Okay, I give up. I can’t do it. I can’t write funny. Those of you who can do it, I can hear you out there going: BWAAAAA-HAAAAAH! Because you know how hard it is. Sometimes you don’t get as much respect because you write humor or lighter stuff. Book critics and award judges have a pie-chart they use to decide what to pay attention to and it divides up roughly like this:
Hardboiled depressing stuff 25%
Burned-out ethnically diverse PIs 20%
Cute guy writers from UK 15%
Small press neo-noir with cleavage on cover 10%
Chick lit crime 10%
Humorous crime 5%
Now consider that Carl Hiaasen alone takes up about 8% of humor and you can see that those who write funny stuff get the crumbs. That’s because any idiot can tell a joke. But very few can tell one for 250 pages.
A couple years ago, Kelly and I were between Louis books and we were sitting in a cafe on Fort Lauderdale beach. We were watching the flesh parade, sipping our wine, and trying to figure out what the next book was going to be about. Nothing was coming. I looked out over the ocean and saw one of those cruises-to-nowhere heading out of Port Everglades. These are mini-ships that go out to sea just far enough to get legal, they hand you an umbrella drink, then they break out the blackjack tables. You get drunk, lose a lot of money and then they turn the boat around and you come home. Tourists love this.
You can guess where I am going with this. My sister worked in the gaming industry all her professional life. We were on our third glass of wine. And suddenly, we were going to write a mystery series set in the gambling world. And it was going to be FUNNY!
(Hint. no. 1: Don’t drink while plotting.)
The next morning, I woke up with a hangover and the book still in my head. Worse, the main character had started talking to me. When that happens, as you know, you tend to listen. Especially if they are loud.
(Hint no. 2: Don’t listen to every voice in your head. Sometimes you’re just picking up random stuff, like that gospel station from Watonga, Oklahoma that comes in clear as a bell when you drive west on I-40.)
The problem was, this woman was very insistent. She was fresh, she was funny. She was going to make me rich.
I sat down at the computer and started typing. Soon Kelly was contributing to what we came to call “The Vegas Book.” Four months later, we had a 95,000-word novel! All excited, we sent it our agent. She was sort of cool but promised to send it to our publisher. They turned it down. So did ten other publishers.
What the hell was the matter with these editors? We had won awards! We had made the Times extended list! Didn’t they get it? This was great stuff. This was FUNNY!
(Hint no. 3: Just because you once played air guitar to “I Feel Fine” doesn’t mean you can step in for The Edge.)
The Vegas Book went into cold storage. We went back to writing our gritty Louis books. Then about a year ago while I was cleaning the office, I found the Vegas Book on an old external drive. Yeah, I opened it. You know what they say about letting your manuscript “bake” a while before you go back in and read it cold, how this will help you rewrite with a clear eye? The Vegas Book had turned into Limburger.
(Hint no. 4: Don’t serve Limburger at your Super Bowl party this weekend. It is fermented with brevibacterium linens, which is the same bacteria that makes our feet stink.)
It was as clear as, well, that gospel station. The Vegas Book wasn’t funny. Technically, it was a hot mess because in my effort to show I could do what I thought was easy, I had lost all control of the very things that had made our other books successful. Worse, it just didn’t feel true. The Vegas Book was as fake as Vegas.
I still want to try this again some day. I have this new idea and darn it, the characters — there are four women this time, God help me — are really hilarious. But I am thinking that maybe writing humor is like a foreign language. Maybe I can hear it okay but I just can’t translate it.
Sigh. I am not an unfunny person. I can even tell a joke. (Well, only one and it’s so filthy few have heard it). So why can’t I write funny? You funny types out there….tell me the secret. No joke.