INTERVIEW With Humorous Opinion Columnist Lisa Sugarman

Let’s give a big welcome to humorous opinion columnist, Lisa Sugarman. If y’all haven’t discovered Lisa yet take a peek at her blog It Is What It Is and see all the fun you’re missing. Be sure and enter Lisa‘s giveaway at the end of the interview.

Did you always want to write?

Yes. I’ve wanted to be a writer for as long as I can remember being able to hold a pencil. There was just something so thrilling about having the power to move people with words. It’s what I’ve always wanted to do.

The first real memory I have of wanting to be a writer was when I was around six years old. My friend Stacey and I decided to write our own community newspaper. We slaved over it in my bedroom for a week. In the end, I think it maybe stretched a page and a half. (We lived in a pretty Mayberryish neighborhood.) After that I was hooked.

Why newspaper/opinion columns?

My creative writing professor in college came to me one day and suggested I check out our college newspaper. He knew how much I loved to write and thought it might be fun for me to experiment with journalism. And because journalism had always intrigued me, I wasted no time reaching out to the editor of our college paper to talk about ways I could be a contributor. I started as a news reporter the very next week. After one semester, I took over as news editor and the semester after that I took over as editor. From there, I never looked back. I stayed with it until graduation and I’m convinced that the experience changed the course of my life. It was during that time in college that I fell in love with journalism. I was hired by a newspaper chain on the south shore of Boston right after graduation and I worked there as a reporter for a couple of years until I enrolled in graduate school at Emerson College in Boston.

Around the same time, I started working for a big data marketing company writing and editing collateral material for non-profit campaigns. After a few years there I moved on to a healthcare publishing company where I wrote all the marketing and PR for their newsletter and book divisions.

After several years there I took a break from my career to have my kids. I had honestly never given opinion writing a second thought until about seven years ago when I randomly submitted an opinion column to my hometown newspaper about my oldest daughter celebrating her bat mitzvah. The editor got so much positive feedback about the piece that he asked me to contribute again. So I did. Again and again. And the reader feedback stayed so positive that he eventually asked me to brand my column with a name so it could become a regular feature. It was then, about five years ago, that I started calling my column It Is What It Is. And I’ve been at it every week since.

Were your parent’s funny people? Where do you think you got your wonderful sense of humor?

My dad passed away when I was ten, so unfortunately I remember very little. I do remember laughing a lot with him, though. And my mom has always had a great sense of humor. Not to mention a crazy-contagious laugh. Everyone in my family was always pretty quick-witted, actually, so you had to be able to keep up. As a kid, one of the things I remember most is all the laughter in my house. Our kitchen was always full of aunts and uncles and cousins and grandparents so there were always funny stories being told by someone. You know, the kind that always made you feel like you were gonna pee your pants. So I guess that laid the foundation for me to be a humorist without me even realizing it.

What did you do in marketing and publishing?

Before my husband and I started our family, I worked for a healthcare publishing company doing marketing and PR for their newsletter and book divisions. It was pretty dry stuff, to be honest. So it was always a challenge to write copy that would grab peoples’ attention and make them want to buy our products. Looking back, it gave me great insight into how to effectively market and publishing books and services, or anything for that matter. Plus, it helped broaden my range as a writer.

Have you ever wanted to write fiction? If so what genre?

One of the things I’ve always wanted to do as a writer is to write a children’s book. It’s been a real dream of mine. I’ve wanted to write one almost as long as I can remember. I used to sit in the children’s section of my hometown bookstore, The Spirit of ’76, while my mother shopped for books (she’s always been a voracious reader). I’d just sit there and imagine having my own children’s book on the shelf someday. Ironically, I just finished my first children’s book manuscript earlier this fall. I’ve been working on it in between writing my column and publishing LIFE: IT IS WHAT IT IS. It’s actually a spin-off of one of my opinion columns tailored to children. My hope is to find a publishing house that likes the manuscript and wants to help me take it all the way. So fingers crossed.

Would/could you ever live anywhere other than Marblehead, Mass.?

I’ve lived in Marblehead most of my life, with the exception of a few stop gaps in neighboring towns and a couple of years in Washington, D.C. when we were first married. Marblehead is home. Always has been; always will be.

My husband and I do love to travel, though, so over the years we’ve been fortunate to have visited lots of spectacular places around the world, many of which we’d love to go back and re-explore. But while I’d love to spend extended amounts of time in other parts of the world, I’m not sure I could ever call any of them home in quite the same way that I do Marblehead. And if you lived here, you’d understand why.

Marblehead is a four-square-mile peninsula about seventeen miles north of Boston right on the coast. There are about 24,000 of us all crammed together in one of the most scenic coastal towns in the country. We’ve got beaches on all sides, one of the country’s most beautiful and historic harbors, and oh yeah, it’s also the birthplace of the American Navy. We’re basically an island, for all intents and purposes, just with a few roads that happen to connect us to the rest of the world around us. I like to say that everywhere else there are six degrees of separation, but in Marblehead there’s barely one. Everybody knows everybody. And that can be a really comforting and warm feeling once you get over the fact that you can rarely go anywhere without bumping into someone you know. It’s definitely an acquired taste but I can’t imagine living anywhere else.

Please tell us about LIFE: IT IS WHAT IT IS.

LIFE: IT IS WHAT IT IS is my first book. It was published in February of 2014 and, to my great surprise, was named a Boston Globe Local Bestseller for three weeks that same spring. The book is a collection of roughly 50 of my favorite humor columns from my first five years writing my opinion column It Is What It Is. Ironically, since the book was published last year, my column became nationally syndicated with GateHouse Media, Inc. and can now be found in over 400 daily and weekly community newspapers across the county.

