Showing posts with label comedy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label comedy. Show all posts

09 July 2016

Sayers vs. Aristotle: What's So Funny?


Poor Aristotle. According to Dorothy L Sayers, he was born at the wrong time, forced to make do with the likes of Sophocles and Euripides while truly craving, as she puts it, "a Good Detective Story." In "Aristotle on Detective Fiction," a 1935 Oxford lecture, Sayers takes a look at the philosopher's definition of tragedy in the Poetics and decides it fits the modern detective story nicely. If Aristotle had been able to get a copy of Trent's Last Case, maybe he would have skipped all those performances of Oedipus Tyrannus and The Trojan Women.

It doesn't do, of course, to challenge Dorothy Sayers on the nature of the detective story. But her lecture seems more than a little tongue in cheek, and her attempt to equate the detective story with tragedy falls short. At its heart, the detective story is more comic than tragic. And I'm willing to bet Sayers knew it.

She begins her lecture by identifying similarities between detective stories and tragedies. Aristotle says action is primary in tragedies, and that's true of detective stories, too. Keeping a straight face, not acknowledging she's made a tiny change in the original, Sayers quotes the Poetics: "The first essential, the life and soul, so to speak, of the detective story, is the Plot." Aristotle says tragic plots must center on "serious" actions. That's another easy matchup, for "murder," as Sayers observes, "is an action of a tolerably serious nature." According to Aristotle, the action of a tragedy must be "complete in itself," it must avoid the improbable and the coincidental, and its "necessary parts" consist of Reversal of Fortune, Discovery, and Suffering. Sayers has no trouble proving good detective stories adhere to all these principles.

When she comes to Aristotle's discussion of Character, however, Sayers has to stretch things a bit. Referring to perhaps the most familiar passage in the Poetics, Sayers cites Aristotle's contention that the central figure in a tragedy should be, as she puts it, "an intermediate kind of person--a decent man with a bad kink in him." Writers of detective stories, Sayers says, agree: "For the more the villain resembles an ordinary man, the more shall we feel pity and horror at his crime and the greater will be our surprise at his detection."

True enough. The problem is that when Aristotle calls for a character brought low not by "vice or depravity" but by "some error or frailty," he's not describing the villain. To use phrases most of us probably learned in high school, he's describing the "tragic hero" who has a "tragic flaw." So the hero of a tragedy is like the villain of a mystery--hardly proof that tragedy and mystery are essentially the same.

This discrepancy points to the central problem with Sayers's argument, a problem of which she was undoubtedly aware. The principal Reversal of Fortune in a tragedy is from prosperity to adversity--but that's just the first half of a detective story. To find a complete model for the plot of the detective story, we must look not to tragedy but to comedy. (Please note, by the way, that Sayers was talking specifically about detective stories, not about mysteries in general. So am I. Thrillers, noir stories, and other varieties of mysteries may not be comic in the least--including some literary mysteries that borrow a few elements of the detective story but really focus on proving life is wretched and pointless, not on solving a crime.)

Unfortunately, Aristotle doesn't provide a full definition of comedy. Scholars say he did write a treatise on comedy, but it was lost over the centuries. The everyday definition of comedy as "something funny" won't cut it. The Divine Comedy isn't a lot of laughs, but who would dare to say Dante mistitled his masterpiece? Turning again to high-school formulas, we can say the essential characteristic of comedy is the happy ending. As the standard shorthand definition has it, tragedies end with funerals, comedies with weddings.

For a more extended definition of comedy, we can look to Northrup Frye's now-classic Anatomy of Criticism (1957). Comedy, Frye says, typically has a three-part structure: It begins with order, dissolves into disorder, and ends with order restored, often at a higher level. Simultaneously, comedy moves "from illusion to reality." Using a comparison that seems especially apt for detective stories, Frye says the action in comedy "is not unlike the action of a lawsuit, in which plaintiff and defendant construct different versions of the same situation, one finally being judged as real and the other as illusory." Along the way, complications arise, but they get resolved through "scenes of discovery and reconciliation." Often, toward the end, comedies include what Frye terms a "point of ritual death," a moment when the protagonist faces terrible danger. But then, "by a twist in the plot," the comic spirit triumphs. Following a "ritual of expulsion which gets rid of some irreconcilable character," things get better for everyone else.

How well does the detective story fit this comic pattern? Pretty darn well. (Frye himself mentions "the amateur detective of modern fiction" as one variation of a classic comic character.) The detective story usually starts with order, or apparent order--the deceptively harmonious English village, the superficially happy family, the workplace where everyone seems to get along. Then a crime--usually murder--plunges everything into disorder. Complications ensue, conflicts escalate, the wrong people get suspected, dangers threaten to engulf the innocent, the guilty evade punishment, and illusion eclipses reality. But the detective starts to set things right during "scenes of discovery and reconciliation." Often after surviving a "point of ritual death" (which he or she may shrug off as a "close call"), the detective identifies the guilty and clears the innocent. The villain is rendered powerless through a "ritual of expulsion"--arrest, violent death, suicide, or, sometimes, escape. Order is restored, and a happy ending is achieved "by a twist in the plot."

