I’ve got a special treat for you guys today. Here we’ve got Sarah Quigley, author of TMI, which debuts today. I posted a review of it earlier and I’m so happy to feature her interview. With interviews on this site, I’ll be focusing on certain aspects of writing and publishing. For my first interview, I wanted to lighten things up. Here’s How to Write Humor, An Interview with Sarah Quigley!
Kidlit: The tone of Becca’s blog posts is so much fun and such a cool addition to her character. What came first for you as a writer, the story and the narrative or the posts?
Sarah Quigley: TMI would not exist if it weren’t for my own blog, which was discovered by an editor at Dutton Children’s Books. She contacted me to see if I was interested in writing a young adult novel, and it was her idea to have a blogging heroine.
On my own blog, I created an alter ego named Babs. Babs was living my life, but she was much cooler, wittier, and sexier than me in everything she did. I wanted the same kind of blogging outlet for Becca in TMI. On her blog, Becca becomes Bella, who verbally slays her enemies and woos the hottest guy in school.
The story/narrative and blog posts had a chicken and egg relationship. They were so intertwined from the beginning that I have no idea which came first. As I developed the story, I added and reworked blog posts many times. Some of the original posts were fairly tame, and my husband encouraged me to make them more outrageous and elaborate. I had a blast chasing after Becca’s runaway imagination.
KL: How did you hone and develop Becca’s voice? What was your inspiration?
SQ: Becca and I have lot in common. We’re both sarcastic and emotional and inappropriate. Many of the things that Becca says and thinks are things that I have said and thought, so that part was easy. However, early in the story, Becca vows to stop oversharing, and this left me with the challenge of maintaining the voice of a TMI girl who can no longer say whatever she wants.
I had to simultaneously show how conflicted Becca was about what she could say and not say while allowing her to continue to think freely. As I wrote every conversation, I had to layer the things that Becca actually said with what she wanted to say.
KL: There is a lot of verbal humor here, too, but a lot of funny situations. A lot of humor writers think that the right mix of both is the key to a consistently funny novel. What do you think has more humorous potential, witty dialogue or putting a character into funny or embarrassing situations? Which of these two was more challenging to write?
SQ: This question immediately makes me think of David Sedaris, one of my favorite writers. Sedaris often writes about weird things that happen to him, and that can be funny. Even funnier, though, is Sedaris’s knack for drawing the humor out of ordinary situations with dialogue and observation. His style inspires me.
I find plotting quite difficult, and I struggled to come up with a storyline for TMI that put Becca in funny situations. I was much more comfortable staying in her head, giving her snarky little thoughts and observations about the world.
KL: TMI is mostly funny but there are definitely serious situations in the mix. How did you handle juggling these two aspects of it?
SQ: In early drafts, I actually made some of the serious parts of the novel even more dire. My editor advised me to tone them down because they were detracting from the humorous parts and because they were unrealistic. I also made the villains a little too evil, almost cartoon-like. Looking back on the first version of TMI, I can practically see them twisting their mustaches and cackling maniacally. I thought their nastiness would be funny, but it was merely a distraction from the real story.
KL: The naked younger brother is definite comic relief. Was there anything else that you put in the book just for huge belly laughs?
SQ: Some of the blog entries don’t really move the plot along. I was just having fun being silly and thinking of ways for Becca to vent.
KL: You got a book contract with your blog but did it ever get you in trouble? Do tell!
SQ: One of the earliest posts on my blog was a story about a guy I made out with one summer in college. He had an entertaining name (it would look perfect in the opening credits of a porn film), and I couldn’t resist mentioning it.
Fast forward eight years. I got an email from this guy asking me to remove his name from my blog. Apparently, my mention of his name had caused some “awkward personal and professional situations.” Of course, I felt awful. I immediately removed the entire story and apologized. He was very gracious about the whole thing, but I definitely beat myself up a little for believing that people I wrote about would never see my blog. You’d think I would have learned that after writing TMI. I guess life really does imitate art sometimes.