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Meet JOSH BERK: Author, Librarian and All-Around Wickedly Funny Guy

August 5, 2011

Josh Berk could quite possibly be the funniest librarian around.  (If you think you’re funnier, please watch this video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bBSA8l4mY68 then let us know if you STILL think you’re more hilarious!)  In addition to being a comical guy, Josh also writes YA books that usually involve a mystery and a serious dose of humor.  His first book The Dark Days of Hamburger Halpin, earned three starred reviews and was a Parent’s Choice Silver Medal Winner – PLUS Kirkus named it one of the 2010 Best Books for Children and Teens.  Today Josh stopped by to tell us a little about how The Dark Days of Hamburger Halpin came into existence and share some insider scoop about his new book, Guy Langman: Crime Scene Procrastinator 

I don’t want to say that my second book began with a lie, but, well, it did. First, know this: When I got “the call” from my wonderful editor at Knopf that she was interested in my first manuscript, I was at the grocery store. I had to quickly shift my mind from thinking about waffles to thinking about books. Luckily, the conversation went well as I wandered through the frozen food section. It turned out that we shared a love of the Hardy Boys and dark comedies — the two elements that more or less dominate my first book THE DARK DAYS OF HAMBURGER HALPIN. She told me she loved Will’s voice, my sense of humor, and that she was definitely interested in the manuscript. She also asked: did I have any other manuscripts in the drawer?

                                                                           

Gulp. I was pretty clueless about publishing (about everything, really, and in fact sort of still am) and didn’t know that “in the drawer” was an expression. I immediately pictured my desk at home. Did it even have drawers? With manuscripts in it? I didn’t think so. Then I pictured my underwear drawer. Focus, Josh! Somehow I realized that maybe what she meant was “do I have more than one book written which she could publish?”

My heart beat even faster as I skipped while pushing my cart around the store, confusing shopper and employee alike. Could I dare to dream that I’d publish not just one but two books? Maybe more? I thought that even if the answer was “no” (which it sort of was) I should definitely say “yes.” So I did. “Oh yeah,” I said. “Nothing quite finished yet, but I’m working on a few things.” (Saying that my next novel was “not quite finished yet” is like saying I’m “just about ready to run the Boston Marathon.”) She said “great,” I said “great!” And then, after sounding a barbaric yawp from the dairy aisle, I finished my shopping.

Before long, I was under contract for two books. Huzzah! The next year or so was largely spent editing HAMBURGER HALPIN. We tweaked the ending, then tweaked the beginning. We deleted a character, added a character to the middle, gave a larger role to Will’s judo-punching ex-girlfriend. We refined the jokes, deepened Will’s emotions, and then changed the ending again. Finally, we were pretty much happy with it and the conversation came back around to this manuscript in the drawer. I basically had only the roughest of ideas, and a few opening chapters, based on the following news item which I had seen well before HALPIN was ever finished:

“Police have identified the man a group of St. Thomas Aquinas High School students found at Holiday Park in Fort Lauderdale Monday morning. David Wayne Bodie, 45, was homeless, according to Fort Lauderdale police. The students were searching mock crime scenes as part of their summer school forensics class.

Josh Rozental, 16, of Plantation, was the first student to see the hand clutching a chain-link fence. He thought it was planted by his teacher, Sue Messenger. Fort Lauderdale Police investigators said the victim may have died of natural causes. The Broward Medical Examiner has scheduled an autopsy today.”

For an author who writes teen mysteries, this was just a perfect gift. I loved the kid thinking the body was fake, planted by his teacher. And I loved that the journalist even included the detail of the hand clutching the chain-link fence. It was so easy to imagine the whole forensics class getting involved in the solving of this mystery (though in real life that teacher in Fort Lauderdale basically just called the police and it was over).