Since each chapter in the book is one of my previously published humor columns, the format of the book is somewhat unique in that each chapter is a quick two-to-three-page read, making it easy to pick at when you have a few spare minutes throughout the day. I tell people it’s a great bathroom read because you can read each chapter one at a time or knock off a dozen in a short amount of time. You can also read the book in any order because the chapters are mutually exclusive. It’s also been popular as a travel companion for frequent travelers or moms waiting for their kids in the pick-up line at school.

I think what’s made the book so popular as that it’s written in such a conversational voice, that people get the sense they’re talking with a friend through bathroom stalls (hence the front cover artwork). That’s because I write like I talk, which so far people have liked. I tend to speak my mind but without proselytizing. And I guess I do it in a funny enough way that people let me get away with it.

The other thing that’s made LIFE: IT IS WHAT IT IS so appealing is that I remind people that life isn’t a straight line and it’s not supposed to be. I find that people are too consumed with being perfect—perfect parents, perfect husbands, perfect wives, perfect employees—but that’s just not realistic. We’re all designed to screw up. It’s in our nature. It’s how we’re wired. And that’s because life just it isn’t a straight line. It’s always changing, which means we all have to learn to be flexible. I always try to focus on the blunt reality that we’re all human and we’re all fallible. That’s usually my main message. That, and that attitude is absolutely everything.

3 favorite things about writing?

  1. I love having a way to purge myself of the very full stream of consciousness that’s always floating through my head. And I do that by spitting it all out on paper.
  2. It’s the greatest privilege to be able to have a positive impact on someone’s thinking or behavior or attitude by writing. It’s powerful stuff. And it’s one of my favorite things about being a writer.
  3. To me, there’s nothing more exciting than having a reader reach out to me and say they felt like I was talking directly to them in one of my columns. Or that I was reading their mind. Or, even better, that I reshaped their thinking in a positive way. There’s no better compliment, as far as I’m concerned. When I make that kind of connection with someone, it doesn’t get much better than that.

3 least favorite?

Is this a trick question? Honestly, there’s really no downside to writing for me. I love every aspect of what I do. I love the whole creative process—everything from taking a quick thought and stretching it like a piece of gum into a whole column; to editing; to revising. There’s nothing better than getting an idea and growing it into something cohesive and funny and entertaining. But I guess if I have to come up with a negative, I’d say it’s having a word-count limit. My column needs to be somewhere in the vicinity of 800-900 words due to space constraints, and there are definitely times when I could go on and on about something but I’m forced to cut myself off at the knees. So that’s probably my least favorite thing.

If you could do anything else, what would it be?

I consider myself unbelievably blessed and fortunate to be living the dream I had as a little girl. So I’m incredibly content. But, if I had to pick something else to do or to be, I’d be a cowgirl. For real. I’ve secretly wanted to live that life since I was a kid. It combines everything I love into one lifestyle. I love animals and working with my hands; I love the outdoors and living a simple lifestyle; I love riding horses and wearing cowboy boots; and we’ve already got a branding iron with an “S” on it, so if this writing thing ever fizzles, I’ll be ready to shift gears in a snap.

Do you have another book in the works or an idea for one?

Yes. I have another volume’s worth of It Is What It Is columns ready to go when the time comes that people ask for a second edition. I’ve also got a finished children’s book manuscript that just needs a publisher to fall in love with it.

I’ve also got two other books I’m working on, but they’re very under the radar right now and very different from what people are used to reading from me. It’s too early for any kind of reveal right now, but I’m working on them in bits and pieces in between writing my weekly column and promoting my book.

Do you have a favorite genre or author?

I love most genres, actually. Although I’m not really much of a fantasy fan. If I had a preference, though, I’d probably say historical fiction, specifically anything relating to the Holocaust. I’m just fascinated with the subject.

As for a favorite author, I’d probably have to say Peter Reynolds. Yup, the same Peter Reynolds who writes children’s books for Candlewick Press. Two of my favorite books are THE DOT and ISH. I think he’s just brilliant. Anyone who can use so few words and images to convey such deep and powerful messages is just a rock star in my opinion.

Are you reading anything right now?

Don’t laugh, but I’m actually reading three books right now. I’m reading EAT & RUN by vegan ultrarunner Scott Jurek; rereading BORN TO RUN by Christopher McDougall; and reading THAT’S FUNNY, YOU DON’T LOOK BUDDHIST by Sylvia Boorstein. The funny thing is, though, I’ve been reading the same three books for the past year. But that’s how I generally read. I go through phases where I’ll rip through a book in a week and then there are times (obviously this is one) when time just won’t allow me to read more than a few pages at a time. That and I have zero longevity for reading in bed.

What’s the last thing you read you would highly recommend?

STILL ALICE by Lisa Genova was especially powerful for me. One of the only illnesses I’ve every truly been afraid of is Alzhehimer’s disease. So when my mother-in-law bought me the book years ago, I left it on my nightstand for about three years. Eventually, I decided to suck it up and face my fear and I was so grateful I gave the book a chance. It was so artfully crafted that I never felt uncomfortable or afraid reading it like I imagined I would. It actually had the opposite effect on me and made me understand the condition more and fear it less. That’s a talented author.

Lisa is generously giving away a print copy of her debut LIFE: IT IS WHAT IT IS to one (1) lucky commenter today. Limited to USA Only.

Are you an opinion columnist fan or is this your first time? Do tell…

Thanks, Lisa for taking the time to visit with us today. Looking forward to more from you in the future.

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