Tuesday, March 23, 2010

A Strange Case of Yoda Awesomeness

Let’s face it; being a Star Wars fan is exhausting. It seems like we are bombarded daily by new toys, replicas of lightsabers, clothing and shoe lines, and even a toaster that will imprint the face of Darth Vader on some buttery goodness. Buy it here: http://shop.starwars.com/catalog/product.xml?product_id=1308390

Being a part of the Rebel Alliance means that you could spend all of our hard earned dollars on everything that Uncle George slings at us, but then we would have a house full of goodies in blister packs that no one could breath upon or stare at for too long.

However, there is something that I can highly recommend that you spend some of those slave wage dollars on and that is Tom Angleberger’s new book – The Strange Case of Origami Yoda. Check out the site here: http://origamiyoda.wordpress.com/


If you are a Star Wars fan, then you need to read this book (if you haven’t already). If you suffer from being one of the few that are not aware of the Star Wars universe or the amazing Yoda, this is your chance to get in on something uber cool.

I could blabber on for hours about how Star Wars changed my life, and if and when the government decides to recruit people to be Jedi’s I will be the first in line, but I digress. Let’s talk to Tom about his book (known in my world as a face melter – which is a really good thing).

Can you tell me why you wanted to write Origami Yoda?

Tom Angleberger: At first I just thought it would be a neat idea. Then I thought it would be a neat idea that other people might want to read. Much of the book just poured out.

Can you tell me a little bit about your first draft writing process? Do you jam through or rewrite along the way?

TA: Both I guess. When I have the grain of an idea, I usually let it ferment in my brain for a long time. Then I jam through, cutting and pasting, backtracking and tweaking, finding and replacing along the way. But then I may get stopped for a while until things ferment some more.

Origami Yoda has that feeling of Diary of a Wimpy Kid, do people mention that comparison? Was this a particular style you wanted to go with when you started the book?

TA: A lot of people mention it and that's a-ok with me! I think Wimpy Kid is awesome! However, I have never actually read it. I'm purposefully avoiding it so that it doesn't interfere with my own process. In many ways this book is similar to my first book, The Qwikpick Adventure Society. It also had bad drawings, instructions and a mix of text and handwriting. But instead of Yoda it had a "poop fountain," which may explain its failure to catch on. But I think Wimpy Kid definitely helped pave the way for O.Y., the doodled-on look and all that.

I love to hear stories from life that may have been inspiration to put into a writer's book. Can you tell me about the kids in the book and if they were based on anyone you knew growing up?

TA: When I first started writing Dwight, I may have thought he was based on someone else. But I identify with him more and more, especially as I have begun to understand my own Asperger's traits. He can't filter out the crazy stuff. Whatever pops into his head, he does it, with no thought about how stupid he's going to look. That was me in middle school -- and maybe still. It is the same thing with Harvey, in many ways; he represents my middle school dark side. He wants people to like him so bad and yet he becomes the book's villain, mostly because he can't shut up. So many of the people in the book are real in some way or another. One of the characters, Caroline, is based on my wife and her school troubles. Quavondo, the Cheeto Hog, is based on a real kid I saw at the zoo once. Even Mr. GoodCleanFun and his monkey, Soapy, are based on a motivational speaker and his puppet who used to come to our school.

For those of us wanting to write middle grade stories, what is the word length of the book? How many pages was the manuscript when you turned it in? Did you overwrite and have to scale back or did your editor ask you to add more?

TA: I've looked at my old files. I think the length of the manuscript when I either showed it to my agent or editor was 15,600 words. The published book is about 19,100 words. So you can see that it was greatly expanded as well as thoroughly revised. Where did the extra 3,500 words come from? Well, I'm not sure about all of them, but some of that comes from an idea I had less than a year ago. We were just getting into the revisions and the news came that John Hughes had died. I decided I wanted the ending to be a real John Hughes movie moment. This required only a small change at the end, but an entire new chapter earlier in the book to set it up.

I'm a huge SW fan, Tom, and when I saw this book I flew out of my chair and jammed to the bookstore to get it. Let me tell you that I love the book. With that said, what was the general reaction to the book from Star Wars fans, and those who aren't SW fans?

TA: Thank you very much for that! I'm a huge fan myself. The book is about fans. And I hope that fans will like it, partly for the Star Wars stuff and partly because they may see themselves in the characters. The strongest reaction has been from Polish fans. A Polish Star Wars forum went a little nuts when they heard about the book. One guy called it blasphemy and others seemed to think it was the end of Star Wars, as we know it. Thanks to the forum's editors, I was able to have a response translated into Polish, just to let them know it wasn't THAT kind of book. It's lots of love for Star Wars.

