A Sense of Humor and Inspiration

It’s hard to explain your own sense of humor to someone else. You can say it’s dry or it’s witty or it’s sarcastic or it’s light or whatever, but that’s a category. It’s not easy to give someone a good idea of what tickles your funny bone or amuses you as entertainment in a single word.

I think it comes as no surprise to many who read this blog that I sincerely believe that Joss Whedon is one of the brightest, most entertaining writers on the PLANET.

Not only did he write Buffy and Angel, series that I really enjoyed, but, hey, Firefly….Serenity…and Dr. Horrible. Whedon is funny, he’s socially conscious, and he treats women like actual women in his stories, instead of as place-holders or plot devices or obligatory romance angles. I haven’t really watched a lot of Dollhouse, but it’s in the Netflix instant queue for the next time I’m looking for smart, engaging entertainment that doesn’t treat me like an idiot but doesn’t require me to have a PhD in, well, anything, to follow it. I’m okay with learning something while I’m entertained, but I don’t want to feel like I’m supposed to take notes when I’m watching TV on a rare evening break from writing and work and everything else. And I want to laugh at it, no matter how dark or serious or scary or off-kilter.

I believe that humor is a part of everything we say and do and watch and discuss. And without humor, life would just suck.

The reality shows on TV really aren’t my thing. I’d rather have a plotted out story that just watch someone else blunder their way through life. I do that enough in my own life to enjoy watching someone else flail about without a resolution that fits the story. The exception seems to be Iron Chef America and Chopped and Food Network Challenge. Cooking competition shows are like catnip to me. I can’t stop watching them, but there’s a sick, twisted part of me that can’t resist wondering if the giant sugar statute is going to crash to the floor, or if someone’s going to set their eyebrows on fire with a torch. Hey, I admit it. That’s the first step, right?

Not everything funny has to be overtly marked as comedy. I was a big fan of The West Wing. I enjoyed The Sopranos, I can’t wait for the next season of Treme, and as much as I thought that Deadwood jumped the shark a bit toward the end, I could not stop watching it because I was so enthralled by the characters and the in-jokes and the world created for the show. I have to admit to really enjoying the wit behind many of Kevin Smith’s movies, and laughed my tail off at the Fanboys movie, making fun of geek fan culture. I was very disappointed when The Riches were cancelled before we got a resolution to the wonderful buildup…because I got swept away by the characters, who you knew were really criminals but you couldn’t help but root for them to get away with whatever zany situation they were trying to talk themselves out of. And yet, the characters were fully functioning human beings that laughed and loved and worked like real people with multi-faceted angles…they were three dimensional because they had a sense of humor that inspired viewers to come back over and over again.

I fell hard for the urban fantasy genre in the beginning of Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake series, because of the turn of phrase in her main character’s thought patterns.  Jim Butcher, Patricia Briggs, and Kim Harrison are big favorites for similar reasons. I’m a huge fan of Christopher Moore, for exactly this reason, as well as Good Omens, written by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. John Scalzi’s another one whose writing just hits the right level of crack-me-up and serious topics.

I prefer funny to hack-and-slash, but if we can do both, I’m in. I’m not a fan of horror zombie movies but I enjoyed the heck out of Shaun of the Dead and Zombieland.

I can get engrossed in a well crafted sentence, reading it over and over again in my head and chuckling to myself, savoring it in my brain like a surprise chocolate melt-away candy, one smooth enough or crunchy enough to distract me from what I’d been doing before I’d read or heard the sentence.

My friends do it, too. So that means we end up quoting minor bits of books and movies and tv shows at each other, peppered throughout our conversations.

I have a tendency to really enjoy a show or a book, and watch it or read it over and over again, compelled by characters and witty lines and situations that get stuck in my head, for later enjoyment. This is not always a good thing…it results in me cackling to myself in a corner because something someone else has said has dredged back up that line I’d read, or situation I’d seen six months ago…and it wouldn’t really be funny to anyone else in the room but it’s HYSTERICAL to me at the moment. I call myself the Queen of the Weird Mental Connection for just this reason.

