Friday, January 28, 2011

Stop Me If You've Heard This One

by G.M. Malliet

Actually, just stop me.

I was recently asked to take part in a mystery conference panel. The subject of this panel was the use of humor in the mystery novel, and I was enormously flattered that the organizers thought of me in this context.

I had a scheduling conflict, however, and would in fact be sitting on the tarmac waiting for my plane to take off about the time this panel convened, so I had to bow out. I must confess, though, it was with a hint of relief that I realized there was a conflict. If people think I write humorous mysteries--and my reviews indicate that people do--nothing would scotch that belief half so quickly as seeing me on a panel trying to make people laugh.

Any humor I manage to produce in my books comes at a cost of an entire day's work, more often than not. It's seldom spontaneous, and putting a microphone in front of me is probably guaranteed to make matters worse, not better.

When and if the funny thought arrives, I swear it seems to come out of absolutely nowhere, and then only if I've sat at my desk a long time, staring at the words on the screen until they rearrange themselves into something funny. It's a total blessing when it does happen, and I generally send up a little thank-you prayer for it.

The Midnight Ink authors who use humor in their books will probably back me up on this: If it looks like it just fell off the pen, it probably took the author hours or weeks to get there. It's supposed to look easy, and shining a light on the process by having something like me talk about the process...well...that's just too scary a thought for me. In fact, I could just see people leaving at the end of this panel, shaking their heads, and saying to each other, "That Malliet person thinks she's funny? Sheesh! I want my money back." My book sales would plummet. Returns from the bookstore would skyrocket. Total disaster.

Back me up, Inkers. Many or most of you have an element of humor in your books; many of you are just plain funny, in person and on the page. I won't embarrass you by pointing you out--you know who you are. easy is it for you to write those killer sentences and paragraphs?

Photo of Steve Martin from
Photo of Eddie Izzard from
Photo of Gilda Radner from

G.M. Malliet
Follow me on Twitter and Facebook


Vicki Doudera said...

Gin, I too was selected for a humor panel (at ALA) and thought "HUH?" Fortunately Sue Ann did a great job moderating and somehow I was able to answer a few questions.

I look forward to reading what the humorous MInkers say. How do they do it?

G.M. Malliet said...

Vicky - while you're here, I had a dream last night that you got a rave book review in the Washington Post. Hey, why not! Washington Post: Tear down that wall!

Odd coincidence: I wrote this blog posting several days ago and had it scheduled to publish today. Yesterday, Eddie Izzard accepted a Facebook friend invitation I must have sent him weeks or months ago. I am so flattered that this funny, funny guy accepted my invite. I wonder if Steve Martin is on Facebook...And don't I wish Gilda were still around.

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

Vicki, the panel at ALA brings up a good point. At ALA I was assigned to moderate a panel on humor. Of the 4 ladies on the panel and myself, only I (the moderator) was known as a humor writer and 1 other had a bit of humor in her books. I, too, said "Huh?" However the panel was a smashing success because we were able to discuss humor in all its broad terms and usages in fiction and the panel was funny. Gin, you would have been great on your panel. Trust me.

For some reason, humor comes easy to me. Each of my 3 series contains a different level of the stuff, from sweetly funny (Granny) to some slapstick and dry wit (Odelia) to dark and sly (vampires). I just let the characters fly their individual freak flags and get out of their way.

G.M. Malliet said...

Sue Ann - Flying the freak flag - you say it so well. That pic here of Gilda dressed as a brownie is a prime example. I think she's supposed to be about 8 or 9 - the last age when you're allowed to be completely crazy and no one cares. Getting in touch with that inner nut is so much fun. Writers/comedians/etc. don't have to "grow out of it." We get to stay there.

Keith Raffel said...

The ALA thinks only women are funny? Hmm. Maybe.

Darrell James said...

Gin- Like you, my characters only occassionally do or say something funny. And, even then, it's a totally spontaenous act by the characters, not me. When I "try" to be funny it usually bombs.

Beth Groundwater said...

I think humor is the hardest voice to write, and I admire authors who can do it consistently, like Sue Ann and Donna Andrews. I wrote a humorous mystery short story once, and it was the hardest thing I've done. The humor in my books tends to be situational versus wise-cracking precisely because I don't feel comfortable telling jokes in person, let alone in my writing.

In my March release, though, river ranger Mandy Tanner's best friend is bartender Cynthia, who cracks blonde jokes all the time to make jabs at Mandy. Being a blonde myself, I feel this is "my territory," so to speak.

Hey, did everyone notice that we only need one more follower to get to 200? C'mon, one of you regular readers who isn't a follower yet, become our 200th!

G.M. Malliet said...

Keith - I dunno. Did you ever jump around your bedroom with a petticoat on your head, pretending to be a bride, like Gilda? No? Maybe this is the ALA standard men are held to. However, if I'm ever again asked to be on a humor panel, I may show up with an arrow thru my head. Go on, dare me.

Only one more person needed? I'll make my neighbor sign up, but a "real" reader would be great. How about a free book to the next signer-piper?

G.M. Malliet said...

That was supposed to be signer-upper. My iPad makes some strange corrections for me sometimes.

Alan Orloff said...

I, too, admire those who can write funny (and I think I should take a lesson or two). I sure hope that people expecting KILLER ROUTINE (about a stand-up comic) to be real funny aren't disappointed.

G.M. Malliet said...

Alan - you are one funny guy, in person and on paper. You don't think so? This is subjective a topic.

What I have found interesting too is that some of the noirish, dark mystery writers are a real hoot on panels. There are no rules about this.

Vicki Doudera said...

Gin, I love your dreams, girl!

And Alan saying he's not funny... now THAT'S hilarious.

Lois Winston said...

Coming in late to the discussion because I've been in airports and on planes since 7:30am. The hardest part about writing funny is that you never know whether or not a majority of your readers will think it's funny. Humor is so subjective. I just write, then hold my breath waiting.

Julia Buckley said...

I've never been chosen for a humor panel. I consider myself funny (I come from a very funny family) but I don't know if that translates on the page.

I don't consciously ever say "I want to make this page hilarious," but I do tend to like making my dialogue humorous.

Mary said...


Deborah Sharp said...

Thoughtful post, Gin. Funny comes a lot easier to me than heartfelt, and don't ask me to go to those interior, dark spaces at all. I get a lot of nice comments about the humor in my MAMA books, but not everyone is a fan, fer sure. I was introduced to another well-known writer at a conference, and she said: ''Oh, you write those funny books.'' Yes, I answered modestly, I do. ''I HATE funny books,'' she said.