To find a specific example, we can turn to Sayers's own detective stories. Gaudy Night makes an especially tempting choice. In the opening chapters, order prevails at quiet Shrewsbury College, and also in the lives of Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane. He proposes at set intervals, and she finds tactful ways to say no. The serenity on campus, however, is more apparent than real. Beneath the surface, tensions and secrets churn.

Then a series of mysterious events shatters the tranquility, and Harriet and Lord Peter get drawn into the chaos. Incidents become increasingly frightening, tensions soar as suspicion shifts from don to don and from student to student, and truth seems hopelessly elusive. Harriet undergoes a "point of ritual death" when she encounters the malefactor in a dark passageway. But "scenes of discovery and reconciliation" follow as Lord Peter unveils the truth, as relationships strained by suspicion heal. Illusions are dispelled, realities recognized. A "ritual of expulsion"--a gentle one this time--removes the person who caused the disorder. And, in the true, full spirit of comedy, the detective story ends with order restored at a higher level, with the promise of a wedding.

How many detective stories end with weddings, or with promises of weddings, as lovers kept apart by danger and suspicion unite in the final chapter? A number of Agatha Christie's works come to mind, along with legions of recent ones that bring together a police officer (usually male) and an amateur sleuth (usually female). Of course, if the author is writing a series and wants to stretch out the sexual tension, the wedding may be delayed--Sayers herself pioneered this technique. Still, the wedding beckons from novel to novel, enticing us with the prospect of an even happier ending after a dozen or so murders have been solved. Romance isn't a necessary element, either in comedies or in detective stories. But it crops up frequently, for it's compatible with the fundamentally optimistic spirit of both.

Humor, too, is compatible with an optimistic spirit, and it's nearly as common in detective stories as in comedies, from Sherlock Holmes's droll asides straight through to Stephanie Plum's one-liners. To some, it may seem tasteless to crack jokes while there's a corpse in the room. On the whole, though, humor seems consistent with the tough-minded attitude of both comedies and detective stories. Neither hides from life's problems--there could be no story without them--but neither responds with weeping or wringing hands. In both genres, protagonists respond to problems by looking for solutions, sustained by their conviction that problems can in fact be solved. The humor reminds both protagonists and readers that, even in the wake of deaths and other disasters, life isn't utterly bleak. Things can still turn out well.

Some might say the comparison with comedy works only if we stick to what is sometimes called the traditional detective story. Yes, Dupin restores order and preserves the reputation of an exalted personage by finding the purloined letter, and Holmes saves an innocent bride-to-be by solving the mystery of the speckled band. But what of darker detective stories? If we stray too far from the English countryside and venture down the mean streets of the hard-boiled P.I. or big-city cop, what traces of comedy will we find? We'll find wisecracks, sure--but they'll be bitter wisecracks, reflecting the world-weary attitudes of the protagonists. In these stories, little order seems to exist in the first place. So how can it be restored? How can an optimistic view of life be affirmed?

The Maltese Falcon looks like a detective story that could hardly be less comic. The mysterious black figurine turns out to be a fake, Sam Spade hands the woman he might love over to the police, and he doesn't even get to keep the lousy thousand bucks he's extracted as his fee. It's not a jolly way to end.

Even so, in some sense, order is restored. Spade has uncovered the truth. He's made sure the innocent remain free and the guilty get punished. He has acted. As he says, "When a man's partner is killed he's supposed to do something about it." Spade has done something.

Maybe, ultimately, that's the defining characteristic of comedy, and of the detective story. Protagonists do something, and endings are happier as a result--maybe not blissfully happy, but more just, more truthful, better. In detective stories, and in comedies, protagonists don't feel so overwhelmed by the unfairness of the universe that they sink into passivity and despair.

Maybe that's the real thesis of  "Aristotle on Detective Fiction." In some ways, Sayers's playful comparison of tragedies and detective stories seems unconvincing. Probably, though, her real purpose isn't to argue that the detective story is tragedy rather than comedy. Probably, her purpose is to enlist Aristotle as an ally against what she describes as "that school of thought for which the best kind of play or story is that in which nothing particular happens from beginning to end." That school of thought remains powerful today, praising literary fiction in which helpless, hopeless characters meander morosely through a miserable, meaningless morass, unable to act decisively. Sayers takes a stand for action, for saying the things human beings do make a difference, for saying we are not just victims. Both comedy and the detective story could not agree more.




26 March 2016

What to Eat When You Read (They let me off my leash again...)


I like to get in the mood, when I’m reading. Here’s my list of how to pair your nosh to your book:
Westerns
Riders of the Purple Sage. Cow country. This would suggest a certain menu. Steak, medium rare. Tempting, but hard to cut a steak while simultaneously holding a book and turning pages. Really, Mel Brooks had the right idea. Beans, and plenty of them. Make sure you’re NOT reading in public.

Chick-lit
Slipping into the realm of the unknown here. Chicks are slim young things, right? They would eat salad. I hate salad. Ergo…hand me a western.

Action-Adventure
The trouble with Bond-clone movies and books is you’re apt to spill your martini with all that racing around in the plot. Things blow up a lot in the action-adventure genre. This might suggest popcorn. But make sure you pop it before you eat it. Keep the explosions to your book. (Or switch to westerns.)

Horror
This is obvious. Ribs. Dripping with BBQ sauce.
Herself's personal additions: Cilantro and goat cheese <<shivers>>

Romance
Chocolate.

