Mostly Good Girls was hilarious, and early reports suggest that your upcoming release, Past Perfect, also has some "hilarious costumed hijinks" (that's courtesy of Kirkus). It's hard to be funny, especially in writing! What's your secret? What do you think is funny? Do you think there's a trick to being amusing in text, or is it a gift that you either have or don't? (ps: no pressure to, like, "be funny" in your answer!)
Leila Sales' debut novel, MOSTLY GOOD GIRLS, made me laugh out loud. Her second book, PAST PERFECT, comes out next week!! I am really looking forward to reading it (especially now that I've met Leila in person and know that she is wonderful and hilarious in real life as well as on the page).
I interviewed Leila about what it takes to be so gosh-darn amusing, her writing process, and what she does in her free time. Enjoy!
|Here is a picture of me (third from left, hiding deer) and Leila (second from right, angry deer?), along with other amazing (and weird) YA authors during our Fire Island writing retreat.|
Leila:The best way to write funny books is to read funny books. This is true of pretty much anything, by the way. If you want to write mysteries, you should read a million mysteries. If you want to write a romance, you should inundate yourself with romance novels. Eventually the rules of how to do it just seep into your consciousness.
When MOSTLY GOOD GIRLS came out last year, I did a whole blog tour with seven of my best tips for how to write funny. You can read those old posts if you go here and scroll down nearly to the bottom: http://travelingtoteenstours.weebly.com/index.html.
Sometimes things turn out funny the first time I write them, but sometimes it takes a lot of editing. Sometimes I’ll write a whole page of material and then look at it and realize that the punchline actually came in the second sentence, and everything else has to go.
In terms of what I think is funny… I love improv comedy (in fact, I used to do improv myself). There are certain authors, like Dave Barry or Simon Rich, who make me laugh until I cry. I’m not typically into stand-up comedy. Of course there are some good stand-up comedians, but by-and-large it feels too rehearsed to me.
Mostly what makes me laugh is just joking with my friends, starting with one idea and then taking turns elaborating on it until it reaches absurd proportions. Blowing things out of proportion is always funny to me. Also, using adverbs inappropriately.
Elizabeth:You went on something of a "research trip" for Past Perfect, correct? Can you tell us a little bit about what you did and what you learned?
Leila:Ah, yes. The research roadtrip. Last May my writing partner, Rebecca Serle (author of WHEN YOU WERE MINE), and I drove from NYC down to Colonial Williamsburg, in Virginia.
|Leila sitting in a colonial cart!|
As for what I actually learned at Williamsburg… I interviewed a very thoughtful girl who had been a teen historical interpreter. A lot of the details she gave me worked their way into the book, because they do such a wonderful job of humanizing the experience. Like how the interpreters wind up with awkward tanlines from their costumes, and how sometimes their bosses carry around nail polish remover, and how they might tromp around in the mud in the treading pit at the blacksmith’s to cool down.
Other than that, Rebecca and I mostly wandered around Williamsburg and tried to get a sense of the place. Fortunately, Essex Historical Colonial Village is not supposed to be Colonial Williamsburg. Although it is somewhat similar, it is, at the end of the day, fictional. This allowed me to use the aspects of Colonial Williamsburg that interested me, but also to invent things and change around the geography as I saw fit.
Elizabeth:What is your writing routine like? What is your favorite part of the writing process?
Leila:I have a nine-to-five job, so every week I try to set aside one evening when I will write from the minute I get home from work until the minute I go to bed, and then I try to write for a full eight-hour day on Sundays, as well. That doesn’t happen every week—sometimes I do more than that, and sometimes less—but that is the goal.
Usually I sit down with a glass of water and a bunch of finger foods (grapes, baby carrots, chocolate chips, etc.). I reread the chapter that I’ve written most recently, editing as I go. Then I go straight into writing the next chapter. I treat it like I’m reading a novel—like, “Okay, I just finished reading chapter five, so now I am going to read chapter six. Only chapter six is not written yet, so I’ll just read it as I write it.”
My favorite part of the writing process is when that works, and I honestly do feel like the story is already there and I am just typing it out. Like it’s one of those hidden pictures that you paint with water in order to reveal it. Most of the time writing is a lot more work than that, but sometimes, on a good day, it just feels like reading, and then it’s very natural and fulfilling.
[E says: As a fellow nine-to-fiver, this routine sounds both manageable and fruitful. Thanks for the idea!]
Elizabeth:What is your favorite non-reading mode of leisure/entertainment - are you a movie buff? a TV addict? a theater nerd like me? Sporty Spice? the next Rachael Ray? secret online gamer?
Leila:Music! I love going out dancing (even though I only have like three dance moves). I love singing along as loud as I can (even though my singing voice is even worse than my dance moves). I love to discover new music. Some of the bands that I’ve gotten into most recently include Fitz and the Tantrums, Tennis, Cults, and Girls. You’re also welcome to friend me on last.fm (http://www.last.fm/user/lsflip) to see basically everything I have listened to since 2004. That offer may or may not appeal to you. It’s okay if it doesn’t.
Elizabeth:What is something that you're really looking forward to right now?
Leila:Halloween! Now I just need to come up with an amazing costume…
[E says: Speaking of Halloween, check back here this weekend for info about the FREAKY FURY EXTRAVAGANZA I have planned for the month of October...]
Want to win a hardcover copy of PAST PERFECT (yes, you do)?
1) Leave a comment and tell me your favorite funny book.
1) Leave a comment and tell me your favorite funny book.
2) You must be a blog follower.
3) Extra entry if you RT this contest. (Be sure to let me know that you did so in your comment.)
4) This contest is not international, sorry!
5) I'll notify the winner next Friday.