Recently when the editor of the West Houston RWA newsletter asked me if I had an article to contribute to the January newsletter, I found this piece on my computer. The file date told me that I wrote it in June 2012, but I couldn’t remember why I’d written it. It wasn’t anywhere here on the blog, it hadn’t been printed in either of my chapter newsletters, and it wasn’t on the Firebirds blog. Took me about a week to remember that it was written for the Ruby Slippered Sisterhood (the 2009 Golden Heart finalists) when I was a guest on their blog. Reading it over I see that nothing much has changed, so I’m sharing it again here.
When Bathtub Jinn, my 2012 Golden Heart finalist, got hosed in yet another chapter contest, I found myself whining about it. “This manuscript has missed the finals in so many contests,” I said, “that if it weren’t for the Golden Pen and the Golden Heart I might have kicked it under the bed.”
I didn’t say, “I might have quit writing.” I know that more than a few writers have closed their laptops after too many punishing contests or nasty reviews, but not me. I always come back. Glutton for punishment? Adrenalin junkie? No. Well, maybe yes, but that’s not the reason. I just can’t stop writing, not for long. It’s what I do.
I wasn’t really born with a book in my hand. My mother would have mentioned that, although it probably wouldn’t have surprised her. I’m sure she spent her pregnancy with a book in hers. She swore that I taught myself to read as a very small child, and complained loudly if she changed a word when she read aloud to me.
I switched from directing my playmates in acting out stories at recess to writing the stories down when I was ten or eleven. There I was, writing fan fiction for long-forgotten TV shows, decades before the Internet turned that into a sort of massive multi-player online game. Reading everything I could get my hands on and carrying a book with me everywhere (these days I carry a Kindle in my purse). Taking high school courses in creative writing—but having much more fun writing satire for (decidedly unofficial) school publications.
That may be where I went astray, venturing into humor. It wasn’t easy to inject a bit of laughter into years of high school, college, and grad school research papers, but I did my best. Over years of writing Environmental Impact Statements (the historical and archeological backgrounds, not the bugs and bunnies stuff) I even made a few people in the Corps of Engineers laugh. Well, crack a smile, anyway. And wow, did those chuckles make me happy!
So when I went back to writing fiction, longer ago than I care to contemplate, it was only natural that my characters refused to wallow in angst. Bad things happen, but my people react with snappy retorts, humor and occasional sarcasm. My characters get trapped in their own costumes, find baby alligators in their kitchens, or make momentous discoveries when they’re too drunk to remember them. Over and over again they demonstrate that love is perhaps the funniest of human predicaments.
How did I wander from contest angst to humor? Well, we all know how subjective humor is. All too often my contest scores tell me that one judge loved my snarky voice and another either hated it or completely misunderstood it. Publishing pros tell me that they love my work, but humor isn’t selling.
I started writing this with two adages in mind. The first, classic advice from the jaded professional to the wide-eyed newbie, says this is a tough, tough business. If you can stop writing, you should. Take up some other pursuit, something safer, like sky diving, or rabble rousing. Scratch that advice, doesn’t work for me.
The other famous line is “Write what you know.” What fun is that? I’d rather time travel to the nineteenth century, or cross into the dimension of the jinn, or visit an alternate time line. But I think what that hoary bit of advice really means is “Write what you are.” Write what you feel, what you care about, what matters to you. Write what comes bubbling up inside you, no matter what others say.
Love is funny. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.