How to Write a Humorous Book (a not-very-serious version)

An Author Guest Post by Marc Jedel

People always ask me about my writing process for my humorous murder mystery series. They’re interested in how I get the ideas and how these turn into a novel. “Magic,” I tell them, but that rarely suffices. Some authors seem to swim in an endless pool of plots and characters, effortlessly plucking out one plot twist or character arc after another until they’ve burned through their keyboard.

Not me.

So how does it work for me?

Research. That’s a fancy term for my process. I start by collecting funny anecdotes, interesting people or snatches of overheard conversations. Back in the days when I used to leave my house, I would add notes to my phone about what I saw in daily life. (Don’t worry if you see me hanging around now, I’ll be wearing a mask.) I also change the names and exaggerate—or combine—the incidents to protect the guilty.

Over the last few years, I’ve noticed that I pay much more attention to my surroundings than I ever did. I also have become more willing to approach strangers and ask them questions. Who’d have expected that the solitary life of a writer would make me more social?

Plot. As plot ideas smack me in the face, I jot them down before I forget. My extensive study of bestselling books clearly highlighted the importance of having a plot. All those other successful authors must be on to something. I try to come up with ideas for challenges to throw at Marty (my protagonist) and then think about how he might solve the case despite those problems through his powers of self-delusion, attention to detail, and the inability to leave a coherent voicemail message.

Characters. Once I developed the concepts for a few of my regular characters, I find myself wondering how to make life more difficult for them during the course of the book and how they’d react to unexpected situations. Having my novels take place over the course of about a week has been a deliberate approach to force myself to increase the pace and make the characters act and react more often.

Humor. By setting up an imperfect character who’s not particularly good at the one thing the reader expects him to achieve in the story, and then making his life hectic, I’ve found plenty of opportunities for situational humor. Personally, I’ve always been better at coming up with a quick, funny comment in the moment than telling canned jokes. I can never remember punchlines so there’s no chance of my doing standup comedy even if I were funny enough.

Dad Jokes, Puns, Shakespeare Lines and Lyrics as Humor. These make me laugh as I’m writing my stories. Writing can be a long and lonely process, and editing even more boring. My dog is great company but not the best conversationalist so I have to entertain myself as I go. Sometimes that spontaneity happened months ago and I wrote it down and sometimes it comes to me as I’m writing. Typically, the use, or misuse, of parts of music lyrics as dialogue hits me on the spot. Same for most of the puns. Fortunately for readers, my editor is awesome and she removes the attempts at humor that aren’t quite funny enough.

A while back I read a good article about famous Shakespeare put-downs and quotes. That gave me the idea to develop a key character in my third novel, SERF AND TURF, who plays the Bard in Renaissance Faires and tries to use Shakespeare’s quotes whenever possible. He wound up as a fun character who starts off as a suspect and winds up … well, you’ll have to read the book.

Outline. Some writers are ‘pantsers’. This means they fly by the seat of their pants, writing without a detailed plan. Not that they wear pants. Some authors probably do wear pants when they write. That’s kind of a personal question best unasked of an author, especially in these days of shelter-in-place.

I outline. I admit to it. If I didn’t, I’d still be trying to figure out how the book would end, or who gets killed. Creating an outline with each scene on one line of a spreadsheet helps me to look at holes, try to spread out when different side characters show up, and make sure the action keeps moving forward at a good clip. Then I go through all my notes and put most of the notes into the relevant scene so I can include all the right amount of humor as well as balance tense vs wacky situations. Once that’s done, there are no more excuses. It’s time for the next stage.

Write and Edit. This part sounds simple — write, edit, repeat.  Eventually magic makes it good.

My books in the Silicon Valley Mystery series, starting with Uncle and Ants, are humorous murder mysteries. The first three are available as audiobooks from Tantor Audio almost everywhere that audiobooks are sold. The books can be read standalone but I think you’d enjoy reading all 4 of them—and probably enjoy it even more if you buy copies for everyone you know. I know I would.

