Sunday, August 4, 2013

Making 'Em Laugh: The Challenges of Comedic Science Fiction Romance, Part One (Starring Diane Dooley & Lucy Woodhull)

Diane Dooley here. I recently invited author Lucy Woodhull to get virtually drunk with me at my favorite hole-in-the-wall bar. Why? 'Cos I needed someone to commiserate with me about the difficulties of writing humor. It's the hardest thing ever. On a scale of one to ten, I consider it a fifteen. Lucy, though. She makes it look easy. It's easy, right, Lucy? Right?  *slides over bottle of tequila*
Lucy:  *Eyes tequila bottle warily.*  I don't slurp anything with a worm in it unless it's off Captain America's six-pack, because I'm klassy.  I'll stick with my dirty martini, which I drink because of the word "dirty," and not for the pleasant gasoline-y hangover.
Nay!  Writing humor ain't half as hard as selling it.  I'm afraid this stuff just shoots right outta my brain, like vomit after I get klassy all over Chris Evans.  So, my point is, carry around a Dignity Bucket in case you meet one of the Avengers.  Wait, what?
Diane: Dammit. I guess I'm stuck with eating my own worm. Again. Pass the Dignity Bucket, will ye. Never seen one of them before in my life, more's the pity. I could have used this on many an occasion.
You got one thing right, Lucy. On a scale of one to ten selling humor is a twenty. So what nefarious deeds did you have commit to sell your Ragnar and Juliet stories. C'mon, Lucy. Suck down that dirty martini and share the gory details. Who exactly did you have to sleep with? And, um, was she any good?
Lucy:  Funny enough, it was the kind and delightful editor Tina Burns at Liquid Silver Books (now with Carina) who bought Ragnar and Juliet.  I'd written it, my first book ever, for an anthology call.  I got group rejected four days later.  As in: not "Dear Author," but "Dear Authors."  Ha!  I figured that would be my most wince-inducing rejection ever -- nowhere to go but up!  Tina bought R&J in 24 hours after the fabulous (and wicked-amazing cook) Nico Rosso, another sci-fi romance author, introduced us.  I have yet to sleep with Tina, and I'M WAITING, MADAM.
So many people say that humor is very subjective, but I think that's true of everything.  I don't enjoy every piece of "serious" writing just because it contains no puns.  I think that the market for humor might be smaller because when people want to laugh, they instinctively turn to TV, movies, or Internet.  They don't think of books.  Romance as a genre has always gotten a bad rap as "lady porn," mostly from people ignorant of the gloriousness of the genre, or because they are afraid of fallopian tubes.  My pet theory is that because romance gets dogged, so many of its writers and editors are anxious to prove how worthy the genre is, and usually worthy is synonymous with terribly lofty and serious.  Therefore, humor is not as sought after.
But I reject the notion that serious = good, and funny = worthless fluff.  I sneak in satirical social commentary in my funny romances, mostly in a pro-woman, pro-huddled-masses sort-of way.  It's one of the reasons I worship humor so -- because in-between the funnies, there's often an underlying layer of positive change, or even just positivity that lets us laugh with the situations of the protagonist while thinking That poor heroine... I'm so glad that's not happening to me! But it sure is hilarious.
How did you navigate the treacherous waters of selling the funny?  Were you drunk, Y/Y?
Diane: Of course I was drunk. It's the only way I can get up enough courage to submit my work. Funnily enough, Blue Galaxy was also rejected once, before being accepted by Carina Press. Selling it wasn't actually painful. The reviews, however...*cracks open a second bottle of tequila* What I thought was a fast-paced, over-the-top, trope-slaughtering, pulpy piece of feminist agitprop was reviewed in very serious fashion. I'm afraid my heroine caused much clutching of pearls for the terribly wicked things she got away with. I did, however, learn something from those reviews: there are people out there who don't think I'm hilarious. Inconceivable!! Um, not. I guess I should have learned that lesson from all the times I got into trouble at work for highly inappropriate laughter. (You want me to do what? Cue hysterical giggling) I also learned I need to make the comedy broader. Not everyone has their funny bone being regularly lubricated by mass quantities of tequila like wot I do. Deadpan is extremely difficult to get across in writing. So, I'm wiser. And I'm still laughing.
My humorous horror stuff tends to sell to very small markets with a distribution of about five people. And they think I'm extremely funny. And, yes, I slept with all of them.  It was the least I could do. I love my fans! (Editors aren't that much fun to sleep with. They like to point out that your dialogue is naff and suggest changes in your style and technique. It's a bit off-putting)
I found your Ragnar and Juliet stories very funny. I totally got and appreciated the bold fallopian tubeness of your writing. When will you make me laugh again? And what makes you laugh?
