Jenny Lawson, aka The Bloggess, on her new book and weird taxidermied fan gifts
Photo courtesy of Jenny Lawson
Jenny Lawson made the most of her bizarre childhood. In fact, she turned it into a New York Times bestseller. But Lawson's entry to the literary world was her popular blog, The Bloggess, which attracted the attention of a literary agent. Let's Pretend This Never Happened is her new, mostly-true memoir full of hilarious accounts of dangerous wild animals and adventures in taxidermy.
We caught up with the writer in advance of her signing at 7:30 p.m. tonight at the Tattered Cover LoDo, and spoke with her about embracing her past, weird fan gifts, and writing about mental illness with humor.
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Westword: What made you want to write this book?
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Jenny Lawson: I started writing the book eleven years ago. I wanted to write it because I wanted to record all of this family history so that if I ever had kids -- because at the time I didn't have my daughter -- I would be able to share this with my kids later on. I really wrote it just for my child. And then I was approached by my agent, who was like, "I think you have a book in you." And I was like, well, I do, but it's not for you. She convinced me that maybe the world would like to see it after all.
Where did the title come from?
It came from the fact that when I was a kid, all of these things that happened to me as a kid were always moments that I wanted to pretend had never happened. And then as I got older and started writing the book I started to realize that all of these family stories that we told over and over again, those were the stories that were the most important to us. Those were the stories that made us who we are today, which is why I went with Let's Pretend This Never Happened as the actual book title.
How does your family feel about it? Have they read it?
Yeah, everybody's read it. Actually, before I sent it to my editor I made sure that everybody in my family read it first, including my in-laws, my parents, my sister, just to make sure that they agreed with everything that was in it and that there wasn't anything in it that they wanted me to take out. What was great, though, was that not only were they extremely supportive and wonderful about it, but also they were the first people to say, "Oh, we have pictures of that. And don't you remember when this happened? I can't believe you left off this part." They were super-supportive and helped make the book even better.
Were you worried about how they would react to it?
I was a little worried; I was worried about how my in-laws would react to it. My parents, I figured that they would probably be fine with it because they're pretty much fine with everything. I think that they were very surprised that it became popular, because for us it's just our family stories. They were like, "Oh, yeah, it's funny, but it's not really funny, it's just a normal story." And I'm like, there are no normal stories that have our family in them. None of those stories are normal. Why do you think that it became so popular?
I think that so many people can relate to the fact that at least at one time in their life they have felt like they don't fit in, they're awkward in some way, there was something that they wanted to pretend never happened. And as we get older we start to realize that weird can be good. Weird can actually be great. And I think there's something very celebratory in that. The thing that I get the most often in responses is, "Oh, my god, I thought I was the only one who thought that." It's kind of funny because everyone says that. There's so many things that go through your mind that you think, oh, I can't ever say this out loud because no one would ever understand, and then you read this book and realize there's an entire tribe of us out there.
Lawson's taxidermied wild boar, James Garfield.
You get a lot of interesting fan gifts. What's the weirdest one you've ever gotten?
I've gotten a lot of weird stuff. I've gotten taxidermied puffer fish, I got a taxidermied frog playing a harp. Probably the weirdest thing that I got was, I have a taxidermied wild boar's head that I used in this fundraising thing that made $40,000 for kids that weren't gonna have Christmas one year. And somebody painted this really well-done picture of James Garfield, the wild boar, but she painted the entire thing using only her lips, which was weird. It was awesome, but it was weird.
Is that strange having a ton of people who feel like they know you through your writing?
It is, but at the same time it's interesting how often somebody comes up and they're a complete stranger to me and they'll say something about, like, they'll offhandedly say what their Twitter name is or something like that. And all of a sudden I'm like, oh my gosh, I totally know you! So it's kind of interesting that you can go to the grocery store and stand right next to somebody that you have an actual relationship with and have no clue who they are until you find out what their Twitter name is, or what their blog is. And then suddenly you realize how close that community really is.
What are you working on next?
Right now I am working on getting ready for the tour, and then I'm working on book two right now. I'm hoping that it will take less than eleven years for it to come out. [Laughs]. What is book two about?
It's about mental illness, but it's gonna be a funny book about mental illness, if that makes any sense at all. It's probably the most difficult subject to write a funny book about but I don't think it's really been done before, so I thought, you know, I'm gonna take a shot at it. It's all about mental illness and the struggle to be seriously happy.
What makes you want to write about mental illness with humor?
I think that, at least for me, there are certain subjects that are really difficult to write about because they are surrounded by pain and sorrow and, of course, mental illness is one of those big ones. And there's something really cathartic about writing something really funny about something really horrible. It's almost like taking this giant monster demon and turning it into something so much smaller and more reasonable. There's something about laughing at your fears that I think can be so helpful in battling them.
What do you hope that people get out of reading Let's Pretend This Never Happened?
I hope that when people read it, first of all, that they laugh their asses off. And secondly, I hope that they realize that the weird and peculiar and strange and bizarre pieces of themselves that they wanted to pretend never happened are the pieces that make them who they are. And so I hope that it helps them to embrace those moments.
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