Denny and Genny Libra are, after Star and her family, probably the most important characters in Hope Is a Ferris Wheel. The story, after all, started as a way for me to explain how Star and Genny became best friends, basically. But first, a little about how they came to be!
I actually laughed when I found this old Denny drawing. This, I’m pretty sure, must be the first drawing of Denny I ever did. I left my notes there so you could read them. From the beginning, there was a pretty heavy emphasis on his eyes. The first version of Denny was a timid, shy boy who didn’t say much. (And he was a sixth-grader in the Sixth-Grade Delinquents story.)
Shortly after drawing this doodle, I named him Denny. While walking to the store one day in my hometown of Eureka, California, trying to come up with a good last name for him, I thought up the name “Libra.” It sounded pretty good. Denny Libra. I knew I’d remember it!
I didn’t. I forgot it as soon as I got home and didn’t remember it for several months. So, writers: ALWAYS WRITE STUFF DOWN.
Not too long after naming Denny, I got Star. The two seemed like a hilarious pair: Star, loud and flashy, Denny, quiet and mousy. They were natural-born enemies. Oddly enough, Denny’s “theme song” was “Jenny, You’re Barely Alive” by Rilo Kiley. Something about the way it sounded matched Denny’s personality pretty well at that point. While listening to that song one day and thinking about Denny, I decided he should totally have a sister named Jenny.
Except… I couldn’t figure out why Denny’s parents would name him something a little weird like Denny and then slap the very common name Jenny on his sister.
So I changed it to Genny. I didn’t want her to be Gennifer, though, so I made her full name Geneva. Geneva and Denny are two names I can believe that two kids in the same family can have. (Names are important! Always think about names and whether they fit together!) The only thing I didn’t like was that Geneva Libra doesn’t have quite the awesome ring to it that Denny Libra has. BUT I figured maybe that’s part of the reason why Genny likes to be called Genny instead of Geneva.
Also, c’mon. It’s hilarious to have a brother and sister named Denny and Genny. There’s a good line I had in one of the previous drafts where Eddie refers to them as “The Wonder Twins” and Star just says, “They’re not twins.” I can’t explain why I think that’s funny. It just is.
Here’s the first picture I ever drew of the two of them together. (They were on opposite sides of the page, though, so I scanned them separately.) Denny was still a bit timid at this point, but you can tell that Genny’s personality has always been upbeat. But they’re both lanky, it’s just that Genny hides it better, and they have the same face shape. I always meant for them to look like a brother and sister. (I also think, at this stage, that I wanted Denny to look like a kid whose mom still dressed him, while Genny was a kid who dressed herself. I later dropped that.)
These two Dennys were probably drawn about a year apart. In that time, I began actually writing Hope Is a Ferris Wheel and mean Denny took over, pushing timid Denny off a cliff. Mean Denny is more fun to write than timid Denny anyway. All the insults he shoots at Star aren’t things he actually believes, they’re things he thinks would bother her. So he’s not really the jerk he seems to be. Still, Denny and Star aren’t and probably never will be friends.
Genny, on the other hand…
Man, look at that hair. This is an extremely old picture of Genny, a picture where I was trying to capture what she might look like during 4th grade. (Because, like every other character in Hope Is a Ferris Wheel, Genny started out as a side character in the Sixth-Grade Delinquents story. As a fifth-grader, of course.)
Genny’s two main characteristics, to contrast her brother, were “nice” and “talkative.” In the first two drafts of the book, Genny was sick with a disease I never bothered to look up. It didn’t really fit in the story and felt too trivial, so I dropped it. I also changed my mind about a later plot point – in the Sixth-Grade Delinquents story, Genny died a little over halfway into the school year. I never figured out what she died of, only that she died, and that Star and Denny never spoke again afterwards.
It was kind of a bummer of a storyline. I dropped it for reasons I won’t get into now, but if I ever write a sequel to Hope Is a Ferris Wheel, I’ll be able to explain.
I’m pretty sure it was draft 5 where Genny got her signature tattoos. She and Denny didn’t actually have standout personalities for a long time (aside from being nice and mean, respectively), so I spent some time on their characters. Denny didn’t actually change much, but I gave him some family issues and he seemed to stand out a bit more. Genny got tattoos, probably because I’d worked with kids who slathered themselves with rub-on tattoos and thought that was interesting.
But every time I draw Genny with her tattoos, I only get halfway down her arms because I’m lazy. They’re supposed to go all the way down to her wrists. And she’s probably got a couple on her legs.
One thing that never gets mentioned about Genny is that she loves to draw. There was a scene in some early drafts in which Star goes to the Libra house and sees Genny’s room, which is kind of messy and filled with fantasy novels. I imagine Genny draws her own fantasy lands in her spare time. Even though it never made it into the story, it informed a bit of her character for me.