Thursday, May 27, 2010

INTERVIEW: Laurie Notaro - Journalist and a New York Times best-selling author of "The Idiot Girls’ Action Adventure Club"

Welcome to “Up Close and Personal.” For every interview I will be introducing a literary personality discussing their views and insights, as well as upcoming literary events around the world.

Today’s interview is with Laurie Notaro. She is a Journalist and a New York Times best-selling author. She was born in Brooklyn, New York, and raised in Phoenix, Arizona. She graduated from Arizona State University major in Journalism. Ms. Notaro was a columnist for ten years at ‘The Arizona Republic’ which is a conservative newspaper.

Her book, The Idiot Girls’ Action Adventure Club, was a New York Times Best-Seller in 2002. The book is comprised pieces of Ms. Notaro writing from a magazine when she was in college at Arizona State University. It was a small publication called Java and a Planet magazine she started with her friends in 1994.

Originally The ‘Idiot Girls’ Action Adventure Club which is a funny collection of biographical essays was self-published through an independent publishing company. Ms. Notaro tried to get published for seven years but was rejected by countless mainstream publishers before taking her destiny in her own hands by self-publishing it through iUniverse in December of 2000.

Through her marketing efforts and a call from an agent Jenny Bent offered to sell her book and it was sold within three days. It was picked up by Random House which was a six-figure, two-book deal in October 2001.

Ms. Notaro is also the author of Autobiography of a Fat Bride, I Love Everybody, We Thought You’d Be Prettier, and An Idiot Girl’s Christmas.

Her new book “Spooky Little Girl” is about Lucy Fisher, an average happy go lucky, self centered girl, up until she gets back from a vacation and discovers her life turned upside down. Her fiancé leaves her possessions in their lawn, she loses her job, and just when it can't get any worse, ends up being killed when she walks in front of a bus on her way to see her sister.

She later finds herself as a ghost, in “ghost school,” and later haunting the last place she ever wanted to be in. She finds her fiancée dumped her and why nobody attend her funeral? None of her friends know that she is dead. To them she is just missing. The only way to a happy ending now depends on how she does in Ghost School.

"Spooky Little Girl" is now available in bookstores and on line.

E.I. Would you share some early self-reflection to give us a sense of who you were as a teenager? What were you like? Give your readers three “Good to Know” facts about your first job experience, the inspiration for your writing career, any fun details or anecdotes that would enliven your page. Also tell us about Laurie Notaro today -- the woman behind the New York Times bestselling author of The Idiot Girls’ Action Adventure Club.

Laurie Notaro: As a teenager? That was a really, really long time ago. I guess I had started to write a little bit in English and Creative Writing classes, I worked on my high school newspaper, I had a horrible little humor column in there that was dreadful. But it was the beginning of what I do today, I suppose. I was in the melt-away middle social class in high school--I definitely wasn't popular, I was in that in-between that no one really ever notices. I had frizzy hair, braces, and bad skin. What can you do? You have to shed those years, you don't get to skip them. While it wasn't enjoyable to go through, I know that having frizzy hair and braces was a base for my writing perspective today. Once you've been that girl, you really never shed her, even decades later.

Three "Good to Know" facts about my first job...?
1. I worked for free.
2. I worked for free.
3. I worked for free.

I get tons of email from young writers who want to know how they can make money from writing. My first real bylines came about because I was willing to work for nothing and I did it because I needed to establish myself as a writer; I knew I had to pay my dues first. I'm big on paying dues, but that was also the best way to get into the game, or break into the profession. You start small. I didn't write my first piece for Vanity Fair; hardly anyone does that. You start at the bottom of the ladder, and more times than not, that means you do it because you love what you do, and eventually, you hope to get a $15 paycheck. Sometimes people don't appreciate things unless they've seen them from the bottom up. I went to journalism school at Arizona State University, and I worked my butt off. My academic record certainly suffered, but in turn, I got a great education in for the college magazine and interning at other publications around the city. For free.

