Originally published on Writer’s Monthly
On Being Laurie Notaro
Interview by Leah Peterson
Peterson: How did you get started writing?
Notaro: I don’t really remember, it’s just something I always sort of did. My teachers thought I was good at it when I was little, and I liked writing, it was easy and I didn’t have to try very hard to get decent grades. After the tragedy that I am at math, that was quite a relief.
rson: Why do you still write?
Notaro: It’s just the only thing I know how to do, I really can’t do anything else. I suck at painting, I’m a horrible singer and I’m too fat now to be a ballerina. There was, you see, simply nothing left. I went to college to be a reporter, but when I was in journalism school, I had the feeling it just wasn’t for me, although I liked the atmosphere of a newspaper. When I was working at the college newspaper, I became columnist by accident and it just kind of stuck. I liked it, I liked making people laugh at me and at themselves. I really wanted to be a magazine editor, and I was early on in my professional career, but I always fell back into the columnist slot, which is really where I belonged.
Peterson: What advice do you have for wannabe writers?
Notaro: None, really. (laughs) So many people write and ask outright for the name of my agent or editor. That is so not cool! I would never have done that and the people at the writer workshops who are saying that that is a good idea should be set ablaze!
Ok. My advice? If you really want to do something in life, you owe it to yourself to do it on your own. Work your ass off. First, get an agent. The right agent for you. It’s like finding a husband. Your agent needs to really understand what kind of work you do. Your agent needs to know who to shop it to and be willing to go to bat for you. Second, write a really good book. Don’t write crap. Many people think because I self-published my first book that it was easy for me and that’s just not true. It took me 7 years of really hard work. And when I finally got my book deal, it had significant meaning for me. It was like winning the Olympics! I was rejected several times by the same publishing house that finally picked me up. I had to keep perfecting my work. Third, be too stubborn to give up. After all the agents turn you down, re-tool your work and try them all again. Fourth, when someone turns you down, realize it’s for the best. You don’t want someone who doesn’t love what your work is. They don’t really believe in you.
Peterson: What have you learned about making your life public?
Notaro: Never to publish my husband’s first name again. I get a lot of shit from that, you know–in all of Fat Bride he has no name, and he never will in any other subsequent book. He’s just ‘The Husband.” His first name is very nice but also very unusual, and there was what we shall call “an incident” in a Circle K when my husband got carded for buying beer and the clerk, who was clearly insane and tweaked out of his mind on speed or meth or whatever, commented that my husband was only the second person he’d ever met with that name, and the first person was “Laurie Notaro’s husband, and they are both two of my best friends,” and then went on to describe all the imaginary things we had done together. It doesn’t get a whole lot creepier than that, you know. When he came home and told me the story, he asked me to never run his name again, and this is a guy who will permit me to write anything about him, so there was no way to object. When the freak-fallout starts to rain on your family, then it’s time to pull back a little. So, while there are very good reasons for not publishing his name, I’ve been criticized for not being “creative enough to come up with a name,” which is bullshit. I could use “Harvey” or “Dan” or “John” but that’s not his name, so I’d rather just not use one. Other than that one thing, I have no problem exposing my dorkdom to anyone who can stand to read it.
Peterson: How would you describe yourself?
Notaro: Oh boy. Impatient, cynical, loud mouthed. I’ve been told I have “catastrophic tendencies.” I have no tolerance for oblivion, or people who waste my time because they’re incompetent. For example, If you’ve been waiting in line at KFC for about 15 minutes, wouldn’t it occur to you to take a peek at the menu and decide what you want? Nope. The guy in front of me never does, he NEVER DOES, and it takes him another 15 minutes to figure it out, which is bad because I have lost my fear of yelling at strangers. I have a thing about people talking in movies. I have a thing about people driving and talking on cell phones. I have a thing about people getting on an elevator for only one floor. I have a thing about people coughing on me. But I love documentaries about Bigfoot, mummies and nothing will make me happier than seeing a midget. And a I love it when my seven-year old nephew Nicholas asks questions.
