Gentle Humor

I don't offend some of the people most of the time

Category: Writing

The Good Agent

So I’m doing two posts today to make up for not writing yesterday because of pinot noir and a lemon drop – a lethal combination.

I was talking in the previous post about going to the Willamette Writer’s conference, and I wanted to mention a WONDERFUL, WONDERFUL agent named Adam Korn who may be looking at this blog as we speak. A WONDERFUL person. Extraordinarily handsome, too.

Adam, who has an incredibly AWESOME smile listened to my pitch about a science fiction book I wrote about aliens coming to earth and…

Wait, you might not know what a pitch is, so I’ll tell you. A pitch is ten minutes you pay twenty-five bucks at a writer’s conference for so that you can try to “sell” or “pitch” you story idea to an agent, publisher, and/or filmmaker who might be interested in your work enough to offer you a multi-million dollar contract that will make you rich and famous.

Did I mention that Adam Korn is the NICEST human being I’ve ever met in my ENTIRE life?

A pitch is like a job interview for a job doing what you love to do that someone is offering to give you money to do if you have something they think will in turn, make them money. You have to present your story as so intriguing that the agent (and others) will want to read it. If s/he finds your story to have potential, s/he will take you on as a client and then s/he will pitch your work to publishers and Hollywood magnets who will make it into a movie and give you wheelbarrows full of money so you can quit your day job as a lawyer and start making REAL money, like John Grisham did.

Landing an agent is tough work. Not only do they have to see marketable potential in your work – so it has to be good – they also have to judge whether you’re in it for the long haul. They don’t want a one-trick wonder who only does a single book that takes ten years to write. They want a new book every year for ten years minimum. Let me say this right now. My family has a history of very, very long-lived people. At the rate of ten books every ten years, I could write 100 books, no sweat.

Speaking of speaking, there was this fantastic speaker for lunch named Robert Dugoni who is a best selling author who used to be a lawyer and who is now the new John Grisham. He is living the aforementioned dream, and he’s cute, too. Half-Italian, and anyone who’s been to Italy knows what I’m talking about.

He told this great little story about how we writers get beat down and rejected all the time, and getting published must seem insurmountable. He compared the prospect of getting published to what the giant doors to Mordor probably looked like to Aragorn, (Lord of the Rings), but if we just swing the bat then one of these days we’ll get a hit, but we’ll never get a hit unless we swing the bat. It was an inspiring speech in spite of me taking his two analogies and morphing them into a mess, but if you ever get a chance to hear him talk, be sure to go. Here’s his website: www.robertdugoni.com/

One thing he inspired me to do was develop my craft of writing more. Another agent told me I need “millions” of followers on my blog to convert this to a book – he inspired me to commit suicide. Ha, ha, just kidding. Writer’s joke. He inspired me to look up everyone I’ve ever known in my existence and tell them about my blog which I have not done. All my site members are people I’ve never met.

But I’m so excited. I’M A CELEBRITY!

Remember a few days ago I wrote about the auction I went to that Gene Simmons from KISS was at? Well, someone just emailed me a link to a video about it and I’M IN IT! I’m the yellow hair on the dance floor just under the second “E” in the Legends banner at the 31st second of the video. I’m on there for three whole seconds! At about second 33 I glance sideways so you can ALMOST SEE MY FACE!  This is SOOOOOOOOOO exciting! I’ve been in the paper many times but only a couple of times on TV and never with big celebrities. I’m practically a star myself. Here’s the link: www.youtube.com/watch?v=fpVpwmljeds.  Please take note, Agent Korn, that my platform is growing right before your eyes.

Sleepless Nights? Try Tater Tots and Beer

I went to the Willamette Writer’s meeting tonight after having dinner with four members of my writing group. We drank beer – a big mistake for me since it makes me very sleepy. I worry I’ll fall asleep and knock teeth out on the beer mug.

The speaker talked about writing mysteries. My group likes to sit in the front row, which meant that I was forced to keep my eyes open and not doze off. Unfortunately, I was not up to the challenge. I had also eaten a whole basket of tater tots, which are often used in primitive jungle cultures as a sleep aid. Fight as I might, my eyes were shut tight.

That’s right. Luckily others around me were taking notes so they couldn’t see my head bobbing, but I know the speaker saw me. She was not blind, after all. The sad thing is that she was quite interesting. Her name was April Henry, in case you want to get her books.

