Showing posts with label humour. Show all posts
Showing posts with label humour. Show all posts

17 August 2020

Comedy Is Hard


I've often been accused of being funny, except by my former students. I've directed comedy in theater, too, both contemporary (Christopher Durang) and classical (Several Shakespeare including The Merchant of Venice and Twelfth Night), and my stories and novels always include some humor.


A few years ago, someone suggested I add another workshop to my repertoire: writing humor. I hedged. Then I visited libraries, bookstores and the Internet to find books on writing comedy. I found only a few, and none of them helped me.

Drama is easy. Melodrama is easy. Comedy is eff-ing hard.

Comedy comes from two sources. One is the situation, the basis of slapstick humor. Shakespeare's drunks and fools usually followed this tradition, which goes back to the Greek and Roman playwrights (Remember, Will lifted The Comedy of Errors wholesale from Plautus). This often becomes farce, where the characters become puppets in service to the plot.

The other source is more intellectual or verbal. Puns, wordplay and irony replace the pratfalls, and some people appreciate this more than others. If you tell the same joke to ten people, a few will roar, some will chuck, a couple will smile, and at least one will say, "Oh, that's it?"

Like American English, comedy relies on rhythm. Years ago, I attended a one-day workshop on directing comedy, and the instructor stressed "The Machine," the progression and rhythm that make a scene or play "funny." He said if you change the order or any component, you'll kill the joke. I agree. Years ago, my wife played the fussy roommate in the female version of The Odd Couple, and the other actress insisted on adding "uh-huh, oh really" and other ad libs to the famous exchange about "It's not spaghetti, it's linguini." She never got a laugh. Ever. Not one single night.

The only other specific hint I remember about directing comedy came from my directing mentor in grad school: Gorgeous is not funny...unless she slips on a banana peel. 

My first drafts aren't funny. Humor grows out of revision, usually from a character's reaction to the situation, more ironic than slapstick. If it doesn't feel like part of the character and the whole milieu, it doesn't work for me. I try not to reach for it because if it emerges, it's a pleasant surprise for me, too, and that's how punchlines work. They deliver what the audience expects, but not the way they expect it. 

My favorite authors write humor better than I do. Maybe that's one reason I like them. Louise Penny uses twisted literary allusions and puns, usually as responses from the residents of Three Pines, whom we've grown to know and love over the course of her Armand Gamache series. 

Dennis Lehane's irony--karma comes to town--often involves character, too. Don Winslow can use irony, but he can also go slapstick. His recent novella "The San Diego Zoo" builds on an outrageous situation seen through the eyes of a cop who becomes a laughingstock on social media. The opening line is "Nobody knows how the chimp got the revolver," and the story races to the logically absurd conclusion from that premise. Elvis Cole, the PI of many Robert Crais novels, loves self-deprecating throw-aways. 

Several romance authors write great comedy, too. Look at Jennifer Crusie's dialogue, especially late in a book where her characters paraphrase earlier speeches and turn them on their heads.

None of these writers could steal another's joke and make it work in their own stories. Comedy is personal, and that's what makes it so hard.

You really do reveal yourself on the page. 

20 January 2020

Santa Noir


Everybody has too many Christmas parties and get-togethers in December, so the Connecticut MWA members threw a procrastinator's bash on January 11 in Middletown. Middletown is, of course, in the middle of the State, home of Wesleyan University and several fine restaurants, so we gathered at Esca, three blocks from the college and on a main intersection.
Chris Knopf addresses the motley crew. He mostly obscures Mark Dressler.
Bill Curatolo and Mike Beil are at the upper right.

Chris Knopf and Jill Fletcher, who organized the event, suggested that in addition to the usual gift grab bag, drinks and meals and catching up on everyone's accomplishments for the year, people write a 200-word story on the theme of Santa Noir to share with their accomplices. Alas, loud hungry patrons mobbed the eatery on a Saturday evening, so we abandoned the readings. Some of our recent predictions on this blog have made the upcoming year look a little bleak, and I agree, so the stories seemed like a definite counterbalance.

Here are four of them.

Santa Claus and Me by Mark L. Dressler
Jill posted this graphic, which inspired Mark's tale

I stared at that red Santa Claus outfit for several minutes. The lifeless man inside sent an eerie feeling through me matching the bitter night chill. I knew I'd never see that costume again.

Year after year, it was a never-ending journey, make-believe to many, but I knew differently. This was the night it would finally end. No more toys, no more nagging kids, no more workshops with elves, no more agonizing trips to the ends of each continent...and no more reindeer slaves.

I took another glance at that red uniform before walking away. I had no idea who that homeless man inside it was, but his clothes fit me perfectly. It was time for me to find a new home because I couldn't go back to the North Pole. I'd cleanse myself of this long white beard in the morning and become a free man. My name would no longer be Kris Kringle.

(Mark Dressler has published two novels featuring Hartford cop Dan Shields.)

At Burke's Tavern in Woodside, Queens, December 24, 1969 by William O'Neill Curatolo

Recently discharged marine Luis Martinez, high bar champion of the 43rd Street playground, sits alone on the broad windowsill across from the end of the bar nursing his fourth beer. He looks in need of cheering up. It's possible, no, it's certain, that the only advantage of having left his right leg back in Vietnam is that he now never has to pay for a drink, ever, in any of the watering holes up and down the length of Greenpoint Avenue.

Burly cop Georgie Corrigan bursts through the barroom door, dressed as Santa Claus. "Ho, ho, ho. Merry Christmas!" Santa Georgie moves along the bar clapping people hard on the back, and turns over to a couple of friends the bags of pot he took from a kid on his beat in Brooklyn a few hours ago. As he makes his way along the bar, he notices his old friend Luis, glassy eyed, staring off into space. Georgie sits down next to him and uses a burly arm to clamp him in a headlock. "Semper Fi, Jarhead!" and then, "Get up off your ass and onto those crutches. We're going outside to smoke a joint. Santa wants to see you smile."

(Bill Curatolo has published two novels.)

