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At the Back Fence Issue #142

Summer’s not summer without the AAR Bookbag!

July 15, 2002

Announcing the winner in our annual Purple Prose Parody Contest is among my favorite things to do every year at All About Romance. Because it’s such a fun and funny contest (and because it’s taking longer to interpret the results of our site-wide style poll than we expected), we’re going to devote this entire column to humor in romance. Look for our style poll results next time; I guarantee you’ll laugh enough with this column to forgive us our broken promise. Enjoy!

Because of its length, this column is posted in two segments:

histbutPart I – July 15th   histbutPart II – July 17th

Part I:

Our 6th Annual Purple Prose Parody Contest (LLB)

When I first concocted the idea of the Purple Prose Parody Contest back in 1997, it was to poke fun at the excesses of romance novels in a way that only people who actually love them could do. I wrote a brief (8 paragraph) snippet that featured as many hackneyed phrases as I could, and threw down the gauntlet to other lovers of romance novels to do the same. Starting a contest such as this was a scary prospect, particularly since the editor of the site I wrote for at the time – The Romance Reader – would not allow me to post it there. Would anyone enter? Would the entries be any good? Would people think it was a mean-spirited effort?

All my fears were quelched once the entries started to come in. Historical romance author Marsha Canham wrote the winning entry that first year, and it was a doozy. Who can forget Randy Hawkesnose swelling “to a state of turgid tumescence he had never experienced before in all his many years as a libertine and profligate debaucher?” Or visualizing as “the buttons on the overstretched seams (of his breeches) began to pop one by one, firing into the shadows like small bullets of desire, each ‘ping’ causing Bliss’ pulse to race a beat faster?”

As the years have passed, this contest has grown into one of our readers’ favorite features. People start asking about it during late winter, and each and every year the entries have surprised me with their originality, their cleverness, and their out-and-out hysterical humor.

I believe this year’s entries may have been the best…even though I think that every single year. I know I’m not alone in thanking every entrant for putting herself out there to be judged; your efforts this year were fabulous.

The competition was certainly keen, but three entries broke away from the other 12 and were so close that until the final vote was made, there was essentially a three-way tie. When the final vote was tallied, each of the “final three” had received roughly three times as many votes as the “other 12,” even though most entries had received at least one vote. Before divulging the winning entry, let’s hit some highlights of “the other 12,” from the sublime to the ridiculous, starting with the ridiculous.

Carrie Hines’ Breasts in the Wind had a most novel concept: an albino spinster with the scent of “orchids and cat food,” whose massive mammaries cause her to take flight like some sort of perverted Mary Poppins, was brought down to earth by a peg-legged cowboy Navy SEAL pirate. It wasn’t enough that the sight of her naked body “shot off his leg and circled the room, ricocheting off the walls before catching Millie in the solar plexus and sending her crashing to the bed.” No, his eyes had to pop out of his head so that she could return them to him. While one reader thought Hines’ parody got a little too grodie, Mary Lynne Nielsen, one of our Cover Committee Members wrote that “The absurdity of the albino DD heroine and the peg-legged SEAL hero was just too priceless for words.”

I’d like to thank Janet Mitchell for her Happily Married Hero; clearly she’s read one too many romances where she’s wanted to scream “Get over yourself!” at the tortured hero. Lance, the gloomy hero par excellence, is not having a good day. First his best friend gives Lance a deserved set-down for his beastly behavior, then Felicity, Lance’s wife tells him: “I’m leaving you, you doofus. Mary Jo Putney, Taylor Chase, Judith Ivory, and Adele Ashworth are all holding Heroine auditions next week.” Lance protests that she can’t be another heroine because “heroines have to be virgins or victims!” To which Felicity responds that experienced heroines are all the thing now. As she leaves him, she turns the knife just a little when she says, all the while patting his cheek: “Don’t worry, Lance. I’ve got good news. I’ve embezzled most of your fortune – since you forced me to marry you, I decided that you owed me a little something for my misery. The creditors will be here to haul you off to prison for a few days. Just think about it. Your wife abandons you to debtor’s prison – you can live off this for years!”