I think I missed out on quite a bit, but here’s the part I heard. If you want to make sure readers will stay glued to your mystery plot, you need to apply a special contact cement to the cover (available at fine publishing houses everywhere). That way they CAN’T put the book down.

If you’re not able to do this for moral or ethical reasons, then you’d better write an interesting story, which is easier than you think. All you have to do is pick out one of your characters and make him your protagonist (the good guy), and then make everyone else act suspicious, and then have an antagonist (bad guy) or two. The bad guys have to do mean things to the good guy in order for the story to be interesting. And one mean thing is not nearly enough – they have to spatter the good guy with so many mean things it would be like getting shot with a shotgun and every little shot would be a bad thing, if you know what I mean.

The presentation was very well done and progressed nicely. In fact, it whizzed by but that could have been due to the tots. Forty-five minutes later, the speaker asked if anyone had questions. This is the part I hate. The auditorium was full, which meant there were quite a few people who needed to demonstrate their writing acumen by asking questions they probably already knew the answer to, just to show off their writing jargon.

For example, one woman said, “In your genre, when do you decide who is going to be the antagonist? Is that during your opening scenes or do you wait until the dénouement?”

The WHAT? The speaker was pretty cool. She wasn’t about to be sucked into such foolishness. “I’m not sure what you mean.”

Unfortunately, this was exactly what the woman wanted to hear, because she elaborated in such contrived babble that I took another ten-minute snooze. When I woke up, she was still spewing jargon like a shaken up Coke.

“I don’t approach my writing that way,” said the speaker, finally. “So I really don’t know how to answer your question. Anyone else have a question?”

I loved it! These long-winded misanthropes waste everyone’s time, and most speakers end up being too embarrassed or compassionate to cut them off. Although I’ll say one thing about them, their sophisticated mumbo jumbo is great background white noise for sleeping.

I have barely been able to keep my eyes open this whole evening. Tots and beer will do this to you, so the moral of this story is – shovel all the crap you can in front of your protagonist and sit back and take a nap while s/he figures out what to do about it. And if you want a best seller, be sure to weave tater tots into the plot. That could put the protagonist to sleep while the antagonist ties little knots in her hair. The possibilities are endless.

Trashy Is As Trashy Does

My cousin in Memphis, Nancy, is so much fun and very funny. I call her every couple of weeks for a laughter fix.

She’s a jovial person, shaped like a barrel on top of a pair of gorgeous legs. She could be a model for nylons or socks, but only from the thighs down. It’s amazing where the body stores it’s excess. Mine is a muffin around my waist. Her’s is all in her torso so she looks like an Idaho potato on toothpicks. She’s got a mixed breed dog that also loves to eat, and she calls him “Fweet Tater” because he looks like a sweet potato on toothpicks. Must be genetic.

I’m trying to bring Nancy into the digital age. I set up Office Outlook for her over the phone, a task that took several hours. I’d be telling her to click here and click there, and she’d be reading me everything on the page. “It says File then Edit then….and there’s a box I just clicked on and it says….” She is an artist and notices all the details. I was just trying to get her to simply click on File…New, but that wasn’t going to happen for another ten minutes. I told my daughter it was like telling a child to go into the drug store and go directly back to the pharmacist, and the child stops to pick up every little thing along the way.

Just now she emailed me from Facebook and wanted to know how to upload pictures. This is a HUGE stretch for her, and I’m proud that she’s willing to make the attempt. I emailed her back from my Facebook and decided the tutorial shouldn’t be boring. So I said, “Go to the photos tab and create an album and name it something like, “Nancy holding a lit match to her bottom just before blasting gas.” Then describe the Location, like “At the Ladies Church Social” and then the Description: “Father didn’t really believe a match could become a torch.”

Once I’d posted it, I got to wondering whether that can be seen by the general public. I hope not because I’m trying to keep up a façade of couth.

I know Nancy will laugh like a teenage boy watching “The Hangover.” I’m betting she’ll wet her pants. And maybe even pass some accidental gas.

I don’t know why I’m being so tacky. I should be ashamed. I laid around on the couch all day yesterday, and ate dinner with the family in front of the TV tonight, which according to Jeff Foxworthy is a sure sign of being a redneck. I pointed this out to my husband, and he said, “If the shoe fits.”

