lost in spache

February 19, 2011


posted on greaterlongbeach.com

Maybe you’re seeing this too late to make it to Gatsby’s Books (3555 Spring Street, Long Beach) for today’s high-noon appearance by Derrick Brown, where the Long Beach poet, performer, comedian, musician, magician, boat captain, paratrooper, author, editor, publisher and entrepreneur was scheduled to sign copies of his new children’s book, dance, laugh and bring some zazzle to your day. Oh, yeah, the children’s book—now he writes those, too, on his own imprint, Write Fuzzy. His latest, Valentine the Porcupine Dances Funny was released on Valentine’s Day, which is a total coincidence.

Anyway, if you did miss Derrick Brown at Gatsby’s … well, don’t worry—he’ll be around. Meanwhile, here are some questions you might have asked him. And his answers.

So you’re writing a children’s book but you don’t have any kids. How are you qualified to know what kids want to read?

I have the brain of space-camp reject and the heart of a sea otter. I know what I wished I had when I was four. I remember wanting to laugh more. I wanted more silliness and zazzle.

You are a seasoned adult author as well. How did you start writing children’s books?
This sounds glib but you only must begin. Then you must remember. You have to recall the loneliness, the sparks of shyness moving through your body. The awkward party. I come from an Ed Gorey kind of place, but with no fear, death and dismemberment. All of my stories have a glob of sweetness, hands on fire and six pounds of potatoes.

How do you make sure that the words in your children’s books are age-appropriate and the sentences aren’t too long?
There is a Spache* calculator that I use. I also have a hardcore nephew test group. I also use a few mom blogs, thanks to the help of my friend Lisa Clark.

Write Fuzzy’s slogan is “The books we wish we had as kids.” What makes them different than the books we grew up with?
I grew up with books about trains wanting to go up hills. I sure wish that train just blasted its way through that hill with a laser.

How did you come up with the story of Valentine the Porcupine?
I wrote it many years ago based off of a loved one who would do crazy dances in the morning. It then turned into a lesson about being patient for the right one to come along. Most of my books welcome the weird ones, embrace the sauce of wildness and charge the heart.

The idea of friendship seems to be reoccurring in a lot of your children’s books. Why are friends so important?
How many of us really have ‘em?

In the back of the book, there is a 5-step process on “How to Make Friends.” Is this method foolproof?
The I-like-your-face one is solid gold.

* Spache Readability Formula, designed in 1953, is one method of determining the textual difficulty of a piece of writing. The method compares words in a text to a list of words which are familiar in everyday writing. The words that are not on the list are called unfamiliar. The number of words per sentence are counted. This number and the percentage of unfamiliar words are put into a formula. The result is a reading age. Someone of this age should be able to read the text. Spache works best on texts that are for children. The formula: (0.141 * average sentence length)+(0.086 * percentage of difficult words)+0.839 = grade level.


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