I am delighted to be chatting today with Paula Houseman. Paula was once a graphic designer. But when the temptation to include ‘the finger’ as part of a logo for a forward-moving women’s company proved too much, she knew it was time to give away design. Instead, she took up writing. She found she was a natural with the double entendres.
Could you tell us about yourself?
I’m a first-generation Australian. My parents were Jewish and born in Egypt. But because their parents were from Europe, they weren’t granted citizenship and they remained stateless. So, when they immigrated to Australia, belongingness became a priority. It was in the days before Australia had become a multicultural society and it wasn’t easy for them. My mother was a staid walking cliché and struggled to live the Australian way; my father thought he was living it because he could fart the national anthem. And that background laid the foundations for a mother of an identity crisis, and a life that played out like the blueprint for Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s South Park—funny to watch, maybe; not so funny to be a character in it. Still, it’s provided some awesome raw materials for writing.
When did you first decide to write and what got you started?
As a baby boomer, I grew up at a time when the catchphrase ‘Children should be seen and not heard’ still held sway (‘Children’ meant girls). I was feisty and had plenty to say that didn’t align with my parents’ adopted views. And because I also laughed at inappropriate times, I was often in trouble. It got to the point where shutting up was easier. But it was unhealthy—a wild child shouldn’t be tamed. And can’t. So I started to write in a personal journal. That was 27 years ago. And as I slowly retrieved my lost voice and uncovered ideas I didn’t even know I had, I expressed them through essays at university. My unconventional views were respected, and that gave me the courage to expand my audience—first, through an online community for poets and writers, then through my books and blogs.
Do you plot your stories or do you write and see where it takes you?
I don’t plot my stories; I’m a pantser. I let my characters lead me … astray.
Do you have any inspirations for you writing? Other authors / people / events?
Other authors inspire me:
If I’m completely engrossed in a book I’m reading, I’ll ask myself what ideas and writing techniques are engaging me. In particular, I love twists and turns. It’s not a distinctive feature of the humour genre in which I write, but I tend to integrate the unexpected into my stories, although, not consciously. I recently came across an article in Writer’s Digest by author Steven Kohlhagen, who sounds a bit like a fellow pantser. His take perfectly sums up my writing approach. He says, ‘I don’t create surprising twists. I create interesting characters and put them in tough or scary or romantic situations. The characters then deal with those situations in ways that I never suspect. In other words, they write the books. They create the surprising twists. I don’t.’
People and events also inspire me:
Mostly, revisiting memories from my ridiculous past. Writing has helped me defuse the situations that seemed tragic at the time. It’s also resuscitated my natural ability to see the comedy in the tragedy. So, the thing that often got me into trouble as a kid is now my stock-in-trade.
Us readers would love to know more about The Ruth Roth series of books. Will there be a third?
The off-the-wall Ruth Roth series comprises three books: Book 1, Odyssey in a Teacup, is a coming-of-age story that falls into the original incarnation of the chick lit genre (à la Bridget Jones’s Diary). Book 2, originally Apoca[hot]lips, has just been retitled Cupid F*cks Up (because he does). And Book 3, scheduled for release in July 2018, is My T(r)oyboy is a Twat (because he is). Books 2 and 3—stand-alones—are romantic comedies.
My style is a little Monty Pythonesque. And it thrills me no end that my name’s been mentioned in the same breath as satirical novelist Carl Hiaasen, and that Ruth Roth has been likened to Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum!
What is the best part about writing?
I can lose myself in it, but I also find myself in it.
My parents were lost souls because their primary focus was the pursuit of a social identity. I had trouble fitting in because I was never at home in or cared about any man-made social category: race, ethnicity, religion, class, gender. And hard as that was, I guess it turned out to be a blessing. The innate desire to belong somewhere led me to question my place in the world. I did that through writing. And I started to understand that writing is the perfect fit because it’s where I can be all of me.
The logical progression was an inspired choice of course at university, where I learnt about the archetypes of our essential humanness that are found in ancient myths. The characters in these raw stories personify every aspect of the human psyche—breathe life into and celebrate each one: the fabulous, the horrible and everything in between. It’s helped me to write unashamedly; to let my protagonist express immoral thoughts and feelings. And I think the realness of that is what connects us. It also gets us applauded instead of locked up.
What is the worst part about writing?
Being taken into the darkest recesses of soul through the writing process is hard. But the worst part of writing is the pre-publication stuff and promotion—that’s hell. I’m a writer, not a marketer.
Your character describes you as “putting her through hell and that she hates you” WOW, what horrendous things have you put her through?
My character hates me because I refuse to structure her life story as a fairy tale! My stories don’t follow the typical romance formula. There’s a minor thread of ancient mythology running through the books, which means my protagonist has to experience what it means to be fully human. I know that readers like happily ever after, and there is that. But it’s more a feet-on-the-ground HEA than an idealistic fairy-tale one. This kind can lead to feelings of hopelessness because life is just not like that. Except on Facebook. Many people are living the dream on Facebook.
So, much as I hate clichés, I keep telling my protagonist what my mother would’ve said: ‘It’s for your own good!’
You describe Aussie humour as tongue-in-cheek and lippy, can you give us some examples?
We have a dry, ironic and self-deprecating humour. One of the funniest examples I can think of was when Pizza Hut launched the cheese-stuffed pizza crust in Australia. There was a billboard just outside of Sydney airport with a picture of a stuffed crust pizza and a caption that read, ‘Welcome to Sydney. Now go and get stuffed.’
Personally, I thought it was a brilliant bit of marketing. But it caused quite a controversy, so it wasn’t there for long—Boo!
On the subject of humour do you have any favourite Aussie comedians?
Not my favourites, but surely the best: The prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, and the leader of the opposition, Bill Shorten. A pair of clowns.
What do you love most about being Aussie and if you could choose to live anywhere (let’s make that in Oz) where would that be?
We Aussies are a friendly bunch. I think being surrounded by nature helps. I love being close to the beach and if I could live elsewhere, it’d be the Sunshine Coast. But if Hawaii should ever decide to secede from the US and become Australia’s seventh state, I’d be on the first plane.
I love talking about Australia as you can see, can you tell us some quirky facts about Down Under that non-Aussies would not be aware of?
Profanity has a natural place in the Aussie lexicon (so I’m living the Australian way, Mum and Dad).
Wombat shit is cube-shaped.
Three hundred female convicts mass-mooned the governor of Tasmania in 1832 (we Aussie chicks could argue this was the precursor for the women’s rights movement).
Note: It’s likely many Aussies wouldn’t be aware of these facts. Nos. 2 and 3 were news to me.
Do you have a message for all The Flat Earth twats that say Australia does NOT exist?
Yep. Up yours, tossers! (I expect no blowback from these twats because if Australia doesn’t exist, then neither you nor I exist. So, it follows that these questions and answers are non-existent.)
How important do you think social media is for an author?
I think a presence on social media is important for authors inasmuch as it can help us grow our brand and promote our books. But it can be a double-edged sword. The algorithms are designed to encourage quantity over quality, and that leads to superficiality over depth and artificiality over realness. These are dangerous for a writer because they can dumb you down, impair the imagination and stymie creativity
Who are your favourite authors?
I write humour, but I love reading a good whodunnit. Faves are David Baldacci (Amos Decker series), Lee Child (Jack Reacher series), Harlan Coben (Myron Bolitar series), Michael Connelly (Harry Bosch and Mickey Haller series) and Sandra Brown (who combines murder, mystery and romance). And Roger Bray books are beckoning!