Thursday, January 3, 2013

The joke's on us with Molly D. Campbell

HALLIE EPHRON: A lot of us here at Jungle Red are late blooming writers. I didn't start writing until I was in my 50s. Hank and Roberta and Ro got late starts, too. 

Today we welcome Molly D. Campbell, who didn't get started until she was 55. And she's been on overdrive ever since, writing humor and scoring two Erma Bombeck awards (so far). Her blog is Life with the Campbells:  View from the Empty Nest.

Molly, How did you get started?

MOLLY D. CAMPBELL:  Whenever I get asked this, my mind goes to Grandma Moses. But of course, she was much older and more talented than I, but there is a parallel. I always was pretty good at stringing words together. I got “A’s” on all my term papers, and during the course of my adulthood, I prided myself on writing darn good letters to the editor on occasion. 

But I had a “regular” life to lead as a mother, a teacher, then a corporate training entrepreneur. It was during that stint that I learned how to write proposals—and a good proposal is sort of like a good query letter: you have to grab ‘em in the first sentence, and then cut to the chase. (Apparently, using metaphors is not one of my skills.) 

I guess all of that was preparation for becoming a writer, although I didn’t know it.

HALLIE: But what was the catalyst for your writing career?

MOLLY: It came about, believe it or not, because of a nasty skin cancer on my nose, which looked innocent for ten years. By the time the dermatologist began to suspect something more sinister going on. I had four surgeries and nasal reconstruction. I looked like Frankenstein, and spent the better part of three months inside, fearing that the sight of my face might cause fainting in the grocery store. 

I journaled the whole experience and sent it out on a regular basis to a group of friends: “The Frankenstein Outreach Group.” One of the recipients said I should start a blog. The rest is history.

HALLIE: Did your book Characters in Search of Novel come from your blog?

MOLLY: That came about because I have always loved names. All my life I have been fascinated with funny ones. My husband and I used to spend evenings looking through the phone book for unusual names. Then we would speculate on what that person must be like. 

I know. We live life on the edge. But my fascination with names stuck with me, and I started a twitter account to indulge my name fetish. I called it “In Search of a Novel,” and I posted a funny name with a brief description once a day for over a year. Here is one: “Today’s character in search of a novel: He wears his jock strap to the office: Brad Bullfarver." 

Most of them I forgot all about. But one day I got a tweet from Robin Black, the wonderful author of “If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This,” who told me to stop throwing these characters away every day. She encouraged me to copyright them, get an illustrator, and write their stories. I take advice from famous people. So I did.

HALLIE: That's such a great story! So just like that, you wrote a book?

MOLLY: It all began as a web site, where I posted two stories a month. This site currently has an infection, so I don’t urge anybody to visit. After I had built a few hundred followers for my stories, I took them off the site and wrote about twenty more stories, finally putting them all in a book. 

I decided to publish it myself, in order to begin what I hope is the first step in my career as an author.

HALLIE: The book is a hoot! Next steps??

MOLLY: I'm in a quandary: I could easily put out a book of my humor columns. But I am working on a collection of short stories—so I am not sure what to do next. I continue my blog and my humor column for which is a wonderful website for harried mothers.

HALLIE: So what fuels your work?
MOLLY: I get a lot of ammunition from my family life: an accordion playing husband, two daughters who threaten to disown me if I wear “Mom Pants,” and a menagerie of pets.  

I have met so many wonderful writers, like you, Hallie, by tweeting them, or reviewing their books on Amazon. I have never been afraid to tell a writer I admire that I am a fan. The results have been that I have a terrific group of writers that I can talk to, study, and commiserate with. I have learned a great deal from that. I also read hundreds of books a year, and I pick them apart. Every book I read, good or bad, has something of benefit for me as a writer.

HALLIE: They say: Leave 'em laughing. So, come on, tell a joke!

MOLLY: So I have one joke. It is the worst joke in the world. A short guy walks into a diner and asks the waiter, “Do you serve shrimp?” The waiter replies, “Sure, sit down.”

HALLIE: Groan...

I know exactly one joke, too: Where does the king keep his army? Answer: Up his sleevey. 

Who can resist the open invitation to our readers to go check out your book, Characters in Search of an Author, and, come on, I dare you all: Share a bad joke.


  1. I am not much for telling jokes [I tend to forget the punch lines] but here goes . . . .

    What would you get if you threw all the books into the ocean?
    A title wave.

    [very loud groan] . . . .

  2. When the Dalai Lama needed to get a tooth pulled, the dentist asked if he wanted some Novacaine.

    The Dalai said, "No, I'd rather transcend dental medication."

  3. My seven-year old grandson loved this one:

    What's purple and goes, "Slam, slam, slam, slam!"?

    A four-door grape.

    Inspirational story, Molly! Best of luck to you for more success coming soon.

  4. Why does the chicken cross the road?

    To show the opossum it can be done.

    (substitute local road kill as necessary)

    ~ Jim

  5. Good grief. I had no idea there wwr so many groaners out there. However, Jim--my favorite parental memory is having to think fast while at the wheel when my 4 year old asked why that raccoon was lying by the side of the road. I told her he was sunbathing...Molly

  6. Coffee all over my keyboard...

    I'm one of those people who can only remember the punch line. So I'll say to my husband, what's the one about Elvis Parsley...

    I think humor -- even just credible amusing banter -- is SO hard to write. I can do it for about a half page but I am so in awe of authors who can sustain it (without it feeling lame) over a manuscript.

  7. Oh, the one about the girl ostriches. DO you know it?

    It ends with--where;s they go?