CanLit (Literature, for all you American types.)
It will be unusual, expensive, and unpalatable. You won’t “understand” why others think it is so good. Your palate has not been suitably developed to appreciate such fineness. Caviar. Escargot (it always sounds so much better in French.) Duck liver (you can look up the French spelling.) If you get beyond the first bite (er…page one,) Yay for you. Hard to read – hard to eat.

Mystery
Should be obvious, right? Chinese food! Get someone else to order it for you, so the mystery deepens.

Fantasy
Try to find Ambrosia. They really dig it on Olympia. If you can’t find that, substitute ice cream. (I know. You thought I was going to say wine. But my fantasy is ice cream with a suitably delicious Greek God-ling. Okay, he doesn’t have to be a God yet. Just young and Greek. Okay, this is slipping into erotica…

Erotica
Forget the oysters, artichokes, or other silly vegetable-type aphrodisiacs. (Fish is almost a vegetable. Trust me.) The answer is more chocolate. (Silly. That’s the answer to almost anything.)

Sci-fi
KIND nut bars. Okay, is the metaphor too obvious?

What to Eat if you’re a Writer:
Coffee.
And humble pie.

Melodie Campbell’s latest mob comedy, TheGoddaughter Caper, has just been released. It’s an offer you can’t refuse. Available at all the usual suspects.

17 February 2016

The Two and Only


by Robert Lopresti

NOTE: I wrote the first paragraph BEFORE Justice Scalia passed away.

I am sure you have noticed that a lot of celebrities have died so far in 2016.   I mean no disrespect to the rock stars and actors who have passed, but the death that meant the most to me was that of a 92-year-old comedian.

Bob Elliott was one half of Bob and Ray, who made a lot of people laugh for 40 years.  (Ray Goulding died in 1990.)  Dave Letterman once said that if you wanted to know if someone had a good sense of humor, just ask them if they like Bob and Ray.

While they occasionally dabbled in TV, movies, and even Broadway, radio was their natural habitat.  They were sketch artists (like Key and Peele, or Nichols and May) as opposed to persona comics (like Burns and Allen, or the Smothers Brothers, who always played the same characters).

Here are videos of a few of their best bits:
Most Beautiful Face
Slow Talkers of America
The Komodo Dragon Expert (Okay, it's audio only.  But it's my favorite.)

Each of those is in interview format, which is easy to do on TV (or Broadway) but on the radio they used to do dramas as well, including their own versions of some familiar crime shows.

For example, anyone who remembers a certain series that was very popular on radio, then TV - then a decade later again on TV - will recognize the summing up at the end of  "Squad Car 119."
...The suspect apprehended in that case at Rossmore and LaBrea was convicted on three counts of being apprehended and one count of being a suspect.  Apprehended suspects are punishable under state law by a term of not less than five years in the correctional institution at Soledad.

And there was "Blimmix," about a tough private eye who gets beaten up in every episode, by people such as this:
I'm with Rent-a-Thug, Incorporated.  A lot of the syndicate people are letting their regular hoodlums go and utilizing our service for machine-gunnings and roughing up and things like that.  It saves all the bookwork that goes with having full-time employees.

Or "Rorshack," about a hard-as-nails New York police lieutenant.  In this case he has misplaced ten cents:
Steinberg, search every customer in the store.  If you find one concealing a dime, kill him.  Lopez, put out an A.P.B. for anybody trying to pass a coin with Roosevelt's picture on it.  Caruso, you take the bus stations, airports, rail terminals.  Nobody goes in or out of this city until I give the word.

Bob and Ray were invariably described as low-key.  (Bob once said they were both both straight men) but I liked them best when they went, well, surreal, like in this episode of "Fern Ock Veek, Sickly Whale Oil Processor," about an Eskimo co-ed from California hiding out in the Alaskan bush:
FERN: I suppose I could go back to U.C.L.A. and hide out for a while.  So many of the students there are on the lam that they'd never notice one more.
OFFICER WISHMILLER: That's a great idea.  And even if they did find you, you'd be in another state and could fight extradition.
FERN: No.  If I recall, I fought him once and he knocked me cold in the third round.  I certainly don't want any more of that.
OFFICER WISHMILLER: Fern, I think you have extradition confused in your mind with Muhammad Ali.

I could go on, but I'll restrain myself.  Write if you get work, Bob.  And hang by your thumbs.

09 May 2015

How to Write Mob Comedies in your own Home Town, and not get Taken Out by the Family


Land of Ice and Snow, Smoggy Steeltown, and the Italian Mob
Or…
How to Write Mob Comedies in your own Home Town, and not get Taken Out by the Family

It all closed in on me at the launch of THE GODDAUGHTER mob caper in Hamilton. Eighty-five people stood waiting.

The local television station had cameras in my face.  So far, it had been an easy interview focused on my awards and comedy career. The fellow was charming.  I liked him a lot.  Then he dropped the bomb.

“So…have you ever met a member of the mob?”

I didn’t like him so much anymore.

Yikes!  Hesitation.   A lot of feet shuffling.

“Yes.” I said, very precisely. So precisely, that everyone in the room laughed nervously. “In fact, I had to wait until certain members of my family died before getting this book published. ‘Nuf said.”