Oh, and to sum up my tutorial to Nancy, I said, “And just click on the pictures you want to upload and they’ll be on your Facebook page faster than you can say, “Who farted?”

I have sunk to the depths of tackiness. Please excuse me for rambling. How else could I get through these 250 posts! Think about it – TWO HUNDRED AND FIFTY! Whoopee!

Humorless Happiness

I was Googling something the other day and came across a website about happiness. There were some tidbits of wisdom in the right hand column and I read a couple. Intrigued, I ended up buying the book, written by Gretchen Rubin, called The Happiness Project.

It was a downloadable book that I started listening to yesterday while I was cleaning house. After awhile I realized a very important thing – happiness is not conducive to humor.

Listen to any comic or watch any sitcom and the humor is all about the misery or misfortune in people’s lives. I love The Big Bang Theory, a sitcom about super-intelligent nerds. Much of the humor comes from them either putting down each other’s intelligence or mishaps they have to squirm out of because they lack the social skills that mere average-intelligent people have.

Leonard, a super physicist or something, is dating the blond bimbo who lives across the hall, which provides ample humor when the story contrasts his super-intelligence with her lack of it.

Here’s what the script would be like if they were following the suggestions in The Happiness Project:

“Hi Leonard, thanks for coming in.”

“My pleasure, Penny. You look lovely in your Cheesecake Factory uniform.”

“Well, aren’t you sweet? Taking a break from your contam physics?”

“(Laughs) I love how you say quantum.”

And blah blah blah.  Utterly boring.

My point is that I don’t know how much of this happiness stuff I can take. The Happiness Project book is good, and I’m going to listen to it and hopefully follow some of the suggestions and make some positive changes in my life. But she makes it sound like I need to be loving and forgiving and kind and generous, and sensitive and patient and a good listener. Quite frankly, I’m not sure I’m up to it. I’m smart enough to know that these things work because I’ve tried them here and there in my life. But they’re like Brussels sprouts, they’re okay some of the time but I’m a long way off from wanting to make a steady diet of them.

Humor is based on sarcasm, put downs, people’s pain, or unexpected, negative things happening. It is not funny to see a man in a suit walking down the street. But it’s very funny seeing the same man walking along and slipping on a banana peel so that his legs fly up over his head and he lands, WHOOMP, flat on his back with the wind completely knocked out of him and flailing like an upside down turtle.

In a happy world this would not happen. The insensitive dolt who threw the banana peel down would not have done it in the first place. He would have walked a block out of his way to find a garbage can because he’d want to keep the city beautiful. The Three Stooges would never smack each other with a 2 x 4 or poke each other in the eyes in a happy world. I could not write about men with limp you-know-whats for fear of offending all those men (nearly 99% of U.S. males) using Viagra.

So don’t worry, you can count on me to not succumb to these happiness theories, even after I listen to that book cover to cover. I will NOT let this happiness stuff go to my head, if I can help it.

200 Days Down, 165 to Go

This is my 200th blog! I’m more than halfway to my goal of doing 365 blogs in 365 days. Yippeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!

I will take this opportunity to talk about trying to be funny. I mentioned before that I got satellite radio in my Prius for a 3-month trial, and I’ve been listening to comedy stations with really funny people saying very funny things. Oh how I wish I could remember some of them.

These guys are either telling some outrageous story that is funny all by itself, or they use surprise. A comedienne tells the story, “I went to the doctor with an ache in my back. He asked me questions for twenty minutes, looked things up in some books, then said, “Have you ever had this condition before?” and I said, “Yes, a couple months ago,” and the doc says, “Well, you got it again. That will be $100.”

Comedy is about connections – the ones you automatically make in your head and then the alternative ones that funny people throw at you. It’s about the people around you doing odd things, or it’s the way you can connect that odd thing with something else. Remember that old Pink Panther movie where Peter Sellers, in his heavy French Inspector Clouseau accent, says to a guy holding a sweet little dog on a leash, “Does you dog bite?” The guy holding the dog answers, “No.” So Clouseau bends down to pet the cute little thing and nearly gets his hand chewed off. “I thought you said your dog doesn’t bite.” The man shrugs his shoulders. “It’s not my dog.”

