Laurie Notaro is the New York Times Best-selling author of several memoirs and two novels. If you’ve read my reviews of her books, you’ll know I think she’s one of the funniest humorists out there. Recently, Laurie was gracious enough to speak with me. We spent a good hour talking and laughing, so this post is broken into 3 pages. Fans will be happy to learn that Laurie is finishing a draft of a new memoir to be released next year, and in our interview, she mentions some stories that will be included.
Who do you look to for inspiration in your writing?
I look to my readers, honestly. When something happens that could possibly be material, sometimes I’ll try it out on Facebook and see how people respond to it. If I don’t get too many responses or posts, then I know it’s not relatable. I use Facebook as a litmus test; it works really well. I have to think, is this experience specific to me or relatable to other people?
There’s no other specific author that I look to. I’ve never been like that. I don’t read other humor writers. Sometimes I do when I have downtime and am not working, but when I do, I don’t want to get caught up in cycle of “I should have thought of that joke.” I want to make sure use my own rhythms and writing style. I have writers that I love, but they are completely outside of my genre.
Basically, my readership and my friends.
You mostly write humorous memoirs, but have also published two novels. How does your writing process differ when you’re writing memoirs vs. novels?
It differs a great deal. Per my publisher, when I do a novel, I have to hand in an outline, and the outline is the most major part of writing the book. I have to figure out each and every chapter, who the characters are, what the ending will be–and I haven’t even written the book yet, this is very surface level. I have to do character descriptions, and figure out how can I describe this person in one sentence? Very encapsulated.
Writing non-fiction is easier in some ways and harder in others. I know me and I know my mom, so I know the characters really well. Of course, there’s a lot of creativity when you write a novel, but the process of writing is entirely different. It’s like putting a puzzle together, I have to tie all the ends together.
I like writing memoirs and writing novels about the same. I like inventing new stories, because I write about weird stuff. Not magical realism, but it’s beyond the scope of what could happen. I really like creating those characters (for example, the spooky ghost, chain-smoking pageant coach). I like getting out of reality a little bit. I have two more ideas for novels that I really want to do but don’t know if I can do them — it depends on what the publishers want.
You spoke of your mom being one of your characters. Does she ever get annoyed at what you write? Do your friends?
OMG, yes. She read the story about when I went back to visit them (because my grandmother had died) [this is from It Looked Different on the Model]. She got so upset when she read that piece that she put the book down and refused to read anymore. And I said you need to read to the end, because I’m so nice at the end and say how I’m glad she’s my mother.
My mom said to me, “I’m going to write a book that’s called Laurie Lies and it’s going to be a bestseller.”
As far as friends, nothing has been really exposed in the book, and I always let them read it first, so they get to tell me to rein it in or exclude it all together. Same with my sister and her kids.
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