Tuesday 26 November 2013

John Daniel brings Coals to Newcastle, but they Sparkle like Diamonds!

It's my pleasure to introduce crime writer John Daniel to the Bad Girl Blog.  (Every now and then, we allow a Bad Boy on these pages.  John qualifies.)

What’s sss ho fuf, fuf, funny about the way I tut, tut, alk?
by John Daniel

I feel as if I’m bringing coals to Newcastle, and my coals are like…well, like coals, compared to the comedic diamonds that sparkle in Melodie Campbell’s hilarious Goddaughter books. Nevertheless, I have a few things to say on the subject of humorous storytelling, so here goes.

Laugh, and the world laughs with you. Write funny, and readers will beg for more. About this rib-tickling subject I couldn’t be more serious. And, on a serious note, here are three things I believe about writing humorous fiction.

1. Humor is a response to pain. Face the fact that humor bubbles to the surface through a soup of sorrow, suffering, cruelty, loneliness, and anger. Don’t believe me? What humorous writer makes you laugh the loudest? Woody Allen? Nora Ephron? David Sedaris? Read their stories again and notice how much their humor is based on neuroses, love gone wrong, and family dysfunction.

2. Humor must engage the brain. Remember, your stories do not come with a laugh track. You may trade on the familiar, but make the story your own by being original, being honest, and avoiding gimmicks and clichés. Use irony. Irony flexes the mind.

3. Humor should serve a higher purpose. We may tend to consider humor fluff, lightweight, as unnecessary as M&Ms, as disposable as Kleenex. Well, a funny can be as forgettable as all that, but it doesn’t have to be. If you’re going to tell a funny story, find a story that matters, that might make the world a tiny bit better.

Bonus rule. Having reread my last sentence, I’m compelled to add, “Lighten up.” Yes, humor, in spite of its painful origin, its intellect, and its moral purpose, should be fun. To entertain is to serve a higher purpose. So make your stories fun to read, enjoy writing for the fun of writing, and while you’re at it, practice the fine, fun art of laughter. The good news is that humor lightens the load and gets us through. A little laughing gas can make you enjoy the drilling of a tooth.

In my new novel, Hooperman: A Bookstore Mystery, one of the sources of humor is speech disorder. Speech impediments are not funny to anybody who lives with one. But for some reason, speech disorder makes people laugh. Think of Warner Brothers cartoons: Porky Pig stammers, Elmer Fudd can’t pronounce L’s or R’s, Sylvester and Daffy both lisp (wetly), Bugs has a nasal twang, and so forth. 

In Hooperman, the main character, Hoop Johnson, has a dreadful, crippling stutter. Another character, Martin West, has a neurological disorder, similar to Tourette Syndrome, that liberally sprinkles his speech with scatological profanity—barnyard cusswords. Do these two guys think speech disorder is funny?

Funny as a rubber crutch.

Here’s a brief excerpt from a scene with Hoop and Martin.

            “You remember that? How cuh,can you buh,be shhh…sure?”
            “You think because I talk weird, horse**** pig**** and like that, I’m automatically stupid? Horse**** pig****?” Nodded, shook his head, nodded again. Shook his head again. “Huh?”
            Hoop laughed out loud.
            “Funny? You think it’s horse****? You think it’s funny?”
            “Fuh,funny? Shhhh…hit, yes! Fuh,fuh,fuh… hilarious!”
            Martin snarled for a minute, then let his mouth grow into a wide-open grin. “Rat**** bat**** cat**** gnat****!” he said, and laughed. “Couple of horse**** crazies, huh? You and me? Horse****!”
            Hoop clapped his hands and laughed out loud. “Cuck razy and duh, dumb. We;re duh,duh,dumbells!”
            But the laughter quickly died down.…
Book synopsis
Hooperman: A Bookstore Mystery celebrates the joy of books and bookselling and also explores the many ways people get into trouble—deadly serious trouble—when they fail to communicate.
Hooperman Johnson is a tall, bushy-bearded man of few words. He works as a bookstore cop, catching shoplifters in the act. It’s a difficult job for a man with a severe stammer, but somebody’s got to do it, because Maxwell’s Books is getting ripped off big-time. And, more and more, it looks like the thief works for the store.

