Readers of the Bad Girl Blog know that I celebrate all kinds of humour, from the broad comedy of my Goddaughter series, to the quirky humour that can tumble into a book unexpectedly and delight us all.
My friend and fellow Mesdames Lisa de Nikolits writes on the literary end of the scale. I invite you to read the following excerpt from The Nearly Girl, and then below it, her engaging post, "How Characters Create their own Brand of Funny." As always, I am astonished and delighted by Lisa's honesty and unique style. Enjoy!
Excerpt from The Nearly Girl, by Lisa de Nikolits
Dr. Carroll looked around the room. “There was a lot of violence in this room last week— …. But wait, where’s Whitney and Joanne?”
“Having sex in the toilet,” Alexei said, morosely. “I was nothing to her. I was just sex that meant nothing. And look at her, a fat housewife, and me, I have such beauty.” He growled to show his manhood and his displeasure.
“They’re still in there?” Dr. Carroll looked at his watch. “Who’s going to go and get them this time?”
“I will,” Alexei jumped to his feet but Dr. Carroll leapt up and blocked his path.
“Not a good idea”, he said. “Time for you to do the opposite thing. I am sure you want to hit them—”
“I want to kill them!”
“So you are going to do the opposite thing. You are going to sit down and forgive them and love them and wish them happiness. Look at it like this: you’re a spectacular specimen of manhood. You could get any girl you want, why get hung up on a middle-aged neurotic woman?”
“Because I love her! And she loves me! I thought she would leave her husband and be with me and we would have sex with each other six times a day and have babies and be happy.”
“You can be as happy with somebody else,” Dr. Carroll insisted.
“Six times a day,” Shannon murmured, and she sat up straighter in her chair.
“The only trouble is,” Alexei said pointedly to Shannon, “I like blondes. Be a blonde next week and maybe we can try.”
Shannon looked like she was ready to leave right then and there to go and address the issue of her hair at the nearest hairdresser’s.
“Sit down, Shannon,” Dr. Carroll said tiredly. “I’ll go and get them. Please, everyone, sit still and wait, preferably in silence.”
Mike took hold of Amelia’s hand again and they sat there, contentedly silent.
Alexei gave a few low growls now and then while Ainsley told Persephone about how worried she was that someone would cut off her finger in a McDonald’s in order to steal her ring.
“Any luck with the hoarding?” Shannon asked Angelina who sighed.
“I tried to gather a tiny bag — just one little plastic bag and fill it with junk and throw it out. It took me two days to get the bag filled. And then I couldn’t throw it away. I put it in a corner of my bedroom and left it there.”
“It’s good that you tried.”
“That’s nice of you to say so, honey, but it’s not the truth. I’ve done that before and in fact, even better. I can package the stuff up but I can’t give it away.”
“What do you think will happen if you do give it away?”
“I feel like I will go crazy unless I get it back.”
“Angelina, we don’t use the expression ‘go crazy’,” Dr. Carroll said, returning to the room with Whitney and Joanne in tow. “We say ‘experience a psychotic break’.”
“Yeah, that’s got a much more sympathetic ring to it,” Persephone said. “Certainly reassures me.”
“Deconstruct the term ‘go crazy’.” Dr. Carroll said. “What do you think it means? It means that your psyche loses touch with reality. In other words, your psyche experiences a breakdown. Going crazy is such a loose phrase. It can encompass so many of the mild and ordinary sins of daily life.
“Now,” he said, “I do want to check in with all of you, but first I’d like us to meditate. We need to lower the anger level and lower the testosterone in the room. We need try to dispel the feelings of blame and self-hatred. To this end, we shall empty our minds and hearts and we shall focus upon a lowly piece of fruit. We will engage our energies in studying this mild-mannered unsung hero:, the crone of the vineyards, the wrinkled doyen of the magisterial court; behold, the raisin!”
“I hate raisins,” Mike spoke up, and was soon supported by David, Shannon, and Persephone.
