Interview with Tiffany Carboni, Runner Up in WOW's Winter 2011 Flash Fiction Contest
As a humorist, Tiffany's work has appeared on Pampers.com, FamiliesOnlineMagazine.com, SkimbacoLifestyle.com, LilSugar.com, MegsaMommy.co, BabyElanDaily.com, and in M Magazine: The Woman in Every Mom. When she is not writing about the mirthfulness of family life for her book of essays she is seeking to published called MOTHER TONGUE & Other Sharp Objects, Tiffany is helping out in her children's classrooms seeking more material - and hiding out from the PTA, which knows her to be a school volunteer patsy. Check out her website at www.tiffanycarboni.com.
WOW: Tiffany, welcome to The Muffin! Congratulations on earning runner up honors in our flash contest. I have to tell you, when I first read Pigeon Poo-etry, I felt like I received a history lesson. As an educator, I like stories that blend fact with fiction. Will you share how much is the truth, whole truth, and nothing but the truth?
Tiffany: Thank you for appreciating the history (and moral) lesson about pigeons. I feel like pigeons get a bum rap in life and I really wanted to stand up for them. People think they are vermin-infested rats with wings, but they are in fact smart creatures forced to navigate extreme daily obstacles. I'm tired of watching children and dogs chase and terrorize these wonderful birds so I decided to write a piece on behalf of pigeon rights in which a pigeon scolds (that's where the fiction part comes in) the actions of my own kids and dogs who, I'm embarrassed to admit, chase and terrorize pigeons. A lot.
WOW: Too funny. I live in rural Nebraska. Not a lot of pigeons here, but we do have blue jays. A lot of blue jays. They may be related to pigeons; they get no respect.
Tiffany, I'd like to focus on the art of humor writing. A lot of people are funny, but putting laughs on paper can be difficult. What makes humor writing so tough? And, how can writers overcome obstacles and get those laughs on the page?
Tiffany: First off, I love to make fun of motherhood. As any parent knows, there is so much humor in the job. If we don't laugh about what stupid things our kids do we're going to cry about them and end up in the loony bin. Laughter is much healthier than crazy pills. And kids are natural comedians, though they rarely know it. I've gotten myself in way too much trouble by laughing at my children when they've done something ridiculously funny. Instead I've found it much safer to translate that humor onto paper, which can be hidden from them and in turn published elsewhere.
Beyond having the most obvious ingredient - a sense of humor, the key to humor writing is writing from the heart and then letting the piece sit for a while. I come back with fresh eyes and pretend I don't know anything about my subject matter. If a diamond in the rough is actually there, I keep honing it until I get it right. If I don't laugh out loud I don't show it to anyone If I think it's funny I show it to my husband and mother who think almost nothing is funny. If I get any sort of positive reaction from them (a twitch of the corner of their mouths will do) then I know I might have something. The pieces that I get the best reaction from audiences are the ones where I don't censor my ideas due to fear of what others might think. In other words, I don't necessarily write the way I talk. Humor writing allows writers, especially those who might be more conservative in real life, a great venue for uninhibited creative expression.
WOW: It's tough not to censor ourselves, but I agree that it gets an honest audience reaction. As I perused your publishing resume, I was impressed with your extensive background in journalism. When did you first become interested in this field?
Tiffany: I went to college to become a screenwriter. I wrote some amazing comedy scripts that no one in Hollywood was smart enough to pick up on and pay me millions for. That's when I decided that magazine journalism might be a better career for me. In fact it was my father who kept suggesting I look into magazine journalism - I think he was concerned his daughter might become a loser without a job. I kept blowing it off till one day I got this idea to pursue magazine journalism. I got a job as an associated editor for California Home & Design and worked my way up to senior editor. Because I love to write I didn't mind the change in genre... plus they were wiling to pay me a salary every two weeks. My parents were ecstatic.
WOW: (chuckling) Sounds like my parents when I told them I was quitting the classroom to pursue a full-time freelance career. Let's take a few moments to talk about editing. Do you approach editing fiction differently than editing magazine articles?
Tiffany: Yes, having been a magazine editor I am obsessive-compulsive when it comes to words. Even in everyday life I'm constantly editing my family's grammar. Instead of not talking to me anymore they come at me saying things like: "That sure was funner," "I'm the bestest dancer, Mommy" and "You doin' good, honey?" When writing lifestyle articles I re-read my work about 700 times, each time fact-checking something different before turning it over to an editor. Fiction, on the other hand, is meant to be just that and the more easy and free-flowing that fiction and humorous fiction feels, the more enjoyable it is to read. Having said that, I probably spend way more time finessing my humorous fiction because of the endless possible outcomes.
WOW: I agree with you. When I write for the newspaper, I edit and re-read over and over. When I work on fiction or poetry, I read through once or twice and may make a change and I usually don't edit until I'm completely finished with a piece.
With your experience as a writer and an editor, what advice would you offer writers who are interested in breaking into the humorous market?
Tiffany: Ask me when I become Dave Barry-like successful. I'm convinced that if newspapers weren't a dying breed there'd be more paying opportunities for humor writers. This of course is the digital age. Though I am personally remiss to embrace the internet wholeheartedly because I'm a technophobe who can't stand using my caveman era cellphone, I'm the first to acknowledge that the internet offers a myriad opportunity for humor writers.
WOW: The internet certainly offers more opportunities for writers in multiple genres. You juggle a full plate - family and writing. What projects are you working on right now?
Tiffany: I am pursuing my collection of short humor essays called MOTHER TONGUE & Other Sharp Objects into a book. It covers all your pretty typical motherhood afflictions like the stupidity of pinata parties in which we hand kids weapons capable of mass destruction; why encouraging kids to watch excessive amounts of TV is in fact a brilliant ideas; reasons the family vacation is a dumb idea; the underrated virtues of yelling at family members; and the startling similarities between manic bipolar disorder and the behavior of a typical three year old.
WOW: Sounds like my kind of reading material! Thanks once again, Tiffany, for talking to The Muffin readers today.
Interview by LuAnn Schindler. Read more of LuAnn's work at her website.