Santa By a Nose by Michael D. Beil

Christmas Eve at the Subway Inn, a dive bar that's a dead possum's throw from Bloomingdale's. Beside me is a bag with Isotoner gloves and a faux-cashmere scarf for the old lady. Three stools down is a schmoe in a Santa suit. The line of dead soldiers on the bar tells me the poor bastard is trying to forget how many brats had pissed their pants on his lap. For about a second, I consider sending a drink his way. But when he lifts his head, I realize he's the SOB I've been chasing for a week about a B&E in a bike shop on Second Avenue. No doubt about it. Eight million people in New York, but there's only one nose like that one. Fill it full of nickels and he could buy everybody in the place a drink.

I'm reaching into my coat pocket for my shield when a blast of frigid air blows in a tired dame in a coat that probably looked good during the Clinton administration, with three kiddies in tow.

"Daddy!"

I throw a twenty on the bar and nod to the bartender on the way out.

(Michael Beil was an Edgar finalist for Best Children's Novel for the first of five books in the Red Blazer Girls series.)

I Saw Mommy Killing Santa Claus by Steve Liskow

Detective Angel Noelle looked at the body, a fat man with a white beard and a red suit, underneath the mistletoe. Wrapped presents, grungy with fingerprint powder, lay under the tree.

"Your first, Noelle?" That was Detective Shepherd.

"Violent night," Angel said. "Got an ID yet?"

"We're waiting on fingerprints, but we've got a suspect and a witness."

Noelle turned to the woman in the green robe, the slit revealing black fishnets--previously hung by the chimney with care--and four-inch stilettos.

"I'm a dancer," she said. "All my son wanted for Christmas was his two front teeth..."

The small boy peeking from the stairs nodded.

"But instead, he brought..." The prancing vixen buried her face in her hands. "He deserved it..."

Noelle turned to the tech filling out the evidence label.  "What was the weapon?"

"Well, right now it looks like a fruitcake."

"Fruitcake?"

"Yeah, been re-gifted so many times it's hard as a Jersey barrier. The label on the can says, 'Do not sell after 2004.'"

Noelle looked at the body, deep in dreamless sleep.

"The contusions fit?" The open fire crackled in the fireplace.

"Yeah. Really roasted his chestnuts."

Outside, the black and whites rolled by.

(Steve Liskow practices piano about fifteen minutes a week.)


13 October 2019

Dr. Frank Warsh: Coroner to Crime Writer


Dr. Frank Warsh is a coroner and the author of The Flame Broiled Doctor from Boyhood to Burnout in Medicine and Hippocrates:The Art and The Oath

Death is his job - literally - so how does his job inform his new foray into crime fiction? Many doctors will grumble at the unrealistic depictions of doctors in film and books. Doctors will grumble even more loudly at the depictions of patients and families - because that is the important part of medicine. So, does a coroner write crime fiction differently than a lay person?

• What is the actual job of a coroner?

“The core of the job is determination of cause and certifying the death.

“The cause of death is what killed you. The manner is part of the set of conventions we use to describe a death. The manner is what’s being referred to when a character on a cop show says, “the death was ruled a homicide”. That statement is screenplay silliness for two reasons. First, rulings come from judges, not Coroners or Forensic Pathologists. Second, the manner of death follows from the cause, rather than being determined independently.

“Unlike the myriad causes, there are only four manners by which a person can die: natural, accident, suicide, or homicide.

“Again, the manner follows from the cause. If somebody dies from a heart attack, that’s a natural death. If it’s a hanging, barring some very, very compelling evidence of foul play it’s a death by suicide. The old Coroner’s joke is calling a gunshot wound to the chest a natural death, because if you’re shot through the heart and lungs, naturally it will kill you.”

• Why would people want to read Coroners’ stories?

“Clearly there’s overlap between Coroner work and crime investigation. My job is quite literally the intersection between police procedural and medical procedural work.

“It’s hard to overstate how important the job of Coroner is and can be, speaking for the dead as the motto goes. Most untimely deaths are not the result of a crime, but rather workplace accidents, substance abuse, an individual’s traumatic upbringing, systemic problems in institutions, or failures by society as a whole. Obviously these stories matter to people in positions of authority and policymakers. But fictionalized, they can teach us a lot of truths about human nature and how far we still have to go. It’s a job that allows for genuine sober reflection, rather than just reacting to the daily noise of the news cycle.

“A former patient, who’s become a cherished friend since I left practice, had a daughter that died from an overdose after a long struggle with drug use. Happens every day, no question. But the young woman had been a repeat victim of sexual violence from a very early age. Worse still, she suffered years of trauma at the hands of a broken mental health care system the family desperately needed to work. We take it for granted that our institutions are the “good guys”, working only in the best interests of the sick and the vulnerable. That’s far from a guarantee, no matter what we’d like to think. Fiction is a perhaps a safer way to face these truths, because there are no real-life stakes to the story being told.

“Now that covers the interesting and important reasons to read Coroner stories, but I’d be remiss if I left out how entertaining, even funny, Coroner work can be.

“Setting aside gratuitous cartoon deaths you might find in a Quentin Tarantino film, death in and of itself isn’t entertaining. It’s death *investigation* I find entertaining. Some of the fun comes from the characters you meet – police, undertakers – that have personality quirks or morbid senses of humor you don’t find in health care settings. Sometimes it’s the loved ones of the dead who can throw you for a loop.

“And sometimes the investigation itself is full of absurdities, completely at odds with what we expect from all the highbrow detective stories we might read or see on TV. Closets full of Costco-size jars of weed. Bongs on display like sports trophies. Porn playing on a loop while you scour an apartment for medical records. You can’t make this stuff up.

“Earlier this year, I happened to attend six deaths in a row where the person had died on the toilet. To the individual families, those are tragedies. To the poor schlub Coroner – me – it’s a Saturday Night Live sketch, the absolute antithesis of the glamorous, high-tech investigations portrayed on CSI.

“Real life – or real death, I suppose – is stranger than fiction, and quite often funny as hell. These are the kinds of stories I’m now looking to tell, in short story form for the time being.”

• Thoughts on commercial success?