These comediennes are great observers of the ordinary. They take the most mundane thing and describe it until it looks absurd and funny.  Jerry Seinfeld is great at doing that, and so was George Carlin.  Seinfeld points out that studies show that the number one fear people have is public speaking. The second is death. If that’s true, and you’re attending a funeral, he says, then you’d rather be in the casket than delivering the eulogy.

As Larry the Cable Guy says, “Now that’s funny, I don’t care who you are.”

I love reading Dave Barry’s books. He also points out ordinary things and then takes them to the depths of absurdity. For instance, he says that Magnetism is one of the Six Fundamental Forces of the Universe. The other five are:  Gravity, Duct Tape, Whining, Remote Control, and The Force That Pulls Dogs Toward The Groins Of Strangers. He makes his words even funnier by capitalizing them as if they were truly some scientific or official entity.

It doesn’t matter how much you listen to comedy, though, to be good at it you have to practice it. That’s why I’m doing this exercise. Sometimes it appears to be simply exercise (I’m sorry), but sometimes I hit on a topic or story that amuses me and I laugh out loud. I hope I’ve given you a giggle or two here and there.

I’m thinking I may make up some people for the next hundred and sixty-five days. I wish I could say that my friends are really funny and I’m surrounded by humor – but frankly I am not. My friends tend to like to bitch about their lives to me because this is what women do with each other – we shop and complain. Others I encounter during the day are usually doing their best to hack me off rather than amuse me. My kids are teenagers, and there’s nothing funny about that. Plus life isn’t a whole lot of fun and games, truth be told. We have these great incidences of fun but they are like oil floating on water – the everyday tiresome repetitive functions are the water. You get out of a warm bed, make the bed, pick up someone’s discarded underwear, feed the dog, do laundry, fight traffic, work for a person who knows less than you do, dodge grocery carts, cook the same old dinner after sitting in the freezing rain watching a track meet. Yep, there’s a lot of water in life.

But when I approach the day with humor, I can find things to amuse me if I don’t let my natural irritation get in the way. So I’ll keep looking for subjects to write about, for another 165 days at least. If you see anything you like, please don’t hesitate to say something.

Fun with Puns

I started a comedy workbook a few years ago and thought I’d lost my homework when my PC crashed, but I just came across a few of the exercises (because I only did a few) that I printed out. Yippee!

This one was called, “Fun with Puns,” and came from Gene Perret’s Comedy Workbook. I’m going to give you a few of them because it’s better than some of the stuff I write late at night, but there are some groaners in there – I like to put the bad ones in to make the good ones look better.

What do Eskimos get from sitting on ice too long? Polaroids.

What happened to the survivors when a red ship collided with a blue ship? They were marooned.

If you are American when you go into a toilet and you are American when you come out of the toilet, what are you while you’re in the toilet? European, of course.

Wait a minute – this is me talking and I’m not sure I wrote these. They’re actually pretty good, which makes me think I just copied them from the book. However, I’m not going to look because that would mean I’d have to get up AND maybe have to start from scratch. It’s late and I’m tired, so I’m going to forge ahead, no offense to Mr. Perret. If these are mine, you’re a darned good teacher, or I’m so exhausted everything seems funny. I did go skiing yesterday after all, and every muscle in my body aches, including a new one on the back of my knees I didn’t know was there.

The human cannonball decided to quit the circus. The owner was furious. “You can’t quit!” he raged. “Where will I find another man of your caliber?”

Old college deans never die, they just lose their faculties.

Old accountants never die, they just lose their balance.

Old policemen never die, they cop out.

Old tanners never die, they just go into hiding.

Me again. I really don’t think these are mine. Tanners? Where would I come up with that? But I do vaguely recall writing some funny stuff, so it’s possible. I once took a photograph of a snowboarder flying through the air – beautiful shot – and a newspaper wanted it. People on the snowboard team were always forwarding pictures to me to put up on the team’s website, so I was surrounded with photos all the time. I asked everyone if they took that picture, and finally the snowboarder in the picture told me it was me. That was my first published photograph! So maybe these are mine…

Here’s a couple more:

I tried to get my bicycle to stand up, but it was too tired.

When a clock is hungry, can it go back four seconds?

Did you hear about the raisin who cheated on his wife? It was in the newspaper under the current affairs section.

What’s a drunk baseball player? A pitcher full of beer.

I wanted to learn how to make frozen desserts, so I went to Sunday School.