Set in the summer of 1972, the summer of the Watergate break-in, Hooperman is a bookstore mystery without a murder, but full of plot, full of oddball characters, full of laughs, and full of love, some of it poignant, some of it steamy.

“Pleasant and unusually good-natured, this novel from Daniel harkens back to a time when printed books mattered and an independent bookstore could be a social club for passionately eccentric bibliophiles.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review
For more info, including how to order: http://www.danielpublishing.com/jmd/hooperman.html

Author bio
(photo by Clark Lohr)
John M. Daniel is a lifelong bibliophile, having worked in eight bookstores. He’s also the author of fourteen published books, including the well-reviewed Guy Mallon Mystery Series. He lives among the redwoods in Humboldt County, California, with Susan Daniel, his wife and partner. They publish mystery fiction under the imprint Perseverance Press (Daniel & Daniel).


  1. Posting for James Callan

    Great post, John. Particularly for those of us who write mysteries or suspense. We tend to forget the importance of humor. (Well, at least I do.) I'm going to tack this up on my bulletin board to remind me to include a good dose of humor. Thanks. And thanks, Melodie, for sharing John's post with us.

  2. Thank you, Jim. I think some humor enlivens mystery and suspense fiction--even if it's graveyard humor!

  3. I don't think there's anything more difficult than writing humor that will appeal to a wide audience. What one finds humorous another will deem silly. Still, I think you've offered some good advice on goals to seek in writing humor.

    1. I agree, John, that it's hard to write funny for a large audience. I guess the best we can do is to laugh at ourselves and hope we can amuse others that way.

  4. I've run a few humor writing workshops but know that you really can't teach humor. Not even Woody, Nora or David could teach humor writing. You can share humor that you've read and the humor that comes, provoked or not, out of your mouth, but it just comes, if you're lucky, Lighten up is a great message to post on the wall, however, or to keep in mind, depending on what your writing. I love the three points you make here, John, and will hold on to them.

    1. You're right, Eileen. The best humor is the kind that seems to arrive of its own accord.

  5. I don't write comedy, but I do write with humour and it's because of the three rules you beautifully explain.

    1. In pain? Doesn't matter if it's physical or emotional; humour is a great analgesic.

    2. To quote Jean Racine — 'Life is a comedy to those who think, a tragedy to those who feel.' (Also, it helps to think that your audience must be stupid if they don't get your great jokes.)

    3. I've been in situations where I've felt like the court jester. If I didn't get my point across with humour, it would have been "off with 'er 'ead!" (And that was just my mother.)

    They say, "write what you know". That's what I know.

    1. Alison, I think it's wise to write what you know. If that means laughing at oneself a bit, all the better!

  6. I write funny mysteries but I don't sit down and think, "I'm going to make a joke here." The humor comes out of the situation, usually with my hero caught in a death trap or he's embarrassed by something.. Also, a humorous book needs some serious moments to make it real or else it's just a joke book. Life is not non-stop funny. Thanks for the post..

    1. I agree with you, Sally. Humorous books need serious moments, for balance. The writer has to pause every now and then and say, "But seriously, folks…"

  7. I also write humorous cozy mysteries andahve found it's a dangerous thing to do. If a reader shares your sense of humor, then he or she will love the book. But if not, a reader may hate it.

    I've also read that a laugh temporarily wipes out memory. Someone said that's a good thing. Maybe people will forget they read the book and buy it again.

    Really a great post about humor, I think, but I don't remember it. I'll read it again.

    1. Good points, Lesley. I'll try to remember them. Wish me luck.

  8. Sally, I like to make a distinction between books that are comedies (where the purpose is to generate laughs) and books that are mysteries first, but with some humour in them.. I think John writes books with good-natured humour in them.

    Leslie, what you say is so true. I teach humour-writing at college, and the one think I have learned is that humour needs context. Your background will often determine if you find something funny or not. Nice ending to your post :)

    Thanks to both of you for commenting!