“You need your finger on the pulse of the audience to find fortune as a writer, and the only pulses I feel these days have stopped.”

28 September 2019

Being a Goddess Sucks When your Characters Won’t Behave… (warning: more silly stuff from Bad Girl)


(Dave, are you smiling down on me? My comedy is back)

Recently, my characters have become more mouthy.

I like to think of myself as their creator. Goddess material. Without me, they wouldn’t have a life on the page, or anywhere, for that matter. This should buy me a certain amount of respect, I figure. Sort of like you might give a minor deity. After all, I have created five series for them to live in.

Unfortunately, my characters haven’t bought into that. Worse, they seem to have cast me into the role of mother. That’s me: a necessary embarrassment for the perpetuation of their lives. And like all kids, they squabble. They fight with each other for attention. I liken it to sibling jealousy.

To wit: “You haven’t written about me lately,” says Rowena, star of Rowena Through the Wall.

I try to ignore the petulance in her voice.

“Been busy,” I mumble. “Gina (The Goddaughter) had to get married in Vegas. And Del, a relative of hers, started a vigilante group.”

“I don’t care if she started a rock group. You’re supposed to be writing MY story.”

I turn away from the keyboard and frown at her. “Listen, toots. You wouldn’t have any stories at ALL if it weren’t for me. You’ve had three books of adventures with men. A normal gal would be exhausted. So please be patient and wait your turn. Jennie had to suck it up for Worst Date Ever. Del and The B-Team were next in line. You can be after that, maybe.”

Maybe. I wasn’t going to tell her about the 6th Goddaughter book currently in the works.

“It’s not fair. I came first! Before all those silly mob comedies,” Row whines. “Don’t forget! I was the one who got you bestseller status.” She points at her ample chest.

“Hey!” says Gina, fresh from cannoli central. “And which book won the Derringer and the Arthur Ellis? Not some trashy old fantasy novel.”
“Who are YOU calling trashy?” says Rowena, balling her hands into fists. “Just because my bodice rips in every scene…”

“Like THAT isn’t a plot device,” chides Gina.

“Oh, PLEASE don’t fight,” says Jennie, the plucky romance heroine of Worst Date Ever. “I just want everyone to have a Happy Ever After. Can’t you do that for us all, Mom? Er…Melodie?”

I look at Del, from The B-Team. “What do you think?”

Del shrugs. “Sounds sucky. What kind of crap story would that be? Bugger, is that the time? I got a second story job that needs doing. Cover for me, will you? And this time, let me know if the cops start sniffing around.”
“Cops?” says Gina. “Crap! I’m outta here.”

“Cops?” says Rowena. “There’s that little matter of a dead body in book 2…” She vanishes.

“Cops?” says Jennie, hopefully. “OH! Is one of them single?”






Book 15 is now out! THE GODDAUGHTER DOES VEGAS

(Don't tell Rowena…)

20 August 2019

Balancing Comedy and Tragedy


A few years ago I was editing a manuscript in which an amateur sleuth found a dead body. A couple of paragraphs down, she made a joke. It raised my eyebrows. "Too soon," I said in a note to the author.

Don't get me wrong. I love humor, especially black humor. Ranging from wry observations to slapstick situations, humor is important because it can lighten a book's mood. But you have to know when to be funny--and when not to. In the case I mentioned above, I suggested having the sleuth wait a couple of pages before she makes light of the situation. The author did so, and it made all the difference.

Today I'm pleased to welcome as a guest author my friend Sherry Harris, who knows all about writing humor, including the importance of timing. Sherry writes great books and takes edits like the pro she is. Sherry writes the Sarah Winston Garage Sale mysteries about a woman in Massachusetts who runs garage sales for other people. Sherry's here today to expound on balancing comedy and tragedy in mysteries. Take it away, Sherry!


--Barb Goffman

Balancing Comedy and Tragedy
by Sherry Harris
I was sitting at the bar at Writers' Police Academy (this sounds like the start of a bad joke) when I started talking to a woman near me. I asked her what she wrote and she told me. She then asked what I wrote, so I told her I wrote a cozy series--the Sarah Winston Garage Sale mysteries. She said, "Oh, well I write serious books." I replied that I wrote serious books too. That I don't think murder is funny, but that I did use humor in other parts of my books.

I'm caught somewhere in between comedy and tragedy. In my most recent book, Let's Fake a Deal, (published July 30th), there are two parallel story lines. As the book opens Sarah is arrested for selling stolen goods at a garage sale and a few chapters later a friend of hers is arrested for murder. I was shocked when someone who interviewed me said they thought the first chapter (where Sarah is arrested) was one of the funniest scenes they've ever read. When I wrote the scene my vision of Sarah was that she was really scared. I guess that just proves humor is in the eye of the beholder. After the interview was over, I reread the scene with a different mind-set and saw how it could be interpreted that way.

Where do I add the humor? I'd like to tell you I carefully plot it all out in advance but I don't. I'll make a decision early in my writing process on how to add some humor. For Let's Fake a Deal, I tossed around ideas with my independent editor, Barb Goffman. (Hi, Barb, thanks for having me here today.) We came up with the idea that Sarah could do a garage sale for a woman who was obsessed with cats. Not a crazy cat woman who has twenty cats living with her, but a woman who wants to make the front of her house look like the face of a cat. To afford that she has to sell off her massive collection of cat-morabilia. So the cat-tastic garage sale was born.
Kishi Station in Japan was redesigned to resemble a cat in honor of a beloved local stray cat. (Can you see it?) This station isn't in the Sarah Winston books, but it's a great example of what a dedicated cat lover could do with enough funds.
But the Sarah Winston books have more than funny situations. Each of my books is set partially on an Air Force base, and I weave in difficulties military families face. In Let's Fake a Deal, one of Sarah's friends, who has been selected for promotion to colonel, has an IG (inspector general) complaint filed against her, which holds up her promotion. I did a lengthy interview with a friend who served as a Navy JAG for 23 years. We talked about the challenges of being a woman in a male-dominated world. Then I interviewed other women I knew who had served. The interviews fascinated and horrified me. Their stories are woven into the book.

