My favorite part: meeting new people, interviewing up-and-coming artists, and occasionally connecting with an artist and developing a friendship. I meet some of the neatest people.
My least favorite part: dealing with the occasional ego, having to work around tour schedules to get an interview, and feeling like I’m really bugging someone when I’m deadline and need information. And transcribing interview tapes. I hate transcribing interview tapes more than I hate housework.
What one interview has touched you the most?
Wow, there have been a few. But the one band that I will never forget is a long disbanded group called The Combat Junkies. I interviewed them at my first GMA. Hardcore, tattooed, totally out of my comfort zone, and they were the most tender-hearted, kindest young men I’ve ever met. When everyone else went to bed during GMA week, they’d go out on the street and sit with the homeless, just talking about Jesus. They really had hearts to minister to the unloved. Like a thousand other bands, they just couldn’t make it in the business financially, but they remain to me a shining example of what Christian music should really be about. Pray, serve, then play.
You’ve attended GMA (Gospel Music Association) Week. Do you feel that opportunity has been a valuable career booster? How?
Absolutely. You interact with other journalists, get access to the artists, learn how the industry works, and see the good (and bad) of Christian entertainment. I’ve developed lifelong friendships with people I’ve met at GMA and I’ve made industry contacts that have helped me do my job better. If you want to write about or for the Christian music industry, you really need to go. What I do during that one week keeps me working all year and the contacts are priceless.
Give our readers hints on writing humor…the best hints you’ve got. The golden eggs and all that.
Wow, that’s a whole book. In fact, if you want to write humor I suggest you check out the book, “The Comic Toolbox” by John Vorhaus, and attend the Erma Bombeck Writers Workshop.
But a few hints? There are rules about writing humor. Here’s a link that gives more help. The comic equation is Comedy = Truth + Pain, and if enough time hasn’t passed to face the pain, then Comedy = Truth + Exaggeration. Land on the funny, which means don’t give the joke away too soon. Words that start with a hard “g” or “k” sound make people laugh more. (Don’t ask me how, but someone studies these things. “Gerbil” is apparently funnier than “hamster.”) Remember the “Rule of 3”, which is “blank, blank and blank.”
Depending on what you’re writing, the formula will be different. Cards are different than stand up gags which are different than columns which are different than a first grader’s book report.
I could give away more secrets but then I’d have to kill you, and since I faint at the sight of blood, I’d probably just maim you before I passed out, leaving you with a gaping head wound and no one to drive you to the hospital.
Where do your column ideas come from? How do you keep your columns fresh?
My columns come from stupid things I do, stupid things other people do, or stupid things I think about doing but catch myself before I do. Since I am continually doing or saying something stupid, I’m never at a loss for material.
Share some wisdom you’ve earned while working as a columnist.
Use as few words as possible. Column space is usually limited, so I can’t stress enough the importance of learning to make every word count. Remember that scene in “A River Runs Through It”, where the kid writes an essay and the father keeps telling him to do it again, using half as many words? Learn how to do that.
You’ve begun writing greeting cards. Do you find your writing style changing through the exercise of telling tiny stories? How? Has it helped in other writing?
Well, humorous greeting cards aren’t really tiny stories. They’re one line gags with very little room for the joke set up. If you were doing a stand up routine, for example, you’d do a few giggle jokes that lead up to some chuckles and pay it all of with the guffaws, because you have time to do that and the goal is to make people laugh. With a card, you have about 20 words to not only make someone laugh, but to convey a sentiment. It’s a “knock knock” joke with a message.
Has it helped in my other writing? Only in that is pays enough to keep me from having to get a real job.
Share the most valuable thing you’ve learned through writing greeting cards.
That I’m better at buying humorous cards than writing them. I actually spent a week in freelance training at a major card company and I learned that writing humor cards is very hard work. When I asked the in house writers what their favorite cards were, they opened their reject files. Only about 20% of the cards they write actually get used. If you have a problem with rejection, writing humor cards is definitely not for you.
Would you care to share details about any strange writing habits you might have?
I can go for days without seeing anyone except my husband, so I frequently talk to my Border collie, Scout. In fact, I just asked him if he had any thoughts about what strange habits I might have and, much like my husband, he’s ignoring me.
I do take frequent breaks to go outside to play with Scout. In the winter I throw snowballs and he chases them. In the summer, I blow bubbles and he chases them. In fact, he heard just me type the word “bubbles” and is now pulling at my sleeve to go out and play.