The ‘nuf said’ was the closure.  He got it.  Being a smart lad, he even let it drop.

Because frankly, I was speaking the truth.  I did wait until certain people died.  Some of them were in Sicily, but more were in Canada.  Some even died from natural causes.  (“He died cleaning his rifle” was an unfortunate family expression, meaning something entirely different, if you get my drift.)

This made me think about how close you want to get in a book to real life.

As writers, we research a hell of a lot.  Of course, I did research for The Goddaughter series.  Some of the study was pretty close to home, as I riffed on memories from my childhood.

My first memory is of a family reunion at a remote farmhouse in Southern Ontario. I was not quite three, and tears were streaming down my face.  Big scary uncles picked me up. They tried to console me by speaking softly. But I couldn’t understand them because they were speaking in Italian, or more specifically, Sicilian.

Those were the days of Brio and cannoli after mass on Sunday mornings.   And gossip about other relatives, one of whom was a famous boxer.  My aunt’s friend, the singer (one of a trio of sisters) who could not escape the clutches of a mob underboss in the States; he wouldn’t let her go.  I remember the aunts clamming up about this, when I ventured into the room looking for Mom. 

I was a darling of the family, with dark curly hair and big evergreen eyes. Later, when I grew up curvy and was tall enough to model, they doted on me. So my memories of growing up in such a family are decidedly warped.

They were warm and loving.  Very witty.  Loads of fun.  And massively protective.

In the screwball comedy THE GODDAUGHTER REVENGE, you will find a mob family that is funny and rather delightful.  Gina loves them, but hates the business.  She is always trying to put it behind her, and somehow gets sucked back in to bail them out.  I wanted to show that ambivalence.  You are supposed to love your family and support them.  But what if your family is this one?

How close is too close to home? I do cut pretty close in describing Hamilton.  The streets are real. The names of the neighbourhoods are real. I even describe the location of the restaurant where the mob (in my books) hangs out. I changed the name, of course, because the last thing I want is readers thinking this hot resto is really a mob hangout.  And besides, it’s fun when fans email me to say, “When they all meet at La Paloma, did you really mean XXX?” Readers feel they’ve been part of an in-joke.

THE GODDAUGHTER series is meant to be laugh-out-loud funny.  But there is an adage that states: Comedy is tragedy barely averted.

No kidding.  I’ve been writing comedy all my adult life.




The Toronto Sun called her Canada's "Queen of Comedy."  Library Journal compared her to Janet Evanovich.  Melodie Campbell got her start writing standup. www.melodiecampbell.com
 

25 April 2015

Bad Girl's Tricks for Writing with Kids...


In honour of the Arthur Ellis Awards for Crime Writing shortlists being released this week, a good friend asked the question:  How the heck do we actually find time to write the stuff that is up for the awards tonight?
My tricks.…

Okay, these are not the definitive rules for Writer-parents. I would never claim to be an expert.  But I did raise two kids while writing stand-up on the side and penning a syndicated humour column every two weeks. So I learned a few things about survival along the way.

Bad Girl’s Tricks for Writing with Kids:
  
    1.  Probably you shouldn’t lock yourself in the bathroom, so the kids can’t get at you. Equally, you shouldn’t sit in the playpen with your kid on the outside, screaming and shaking the thing.  Okay, at least not more than once a day.

    2.  Never put a package of Twinkies in front of a toddler so that you can continue to write. (Remove them all from the plastic wrappers first so the kid doesn’t choke.)

   3.  A kid won’t die if they drink half a mug of cold coffee.  But watch the wine. In fact, you might want to finish the rest of the bottle right now, just to be safe.

   4.  Breast-feeding can be a real timesaver, but not during Bouchercon book-signings.

   5.  Other kid’s birthday parties are a great thing for a writer. But you really should pick up your own kid when they’re over. (Eventually. Before winter.)

   6.  It’s okay to get someone to babysit your kids while you move into a new house. But it’s not okay to forget to tell anyone where that house is.

   7.  When your kid leaves home for university, it is not recommended to immediately change their room into a study or writing room. Wait until after Christmas. The sales are better.

Re “Leaving the nest”: Every mother gets emotional about this. But probably you shouldn’t do it until your kids are grown up.

Do you have tricks?  Leave them below in the comments.  Please.  Hurry. 

Postscript: The Arthur Ellis Award shortlist events were held two nights ago in major cities across Canada.
The jaw-dropping surprise: I am shortlisted with Margaret Atwood for the Arthur!   Never, not ever, did I expect to see my name linked with CanLit Royalty.  Damned honoured.

The Opening to THE GODDAUGHTER’S REVENGE (Orca Books)

Okay, I admit it. I would rather be the proud possessor of a rare gemstone than 
a lakefront condo with parking. Yes, I know this makes me weird. Young women today are supposed to crave the security of owning their own home.

But I say this: real estate, shmeel estate. You can’t hold an address in your hand. It doesn’t flash and sparkle with the intensity of a thousand night stars. It will never lure you away from the straight and narrow like a siren from some Greek odyssey.

Let’s face it. Nobody has ever gone to jail for smuggling a one bedroom plus den out of the country.

 However, make that a ten-carat cyan blue topaz with a past as long as your arm, and I’d do almost anything to possess it.

