I like something Lorrie Moore said about humor, that it comes “from the surprise release of some buried tension.” I feel like humor runs very close to sadness. I take my pathetic moods so seriously that I can’t take them seriously at all. Can you just talk about the role of humor in your work? What purpose does it serve your characters? How does it help us understand/deal with our painful spots?--Marshal Zeringue
Novels are about crises, and a crisis without humor is… a therapy session? My characters are flawed people who make some really bad decisions. They tend to make awful messes out of their lives. I think humor pulls them briefly out of their own confusion and regret, at the same time that it underscores it. I definitely come from a great tradition of dark humor, both culturally and within my family. You can’t come from a 2,000-year history of people trying to kill you and not find a little giggle here and there. Both of my parents are very funny people, and my brother’s sense of humor is so dry that it sometimes takes me months to figure out whether he was joking about something. So I grew up really valuing that, and sort of intuitively looking for the humor in any given situation - almost as a way of describing it. I do tend to think that most things are either horrible or hilarious or both. The things that are both are the most interesting to me.
What inspired your book, Friends Like Us, that’s about to be released? What is it like to move from writing one novel to another?
Moving from writing one novel to another was complicated by the fact that I was pregnant when I started writing my second novel. My main character was always bloated, tired and irritable. Not my best work. So Friends Like Us is actually my third novel (after I discarded the second one). And writing it was hard. I kept hearing phrases from the reviews of my first book in my head and feeling paralyzed, by both the praise and the criticism. I felt like I couldn’t live up to the praise, and I took the criticisms as confirmation of my worst fears. Friends Like Us didn’t really....[read on]