Emmy-Nominated Writer Discusses Her Runner-Up Essay About Her Brother

Sunday, March 21, 2021

We are happy to talk with Debbie Kasper today--a two-time Emmy-nominated writer, comedian, and multiple award-winning writer/performer. Before you read the chat below, please click here to read, "My Big Tree," her runner-up essay in the 2021 Quarter 1 Creative Nonfiction Contest.  

She has written for the seminal TV shows, Roseanne and The Rosie O’Donnell Show. As a solo artist, Debbie won the prestigious Drama Logue award for “Best written solo show” in Los Angeles, and last year, she was honored with the “Best Comedian” prize at the United International Solo Fest in NYC for her performance in Has Anybody Seen Debbie?

Her humorous personal essays have appeared in multiple anthologies and on numerous websites. Her solo shows, two-person shows, stand-up, and her musical, BoomerMania, were reviewed as, “Brilliant,” “A masterpiece,” “Hilarious,” “Fresh, and standard-setting,” by over a dozen major papers across the country. Debbie’s recently published memoir, “You’re Not That Pretty,” & Other Things My Parents Told Me is also garnering rave reviews. She’s already been hailed a “female David Sedaris.”

Debbie is also a renowned comedy and writing teacher who currently lives in Los Angeles and can be reached at: www.DebbieKasper.com. She’s happiest writing and performing her personal creative essays, and spreading joy, one story at a time.

WOW: Congratulations, Debbie, for being a runner-up in the Creative Nonfiction Essay Contest with your essay, "My Big Tree," about your late brother, Reid. It was a wonderful tribute to a brother who seemed larger than life. How did you choose to tell the parts of his life you did? It seems like it would be hard to narrow down such a special relationship and person to 1000 words! 

Debbie: Yes, 1000 words is a challenge, but so is 2000, and 3000--it’s all a challenge. You have to just keep re-writing, and whittling it down. I basically started with my brother’s death, and the subsequent penny in the shift plate, which was all true, and exactly as written, then traced back to what it might’ve meant. I let things percolate; I walk away until something forms creatively, and hopefully metaphorically, and then I go back in. I have many, many more stories about Reid which are in my memoir. He is definitely worth much more than 1000 words.
WOW: I like that you started with a point you knew you wanted to include and let things percolate. That seems like a very good method for writers, actually. Your essay is touching and funny! How did you work humor into this essay and why?

Debbie: I always write from a humorous perspective; it’s in my DNA. I was raised in a very funny household; and having spent several decades working in the comedy industry, I couldn’t take the funny out of my thoughts/perspective if you held a keyboard to my head. I also fervently believe that life isn’t just tragic or comic. It’s a dramatic, but beautiful, blend of both. My greatest compliments come from people who say that I have made laugh them and cry in the same sentence. That, folks, is life.
WOW: So true. I love the moments with my friends and family when I am laughing so hard that I am crying. Tell us about the title of your essay, "My Big Tree." I love it. Did you come up with the title right away? Or did that take some brainstorming? How important are titles for personal essays?
Debbie: Sometimes my titles literally come to me in an instant, and I can write from there. Other times, I write the story, and start searching for what it is, and what to name it. I’ve tried out a few titles for just about every creative essay I’ve written. I’m a chronic rewriter. I rewrite more than I write, it seems. As I was working through this particular story, the symbol of the tree in Yosemite being so big and eternal, and my brother being this larger than life “tree” in my life, came into focus through the storm of ideas. There, they both remain, always standing, always protecting, always eternally with me, even after death.
WOW: So beautiful, and we are so glad you entered it into WOW!'s contest. You have quite a bio, including writing for TV shows everyone has heard of and being nominated for Emmys. So what kind of writing are you mostly doing now? Has the pandemic affected what you are writing?
Debbie: Having “quite a bio” is French for AGING!!! I have a lot of friends, too. Things collect and gather as you spin past decades. I’m currently working on a screenplay based on the story in my memoir about finding out I had a half-sister when I was thirteen, and the impact she had on me—growing up in a houseful of boys, and two extremely critical parents. And ever since I discovered my inner essay writer, I have fallen in love with the freedom of that genre. I like to tap into my rebellious artistic spirit and just WRITE…..
WOW: That sounds so interesting--finding out about an unknown sister. I know that'a a thing that girls with only brothers often hope for. So let's talk about your recently published memoir. Congratulations! How is that going? What are some themes in your memoir?
Debbie: My memoir, You’re Not That Pretty,” & Other Things My Parents Told Me  (perhaps my proudest accomplishment to date) is a collection of personal essays (stories) with the theme of bad advice from parents, and how that tangles me up throughout my life. It’s funny, poignant, and ultimately very tragic at times. It’s really about my indomitable spirit overcoming some very old and limiting beliefs. Children hear everything you say to them from the moment they begin to comprehend, and it gets lodged in their sub-conscience. That becomes the weave of who we are. The feedback has been beyond my wildest dreams, hearing over and over again, that I have moved people, emotionally, and that it's not "just funny." When you perform (which is my background), you can only entertain and move people at that moment. When you publish something, you’re able to reach out and touch someone while you’re in bed, sleeping. I love that. 

WOW: Debbie, congratulations on your essay win and on your memoir. It sounds great--I know we have a lot of memoir readers in our audience (and writers, too). We appreciate the time you took to tell us about yourself and your writing today. Best of luck to you! 

Interview by Margo L. Dill, https://www.editor-911.com


Sioux Roslawski said...

Margo--Thanks for doing this interview and for giving us a link to Debbie's essay.

Debbie--I enjoyed your essay. It WAS a great blend of poignancy and levity. Humor is a wonderful way of tackling difficult-to-handle subjects.

I think it was Donald Graves who wrote that writing is more deconstruction than construction. I definitely agree. We put words down, then rearrange, delete some, add some, delete more, and so on. I've spent more time than I'd like to admit going back and forth between including a comma or not including it. I listen to the rhythm each way, and even after making my final decision, I still wonder if I made the wrong choice.

Should a comma be there? It could go either way...

Good luck with your future writing, along with the sales of your memoir.

Jeanine DeHoney said...

Great interview Margo. Debbie, this was such a touching story about your late brother. Congratulations.

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