Gary Schwartz - Being The Best Average Person in The World
In his career in acting, TV and even the video game industry, Gary Schwartz has given expression to his art in different ways: silently (as a mime), voice only (as a voice actor) and now through the written word. In his latest book, The King of Average, Schwartz aims to entertain but also help his readers to discover their self worth. As our author of the day, Schwartz reveals how he came up with the idea for The King of Average when he was only 11 years old, how he gives his characters a voice and why he loves writing stories for children.
Please give us a short introduction to The King of Average
The King of Average tells the story of James, a neglected boy who is convinced that he has no worth. Armed with a report card that is a straight C average, he wonders if he could become the MOST average person who ever lived. This idea transports him to a fantastic world called The Realm of Possibilities where a state of mind is an actual place. He meets a talking goat named Mayor Culpa (an actual scapegoat) from the Kingdom of Average to replace their missing monarch King Norman the Unexceptional. Along the way he befriends a professional optimist and an equally professional pessimist named Kiljoy. They have scores of adventures in places like Accusia, Lake Inferior and Epiphany where he finds out who he really is. It is a fast and funny fantasy adventure with a great message for children - and adults.
What inspired you to write this book?
I had this idea when I was 11. I laughed at the paradox of being the MOST average in order to feel exceptional. I always loved The Phantom Tollbooth and thought I'd write a book like that one day.
How did you go from being a mime to a voice actor to an author?
My first taste of being accepted and appreciated was when I became a professional mime at age 13. I loved the applause and making people happy. That led me to a career in acting when I got bored from not talking. I got lucky and became a children's entertainer on two TV series The Disney Channel's You and Me Kid and the Emmy winning Zoobilee Zoo. After which, I became a voice actor. During that time I wrote TV scripts and movie scripts, but became serious about being an author when I moved from Los Angeles to Seattle.
How did your experience in performance arts help you to give your characters their own, distinct "voices"?
I love doing voices and dialogue comes easily to me, being a trained improvisational actor and acting coach. I can improvise in my head what each character might say to another and it's sort of like taking dictation.
Introduce us to James. How was this character "born" in your mind and what makes him so special?
James was me at age 11. Actually I grew up with parents who were suffering mental illness and my childhood was filled with alot of abuse. James' situation is a little less violent, but he suffers from what I did as a kid - Wanting to be loved and valued and finding it outside his family.
Which of the characters in The King of Average did you find the most challenging to create?
King Norman, the Unexceptional and his children, Jerome the Ordinary and Marie the Extra-Ordinay were the hardest to write. They needed a very strong back story and once I created that with their own personal histories, it was the key to making the whole odyssey work.
What do you hope readers will take away from the King of Average?
My goal is and always has been to entertain first then inspire. I hope readers will laugh and then think about how we all are James in some way. The underlying theme of the book is the search for love and acceptance.
Why did you decide to write a book for kids? What appealed to you about the audience?
I've always loved performing for kids. They are the best audience. Also they are shaped by what they see, hear and read. If my book could do for kids what The Phantom Tollbooth and other books like, James and Giant Peach, The Wizard of Oz and the Chronicles of Narnia did for me, I'd feel that much better about myself.
Finding your self-worth is a central theme in this book. Why did you find it so important to write about?
I learned how to act like a normal person without feeling like one as a kid. I think a lot of people suffer this impostor syndrome and I wanted to make a story where the key to escaping that is embedded into a fun read.
Tell us a bit more about the title. Why "The King of Average"?
We're always the heroes of our own life. I, like the Cowardly Lion wishes to be admired like a King.
You included a lot of wordplay and puns in The King of Average, a rare art that one doesn't find in all too many books today. Why did you take this approach?
Again, it's my admiration for authors like Norton Juster who used wordplay to entertain adults as well as kids. Also I was a child of the 60s and my favorite show was Rocky and Bullwinkle. A fun cartoon for kids with a sassy sense of satire for adults. I love that.
Tell us about your writing habits: how do you make time to write? Do you have a favorite writing spot? Do you ever suffer from writer's block?
I like to start writing in the morning and hope it keeps me going all day. I'm basically lazy and I need to write more than I do. I don't get down on myself for not writing. I wait patiently for writer's block to pass, knowing it will. In the meantime I focus on promoting my book and wait for the muse to hit me in the head.
What are you working on right now?
I have three projects. One is called The Benji Loper Caper, a story about kids who hire a limo to take their girlfriends on a date, but get involved with an actor/limo driver, a big time movie producer and a conman who's stealing diamonds for the Russian mob. - It's Get Shorty meets Ferris Bueller. I'm also working on the sequel to King of Average going further into darker regions of the psyche but still with a lot of humor. My third project is a fictionalized memoir from my time bartending between acting called "Tales from the Spice of Life and other Stories".
Where can our readers discover more of your work or interact with you?
I have several websites. My improv teaching and blog on the subject is at www.spolingamesonline.org and www.improv-odyssey.com. Both have videos teaching improv. My personal site has videos from my acting career and a blog about The King of Average and my personal life. www.gary-schwartz.com. I have a Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/garyschwartz.writer/And my twitter handle is @improvmaven. I'd love to hear from your readers.