Author Q&A: Quinn Cummings, “Pet Sounds”
Quinn Cummings, author of Pet Sounds, is an Oscar-nominated actor (The Goodbye Girl), and a critically acclaimed author and humorist, who writes the popular blog: The QC Report. Her other books are Notes from the Underwire and The Year of Learning Dangerously. Quinn’s writing has appeared in The Atlantic, Time, Newsweek, The Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Magazine, Good Housekeeping, and more.
What inspired you to first start writing? What led you to write and publish your first book?
My blog began to entertain myself. Whenever I do something idiotic, there’s some part of my head already gleeful at the thought of telling somebody about how stupid I looked. I could either work with a talented therapist to figure out why I did that or I could use the Internet as my own personal megaphone. I told my first story of how I get unhinged about trying to get my family out the door in time and never looked back. The book happened by dumb luck. A few years ago, Abigail Breslin was nominated for an Academy Award. Because newspapers have a flair for the obvious, USA Today did the usual “Where are the other former child actor nominees now?” story. I was included; they mentioned my blog. An editor from Hyperion read the story, read the blog, and contacted me with an offer. I am acutely aware my publishing story makes writers want to come after me with serrated knives.
All three of your books have been published differently. In what ways was writing and publishing Pet Sounds different than/similar to your previous books?
I like to say that I have three book children; I love them all equally, but one was born at home. Notes from the Underwire was Hyperion, Year of Learning Dangerously was Penguin, and Pet Sounds was self-published. Back in January, I was talking to a friend with a small animal-rescue group (Santedor.org) and we were talking about her vet bills, which were breathtaking and I was thinking my usual “WHY DIDN’T I BECOME A HEDGE-FUND MANAGER SO I COULD JUST WRITE HER A CHECK AND FIX THIS” stream of do-gooding when I suddenly thought “Well, I am a writer. And people buy books about animals.” I’ve written about animals—both my own and not—for the entire seven years I’ve written the blog and have been asked in the past to create a book just of them. I pulled the animal stories, hired a very talented editor, polished and rewrote them to a fare-thee-well, and had the book available by June. Proceeds go to Sante D’Or. What’s the same? The work. What’s different? The extra work: formatting it for ebooks (did you know Kindle and Nook are different formats? It’s all so fussy and hideous); doing publicity; being both labor and management. On the other hand, the book was up and running in less than six months, and that never would have happened with a standard publisher.
You write a lot of personal stuff—how do you decide what to include and what to eliminate?
If I look stupid, it stays in. If someone else looks stupid, I’d better come off looking more stupid in the story or it tends to leave. I can count on one hand the stories I’ve written from the perspective of “I was right and they were wrong.” I don’t write about sad things often, because I figure most people read my stuff to laugh and, honestly, it’s easier to make people cry than laugh and I have no love for the underhand pitch. If it involves the kid, it’s going to be run through my inner-comb about 15 times and, honestly, more often than not, I’ll decide not to write it. Alice’s greatest complaint about my writing is that she’s not in it often enough, which of all the complaints a child can have about a blogging parent is the one I like best.
In what ways has blogging and article writing helped you in your book writing?
Well, blogging got me my book deal, so I’d say that’s the first way it benefited me. Also, sitting at a table at Starbucks telling your friend about how I made a fool of myself in public is different than writing the same story; writing the blog has taken a few of the shaggier bits off my shaggy-dog stories. I will defend to the death my right to digress but am pleased to note I appear to have learned story structure.
How do you juggle the blog, books, life, etc?
I don’t. Juggling implies everything is in play at all times and it doesn’t seem to work that way for me. When I was working on Pet Sounds, the blog got neglected. When I feel like blogging, I don’t Tweet as much. When the kid needs me, everything else goes dormant. When I’m reviewing books for Vroman’s Bookstore in Pasadena, I’m not writing, if for no other reason than I have a nasty habit of sounding like the last person I read. I actually think I’m terrible at multitasking; anyone who has had the joy of watching me work the GPS while driving would agree.
Advice for non-fiction writers? Bloggers? Creative people?
I always wince at this question, because until I’m in my big lakeside house which writing has paid for, I’m pretty certain I’m in no position to give advice. Having said that, here you go: create what interests you and don’t try to second-guess the market. The odds are that in this loud world of many distractions and little time, no one outside your mother is ever going to see your work, so you might as well be really happy creating it. Also, I read blogs of people who are fascinated by things which I don’t care about at all, but I respond to their passion. A writer passionately in love with her subject is always going to be more fun to follow than one more yahoo opining on the Kardashians.
What is your favorite part of being a writer? The greatest challenge?
I love that everything I look at, read, hear, eat, is fair game. Before writing, it was a bad meal, an awkward conversation, a terrible haircut; after writing, woo hoo! Blog’s written for today! The challenge is that if I don’t write, there is no writing; one of the cats worships me and still I haven’t figured out how to palm my work off on to her.
What do you know now that you wish you knew when you first started writing?
Be braver. Very few people are actually watching and fewer still will care if you head down a cul-de-sac or two while you figure out what interests you.