Just one of these single save-it-away lines can turn into an entire story in my brain. My short story, DEMON BUSTERS, INC. came from a single sentence that John Scalzi uttered in a podcast interview about intergalactic genetically enhanced soldiers squishing inch high aliens with their boots. The story I wrote talked about squashing imps with work boots. I’d laughed at the line in the interview, and THREE MONTHS LATER, I was writing something with that line in mind.

Talk about a turn of phrase that sticks with you beyond the minute’s entertainment that it initially gives! I think all writers should aspire to some of that, whether it’s an iconic line that’s become part of the popular vernacular (i.e., “going to the mattresses” from The Godfather) or some scene that people refer to in the belief that it’s a universal meeting of the minds (if I talked about the diner scene from When Harry Met Sally, I’d guess that close to 90% percent of people would associate it with a woman faking an orgasm), or the crossover appeal of the Scooby Gang references in Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

It must be genetic, as well.

Nephew is a HUGENORMOUS fan of Buzz Lightyear. From Toy Story. Which was co-written by Joss Whedon.

We must be training him young.

Either that, or he’s inheriting the same, snarky, zany, off-kilter, somewhat contextual sense of humor that most of the family seems to enjoy.

I almost feel like I should apologize to him.

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Surprises

Well, out of the blue, and appropo of absolutely nothing I had planned, I sat down to look at an earlier completed novel.

Not the GRIMM book, which is out on submission, but the werewolf book I’d trunked a year or so ago. SHADES OF GRAY.

The reality was that I’d looked at my notes for the sequel, because I’d had a random idea about one scene, and trying to turn it into a new project, maybe a short story. I got it in my head that the section I’d been looking at had something similar in the first book, so I opened up the file and began looking. I couldn’t find it.

But then I started reading.

And it doesn’t suck. In fact, I’m liking it, a lot, all over again.

Oh, sure, I’m doing a bunch of editing. Oh, sure, there are things getting changed. Definitely making some adjustments.

But I’m rapidly coming to the conclusion that it’s not as broken as I thought it was. Don’t get me wrong, there was a big plot problem…but the fix is not as involved as I’d worried. And I’m seeing the solution, which I hadn’t been able to figure out before.

After four days of reading and editing and futzing and changing, I’m not even close to done with it; but am at the halfway point in the novel. And this is a three day weekend, due to President’s Day on Monday closing my office and the courthouse.

I’m researching places to send it.

I think my frustration with it was a bit of blindness, because I’d looked at it and edited and re-drafted it so much that I couldn’t see the forest for the trees.

Yes, I’m in the midst of a new project, THE CORPSE BEHIND THE CARAVAN. And that’s stalled for a bit while I work on on these edits. The plan is to do the edits of the novel, to do edits on the query letter and the synopsis for the earlier book, and then work on submissions, before returning to the CARAVAN project.

Definitely surprised at myself. Didn’t think I’d look at that novel again. And I’m surprised about my reaction to it.

It just goes to show you that time and distance from your writing isn’t a bad thing.

 

Travel Plans

I’ve talked before about picking conferences and staying within one’s budget.

I’m following my own advice this year; I am staying closer to home than I normally do.

In that end, I will not be attending any conferences outside of Ohio this year. As much as I’d love to return to some of the conferences I’ve been to in the past, it’s just smarter this year to stay closer to home.

I’m hoping that means that I can do more since I’m spending less.

I’m still putting together some of my plans; I might even be able to stay at my own house and commute…which is a big budget saver.

I’ll say it here…no, that doesn’t mean that I’m having money problems. It means that I have a house that needs a few updates and a bit of a facelift. I need new carpet. I need new flooring in the bathrooms. I need to fix my dishwasher. There’s a whole list of things that I need to replace. These things mean prioritizing. I’m hoping that getting a head start on house expenses means the ability to travel more next year.

As I finalize plans, I’ll post my conference ideas.

Where are you planning to go this year?

Valentine’s Day

I’m not a real fan of Valentine’s Day.

In some ways it’s a nice reminder to stop and smell the roses, so to speak, but at the same time, if one needs a Hallmark-created holiday to remember to tell their loved ones that they are loved, then how strong is that love in the first place?

Tell someone you love them every day.

And remember, please, that there are a lot of people out there who do not have a healthy view of love.