 But don’t tell the police.

The Goddaughter’s Revenge, winner of the 2014 Derringer (in US) and Arthur (in Canada) is available at Chapters/Indigo stores, Barnes&Noble, and online retailers everywhere.


11 April 2015

Go Away, Space Angel! I'm Trying to Write Crime


by Melodie Campbell

A funny thing happened on the way to the crime book: it became a comic sci-fi spy novella.

That’s the frustrating thing about being a fiction writer.  Sometimes you don’t pick your characters – they pick you.

I was sitting at my desk, minding my own business, when…no, that’s not how it happened.

It was far worse.

“Write a spy novel!” said the notable crime reviewer (one of that rare breed who still has a newspaper column.) We were yapping over a few drinks last spring.  “A funny one. Modesty Blaise meets Maxwell Smart, only in modern day, of course.”

“Sure!” I said, slurping Pinot by the $16 glass.  After all, crime is my thing.  I was weaned on Agatha Christie.  I had 40 crime short stories and 5 crime books published to date.  This sounded like the perfect 'next series' to write.

And I intended to.  Truly I did.  I tried all summer. I even met with a former CSIS operative to get the scoop on the spy biz (think CIA, but Canada – yes, he was polite.)    

Wrote for two months solid.  The result was…kinda flat.  (I blame the Pinot.  Never take up a book-writing dare with a 9 oz. glass of Pinot in your hand. Ditto good single malt.  THAT resulted in a piece of erotica that shall forever be known under a different name…  But I digress.)

Back to the crime book.  I started to hate it.  

Then, in the middle of the night (WHY does this always happens in the middle of the night?) a few characters started popping up.  Colourful, fun characters, from another time. They took my mind by siege.  “GO AWAY,” I told them. “I’m trying to write a crime book!”

They didn’t.  It was a criminal sit-in.  They wouldn’t leave until I agreed to write their tale.
So the modern day spy novel became a futuristic spy novel.  Modesty Blaise runs a bar on a space-station, so to speak.  Crime in Space, with the kind of comedy you might expect from a descendent of The Goddaughter.

Two more months spent in feverish writing.  Another two in rewrites.  Then another, to convince my publisher that the project had legs.

CODE NAME: GYPSY MOTH is the result.  Yet another crossing the genres escapade.

Written by me, and a motley crew of night visitors.

Now hopefully they will keep it down in there so I can sleep.

CODE NAME: GYPSY MOTH
“Comedy and Space Opera – a blast to read” (former editor Distant Suns magazine)
“a worthy tribute to Douglas Adams”  (Cathy Astolfo, award-winning author)

It isn't easy being a female barkeep in the final frontier...especially when you’re also a spy!

Nell Romana loves two things: the Blue Angel Bar, and Dalamar, a notorious modern-day knight for hire.  Too bad he doesn't know she is actually an undercover agent.  When Dalamar is called away on a routine job, Nell uncovers a rebel plot to overthrow the Federation. She has to act fast and alone. 

Then the worst happens.  Her cover is blown…

Buy link AMAZON
Buy link SMASHWORDS

The Toronto Sun called her Canada’s “Queen of Comedy.”  Library Journal compared her to Janet Evanovich.  Melodie Campbell got her start writing standup.  She has over 200 publications and nine awards for fiction.  Code Name: Gypsy Moth (Imajin Books) is her eighth book.

28 March 2015

Never Marry a Crime Writer


(they let me off my leash again...)

Everybody knows they shouldn’t marry a writer.  Mothers the world over have made that obvious: “For Gawd Sake, never marry a marauding barbarian, a sex pervert, or a writer.” (Or a politician, but that is my own personal bias.  Ignore me.)

But for some reason, lots of innocent, unsuspecting people marry writers every year.  Obviously, they don’t know about the (gasp!) “Zone.”  (More obviously, they didn’t have the right mothers.)

Never mind: I’m here to help.

I think it pays to understand that writers aren’t normal humans: they write about people who don’t exist and things that never happened.  Their brains work differently.  They have different needs.  And in some cases, they live on different planets (at least, my characters do, which is kind of the same thing.)

Thing is, writers are sensitive creatures.  This can be attractive to some humans who think that they can ‘help’ poor writer-beings (in the way that one might rescue a stray dog.)  True, we are easy to feed and grateful for attention.  We respond well to praise.  And we can be adorable.  So there are many reasons you might wish to marry a writer, but here are 10 reasons why you shouldn’t:

The basics: 

1.  Writers are hoarders.  Your house will be filled with books.  And more books.  It will be a shrine to books.  The lost library of Alexandria will pale in comparison.

2.  Writers are addicts.  We mainline coffee.  We’ve also been known to drink other beverages in copious quantities, especially when together with other writers in places called ‘bars.’ 

3.  Writers are weird.  Crime Writers are particularly weird (as weird as horror writers.) You will hear all sorts of gruesome research details at the dinner table.  When your parents are there.  Maybe even with your parents in mind.

4.  Writers are deaf.  We can’t hear you when we are in our offices, pounding away at keyboards. Even if you come in the room.  Even if you yell in our ears.

5.  Writers are single-minded.  We think that spending perfectly good vacation money to go to crime writing conferences like Bouchercon is a really good idea.  Especially if there are other writers there with whom to drink beverages.