    ANd you know the duck joke, right? FUNNIEST ONE IN THE WORLD.

    Have you heard it?

    And we had a dead possum in driveway last year. I said to Joanthan--there's a dead possum in the driveway!
    And he said: Are you sure?

  8. Back in the 60s, when elephant jokes and grape jokes were popular, our mother asked, "What's purple and wants to rule the world?" The standard punchline was "Alexander the Grape," but my precocious sister Susan, said "Khrushchev, when he's mad." You have to be a child of the 50s/60s, having lived through the Cuban missile crisis, to appreciate it but that was an often quoted line in our family.

  9. First joke my husband every told me back when we were just getting to know one another.

    "How do you catch a unique rabbit?"

    you 'neak up on it.

    I laughed and laughed and watched his face light up at making me laugh. I may have fallen in love right then.

    Molly - I loved reading your piece and quite inspirational - Thank you.

    Hank, your Jonathan stories KILL ME!!!

  10. Molly! So funny, the lies we tell to avoid dealing with our children's emotions. I went into a candy store with a friend and her four year old who desperately wanted a piece of candy. Friend told child: "They're plastic, dear, and not for sale."

  11. "My husband and I used to spend evenings looking through the phone book for unusual names."

    Molly, I think you found your soul mate. Good luck with the book.

    Bad joke contest: I drank six Cokes but I burped Seven-Up.

  12. A priest, a rabbi, and a lawyer walk into a bar. The bartender looks up, "What is this -- some kind of joke?"

    I always loved the one about the possum and the chicken (my favorite chicken joke).

    What a great and inspiring story, Molly.

  13. These are totally marvelous! Thank you all for the presents of jokes - it takes the edge off those clowns in DC. Thelma in Manhattan

  14. "Back when grape jokes were popular.." SO funny! That's a line I've never read before..

  15. Molly always makes me laugh and I wish I could remember a joke to share here, but I can't ... because I'm laughing at those that were posted!

  16. Welcome, Molly:

    You and I must be sisters who were separated at birth - I have been collecting names for over thirty years! I used to do research in public records, giving me access to all sorts of odd or humorous names. I work in a different aspect of public records now,so I still get to see some interesting ones.
    I only tell people who know me really well about this hobby...they already know that I'm a bit eccentric! So nice to meet someone else who not only does this but has taken it to a new level. I MUST look for your book!
    My pastor incorporates really lame or sick jokes into his homilies. Most of them are too long to share here. He has even told jokes at funerals. As a family member of someone whose funeral he presided over, I would have been disappointed if he had delivered a serious eulogy!
    Short Jokes - I subscribe to a daily joke newsletter:
    Don't believe in horses?

    You're a neightheist!
    I can never make it to the end of the alphabet.

    I don't know Y.

  17. Wonderful post. I have a telephone book here...Love all the bad jokes because for me they are good-they make me laugh!

  18. So nice to have you here Molly and to hear your story! So cool when you keep putting things out in the world and they finally get picked up!

    Jack: Groan. Ditto for the roadkill!

    I cheated a little and searched for a Key West joke, because John and I came up empty:

    Lost in Paradise joke

    A passenger on a cruise ship heading to Key West spots a bearded man on a small island, shouting and desperately waving his hands.

    The passenger goes to the captain and asks: "Who is that?"

    The captain says, "Beats me. Every week when we pass, he goes nuts."

  19. Lucy, snickering into my tea...

    Molly, so nice to have you here! I Love your MomsWhoNeedWine blog, and as my daughter is grown up, I think you should start a WritersWhoNeedWine blog. Anyone up for that?

    I'm joke impaired. Can never remember the punchline or the joke. Will ask my husband if has (a clean) one, and get back to you!

  20. My favorite silly joke:

    Q: What's Irish and stays out all night?

    A: Patio furniture.

  21. Molly, I forgot to mention that I keep a name list that I add to whenever I find one I like. Obits are my favorite source. One that could go in your book: Cecelia Spoon.

  22. I never can remember a joke when I need one, so I'm afraid I'm empty-handed here today. Still, all these jokes have been a lot of fun. Thanks, Molly!

  23. Speaking of names,of which I am apparently NOT the only one who is a collector: my niece got a letter from her new landlord, informing her that her trash was too apparent from the street. She told my niece she had to put her trash bags out so they were "less obvious." Her name? I swear this is true--DELLA RUMPLER. Molly

  24. OH,I LOVE Della Rumpler. Isn't that perfect?

    There waa a guy in Indianapolis when I was a kid named Peabody Passwater.

    And Jonathan's dear mother was
    named Ida Smith. She (I'm not kidding) gave herself the middle name of Claire. ON PURPOSE.

  25. Molly and Hallie, as I age, the lesson crystallizes. There is no old person on the inside, of anyone. Thank you for reminding me with this wonderful blog!

    Joke? Let's see. How about the one my, then fiancé, now husband? Something about... moles... yeah, never mind. I almost didn't marry him. I was overly mature for 20. He was under mature for 35. His mother promised it would even out. xo

  26. When I posted on my lunch break earlier, I didn't have time to mention two of my favorite names that I've collected: Percival Schmuck and Otto Klumpf. And then there was a woman whose last name escapes me right now, but her first name was Bootsie! (I have NO idea how the poor woman ended up with that name, or WHY!!)

  27. The best jokes come from my kids:

    "What's the highest meat?"
    "The cow jumping over the moon"

    I adore Molly. She's talented, so supportive, and she works her tale off (groan).

  28. What Ann Imig said, minus the part about kids because I don't have any. Although I might, I haven't cleaned in a while.