Hey, What’s So Funny? Or Not

I saw Thor Ragnarok, a movie directed by Taika Waititi (left photo), recently.

  

Loved it. Chris Hemsworth as Thor is always a-peel-ing.

 

Ya get it? A-peel-ing? Banana peel car? Wuh-wah. Ba dum bum.

After having seen Thor, I finally got around to watching some YouTube reviews of it. One reviewer said something that reminded me of feedback I received about one of my manuscripts: that some of the jokes didn’t land. Yet the director of Thor is laughing all the way to the bank these days, since the film is a huge hit.

Which got me to thinking about humor and how subjective it is. I felt bad at first when I was given the feedback about the humor (or lack thereof) in my story. But then I had to be honest. No one has ever said to me, “You should have a career as a stand-up comedian.” I wasn’t even voted Class Clown in elementary school! (Perhaps you already guessed that from the banana pun earlier in this post, especially if you didn’t know what that car was. Did you at least chuckle out of pity?) I’m too self-conscious to tell jokes well. Knowing that, when I write anything, I don’t usually have the mindset of “I must insert a joke here” (with the exception of the banana thing earlier; you see how that went). Though I love humor, I write what comes naturally to me, rather than “Let me see what jokes I can add.”

I look at comedians like David Sedaris, Wanda Sykes, and Tina Fey with awe, because they seem to naturally do something I can’t do. But that’s okay. Each of us has a gift we can rock. (I thought about making a pun here based on the photo of Tina Fey below, since it is a photo of her in 30 Rock. But instead, I think I’ll quit while I’m ahead.)

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NBC Photo: Mary Ellen Mathews

Getting back to Thor, I laughed a lot while watching it. But it reminds me that I don’t have to try to be something that I’m not—a comedian.

In an interview with The Independent (which you can find here), Taika Waititi said something that relates to what I’ve learned:

The lesson to be learnt, Waititi explains, is . . . “I should just be real and present, and just be me.”

Truer words were never spoken.

Has anyone told you that you’re naturally funny? Know any good jokes? Feel free to share them in the comments below.

Taika Waititi from film-book.com. Thor Ragnarok image from apocaflixmovies.com. Chris Hemsworth as Thor from craveonline. Tina Fey from fanpop.com. David Sedaris from anglophilereads.blogspot.com. Wanda Sykes from imbd.com. Other photos by L. Marie.

Check This Out: Bound

Thanks for dropping by. Today on the blog is the awesome and effervescent Kate Sparkes, blogger extraordinaire, dragon enthusiast, and the author of Bound, which was featured here as a cover reveal. Bound, the first book of a trilogy, was released on June 26. Huzzah! (Click on the cover reveal link if you’d like to read a synopsis of Bound.) To celebrate the release, I’m hosting a giveaway of this very book, which I’ll discuss after I finish talking to Kate. So grab a beverage of choice and make yourself comfortable.

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El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Kate: (1) I won a writing award in kindergarten for the story, “Ons eponatim ser wsa hws wsa trebesidit.” (That was the whole story. It was accompanied by a lovely painting.) (2) I firmly believe that one can never own too many beautiful socks. My wish list is massive. (3) When I was a kid, I wanted to be a pony when I grew up (it didn’t work out). (4) I’m fine with spiders, but terrified of house/basement centipedes.