“Come now,” Dr. Carroll raised his eyebrows. “Are you not open to new experiences albeit it with old partners? Do not make the mistake in life that each encounter with an individual will be the same. Give your friendships with food and men and women more credence than that. Each time you meet a person, or a dish of food, or even a book you’ve read many times before, say, ‘hello Hello new friend, what lessons can you teach me today?’”
Alexei gave a snort. “I sure was surprised last week,” he said, glaring at Whitney. “She gutted me like a fish, no mercy, no care. That was a new surprise. You got that right.”
“Let’s move on,” Dr. Carroll said. “One day, Alexei, you will thank Whitney for what she did. You embraced sex rather than anger and that was good. But then you got too attached to the specific host of the sexual experience as opposed to discovering that the sexual experience is a transcendent act that unites the yin and yang of our human selves. You need to let go of attachment, and find the opposite of that, and the opposite of attachment is love and forgiveness. You see how everything is leading you away from anger and hate?”
“You talk so much!” Alexei moaned, his head in his hands. “I can’t listen to so many words, you’re killing me!”
“No more talking, at least for a while,” Dr. Carroll assured him. “Time to meditate and find new meaning in old things. Everybody, hold out your hands.”
How characters create their own brand of funny.
by Lisa De Nikolits
I am not a funny writer. I am not a funny person. And if I am, I am funny by mistake. I feel that I lack a sense of humour in general – I am always the last one to catch the joke and most of the time, the joke has to be explained to me. I avoid watching comedies because I find them stressful – the level of chaos upsets me and I just want the misunderstandings and disasters to be over and done with and for everything to be alright! Also, the pressure to get a joke and laugh — it’s all too much!
I do enjoy reading comedy (I love Melodie’s books!) but even reading humorous books makes me feel tense – I get far more stressed and anxious reading something funny, than a fast-pace thriller with axe-wielding murderers rushing about, which I actually find quite relaxing!
But this book, The Nearly Girl, remarkably, is funny. Well, parts of it are. There are parts that are heartbreaking and while I never fail to laugh at the funny bits, the heartbreaking parts leave me equally as moved, no matter how many times I read them.
Shortly before the book goes to press, the author has read and reread the work countless times and sometimes one does weary of that but it never happened with this novel; each time I started The Nearly Girl, I was just delighted to be hanging out with the characters and it never got old.
And at one point, during the edits, my editor Luciana Ricciutelli commented that a certain chapter was absolutely hilarious and I was so happy – it wasn’t just me who thought it was funny!
So, some of the characters in this book do crack me up but since I don’t set out with the goal of trying to make them funny, it’s an interesting question as to where it comes from, that element of humour.
As a writer, I am very character-driven and therefore to a large degree, the characters shape the plot and, of course, the tone of the dialogue. I have a vague outline of a story when I start out but the characters dictate the action and the outcome of the story.
The characters all come from somewhere, there is always something that sparks them off and mvery first inspiration for The Nearly Girl came about in 1984.
1984 was, as those of you who were around at that time would agree, a stellar year for shoulder pads, Bananarama, Wham! (yes, still with George Michael), Billy Ocean and Bryan Adams’ Summer of ’69. TV shows were all fired up: Magnum, P.I., Dynasty, Falcon Crest, Hill Street Blues, Cheers, Knight Rider and The A-Team. Cindy Crawford, Elle Macpherson, Brooke Shields and my own personal fav, Paulina Porizkova, were hot on the covers of Elle and Marie Claire. Hair was big, jeans were pleated and the fashions will never see a revival, as dreadful as they were but there’s no doubt, we were living large and loving every moment!
And none of that has anything to do with The Nearly Girl.
But one book did. The Dice Man. Penned by George Cockcroft under the pen name of Luke Rhinehart, the novel is about a psychiatrist who makes decisions for himself and his patients according to the cast of the dice. Hailed as a cult classic that would change your life, it did change mine. I read it in 1984 and it made me want to write a book of my own with a crazed psychiatrist with his own therapeutic methods of treatment.
