Another terrific book by another terrific midlife blogger. This time the funny lady is humorist, Deb Amlen, of Can’t You Get Along With Anyone? Her bio also includes a number of I-never-knew-anyone-who-did-that jobs–such as, Crossword Puzzle Constructor, and X Games analyst. I intend to plumb her depths on those at a later time, but right now the topic is It’s Not PMS, It’s You!, which is the book you want to buy for all your girlfriends, especially the ones with whom you’ve shared some late nights that begin with “Men!…” If you need a gloss, my questions are preceded by MLB and her answers by DA. Also, I think I’ve done some fancy fonting in there, just to keep us on our toes.
MLB: Is It’s Not PMS, It’s You! your first book? Talk a little about the genesis of it. Did it come from personal experience? Is it paybacks-are-a-bitch for some guy(s) you know who suffer from Hands-In-The-Pants Syndrome?
DA: It’s Not PMS, It’s You! is my first non-puzzle book. I had done work for Sterling Publishing in the past, so they knew me as a crossword constructor. They work a little differently than most publishers in that they tend to develop their own concepts for books and then assign them to authors. The Editorial Director at their Innovation imprint invited me to meet with her, and it wasn’t until about 20 minutes in that I realized that she wasn’t talking about a puzzle book. Apparently, someone at Sterling had been following me on Facebook and thought I was funny. I guess that’s proof that it pays to keep your status updates lively.
The original concept for the book was a list of gross physical attributes and things that men do to piss women off in relationships, as well as different ways to dump them. Of course, anyone who has had any contact with the opposite sex, male or female, knows that we irritate each other, but I thought it would be funny if we went a little broader than that. Personally, I think we’re all flawed, and even though it’s enormous fun to while it is interesting to because it is completely, totally wrong to take potshots at the male half of the species, I became more interested in the interaction between the sexes. As I wrote, and as I discussed things with my editors, the book evolved to be more about relationships than how to kick your man to the curb.
MLB: Your bio says that you’re a humorist. Can you tell me exactly what that means? That you do stand-up comedy? That you’re funny? That you tell good jokes? What is a day in the life of your average (or above-average) humorist like?
DA: That’s an excellent question, Jane. In fact, I looked it up for us in the dictionary and it says that a humorist is someone who “acts, speaks or writes in a humorous way.” I guess that describes me. People often are amused by the way I act, and they used to laugh at the way I spoke until I learned to use my inside voice. My mom and dad say I write funny, but in a good way, and not at all in the way my third grade teacher used to go on about just because I couldn’t make a cursive “Q” and wrote essays that were comprised entirely of skid marks until I realized I was holding the pencil the wrong way around.
I don’t do stand-up comedy, although I have tremendous respect for those who do. I tell a pretty good joke when I can remember them. In mid-life, that’s getting tougher.
My life is different every day, and I really couldn’t ask for a better gig. One day I’m finishing a manuscript for review with my editor, the next day I’m explaining to readers of my column in The Springfield Patch why it cost me $600.00 to find out that they make toothpaste for dogs. My children are still school-age, so my work day is scattered around their schedules, and it’s never boring. But I write every day, not only to meet deadlines for columns and other assignments, but because I think that if you don’t treat writing like a job, it’s easy to lose your inspiration and get lazy.
MLB: What’s with the crossword puzzle connection? I always think of people who construct crossword puzzles as somewhat anal (because they were toilet trained too early) nerds who like their creative impulses contained within little boxes. That is obviously not the Deb Amlen who wrote this book. Can you compare and contrast, explain and/or excuse the two Deb Amlens.
DA: Oh, now you’ve gone and done it. You’ve pissed off our Grand Master, Will Shortz. It was nice knowing you.
Actually, I’ve been constructing puzzles for The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Onion, BUST Magazine and other publications since 2004, and the puzzle community has been incredible in terms of their support. I am happy to go on record as saying that these are kind, witty and articulate people, and only a few of them have issues that I would attribute to toilet training problems.
Of course, as disciplined as I have to be when I make a puzzle, it’s always a vast relief to be able to write in a more organic, natural way. By natural and organic, I mean that I am generally allowed by my editors to blather on and on about anything that pops into my head, as long as I meet my word count requirement and try to stay on topic for at least a few sentences at a time. That pretty much explains the book, and I am thrilled that I got to work with two wonderful editors, Pamela Horn and Joelle Herr, who let me do my thing yet expertly guided me through the process that produced a book I hope people will enjoy.
MLB: Every time I catch sight of this book on my desk, I want to eat it. Was that intentional? Your idea? Clever marketing ploy (which in my experience can be attributed to the publisher’s sales team)?
DA: Isn’t it yummy? I wish I could take credit for it, but I believe credit for the brilliant book cover idea goes to Sterling.
MLB: The first copy of It’s Not PMS, It’s You! you sent me was mangled. Do you think the UPS guy did that in revenge? How do the men in your life respond to you now that you’ve so successfully (not to mention fully fully) analyzed them?
DA: Not only was it the UPS guy, but I’m also convinced that the guys in the warehouse, the dispatchers, the male dogs in your neighborhood and your husband had something to do with it. Pfft. And they call us the weaker sex. What’s up with the Fragile Male Ego, anyway?
The majority of my readers, both in my column and on my blog are men, and the feedback I’ve gotten is that men think it’s a very funny book. There are some things about human nature that are simply undeniable, and the truth is funny. Also, I tried to bring out the quirks of both sexes, specifically to take at least some of the sting out.
MLB: Clearly you have a literary background. I lost count of the allusions in this slim volume, but let’s just say that Scarlett O’Hara and Queen Victoria both appear. Are you a former English major? Who’s your favorite author and why–or why not?
DA: I did not major in English, mostly due to my fear of punctuation, but I am a big reader. Instead, I decided to go for the big bucks and majored in Marketing, or Strategic Guessing as it’s now known, and had a long and extremely dangerous career in the advertising agencies of New York City.
My literary tastes run the gamut, so it’s tough to name a favorite. I just finished David Mitchell’s new historic novel, The 1,000 Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, which I loved. Now I’m reading Thieves of Manhattan by Adam Langer, which is a fabulous send-up of the literary world.
As far as humor writers are concerned, I’d have to say that my biggest influence is Dave Barry. I love the way he hits his jokes, and he can be hilariously funny more times in one sentence than anyone else I’ve ever read.
MLB: What is the one question I should have asked you in this interview?
DA: You could have asked me my shoe size.
MLB: How would you have answered it?
DA: 7 1/2.
If you haven’t already hit on one of the It’s Not PMS, It’s You! links to buy yourself and friends a copy or several, here’s a chance to win one. Two lucky commenters will receive a copy of the book. All you have to do is:
- Write a comment here responding to this quote from It’s Not PMS, It’s You!:
- “Because for every woman who ever pulled her hair out trying to explain–for the 46th time–the importance of putting the toilet seat down, for Christ’s sake, or that burping the national anthem after every meal is not a constitutional right, there have been entire herds of men who, nodding sagely in unison, have made the mistake of saying, “Must be that time of the month.”
- You must include a valid email address (no exceptions, even if I know you).
- Entrants must be 18 or older.
- You have one week in which to enter. This contest closes September 3, 2010. Entries will be accepted until 11.59pm on that date.
- Winner will be chosen from qualified entries using random.org.
- I will contact the two winners by email to get their snail mail addresses, and the publishers of It’s Not PMS, It’s You! will send the books.
UPDATE: And the lucky winners are Mary DeBorde and Ridgely Johnson. The rest of you: go buy your own book!