I hope the titles add some humor and Sarah is funny. She's not funny in a slapstick, "slip on a banana peel" kind of way, but she has an optimistic outlook on life. Her observations about life add humor to the books. But I also want her to be multilayered so when she stumbles over a dead body Sarah hurts, and when she sees someone die she reacts like a real person would. 

****
Sherry Harris is the Agatha Award-nominated author of the Sarah Winston Garage Sale mystery series. She is the President of Sisters in Crime, a member of the Chesapeake Chapter of Sisters in Crime, the New England Chapter of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, and International Thriller Writers.
In her spare time Sherry loves reading and is a patent-holding inventor. Sherry, her husband, and her guard dog, Lily, are living in northern Virginia until they figure out where they want to move to next.  (Barb here: That's what she thinks. I'm not letting her move away ever. No how. No way.) 
Twitter: @SHarrisAuthor
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SherryHarrisauthor

Instagram: SherryHarrisAuthor

27 July 2019

Themes in Novels (in which Bad Girl discovers she’s not so flaky after all…)


One of the great discussions in the author world is whether your book should have a theme or not. Of course it’s going to have a plot. (Protagonist with a problem or goal and obstacles to that goal – real obstacles that matter - which are resolved by the end.) But does a book always have a theme?
Usually when we’re talking ‘theme’, we’re putting the story into a more serious category. Margaret Atwood (another Canadian – smile) tells a ripping good story in The Handmaid’s Tale. But readers would agree there is a serious theme underlying it, a warning, in effect.

Now, I write comedies. Crime heists and romantic comedies, most recently. They are meant to be fun and entertaining. So you can imagine my surprise when I discovered recently that all of my books have rather serious themes behind them.

Last Friday, I was interviewed for a CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) mini-documentary featuring female Canadian crime writers. During this, the producer got me talking about the background to my most awarded series, The Goddaughter. This crime caper series is about a mob goddaughter who doesn’t want to be one, but keeps getting dragged back to bail out her inept mob family.

I know what it’s like to be a part of an Italian family that may have had ties to the mob. (In the past. My generation is squeaky clean.) The producer asked me If that informed my writing. Of course it did. But in our discussion, she stopped me when I said: “You are supposed to love and support your family. But what if your family is *this* one?”

Voila. There it was: a theme. All throughout the Goddaughter series, Gina Gallo grapples with this internal struggle.
So then I decided to look at my other books. The B-team is a spin-off from The Goddaughter series. It’s a funny take on The A-team television series. A group of well-meaning vigilantes set out to do good, but as this is comedy, things go awry. In fact, the tag-line is: “They do wrong for all the right reasons…and sometimes it even works.”

Was there a theme behind this premise? Was there a *question asked*? And yes, to me, it was clear.

In The B-Team, I play with the concept: Is it ever all right to do illegal things to right a wrong?

Back up to the beginning. My first series was fantasy. Humorous fantasy, of course. Rowena Through the Wall basically is a spoof of Outlander type books. Rowena falls through a portal into a dark ages world, and has wild and funny adventures. I wrote it strictly to entertain…didn’t I? And yet, the plot revolves around the fact that women are scarce in this time. They’ve been killed off by war. I got the idea from countries where women were scarce due to one-child policies. So what would happen…I mused…if women were scarce? Would they have more power in their communities? Or would the opposite happen. Would they have even less control of their destinies, as I posited?

A very strong, serious theme underlying a noted “hilarious” book. Most readers would never notice it. But some do, and have commented. That gets this old gal very excited.
I’ve come to the conclusion that writers – even comedy writers – strive to say something about our world. Yes, I write to entertain. But the life questions I grapple with find their way into my novels, by way of underlying themes. I’m not into preaching. That’s for non-fiction. But If I work them in well, a reader may not notice there is an author viewpoint behind the work.

Yes, I write to entertain. But I’ve come to the conclusion that behind every novel is an author with something to say. Apparently, I’m not as flaky as I thought.

What about you? Do you look for a theme in novels? Or if a writer, do you find your work conforms to specific themes?



Got teen readers in your family? Here's the latest crime comedy, out this month:

On AMAZON

22 June 2019

Ten Minutes of Comedy at the Arthur Ellis Awards Gala (and they even let me stay on stage...)


The Crime Writers of Canada went loco, and asked me to emcee the Arthur Ellis Awards this year.  Somehow they learned I might have done standup in the past.  Or maybe not, because they even paid me.  It may be more than my royalties this quarter.

I dug back into my Sleuthsayer files to decide what might appeal to a hardened (read soused) group of crime writers en mass, with an open bar.  This is what resulted, and I’m happy to say the applause was generous.  You may remember some of this. 



Arts and Letters Club, Toronto, May 23, 2019, 9PM



Hello!  Mike said I could do a few minutes of comedy this evening as long as I apologized in advance.



My name is Melodie Campbell, and it’s my pleasure to welcome here tonight crime writers, friends and family of crime writers, sponsors, agents, and any publishers still left out there.



Tonight is that special night when the crime writing community in Canada meets to do that one thing we look forward to all year:  which is get together and bitch about the industry.



Many of you knew my late husband Dave.  He was a great supporter of my writing, and of our crime community in general.  But many times, he could be seen wandering through the house, shaking his head and muttering “Never Marry a crime writer.”



I’ve decided, here tonight, to list the reasons why.



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



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



Never mind: I’m here to help.



I think it pays to understand that crime 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, authors 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 crime writer, but here are 10 reasons why you shouldn’t:



The basics: 



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



 And here are some worse reasons why you shouldn’t marry a crime writer:



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



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 reasons:



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



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



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

Finally, it seems appropriate to finish with the first joke I ever sold, way back in the 1990s:

Recent studies show that approximately 40% of writers are manic depressive.  The rest of us just drink.

Melodie Campbell can be found with a bottle of Southern Comfort in the True North.  You can follow her inane humour at www.melodiecampbell.com



05 May 2019

You'll get yourself killed!