Okay, I’m giving away my best material, or I’m plagiarizing and risking getting sued. But boy this was sure fun. Maybe we’ll do it again tomorrow. I’ve got lots of material here.

How to Attract a Man and a Publisher

Late last night I wrote about my writers’ group’s dinner with Phillip Margolin. I’ve given it much thought since then, and I think I understand why success just seems to rain down on some people, and other people chase it frantically and never catch it, kindof like a dog chasing it’s own tail, or a dog chasing a stuffed rabbit at the dog track, or a dog chasing a squirrel, or a …well, I’ve run out of examples and if you haven’t gotten the point by now, you must actually be a dog.

Yes, I think I’ve got the answer, and I’ll get to it sooner, or perhaps later, but here’s an example of what I’m talking about. I’m a girl. Like all girls (and I’m talking about gender here, not age because I’d probably have to use the word woman which doesn’t seem to make my point as well, if there is a point – we’ll have to wait and see).

As I was saying, as a girl I watch other girls and the one thing you’ll notice about girls is that the ones who want a boy (now here it seems like it would sound better to say man. Odd.). Anyway, if a girl is craving a guy (that works!), she has it written all over her like a neon sign: I WANT ME A MAN AND I’M NOT TOO PARTICULAR, HELL, EVEN YOU’LL DO!

Guys see her coming and they scatter like cockroaches when they see a can of RAID. I love using cockroaches as an analogy, and it says nothing about my attitude toward men. And I’m not doing product placement either. I hate RAID and killing bugs, but this seemed to work and I’m not changing it now. This is a prime example of over thinking something, which is exactly what girls craving a guy do.

Here’s the catch. The girl doesn’t just want a temporary guy, she wants a permanent one. This is what scares guys to death, but the girl is oblivious to this. She thinks that if she puts on a little more makeup, shows a little more cleavage, and gets a little drunker, she’ll be closer to snagging her prince charming.

But guys see right through this. They want a temporary woman – they’re looking for a good time for a short time. Like from midnight to three. This is the manly guy thing that has been proven in bathrooms all over the country. In women’s bathrooms, you’ll see little hearts drawn in permanent marker with Sally loves Billy or LaKeisha loves Muhammad inside them. In a guy’s bathroom you’ll see: For a good time, call…

What a girl’s gotta do is decide she doesn’t want a guy, then she’ll attract them like maggots. This is because guys love a pursuit, yes, but they’re also hard-wired to see women in terms of their relationship with their mother. There’s even an old song about this by Harry Von Tizer and William Dillon (wonder if he’s related to Bob Dylan?) that has a nice, catchy tune and lyrics and a chorus starting with, “I want a girl just like the girl who married dear old Dad.” This is two guys saying, out loud, that they want to marry someone just like their mother.

Which proves my point. If you want to snag a permanent guy, you have to become his mother. How do you do that? Easy. You ignore him when he talks to you, like that commercial for the TV show “Family Guy” where the mom’s trying to take a nap and the son is standing beside the bed going, “Mom, mom, mom, mummy, mummy, mom, mom, mummy, mummy, mummy, mom…” and she finally shouts, “WHAT!” and he says “Hi.” You have to ignore him for a long time, like a few weeks or at least through a couple of sets the live band does at the bar.

Then when you finally acknowledge that he exists, you have to have a laissez-faire attitude toward him. Laissez-faire is a word I learned tutoring – this was on a high school kid’s spelling list, and he’s from Somalia, so he doesn’t realize that the word is never, ever used in the English language in any way whatsoever except on a vocabulary sheet. Other words on the list were caveat emptor and coup d’état – I had to look them up in the dictionary to explain to him what they meant – and just try using them in a sentence!

What I’m saying is, you can’t just let the guy possess you right away, because these days he can do that with any old girl. You have to be special – he has to work to win you over. Or as one happily married guy I know phrased it, “I chased her until she caught me.”

What’s this got to do with success as a writer? Beats the hell out of me. But I think there must be something to it. Somehow we’ve got to play hard to get with these agents and publishers. (Disclaimer: You should have a respect for the rule of caveat emptor when you read anything I write.) Wouldn’t it be a great coup d’état, though, if I, as a writer, could snag a great publisher by using a laissez-faire attitude? I sure wouldn’t use these words, though, because I’d have to look them up again.

Copyright © 2017 by Suzanne Olsen