Between The Lines: Romance Novels For Dummies

Pictured (L to R): Mary Wiseman and Ashley Austin Morris. Photograph by Daniel Rader.

BETWEEN THE LINES – ROMANCE NOVELS FOR DUMMIES: A weekly look at the creative process through a literary lens.

WTF Playwright-in-Residence Harrison David Rivers sat down with Romance Novels for Dummies Playwright Boo Killebrew to discuss online dating, funny women and playwriting as therapy.

[HARRISON DAVID RIVERS] Okay, let’s start at the beginning. Where did Romance Novels for Dummies come from?

[BOO KILLEBREW] It happened in two parts really. First, a friend of mine decided that she wanted to be a romance novelist and I was like, really? Romance novels? But then she walked me through the rules of the genre – there are specific rules for how to write a successful romance novel – and that’s when I was like, okay, now I’m intrigued…

[HDR] And the second part?

[BK] Another friend of mine lost her husband in a car accident. She was only twenty-six. They had a two-year old. It was awful. One minute she [my friend] had everything and then the next… I mean, how do you rebound from something like that? How do you begin again when that is literally the last thing you want to do?

And especially in the context of the American South there is a deep-rooted
narrative that is still prescribed to young girls from the time they’re old enough to play pretend: they pretend to get married, pretend to have kids and keep house… But if that doesn’t happen for whatever reason, or if the circumstances change, then what?

I think that’s part of what makes romance novels so appealing. Unlike real life, they almost always end happily.

[HDR] That doesn’t seem like the makings of a comedy and yet ‘Romance Novels’ is incredibly funny.

[BK] Thank you! I knew from the start that I was dealing with a play that had a child in it. I also knew it was a play that had death in it.  So, I felt as if there’s only one way I can do this and that’s to try and find the laughter. I’m not interested in writing a sad, weepy play about a wife losing her husband and a child losing her father. That’s a perfectly legitimate story – and one we see dramatized all the time – it’s just not very me. I wanted the play to have all the stuff that life has: the humor and the heartbreak.

Pictured: Boo Killebrew. Photograph by Daniel Rader.

[HDR] Do you think there’s a trick to writing comedy?

[BK] I feel like the best way to make something funny is just to be incredibly honest. The truth is funny. Even sad truths. Even uncomfortable truths. The more honest you are – the more you honestly examine things – the funnier they become.

[HDR] Is there a difference, do you think, between comedy on the page and comedy on stage?

[BK] I think with comedy it’s so important to hear it out loud. And with this play specifically, because Liz and Bernie, the sisters in the play, have their own unique “sister language.” Hearing their banter – which is written, I think, in a southern voice (I am from Mississippi, after all) – is crucial; it’s the only way to know what’s working and what’s falling flat.

[HDR] One of the things I love about the play is the fact that it has two strong female leads. How intentional was that?

[BK] Super intentional! There’s a big push right now for women in comedy on television and in movies and online, but I haven’t seen the same push in theater. I don’t see a lot of comedies featuring women in the theater and that’s a missed opportunity, because stage actresses in New York City are some of the funniest people in the world. I feel like they’re so complicated and so messy and larger than life…

Romance Novels is me grappling with two really important parts of my life: the family-centric, family-first part and the “I’m an independent career driven woman” part. Both are really important to me. But reconciling the two? Finding a balance between them? That’s hard. The older I get the more I’m like “I guess it’s never going to feel one hundred percent great.” But that’s okay. That’s life. Real life. And that’s okay.