Sint Maarten

About a hundred dog-years ago I visited Sint Maarten, the Dutch half of Saint Martin of the now-dissolved Nederland Antilles. Another couple had attached themselves to me. Unfortunately they were condescending, complaining, and often rude. Fed up, I ventured off on my own. Deeply provoked I dared leave their august company, they shouted after me, “You’ll get yourself killed!”

St. Martin hadn’t yet experienced the gargantuan resorts, the huge hotels, the star-rated restaurants. Its infrastructure consisted of single lane dirt roads meandering among pastures and groves. I loved it.

I came upon a goatling caught in a fence. As I knelt to untangle it, a young girl on a bicycle and then a man and woman stopped to watch. I lifted the goat free and set it over the fence.

“Come,” they said. “Come to our house. Would you like juice, tea?”

Their walls were constructed of foot-thick adobe. They explained its hard-packed ‘mud’, so to speak, kept the interior cool. The front door was a curtain. Except for tourists, the island experienced virtually no crime, so no need for locks. Their kindness dissuaded me from murdering that horribly unlikable couple.



After reading David’s and Eve’s recent articles about traveling, I told my friend Darlene I always knew I wanted to travel although I didn’t know how I’d pull it off. Fortunately consulting provided the ways and means.

David’s love song to Paris reminded me of my much later visit to the city, one that RT Lawton also knows well. It’s a city of light and delight, but some people…



France

In Paris you can send out for cous-cous just like you order pizza. Cous-cous, made from bulgar wheat– the same ingredient in pasta– has a vaguely rice-like texture. Like rice, you top it by selecting a variety of vegetables, meats, and sauces.

“Don’t order in,” I said. “Let’s go out. Let’s visit the restaurant.”

My French friend Micheline agreed, but my colleague James reacted in horror. “You can’t!” he said. "Not at night! Algerians roam the streets and, and Moroccans, and, and Iranians! I read about these foreign hooligans in a magazine.” (The tabloid News of the World, published by Rupert Murdoch.) He finished with, “You’ll get yourself killed!”

He didn’t like cous-cous either, so Micheline and I left him to his own devices as we enjoyed dinner.



Darlene laughed. “I get the feeling those aren’t isolated incidents.”



Barbados

So in Barbados– I love Barbados– my shoe ruptured like a flattened tire. Barbados is 2800 kilometers from Orlando, 1500 nautical miles, maybe 1750 land miles. I needed options. Bridgetown houses a basket market and gimmicks and gadgets for tourists, but not a repair shop, not for tourists. A few questionings later, I learned of a local cobbler.

“I’ll send a bellboy,” said the hotel concierge. “Don’t try it yourself,”

“Why?”

“Well, it’s off the beaten path.”

A hanger-on, Miss Transparent Swimsuit, interrupted. Days earlier, Miss TS discovered her white swimsuit turned invisible when wet. The beach bars and about half the island became aware of this fact when she waded from the water like Venus on her seashell. No one looked until she shrieked, flapped her hands, jumped voluptuously up and down, a fascinating study in the physics of motion dynamics. Subsequently, she decided none of the hotel shop’s bathing costumes quite fit. She continued to bathe in the bay. As other women rolled their eyes, she’d emerge and suddenly rediscover the optics of her wet swimsuit hadn’t changed, thus the name, Miss Transparent Swimsuit. Anyway, she interrupted the concierge.

“Is it dangerous? Finding the shoe guy?”

“Well…”

“Don’t go,” she said firmly, leaning very close. “You’ll get yourself killed.”

If my girlfriend caught another woman’s hand resting on my upper thigh, I could certainly get myself killed. There’s danger and then there’s DANGER.

From the basket market, I left the pavement and strolled up a shady street. Women in their tiny gardens gave me a curious glance. A dog on a doorstep kept an eye on me.

I found the repairman without difficulty. The front of his house extended to shelter his workspace. No need for a signboard when your activity advertised your business.

He looked over my ripped shoe. “Did you bring the other?” he asked.

I had. He studied it.

“Come back in two hours,” he said.

I cut over to another street to see more of the village. After lunch, to the clucks and head-shaking of Miss Transparent Swimsuit and the hotel staff, I revisited the shoe man with my girlfriend.

Not only had the repairman resoled my broken shoe, he’d resoled the other as well.

“Only a matter of time,” he said, “no extra charge. Is two dollars too much?”

I squatted down eye level where he sat.

I said, “I’m not rich, but at home, I would pay much more. I don’t want to offend you, but would you allow me to pay at least a portion I would pay at home?”

He nodded and we shook hands. My girlfriend, a teacher, asked about schools and he directed us to one where we visited a classroom. We felt welcomed.

Miss Transparent Swimsuit represented the only peril. I knew how not to get myself killed.



We North Americans fear the unfamiliar. That’s the main reason I despise the Atlantis resort on Paradise Island.

Darlene said, “Why is that? Don’t they provide hundreds of jobs?”

“Thousands, they claim.”



Bahamas

In the days before the Atlantis, tourists walked the streets of Bridgetown, dining on vegetables or meats wrapped in banana leaves. From little shops you could buy seafood, seashells, deep sea gear, and sea inspired art. Now, instead of the Welcome to Nassau signage, they might as well erect “Dare to visit” signs.

Now, the moment a plane lands or a cruise ship anchors off Nassau, water taxis rush in. Before precious DKNYs touch native soil, the shuttles snatch up travelers with money falling from their pockets and rush them to Paradise Island for surgical removal.

Money and investment have made it possible to visit the Bahamas without actually visiting the Bahamas. Head into town on your own, and cruise directors shout, “You’ll get yourself killed.”

Once upon a time in the Caribbean, locals rode colorful jitneys. I learned about them from my grandmother, these decorated minibus coaches done up with rhinestones and mirrors, carvings and colors, perhaps a boombox and more tassels than a Baha Mar topless floor show.

On a trip, one of my traveling companions demanded steak for dinner. Imagine, we’re surrounded by the ocean’s bountiful, beautiful seafood, and one landlubber insists on dead cow flown in from far-away freakin’ Florida.

“Fine,” I said. “We’re taking the jitney.”