There are people who idealize love, who are destined to end up alone because no real relationship matches up with the image of cupid that Hollywood has created in their mind. While this isn’t healthy, that’s not really what I’m talking about.

I’m talking about the people who use love as a weapon, people who use coercion and “love” and affection and pain to get what they want, the ego-centered selfishness that results in domestic violence. If you have to manipulate or hurt someone, or someone has to do these things to you, it’s not love.

My friend Lee Lofland has posted some very scary statistics on his blog with regards to domestic violence. Find them here.

It’s not love if you’re scared. It’s not love if you wait, with bated breath, to determine the mood of your loved one to find out whether you will have a good night or a painful one. It’s not love when someone hits you. It’s not love when someone goes out of their way to isolate you from your friends and family, to make the only option staying. It’s not love when someone controls your every move.

And it’s not love if it leaves red marks, bruises, black eyes, broken bones, stab wounds or bullet holes.

Wine Labels, Part Deux

All righty then….

I have a tendency sometimes to wander through wine racks in a store and laugh at some of the labels. I’ve blogged about this before, but here we go again…

So last Labor Day weekend, Best Friend and I went up to Lake Erie. We go every year, and generally sit on a dock with a glass of wine and try to solve the world’s problems as the sun goes down over Sandusky Bay. Talk about relaxing! Well, this year, she was pregnant, so we didn’t drink on the dock…instead we headed out to see if we could crack each other up.

And a disclaimer…this had NOTHING to do with the taste of the wine. It has everything to do with having fun at the wine store.

So, without further ado, and much apologizing for how long it took me to get these posted…the wine labels that amused us during the trip.

This had us cracking up. Barrel Chaser just seemed like an odd name for any kind of alcoholic beverage, when it shows people chasing barrels off of a wagon. I mean, don’t they call it “being on the wagon” when one is abstaining from alcohol in the first place? Or is it a statement that the wine is so good that one will chase it right off the wagon? Dangerous, that.

Or are they trying to tell us that this is a new sport that one participates in after imbibing one too many glasses of their wine?

Of course, I start thinking that this should be a more upscale version of the Greek Olympics events, like the one depicted in the Revenge of the Nerds movie, with tricycle races after chugging a beer…not that I advocate drinking like that, of course.

 

Yard Dog isn’t really what I think of when I think of fine wines, either. I mean, my fuzzy menace wears a cone when I can’t watch her right now, because she itches from her allergies, and dug a sore into her back leg that we’re trying to let heal. Then again, after bandaging her back leg, a glass of wine for me is not a bad idea…cat rasslin’ is thirsty work.

At the same time, I still wonder if they are targeting veterinary students?

Cone of shame=white wine?

Not normally my thought process.

 

 

Arrrrrgh, matey! Because the thing to do with this wine is to get a treasure map and see if “X” marks the spot! Treasure Hunter seems out of place here. I kinda thought that pirates preferred rum.

As in the expression on Jack Sparrow’s face when Elizabeth blows up the rum…http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F0NPKCANhpQ for what I mean.

On the other hand, maybe a good choice for a costumed dinner party? Or on Talk Like A Pirate Day?

Ahoy!

 

 

Le Faux Frog. Now, I didn’t take French in school. I took Spanish. And I did go to law school, so there’s a few Latin phrases that I’ve picked up along the way, but this sure looks to me like someone named a bottle of wine, “The Fake Frog”. Is that like imitation crab?

They’re pretty labels, but where would one buy fake frog?

Does it taste like chicken?

 

 

Now, I have not tried this wine myself, but several friends have told me that it’s pretty good.

I just can’t get over the visual image of the name Fish Eye.

Especially if I’m eating fish for dinner while I’m drinking a glass of this wine. I’m a visual thinker, which means that I will get a picture in my head of what’s being talked about, which can sometimes be a dangerous thing. If you’re having dinner with me, and we’re talking about something, be sure that I’ve gotten some oddball visual image in my head of something that’s been said if I’m cracking up and it doesn’t seem to fit what we’re talking about. I do have friends that take advantage of this to see if they can get me to snort wine across the table. Note to self: If I try this wine and we’re eating fish, make sure to keep the bottle out of sight in the kitchen to avoid the nose-wine filter.

 

 

This was the best one we saw, and funny….but at least partly to me because my family’s joked about this for years.