My own exploration of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (a core theme in The Nearly Girl) came about when I was trying to untangle my issues with insomnia and claustrophobia. This led to the creation of my character Dr. Frances Carroll and his therapy called D.T.O.T. which is Do The Opposite Thing.
And one day, mulling over my problem(s) and feeling super-annoyed with myself for having said problems, I snapped at myself – ‘just stop it! Just do the opposite thing and you will be cured! Just sleep! Just get in elevators, just go on subways, just get on planes!’
Of course, not being a qualified therapist, this did not achieve the desired result BUT it did spawn my dearly beloved Dr. Frances Carroll of The Nearly Girl, and he is one of my favourite characters to date.
Such a nutter! And yet, so funny. Well, I think he is hilarious and I hope readers will too but I shouldn’t set expectations about the book in any shape or form – some readers may find him dangerous, or annoying and think he should be locked up. All of these observations would also be correct.
I imagined Paul Giamatti as the good doctor and it was a combination of his character in Sideways and Barney’s Version that came together in my mind.
There are other characters too, who add to the humour; Alexei, the anger-filled hunky Russian, Whitney, the sex-crazed middle-aged housewife, and Gino who really wanted to be called Gina and dress up in his mother’s clothing.
Readers, I have no idea if you will find the book to be funny. Either way, I hope you will let me know, I’d love to hear what you think.
Originally from South Africa, Lisa de Nikolits has lived in Canada since 2000. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature and Philosophy and has lived in the U.S.A., Australia and Britain. Lisa lives and writes in Toronto. The Nearly Girl is her sixth novel. Previous works include: The Hungry Mirror (2011 IPPY Awards Gold Medal for Women's Issues Fiction and long-listed for a ReLit Award); West of Wawa (2012 IPPY Silver Medal Winner for Popular Fiction and a Chatelaine Editor's Pick); A Glittering Chaos (tied to win the 2014 Silver IPPY for Popular Fiction); The Witchdoctor’s Bones launched in Spring 2014 to literary acclaim. Between The Cracks She Fell was reviewed by the Quill & Quire, was on the recommended reading lists for Open Book Toronto and 49th Shelf. Between The Cracks She Fell was also reviewed by Canadian Living magazine and called ‘a must-read book of 2015’. Between The Cracks She Fell won a Bronze IPPY Award 2016 for Contemporary Fiction. No Fury Like That is scheduled to be published in 2017 and Rotten Peaches in 2018. All books by Inanna Publications.
Lisa has a short story in Postscripts To Darkness, Volume 6, 2015, and flash fiction and a short story in the debut issue of Maud.Lin House as well as poetry in the Canadian Women Studies Journal (Remembering, 2013, and Water, 2015). Her short stories have also appeared on Lynn Crosbie’s site, Hood and the Jellyfish Review. She has a short story coming out in the anthology PAC’HEAT, a Ms. Pac-Man noir collection and a short story in the Sisters In Crime anthology, November 2016, The Whole She-Bang 3.
Author website: www.lisadenikolitswriter.com
Facebook Author Page: https://www.facebook.com/lisadenikolitsauthor
Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com - Lisa de Nikolits
Instagram: http://www.instagram.com @lisadenikolits
The Mesdames of Mayhem: http://mesdamesofmayhem.com/about/
Pinterest: Inspiration for The Nearly Girl http://bit.ly/2cCYgs1
YouTube: Book Trailer for The Nearly Girl: http://bit.ly/28QcQt4
Where to buy the book:
In local stores in Canada:
• Chapters/Indigo: http://bit.ly/2cv0RDS
(I hope the Amazons will be working, sometimes they really lag after the book has been launched – but the Inanna link always works).
• Amazon.com - http://amzn.to/2cXE4kZ
• Amazon.ca - http://amzn.to/2cXDvYg
• Inanna.ca - http://bit.ly/2cSdM4M