The bad ones:

6.  It may occasionally seem that we’d rather spend time with our characters than our family or friends.  (See 9 below.)

7.  We rarely sleep through the night.  (It’s hard to sleep when you’re typing.  Also, all that coffee...)

8.  Our Google Search history is a thing of nightmares.  (Don’t look.  No really – don’t.  And I’m not just talking about ways to avoid taxes… although if anyone knows a really fool-proof scheme, please email me.)

And the really bad ones:

9.  If we could have affairs with our beloved protagonists, we probably would. (No!  Did I say that out loud?)

10.  We know at least twenty ways to kill you and not get caught.

RE that last one:  If you are married to a writer, don’t worry over-much.  Usually writers do not kill the hand that feeds them.  Mostly, we are way too focused on figuring out ways to kill our agents, editors, and particularly, reviewers.


Melodie Campbell writes funny books, like The Artful Goddaughter, book 3 in the award-winning series about a reluctant mob goddaughter.  Please don't be reluctant to check them out.

31 January 2015

Chair Today - Gone Tomorrow


Funny how things start out so innocently.

“I need a new office chair,” I said to hubby.

“Fine,” he said.

“Because mine is 40 years old and worn out,” I said, determined to convince him.  “It also doesn’t fit me anymore.”  Bottoms can change after many years.  My tush might have been a tad smaller back then.  Now it is a lazy, adult tush that needs more seat padding.

“You don’t have to convince me.  You’re in that chair all day long, writing.  It’s only a steno chair and it was old when we got it,” he said.

Well, that was easy, I thought.  Piece of cake. 

Cake, it appears, can be deceiving.  (This is where the idiom starts to go totally astray.)

Day 1: CHAIR NO. 1

By this subtitle, you might have caught on that project “Find a Chair” did not go as planned.

Like every good Canadian, we went to Staples to look for a chair.  Like every good couple with a Scottish last name, we went right after Christmas.

Chair No. 1 was not on sale.  It was the only chair in the store that I really felt comfortable in. 

“It has arms,” I said, sighing with delight.  “I’ve never had a chair with arms.”

Hubby showed his generous side.  “You can have it, even though it isn’t on sale.”

Of course, it came in a box half its size.  Which meant we were really buying a bunch of chair pieces.

Back home, Hubby started putting the pieces together.  Two hours later, he handed me the assembly instructions. 

“Can you read this?” he said.  “I can’t, even with my reading glasses."

I peered at the wee instructions.  They appeared to be written for Barbie Dolls.

An hour later, we had a chair.  Unfortunately, it was too short for the desk.

“I can’t work the keyboard,” I wailed.

Stoic Hubby said, “I suppose I could cut an inch or two off the desk legs.

We set out to return the chair.

Day 2: CHAIR NO. 2

Because the chair hadn’t been on sale (yay Hubby!) we could exchange it.  I was back in Staples facing 30 chairs.  Now the mission was to get one tall enough.

I became Goldilocks for an entire hour looking for the chair that was ‘just right.’  Finally the sales clerk got off her cell phone and came over.  I explained the First Chair Dilemma.

Clerk:  “You need one of our totally adjustable chairs.  It’s even on sale.”

She pointed me to it and I tried it out. 

Me: “It seems okay.  But it doesn’t have any padding.”

Clerk:  “These new chairs have webbed backs and seats.  They adjust to you.”

Hubby (getting antsy):  “We’ll take it.”

Clerk:  “Oops. We’re out of them.”

Me: “Can we order one?”

Clerk: “I don’t know if we’re getting any more.”

Me:  “Then we’ll take the floor model.”

Clerk:  “Oh no!  You can’t take the floor model.  We need it.”

Hubby:  “How can you need it if you have no chairs to sell?”

A battle ensued.  It involved the clerk, the manager, Hubby, and another frustrated male shopper who popped over to say something like: “You sales people have the brains of a long-dead lake trout. Let them take the blasted floor model.”

We loaded the floor model into the Outback.

Back home, I tried out the new chair.  It was the perfect height.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t the perfect seat.  Within twenty minutes, my butt was asleep.

Me:  “I can’t move!”

Hubby:  “Try falling out of the chair and landing on your hands.”

Day 3: CHAIR NO. 3

Chair Number 2 had been on sale so we couldn’t return it.  Luckily, Hubby has an iron butt and agreed to take possession.

But Chair Number 3 is a happy story.  In an adjacent city, we found a store that deals only in office furniture. They had leather desk chairs with all sorts of padding.  We chose the cheapest (still Scottish here, after all) and brought it home.  Goldilocks had found her cake.

Unfortunately, Goldilocks left her wallet in that store, which is why we’re headed back there today.  Which only goes to show, even having your cake can be a pain in the butt.

Melodie Campbell writes funny books with her butt in a new office chair.  You can find The Goddaughter mob caper series at Chapters, B&N, Amazon and all the usual places.



SleuthSayers Communiqué

The month of February opens with a few surprises. For the next few days, our members bring you:
  1. Feb: Jim Winter announces his new release!
  2. Feb: Jan Grape appears in her usual spot.
  3. Feb: Liz Zelvin drops by with a new article.
  4. Feb: A special surprise guest visits SleuthSayers!
  5. Feb: We return to our regular broadcast schedule…
And later in the month, the 24th of February, you'll meet our new author, Paul D. Marks. See you then!