Silicon Valley is not your typical cozy mystery locale and Marty Golden doesn’t fit the normal profile of a mystery protagonist. Despite finding himself thrust into challenging situations, Marty isn’t exactly hero material. He brings a combination of wit, irreverent humor and sarcasm mixed in with nerdy insecurities, absent-mindedness, and fumbling but effective amateur sleuthing skills. With an active inner voice and not a lot of advanced planning, he throws himself into solving problems. Sometimes, he even succeeds.

Hit and Mist, book 4, was just released on May 8 and can also be read standalone. The books are free to Kindle Unlimited readers. Buy them on Amazon at: amazon.com/gp/product/B07PHNT7XM.  For more about my books or me, please visit www.marcjedel.com.

*****

Bio for Marc Jedel

Marc JadellMarc Jedel writes humorous murder mysteries. He credits his years of marketing leadership positions in Silicon Valley for honing his writing skills. While his high-tech marketing roles involved crafting plenty of fiction, these were just called emails, ads, and marketing collateral.

For most of Marc’s life, he’s been inventing stories. Some, especially when he was young, involved his sister as the villain. As his sister’s brother for her entire life, he feels highly qualified to tell tales of the evolving, quirky sibling relationship in the Silicon Valley Mystery series.

The publication of Marc’s first novel, UNCLE AND ANTS, gave him permission to claim “author” as his job. This leads to much more interesting conversations than answering, “marketing.” Becoming an Amazon best-selling author has only made him more insufferable.

Family and friends would tell you that the protagonist in his stories, Marty Golden, isn’t much of a stretch of the imagination for Marc, but he accepts that.

Like Marty, Marc lives in Silicon Valley where he can’t believe that normal people would willingly jump out of an airplane. Unlike Marty, Marc has a wonderful wife and a neurotic but sweet, small dog, who is often the first to weigh in on the humor in his writing.

Visit his website, marcjedel.com, for free chapters of novels, special offers, and more.

Uncles ants    Chutes Ladders    Serf Turf   Hit and Mist

 

(To read my review of Serf and Turf, click here)

 

 

 

This article was posted for Marc Jedel by Jackie Houchin (Photojaq)

 

 

Writers in Residence

by Linda O. Johnston 

 

Lock downYes, this is The Writers in Residence blog.  And what am I posting about here today?  Writers in residence.

That’s pretty much all of us writers, I assume.  Some writers can write anywhere, and I know of many who prefer taking their laptops to a Starbucks or a Panera or similar place and spending many days there, ignoring the crowds and discussions around them and getting a lot of their writing done.

Prefer it? Maybe so, but even though a lot of towns in this country appear to be “opening up” more than they’ve been recently during the Covad-19 virus pandemic, the most logical locations still require social distancing and, mostly, masks. Sitting at a table nursing cups of coffee as you write may be a beloved memory, and a beloved aspiration for the future, but I doubt that many people are engaging in it now.

Maybe some writers who also have outside jobs are able to write at their offices, at lunchtime or other off hours. At one time, years ago, I arrived at my in-house law office an hour earlier than our scheduled starting time and used that hour as my writing time. My coworkers knew that’s what I was up to, so for them, I wasn’t there during that hour.

But now–well, most offices currently also allow, or even insist on, their employees working from home.

kaitlyn-baker-vZJdYl5JVXY-unsplashSo most often these days, I assume we’re writers in residence. We all have homes–houses, apartments, condos or whatever–although maybe there are some homeless people out there who write, too. In any case, we reside somewhere.  And write.

Those of us who are members of The Writers in Residence all have homes, not necessarily near one another. And as far as I know, we also all have home offices, or at least places within our homes where we write.  If I’m wrong with respect to anyone, please tell me!