Since we began to encourage the author homage a few years ago, this type of parody has become a favorite among those submitting and those voting. This year is no exception, and “Christina Zeeman’s” Dark Putz garnered several votes from devoted Christine Feehan fans. No one undertakes an author homage without being a tremendous fan of the author because do to a good homage parody, one has to have read many of that author’s books. What becomes clear to fans of Feehan’s Carpathian series is this: the heroes are unrelenting in their pursuit of their “life mates,” regardless of the difficulty their mate has in accepting their fate. Hence, in this parody, the repetitive argument between “Nikhail Duh-brinksy, dark prince of the Appalachians…an Appalachian super-alpha-male,” and the “tall, elegantly thin” (but independent and telepathic FBI agent) Crow Witless – with “stick-like arms and legs” and split-ends that “nothing a good daytime snooze under the healing soil of the Appalachian Mountains wouldn’t fix” becomes increasingly funny, particularly since it is ever-more apparent that the sexual connection between the two muddies the waters for Ms Witless.

Another author homage was written by Alicia Myers, who loves Suzanne Brockmann’s SEALS and Lindsay McKenna’s Mercenaries. In The SEAL Mercenary, who wouldn’t fall in love with Absalom “Wolfman” Johnson, who saves Muffy Von Trampen from the terrorists who surely would have killed her “grandmother’s uncle’s cousin’s sister’s brother’s twice removed nephew?” And now that they’re alone, in a hotel room, he removes “his 3 boot knives, 7 throwing knives, 4 pistols, the belt knife, 5 hand grenades, 58 boxes of ammunition, 15 listening devices, 2 bazookas, a grenade launcher…and 37 condoms” while Muffy, wearing her “$1500 De La Renta pink silk micro-mini dress,” walks slowly to the bed so that the Wolfman won’t know how eager she is for his multi-orgasmic touch. Those of you who like a little dirty bed-talk will find the Wolfman’s verbal foreplay more than intriguing as he tells Muffy all the interesting places he plans to have wild sex with her, including a helicopter and, after they crash, the jungle, where he guarantees her the “biggest orgasm of” her life, so big he’ll have to cover her mouth with his hand so that the bad guys won’t discover them while they’re having life-affirming sex.

And who can forget AAR Reviewer Rachel Potter’s Intervention with The Vampire? This is Rachel’s second year in the contest, and she certinly hit her stride this year. Only someone who has read many of Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter series (and is also familiar with the titles in Anne Rice’s vampire series) could have written such a brilliant parody and created a love triangle between vampire Jean-Fraude, werewolf Dick, and Annika Black. Is she a necromancer, or is she a “feisty” and delusional woman who has concocted a mystical triumvirate out of some sick need?

Marsha Canham’s vote went to Intervention with a Vampire. She wrote:

“I must say, this year’s entries were all excellent and it was hard to narrow them down to one clear winner. There were words and phrases that had me laughing through all the parodies, none more so than Cheryl S in her homage to Stephanie Laurens: ‘A cactus spine invaded his breeches. He inhaled sharply. Moved a bit to the left. Never broke the kiss.’ Honorary mention must go to Blythe Barnhill in her homage to Mary Jo Putney, Jo Beverley, and Stephanie Laurens, if only for the pithy observation about sequels: ‘But Rex! Isn’t that dangerous?’ ‘Only if the author is Marsha Canham. Our authors just trot us out for show. No one seriously believes anyone good will get hurt.’ Is she implying that I blithely kill off my characters, good or bad? “After much debate, however, my vote goes to Rachel Potter and her homage to Laurell K Hamilton: Intervention with the Vampire. Werebunnies aside, it was just too perfect a parody, right down to the indestructible and unflappable heroine:”

“In the shower I glanced down at myself and winced. The whole lower part of my body was black and blue, three toes were half-severed, my abdomen had been eviscerated, and part of my small intestine was sticking out. I pushed that back in with my thumb and washed my hair. Sure, it all hurt, but it wouldn’t last long.”

