My guest today, Larry Feign, (aka. M.D. Whalen) writes for both children and adults and has had a fascinating career which has encompassed writing, illustrating, publishing, and more. Among other things, he authored a political and lifestyle comic strip for many years for a prominent Hong Kong publication. His work has been featured in Time Magazine, no less. But that’s not exactly what I brought him here to talk about today. I brought him here to talk about his children’s books. And, spoiler alert–you’re gonna laugh.
Larry Feign writes for kids under the pen name M.D. Whalen. When I asked to interview him on Rosco’s blog, he immediately agreed but was polite enough to give me an out if I wanted one, saying that his books aren’t for everyone, that they might offend the sensibilities of some readers and that he didn’t want to put me in an awkward position. But I assured him what matters to me is that his books make kids want to read. I didn’t care what they were about (within reason, of course), if they accomplished that. And I told him my readers and I are a polite, tolerant bunch, anyway. I told him we’d all be fine with something different.
Of course, I can’t speak for everyone, but if you’re willing to tolerate a few fart jokes, read on to meet the author of The Fantastic Flatulent Fart Brothers series. And be prepared for a chuckle.
Q. Welcome, Larry, or Mr. Whalen, in this case. Would you tell us a little bit about yourself and your books?
A. Thanks Shana. I’d be happy to.
When I was five years old, my mother announced that I was going to be a doctor, but she turned me into a writer instead. She bought me book after book about great medical heroes: Albert Schweitzer, Florence Nightingale, you name it. I fell in love with them—not the doctors and nurses, but the stories and illustrations. I became hungry for narratives of all kinds, not just to read but also to write. I was always the kid in the back of the class scribbling cartoons instead of looking at the teacher. At home, every day I wrote stories, histories, cartoons, even a chess instruction manual. And I never stopped.
My career began by drawing cats day and night for a Hollywood animation studio, then by strange luck I ended up writing and drawing comic strips in Hong Kong for 16 years. Since then I have directed animation for Disney, Cartoon Network, and others, and published twenty books of cartoons and satire.
But meanwhile, deep inside, I’m still that five-year-old with the same naughty glint in my eye. I’ve always related better to kids than to grumpy old adults, so it was about time that I started writing books for children. And that’s what I do now.
My mother still thinks I should be a doctor.
Q. So what sort of books do you write?
A. I write the kinds of books that would have made me laugh as a kid. That of course means books about rude bodily functions. My characters, Peter and Willy, otherwise known as The Fantastic Flatulent Fart Brothers, get themselves into mischief and then always end up saving the world from total annihilation through their expert deployment of intestinal gas.
Q. Well that’s certainly a new angle on saving the world. 😉 So WHY do you write what you write?
A. My books may seem silly and a bit off-color, but there is a serious purpose behind them. I adored books as a child. I couldn’t get enough of them. I instilled this love of reading in my children. But I was disturbed by how many of their friends hated to read or found it boring. School doesn’t help, by turning reading into a chore. There are so many reluctant readers out there, particularly in this gadget-packed age, and most particularly boys.
How to lure them between the pages? For me, ever the immature clown, the answer was obvious: write about farts. You may tut-tut and wrinkle your nose at the topic, but there’s no denying that every boy (and grown-up man) thinks flatulence is hilarious. No matter how much they claim to hate reading, no nine-year-old is going to pass up the chance to have a good laugh about kids releasing gas and saving humanity while they’re at it.
I am proud to see many reviews of my books, saying that their son or grandson is a reluctant reader, but he couldn’t put down my books. If it takes a fart book to trigger a love of reading, is there anything about that which stinks?
Q. Honestly, there really isn’t, Larry. That’s what it’s all about, getting kids to love reading. So where are you located now?
A. I live with my wife in a tiny village without roads or cars on an island in the South China Sea, an hour’s ferry ride from Hong Kong, which has been home for more than half my life. I have a son in Los Angeles and a daughter in London. My family consider ourselves citizens of the world.
Q. That’s really interesting–a global family. Can you tell us something that you’re proud of in regard to being an author, something where you really knocked it out of the park?