Lucy:  I'm always being told to rein my madness in.  The terrible part is, I never know when I'm being too weird for humanoid consumption until a normal (i.e. my husband) tells me.  Although how normal can he be, married to me -- hmm?  My funny bone is firmly rooted in the Mel Brooks scale, so nothing is off-limits to my mind, except jokes meant to be ugly.  (Rape “jokes," I'm grimacing at you.)  I, too, have learned to refine myself into a more consumable state, but I think it's better to scale back than to scale up, especially in comedy.  As for folks who make me laugh, my writing muses are Marta Acosta and Elizabeth Peters, and Good Omens is good, good stuff.  I live for Community (with Dan Harmon), Parks & Rec, 30 Rock, and of course, the unparallelled Mr. Brooks. He's warped me in ways both wonderful and wonderful.
And of course you're hilarious, Diane!  Anyone who doesn't think so can answer to moi.  Nobody is going to get every joke in a book except the writer, and that's okay.  To hope for otherwise is to stab oneself in the eye repeatedly with a rusty rubber chicken.  I am sorry, however, that all the people you sleep with think you're funny.  True story -- RT Book Reviews called me a "romantic comedy" writer.  Sarcasti-quotes theirs.  I'm hoping it becomes a tradition.
My next book, she transitioned subtly, is called The Dimple of Doom and will be available in digital on August 2nd, and in print in late October.  It's a contemporary rom-com about a failed actress and the accountant who gets her in trouble with not one, but two international art theft organizations, as well as the LAPD. (Hint: He might not actually be an accountant, but he does have one hella cute dimple.)  I shall demand that the cover include the words "Now with more bold fallopian tubeness!"
Please tell me about your next work, Diane, she transitioned even more subtly.
Diane: Hold on a sec, Lucy. I just need to get this rusty rubber chicken out of my eye. Ah, that's better.
Thank you for thinking me hilarious. Just lemme know if you need me to sleep with you.No need to thank me.  It's the least I can do.
To transition with even more subtlety than you, I have nothing on the funny side coming up. Well, unless you think post-apocalyptic dystopians, harvesting organs from helpless orphans, or the destruction of our dear planet is funny *giggle* My dark side does tend to take over sometimes. It shouldn't be surprising then that I worship at the altar of Roald Dahl. I like it dark, twisted, and funny.  Which is also how I like my men, strangely enough. In my next attempt at comedy I shall be tackling the greek billionaire of Harlequin fame, and shall be taking the alphahole down a peg or two via the romantic stylings of a working-class single mom with an indecipherable Glaswegian accent. That billionaire is in for a rough time of it, I'm afraid.  
I am very much looking forward to reading The Dimple of Doom. Thanks so much for chatting with me. After two bottles of tequila, several trips to the Dignity Bucket, and the incident with the rubber chicken I feel so much better.
Lucy:  Both your upcoming works sound awesome.  Have you considered writing a Greek billionaire who harvests organs?  What's the terrible secret behind his powerful family's Greek yogurt empire?!  It's peeeeeeeeeople!
I hope our ridiculous little chat has encouraged some writers out there to polish up their funny bone.  That's not a euphemism.  Or maybe it is...  The more of us, the better.  Buff that bone, blog friends!  And maybe buy a funny book today, for science.
Diane: There are more of us out there! Esteemed passengers of The Galaxy Express, please light up the comments with the names of the funniest SFR writers out there. Romantic comedies among the comets, slapstick in space, aliens with zingy dialogue. Give me the names! I have a very important drinking session to invite them to. And Lucy and me are more than happy to share the Dignity Bucket.
* * *
Lucy Woodhull has always loved le steamy romance. And laughing. And both things at the same time, although that can get awkward. Her motto is "Laugh and the world laughs with you, cry and you'll short-circuit your Kindle." That's why she writes funny books, because goodness knows we all need to escape the real world once in awhile. She believes in red lipstick, equality, and the interrobang. Hailing from Southern California, she daydreams with her husband and a very fat cat who doesn't like you.
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Diane Dooley has been known to both laugh and read herself into brief comas. She thinks it’s a fun and healthy hobby that everyone should try. When not chasing her excessively naughty children with a big stick, she can be found tormenting her husband until he gets into the fetal position like a good boy, scribbling increasingly depressing books, and working on her personal hygiene. After many years of bumming around, she finally ran out of money in upstate New York, where she now lives in time-honored writerly poverty.
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