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Stephan Pastis: On the Importance of Humor in Middle Grade Fiction

New York Times bestselling Stephan Pastis discuss the process of creating his very first graphic novel for middle grade readers, Trubble Town: Squirrel Do Bad.

Stephan Pastis is an attorney-turned-cartoonist. A graduate of the University of California, Berkeley, and the UCLA School of Law, he worked as a lawyer before trying his hand at cartooning. Pastis lives in the Bay Area with his wife and two children.

Stephan Pastis: On the Importance of Humor in Middle Grade Fiction

In this post, Stephan discusses the process of creating his very first graphic novel, Trubble Town: Squirrel Do Bad, how that process differed from his previous titles, and more!

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Name: Stephan Pastis
Literary agent: Dan Lazar
Book title: Trubble Town: Squirrel Do Bad
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing/Aladdin
Release date: August 31, 2021
Genre/category: Middle Grade
Elevator pitch for the book: From the author of the “Pearls Before Swine” comic strip and New York Times bestselling Timmy Failure series comes a laugh-out-loud, heartwarming, full-color graphic novel series about a quirky town—just right for young readers starting to read longer books!
Previous titles by the author: Timmy Failure series

Stephan Pastis: On the Importance of Humor in Middle Grade Fiction

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What prompted you to write this book?

Well, it was the year of COVID, and being sequestered away as we all were, I wanted to try something completely new that would challenge me. And so I tried my hand at a graphic novel—which I had never tried before. And I loved doing it. And I wanted it to look a bit amateurish graphically—so I drew it on very cheap copy paper with a pen that bled.

How long did it take to go from idea to publication? And did the idea change during the process?

A very long time, because the first draft did not have a child character in it, and the kids book publishers wanted it to have a child. And thus, I had to rewrite it to add a child. But then there wasn't quite enough of said child. So I had to rewrite it yet again to add more of the child.

But eventually, I got it right! Or at least I hope so.

Were there any surprises or learning moments in the publishing process for this title?

That kids books should involve kids!

Stephan Pastis: On the Importance of Humor in Middle Grade Fiction

Were there any surprises in the writing process for this book?

Yes, that doing an entire book (as opposed to a book that's mostly text like Timmy Failure) is a lot of work. More than I was expecting. And then you have to color everything.

But it's also more rewarding in a way. It's fun to see the story come to life visually like that.

What do you hope readers will get out of your book?

As with all my books, I just want people to laugh. For me, that's always the most important part, maybe given my background with doing my comic strip, Pearls Before Swine. And then secondarily, it would be great if they saw themselves in Wendy and were somehow inspired by her spirit and attitude. That would be even better.

If you could share one piece of advice with other authors, what would it be?

I think the key is to always entertain yourself. Because if you're not entertained, how can you expect anyone else to be? And also, to be courageous enough to write stuff that maybe you as the author don't even understand. In other words, let the subconscious roam a bit when you write, and don't try to always control it. For me, that often leads to good stuff.

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