Me? Yes, I’ve been a writer in residence for a long time, no longer working as a lawyer. I have a messy office where I write, sitting in front of my computer nearly all day–except when one of my dogs comes in and stares at me and I need to figure out what she wants, which usually isn’t hard to do. But yes, I write a lot in my residence. I did so even before. And now, while we’re mostly confined to our homes, it feels even more appropriate.

virus readingOh, and by the way, I was very impressed by our last Writers in Residence blog, written by Rosemary Lord–focusing on independent bookstores near us in Southern California.  It’s a great idea to buy books from them, probably online and either have them shipped or pick them up outside the store.  And it’s not only the independents doing that now. I’ve picked up several books from outside my nearby Bookstar, which is part of Barnes & Noble.  I want that store, and the entire company, to survive, and the indies, too!

So how about you? Are you a writer in residence? A reader in residence? Both?

***

Linda O Johnston
Linda O. Johnston, a former lawyer who is now a full-time writer, currently writes two mystery series for Midnight Ink involving dogs: the Barkery and Biscuits Mysteries, and the Superstition Mysteries.  She has also written the Pet Rescue Mystery Series, a spinoff from her Kendra Ballantyne, Pet-Sitter mysteries for Berkley Prime Crime and also currently writes for Harlequin Romantic Suspense as well as the Alpha Force paranormal romance miniseries about shapeshifters for Harlequin Nocturne.
**
This article was posted for Linda O. Johnston by Jackie Houchin (Photojaq)

PER ARDUA AD ASTRA – THROUGH ADVERSITY TO THE STARS…

      by Rosemary Lord

Just Rosie 2

Per Ardua Ad Astra – Through Adversity to the Stars – has been the motto of the Royal Air Force since 1912 and subsequently adopted by the Royal Flying Corps other nations flying corps. It seems an appropriate motto for what the world is experiencing just now with this Corona virus.

It’s important that we find the best of ways to get us through such times as this. Sometimes, when we may feel ourselves spiraling down and all the forces seem against us, it’s easy to give up. But as writers, we are fortunate to have our own methods to halt that negative direction. We are used to being isolated, stuck indoors, as we write. When we get ‘writer’s block’ – we have learned to distract ourselves with beautiful music, watching an inspiring movie, or reading a book. Or even the simple act of cleaning out the fridge or de-cluttering a closet. It gives the chance to focus on something else for a while. Then we can look at our writing – or even at our life – from another angle. A different perspective. We come up with new ideas and a fresh outlook.

So with all that we – and most of the world – have been going through in recent months, people have become resourceful in ways to manage their lives and families and continue their productivity. Indeed, some fantastic ideas have been formed out of this adversity. And many people will have created amazing new lives for themselves; some less stressful or more efficient. Others will have had time to re-assess where they are going and what they really want to do with their lives. Most of all, we have seen a wonderful appreciation of other people; of help given and help received. Countless people have focused on how they can show their gratitude to all the ‘front line’ workers – and how they can help other people in need. Most of all, we have a new appreciation of what freedom really means.

william-james-bookseller            As writers and readers, one of our easiest ways to help can be to support the small businesses that are straining to survive while closed to foot-traffic. Especially the small bookshops, that have been struggling desperately in the new world of online literature.      These small bookshops welcome writers, help us launch our new books, promote our work with book-signings and author events. I found a few where we have a chance to give a little something back. (I have been buying a book or two, including my own books, online from them.) Let us know if you have ‘hidden gems’ in the bookstore world that we can also help.

 

HollywoodThe most famous small bookshop in Hollywood is LARRY EDMUNDS and it is fighting for survival. Founded in 1938 and moving to Hollywood Boulevard in the 1950s, Larry Edmunds specializes in books, scripts and posters covering all aspects of Hollywood and its history. Famous for events with Hollywood celebrities such as Debbie Reynolds, Ernest Borgnine, William Friedkin and Tippi Hedren. Quentin Tarantino shot Once Upon a Time in Hollywood there. Current Proprietor Jeffrey Mantor began as a stock-boy 29 years ago, and today works closely with American Cinemateque and the Turner Classic Film Festival. But because these are both shuttered, this once-thriving store is not sure it can last and, since the shut-down, they are relying on mail-order sales alone – which doesn’t cover basic running costs. And so Jeffrey has set up a GoFundMe page to save this piece of Hollywood History. https://larryedmunds.com

