"The notion that such persons are gay of heart and carefree is curiously untrue. They lead, as a matter of fact, an existence of jumpiness and apprehension. They sit on the edge of the chair of Literature. In the house of Life they have the feeling that they have never taken off their overcoats."
- James Thurber, My Life and Hard Times

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Humor workshop, anyone?

If you've noticed my calendar of events, you'll see that I'm at the Southern California Writer's Conference in September, which is, like, a month away. I've been going to these conferences since 2006, and I've sung their praises lots of times, but this year, I'm actually teaching a workshop.

I'm so stoked!

The workshop is called, "Funny How? How am I Funny? (And How to Write it)" As you can guess, it's about writing humor. The name of the workshop came out of a website called "I Write Like". You plug in a sample of your writing and it tells you what author you write like. I submitted a paragraph from Freezer Burn and was told I write like Mark Twain. Then I submitted a paragraph from my weekly humor column and was told I write like Mario Puzo.


If you don't know, or don't want to bother with the whole click-on-his-name-thingy, Mario Puzo wrote a lot of Mafia-related books, including The Godfather. Hmm... my sense of humor is akin to The Last Don... all I could think of was Joe Pesci in Goodfellas.

"... like I amuse you? What do you mean funny, funny how? How am I funny?"

I think this is just before he shoots someone.

So the goal of my workshop is to spell out some of the pitfalls of writing humor and suggest some solutions for punching up your punchline. Ha ha - get it? I'm in the process of organizing the flow of the workshop and I think I've got the material I want to cover, but I'm wondering:

1. Should I have charts or drawings, like PowerPoint or something? I'd rather not hand out copies of things, since I do believe in Save Paper, Save the World, but I could plug in some e-charts and offer to email them to people, or even post them on my blog or website.

2. The workshop is 90 minutes long, and I'd like to engage the participants in some kind of exercise after I get finished blabbing. My thoughts are to either see if anyone is struggling with a specific piece of their humor writing and have a group session on how to fix what might be wrong, or to have everyone work individually on some of the points I'll be making, or to give them a humorous situation and have them write it up in their own style. Any preferences?

3. Here's the other thing about the workshop: It's on Sunday morning, at 9 a.m. This is after Saturday night's banquet and subsequent late-night sessions. There may be some comatose folks - should I offer coffee and donuts? I mean, there's nothing like bribing your audience, right?

Any thoughts, writers and readers?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Calling all readers

I know, I know, it's been a coupla weeks since I posted anything, although I have been writing. Just not blogging.

So, as Mr. Monk would say, here's what happened:

I finished the second book and dutifully set it aside while I started putting together a book of my newspaper columns. Everyone knows I write a weekly column, yes? It's in the Placentia News-Times, which is a subsidiary or something of the Orange County Register. So, anyway, instead of slapping a bunch of columns in and putting them into categories, I built it as a memoir of my first few years as a columnist. I've named it, "What Would Erma Do? Confessions of a First-Time Humor Columnist". I'm working with a guy on the cover art and getting it ready for self-publishing.

Now, back to the mystery novel... I printed it out and took it with me on vacation, where I ran through the first edits. Here's what I've got so far - it's clean. It reads smoothly. It goes from start to end without confusion. The characters are solid. The dialogue is real.

Here's what I don't know - is it a GOOD story? Is it compelling? Is the plot too convoluted? Are there any deux ex machina moments I've ignored because I wanted things to come together in a particular way? Have I missed any opportunities to tell a better, more complete tale?

So I'm trolling for beta readers. Would anyone out there like to be my guinea pig? If so, here's what I need from you:

1. Be specific in your notes. "I don't like it," doesn't tell me how to fix it.
2. Be kind. Only because I think this world would be so much better if everyone was kinder.

The title is "Hit or Missus". Here's my first draft at the jacket blurb.

Former housecleaner Peri Minneopa thinks her new job as a private investigator should consist of quiet days doing background searches and low-risk surveillance. Her latest case is a normal one: a husband suspects his wife is cheating, and hires Peri to get to the truth. As soon as she starts working, however, she finds herself on the wrong end of the investigation, as the hunted instead of the hunter. The threats alarm her enough, but when the bodies start piling up, she must decide whether this case, and this career, is what she had in mind.

If you're interested in reading the whole story, shoot me an email with either your email address, if you prefer a soft copy, or your postal address if you want a hard copy.


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