Who am I today? I still work for free on occasion. I'm still building my readership and maintaining it. Marketing has become a part of any writer's life, and you spend half of your time—if not more—working to get your stuff out there. I'm very fortunate to have had the opportunities that came my way, very lucky, and in many ways, I'm glad that it took me so many years to secure a book deal (it took seven years of round the clock attempts) because I know what it's like to work to get one. The fact that i get to write something and it gets published is very, very dear to me.

E.I. What is it about the art form of writing funny memoir and humorous novels entirely that enchants you, and gives you the enduring passion to continue in such a demanding profession?

Laurie Notaro: Honestly, if I can make someone chuckle or laugh when they're having a shitty day, that's all I need. I love doing what I do--once I get into the rhythm of things, it is an absolute ball. Sometimes it takes a while to get there, and I get blocked just like everyone else. But when I'm working on a piece and it's going well and everything is coming together, it's a fantastic feeling. If I can make myself laugh when I'm working, I doubt there's a better job out there at that moment. I doubt very much that there's an art to it. I don't take that kind of thing very seriously. I like telling stories. I like laughter, and if I can get that in tandem, man, that's a gold rush to me.

E.I. Please tell your young readers about your novel “Spooky Little Girl.” What was it that sparked your imagination? What were your favorite aspects about this book?

Laurie Notaro: The basis of this book came about when I was getting my teeth cleaned at the dentist's office and the dental hygienist, Jody, said I reminded her of her friend, Lucy Fisher, and she went on to tell me that Lucy had been killed in a truck accident, although it took her friends a very long time to find out that she had died. There was something that was very moving about that story--it was sad and tragic, because no one wants to end that way. We all want to be remembered, no one wants to be forgotten. So that was a great jumping off point for me--to take the story of Lucy's death and start the story from there. I loved being able to sort of bring Lucy "back to life," and create a whole world where the living and the dead are mingling together, very often shoulder to shoulder, though only the dead know it. Creating the ghost school--where Lucy learns how to be a spirit and use the skills of a ghost--was also a lot of fun. It isn't often that you get to build a new universe in a plot, so I had a blast figuring things out and determining the parameters of this new space.

E.I. How do you weave so much fun of information while writing and creating the character ‘Lucy Fisher’ and yet you keep them so fast-paced? Did you work them out in advance, or did they evolve as you wrote the story?

Laurie Notaro: While I didn't know Lucy Fisher personally, Jody told me enough about her to use as a base. But certainly, she built herself as the story moves along. She starts out as a flaky, good-time girl who usually gets out of trouble she's created because of luck--and by the book's end, she's someone altogether different, she matures in her own death. There was so much to squeeze into the plot that I didn't have time to take it easy or plod along, plus, I wanted the rhythm of the book to resemble the romantic comedies of the 30's, Cary Grant, Irene Dunne, Carole Lombard movies. Screwbally. Funny, nutty, disastrous, then coming together to weave a great ending. I had Martin and Nola planned out far better than I had thought about Lucy. I let Lucy be who she needed to be, I sort of followed her lead. Naunie, too. Naunie was never supposed to be that naughty, but she was on fire toward the end. Crazy old lady.

E.I. You've created a cast of so remarkably captivating and really fun characters: Lucy Fisher, Martin and Nola that your readers definitely clamor for more; how did you decide what level of details your readers will accept? How does your creative process work?

Laurie Notaro: People accept what's familiar to them; when they recognize something, I think they are more apt to embrace it or find it funny. I know I am certainly that way. I think everyone has known a version of Martin, who's very straight-arrow, no-nonsense, very grounded, and Nola, who is very lonely, desperate, jealous, and biting. I don't spend time telling the reader who these people are--it's more effective to show them through the actions of the character and through the observations of other characters. I learned that from a marvelous mentor and editor I had while working at a city magazine, Dick Vonier--he insisted that you show, not tell. This way, the reader gets to bring their own translation of the character to the page--they ultimately get to decide who this person is, and the way you that is to let them decide. It's not really up to me. I don't want the reader to read the book--I want to put them in the book. I want them to see what I see when I'm writing a scene, to hear what I hear. Every one relates to something different, not one perspective is standard. Show the reader a picture of the character, observe them in their daily life--what they do, how they act, what they say. Maybe it will remind them of their dad, brother, co-worker, let them bring that identity into what you've provided and that will fill out a character for a reader. For instance, my husband told me he knew I had based Martin on him--and honestly, Martin doesn't have any of the characteristics I see in my husband, and is in no way based on him. Martin is not my husband, in my eyes. But my husband did relate to Martin from some angle--enough to see himself in that character, when I think Martin and my husband are sort of polar opposites.

