Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., and raised in Phoenix, Laurie Notaro attended Arizona State University, where she studied journalism and wrote for the university's State Press. She eventually became the paper's foremost humor columnist before moving on to do the same for The Arizona Republic. Now a New York Times best-selling author, Notaro has completed her 10th memoir, and will be taking a break from the mostly-cloudy forecasts at her Eugene, Ore., home to speak on a number of panels at this year's Tucson Festival of Books.
What brings you to the Tucson Festival of Books this year?
They gave me a free plane ticket. Actually, one of the girls who was organizing the festival is someone that I worked with when I worked in Tucson. I worked at Madden Media and we started (the now defunct) Tucson Monthly. But we both worked together there almost 20 years ago, and so I hadn't seen her ever since. But I love her, and so I said, "Yeah, I'll do anything for you." Tucson's great, and I love books and I'll do anything to support, propagate and extend the lives of any kind of books that I can.
You've got nine books on the shelves right now. What made you start writing memoirs?
When I was at the State Press at ASU, I started writing these columns, which are very similar to what the books are now. That's just kind of how the whole thing got started. I would just write about goofy things that I did during the week. And the truth of the matter is that I was the editor, so basically I gave myself the job in the most explicit form of nepotism in journalistic history. I had another humor writer, but he was always late on his deadline, and so finally we just fired him. And I needed to fill that slot so I just kind of started doing it in the interim until I could find somebody else. I never found anyone and I just kept doing it, so that kind of turned into my career kind of as it happened.
How did growing up in Arizona influence your writing style?
Well, I think the heat made me very angry. I think it just made me kind of aggressive in a way, (although) I'm sure, had I stayed in New York, I probably would have been more aggressive. But when I grew up, Phoenix was growing, it was becoming a really big city, and you're having people from all over move there. So I was exposed to not only the hometown people—there weren't really too many of them—but all kinds of people. I think that gave me a really good, broad-stroke kind of platform with which to kind of develop my writing style, I guess. Phoenix is such a melting pot that it's very representative, I think, of the melting pot. There's so much of everything there. And if you put anything in a pot, it'll melt. Outside. Sorry, that was a stupid joke.
What are you working on now?
I just finished a new collection of columns. ... It's basically a journal of rudeness—of my rudeness and other people's rudeness. And it's called The Potty Mouth at the Table, which is me. It's just a collection of about 30 to 40 really short pieces of goofy experiences I've had over the last couple of years. It comes out May 7.
Your Amazon profile says that you "miss Mexican food like a limb lost to diabetes." Any plans to stop at El Charro while you're here this weekend?
These are the three I want to do: El Charro, Cafe Poca Cosa and Crossroads. Those are my three favorites. I lived in Tucson for a year, down in Armory Park, so I was able to have some really great food down there.
It's not quite the same Mexican food you get in the Pacific Northwest, right?
Oh, my God, are you kidding?! It's so sad because we're just now kind of starting to develop a Hispanic population, which I think is awesome, but people move up here and they start restaurants, and then before you know it, they're putting cucumbers in their burritos, and broccoli in their burritos because that's what Northwest people do. I'm like, "No! I want more lard, I want more cheese and more pork." So while the Pacific Northwest has many terrific attributes, it should be known for completely destroying Mexican food. It's just a travesty.