Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Crazy About Similes!

My fall book tells a tale using only similes as the text. The easiest way to get a sense of it is to watch this video preview. The impetus to create Crazy Like Fox: A Simile Story was to follow up on a previous book of sayings (There’s a Frog in My Throat) while using a different format. Frog is a compendium of over 400 sayings; Crazy tells a story as well as having several similes on each page. Every time a character is compared to something, he or she turns into it. For example, when Rufus is sleeping like a log, on the next page he becomes a log (and even snores like a chain saw.) This enabled me to have tons of fun with the illustrations. It’s been well-received, with a starred review from Kirkus.

I’m not aware of any similar book where the text consists of only similes, but please let me know if there is one for curiosity’s sake. The title was the first simile chosen, and the plot needed to explain what “crazy like a fox” means. So, Rufus the fox had to act weird for some reason that would make sense by the end of the story. In the manuscript’s early stages, he was jumping as high as a kite to get over a fence, running as fast as the wind to escape some critter, and finally building a contraption to vault him across a river to get breakfast at Mama Somebody's Cafe. The ending seemed a tad flat, though.

Meanwhile, I was busy collecting similes. If there’s some master web site full of zillions of ‘em, I never found it. This one has a fair number (you have to scroll down a bit.) But mostly, I had to compile a list using various general idiom or cliché sites. One of my favorites is this one that you can search by key word. Of course, only a small percentage of any group of sayings are similes, so it took awhile to get a reasonable number to “audition” as part of a potential text. After amassing quite a few, for the sake of organization they had to be put in alphabetical order by first key word. Thus, as tall as a giraffe came before as tough as nails. For Frog I had made a database, but for this project a list worked fine. I did separate “like” from “as“ similes to make it easier and to ensure there was a good balance of both forms in the book. Also, I left out similes that were obviously unsuitable because they were too antiquated (as mad as a hatter), inappropriate for young children (like a bat out of hell), or probably wouldn’t fit into the story. Whatever the story turned out to be, that is.

Eventually the idea popped into my head for Rufus to pick on his friend Babette the sheep, and thus lure her into chasing him all the way to her own surprise birthday party. The party is as noisy as a herd of elephants, so of course the guests turn into... elephants! If you’ve never seen a possum, a crow, a ladybug and several other critters transformed into long-trunked proboscideans,
this is your chance.

In the book biz, snags can crop up anywhere, and towards the end there was suddenly a title problem. Namely, the publisher wanted me to jettison the title Crazy Like a Fox and call it Simply Similes. Rather than freaking out (my first impulse,) I sent them a list of the pros of keeping the title as it was, plus the requirements for any alternate title (has to be catchy and fun, inspire kids to read it, tie in with the story, and so on.) I also had the chance to mention the issue to a group of teachers who all were in favor of the original title, and POOF! that little issue went away (yay!)


Anonymous said...

I have read your post and your synopsis seems to be interesting. Im sure your book will get you fortune.

teacherninja said...

Is kid's angel a fortune cookie writer?

Anyway, sounds great. Kids love this stuff. Reminds me of that old John Prine song, "It's a Big Ole Goofy World" which he just crams full of wonderfully hilarious similes.

Unknown said...

A fortune? Let it be so and I’ll be as happy as a clam at high tide (that saying seems to have fallen out of favor, alas.)