E.I. If you were asked to read a page from “Spooky Little Girl” is there one that you would personally select to share with your fans? And why?

Laurie Notaro: Oh, boy. I have lots of favorite scenes, but my I think my absolute favorites are two of the most pivotal points in the book. They're not funny. One is the last scene in chapter nineteen, both Lucy and Martin go through tremendous changes in a matter of seconds, both facing the honesty about where they are and what they have done, and both of them in very, very different places. It's a very quiet scene, it's very simple, it happens in only several paragraphs, but at the same time, it's the most complicated aspect of the book. Another, of course, is the very last scene in the whole book, when Lucy meets up again with Bethanny to tie the whole thing together. I was elated when I wrote that last line. I was really, really happy for Lucy.

E.I. If you were allowed total control of the Hollywood version of “Spooky Little Girl” who would be in it? And in your opinion who do you think should direct?

Laurie Notaro: Oh boy, what a fantasy, huh? I would love Danny DeVito to direct it; he directed my all time favorite movie, Death to Smoochy. I have never really thought about pairing the characters up with actors, but Lauren Graham comes to mind as Lucy, Betty White as Naunie, I have no idea for Nola--maybe Kirstie Alley or Kathy Najimy? I can see them both being feisty enough. And for Martin--I actually based the physical part of Martin off of the guy who really did work in the produce department at my Safeway. No idea what his name is.

E.I. How many years of research did you do to a ghost protagonist in your novel? How did you overcome these challenges?

Laurie Notaro: I did do research, but this was an area that I had always been interested in and read a lot about already. I love ghost stories, and I love the idea of the possibility of ghosts. The great thing is that there is no hard, fast science about the afterlife, so I was free to make all of it up. So I did. My Nana had just died when I began working on this book, so when I was building ghost school and The State, I used my idea of where I wanted her to be at that moment. Would it be a place where she could finally play cards with Paul Newman and Frank Sinatra, or where you could eat brownie batter with your finger with no consequences? I wouldn't say I spend years doing research, but I did pull the book together over the course of a year and a half before I started actually writing it (I was working on Flaming Tantrum at the time). I watched every ghost show I could, took lots of notes, and followed the sites of real ghost hunters across the country. I did read several books, but there really aren't that many out there that are not gimmicky and that really focus on the science of what might be out there. Mary Roach's "Spook" was fascinating and helpful. I have also been to an "exorcism" when I was covering a story many years ago about psychics, and I used much of that experience to write the scene in the book that parallels.

E.I. And finally what’s next with Laurie Notaro? Can you give your fans a sneak peek about your upcoming book?

Laurie Notaro: I'm going back to non-fiction for this next book, and then hopefully back to fiction for the one after that. I have a great idea that I would love to explore--and again, it takes place in a whole different sort of reality. I'm very excited about it.

E.I. Ms. Notaro, Thank you for contributing to my blog. It has been a pleasure for me to get to know your work a little better. Would you like to end your interview with a writing tip or advice for young aspiring writers all over the world?

Laurie Notaro: Tenacity. Write because you love it. And success is whatever wyou call it--if you write something you're proud of, that is success. If you get it published in a hometown newspaper, that is success. Set yourself goals and simply do not give up until you reach them.

Photo of Laurie Notaro by Shelley Spray.

To learn more about Laurie Notaro, please visit her website

To purchase her books, please visit AMAZON and Barnes & Noble

1 comment:

Summer said...

Love this! And especially the "show don't tell" bit. I'm captivated by her "autobiography of a fat bride" right now.