An Interview with Laurie Notaro

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?

Laurie Notaro

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.

continued on page 2

Let’s Pretend This Never Happened

I may have squealed a little when I opened the mailbox on Thursday to find Let’s Pretend This Never Happened in my mailbox. This is the much-anticipated first book by Jenny Lawson, The Bloggess. (Check out her website, her book info page, and my interview with her.)

Luckily, the book lived up to expectations. In it, Jenny shares her crazy childhood growing up in a small town in west Texas, her struggles with mental illness, her relationship ups and downs, and more. You may open this book expecting humor, and it’s there in spades, but it’s also so much more. I have to warn you, if you are a crier, you are going to cry at points when you read this book. Some stories are humorous, some are bizarre and humorous, some are poignant and humorous, and some are poignant and heartbreaking. So be prepared — your belly will ache from laughing and your head may hurt from trying not to cry. Of course, some of the crying may come from laughing so much.

My absolute favorite chapter of this book, where I literally had to put it down for a minute and wait till I finished laughing because I was laughing so hard that my eyes wouldn’t stay open enough to read the page, was the chapter “Stanley, the Magical Talking Squirrel.” Seriously, go pee before you read this chapter so nothing embarrassing happens, because you will laugh that much.

Jenny Lawson does often go places that most people would never dream of going (which you probably know if you read her blog), so she puts this warning in the introduction,

[…] I apologize in advance […] for offending you, because you’re going to get halfway through this book, […] and you’ll feel superior to all the uptight, easily offended people who need to learn how to take a fucking joke, but then somewhere in here you’ll read one random thing that you’re sensitive about, and everyone else will think it’s hysterical, but you’ll think, “Oh, that is way over the line.”

For longtime readers of The Bloggess, a few of the stories will be familiar, but they’re still funny. Most of the book, however, is new or told in a different way than it is told on her blog, so it’s well worth the read.

If you’re in Texas or Coral Gables, FL, she may be on tour in your area between April 23-28!

Jenny, The Bloggess

Related: The Bloggess Interview

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It Looked Different on the Model

It Looked Different on the Model is the latest humorous memoir from author Laurie Notaro, published in 2011.  Laurie* may be the funniest writer I have ever read in my entire life. I have discussed before that to read a Laurie Notaro book, you must possess certain traits:

  • a sense of humor
  • a love of (or at minimum tolerance of) improper humor (i.e., potty humor)
  • the ability to laugh at self and others when embarrassing things happen
  • a love for personal essays

Laurie’s books always make me laugh out loud, and this one is no exception. She is masterful at telling the details of her personal life in a way that makes you laugh outrageously — things that happen to most of us, but we bury deep so that no one knows about all of our personal foibles. But not Laurie. She throws them out there so we can laugh and relate. For example, from only the 3rd page into the book:

I found myself picking at a hangnail because of my quick discomfort, which is a nervous habit that I understand isn’t publicly acceptable, but if faced with a choice of thumb-sucking or fiddling with my crotch, I’ll eat my cuticles any day.

She also tells very relatable stories that are poignant and touching. But forget about that, let’s talk about the humor. There is a chapter on her mother’s need to forward every warning email that you will instantly relate to if your parents use email. My absolute favorite line of this entire book was in this chapter, and I hope I don’t kill the joke for you when I repeat it here:

And there it was when I checked my email: “FWD: FWD: FWD: FWD: FWD: PLEASE READ,” which in email code means “Forecasting World Destruction,” and the more times it’s repeated in the subject, the more times the world has the potential to be destroyed.

FWD will have new meaning to me from now on.

If you do pick up It Looked Different on the Model, make sure to check out Laurie’s website afterwards, because she has a photo gallery related to the book.

* I normally don’t refer to authors by their first names, but I spent an hour with Laurie on the phone last week and she is so friendly and personable that I can’t NOT call her by her first name. That interview will be posted later this week, with a giveaway to boot!

P.S. This article links to Laurie’s books on Amazon, but Laurie would tell you to buy local.

Related Review: The Idiot Girl and the Flaming Tantrum of Death