There were many other, terrific entries this year, but it’s time to get to the top three vote-getters. Marsha Canham mentioned two in her comments: Cheryl’s To Refuse a Reprobate, an homage to Stephanie Laurens’ Cynster series, and Blythe’s Epilogue, an homage to “Mary-Beverly Lauren,” (aka Mary Jo Putney, Jo Beverley, and Stephanie Laurens). The third is Sherry Thomas’ The Duke.

This is Sherry Thomas’ second Purple Prose Parody; her first was 2000’s High Pluto Orbit, set in 2060 AD. Both her Y2K and 2002 entries were highly inventive…and highly hysterical. In this year’s entry, the reader reads as an author is writing her book. All the while the author’s husband wanders into the scene, peeking over her shoulder to ask “typically male” questions and speak with guy-talk frankness, thoroughly frustrating the author, but undoubtedly contributing to a “surprise” ending. In one part of Thomas’ parody, the author has just written: “‘You are inundated with pearly nectar.’ He murmured, as he positioned the rod of his manhood to take her, at last,” when her husband asks, “Can’t he just say ‘Your pussy is soaking wet, babe’? What kind of man calls it pearly nectar anyway? The Snapple guy?” Reader Senetra made the mistake of reading the parody at work and almost needed Depends when she read this part.

Marianne Stillings, one of last year’s sublime winners (remember Parody in Death?), and Tina Engler, who won two years ago for her equally brilliant Robin Schone parody, both gave their vote to Sherry Thomas. Tina wrote, “Thomas had excellent timing in terms of cutting back and forth between the writing and Victor’s comments…it was just too funny.” Reader Debbie wrote, “I like the clueless male point of view being used to uncover the absurdities in the historical romance the wife is writing,” while Karen had this to say: “I loved The Duke because I loved Victor’s observations on wimpy females and overdone orgasms. And the re-write was perfect!” And former AAR columnist Carol Irvin (Covers Covered by Carol), another entrant in this year’s contest, wrote: “Victor made it. He was just so husband like and male. She captured him and ‘the male’ vis a vis the romance genre perfectly. Victor made my choice so easy! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought of him.

Epilogue is AAR Managing Editor Blythe Barnhill’s fourth Purple Prose Parody. Two years ago she did a Scottish time travel/SEAL parody and last year she wrote a sort-of sequel to it in The Humanitarian Hero. When she sent in her entry this year and I realized it was not another SEAL parody, I was at first disappointed…until I read the new parody over and over and over, to catch each and every reference she had made to various books and themes. I think Blythe’s entry is perhaps the most cerebral of this year’s submissions, as she parses and lovingly skewers what we love and don’t about epilogues and sequels.

Before getting into more detail about Blythe’s entry, I’d like to share with you a vote that was, line for line, as clever as a “real” entry, by Janie:

“Choosing a Purple Prose Parody Winner” …
Otherwise Known As “The Impossible Task”Eee-nee, Mee-nee, Mye-nee, Moe …
Decision time. Which way to go?

Didn’t see a Western purple prose parody …
So it’s not likely to be an easy selection for me.

Still there’s lots of choices, whole lots of fun …
Should have an answer, when I’m done.

No to Vampires, Tired of Lifemates …
No to Chick Lit and “So Long, Bill Bates”.

“To Refuse a Reprobate” no parody this …
An excellent first draft that Laurens must miss.

Poor Lance, “The Happily Married Hero” …
If he’s not a Rake, he’s a great big Zero.

SEALS and Big Breasts … Hilarious, yes …
Good books need more than a great big chest.

Virgins and Ranchers, Sheiks and Nerds …
So many plots and cliches. So many fine words.

“Dora’s Ladies” spot-on with siblings and depiction.
Shows why so many have that fiction addiction.

The romance review writer left no stone unturned.
Why buy the book once the Spoilers are learned?

