Today we are fortunate to have author Lane Stone join us to talk a bit about the inspiration for her novels, her process and how she uses humor in her mysteries. Lane is the author of Current Affairs: A Tiara Investigations Mystery, Domestic Affairs and Maltipoos Are Murder.
Thanks for being here today. How did you come up with the ideas for your book – i.e., main character?
I had the idea of a Southern beauty queen – in her later years – solving crimes, but I also wanted to write about a group of friends. I decided to combine the ideas, so for the Tiara Investigation books I have co-protagonists.
I know you use a lot of humor in your books – and have spoken about this topic on panels. Did the humor come with character or the idea for the book – or was that something that developed along the way?
The co-protagonist route is the best decision I ever made! When they started talking to each other the humor just happened. It’s (usually) effortless. Have you ever noticed that when you’re with your funny friends, you’re funnier? That’s what happened.
Do you have any tips or techniques you use for humor? I recognize humor in books and sometimes I write funny things – but wonder what you do. And if you have done anything in particular to perfect that skill?
First, write the story you need/want to write. That might be a humorous novel, or a novel with a protagonist who has funny lines of dialog. The situations the characters find themselves in and how they get out of trouble will tell you the difference. If you stay true to your story, your humor will be organic – not just set up followed by joke. Readers can smell that a mile off. And a note of caution: when you write humor be careful that your characters don’t all sound alike. After all, they all have your sense of humor. Is one character smart-alecky? Is another funny, but doesn’t mean to be? (In Maltipoos Are Murder, the protag’s royal watcher mother still holds a grudge against Prince Charles for hurting Diana. She’ll never forgive him. Nor will I, but that’s another blog for another day.)
Being funny and writing funny are, unfortunately, two different skills. The good news is that you can do it! While it might be tempting to just watch sitcoms, the value of humor on the screen is limited. Let’s say after binge watching Rizzoli and Isles, your character pretends to be a medical examiner from out of town, at a speed-dating event. She’s really interested in her first companion. Her second has apparently fallen asleep. Since he never interrupts her, she prattles on for 2 or 3 minutes, telling jokes, laughing uproariously and acting like the life of the party, all to impress Date #1. When it’s discovered that Date #2 is dead, the pretend M.E. has to decide whether or not to admit her fib. Your readers can’t see the look of inner tumult on her face, until you write the words.
I recommend that you read the BEST in humorous lit. Here are two non-mystery examples. For my money, when it comes to dialogue, internal and regular, you can’t go wrong with P. G. Wodehouse. I think writing sarcasm is hard. That’s a real drawback for me since I love it so much. Wodehouse does it incredibly well. And for funny situations, I loved E. F. Benson’s Lucia books.
Finally, how do you know whether your humor will be found funny by a large group of readers vs a smaller one – i.e, how do you find that balance that is a kind of universal humor? Or be able to recognize whether what you are writing is to that kind of universal funny?
Don’t worry about making jokes that absolutely everyone finds funny. I have Amazon reviews, and comments from readers I meet, saying they laughed until they cried. Then there’s that review titled, “A little tacky.” Ouch. One person’s women’s locker room humor is another reader’s tacky.
After a while it might be hard for you to tell if a funny line or scene is working. You’ll read that @#$% joke about a thousand times before the last round of edits. Trust your critique group and let it go. Remember, if you’re staying true to your plot and making every scene work, not every joke has to hit it out of the park.
I mentioned the Lucia books earlier. They are special to me. I had bought one, but every time I picked it up, I put it down after a few pages. The characters seemed silly. Then my mother died. When I got back home from the funeral I looked at my book shelf for something to read. I picked up Make Way for Lucia and tried again. It was the funniest thing I had ever read! Every day for a month I read a few pages, and smiled. I knew right then that was what I wanted to do. And that’s why I write humorous cozies.
Lane is a native Atlantan and graduate of Georgia State University. She, her husband, Larry Korb, and the real Abby divide their time between Sugar Hill, GA and Alexandria, VA. Her debut mystery, Current Affairs: A Tiara Investigations Mystery was published in 2011. The second in the series, Domestic Affairs was published in May 2013. She’s the coauthor of the romantic suspense, Maltipoos Are Murder.
She is a member of the Chessie and Atlanta chapters of Sisters in Crimes, and RWA. She has been a panelist at Malice Domestic Mystery, Killer Nashville, and Creatures, Crimes and Creativity. She speaks regularly on the process and business of writing.
When not writing she’s enjoying characteristic baby boomer pursuits: hiking in various countries and playing golf. Her volunteer work includes raising money for women political candidates, communications and media for the Delaware River and Bay Lighthouse Foundation, and conducting home visits for A Forever Home, a dog foster organization. She is on the Political Science Advisory Board for Georgia State University. She’s a member of the Atlanta and Washington, DC Jane Austen Society of North America (JASNA) chapters, serving on DC’s 2016 Annual General Meeting Planning Committee as Coordinator of the Young Writers Workshop.