April Foolishness: Interview with Author, Rebecca Douglass

As part of April Foolishness, I am interviewing a funny writer, Rebecca Douglass, whose new book, Death by Ice Cream, arrived recently.  I found Rebecca through Goodreads, where you can read more about her.

A few words about Rebecca:
Rebecca M. Douglass was raised on an Island in Puget Sound only a little bigger than Pismawallops.  She now lives and writes in the San Francisco Bay Area, and can be found at www.ninjalibrarian.com and on Facebook as The Ninja Librarian.  Her books include the tall tales for all ages, Ninja Librarian and Return to Skunk Corners.   Rebecca likes to spend her time outdoors, when not writing or working to make the schools the best they can be.  She spends her free time bicycling and running, and her vacations hiking, camping and backpacking.

SARETT: Are you funny in real life -- or just funny in fiction?  What led you to the comic side of the writerly aisle?
Douglass: Well, it sounds a bit fatheaded to say I’m funny, but the fact is I have what I call an inconvenient sense of humor.  I’m the person whose mind fills up with wisecracks at a funeral (or a solemn meeting).  When I started writing, that sort of wry humor came naturally.  

SARETT: I find in writing comedy that pace seems all-important.  If it is too slow, the writing feels flat-- whereas in drama, you can linger over, say, the light coming in through the forest.  What’s your feeling?
Douglass: I’m not writing comedy per se, just fiction with a light touch.  But I do think that my style does not lend itself to lengthy descriptions or musings--unless there is a touch of irony in it.  In any case, my genres (cozy mystery and children’s fiction) preclude a lot of poetic language.

SARETT: There’s that saying, dying is easy, comedy is hard.  True or not?
Douglass: Hmm.  I haven’t tried dying, though there have been a couple of occasions when an outside observer might have disagreed (and a few when I wondered if the choice was going to be mine at all).  I think that wisecracks are easy, but translating that to effective writing is much harder.  But wisecracks are a good starting place for my narrators. What’s surprising is how much editing sometimes has to go into making the comments seem natural!
SARETT: There are lot of rules about what’s good writing and what’s bad.  Is there any rule that you secretly enjoy breaking?      
Douglass: After spending 10 years getting my PhD in English Lit, I enjoy treating the language in a little less formal fashion. I like using sentence fragments.  Probably too much. And, of course, humor was never allowed in academic writing (more’s the pity.  It would be more readable if it were).

SARETT:  "Death by Ice Cream" is a “cozy” funny mystery. Is that a form you
like to read?
Douglass:  Absolutely!  I agree with the school of thought that says you shouldn’t try to write a sort of book you don’t like reading. I first came to mysteries through Charlotte MacLeod, the undisputed queen of the goofy mystery.  She loved wordplay, vocabulary that sent me to the dictionary, and over-the-top characters, but always made it work.  Since I’m no fan of horror, excessive suspense, or blood and gore, the cozy mystery was an obvious niche for my pleasure reading, and so on to my writing.  

SARETT:  In a comic novel, lots of stuff that can seem scary in other forms (like corpses, for example) are treated lightly.  What’s the secret to making it funny?  
Douglass: Exaggeration is a good place to start.   But I use people’s reactions to keep it light, too.  When JJ MacGregor sees the corpse in the ice cream freezer, it’s pretty awful, but the image I paint is almost absurd.  And her efforts to be the boss of her own reaction, or at least to make everyone think she’s totally cool and in control, is what’s funny.  There’s nothing humorous about murder, but responses to just about anything can be funny.
SARETT: I’m always trying to discover new interesting (or forgotten) fiction writers.  Do you have suggestions for our readers looking for funny stuff?
--David Sedaris, Let’s Talk about Diabetes with Owls, had me laughing so hard I had to stop running (I listen to books when working out).  
--Mystery writers Peter Bowen (a little on the crude side, but very funny)
--Rhys Bowen’s “Royal Spyness” mysteries
--Nancy Atherton’s “Aunt Dimity” books

SARETT: Any lessons from the world of self-publishing that you’d like to share with our readers?
Douglass: When you self-publish, you do have to be an author-publisher.  That means outsourcing the things you cannot do well yourself.  In my case, it meant hiring a cover artist, and bartering for good editing.  Ideally, find someone else to do the proofreading, because no matter how good you are, something will escape you.  I do sometimes fudge, but I supplement my own careful reading (aloud!) with software that helps find glitches.

Even though some people do make money self-publishing, if you are doing it to get rich, I recommend a different line of work.  Wild success seems to be a mix of luck and skill, and not necessarily skill at writing. Don’t be in a hurry; take the time you need to finish your work well.   And keep writing!

Follow Rebecca here:  

Blog: The Ninja Librarian (Find her short stories (usually under 1000 words) on my blog, and many humor.  Blackberries” is a favorite.  

Buy “Death by Ice Cream” at Amazon

All books are available signed directly from Rebecca!  
See http://www.ninjalibrarian.com/p/blog-page_11.html for information!

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