Where does this leave me. Who shall I choose?
I enjoyed them all, and hate any to lose.

“The Duke’s” author at work, amidst all distractions …
Takes the criticisms to heart and changes all actions.

Mary-Beverly Lauren and her many “Hounds of Hell” …
Remind me of those favorite books, I’ve enjoyed so well.

There’s been lots of laughter, and I must finally say …
“Epilogue” (and Ruffgar) by Blythe Barnhill finally rule the day.

Thanks for the all the laughs, Ladies. I think you were all just great.

What is particularly hilarious about Blythe’s parody was her creation of the “Hounds of Harrow,” and how she carried the “doggie” metaphor throughout her story of how the tortured Rex has managed to forget not only his “evil first wife” but “all those men who died under (his) command during the Peninsular War” after marrying his second wife, Samantha, and fathering a set of twin sons. And unless the author is Marsha Canham, no reader has to worry about the future happiness of any of the Hounds of Harrow (as opposed to being a Rogue, Fallen Angel, Cynster, Flying Baboon, or Cock of the Walk) – not Benjamin “Benji,” Earl of Arfington, Wolf St. Bernard, Skip (Sir Fido), nor Phillip “Spot” Dalmashon” – although, as Rex says, “Michael is the Duke of Ruffgar. Everyone is waiting for Ruffgar.” In the following segment, Blythe encapsulates just about everything there is to parody about sequels and epilogues when Rex speaks to Samantha’s fears about how readers will know they still love each other when they’re fifty “and have ten strapping boys?”

“Samantha, I thought you knew! They’ll see us again and again. And again and again. Always blissfully happy, always expecting another child. Haven’t you noticed my six friends? The author still has six more books to write, and we’ll appear in all of them. Your job is to give future heroines advice about how to get a confirmed rake to commit, and my job is to listen while my friends get drunk off their butts at Whites because they can’t face the fact they’re falling in love. We also get to show up at the nick of time when they couple du jour is in danger. It’ll be fun!”

And then there’s Cheryl’s To Refuse a Reprobate, an homage to Stephanie Laurens’ Bar Cynster series, and in particular, the last couple of volumes in that series. Again, only a reader who truly loves an author can be this “dead-on” on an author’s books, and Cheryl achieves that goal hilariously.

To Refuse a Reprobate introduces Aloysius Fitz-Cynster, better known as “Imp” (and furious that his extended family have taken “all the good demonic names anyway”), and Hectate Higston-Houghton, a bluestocking spinster who is an “itch under his skin” and “burr under his saddle.” Imp has asked Hectate to marry him, but she has refused. As he takes her to a secluded spot for their next intimate encounter, he tells her:

“I am a Fitz-Cynster. We never take no for an answer. Especially when that bitch Fate decrees we marry. Especially when I’ve already had you. Had your tongue in my mouth. Had your breasts in my hands. Had your hands on my flesh. Had your innocence for my own.”As he spoke, Hectate felt her body react. Felt her flesh quiver. Felt her nipples ruche. Felt her most secret place become moist with wanting.

“No!” she hissed. “I will never marry you!”

Imp growled as he picked her up in his arms and resumed his ocelot prowl through the conservatory, eyes examining his surroundings.

Fountain? Been done. Swing? No. Bench? Too easy. Cactus-filled planter? Ah yes! Now there’s a challenge worthy of a Fitz-Cynster!

In a snippet that turns the whole “why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free” argument on its head, Aloysius tries to convince Hectate – as they do the deed – that if they marry, they can “do this all the time.” She answers, “But we do this all the time now…why get married?” And in a final exchange between the two, after he pulls a cactus spine from his ass, he asks:

“The Featherstonaugh ball tomorrow night?” he asked.”I don’t think they have a conservatory,” she mused. “But I do believe there is a gazebo.”

Gazebo, he thought. Hmmm….

“I’ll see you there, and this time you will say yes!”

“Humph!” she said, tossing her head and she strode past him and back into the ballroom.

