Today on the blog I have the awesome Libba Bray, author of Beauty Queens, Going Bovine, the Gemma Doyle series, and many more!
Beauty Queens is a biting satire laced with plenty of humor and a core of truth. How does writing satire compare with some of the other genres you’ve written, and what did you enjoy most about it?
I love satire and I grew up in a family that embraced it, from Monty Python to Mel Brooks to National Lampoon. What I enjoy most about satire—both reading and writing it—is that it allows you to talk about some very big issues, to expose the hypocrisy, absurdity, and injustice of certain aspects of life, without getting preachy or making people feel as if someone’s just served you a Scoldy Sandwich with a side of Uber-Earnest Fries. Satire disarms with humor making it possible to for people to go, “Hey, that’s funny but scarily accurate.” I was writing these characters I thought were completely insane, like MoMo B. ChaCha and Ladybird Hope, and then I’d turn on the news and see Moammar Quaddafi or Michele Bachmann or Sarah Palin, and I’d think, “Sheesh, I can’t even touch that.” That said, I really enjoyed being able to go ovaries-out on the over-the-topness of it all. I mean, Miss New Mexico…God bless her. She’ll always have a place to put her drink.
Did you have a favorite character in Beauty Queens?
I really enjoyed getting to know every one of those characters, but I’d have to say Taylor was the most fun to write. One of the things that’s enjoyable about satire is that you can start with a stereotype—boiler-plate blonde, Texas, Christian, cheerleader beauty queen—and start peeling back layers to get to a core that is much more complex. Taylor’s backstory ended up surprising me. And I really delighted in getting to write a character who could utter phrases like, “Let’s not get all down in the bummer basement where the creepy things live” while also thoroughly kicking ass and becoming her own special ops force when threatened.
What do you like to see in a good book?
I’d have to say that it’s voice and honesty that grab me most. You could tell me about going to the grocery store, and if you really have something to tell me about that particular day at the grocery store and you tell it to me truthfully, with no regard for vanity, I am yours.
What makes you toss a book aside in frustration?
My pal, Maureen Leary, who is a truly great writer, once said of a book, “I felt that it didn’t cost the author anything to write it.” That has been my benchmark ever since. Good writing should cost you something. Those pages should carry your heart, soul, and DNA in some way. So the thing that makes me stop reading is if I feel the writer has not done his/her due diligence in really getting into the marrow of the story. By the way, by DNA I mean your unique voice/take on things. Not that you should swab your gums with the pages and hand the book off to an editor. Just saying.
Who are some of your literary influences?
Everything and everyone. I’m not kidding. Why limit yourself? But if you want some peeps who have really rearranged my artistic molecules, I’d say Stephen Sondheim, George Saunders, the Bronte sisters, John Irving, Lorrie Moore, Maya Angelou, Terry Gilliam, P.J. O’Rourke and Doug Kenney, Caryl Churchill, Edward Albee, Tom Stoppard, August Wilson, Alan Moore, Shirley Jackson, Joss Whedon, Pete Townshend, Amiri Baraka, Dennis Potter, Bertolt Brecht…Really, I could go on and on. But I’ll stop here.
What’s something that makes you laugh out loud?
“This Is Spinal Tap” and “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.” Kills me every time. And my kid makes me laugh a lot. He’s a natural absurdist.
What’s one of the most daring things you’ve ever done?
Run away to Italy to get married. You know, that seems to have turned out okay.
Is there any upcoming news or events you’d like to share with us?
Yes, I am giving birth to the new messiah. Or maybe that’s just gas. So hard to tell. For all other news/events/tour updates, you can visit me at www.libbabray.com.
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