17 January 2015

They Call Me a Literary Slut


"The Princess Bride with Sex” or Why I Write Wacky Time Travel (in addition to respectable crime)

I am best known as a writer of comic crime capers, and in particular The Goddaughter series (Orca Books).  However, I also have a second life as an author of racy fantasy…the sort of thing that has been called “OUTLANDER meets Sex and the City.”

This has gotten me the rep of being labeled a 'literary slut,' in that I 'write around' in a lot of genres.

Why?  Why would a moderately respectable crime author swap genres and write a wacky time travel series, set in Arizona and Alternate-world Great Britain?

1.  I like Arizona.  Especially in winter.  You can fly nonstop there from Toronto.
(Whoops – delete, delete.  Of course, the real reason for using Arizona is I believe in accuracy of setting and doing research, which I take great pains to do once each year in February.) 


2.  I like Great Britain.  And I like to be accurate.  But you can’t travel to medieval Great Britain right
now, at least not on WestJet. (WHY doesn’t someone invent a cheap time travel airline?)  So I can’t be accurate, which bugs me a lot.  But I can be silly, which is almost as good.  Hence, Alt-world.


3.  My cousin Tony’s family, the Clegg-Hills, used to own a Norman castle in Shropshire.  Unfortunately it burned down in 1556.  Damned careless of them.  I had to make up what it would look like from family stories, which are probably dubious at best, and vaguely criminal, on reflection.  Also, I hate being sued. Hence, Alt-world.


4.  Fessing up, here.  I actually didn’t mean to write funny time travel.  I meant to write a serious whodunit that would get the respect of the Can-Lit crowd, and the more erudite members of Crime Writers of Canada.  This ‘veering from plan’ is becoming a nuisance.  Next book, for sure, will be a serious whodunit.  Okay, maybe a whodunit.  Okay, maybe a book.


5.  Okay, I lied.  The serious whodunit turned into a wacky mob comedy series that has won a Derringer and an Arthur.  Still no respect from the Can-Lit crowd.  So I might as well go back to writing wacky time travel.

Why?  ‘Cause it’s a hell of a lot of fun being a literary slut.

Are you a literary slut?  Confession time!  If you write in more than one genre, let us know in the comments.

Flash Update: The Land's End Trilogy featured in this blog started charting on Amazon this week, and on Thursday made the overall Amazon Top 100 Bestseller list, at no. #47!  Author is faint~ 

Land's End Trilogy ("OUTLANDER meets SEX AND THE CITY" Vine review) is on sale for a ridiculous 99cents this weekend!  If you were ever curious about her 'other life'...'nuf said. 

20 December 2014

Have a Confusing Christmas!


The following story is true.  And it may explain the slightly manic sense of humour I have been displaying on these pages over the past six months.


Most of my life, I have been confused about Christmas.

This is because I am the quintessential Canadian mutt.  Four parts Italian, one part Irish, one part English, one part Chippewa, and the final bit was a surprise.  It overlaps with the English part (wait for it.)

The Italian part is easy to explain.  Every year, my Sicilian grandmother put the plastic lighted crucifixes (made in Japan) in glaring rainbow colours, on the Christmas tree.  I was a bit confused by that, not only because it was gawd-awful tacky and fought with my budding interior designer.  But the part in the 10 Commandments about ‘no graven images’ seemed to be at risk here.

Nevertheless, we all looked forward to the blazing orange, green and red crucifixes, unaware that it was a sort of macabre thing to do to a Christmas tree.  Did I mention Halloween is my favorite holiday?

The Chippewa part was a tad more elusive.  I first got a hint that there might have been First Nations blood in our family when someone asked why we put ground venison in our traditional Christmas Eve spaghetti sauce.  True, we had a freezer full of deer, moose, salmon, and not much else.  Later, it occurred to me that I actually hadn’t tasted beef until I was ten, when for my birthday, Dad took us to the A&W for a real treat.  “This tastes weird,” I said, wrinkling my nose.  “It’s made from cow,” Dad said.

Of course, if I had been more on the ball, there were other clues.  But at the age of six, you don’t necessarily see things as out of the norm.  That summer in Toronto, I loved day camp.  They split us kids into groups named for First Nations tribes.  By happy coincidence, I got placed in the Chippewa tribe.  When I got home and announced this, the reaction was: “Thank God it wasn’t Mohawk.” 

The camp leaders were really impressed with my almost-authentic costume.  (Everyone else was wearing painted pillow cases.)

But the real confusion about Christmas and my provenance came many years later.

I spent most of my life not knowing we were part Jewish.  I was about forty, when the designer shoe (a bargain on sale at David’s) finally dropped.  Dad and I were eating pastrami on rye at Shopsy’s Deli one day (which we did on a regular basis, once a month – a reasonably intelligent person might have considered this the first clue) when Dad wiped a drip of mustard off his face and said:

Dad: “I haven’t heard from my cousin Moishe Goldman in a long while.”

Me:  “We have a cousin named MOISHE GOLDMAN??”

