about pool players? Pool is a competitive game with balls, sticks, and physical actions that must be perfected. That sounds like a sport to me, so pool players must be athletes, right? And curling players? (You know, curling, that sport where someone shoves a giant puck across the ice while three other people frantically sweep in front of it so it’ll slide better.) That’s a competitive game, with physical exertion and training, so curling players are athletes. How about someone who eats? Is eating a sport? I’m eating a pickle right now, but I’m not feeling particularly athletic. Maybe if I was racing someone I would? I recently out-ate my triplets at the pizza parlor in an unofficial (and totally unfair) challenge to see who would eat more, three three-year-old boys or one mommy. Was I an athlete that day? See, kind of makes you start analyzing exactly what makes someone an “athlete”, doesn’t it? The fact that you compete is part of being an athlete, I think, and there must be some kind of physical component to the sport, with some physical training outside the actual competition, too. Well, since all of those things are part of competitive eating, it makes perfect sense that eaters are called “athletes.” Sort of.
Now, with me reveling in the weirdness of the “athlete” vs “eater” debate, I decided that my main character, 14-year-old Shermie Thuff, would get caught up in the grandiose dreams of fame and licensing deals that take hold of any young athlete dreaming of the big leagues. Sneaker deals, car commercials, he dreams it all. He even comes up with a nickname (because every top-selling athlete needs a nickname, right Magic Johnson? Right, Air Jordon? Right.) and a slogan to go with it (because merchandising is all about catchy slogans, isn’t it?). Soon, Shermie becomes Shermie “Thuff Enuff” Thuff with the rallying cry, “Are YOU Thuff Enuff? I AM!” He’s sure sponsors will pound down his door when he wins the Nathan’s Famous Fourth of July Hot Dog Eating Championship, and he is already packaged for them.
Not one to let go of a fun thing, I turned the merchandizing theme on another “normal” thing in my book: a school. In BIG MOUTH, Shermie’s school district has lost its public funding, prompting them to get a corporate sponsor. My trick was to think of an appropriate but quirky sponsor. Keeping in mind that this book is about food, I thought of soda companies. Imagine Pepsi sponsoring a school. I can see it, actually. But, that was too easy . . . and too much of a stretch. These days, many school cafeterias can’t serve soda. Hmm…. no soda allowed in school cafeterias…political fights over what is allowed in school cafeterias…calling ketchup a vegetable to keep it in school cafeterias… THAT’S IT! A ketchup company! I had my sponsor: Del Heiny Ketchup Company. Every school in BIG MOUTH was now painted red, every student had to wear red, only ketchup-dunkable foods would be allowed in the cafeterias (we want as many veggies in our kids as possible, don’t we?), all school mascots were replaced by tomatoes (Proud Plums, Big Burpees….), and ketchup-related inspirational quotes were painted on the school walls. I was thrilled. Del Heiny was the kind of school were things happened. Shermie’s life there was the kind of story I wanted to tell. BIG MOUTH was the kind of book that needed commercials.
See how easily ideas evolve in writing a book? Once you start typing, things just happen. I tell this to aspiring writers all the time. You don’t have to plot out every detail before you start. From my mulling over the term “athlete” I ended up with a setting that tweaked “normal” to the left, something I strive for in my books. And, I ended up with one of the book’s key conflicts: the Mustard Rebellion. After all, if you were a kid subjected to ketchup red all day, every day, you’d want to rebel, wouldn’t you? You’d strike back against ketchup-ness. You’d do the opposite of whatever the school wanted you to do. And what is the opposite of ketchup? Mustard. Hence, the Mustard Rebellion.
So that’s the line of thought that led me to put commercials in BIG MOUTH. See, I told you there was some logic in it.
Now back to our regular programming….