by Mikaela Gilbert-Lurie
As the old adage goes, truth is stranger than fiction, which certainly is the case in the memoir “Agorafabulous!: Dispatches From My Bedroom” by award-winning comedian Sara Benincasa. Her bitingly funny memoir is based on her critically acclaimed one-woman show about panic attacks and agoraphobia. But while she’s great at writing about her actual experiences, Sara also has a knack for making stuff up! Her YA Novel “Great” was named one of 15 YA Novels To Watch Out For This Spring by Buzzfeed and Teen Vogue. Sara has also written for xoJANE.com, has an advice column on Jezebel, and is an award-winning stand up comedian.
We’re thrilled to have Sara teaching several classes at Writing Pad, including a live online Memorable Memoir class starting July 13th and a one day From Heartache to Literary Break: Memoir class on August 16!
Sara took time out to talk to us about her work, her writing process, and which politicians she would like to bathe with.
1. Your memoir Agorafabulous! Dispatches From My Bedroom, demonstrates your penchant for discussing deeply personal topics with sharp humor and enough levity so that your audience feels overwhelmingly endeared to you. What advice would you give to someone who is trying to write a memoir about a serious topic in a lighthearted way?
I’d advise anyone to make sure you’ve done at least a good chunk of work in therapy first! Writing can be therapeutic but it shouldn’t be therapy, if that makes sense. Also, memoirists live twice — first in real time, next when we relive the event through our art. That can be difficult and painful and enormously fun all at once. So writing memoir is an emotional journey. And since humor is tragedy plus time, well, you’d better have a little distance from the events in question before you attempt to write about them in a funny way!
2. What can students expect to learn if they take your Memoir or YA Classes?
Oh man, it’s gonna be a great time. They’ll learn what it’s like to be evaluated and edited by people who genuinely care about good writing. They’ll discover new things about themselves, their writing skills, and the stories they have locked inside them. They can also expect to have a lot of fun, to learn how to be accountable to themselves and others when it comes to writing, and to learn what my hair looks like on random afternoons.
3. You have a background in stand up comedy and storytelling. How did you transition to writing essays, articles and books? Has your performing career helped your writing career or vice versa?
I think a performing career can really inform a writing career. You learn to deal with rejection, to think fast, and to work really hard to get even the slightest chance at success. Writers need to know those things too!
4. What do you think the elements of a compelling memoir or YA novel are?
Story, story, story, story. Does it take me somewhere outside my own experience? Are there highs? Are there lows? Is there suspense or tension, even in the course of recounting something as prosaic as brushing one’s hair? These are all important elements, methinks.
5. Your YA novel Great is sort of a gender and sexuality-flipped, modern day version of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. How did you come up the idea for this novel and what choices did you make to adapt it to a modern YA audience?
Well, I think Gatsby has a lot to say about power and class (I recognize I’m not saying anything revolutionary here!) And in my opinion, high school society is all about power and class. The cliquishness, the cunning, the little deceptions…all of it plays well in a tale about teens or fancypants high society adults. I loved Gatsby in high school for that reason, and when it came time to write a novel, I figured I could do a kind of feminist take on it by switching the main characters to teen girls.
6. What’s your writing process like? Take us through a day with you.
Fear. Panic. Terror. Screwing around on the Internet. More fear. More panic. More terror. Actually start writing. Get into a flow. Feel very happy. Write until I’m tired. Go to sleep. At some point I use the bathroom and drink a lot of iced coffee (generally in reverse order.)
7. What gave you the idea for your show, “Gettin’ Wet with Sara B.” And who would you rather get wet with, Sarah Palin or Michele Bachmann?
I just wanted to do a talk show in a bathtub because it seemed like a good idea. At the time, it felt innovative. Now it’s just an excuse for me to get in the bathtub with humans. And I’d rather hang out with Bachmann, because she is crazier and therefore more interesting to me.
8. You have more than 20,000 followers on twitter. What did you do to get so twitter popular and how can our readers follow in your social media footsteps?
Basically, you tweet at the right people who are kind enough to RT you. It helps to livetweet major sporting events and cultural events. Being political can help, too.
9. You once joked that you should write a cookbook called What to Bake After a Panic Attack. What are a few examples of recipes that would be in that book?
Probably bread. Just tons and tons of bread.
10. How do you push through writer’s block?
Oh, I whine about it a lot. And then I just do it. It’s the only way to push through. You just grind it out.
Thank you so much for that informative interview, Sara! Catch her live online memoir class, starting July 13th, From Heartache to Literary Break: Memoir on August 16th!