QUINN'S WEBSITE: QuinnCummings
Pet Sounds (Quinella Media, 2013) [Self-published]
Amazon link: Pet Sounds
The Year of Learning Dangerously (Perigee, 2012 Hardcover) (TarcherPerigee, 2013 Paperback)
Notes from the Underwire (Hyperion, 2009 Paperback)
A SMALL STORY: Quinn's story threads on Twitter (@quinncy)
A Small Story ~ March 13, 2019 [Quinn tells a story about fostering kittens.]
A Small Story ~ February 23, 2019 [Quinn tells a story about casting director Beverly Long]
A Small Story ~ March 18, 2019 [Quinn tells a story about life at home now that her daughter is a high school senior overseas]
A Small Story ~ February 28, 2019 [Quinn tells a story about why she's funny.]
Hello, Goodbye Girl
A Q&A with Quinn Cummings
At and on every stage of her life, Quinn Cummings has always been a storyteller. A very, very, very funny storyteller.
In her 51 years, she's been a successful child actor; worked behind the scenes in TV and film; done stand-up comedy; written and directed a short film; and written three books, her QC Report blog, and many newspaper and magazine articles.
At only 10 years old, she was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for playing Marsha Mason's daughter Lucy in Neil Simon's comedy The Goodbye Girl (1977). Then, from 1978-1980, she played another clever child, Annie, on the TV drama series Family.
Her first book, Notes from the Underwire (Hyperion 2009), is a collection of hilarious essays that grew out of her blog, The QC Report.
In her second book, The Year of Learning Dangerously (Perigee, 2012), Quinn wrote about the challenging (and, of course, funny) first of the few years she homeschooled her daughter for educational, not religious, reasons. Her daughter is now spending her senior year of high school in France.
Her third book, the self-published Pet Sounds (Quinella Media, 2013) is a collection of essays about living with pets.
Now, Quinn also tells stories on Twitter (@quinncy), where in addition to her usual tweets, she regularly does what she calls A Small Story, an individual story told in a series of threaded tweets. [See the sidebar for links to four of these stories.]
She spoke to me on the phone from Los Angeles, where she lives with her family, about her life as a storyteller.
Q: How do you approach storytelling? What's important to you as a storyteller?
A: It's not that I want to tell stories, it's that I have to. I'm telling a story to myself, and everyone else gets to watch. I try to entertain myself. I'm a firm believer in "a bad day makes an excellent story." Not that I need everything to be funny, but I need for everything to be approachable.
Q: Those of us who write humor see the absurdity in things, so they come out funny. How do you feel about that?
A: I think I'm always taking notes.
Q. George Carlin famously said: "I like applying the entropic principle from science to this country, this civilization. I think it is slowly disintegrating. For me, it isn't the fact of the disintegration so much as the act of it, watching it, seeing it. It is a freak show. And in this country you get a front row seat. And some of us have notebooks." It's also about using humor to get through people's defenses.
A: Right. Telling the truth, or getting as close to the truth as you can, is an alarming and transgressive act that people should practice more often. There have been times that just because I saw the joke doesn't mean it needs to be said right now.
Q: When dealing with grief or something tragic, there's a fine line about how, when, and where to make the joke you saw. How do you feel about the relationship between storytelling and healing?
A: I go back to Joan Didion's quote: "We tell ourselves stories in order to live." The things we don't acknowledge hurt us.
Q: How has your storytelling style evolved?
A: It has and it hasn't. Twitter has made me a more confident storyteller because I've had to prune, I've had to get there faster.
Q: Twitter has made me more concise, because I've had to pack a big punch in a small space.
A: If I have a limited amount of words, it doesn't matter if it's 280 characters or 250 words, you realize that the restrictions are actually a gift.
Q: There are many stories that are told better with less space.
A: Oh, I agree. The highest compliment I can pay a tweet is that it is elegant, that not one word needs to be added or taken away.
Q: Tweets are like the short stories and one-liners of stand-up comedy. There's a history of packing a lot into a small space. Do you have a favorite tweet that someone else did in terms of storytelling?
A: A guy wrote about these two dogs and a cat that showed up. These stories remind us that we're human. Sometimes there are just two dogs and a cat that show up on your doorstep. These stories that achieve virality, at least in part, allow people to feel normal again. The original idea behind social media was that it would be fun.
Q: And now it's a way to deliver news. What do you like most about Twitter?
A: The immediacy. I like writing a story and putting it up, bouncing back and forth with people. It's all immediate gratification.
Q: Who are your favorite storytellers in any or all of the arts, including fiction, non-fiction, music, comedy and humor, film, theater, dance, and fine art?
A: John Mulaney, David Sedaris, Melanie Benjamin -- she's a fiction writer whose characters are based on real people -- and Paul Simon. I don't have to know what they're talking about, they have to know what they're talking about. If they know it well enough to explain it to me, I'm in.
Q: How do you view the role of storytellers in society?
A: Storytelling is critical. We have sat around and tried to explain things to one another since we first had a voice. The reason we developed language may have been to tell people in our tribe where food was. Stories are life and death.
Q: Would you like to do a book of the micro-stories you do on Twitter?
A: Probably not. I'm designing them to be read on Twitter. This is its own art form.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: Writing articles, Twitter stories. I have to find something big to throw myself into. I have to be patient and wait for the voice of the muse. Two days before I did the short movie, I didn't know I'd be doing the short movie.
Q: What is the biggest misconception about you and what do people need to know about you as a creator?
A: I have nothing left to add to the subject of being an actor when I was a kid. There's nothing new that's going to be added to that topic, so 99% of the time I won't respond to it, not because I want to be rude but because if I answer even one of those questions I've just ruined the rest of my day. I have a terrible memory, so I remember almost nothing. It will frustrate them. I have nothing to tell them.
Nina L. Diamond is a journalist, essayist, humorist, and the author of books including Voices of Truth: Conversations with Scientists, Thinkers & Healers. Her work has appeared in numerous publications, including Poynter, Omni, The Los Angeles Times Magazine, The Chicago Tribune, The Sun-Sentinel, and The Miami Herald.
She has been a contributing writer for Independent Publisher magazine since 2003, and wrote her Much Ado About Publishing column from 2003-2012.
Ms. Diamond was a writer and performer on Pandemonium, the National Public Radio (NPR) satirical humor program, for it's entire run on WLRN in Miami and in select markets nationwide from 1984-1998. As an editor, she works with other authors and journalists on both fiction and non-fiction. You can find her on Twitter: @ninatypewriter.