Jaws dropped. “You… You can’t do that. Only the dark…” (our  black waitress rolled her eyes) “er, locals after dark, I mean, by natives, see. Tourists can’t ride them.”

“Go ahead, say it,” I said. “You’ll get yourself killed.”

Our waitress, with more aplomb than a table full of half inebriated tourists, explained anyone can pay 50¢ and can go anywhere without getting killed.

The steak turned out… not so good.

Venezuela

Speaking of steak… (I’ll get there eventually), I found myself in La Guaira, Venezuela, the seaport serving Caracas. Tourists boarded buses into the city, but I heard about the teleférico, a cable car that soared over the mountain into the capital. Tourists frowned at me.

“How do I find it?” I asked.

“Motor coach or taxi,” said the man hawking a tour bus.

A Hispanic woman quietly said, “Take the autobus. It better.”

The gringos rolled their eyes, fully expecting to see my body in the news.

On board, bus passengers smiled. I took an empty seat near the woman who first advised me. After a few minutes driving, someone double-clapped their hands. The bus stopped and let the passenger off.

We drove again. Another passenger double-clapped and more people disembarked.

The woman who suggested the bus pointed to the pull cable, normally used to signal the driver.

“Vandals thought it clever to cut the cables. Now we clap. It works.”

At the teleférico station, we climbed aboard.

The car lifted off. We rose into the sky.

The jungle below unfolded in beauty. We sailed over tropical forest and waterfalls.

Eventually the car pulled to a platform and stopped. Confused, I looked around, seeing only mists and jungle. The woman nudged me.

“Only first third of trip,” she said. “Here comes another car to take you to the peak. At the summit, take another car down into the city.”

Part two of the aerial adventure proved more beautiful than the first. The jungle below has since been designated El Ávila National Park.

From a natural beauty standpoint, the descent into Caracas proved anticlimactic. I ambled through the city. At a lunch counter, I ate damn good beefsteak that would make a gaucho proud.

A woman in a post card stall complained. “Stupid city. Yesterday I rode that tram car all the way to the top. Such a waste, all fog and stupid clouds. Why can’t they do something about that?”

“You’re lucky,” I said knowingly. “You could have got yourself killed.”

“Really?” Her face lit up. “I didn’t know that, and here I am, all safe and sound. Wait until I tell Myra.”

I live to please.

Iceland

When I announced plans to visit Iceland, friends advised the usual. “It’s frickin’ Iceland. What part of ‘ice’ don’t you understand? You’ll get yourself killed. Hey, it could happen.”

Joined by a French journalist, we landed in Keflavik (now Reykjanesbær) hours ahead of the worst blizzard in recorded history. Far-away friends surely believed I’d done it this time.

If Icelanders know anything, it’s ice, cold, and snow. Coming from Minnesota, I’d worn my insulated boots and goose-down parka, so the century’s worst blizzard wasn’t particularly distressing for me. The worst deprivation was having to live on German wines and caviar, considerably cheaper than hamburger. Seafood… Did I mention I love fish? Worst hazard: I risked overeating.



Folks, we’re not talking about wandering through Iraq, Sudan, or Yemen in search of ISIS Daesh. As far as I can tell, Americans believe the rest of the world lurks in dark alleys, waiting for tourists where tourists never go… or something like that.

In the interest of full disclosure, I was once held at knifepoint and another time at gunpoint. That threat happened in… the United States of America. The latter incident occurred here in Orlando. That's a story already told.



USA

Perhaps the saddest incident began after delivering my car to a dealership for servicing. The shop provided a minibus to pick up customers and deliver them to and from. I received the call to pick up my car right at 5pm. Orlando’s Lee Road is no joy during rush hour, but that day an accident on Interstate-4 choked the six-lane thoroughfare.

As the expected ten-minute drive stretched toward infinity, the shuttle driver announced he’d have to pull over and park for the next two hours. He might not be able to deliver us before the shop closed.

“Nonsense,” I said. “Take Kennedy Boulevard.”

A man on the bus said, “Doesn’t that run through Eatonville?”

The sole woman on the bus blanched.

The town of Eatonville, home of famed author Zora Neale Hurston, bills itself as America’s oldest black community. It’s a pretty little town if you’re not fearful of getting yourself killed.

The driver said, “You know the way?”

“Of course.”

The woman started to say, “You’ll get us all k-k-k-…”

“If you know the roads,” said the driver. “Let’s do it.”

The lady flew into action, mobilizing other passengers. “The windows, raise all the windows. Driver, lock the door. And you, don’t you dare roll your eyes.”

With the help of the other three guys, the lady battened down the hatches. They seemed as much excited as fearful, daring to adventure into deepest African-America.

The driver followed Edgewater Drive to Kennedy and swung right. We passed barbecue and crab restaurants, a clinic, stores, and a repair shop. Above us at the I-4 overpass, sirens whooped as ambulances, police, tow-trucks, and fire engines struggled through traffic.

As we entered Eatonville’s town center, our passengers stared in awe, apparently surprised we weren’t assailed by by crack-pushin’ gang-bangers waving Glock 9 knockoffs. Traffic came to a standstill from commuters who’d thought of the same escape route.

“Turn right,” I said.

“No!” said the woman. “Where are you taking us?”

“This side street and a left will bring us out right at the dealership.”

After double-checking the windows, the lady– I swear this is true– pressed her face against the glass to see what might be seen. Possibly she expected rap artists gunning down one another on the back alleys. To the surprise of many, we made it without a single Mad Max style takedown.

That evening at the dinner table, I’m convinced fellow travellers told trembling tales of the idiot risk-taker who directed them through darkest Eatonville.

“That fool! That crazy fool. He almost got ourselves killed!”

Eatonville, Florida
Eatonville, Florida © VisitFlorida.com

27 April 2019

Murder at the Crime Writing Awards (With the usual 'pee first' warning - see bottom)


Someone slipped up and made me a finalist in two categories for the Arthur Ellis Awards for Crime Writing this year (The B-Team, Novella, and A Ship Called Pandora, short story.)  Naturally, I’m up against some of the best (here’s looking at you, yet again, Twist Phalen.) 

