The Accidental Author: Your collection of essays, The Unleavened Truth, is an amalgam of memoir-type stories from all phases of your life as a Jewish woman. What was your main inspiration for writing these essays?
Darryl Forman: I’ve always loved words and I’ve always been funny. As an adult, in spite of myself and my B.A. in Psychology, I ended up as a financial services writer (not a lot of jokes in stocks and bonds). To keep the creative juices flowing, I wrote lots of fun things – poems that rhyme and tell a story, ironic twisty lyrics, and terrible terrible puns. I enjoyed the process, so I kept writing. I write about me because it’s what I know, although the parts I share are universal. It doesn’t matter what your background is – things that go on within families, for example, are crazy. My job is to turn crazy into funny.
AA: You write about some very memorable characters from your life. Which of the family members that you write about do you look on most fondly?
DF: It’s hard to get away from families as a theme or in person, but I tried. (There’s a reason I live 3,000 miles from where I grew up.) The essays in The Unleavened Truth span 16 years of writing, and I didn’t take on Ma and Pa in the early years. I waited to write about them until they were well dead. They would have disowned me if they’d read their stories. I talk about my mother’s shoplifting, something never discussed while she was doing it. My father’s story was cathartic for me, and he would have loved the epilogue, if he didn’t explode from an aneurysm while reading what I really thought about him. Given that my brother is the only one alive, I should name him; however, the unleavened truth is that my mother is the one I think of most fondly. She adored me when no one else did. Unfortunately, she died the year my marriage fell apart. Fortunately, she never knew that her little girl had been wronged. This was the beginning of my 15-year bad decade.
AA: Are there any portions of the essays that are fictionalized? If so, what was your motivation for the embellishment?
DF: The short answers are: yes and why not. I write in the first-person and base all the characters on me, people I know, family, imaginary friends, bus drivers and any other humans or situations I observe, so readers think it all happened to me. To protect my privacy, I created a literary genre called “notaubiography.” It wavers between truth and untruth, with no special ratio of one to the other – a kind of cross between Anais Nin and, say, James Frey. Many events did happen to me, but they could have happened to you, too, or to someone else. So I call the essays memoirs, you-moirs or someone else-moirs.
I embellish or exaggerate for fun, puns, or just to keep the flow of the story’s unraveling. Plus, I like drama that I can control.
AA: Many people have many different types of muses, be it music, quiet meditation, people-watching, or what have you. What “gets you in the mood” for writing?
DF: Not that I’m a great writer, but all great ones and many of us wanna-bes indulge in reality-muting tricks to escape the “censors” that reside in our heads. That said, I have been known to inhale intoxicating herbs now and then (and maybe later, too.). Out of habit (and because my editor is likely to spike it), I play this down even though it’s legal where I live. What also gets me in the mood is a good tale to tell. I like to give myself deadlines, which can be a great motivator.
AA: Having met you in person, I can easily say that you are just as witty face-to-face as you are in your writing. Sometimes it is very difficult to translate this kind of in-your-face humor to the page. What is your greatest challenge when writing humorous essays?
DF: In your face … really? [Accidental Author Note: Probably a more appropriate term would be “unapologetic”] A dear friend said to me that he use to think that I was “on” for other people, but he’s come to see that I can’t help myself and this is how I think. Having such content in my head is one thing, having the discipline to record it is quite another. Another challenge is remembering funny lines I’ve spewed or heard. I always think I’ll remember them but, unless I write them down as I hear them, I have problems recalling the phrase. In terms of writing, it’s important to get the humor across without it sounding too contrived or forced. I sit in front of my iMac and speak the words aloud, which is when the muse visits with all her puns and wordplay. I call it punching up the story. If the story’s the skeleton, than the jokes are the muscles. Good bones never hurt, though.
AA: Do you also enjoy creative writing, or do you derive most of your inspiration from real-life encounters and events?