You have some wonderful inside references that the die-hard Star Wars fans would know. Like naming the school after Ralph McQuarrie. The number on the bus. Can you tell those reading who are not SW junkies who is Ralph, and what he means to you?

TA: Well, as far as I understand it... Ralph McQuarrie -- who is responsible for many of the Star Wars characters, costumes and sets we know and love -- was the artist who drew the first picture of Yoda. Other artists and SFX folks helped make Yoda, too, and of course Frank Oz brought him to life and Lawrence Kasdan wrote the words. I tried to name everyone I could in the acknowledgements of the book. But I felt like McQuarrie was the perfect name for my middle school.

You've said in other interviews that Lucas was pretty helpful and open to your work. Is there any advice for those of us that might want to write a story like Origami Yoda and what we might want to avoid?

TA: Well, Lucasfilm was very helpful and open. I don't know that Lucas has ever heard of the book. (Though, of course, I dream about him reading it and approving.) As far as what to do or do not ... I really know nothing more than the next guy. I just got lucky!

What inspires you when writing? Music, images, or?

TA: I don't like to listen to music or anything. I like silence. But it's hard to come by. I've actually written at a library computer while the person at my elbow did everything in their power to distract me.

Are you working on a new book that you can share any of the stories with us?

TA: My next book is called... deep breath ... Horton Halfpott or the Fiendish Mystery of Smugwick Manor or the Loosening of M'Lady Luggertuck's Corset.

Let me just interrupt for a moment. This is a wonderful title!! I love it… ok, carry on..

TA: It's about a crazy English castle ruled with an iron fist by the large-wigged and tightly corseted M'Lady Luggertuck. But as the book opens, M'Lady Luggertuck decides to have her corset loosened. The Loosening sets off a string of unprecedented and increasingly outrageous marvels some of which spell Certain Doom for lowly kitchen boy, Horton Halfpott. But he's a plucky fellow and so are his pals, the Snooping Stableboys.

I don’t know about you, but I am chomping at the bit to the read this one. This sounds awesome.

And of course, for the fellow geeks out there:

Favorite Star Wars movie?

TA: I've never been able to decide between A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back. I love them both so much.

Favorite Star Wars character? Why?

TA: Would it be too geeky for me to subdivide this question?

Never, Tom, please go on… I wave the geek flag for you!

Favorite major character: Yoda.

Favorite minor character: Nien Nunb, because of his crazy laugh after blowing up the Death Star with Lando.

Favorite bad guy: Grand Moff Tarkin, because of this "What? Retreat in our moment of triumph?"

Favorite ship: Millennium Falcon. I got to see the model at the Smithsonian. I know a million other people did, too, but still it was an unforgettable moment for me.

Tom, thank you so much for speaking with me and sharing some wonderful insight to your book. I will be reading Yoda again and working on my Origami skills for sure. If you want to make your own Origami Yoda, you can find instructions in the back of Tom's book and you can check out this video:

Until next time, MAY THE FORCE BE WITH YOU


  1. Great interview and now I am off to find me a copy of this book. Thanks Matt and Tom (and Yoda).

  2. I enjoyed the interview and also the video of how to make an Oragami Yoda. Thanks to Matt and Tom.

  3. I agree...great interview. It was a pleasure to read and I'll be looking out for the book.

  4. Origami Yoda has been bugging me in my brain ever since I saw it on the New Books cart in the librarians' workroom last week. Angleberger Angleberger doesn't that ring a bell? ARG!

    It wasn't until I read this interview and the MAJOR geekiness in it that I made the connection with Sam Riddleburger, who co-wrote Stonewall Hinkelman & the Battle of Bull Run. That's a compliment.

    I was going to read Origami Yoda anyway, but now it's moved to the top of the stack.


  5. Great interview! As a nearly-lifelong Star Wars fan I think I'd better move this book up my TBR!(I was 13 yo when A New Hope came out - except it wasn't called A New Hope then. I saw it something like 20 times that summer).

  6. Amazing interview with Tom, Thank You! While I love Star Wars, I don't feel like I have acheived true SW geekdom just yet. There's still time...but I'm so glad that I'm "in" on the little references throughout the book now! And, I LOVE the tip of the hat to John Hughes. The end of Origami Yoda means so much more to me now!

    Just read this book last week with my 7 year old, and we both loved it! His crowd is really into Star Wars (weren't we all at this age?) and all the moms are adding Origami Yoda to the reading list this summer. Now if I could only find some very cool green paper to make our own origami yodas!

    Great interview!

  7. Great Interview, was a pleasure to read. Love the Toaster! I actually just ordered one, found it for 5 dollars cheaper at Darth Vader Toaster