MM-101-eyeltsockEl Space: Congrats on that kindergarten award! 😀 So, which of the characters in Bound would you say is most like you? Different from you? Why?
Kate: That depends a lot on what kind of day I’m having. Most of the time, Rowan is probably the most similar. We both have a curious streak that runs deep enough to cause trouble, though she takes more risks than I do when she’s looking for adventure. She’s compassionate, but a wee bit selfish. I have a lot of those moments. Least like me would be Severn, I hope. I don’t think I’d ever hurt people to further my own cause or ambitions. Also, I’m really bad with fire.
El Space: If I could interview Rowan, what do you think she would say about you as her author?
Kate: She’d probably say nicer things about me than Aren would. I doubt either of them would be pleased with everything I’ve put them through, but I think Rowan’s life is better for it. And hey, she’s the one who wanted an adventure. It’s not my fault if things haven’t worked out the way she expected.
El Space: How did you come up with the idea for this series? How long was the writing process for Bound?
Kate: The idea developed over the course of a few years, mostly while I was in bed with migraines and unable to find any other way to entertain myself. I started to wonder what would happen if someone had headaches that were caused by something other than changes in the weather—something like magic, maybe. The next question was, why it would be harmful? . . . No spoilers, but that question led to the creation of Rowan and her people. As for the plot, I wondered what would happen if a nice, normal girl accidentally saved a bad guy’s life and somehow found herself stuck with him. It took a long time for me to figure out the story, but it’s been fun. As for how long it’s taken, I started the first draft in November of 2010, so more than three years. I haven’t always been able to devote much time to writing, but I hope that will change now.
3456b79e23ec6d4ce3c7022902e584dcEl Space: If you lived in the world you created, to which people group would you belong? I ask this, because I’d totally be one of the merfolk.
Kate: I wish I could say the merfolk! They’re so lovely and mysterious, and I do enjoy the water. Maybe a cave fairy? Kind of chubby, sleeps a lot. I’m far less fuzzy than they are, though. No, I think I’d be a human. I hope I’d be a sorceress, but only if I get to choose where I live. I don’t suppose I’d last long in Rowan’s country or Aren’s family.

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A cave fairy of a sort from the Fairy Cave in Bau, Sarawak

El Space: What attracted you to fantasy? What gets you pump up about this genre?
Kate: I’ve been addicted to fairy tales for longer than I can remember. I once cried when I thought I was getting too old for them. My mom had to sit me down and explain that as I got older I could read more books, but that didn’t mean leaving behind the stories I loved. I still love them, and the sense of wonder and possibility that they always leave me with. I get the same experience with fantasy books. Anything is possible, and as readers or writers we get to explore human experiences in extraordinary worlds. Actually, I find many “real world” books rather dull in comparison. I like to read about places and characters that stretch my imagination beyond what’s possible here.

76897El Space: What books or authors inspire you?
Kate: C. S. Lewis. Stephen King. L. M. Montgomery. Jacqueline Carey. J. K. Rowling. Sarah J. Maas. John Steinbeck. Tiffany Reisz. Robertson Davies. Tina Fey. Actually, anyone who has ever written a book that made me think, “I want to do that. I want to make people feel like this.” That list is too long to type out here.

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El Space: What aspects of writing did you find most challenging?
Kate: My greatest challenge in writing is usually getting the first draft out. Revisions are hard, but at least I can see the whole picture and know what needs to be done. First drafts feel like slow going, and I need momentum to motivate me. Letting people see the work and learning to take criticism was (and is) also hard, but so worth it.
El Space: What advice do you have for authors who want to write fantasy books?
Kate: Know your magic system before you write. Know the rules, have firm limitations, and make sure you stay within the boundaries you set. If you leave things too loose or have limitations but don’t explain them well enough, your editor will slap your hands for it. *Ahem*
El Space: Hee hee! What writing project are you working on now?
Kate: Right now my focus is on revising the sequel to Bound, which I hope to have out next winter. I’m quite excited about where the story is going. The trick right now is to make sure that I’m doing the story justice by telling it in the best way possible.

Glad you came on the blog today, Kate! And keep a weather eye out for dragons!

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If you’re looking for Kate, look no further than her blog, Twitter, Goodreads, and Facebook.

Bound is available here:

Amazon.com
Amazon.ca
Kobo
Barnes & Noble 

But two of you will win a copy of this book! Comment below to be included in the drawing. Winners will be announced on Wednesday, July 9.