Of course, if I had been thinking, all this made sense.  We had lived in a Jewish neighbourhood.  Our last name is Hebrew for antelope.  And I was only the only kid in school who got Halvah in their Christmas stocking every year.  (Damn straight.  I really did.  I still do.)

So I’m hoping this may explain why we have a five foot lighted Christmas peacock on our front porch this year, and a lighted Christmas palm tree in our back yard.  “A Peacock in a Palm Tree” may be confusing to you folk who know the song and are expecting a partridge with pears, but to those of us who have been confused about Christmas all our lives, it is mere icing on the proverbial Kugal.

Melodie Campbell writes funny books. You can buy them at Chapters/Indigo, Barnes&Noble, Amazon, etc.  Sometimes even at the discount table at Zehrs and Walmart.)

The Peacock.  You thought I was kidding.

06 December 2014

Today’s Phones are Ruining Crime Fiction!


(Yes, this post actually gets around to mentioning crime fiction.  Wait for it…)
I’m getting awfully tired of ads for phone companies, begging me to switch, hounding me to spend more money for their latest plan, month after month after month.

Frankly, I’m longing for the good old days, when all you could get from a phone company was an ugly black rotary phone.  And by gawd, you were grateful for it too, because you had to sweat to get it.

Remember those days?  You would move into a new apartment in November, and you would phone up some snotty service rep at Ma Bell, who would treat you as if you were some sort of macrobiotic slime culture.  <Sniff – sorry!  I’m becoming nostalgic.>

You:  I’d like to get a phone as soon as possible, please.

Rep:  Let me see…how about…say…July 2017?  We can send a man out sometime between the 4th and the 28th.  You’ll have to make sure that someone’s home every second.

You:  Yes!  Oh Yes!  I’m so grateful.  Thank you!

Rep:   The colour will be black.

You:  Great! Black is cool.

Rep:  Okay, now we’ll need your first born as a deposit.

I really liked those old back dial phones.  I mean, those phones had substance; they had weight.  You could do a lot to them and they would bounce back.  I remember once playing kickball in the hallway at university, and our team would have won, but the darn ball (phone) started ringing and some fool on the other team picked it up.

Try playing kickball with a smartphone.  It ain’t so smart after a play or two.

Take my word for it: today’s flimsy phones are simply wuss. Not to mention, they are ruining crime fiction. 

At this point, I know readers are going to say, ‘Of course they are ruining crime fiction!  You can’t isolate your protagonist anymore.”  And yes, this is a problem, unless your protagonist has the intelligence of a demented chipmonk and perpetually forgets to charge their phone just before the climax in every book you write (cliché alert).

But I’m thinking beyond the obvious here.

Think of how those old black phones had significance in old black and white movies.  Remember Jimmy Stewart with the broken leg in Rear Window?  Remember those desperate calls he made over the heavy 1950s telephone…would they really be as fear-inducing if he was using an iPhone with a ring tone of ‘La Bomba?’

I mean, really.  How can you commit a really good murder with a receiver that weighs less than a padded bra?  What are you supposed to do…stuff it down someone’s throat until they choke on it?

What’s more, who can get really excited about an obscene phone call made over a cellphone the size of a playing card?  Come on now…do I really need to spell out the symbolism?

Melodie Campbell writes funny books, like the award-winning mob comedy, The Goddaughter’s Revenge.  You can buy them in stores and online at all the usual sources.

08 November 2014

Comedy Writer Falls Right Over Cliff - Worst Typos EVER


Ever make a really bad typo?  I mean really bad.

My worst ever professional mistake was in an Annual Report for a one-hundred-million dollar corporation, when I was the director of marketing and communications.  Unfortunately, an innocent little ‘t’ went missing from the word ‘assets.’  The board was not amused by “This year, we experienced an increase in corporate asses.”

Recently, I found out what one little vowel can do to Rowena and the Dark Lord, book 2 in the Land’s End series.

Okay, REALLY uncool when you misspell the name of your own book on a guest blog.

Rowena and the Dark LARD is probably not the best way to get sales for a ‘Game of Thrones Lite’ fantasy series.

However, as I do write comedy, I'm thinking about a parody.
Is it okay to write a parody of your own book?

Draft one: Rowena and the Dark Lard

Synopsis 1: Rowena moves back to Land’s End and opens up a bakery.

Synopsis 2: Cedric’s use of dark magic goes totally out of control, and so does his appetite.

Synopsis 3: Thane and Rowena return to Land’s End and become pig farmers.

Synopsis 4: Rowena messes up another spell that causes all who look at her to turn into donuts.

Synopsis 5: Rowena kills off Nigella Lawson in a battle with pastry rollers, and assumes the role
of Prime Time Network Food Goddess <sic>.

Synopsis 6: Someone takes a totally justified whack at the author. End of series.

Postscript: Recently was quoted by someone as the author of ROWENA AND THE DORK LORD.  Trial for murder is pending.

Post postscript (where is a Latin scholar when you need one?):  Another contract out for the professional book tour company hired by my publisher last month, who, in all their advertising, inadvertently switched book 3 Rowena and the Viking Warlord to…wait for it…Viking Landlord.  Yup.  Obviously there will be hell to pay if you forget the rent. 

Have you some spectacular typos in your past?  Share them here!  I'll feel better.