National Writing Project

Author's Corner: Gaetan Pappalardo and Louie Licks and the Wicked Snakes: Battleaxe

Date: November 21, 2011

Summary: Third grade teacher Gaetan Pappalardo uses music, songs, and sounds in his story to enhance the experience for reluctant readers. He explains how his participation with the Pennsylvania Writing and Literature Project has inspired his writing abilities.

 

A fellow of the Pennsylvania Writing and Literature Project, Gaetan Pappalardo teaches third grade at Green-Fields School in West Deptford, N.J. and regularly blogs for Edutopia.org . He is the 2011-2012 Teacher of the Year for West Deptford School District.

Ever since he was a child he's been writing, his experiences and ideas culminating in his first book, Louie Licks and the Wicked Snakes: Battleaxe .

What inspired you to write Louie Licks and the Wicked Snakes: Battleaxe?

I get obsessed with stuff: bands, guitars, movies, books, authors, skateboards, etc. So, let's just say that my lifelong obsession with Star Wars, Kiss, toys, and my refusal to grow up, pretty much licensed my pen to write this story. I've written a few kids books, but this book was special. It was a change in my writing style, plus my obsessions, that pushed it forward. I guess you can say I found my voice. And it was the voice of a child, really. Ha ha.

This is my tenth year of teaching third grade, and I've always thought that there were no "cool" books for boys who struggle to read. I absolutely despised reading as a child, and I think it was because I had zero interest in the books that were presented to me.

Louie is for the nonreaders. It hits hard and fast. Plus, the extras (free mobile app for iPad, iPod Touch, and iPhone and free downloadable music from bandcamp) allow kids to hang out in the world of Louie Licks beyond the book, which, in my opinion, rouses interest and effort in reading.

The extras are important. I loved listening to records while inspecting the album art covers (the extent of extras when I was eight, other than action figures from the world of KISS). The art enhanced the music experience, allowed me to dream and make goals of my own.

What is your writing process like, considering you teach as well?

All of my children's books were written longhand. I prefer to write my kid's stuff in journals and notebooks. I write faster than I can type. There are too many pauses and distractions for me when writing my first draft on a computer. It needs to be pen and paper. That's it. I also love to scratch out, make notes, and doodle when I'm writing kid fiction.

My second drafts are always typed. The second draft is where the computer is handy for slowing me down so I pay attention to the finest details in the story. It's kind of like the slow walk in the park—first draft is the sprint, the second is the stroll.

When I'm writing a blog for Edutopia.org or a paper for school, I always go straight to the computer. Papers and blogs are always written in random paragraphs, which are later rearranged into a more logical order.

All of my writing, however, needs a great deal of thinking before I begin. Then once I start, I can't stop. I usually write or read my draft in progress at least once a day until I am finished.

What were the most surprising things you learned in creating this book?

I've always heard novelists talk about how characters (not the writer) dictate storylines and basically control the story. I never really experienced that kind of writing, but in Louie Licks it did happen. After I created the characters, they just kind of took the ball and ran. I loved putting them in situations and discovering what would happen. And now, since they are already created, I've got some new ideas to throw at them for the second book.

Does teaching others about writing inspire or challenge you about your own writing?

It's always an inspiration because while I'm conferencing with kids or talking to a neighbor about a college essay, I'm always thinking about my own writing. I'm digging deep into my past experiences as a writer to conjure an idea or strategy to help in some way. I always learn from teaching.

Has your involvement with the Writing Project influenced your writing in any way?

A big YES! I always credit Judy Durante and Brenda Krupp (my Writing Project teachers, Pennsylvania Writing and Literature Project, Class of 2007) for teaching me how to write persuasively. I never thought I would write persuasive essays until I went to the project. Their guidance and instruction has honed my ability to write to convince. I wouldn't be an Edutopia.org blogger if it weren't for them.

I also discovered a little book called0 On Writing (Stephen King) while at PAWLP. Someone mentioned that King enjoys writing to loud music, which naturally sparked my interest. That book has been my bible for the last four years and has changed my fiction writing style. I wrote the first draft of Louie Licks during the 2007–2008 school year right after reading that book and while I was reading my favorite King book, The Shining.

Do you have any future projects on the horizon, such as new children's books or a sequel to this one?

Yes, I'm scribbling out the first draft to the second story in the Louie Licks series. Let's just say there will be lots of carnival folk (Carnies), paranoia, and, of course, rock and roll. I also continue to blog for Edutopia.org.

How did you come up with the music for the Wicked Snakes soundtrack? How do you think that influences the way the book is read?

I knew from the start I wanted music to be a cornerstone to the project. I was in an original rock band called Apple of Discord for eight years and learned a lot from my talented band mates. I recruited the band's headman, James Cuatero, now headman for the band Romance is Born, to slap some bass. And Matt Milner, professional crafter at Overdue Industries, musician, and sound engineer, to play some drums and record the band. It was some well needed time back in the basement with some friends.

I guess you can say that Forked Tongue is my first solo album (if you can call it an album). It's really just some guitar riffs and sketches that allow the reader to hear what Louie's talking about in the book. It's an extra, like the album artwork I mentioned in an earlier question. Plus, with technology, it's easy to upload and share music for free. I already have a few tunes for the next book.

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