Cover design by Ravven (www.ravven.com). Author photo by A. J. Sparkes. Book covers other than Boundfrom Goodreads. Merman image from scenicreflections.com. Dragon from en.gtwallpaper.com. Sock from straw.com. Cave fairy statue from bestkuchinghotels.com.

More Valuable?

I don’t know about you, but when I was a kid, all you needed to do to make my day was to hand me an inflated balloon. Didn’t matter what color. Just hand me one and I’d be happy. And when it would pop, as inevitably it would since I was the kind of kid who quickly popped balloons or broke things because of my less-than-gentle grasp, I would be devastated. But for those moments of having that balloon, all was right with the world.

Birthday-Balloons

What is it about a balloon that brings such joy? The fact that they float? Their roundness when inflated? I dunno, but I’m done trying to analyze the appeal. Let’s just leave chalk them up to fun, okay?

While pondering the issue with balloons, I couldn’t help segueing to the issue of humor in a story. I’ve pondered this issue many times, because I’ve had conversations about the subject over the years. These conversations raised the following questions: Are serious stories more valuable than humorous stories? Is the entertainment factor of a humorous story equal to that of the entertainment value of a balloon—here today and probably popped tomorrow? In other words, not long lasting?

By now, you might be calling for my head for daring to equate humorous writing with balloons. Rest assured—that is not my assessment. As I mentioned in the previous paragraph, I’ve been thinking about the subject. Part of the reason for my pondering comes from conversations in which I’ve heard unfavorable comparisons made between humorous writing and writing of a more serious nature with humor writing deemed as the lower life form. I’ve also been told that you’re not a “real” writer unless you write War and Peace, Antigone, or something else of a serious nature.

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I’ve heard similar thoughts uttered about graphic novels and picture books—basically that their brevity of text and higher ratio of pictures (the nature of both types of books) make them entertaining but not as valuable as, say, Ulysses.

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I think we all know that such comments are subjective, rather than constructive. Anyone who has ever written a graphic novel or a picture book knows how difficult it is to write a good one. Because of the marriage of text and images, every word has to be chosen carefully.

Same with humor. Don’t believe me? Then read something by Dave Barry, David Sedaris, or Tina Fey.

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The funny thing is (and yes that pun was intended) humor is sometimes discounted, because the value of laughter is discounted. But you have only to Google laughter is good medicine to find many videos on the medicinal value of laughter.

I’ve had bouts of depression over the years. At those times, I often turned to books written by this guy:

485px-10.12.12TerryPratchettByLuigiNovi1

Sir Terence David John Pratchett or Terry Pratchett

At those times, books with a somber tone would have gone over like the proverbial lead balloon. Even when the cloud lifted, I turned to Terry’s books. Many have a gorgeous combination of humor and pathos—not an easy combination to get right.

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Don’t get me wrong. I love a good tragedy. Macbeth is one of my favorites. And I’m totally loving Babylon 5, a series created by J. Michael Straczynski that I somehow missed in the 90s and can now see, thanks to Netflix. It has a wonderful combination of humor and agonizing tragedy. Season 2 is heartbreaking!

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I’m reminded of this passage from Ecclesiastes:

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: . . . a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh. Ecclesiastes 3:1, 4

Sometimes a heartbreaking story or angsty poetry “speaks” to me. Other times, a laugh-out-loud-funny book is just what I need. So I can’t value one over the other, because they both meet a need at a particular time.

Getting back to the balloon, there’s a time for them too. While recovering from an illness or surgery over the years, nothing heartened me more than a cheerful balloon floating above my bed. There are some things, you never let go of. Balloons are one of those joys I never outgrew.

If you like John Cleese, click here for a great video on laughter. (And no, it’s not a Monty Python video. Sorry.)

Balloons from happypartyidea.com. Terry Pratchett photo from Wikipedia. Book covers from Goodreads. Babylon 5 image from brainstomping.wordpress.com.