DF: To me, all writing is creative. Do I base my tales on real incidents? Yes. Do I rely on existing personalities to inflate my characters? You betcha. But it’s me who personally interprets the situations and creatively reports them. I believe that almost all stories have been told before. (How do you write about hell or the devil without relying on Dante, for example?) What I bring to the table is the way in which the story’s told. My style is more about the telling than the tale, but it doesn’t mean there’s no tale.
I admire writers who write well and create unique situations and characters. John Irving falls into this category, although he could use a little more editing. At the same time, few writers tell a better story than Herman Wouk. I can exaggerate, satirize and "sarcasticize" with the best, but I can’t create something from nothing … or I haven’t yet.
AA: Obviously, this collection of essays is a mere smattering of your experiences as a Jewish woman. How do you choose what events to write about?
DF: I don’t always choose them; some of the stories just about write themselves. I try to write stories that will be of interest to others because they can relate to them. The Smooth Sailing quartet is about falling in love - who can’t relate to the tummy full of butterflies and the giggle in one’s throat? Toss in the luxurious ship and the romantic
Caribbean and you’ve got a million women’s fantasy.
I need a “hook” in a story to make me want to write it. For instance, I was lucky enough to be invited to go with my dear friend and her friends to
for her son’s Bar Mitzvah. Most people can’t relate to such extraordinary generosity, so I wasn’t sure how to present the fabulous journey. Then a dark moment occurred in an otherwise perfect vacation, and I got the hook for my story. It’s in my next book. All I can ask is how many people do you know who walked into a Tel Aviv hotel lobby bleeding from her head? Jerusalem
AA: Did you ever start writing something and stop because you felt something was TOO personal?
DF: Writing about personal matters and relationships helps me to understand them better. Do I mute some of the rough edges? Of course, it was bad enough that I had to go through the emotional upheaval, why should people kind enough to read my stories have to also? Better I should see the funny in it and write it in that context. As to inappropriate places to be funny, I told a joke at my mother’s funeral. It was a “wicked pissah” hot and humid
summer and the rabbi decided to truncate the service. The problem was that you can’t start the service until the body is covered, so he put a piece of astro-turf over the casket before it was lowered into the ground. I whispered to my sister, “Look, Ma’s at Riverfront Stadium.” Boston
I don’t think anything is too personal to write about … as long as you make it funny. But I have an advantage because I can always hide behind “notaubiography.”
AA: What types of books do you like to read? What are you reading right now?
DF: After (un)signing with Untreed Reads Publishing, I stopped reading so much and started writing more. Prior to that, I had recently left the world of fiction in favor of non-fiction. Granted, the non-fiction was so engagingly written that it could have been fiction. The (unleavened) truth is that I’m a bit of a news junky, much to my blood pressure’s dismay, so I’m scavenging news stories and magazines from across the world wide web. The next thing I’m going to read is your blog and your story. I was afraid they might influence my answers if I’d read them before I finished this e-terview.
AA: How did you come to publish your work as an eBook with Untreed Reads?
DF: After 15 years of writing essays and showing them only to family and some colleagues, all of whom forecast I would be the next straight Jewish David Sedaris. I was flattered, but I hate rejection so much that I didn’t try to shop the stories around as a collection. Then a friend invited me to join her at a party at her friend’s who had recently started up an e-book publishing company. I met K.D. Sullivan and Jay Hartman, publisher and editor, respectively, of Untreed Reads. I sent them some stories and was thrilled when they wanted to publish them. This was a life-changer for me. I feel like I didn’t touch the ground again until The Unleavened Truth fell off of Amazon’s top-selling list in its categories.
AA: If you don’t mind my asking, what are you working on now?
DF: I’m writing more essays for the next book. As I mentioned, I wrote one about my
trip, or Shalomerama, as I like to call it. I’m not sure what else I’ll include, but I guarantee it will make you smile or wince, depending upon your pun threshold. Israel
Darryl grew up in Newton, Massachusetts and went to
. She discovered northern Syracuse University California and, except for a brief interlude on a hippie farm in upstate New York, has lived in for the past 40 years. San Francisco