My desk is a bit strange. I have a dozen or so toys and photos on my computer top and around my desk – like my quacking stuffed duck and peeping chick, a wind up chicken that lays gumballs, my Buzz Lightyear and Prince Charming Happy Meal toys, pictures of my family, and a “grow your own therapist” toy, which I haven’t opened but am saving in case of emergency. I also have a tea bag tag that says, “If ignorance is bliss why aren’t there more happy people?” and a key chain propped up in front of me that says, “It’s amazing how long it takes to finish something you’re not working on.” So I guess that I’m surrounded by silliness, which begets more silliness.
Any insecurities when it comes to writing – expand on that if it’s a yes. If it’s no, just skip the question…
Yes. That someday everyone’s going to realize I can’t write.
I hate when people ask me this question because I could never list all of my favorite authors (mostly because, now that I’ve turned 40-something I can’t remember their names). But next to my bed are books by David Sedaris, Bill Bryson, Jane Austin, Charles Dickens, John Steinbeck (I just read “Winter of our Discontent” for maybe the 8th time), Alexander McCall Smith, Amy Tan, Sandra Kring, Flannery O’Conner, Maya Angelou, Jon Katz, and about two dozen more, including a humor anthology called “May Contain Nuts”, the Bible, and C.S. Lewis’ “The Great Divorce”.
Columnists who’ve inspired you.
I grew up reading Erma Bombeck, Ann Landers, and Art Buchwald in the daily paper. I enjoy Bruce Cameron’s columns and Tim Bete is pretty darn funny. I love USA Today’s Craig Wilson. When I get the paper, I read the editorial columnists like Cal Thomas; in fact, I read them all, the ones I agree with and the ones I don’t. And I like to read the My Turn column in Newsweek.
Favorite writing-how-to books.
Making A Literary Life, by Carolyn See
On Writing, by Stephen King
Bird by Bird, by Anne Lammott
The Comic Toolbox, by John Vorhaus
Those are the ones I remember reading … there are probably more …
Comedians who’ve influenced you.
Mary Tyler Moore, Marlo Thomas, and Lucille Ball, of course. I love goofy, funny, insecure, women. (Am I the only one who remembers when Ann Marie served peanut butter on Corn Flakes as party appetizers? My kind of hostess.) And I love Ellen DeGeneres. But growing up, I really, really, really wanted to be like Carol Burnett. When I was maybe 10 years old I dressed up like her washer woman character for Halloween and won a contest. She is the master of the comedy sketch. The “Eunice and Mama” bits still make me laugh until I cry. Yeah, that’s what I want to do when I grow up. Be Carol Burnett.
Do you think the humor market is easier to slide into or columns?
I don’t think either is easy. Like anything writing-related, they both require talent, hard work, natural ability, hard work, and God’s hand guiding you the entire way. Oh, and a lot of hard work. Humor is not easy to write. For every funny joke you hear the writer probably wrote 10 that he threw away. Most people don’t realize that.
How does column writing differ from humor column writing?
A column takes many, many forms – advice, how-to, political, opinion, Q & A, devotional – and any can incorporate humor. But an outright humor column can be a just for the sake of the laugh columns, like Dave Barry. Or you can write an amusing, slice of life columns, like Erma Bombeck. I would never put myself in the same category as Erma Bombeck, but I write more slice of life columns than outright humor.
I’m teaching a class on writing columns this fall at Writers and Books in Rochester, NY for any readers in the area who might be interested.
Do you lean toward humor writing or is it a challenge for you?
I think humorous writing comes naturally for me. I don’t write ha-ha laugh out loud, Dave Barry, aliens are running the IRS kind of humor. I write mildly amusing takes on everyday life. I tend to say things other people only think about, and a lot of my humor comes from admitting my flaws and goof ups. Most people comment on things that strike a chord with them, like when I admitted that I wouldn’t go on a mission trip because I didn’t want to be without my hair dryer for a week. (Apparently I’m the only one willing to admit to being so shallow.) And one column I wrote, “Mind Reading Mommy,” really resonates with moms who are being systematically driven insane by their children.
Writing jokes or stand up comedy? I don’t know if I could do that.
You also freelance for several well-know publications. What is your favorite thing to write about?
I love to tell people’s stories, especially when they might be stories that are otherwise overlooked. At GMA, I tend to interview unknown artists, who have all the time in the world to talk and who have interesting stories that have nothing to do with music. Those are the artists who will hang out with you for hours and that’s always when you find the story. I love writing about missions and serving God, and also about my dog and my cat. I would write more about my husband and daughter but they might never speak to me again, and while the dog and cat are great listeners they don’t give much feedback and I still need someone to tell me when my pants make my butt look big.
Who would you most like to see interviewed at Novel Journey? And do you have any questions you’d like us to ask them?
OK, here’s one. I know he died in 1984, but I’d ask author Philip Van Doren if he liked what Frank Capra did with “It’s A Wonderful Life” and if he ever felt jealous that no one knew the film was based on his short story, “The Greatest Gift”.