Friday, August 5, 2011

Henry Winkler and Lin Oliver: Writing with humor and heart

It's hard to imagine two funnier, kinder people than Lin Oliver and Henry Winkler, the co-authors of the bestselling Hank Zipzer series—and now, the GHOST BUDDY series from Scholastic. 

Neither needs any introduction, of course: Lin co-founded SCBWI, and Henry is one of the best known actors in the world. Their collaborations—18 novels worth—are hilarious and full of heart, as was their session on writing.

Lin Oliver and Henry Winkler deep in discussion.
Note: This picture isn't as funny as the panel. Blame the fish.

When they collaborate, they meet in her office. Henry paces the carpet and talks while she types. When she gets an idea, he stops talking and she writes. He likes the new, larger carpet in her redecorated office (no word on whether this will lead to longer novels).

Henry revealed a secret about their new series, GHOST BUDDY. The voice of the ghost is the Fonz, and the boy who finds the ghost in his closet is Richie. Aaaaay.

On finding your emotional center: Henry confessed he had a hard time with his parents. "They were very, very, very short German Jews." His father spoke 11 languages, and in those 11 languages, 15 times a day, would urge Henry to take over the family business: buying and selling wood.

But Henry always wanted to be an actor. The same emotional insight he brings to his acting, he brings to his writing.

"The thing is, when you write who you know, when you write your emotional truth, nobody is going to say 'how could you have written me into your thing, your masterpiece, your book.' They never recognize themselves. They say, 'My goodness, you have a good imagination."

Your emotional life feeds you. You're writing what you know. "The emotional truth jumps from the page and into the eyes and mind of your reader."

If you write the truth, somebody is going to say, "Wow, how did you know me?"

Lin on what's funny: If you want to write with humor, you have to go to your deepest emotional part and stay there until it's funny. It has to come from something that's true and heartfelt. If something is sad and funny at the same time, it's the strongest funny you can have."

Henry on loving your characters: When you're writing, you love the people you're writing about. When you're acting, you have to find the humanity in the bad guy. Otherwise, you're just playing one dimension.

Lin on getting the humor deep: You can't lay a joke on top of a situation. It's better when the situation is inherently funny. You can anticipate the comedy when the situation is inherently funny. For example, when a dyslexic character triples the amount of chili in a recipe and gives it to an evil teacher who later shoots across the room as though she has a rocket beneath her skirt.


  1. Laura, it was great. If you can ever catch Henry or Lin at a bookstore event or other appearance, do. They are THE BEST.