There was only one problem, which was that I had a hard time getting in the head of the sort of kid who would voluntarily take a forensics class. Despite writing mysteries, I’m very squeamish about blood and basically totally lack the sort of scientific mind which would draw someone into forensics. So, once it was time to actually write this book, I asked myself: What if the kid was a total slacker who only signed up for forensics to impress a girl? *This* was the sort of kid I could relate to. The title CRIME SCENE PROCRASTINATOR immediately came to mind as well. It made me laugh anyway, so I wrote that at the top of the page, fully expecting it to change. I honestly can’t remember why I named the main character “Guy,” other than it also makes me laugh. (Sorry if your name is Guy, dear reader, I do not mean to laugh at your comical name.)

I gave Guy a cocky best friend (Anoop), a girl (or two) to obsess about, and made his main personality trait epic laziness. But part-way through the first draft, my wife pointed out that lazy kinda equals boring when it comes to a main character. We chatted about it and hit upon the idea that perhaps Guy’s torpor was due not to laziness, but to grief. What if he experienced a death in the family which could somehow be tied in to the other mystery of forensics class? So then in a flash I immediately created, then killed Guy’s father: Francis Langman. Frannie is a foul-mouthed, old school, macho Jew, and he was just incredibly fun to write. His death would hit Guy hard, and the whole plot would come together. That makes it seem easier than it was (second books are seriously challenging), but I’m so thrilled that I *did* have a manuscript in the drawer, I just didn’t know it.

In just a few months (March 2012), GUY LANGMAN: CRIME SCENE PROCRASTINATOR will be on the shelves and … what’s that? Now it’s time to write my third book? Uh, yeah, sure, I’m like really just about done with it ….

Do you know someone that would love a copy of Guy Langman: Crime Scene Procrastinator?  Make sure you leave a comment below!  We have a few copies to give away and will be selecting our winner through a random drawing.  (U.S. residents only please.)

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13 Comments leave one →
  1. August 5, 2011 8:44 am

    What great news! I loved The Dark Days of Hamburger Halpin and can’t wait for Berk’s new book! I do know someone who’d love a copy – me!

  2. August 5, 2011 8:52 am

    I work in the children’s department of a bookstore, and I read a LOT of young adult fiction. The Dark Days of Hamburger Halpin has been one of my absolute favorites from this past year! I make sure we have it on our shelves, and recommend it often! I’m very excited to read Mr. Berk’s new book!

  3. August 5, 2011 9:23 am

    I think that is the best title ever. I can’t wait to read this book!

  4. August 5, 2011 10:23 am

    I’m so glad you posted about this book! A lot of my students ask for mysteries and I have a hard time finding good ones they would be interested in. These books sound perfect!

  5. August 5, 2011 1:57 pm

    Oh my gosh — I love Josh!! Hey, I rhymed! I would love a copy of his new book. I adored HAMBURGER HALPIN and can’t wait to read the new one!

  6. Liz permalink
    August 5, 2011 3:58 pm

    Please enter my name in the contest for GUY LANGMAN: CRIME SCENE PROCRASTINATOR. It sounds to be an enjoyable read. Thanks.

  7. August 5, 2011 8:45 pm

    Loved _Hamburger Halpin_! The world needs more good YA detective fiction, *and* more funny librarians. (Although most of the librarians I know are actually very funny. But I’m sure Josh is even funnier.)

  8. Holly permalink
    August 6, 2011 8:00 am

    My kids (and I) loved Hamburger Halpin and can’t wait to read about Guy Langman!!

  9. Kim Laird permalink
    August 7, 2011 8:58 am

    Would love to read… thanks for the drawing!

  10. August 7, 2011 9:26 am

    Until your post, I hadn’t heard of this book, but now I’ll look for it. It sounds great, and if it’s as fun as the author’s writing, I know I’ll like it. Thanks for letting us know about it!

  11. August 7, 2011 2:54 pm

    I’d like to enter the giveaway. Love the title and would love to read it. 🙂

  12. August 7, 2011 3:10 pm

    I would like the opportunity to possibly win. the title sounds great!
    Thank you!

Trackbacks

  1. We Have A Winner……..Well, Actually 3 Winners! « Random Acts of Reading

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