By strange coincidence, I’m also emceeing the awards on May 23.  Which goes to show how truly confusing we can be in Canada.  Because you see, in days of yore (ten to three years ago) I was the one organizing the gala, along with a team of truly wonderful but sweetly innocent individuals who had no idea what they were signing up for. 

The short list announcement yesterday got me thinking about my first time organizing the event.  I believe this may have also been my first post on Sleuthsayers.  Yes, that many years ago.  Time for a revisit.  Warning: This is nonfiction. I swear. 

MURDER AT THE CRIME WRITING AWARDS
Okay, I haven’t done it yet.  But I may soon.

I’m the Executive Director of a well-known crime writing association.  This means I am also responsible for the Arthur Ellis Awards, Canada’s annual crime writing awards night, and the resulting banquet.

I’ve planned hundreds of special events in my career as a marketing professional.  I’ve managed conferences with 1000 people attending, scarfing down three meals a day.  Usually, we offer a few choices, and people choose what they want.  They’re pretty good about that.  People sit where they want.  Simple.

Granted, most of my events have been with lab techs, doctors, nurses, and other health care professionals. 

It is not the same with authors.  Nothing is simple with authors. 

THE SEATING ARRANGEMENT
A can’t sit with B, because A is in competition with B for Best Novel.  C can’t sit with D because C is currently outselling D.  E can’t sit with F because they had an affair (which nobody knows about.  Except they do.  At least, the seven people who contacted me to warn me about this knew.) G can’t sit with H because G’s former agent is at that table and they might kill each other.  And everyone wants to sit with J.

THE MENU
The damned meal is chicken.  This is because we are allowed two choices and we have to provide for the vegetarians.  We can’t have the specialty of the house, lamb, because not everyone eats lamb.  We can’t have salmon as the vegetarian choice, because some vegetarians won’t eat fish.

So we’re stuck with chicken again.

P writes that her daughter is lactose intolerant.  Can she have a different dessert?

K writes that she is vegetarian, but can’t eat peppers.  Every damned vegetarian choice has green or red pepper in it.

L writes that she wants the chicken, but is allergic to onion and garlic.  Can we make hers without?

M writes that her daughter is a vegan, so no egg or cheese, thanks.  Not a single vegetarian choice comes that way.

I am quickly moving to the “you’re getting chicken if I have to shove it down your freaking throat” phase.

Chef is currently threatening the catering manager with a butcher’s knife.  I am already slugging back the cooking wine.  And by the time people get here, this may be a Murder Mystery dinner.

Postscript:
Nobody got murdered, but a few got hammered.  


Melodie Campbell’s caper novella The B-Team has been shortlisted for the Arthur Ellis Award.  You can pick it up for a steal (sic) at Amazon, B&N, Chapters, and all the usual suspects.  Even Walmart, because we’re a class act.  Sometimes even Zehrs.  I’ll stop now.

 The 'pee first' warning is given when humorous material follows.  'Nuf said.
 

20 November 2018

Putting the Happy in Happy Thanksgiving


It's two days until Thanksgiving, and I bet some of you are stressed. Maybe it's because you're cooking and ... it's the first time you're hosting, and you want it to be perfect. Or your mother-in-law is coming, and your turkey never lives up to hers. Or the weatherman is predicting snow on Thanksgiving and you're afraid that your relatives won't show up ... or maybe that they will.
Or maybe your stress stems from being a guest. Are you an introvert, dreading a day of small talk with the extended family? A picky eater, going to the home of a gourmet who makes food way to fancy for your tastes? Or are you a dieter, going to the home of someone who likes to push food and you're likely to spend the day going, "no thanks, no rolls for me," "no thanks, no candied yams for me," "no thanks, no cookies for me," ... "dear lord, lady, what part of no thanks don't you get?"

No matter who you are, or what your situation, Thanksgiving can cause stress. The best way to deal with stress is laughter. And that's where I come in. So set down that baster and get ready to smile, because I've got some fictional characters who've had a worse Thanksgiving than you.

Paul and Jamie Buchman from Mad About You
 

They tried so hard to make the perfect dinner ... only to have their dog, Murray, eat the turkey.


Rachel Green from Friends


All she wanted was to cook a nice dessert for her friends ... only to learn too late that she wasn't supposed to put beef in the trifle. It did not taste good.


The Gang from Cheers 


Those poor Thanksgiving orphans. They waited hours for a turkey that just wouldn't cook ... only to then suffer the indignity of being involved in a food fight. (For anyone who's ever read my story "Biscuits, Carats, and Gravy," this Cheers episode was the inspiration.)


Debra Barone from Everybody Loves Raymond


She was determined to have a happy Thanksgiving despite her overly critical mother-in-law ... only to drop her uncooked turkey on the floor three times before flinging it into the oven. Yum.



Arthur Carlson from WKRP in Cincinnati




He wanted to create the greatest promotion ever, inviting the public to a shopping mall and providing free turkeys ... live ones ... only to learn too late that turkeys don't fly so when you toss them out of a helicopter from 2,000 feet in the air they hit the ground like sacks of wet cement.


Garner Duffy from "Bug Appétit"


All this con man wanted for Thanksgiving was to eat some good food at his mark's home before stealing her jewelry ... only to learn too late that her mother is an ... inventive cook. ("Bug Appétit" is my story in the current (November/December) issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine. I'm so pleased to have heard from several readers who enjoyed it, including one who called it "hilarious.")

So, dear readers, I hope you're smiling and feeling less stressed. If you'd like to read my story, you could pick up a copy of the current EQMM, available in some Barnes and Noble and Books-A-Million bookstores, as well as in an electronic version. You can find more information about getting the magazine here. The issue also has a story from SleuthSayer alum David Dean that I'm sure you'll enjoy.) As to the TV episodes mentioned above, I bet you can find them all online.

Until next time, please share your favorite funny turkey day story (fictional or real) in the comments. Happy Thanksgiving!