Peterson: What is your next book about?
Notaro: Well, can you guess? I Love Everybody (And Other Atrocious Lies). It’s my on-again-off-again relationship with humanity. I lose my patience a lot in it, I am humbled again and again and again–in a sixth grade classroom, at Disneyland, in a hospital ER room. And loosely woven in there is the story about how I started working at the newspaper, how my book Idiot Girls finally got published, then how my column was canceled in the paper, I was demoted and things just fell apart. It was a wonderful time and a horrible time in my life, but I think most people can relate to that–having a horrible, clueless boss and how they can make your life miserable.
Peterson: If your life was a movie, who would you like to play you?
Notaro: Jeanine Garofalo. I absolutely love her. I did a reading for Fat Bride in NY last year and she came. She was slightly hard to recognize due to the bleach blonde hair and weight loss, but it was her. She left before I had a chance to talk to her. That is the most exciting thing that never happened to me.
Peterson: What do you wish the world knew?
Notaro: Well, without being too melodramatic which is a genetic trait that seems to run amok in my family, I wish the world could figure out what a stinking piece of shit we’ve turned it into and how to stop making it worse. And I wish more people would open their eyes about what’s going on in this country right now and how The Constitution is being trampled upon. If more people don’t figure it out, make arrangements now to kiss your civil rights good bye.
Peterson: What do you wish the world knew about you?
Notaro: I can’t type. Oh! And that I used to be fairly decent-looking. And if anyone ever saw that photo in the NY Times, that photographer was an asshole for even turning that shot in. I was circus fat! I have a roll of fat around my face that looks like I stuck my head in the middle of a skin inner tube. I’ve even tried to recreate the pose to see how that happened, and it’s impossible. I don’t know how he did it, but it doesn’t matter now. I will never forgive him.
Peterson: What are your hobbies?
Notaro: I just finished taking a metal smith jewelry class that I loved, working with silver mainly. I’m taking painting now, but I don’t love that class so much. All we’ve done is painted an antler and a coffee cup still life, which among other things, presented quite a problem for me, as in, “Strangely, in my house I’ve seen a lot of things, but a body part and a cup of decaf have never been coupled on my kitchen table, so I’m having trouble investing faith in this painting.” I’m the third suckiest person in class, which is bad, but it also means two people suck harder than I do.
Peterson: How to you cope day to day?
Notaro: Barely. Let’s just say barely. Every day is a struggle, and I’m always so glad when it’s over.
Peterson: If you were elected president, how would you change things?
Notaro: Well, for one thing, I can read, which in itself is a huge change from what we have now. Don’t even get me started.
Peterson: What was the best movie you’ve seen lately?
Notaro: Monster. Tremendous movie. If Charlize Theron, and believe me, I was no fan before I saw this movie, doesn’t win for best actress, the Academy Awards are rigged. I can’t even believe that it didn’t get nominated for Best Picture and “Cold Boring Mountain” did.
Peterson: What is your favorite movie of all time?
Notaro: Hannah and Her Sisters.
Peterson: What’s the best book you’ve read lately?
Notaro: Random Family by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc. It’s a fantastic, absorbing and almost addicting documentary-like non-fiction book about an extended family in the Bronx over a decade. It was incredible.
Peterson: Do you have a favorite type of music?
Notaro: I was never a fan of mainstream music, so mainly stuff on independent labels, I love finding a new singer/songwriter or band that is new and underappreciated. I’m always for the underdog. And on the flip side of things I like classic rock like Led Zeppelin, Neil Young, Rolling Stones and the Allman Bros.
Peterson: What are you a fan of?
Notaro: Independent thought. I wish more people believed in it.
Peterson: What haven’t I asked that you wish I had?
Notaro: I have a mad crush on Larry David.
Copyright 2004 Leah Peterson. All Rights Reserved.