Welcome Nora Blithe to my virtual corner of the world, where the coffee is expensive, and the wine is free. It will never give you a headache. Drink up.
Bummer. I just had three cups of coffee. Is it too late to switch to wine? And can you loan me some cash? I’m out now.
I deliberated on the best way to ask you to introduce yourself to the readers, which for the interviews, is like the first line of the novel. I went back and forth and then it hit me. Nora, today you are the guest host on Saturday Night Live and have a two-minute monologue. Go for it.
I haven’t watched SnL for years so for “research” I watched four seasons just to brush up. I’m back now and ready to answer your questions. What was the question?
Since I’m monologuing, I should start by saying I’ve never met a microphone I didn’t like. I hope everyone has more than two minutes. It’s true! I love to speak in front of people. I’ve told stories since I was a child. I can turn the littlest mishap at the gas station into a ten (yes, ten) minute monologue and leave the room gasping for air. Call it a gift, or a curse. Depends on how many times you’ve heard me tell the same story. I actually practice these stories in my head so in a sense, I’ve been writing all my life. In 2011, I began my blog “Door in Face” and the stories I used to say out loud turned to the written word. I knew I’d found my niche. Later that same year, I began writing my column “Life Face First” which is now carried in three states and I’ve more recently begun a novel.
Before 2011 and humor, what did you write about? I gathered since you skipped over your algebra homework to write, you were scribbling about something. Fess up, what was it?
What didn’t I write about might be easier to answer. In class in high school, when I was supposed to be taking notes, I used to try to write down all the words to Simon and Garfunkel songs. I also made up stories but never wrote endings for any of them. I remember one about a witch. In college, I was an English major and an honors student (shocking after my performance in high school.) I actually paid attention in class in college. It was while writing my honors thesis that I really learned to write. It actually has an ending, for example. My thesis was a riveting examination of films made of Shakespeare’s plays and how filmmakers altered the movies to fit modern ideas of gender roles. (Can’t wait to read that I bet.) In between college and humor, I even wrote about mental health. I did a lot of writing about depression and anxiety, my own experiences with it and how my faith played a major role in overcoming it. After all that dreariness, I was ready for something brighter. A humor writer was born.
I made the mistake of reading some posts while I was at work. Bad idea. I was chuckling like a mad woman at my desk, so of course, I have to ask about your process. How do you do it, make the mundane so amusing?
I think the mundane is amusing all on its own. It’s all about perspective. I don’t really make it amusing so much as point out what’s already funny about it. I once wrote a piece about being late for yoga and how I dashed to make my class on time. There’s a natural irony there. I was stressing over hurrying to relax. I also wanted to rant about how annoying all the questions are at a gas pump. Add an inquisitive and slow machine to a frantic charge to a class where I go relax and bam! You’ve got humor.
I write everywhere. I have two computers: a desktop and a laptop. I write in my office, in my bed, at Panera Bread, in my head in the shower. If something strikes me as funny, my brain starts picking at it right away. I even keep a notebook in my purse for ideas since I can’t type fast enough on my smartphone.
There is a novel in the works. How does the writing differ between the novel and your regular writing? Is there more structure, less, plotting or pants-er? Is this a lifelong dream?
Yes, writing a novel is my lifelong dream! There’s a lot of difference between writing the novel and a column or blog post. Writing for newspapers and the web has to move fast. I try to keep those pieces to about 450 words. With the novel, I really have to break with that type of writing and slow everything down, really flesh the piece out. It’s a good challenge and a discipline. In the beginning, it felt like there was so much information to deal with that I was overwhelmed. I’ve tried several methods for organizing my thoughts but the one that works for me is a software program called Scrivener. It made it possible to organize all my notes into the computer. Once I found it, the novel began to explode.
Where you surprised by the response to your initial blogging efforts and the subsequent column?
I’m always surprised when people read my work, surprised and delighted. I think laughter is underrated by society. We tend to view comedy as somehow less than drama but it’s comedy we really need. Life is hard. If I can help people poke it with a stick then my job here is done.
What is the most challenging aspect of writing humor?
I’m glad you asked. Being funny and writing funny are two different things. Before I wrote humor, I told humorous stories. You can’t simply take the words you say and plop them on a page and get laughs. It doesn’t translate. I really had to work hard to write funny! It might, in fact, be the hardest thing I’ve ever done. You have to transport the reader in such a way that you’re not telling them jokes, you’re showing them jokes. That’s so difficult to do that I honestly can’t explain it any better than that.
Do you subscribe to the notion of writer’s block?
I don’t believe in writer’s block. I know some people do but for me it’s a matter of discipline. I have a deadline for my column every week and every week I churn out something. It’s not always the best something but I get it done and delivered on time. I’ve found that even at my least creative and least inspired, the act of sitting down with my computer and writing something, anything, will make the sparks ignite. Some of my best pieces have come from the times I felt least ready to write.
How does Brian feel about your writing as well as sometimes being the star attraction?
Brian is a remarkably good sport. He lets me pick on him. I sometimes even make things up about him. He takes it all in stride. I do get scolded if he’s what he calls the “bad guy” of my writing too often. I try to make us take turns being the goofy one. He reads almost all of what I write. The only annoying thing about him is he tries not to let me see him laugh when he reads my writing. For me, the laugh is what I do this for. (It’s obviously not the money.) It’s a game we play, me trying to make him laugh and him trying very hard not to. I often write dialogue between he and I. We really do talk that way. He’s a sort of foil for me. We banter back and forth often. He’s my best friend and we just celebrated twelve years of marriage. I honestly don’t know what I would do without him.
Suggestions for aspiring humorists? (Is this the correct way to classify you?)
Humorist is good, a compliment even! You often hear people say write what you know. I think that’s another way of saying be true to yourself. When I first began, I tried writing humor in several ways, I settled on the style that I thought best suited me and who I wanted to write for. Sure, I can write scandalous humor laced with cursing and devient sexulity, I mean who can’t? But I wanted to write something I wouldn’t be ashamed for my mother to read. Knowing myself and knowing my audience helped me settle into what you read today.
Now… tell the readers where they can find you…
The best place to find me is on my blog “Door In Face” which easily enough is at www.doorinface.com. I post all my columns there in addition to my blog posts so you literally can read everything I write, for free. I don’t give away free wine, though, sorry. Readers will have to come here for that. I’m also on Facebook. You can get the link from my blog.
Thanks for joining me today. And sorry, I don’t give refunds on used coffee.