09 November 2018

The Power of Prepositions


Far away and four times a thousand and one nights ago, this tale appeared in Criminal Brief. Dial in a little Rimsky-Korsakov and read on.


The Power of Prepositions
by Leigh Lundin

Aladdin was getting along in years and found that he was unable to pitch a tent as he had done in his youth. Smart as well as lucky, Aladdin still had his magic lamp and, frugal with his wishes, he had one wish left.
He rubbed his lamp and the génie appeared. Aladdin begged him, “My camel can no longer thread the needle. Can you cure my erectile impotence?”
Genie said, “I can whisk away your problem.” With that, he rubbed his hands, evoking a puff of billowing blue smoke. Genie said, “I’ve dealt you a powerful spell, but at your age, you’ll be able to invoke it only once a year.”
“How do I use it?” asked Aladdin.
“All you have to do is say ‘one, two, three,’ and it shall rise for as long as you wish, but only once a year.”
Aladdin asked, “What happens when I’m exhausted and I no longer want to continue?”
Genie replied, “All you or your lady has to say is ‘one, two, three, four,’ and it will fade like a Sahara sunset. But be warned: the spell will not work again for another year.”
Aladdin galloped home, eager to try out his new powers of the flesh. That evening, Aladdin bathed away the dust of the desert and scented himself with oil of exotic myrrh. He climbed into bed where his resigned wife lay turned away, about to slip into Scheherazadic dreams.
Aladdin took a deep breath and said, “One, two, three.” Instantly, he became more aroused than he ever had in youth, a magnificent happenstance of tree-trunk proportions.
His wife, hearing Aladdin’s words, rolled back toward him and said, “What did you say ‘one, two, three,’ for?”
And that, dear readers, is why you should not end a sentence with a preposition.

27 October 2018

Just in Time for Hallowe'en! Books I will Never Write Part 1: Dino Porn


Apparently, I have been sounding too normal these days.  There have been complaints. The following is an attempt to rectify that.

People pay money for the weirdest reads.  Don't believe me?

DINOSAUR PORN

Yes, you heard that right.  This is a 'thing.'  No, I don't mean porn that randy male dinosaurs might read, involving somewhat sassy females of the same species who like a good time.  Last I checked, dinosaurs couldn't read.  Not even the urban ones.

But I'm not here to talk about that.  I'm not even going to talk about the weirdness of someone wanting to *write* about sexual relations between a human of today and a creature that might possibly have become extinct during an ice storm back in the good old days.  All writers are weird.  Some are more weird than others (thank you, George Orwell.)

Nope.  I'm here to talk about the blatant inequality in the dinosaur porn field.  Not only that, in ALL areas of human/not-even-remotely-human erotica.

Don't believe me?  Have you noticed that all these erotic books that star humans and some other race like Vampires or Werewolves or Aliens or Ducks (hey - has it been done?) always feature a girl with the Vampire or Werewolf?  Or in our case, a girl with the T-Rex?

Why is it always that way around?  Never do you see a young man being pursued by, say, a randy female dino.  I have to assume female dinos are more discriminating.

So in the interests of fair play, just in time for Hallowe'en, I offer my version of Dino porn.

It might go like this:

"La, la, lalalala, la, lala, la la..." <innocent young female stegosaurus frolics among the Precambrian (whatever) wild-flowers, unaware that she is about to be approached from behind>

"Hey hey," says health male homo sapien, who obviously time-traveled here from another era.  "You on Tinder, babe?"

"Tinder?" says Steggy-gal, unfamiliar with the vernacular.  "Isn't this a grassland?"


"How about I just show you my equipment?" says creepy guy, who might possibly be blind.  "I'll just take it out here...oops, no.  That's my phone."

"Oh! There's a butterfly!" says Steggy-gal, easily distracted.

"HA," says creep, lining up to do the dirty.  "Bet ya never had it like THIS before!"

"Gee, these flies are a nuisance," says Steggy, batting the annoyance away with her spiked tale.  "Why do they always hang around THAT end..."

"YEOOOOOOOW"

Okay, enough pastiche-ing around.  It's discimination, pure and simple.  Okay, maybe not pure.  And possibly more complicated than simple.  All those extra bits.  Which reminds me.  Girl with a Squid comes out in 2019.

Melodie Campbell writes some pretty wild comedy.  She even gets paid to do it, by poor unsuspecting publishers.  Check out her many series at www.melodiecampbell.com


07 October 2018

Talking Turkey


Tomorrow Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving and, in case you wondered, Liberia celebrates Thanksgiving the first Thursday in November. The time or place matters little to bachelors who celebrate the holiday much the same no matter when or where.

A Bachelor Thanksgiving
in honour of the Canadian holiday
arrangement in ironic pentameter
by deservedly anonymous


Thanksgiving cornucopia
I think I shall never sniff
A poem as lovely as a whiff
Of turkey and mashed po—
tatoes and frozen snow–

Peas in vast disproportion
As I gulp another portion.
Cranberry sauce, count me a fan,
Maintains the shape of the can.

Cheap beer and cheaper whiskey
Makes the shallow heart grow frisky.
Three litre jugs of screw-capped wine
First tastes horrible, then tastes fine.

Deli turkey, cellophane wrapped.
Processed ham and all that crap.
Sherbet, ice cream, anything frozen,
Packaged cupcakes by the dozen,

Ruffled chips and onion dip,
Reddi-Wip and Miracle Whip,
Maple frosting found in tins
Hide the worst culinary sins.

Seven-fifty millilitres of
Grain vodka labeled Scruitov,
Cheap brandy and cheaper beer
First smells awful, then tastes queer.

Pumpkin pie and store-bought cake,
Anything I need not bake.
If it’s boxed, if it’s canned,
I’m no gourmet, only gourmand.

Chorus    

Baseball, football on the TV.
One spilt bowl of poutine gravy.
This little poem with each verse,
I give thanks if it grows no worse.
vintage post card wreath turkey

vintage post card children, turkey, pumpkin

We admit nothing except Happy Thanksgiving. Graphics courtesy of Antique Images, The Holiday Spot, and Spruce Crafts.