Pinot Evil is now absolutely on my list to try, just for that reason.

When I was a kid, we had one of those old, 8mm cameras that Mom and Dad took home movies with. We have joked for YEARS about one of those videos, which shows me (at about age 3), Dad, and Sister (less than 1 year old) at about Christmas time. I don’t remember which was which, but Dad and I were demonstrating “See No Evil” and “Hear No Evil” for the camera, really hamming it up, and the camera pans to my Sister, who was chewing on some teething beads. We’ve said for years that she was illustrating “Eat No Evil” instead of “Say No Evil”.

We also pass around a gag gift every year that was my mother’s, a coin bank of monkeys that illustrate this very thing. Every year we joke about who is going to unwrap the monkeys, and find new and interesting ways to gift them around the family.

This past year, I wrapped them up and presented them to Nephew, who then turned around and gifted them to my cousin’s daughter (they’re both around the age of 3).

I think I’ll have to look for a bottle of this for Christmas, next year, just for laughs.

 

Frustrations

There’s a lot going on right now that has me frustrated.

There’s the personal life frustrations, which aren’t getting blogged about, but create some confusion that I can’t do a lot to fix on my own.

There’s the instability of knowing what trials will go and what will resolve. Despite nine years of doing this job, this is still a frustration with no real solution. Fortunately I’ve worked with some GREAT courtroom managers/bailiffs that help with scheduling snafus. A lot. Thanks, guys.

There’s the frustration of having a short story out on submission for months on end with no response, and no way to know if the story ever got through the spam filter.

There’s the frustration of tripping over boxes of Brother’s stuff in the house because we still haven’t gotten it all organized yet and out of the way.

There’s the frustration of the cat misbehaving just for the sheer fact that it gets my attention.

And the frustration of the new novel not behaving as I try to get the first draft down.

Not to mention all the things I want to get done with the house before spring hits in earnest and yardwork and flowerbeds need serious attention.

So, I’m frustrated right now. On a lot of different fronts, but that’s just the way it goes. There’s really no solution to it, other than just to keep powering on through all of it. Close friends and family members know that I’m stubborn enough to pick a goal and run straight at it like a battering ram. I’m not unwilling to hear better suggestions and implement them, but I don’t give up easily. The human battering ram act gets frustrating, for lack of a better term, after a while. And leaves me with a whale of a headache after slamming my head against the wall over and over again.

That is all.

On Starting a New Project

For some dumb reason, I do this EVERY time I start a new fiction project.

I’ll do research and outline and plot and brainstorm and talk with a few writer buddies, but when I start writing it, I hate it.

So I’ll put aside that first page or so for a day or two, and I’ll come back to take a fresh stab at writing the scene in my head. Almost certainly, I still hate it. I’ll hate it slightly less that I hated that first version, but it’s still trash-can-chucking level of writing.

I’ll start it a third time, or even a fourth time, and by that time, it’s no longer at this-sucks-only-slightly-less-than-vomit and starting to look more like prose I’m proud of. And then I’ll edit what I’ve got one more time to see if it’s doing what I want before I start rocketing down the Don’t-Look-Down-Frenzy-of-First-Draft-Insanity. I’ve done that on every single fiction project, save one, that I’ve EVER written.

What to do? It’s a great idea, I just can’t get the brain revved up to move forward with it on the first, or even second try. It’s kinda like an old pull start mower, that you have to pull it three or four times to get it rolling, and then adjust all the controls and knobs and fiddle with it to get it rolling right. 

Of course, when I think of this analogy, I can’t help thinking of Eddie Izzard’s bit from his show Glorious, where he talks about his dad starting up the lawn mower when he was a kid. Specifically, the bit itself starts about 52 seconds into the video, and it doesn’t last very long…once he starts talking about glove compartments he’s on to something else. But the lawn mower bit is actually pretty accurate as to how my brain seems to need revving up when I start a project.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MmFlK79hGUw&playnext=1&list=PL94E6C12BD1277780

Anyone else feel this way?

By the way, on the new project, I’m on the fourth pull-start. And feel like I’ve got it humming right now.

And no, you can’t see the old stuff. I plan to burn it in effigy (at least by symbolically printing it out and burning it) when I finish the project.