ALL FOUR KIDS: An Interview with Louise Galveston, author of BY THE GRACE OF TODD

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I had the good fortune to interview OneFourKidLit author Louise Galveston on the occasion of the release of By the Grace of Todd, her very funny, very gross, middle grade debut novel.

About BY THE GRACE OF TODD:

by the grace of todd coverPerfect for fans of Andrew Clements and The Borrowers, By the Grace of Todd is the laugh-out-loud answer to what happens if you leave dirty laundry on the floor . . . and don’t follow your mother’s instructions to clean your room.

Twelve-year-old Todd has created life through sheer grossness.
How did he become an accidental god? 

Ingredient A: A worn athletic sock
Ingredient B: Dirt from the Great and Powerful Todd himself

Instructions: Leave under bed for months. Do not clean room.

Yields: 50 ant-sized Toddlians

BUT WATCH OUT! When school bully Max Loving puts the future of the tiny Toddlians in jeopardy, Todd will have to do everything in his power to save the race his very negligence created.

MM: Todd Butroche (Buttrock to his enemies) lives in such filth that an entire civilization springs up on his gym sock and begins to revere him as something between a god and a leader. Which came first for you: the characters or the story? What was the first little nugget of an idea that made you want to write this book?

LG: My editor actually pitched the concept of a slovenly kid who spawns a civilization to me, and I thought it was a fabulously funny concept. The characters really developed with the writing and from my own life as well: I had a son Todd’s age (much less messy), a daughter Daisy’s age, and I’m kind of a mix between Todd’s and Lucy’s mothers. And yes, I had poodles growing up, although none were as diabolical as Todd’s mom’s dog, Princess VanderPuff.

MM: In the first chapter alone, you’ve got the Toddlians munching on dandruff and eating dead skin cell and toe jam sandwiches. How did you manage to unleash so much grossness in one book?

LG: Um… I have eleven kids (five of them boys). I’ve pretty much seen it all. The only thing I can’t deal with is hair in a drain. My first school visit, I was reading that bit about the toe jam sandwiches and the entire group said, “EWWWWW!” so I knew I’d hit the mark. But truthfully, even I shuddered as I wrote some of the ickier parts.

MM: By the Grace of Todd is not only gross, it is also very, very funny. What makes you laugh the hardest, and what are some of your favorite funny books?

LG: Thank you! Well, no one can make me laugh harder than my husband, who is the funniest guy on the planet. I’m probably going to lose respect over this, but my favorite movies are Elf, What About Bob, Nacho Libre, and Napolean Dynamite (I was an 80’s child.) I also love funny stories set in England before 1900–one must have balance, after all.)

The books that have truly made me laugh out loud: Alice in Wonderland, the Wimpy Kid books, the Vordak the Incomprehensible series (Scott Seegert is a genius,) Dickens, Gaskell, and of course, Austen. I like absurd, characture-y characters and intelligent humor as well as schtick. I tried to offer both in By the Grace of Todd.

MM: As it turns out, Todd is actually a pretty terrible god/leader at first. Thankfully, he gets a lot of help from his friends, his baby sister, and the Toddlians themselves. Was there a particular character that was especially fun for you to write? Any who were tougher to get a handle on?

LG: I LOVE writing Daisy (Todd’s evil genius baby sister). I just finished drafting the sequel, and she gets even more page-time because it’s just so much fun to write a brilliant and devious one-year-old. Lucy was another favorite, simply because I was such a science geek as a kid and was (and still am) fascinated with bizarre phenomenon, like spontaneous human combustion. (Lucy’s a lot smarter than I am, so I had to do quite a bit of research for her material.) Persephone, the self-styled cowgirl Toddlian was also a blast, particularly because my dad is a huge John Wayne fan and I love to read Louis L’Amour. And I don’t know what it says about me, but Max (the bully) was very fun to unleash.

Todd was the toughest character to get right, because he’s so clueless about some things. I have a tendency to inject sarcasm into main characters, because that’s an unfortunate trait of mine. But I never wanted him to seem mean or cruel, just forgetful and thoughtless at times. I wanted to be sure the reader was always rooting for him, even though he was such a lousy leader at first.

MM: By the Grace of Todd is a self-contained story, and yet, you still managed to give the book a cliffhanger ending! Can you give us any hints about what the Toddlians will get up to next?

LG: In the next book, Todd slides back into his former neglect a bit because he gets his first crush. He’s always off to what the Toddlians call the “enchanted kingdom of The Mall” in search of the beautiful new girl at school, Charity. Problem is, Max is gaga for her as well and still hasn’t forgotten the Toddlians or forgiven Todd for humiliating him. The Toddlians are feeling so forlorn they consider pledging their loyalty to Lucy instead of Todd, and so as not to give away any surprises, I’ll just say it all goes horribly wrong.

MM: And finally, as this community is fearless, we’d like to know something you’re afraid of and something you’re not afraid of.

LG: I’m terrified of popping noises: balloons (birthdays are torture for me!), guns, fireworks… The Fourth of July made me hysterical as a child. I’m not sure where that originated, but it could be because I have really sensitive hearing. I was in a play in college where flash pots had to go off all around me. My screams were very real in that scene. 🙂 And it was children’s theater, so we had 14 performances. My nerves where shot at the end of the run!

What am I not afraid of? I’m not afraid of failure anymore. As a perfectionist, I used to worry that my best wouldn’t be good enough. But as long as I know I’ve put my heart in soul into something, the results are out of my hands, and I can be satisfied. (Well, failure isn’t nearly as satisfying as success, but I’ll know it wasn’t because I didn’t try hard enough.)

Thanks so much for the interview, Louise, and congratulations on your debut!

louise galvestonAbout Louise:

Louise grew up on horseback in the Midwest. The only thing that could pull her out of the saddle was a great book or a game of Star Wars. The lone girl in her neighborhood, she always got to play Princess Leia, thus her mad lightsaber skills. (Yes, she had the cinnamon roll side-bun hair.) Louise even cleaned her room on occasion, but never found anything but a rogue hamster under her bed.

Louise still lives in the Midwest. When she’s not writing, she directs children’s theater and dabbles in watercolor. She is proud to say that some of her eleven children have inherited her horsey genes and all of them love Sea-Monkeys. (Her first obsession with tiny creatures.)

marymccoyMary McCoy is the author of DEAD TO ME, which will be published by Disney-Hyperion in February 2015. She loves books where crime is perpetrated and/or solved, secrets are buried and/or uncovered, and vengeance is sought and/or justice is won. She lives in Los Angeles.
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