Literature and laughs: Military author crafts hilarious narrative out of family columns
Thoughtful, entertaining gifts can be hard to find at the best of times. As the window closes on holiday shopping, it can seem all but impossible to find that special item that says “I thought of you, even if I bought this close to the last minute.” If this sounds all too familiar, we have a literary suggestion — and you might want to pick up one for yourself as well.
Humor columnist Lisa Molinari has compiled her weekly missives into a book, “The Meat and Potatoes of Life: My True Lit Com.” The chapters are grouped into seasons of the Molinari family’s life, taking readers all the way from wedding to empty nest, with plenty of mayhem involving three kids, one dog and many moves in between.
The bite-sized chapters make the book easy to enjoy a few minutes at a time, but it’s certainly entertaining enough to hold readers’ attention for longer. With chapter headings such as “Does This Baby Make My Husband’s Butt Look Big?”, “Lord of the Houseflies” and “Fifty Shades of Mattress Shopping,” Molinari excels in finding humor in relatable circumstances.
Like so many things in 2020, Molinari’s book publishing journey began with high hopes. She has experienced a lot of uncertainty since May 1, when “My True Lit Com” hit the market. Though a book at first seems like a pandemic-proof endeavor, publicity has been a challenge with in-person events at a standstill. Molinari says she would especially like her collection of stories to reach military families, as they will be able to relate like no other to her experiences.
Molinari’s column runs weekly in Stars and Stripes. We chatted with her via email about bathroom reads, the biggest compliment she’s received and what her family thinks about their foibles being leveraged for laughs in print.
Stars and Stripes: What prompted you to write a book? Molinari: When you write a humor column, you have to dredge up all kinds of stories to tell. After years of telling these stories in my columns, I began to see a pattern, an overarching tale about a military spouse and her family, coming of age. In 2013, I joined a writer’s group where we were stationed in Newport, R.I., and began rewriting, organizing and reading what I’d written to the group. I made one curmudgeon in the group laugh a lot, and he told me, “Your stories read like episodes of ‘The Middle’ or ‘The Wonder Years.’ ” This got me thinking about a book — not a compilation of my columns, but a real book — with plot, scenes and dialogue, written like a readable sitcom. For the next six years, I developed the manuscript draft that became “The Meat and Potatoes of Life: My True Lit Com.”
Can you explain the title? I named my column “The Meat and Potatoes of Life” because to me, it was all about weeding out the nonsense to see the nuggets of truth. The humor comes in because it’s fun to laugh at all the meaningless stuff we get caught up in today. I was elected class clown in high school, so I’ve always seen humor as a virtue. It’s a common bond between my husband and I, and we have taught our kids to develop keen senses of humor, too.
What does your family think of your columns? Do they ever object to the way they’re portrayed? This is the most common question I get asked. Everyone wants to know, “Does Francis get mad at you over what you’ve written about him?” Believe it or not, no! Not only does my husband never get mad at me for writing stories about him, he frequently suggests that I write about him. My husband grew up in a big family where every kid fought for attention. He is our “loveable narcissist” because everyone in our family knows that Francis’ favorite topic is, hands down, himself. Anytime I write about him — the good, the bad, and even the ugly — he’s happy to bask in the limelight. The kids on the other hand, show very little interest in anything I write. It’s just something that Mom has done for 10 years. I’ve read my columns to them over the years, and so far, none of the kids have objected to how I portrayed them, but then again, they probably weren’t listening. If they ever manage to read my book, it will likely be because they will find it many years from now, while they are cleaning out my house after I’ve did. In all seriousness, our whole family thinks it’s pretty cool that our life is memorialized in print, and that both military and civilian families relate to the stories of chaos, joy, disappointment, pride, frustration and love contained in the book.
What are your hopes for this book? My hopes for this book have always been pretty simple. Back when I told my writer’s group about my plans to write a manuscript in the style of a readable sitcom, one member asked incredulously, “You don’t want to write a bathroom book, do you?” I thought about it a minute, and told her, “It’d be okay with me if people enjoyed my book in the bathroom.” She was flabbergasted. What she didn’t understand is that I just wanted to write something that would make readers laugh, smile, or even tear up a little. The biggest compliment to me is that I’ve written a “feel-good” story, because that’s exactly what so many of us need right now.