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Bri Meets Books

Children's and YA literature reviews.

Category Archives: don calame

Don Calame is an author, a blogger, and screenwriter. And yet he took time out of his busy schedule to grant me an interview about Swim the Fly, superheroes, comedy, and more. Be sure to read his debut novel, Swim the Fly. You’ll find my review here and you can visit Don at his website, DonCalame.com

Every year, Hollywood offers up another account of that one ultimate teen summer experience. What are some of your favorite summer comedies? Did you watch any for inspiration while writing Swim the Fly?

There have been so many great teen comedies over the years. I’m a huge fan of “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” and “Say Anything,” as well as “Better Off Dead.” I could go on I guess. “Election” is great, “Superbad” and “American Pie” were both hilarious, “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” is a classic. Then there are the slightly more obscure films that I really enjoyed like “Gregory’s Girl” and “Three O’Clock High” and “Last American Virgin.” Wow, a lot of those were from the eighties – I guess I’m showing my age.

I didn’t watch any films for inspiration, though. I read a bit of what was out there already for teen guys but it was difficult to find anything (for me) that really spoke to what it was like at that age. I did, however, love Melvyn Burgess’ “Doing It.” Thought it was very funny but also had a truth and heart to it.

In your interview with Steph Su Reads, you mention Monty Python as a comedic inspiration. A comedy nerd myself, I have to ask: What’s your favorite Python routine? Movie?

That’s a tough one. I can watch many of them over and over and they still make me laugh. I love the “Wink, Wink, Nudge, Nudge” sketch and “The Cheese Shop,” bit. “Crunchy Frog,” and “The Argument Clinic.” “The Spanish Inquisition” and “The Ministry of Silly Walks.” I don’t know. I can’t choose.

Also, I love all of the Python films. If I HAD to choose I guess I’d say “Life of Brian” but the others have so many funny scenes.

Which of the Swim the Fly characters are you most like?

I probably should say Coop because everyone seems to love him and the confidence he exudes. I do think there’s some of me in all of the characters but if I’m being completely honest I’d have to say that Matt is probably most like me. The situations he gets into, the way he feels about things, his awkwardness, the way he sees the world. A lot of that comes from what I remember it being like at 15.

The dialogue of Swim the Fly really caught me with its authenticity and simpleness, it felt like snatches of conversation I’d overhear at the mall. As a teacher, you appear to have honed a real feel for the teen set. Do you get feedback from any teens during you writing process?

I tried to write conversations that my friends and I might have had. I don’t think that kind of thing changes. The things that occupy your mind at that age. Of course, you have to update the language a bit and so I’d eavesdrop on my sixteen-year-old stepson and his friends quite a bit. The whole “that’s what she said” chapter in the book came from that. I don’t know what I’ll do when he goes off to college. I might have to start going to the malls and stealing bits of conversations.

On your website, I noticed a Spiderman doll, and you mentioned you wrote two screenplays for Marvel. If you had a superhero power, what would it be?

That Spiderman doll was one I’ve had since I was eight years old. It’s not in such great shape. His suit is threadbare, one of his arms hangs loose and his right leg is broken at the knee. If he had to go into battle in the shape he’s in, he’d be toast.

Having superpowers is a tough gig, I think. You’d feel so responsible. Like you had to save the world and you wouldn’t be able to and you’d always feel like you came up short somehow. Still, I don’t know that I’d be able to turn down the ability to fly if it was offered. Or maybe if I could instantly transport myself somewhere and I could avoid all the hassle of airports and the tiny seats in airplanes.

And the question I always ask..

If you could live inside any children’s book, which title would it be and why?

Something peaceful, I think. There’s too much going on in “The Wizard of OZ.” And if you had to live inside the Narnia books you’d always be going to battle. Same with “The Lord of the Rings.”

Maybe I’d choose a nice picture book like “The Night Before Christmas.” Although, you never actually do get to Christmas morning in that story, do you? You’d always be stuck in Christmas Eve. Which would kind of suck.

I do absolutely love “Where the Wild Things Are.” I guess I’ll choose that one. I just saw a trailer for the movie that looks sort of promising. I just hope they don’t screw it up. I think it would be hard to get the tone of that book right. That’s the problem with movies. And the great thing about books. Your imagination has infinitely better special effects and the stories become so much more personal and intimate when you’re the one envisioning it. Even with picture books. You provide the details and the things that go on in between pages.


At work, when I merchandise the teen section, I notice we’re always getting a deluge of books with darker themes. As my family is currently mourning somebody, I don’t necessarily want to read about unpleasant themes. So I was eager to get Swim the Fly by Don Calame. Because it is, in a word, hilarious. But being an English major, I can not be concise and therefore must use words to describe this novel: uproarious, rollicking, fun, and side-splitting come to mind.

Matt’s about to spend the summer the way he and his friends, Coop and Sean, always do: competing against each other to be the first to reach a goal. This summer’s goal? To be the first to see a real live naked girl. Soon Matt’s got another goal to reach: swimming the 100 yard butterfly on his swim team to impress his crush Kelly and the new girl on the swim team. To accomplish this, Matt seeks the help of a eccentric and nearly-sadistic swim instructor, Ulf, who tortures Matt with his unorthodox training methods. Meanwhile, the race to reach the guys’ goal continues with hilarious results.

Calame’s background as a screenwriter (Employee of the Month and the Disney Channel original movie Hounded) shines throughout the novel, as each page is perfectly paced, beat by beat. Here the laughs really are a mile a minute. As each plan fails – some the fodder of popular teen shows, such as nude beaches, hiding in the locker room – they get more wild and ridiculous, but always hilarious. Whether it’s the mishaps due to a powerful new laxative or an ill-fated trip to a nude beach, Matt and his friends never fail to bring the laughs. Although slightly crude, like films of the Jude Apatow ilk, Swim the Fly still packs a lot of heart. The rest of the novel is rounded out with great moments by his family, including a grandfather sweet on a widowed neighbor. Not just a boy book, it’s a great summer read and one that’ll be packed in my beach bag this summer!

Copy for review provided by the publisher.

Title: Swim the Fly
Date: April 14, 2009
Publisher: Candlewick
Pages: 352
Format: Hardback

Visit the author’s website for a chapter excerpt, the book trailer, and more.