ReadersSKYLIGHT BOOKS on Vermont Avenue is a real, old-style neighborhood bookstore that opened in 1996 on the site of a landmark book shop, Chatterton’s, known in the 1970s for its poetry reading events. A hangout for local writers, artists, musicians and scholars, Skylight normally features several evening Author/Artist/Musician events during the week and on weekends in the day-time, so during the shut-down they have an occasional Zoom event, but most have been postponed. Online book purchases continue. www.skylightbooks.com

 

bookstore-1129183__340THE LAST BOOKSTORE’s current and third incarnation began in a downtown Los Angeles loft in 2005. The 22,000 square feet of more than 250,000 new and used books and vinyl records is in the Spring Arts Towers at 5th and Spring Street. On their website in bold print it says, “WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR – WE WON’T BE HERE FOREVER.” How true for so many independent bookstore everywhere. The Last Bookstore is said to be “One of the 20 most beautiful bookstores in the World,” with comfy old sofas around every corner, vintage décor, an old sewing machine, old chandeliers, a resident cat or two – in an eclectic booklovers’ haven. You are welcome just to sit, read, hangout. And this is where, it is said, you can find books you cannot find anywhere else. Unfortunately closed during the shut-down, the store is relying on mail orders, like everyone else. But as soon as they are open for business again, try to catch one of their legendary author events. It’s worth the schlep downtown. www.lastbookstorela.com

 

freddie-marriage-w8JiSVyjy-8-unsplashIn Pasadena, one of the landmarks is VROMAN’S BOOKSTORE – I think most of us have attended book launches there. The oldest, still-running ‘bibliopole,’ Vroman’s was established in 1894 and when Mr. Vroman died in 1916, he left the store to his employees. Vroman’s Author lectures and book-signings have proved to be very popular and prestigious. Today their 200 plus staff and management are working remotely – some furloughed as the shut-down lengthens. Online sales continue and curb-side pick-up will resume as soon as local ordinances allow. www.vromansbookstore.com

 

MoreBooksIn West Hollywood, BOOK SOUP on Sunset Boulevard is the place for us book-lovers. I have a soft spot for them as Book Soup gave my Los Angeles Then and Now and Hollywood Then and Now a FULL window display of rows and rows of my books on the original launch. A favorite local hang-out for local famous personalities, Book Soup is known for celebrity author book-launches and signings. During the shut-down they are doing mail-order sales through Ingrams, online events for new releases and will open up once the stay-at-home orders are lifted. www.booksoup.com

 

Old BooksOver in Hancock Park, CHEVALIER’S BOOKS in Larchmont Village has served the book-loving public since book maverick Joe Chevalier opened his doors in 1940. They normally have a very busy calendar of a variety of author events and book launches and cover a wide variety of subjects. They sell gift-cards with “A book is a present you can open again and again” written on the card. But while they remain closed at this time, they have an online Fiction Book Club and a $25 Friends of Chevalier club and tote bags. They suggest you “lay off Netflix for just a bit” and order books online; they offer free door-to-door deliver in local zip codes, otherwise regular shipping costs. Curbside pick-up should open on May 15th. www.chevaliersbooks.com

 

LadyWritingBut a very specialized small bookstore on the west side in Culver City is THE RIPPED BODICE: A Romantic Bookstore. This is, as you would imagine, a romance only-only bookstore that is run by two sisters, Bea and Leah Koch. They normally have a variety of romance author events and created The Ripped Bodice Award for Excellence in Romantic Fiction. However, currently the store is closed to foot-traffic and all events stopped. The staff are staying home, so Leah is processing all mail orders and handling new orders of Care Packages of assorted romance fiction for yourself or friends. But they ask for your patience with delivery, so Leah doesn’t get overwhelmed. On their website the girls suggest: Send some love, support a small business.” Let’s do that!  www.therippedbodicela.com

 

So let us keep writing, keep reading – and ‘spread a little sunshine’ with our words and with our actions in supporting other individuals and small businesses and enterprises. Together we can get through this. Many public events have been cancelled – but, as someone recently reminded me – HOPE has not been cancelled.

