I discovered a new hilarious author this week – Rob Reid. It appears that Year Zero is his first novel, but not his first book. The SF novel pokes fun at our entertainment world, copyright system, and “Fame” when aliens arrive on Earth to try to settle a debt incurred by the whole universe copying our music. Delightfully original and funny!
Suspend your disbelief for the funniest of novels. I’ve seen reviews of these books that say these things could never happen. But some of them actually do happen. And to me that’s part of the humor. The authors can take a common event and turn it into an outrageous adventure. Even though many of these books base their stories on real events, the authors take you to a place where you can enjoy the humor of the situation. When I need a good laugh and a break from bleak reality, humorous books are the best prescription.
If you’ve read any of Tim Dorsey’s novels, you know that he writes sick, raucous humor. His protagonist, Serge Storms, is an insane killer who thinks up the weirdest ways to do away with anyone he thinks doesn’t deserve to live. He even killed a guy for littering in one of his books. Serge’s sidekick, Coleman, is always under the influence – alcohol and all kinds of drugs. Serge doesn’t indulge except occasionally when he decides to take his medication for his psychosis.
They drive around Florida, never staying long in one place. Something I find very interesting about these books is that they are loaded with Florida history. Serge loves Florida. He stops at any and every historical marker and museum. He finds places where no one else would bother. He loves the wildlife, the swamps, the amusement parks, the old buildings. He describes them all and the history behind them. And he does this without boring you. Lots of insane humor. If you check out any of the places they visit, well known or obscure, you will find they are real. Dorsey has to be a real Florida history buff.
Carl Hiaasen is one of my favorite authors. He’s another one who writes his stories in Florida. He throws together groups of wild characters and weird events that could happen (and sometimes do happen) in Florida. He mocks Florida politics, land development, and environmental policies. One character who makes an appearance from time-to-time is an ex-governor eco-terrorist. Other characters show up in more than one book, but mostly we are meeting new and outlandish people in each novel.
Sadly, Elmore Leonard is no longer with us. He wrote in many diverse styles, including mystery, detective, westerns…even nonfiction. He also wrote some great crime humor, many set in Florida. He will be missed.
Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum novels made me fall out of my chair laughing when I started reading them. But after 19 or 20 books, Stephanie is getting a little old these days. (I don’t mean old in years because she never ages.) She doesn’t change or grow or make up her mind about her life and her two boyfriends. Some of the other characters in the Plum novels have changed and grown and are more interesting. I prefer reading some of Evanovich’s other novels, based on other characters, now that I’ve grown a bit tired of Stephanie. These books are set in New Jersey. You probably thought I thought all humor sprang from Florida.
Usually when people refer to the three H’s they mean “Hands, Head, and Heart.”
“He who works with his hands is a laborer.
He who works with his hands and his head is a craftsman.
He who works with his hands and his head and his heart is an artist.”
~ St. Francis of Assisi
For me the three H’s are head, heart, and humor. In my opinion, the best books, movies, fictional characters, and people in real life have all three. Writing the three H’s is all about knowing your characters. Some of my favorite authors skip the humor (it’s hard to write), but there is usually a scattering of humor in the most serious novels. They need head, heart, plus lots of good character, story, plot, and background detail to keep me interested without humor.
When I think about using your head, it includes logic, creativity, curiosity, planning, digging into your memory, feeding the desire to learn, and on and on and on… Some people are better at some aspects than others, but they all keep life interesting. If you keep your mind active, at least you won’t get bored.
Heart means reaching outside ourselves to others. We need interests in people, animals, the environment, or something that lessens our own problems. We need to pay attention to what’s happening to others. Nothing makes you feel better than working to improve a situation or a life. If we are too self-involved, too busy worrying about our own problems, we don’t have time to see what we can do for the people and world around us.
Humor to me is simple. If you can’t laugh at yourself, the world will get you down. You don’t need to be joking and laughing all the time, just be able to see the humor in everyday life. People said my mother didn’t have a sense of humor, but I thought she had a superior one. She may not have “gotten the joke” or understood what was funny about a silly movie or a TV sitcom, but she had a subtle sense of humor. She could laugh at life and she could induce that ‘roll on the floor out of control’ laughter in her children.
I googled the three H’s and found others. One site talked about creating music and listed honesty, humanity, and hooks. I guess that could apply to writing, too. There are other important ones, health, hope, and happiness. We can work at having good health, but we don’t always have a choice when it leaves us. I’ve known people with serious health problems who are still lively, interested, involved, connected to others, and living fuller lives than some who are perfectly healthy. Hope and happiness are positive attitudes that should follow if we use head, heart, and humor appropriately.
I just read Slash and Burn by Colin Cotterill (along with a couple of other books.) A great read. He is an author I haven’t previously read, but the book is not a first novel for him. This is the eighth book in his Dr. Siri series.
The series is set in Laos in the late seventies. Dr. Siri is the official coroner for Laos. A job he never wanted. He’s pushing eighty and keeps trying to retire. I’ve never been to Laos, never wanted to go, and have no clue about the culture or the environment. Yet, I felt right at home there through Cotterill’s writing. He writes great descriptions of the place and of his crazy characters.
The interactions between the locals and a group of Americans on an MIA mission are thoroughly entertaining. The story has a wild plot and lots of good humor.
I always enjoy discovering a good author. Please forgive me if I don’t talk about books I don’t like. I couldn’t do any of them justice since I usually don’t read past the first few chapters. I do almost all of my reading at night for an hour or two or three when I go to bed. I finished Slash and Burn in two late nights.