A. As mentioned above, my greatest pride is whenever someone mentions that my books have inspired a child to read. I was dancing on the moon when I received a letter from an entire primary school class in rural Illinois because their teacher had used one of my books to kick start their reading that term. Wish I’d had a teacher that fun!
Plus I’ve been flabbergasted at how successful the books have become. Recently my Big Book of Farty Facts reached #130 on Amazon’s bestseller list of all books in print (not just children’s books), outselling many New York Times bestselling authors. Yet my mother still isn’t impressed!
Q. That’s fantastic–a real gas! 😉 What has been your biggest challenge in terms of writing, publishing, or marketing?
A. The toughest part for me is marketing. It gives me the creeps to consider marketing to children. Every time I see a commercial for toys or candy, I cringe inside. I don’t want to be one of those trying to hoodwink kids into nagging their parents to buy stuff. Plus there are ethical and legal boundaries for a stranger to communicate with children by e-mail or whatever means. Thus, my promotional efforts are aimed at parents. This means I have to break through that wall of resistance toward the subject matter of flatulence. I’ve obviously succeeded, but I’d have more fun communicating directly with children if that’s how it were done.
Q. I hear you. So what plans do you have for the future?
A. Now that I’ve inspired some children to love reading, my next project is to get them to love to write! I just started working on a book which teaches joke-writing to kids. Children love telling jokes, but instead of reciting them from a joke book, how much better to tell your own!
Writing humor isn’t as easy as you think. Knowing how and when to use humor is a lifelong useful skill in any medium of writing, public speaking, teaching, or simply socializing. I’ll bring to this book my own thirty years of experience as a humorist, in language that seven-to-twelve-year-olds can understand and put into practice. I occasionally give talks to primary schools in which I share some of my methods, and it never fails to delight me to see many kids pick up on it immediately and create hilarious original gags. It won’t be an easy book to write, though.
THE FANTASTIC FLATULENT FART BROTHERS SAVE THE WORLD!
Two gassy brothers.
One mad clown with Weapons of Mass Flatulation.
Can kid fart power save the world’s butt?
Willy and Peter just want to sit around gaming and releasing gas. So it’s really annoying when they have to go out shopping for their sister’s birthday, and end up captured by crazed clowns who want to rule the planet.
From a remote bouncy castle dungeon to the White House itself, can Willy and Peter outsmart—and out-fart—the evil clowns? Can they save the human race from ex-stink-tion? And still get home in time for their sister’s birthday?
My absolute favorite Amazon review ever: “I read this with my 8 year old grandson and he gave it two thumbs up and a belch!”
Q. Where can people keep up with you and buy your books?
A. Lots of places. Here are a few.
Amazon USA: https://amzn.to/2Vi7XlT
Amazon USA: https://amzn.to/2Vi7XlT
Amazon UK: https://amzn.to/2u4Js05
Support your local independent bookstore: https://www.indiebound.org/book/9789627866275
Official website: http://fartboys.com
Bio for Larry Feign:
Larry Feign is an award-winning writer and artist whose work has appeared in Time, The Economist, Fortune, the New York Times, and other publications. He has directed animated cartoons for Cartoon Network and Disney Television.
His satirical books have been consistent bestsellers in his home base of Hong Kong, while his ‘Lily Wong’ comic strip was considered a bellwether of life and politics in the territory. His satirical commentary about the Hong Kong handover was Time Magazine’s first-ever full-page cartoon essay.
He earned his MFA in Writing from Pacific University, and received a MacDowell Fellowship from America’s oldest artist colony. He is currently working on several books, including both humor and historical fiction.
Larry has been married for over three decades to the clinical psychologist Dr. Cathy Tsang-Feign. In his spare time, Larry enjoys cycling and playing saxophone, though rarely at the same time. His mother still wishes he were a doctor.
Check out his website at www.larryfeign.com
Thanks for spending some time with us, Larry. I wish you all the best with your work–and that’s not a lot of hot air!
I hope you enjoyed this post, readers. Please check out Larry’s books if you’ve got a youngster with a similar sense of humor. And thanks, as always, for reading.
Disclosure: Some of the links above are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, Larry or I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. ~Rosco’s Reading Room