………………………………………..

 

How Will YOU Tell The Story?

.

By Miko Johnston

I’ll cut straight to the chase: How will we write about this? For unless we write science fiction, fantasy, or historical fiction, we must.

Over the past few months we have been going through an experience unprecedented in our lifetime*.  Not a single person has been unaffected by the current situation, nor will the world ever get back to “normal”, whatever that means, anytime soon. Living through the Corona virus pandemic will fundamentally change us, as a world, a country, a state. A city. A neighborhood. A street. A home.

There is no way we will be able to ignore what we’re going through.

The repercussions will ripple for years, even decades. This time will become a pivotal point in many of our lives, much like Pearl Harbor, 9/11 or the 2008 financial crisis.

We’re hearing a lot about the Spanish Flu pandemic that ripped across the globe in the post-World War I period, largely because it’s the last time we’ve faced a medical crisis like this one. Unfortunately, like that pandemic, the current one is not only threatening our health, but our economy.

I think of how the Great Depression of 1929 affected people for the remainder of their lives. The vast majority became extremely frugal; the fear of losing everything, or going hungry, never left them. On the other hand, some moved in the opposite direction, spending every cent they made on frivolous things; their fear was depriving themselves of pleasure when they had the opportunity to enjoy it. Same story, different endings.

There has to be a moment when the reality of the new normal hits you in a unique way. Three months ago, one friend had to self-quarantine for five days – this was before sheltering in place became mandatory – after coming in contact with someone who had been in contact with someone with the virus (she’s fine). Another friend’s husband lives in a senior care facility due to other medical problems. She has been unable to visit him beyond standing in the parking lot and waving to him through a window since February, but she’s also been lax about remaining in quarantine. Social isolation seems to have aggravated the occasional periods of confusion and forgetfulness another friend experiences. I and others have been calling her, hoping to keep her mentally stimulated, but as we all know, it’s not the same as social contact. And some younger relatives have ignored the warnings and continue to hang out with friends, despite the fact that their parents fall in the high-risk category.

For me, it began with some rice. 

I’d rinsed a half cup before cooking it for dinner.  As I was cleaning up after the meal, I noticed a few uncooked grains in the strainer. Normally, I’d toss it without a thought; there couldn’t have been more than a dozen grains of raw rice there. It has been over forty years since I faced food insecurity, but at that moment I couldn’t help but wonder if I would be standing at the sink a year from now, wishing I had saved those grains as my empty belly rumbled from hunger due to food shortages.

Eventually, we will look back and see this time as we see all great stories, with a beginning, a middle, and an end – how it was before, during, and after the pandemic. We’ll have some amusing memories, like Zoom parties, cerebral conversations with the dog, and bizarre meals patched together from pantry staples (pasta, sardines, dukkah and lemon peel anyone?). And we’ll recall the unpleasant moments, of loneliness and fear, anger and frustration. Of sickness and death, which will remind us of the courage and sacrifices we’ve witnessed throughout this crisis by those who did their best to help protect us, and the failings of those who did not.

It’s too early to have an ending yet…

…but it’s not too soon to think about this: How will you tell the story of what we’re going through? Will you keep it in the background, just part of the world in which your characters exist, or will it loom so large it almost becomes a character? Will you show how your characters came through it, all the intimate details that illustrate for the reader how it affected them, or served as a pivotal point in their life? We want to know.

Maybe you’re keeping a journal, maybe you’re devouring news reports. Maybe you’re juggling family, home, work and writing. Maybe you’re hunkered down and working on your next novel. Whatever you’re doing, stay safe, be well and look ahead.

 

*with few exceptions, including my almost 105 year old Aunt Rose.

*****

mikoj-photo1

Miko Johnston is the author of the A Petal In The Wind Series, available through Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Miko lives on Whidbey Island in Washington. Contact her at mikojohnstonauthor@gmail.com

 

 

 

This article was posted for Miko Johnston by Jackie Houchin (Photojaq)