“I think humor has to work in service of the plot, not the other way around.” – Jerry Mahoney
transparency fun fact: Sky Pony Press sent me an advance reader copy of this book.
Jerry Mahoney knows how to concoct a story that will yank a laughing kid through 276 pages of blasting-dookies-who’s-the-weeniest-phasmic-wave-induced fun. Buttheads from Outer Space is expertly paced, comical, and full of heart.
When Josh and Lloyd devise a plan to defeat their brainy arch-nemesis Quentin they create a blog to attract extraterrestrials to earth. The friends are astonished when it works, hence the arrival of two furry, scaly blue aliens named IAmAWeenieBurger and Doodoofartmama who have three arms each, butts where their heads should be, and are attracted by the lure of Oreos, video games, and hanging out with earthlings Josh and Lloyd. This scenario unleashes a warp speed series of misadventures that might make the boys famous, or more likely, infamous. The aliens speak in farts (Frrt! Frrt!) of varying aromas and their habits are disgusting, yet Josh manages to let them bunk at his house without his parents knowing. He loves his parents in spite of their pun-laced lunch notes to him, so looking good in their eyes is paramount. Lloyd, using excellent people skills, cleverly steers alien induced mishaps away from certain disaster and towards making Josh and he cooler than their archrival Quentin. All seems to be going according to plan until the two aliens decide they love Earth so much that they message their friends, who gladly agree to make Earth their own. All 20 billion of them. Uh-oh. Now what? Josh and Lloyd must save the Earth, because they love it, and it is the only planet they know how to get to.
With abundant plot twists, snafus, heart, and weird laugh-out-loud humor Buttheads from Outer Space will keep a certain swath of eight to twelve-year-olds reading all the way to the last footnote.
Jerry Mahoney has agreed to share what he knows with us, which is good since he can defeat space aliens.
JAZ: Jerry Mahoney, congratulations on your upcoming pub date with Sky Pony Press. What’s planned for promotion?
JM: I’m doing a release event on Saturday March 10, 2018 at 2pm at the Barnes & Noble in Studio City, CA. I’m very excited for that because it’s my first chance to read the book out loud and hear people’s reactions. Plus, I’ll be visiting a few other blogs for interviews, excerpts and reviews.
JAZ: I am definitely not an eight to twelve year old, and scatological humor is not my thing, but you got me to read to the end too. Do you use phasmic rays to pull the reader along?
JM: I wish I had that power! That would make writing so much easier. I like to think that character and plot are what keep people reading. The humor is just a bonus. In fact, the jokes are mostly for me, because it makes the writing more fun. If it gets readers to laugh, too, that’s icing on the cake.
And let’s be honest, adults are the gatekeepers of middle grade literature. Teachers, librarians, parents, book store employees. That’s who’s picking out books for kids to read. I’m not going to win them over with fart jokes. There has to be something redeeming in the story to get their attention.
JAZ: It seemed there were plot twists or changes of mindset on almost every spread. Do you plan those?
JM: Absolutely. I think humor has to work in service of the plot, not the other way around. I’ve read many books that I thought were hilarious, but I didn’t finish them because the story didn’t interest me. No matter what genre you’re writing, story always has to come first.
Kids love surprises, but it’s very hard to surprise them, because they’re such savvy readers. They’re always trying to think ahead about where the plot is going or what might happen next. So you really have to think like a kid, imagine what they’re likely to expect at every turning point, then go another way.
Humor comes from subverting expectations, too, so making jokes is great practice for planning plot twists.
JAZ: What writing program do you use? Do you outline first?
JM: I write on Microsoft Word. I’ve tried a few of those apps that supposedly help you work out your characters and your structure, but I find them more frustrating than useful. I spend more time getting to know the app than getting to know my characters. For me the best way to do it is to get down to work with a blank page and many hours of brainstorming.
I tend to work from a pretty detailed outline, although it’s not uncommon for me to go back and change the outline as I’m writing because I get a better idea along the way. If I want to surprise the reader, sometimes I have to surprise myself, too.
JAZ: Will this be the beginning of a series like your Rotten Stepbrother fairy tales?
JM: I hope so! I had such a great time with these characters, I’d love to send them on some more adventures. I have a really fun idea for a second Buttheads book, so hopefully this book will sell well, and I’ll get to write it!
JAZ: Was this story payback for some Quentin Fairchild in your childhood?
JM: Thankfully, no. I didn’t go to middle school with anyone who cured a feline disease — that I know of, at least. Quentin is more of a symbol of the pressure kids find themselves under. Adults love to write stories about kids who accomplish great things, which is great for those kids, but it can leave other kids feeling inadequate. I was one of those kids who never quite made any lists of 10 Kids Who’ll Change The World Someday. I remember being pretty bummed about that, thinking, “Well, I guess I’ll never change the world.” And no kid should feel like a failure or a disappointment at age 10.
Buttheads From Outer Space is for all the kids who no one expects to change the world. In Quentin, they can see everything that can go wrong with a kid who gets too much grown-up approval too early. And in Lloyd and Josh, they can see that it’s OK to just be who they are and try to enjoy life.
JAZ: Your twins are younger than the characters in your books. Do you interact with other kids for inspiration or are you writing from the inner you?
JM: I mostly write from the inner me. I’m always trying to write the kinds of books I would’ve loved as a kid. Things that would’ve made me shoot milk out of my nose and tell my friends, “You have to read this!” Thankfully, my sense of humor hasn’t changed much since I’ve become an adult.
When I’m not sure about something, my kids are a good testing ground to see if I’m in touch with what kids will like and find funny. I feel like between them and my books, I’m getting a chance to relive my own childhood, which has been awesome.
JAZ: Do you have any gems of wisdom for beginning writers?
JM: Read a lot, and write a lot. I think my favorite piece of advice is that old saying, “The worst thing you wrote is better than the best thing you didn’t write.” I know so many writers who get hung up on writing something perfect and brilliant their first time out. I say phooey! Just start writing. Write a crappy book, because hey, then at least you wrote a book, and you’ll learn from that and the next one will be better.
Also, get on Twitter and stay connected to the kidlit world (or the world of whatever genre you write). Many of your favorite authors are on there, and so are a ton of super smart agents, editors, librarians and book bloggers who can keep you up to date on what’s hot and what’s not right now.
To find Jerry’s books and more information about him go to: