New Voice: Carrie Harris on Bad Taste in Boys

Carrie Harris is the first-time author of Bad Taste in Boys (Delacorte, 2011). From the promotional copy:

Super-smartie Kate Grable gets to play doctor, helping out her high school football team. Not only will the experience look good on her college apps, she gets to be this close to her quarterback crush, Aaron.

Then something disturbing happens. Kate finds out that the coach has given the team steroids. Except…the vials she finds don’t exactly contain steroids. Whatever’s in them is turning hot gridiron hunks into mindless, flesh-eating…zombies.

Unless she finds an antidote, no one is safe. Not Aaron, not Kate’s brother, not her best friend…not even Kate…

It’s scary. It’s twisted. It’s sick. It’s high school.

Looking back, are you surprised to debut in 2011, or did that seem inevitable? How long was your journey, what were the significant events, and how did you keep the faith?

I am continually, constantly surprised. Every time I get an email or a picture or a note that says, “I read your book!” my kneejerk reaction is to wonder how they hacked into my computer and if I should press charges. Honestly, I pinch myself every morning. Because I’ve been dreaming about it for so long. Not exaggerating—I’ve been writing for fifteen years.

The whole thing started way back when neon was cool. I got the only F of my life on a creative writing assignment, and I tried to tell myself that it stood for “fabulous,” but I didn’t believe me. I wrote the heck out of the next paper, got an A+, and was hooked.

But I was determined to be a doctor, dancer, veterinarian, psychologist, and/or lifelong college student, so I wasted a lot of time changing my major to each of these things (except the last one, which is kind of implied by all the rest).

Finally, I took a writing workshop and changed that major for the last time, because it’s so much more fun to write about sparkly unicorns than it is to learn the Krebs cycle. Sparkle, sparkle, sparkle!

I figured I’d become a teacher and write on the side. So I started the first of a bijillion freelance writing jobs, went back for a masters in teaching, and big surprise! I changed my major again. To statistics, which only proves once and for all that I really am rat-in-a-coffee-can insane.

So now, I’m a statistician who writes freelance on the side, and I have no real idea how that happened. But it all worked out, because along the way I developed the obligatory list of wonky jobs that all writers seem to have. I sold orthopedic shoes and knives (but not at the same time), coordinated autopsies, and managed the national center for research in the human form of Mad Cow disease.

In short, I lived. And I kept writing. And I kept getting better.

This is what comes to mind when I think about the significant moments in my writing life. It’s not the years of writing websites and roleplaying games and med school study cards and all that other random stuff, although that certainly was important to do craft-wise. But even more important for me was figuring out who I am and realizing that maybe I’m not the kind of person who wins Pulitzers, and that’s okay! That maybe being a monster-obsessed, slightly crazed, extremely silly writer is exactly what I ought to be, and all those years of trying to deny that? Ultimately fruitless.

At the end of the day? I found myself through my writing. I think that’s pretty awesome.

As a comedic writer, how do you decide what’s funny? What advice do you have for those interested in either writing comedies or books with a substantial amount of humor in them?

For me, comedy is all about trial and error, wordplay, and boob jokes. (Although I think I might have gone a little overboard with the boob jokes, because my editor requested that I give my most recent manuscript a breast reduction.)

Humor’s a really slippery subject because there are so many different ways to approach it. The thing that has surprised me so much about putting a funny book out on the shelves is that every person who writes me cites a different thing that really cracked them up. It really does go to show that humor is relative.

So if that’s true, how in the heck do you learn to write it? Honestly, I’ve read all the how-to humor books. Okay, not exactly true. I started a lot of them, but I don’t think I ever finished one. I don’t think humor is something you can break down into easy-to-follow steps. For me, it all comes down to studying at the feet of the greats and critically evaluating their work as a writer.

This sounds very impressive and technical until you realize what it actually means—I really just wanted an excuse to watch a lot of “The Muppet Show” and read a bunch of Dr. Seuss and call it “research.”

But it is! Jim Henson taught me more than any how-to book ever will. And when I write, I channel my inner Fozzie, or Kermit, or Piggy. (I once channeled my inner Animal, but I don’t advise that. My laptop still has bite marks on it.)

Instead of trying to write comedy, I try to make myself snort things out my nose.

I think it’s an important distinction.

And if all else fails, I’ve found that a good boob joke goes a long way…