Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Guest Blogger: Natalie Wexler, Author of The Mother Daughter Show

At Barton Friends a D.C. prep school so elite its parent body includes the President and First Lady - three mothers have thrown themselves into organizing the annual musical revue. Will its Machiavellian intrigue somehow enable them to reconnect with their graduating daughters, who are fast spinning out of control? By turns hilarious and poignant, The Mother Daughter Show will appeal to anyone who's ever had a daughter - and anyone who's ever been one.

The Fun and Challenges of Writing Satire by Natalie Wexler

There’s no question that writing satire is fun. All those biting observations you’ve kept to yourself about the little foibles and hypocrisies that inevitably surround you, all those jokes you’ve made to your closest friends … now you get the chance to reveal them to the world.

The challenge is in making sure that instead of recoiling in horror, or lashing back out at you, the world will find your jokes and observations as funny as you do. Of course, no matter what you do, there’s no guarantee that everyone is going to be amused. A sense of humor is a very subjective thing.

But I think one rule of thumb is to do your best to ensure that you’re laughing at yourself as much as you’re laughing at anyone else. I certainly tried to do that when writing The Mother Daughter Show. It’s set in a milieu—an elite private school—that I was very much a part of, and of course I was a participant in the actual show that inspired the book (a musical revue written by mothers of graduating senior girls). Like one of my main characters, throughout my kids’ school years I found myself volunteering, or getting drafted for, various roles in the Parents Association, even serving as co-president of the upper school one year. Like another character, I sometimes yearned for control of the rather messy process of planning the show. And like the third, I got so caught up in writing funny song lyrics that I kept churning them out even after it was pretty clear they weren’t going to be performed on stage. Throughout these experiences, I had one eye on the absurdity of the situation, and that’s the eye I relied on in writing the book.

Of course, to make the book funny, I had to exaggerate. Rarely does life hand you ready-made satire. And that’s where things can get tricky. A couple of early readers of the manuscript advised me to make my satire broader, to make my characters more extreme. They thought it would make the book funnier.

But it was always my intention that while my characters would be flawed—after all, there’s no humor without flaws—they would also be three-dimensional and fundamentally sympathetic. I wanted my book to be a satire with a heart, one in which a reader could identify with every character while at the same time finding her amusing.

Maybe some would have found a broader satire funnier, but I don’t think I’m one of them. To my mind, broad satire works best in small doses. It’s very hard to sustain over the length of a novel. And as a writer—and a reader—if I’m going to spend as much time with a character as you do in a novel, it has to be a character who seems human.

I also was aware of the possibility that, even though my characters truly are fictional, there were going to be some people out there who would think they recognized themselves or others in my book, given that it was inspired by an actual event. In fact, that has happened, and some outrage has been expressed over the way I’ve supposedly portrayed real individuals. I can only imagine how much greater the outrage would have been had the characters been rendered with less sympathy in an effort to get a bigger laugh.

Natalie Wexler is the author of The Mother Daughter Show (Fuze Publishing 2011) and an award-winning historical novel, A More Obedient Wife. She is a journalist and essayist whose work has appeared in the Washington Post Magazine, the American Scholar, the Gettysburg Review, and other publications, and she is a reviewer for the Washington Independent Review of Books. She has also worked as a temporary secretary, a newspaper reporter, a Supreme Court law clerk, a legal historian, and (briefly) an actual lawyer. She lives in Washington, D.C., with her husband.

Price: $19.95 paperback, $9.99 ebook
ISBN: 9780984141296
Pages: 274
Release: December 2011

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Natalie Wexler said...

Thanks so much for hosting me!

Tribute Books said...

Cheryl, thanks for featuring Natalie today.