And the Winner Is. . . (LLB)

That should actually read: “And the winners are…,” as Cheryl S’s To Refuse a Reprobate and Sherry Thomas’ The Duke edge out Blythe Barnhill’s The Epilogue as the final votes were tallied. As mentioned earlier, all three parodies received three times as many votes as the remainder of the entries received, and yet every single entry was superb in its own way. If you haven’t read all the parodies yet or would like another look at them, please click here.

Both Cheryl and Sherry will receive AAR Bookbags signed by as many authors attending the RWA National Conference as (ironically enough) Blythe can get to sign them. I hope Blythe takes her own AAR Bookbag and has it signed as well. We’ll add comments from the winners here as they come in.


Humor in Romance (LLB)

Humor is perhaps one of the most subjective elements in a romance novel, just as it is in film and television. What one person finds hilarious another person finds forced, gross, silly, or stupid. One reader may prefer bawdy, vulgar “bathroom” or slapstick humor while another enjoys dialogue-driven drawing room comedy. And some readers tend to like it all, all, that is, that works for them.

As someone who loves old movies as much as I love romance novels, my tastes run the gamut. Hepburn and Tracy? Love ’em, from Pat and Mike to The Desk Set. Grant or Astaire and just about anyone? Love ’em too. The Palm Beach Story, The Awful Truth, and My Man Godfrey? All three…terrific. I think many of what I consider “jazz-age comedies” are terrific. And yet also terrific are the “low-brow” humor of Animal House, the might-even-be-better Revenge of the Nerds, and – with the chorus of Springtime for Hitler repeating itself over and over again in my head since we watched The Producers for the umpteenth time last night – Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein. If I only could have convinced Sandi Morris that the photo of Peter Boyle as Frankenstein and Madeline Kahn with her hair zapped into the “Bride of Frankenstein” hairdo lying in bed and reading the paper was the right photo for our Favorite Funnies page, I’d have been a happy camper…sigh. Some might find it odd that I like Mel Brooks as much as I like Oscar Wilde, but I laughed throughout The Importance of Being Earnest and The Ideal Husband every bit as loudly as I laughed during History of the World, Part I. As for a terrific “modern” romantic comedy, dare I say I love the unsophisticated but “every-girl-can-dream, can’t she,” Sixteen Candles?

There’s also the black humor of War of the Roses or Throw Mama from the Train; many people don’t enjoy this kind of humor and find it “mean,” and though I have to be in a certain kind of mood to enjoy it, I do like it. If Garry Shandling’s The Larry Sanders Show isn’t on the list of all-time best comedies, whomever made the list clearly never saw it. His earlier show, with its goofy “This is the theme to Garry’s Show” theme song was also wonderful, but in a ripping down the third wall absurdist fashion.

And then there’s the semi-stupid humor in a movie like If a Man Answers (Sandra Dee, Bobby Darin, and Caesar Romero?) or the more recent Rat Race (when Jon Lovitz and his family are on a road trip and he decides to placate his daughter with a visit to the Barbie Museum – only to discover they’re in the Klaus Barbie Museum with a roomful of neo-Nazis – I decided then and there that this was one of the funniest sight gags ever to make it on-screen). You’ll find out later that Robin considers herself something of a comedy snob, and she’s not particularly happy about it. But sometimes I’m embarrassed to admit I not only watch Frasier, but have six hours worth of Gilligan’s Island on videotape that we sometimes watch in mini-family-marathons.

Of course, when I read a romance novel, I’m reading for the romance. Obviously if I choose a humorous romance, I hope the humor is wonderful, but I wouldn’t grade a Karen Ranney romance down for not being humorous because it’s not supposed to be humorous. When I look back on the humorous romances I’ve read and consider their humorous components, those that didn’t work were ones that seemed “forced” to me. If I sense the author’s effort in the so-called humor, she loses me immediately.

As far as I’m concerned, humor works best when it comes out of character, especially when it reminds you of yourself or somebody you know, but there’s something to be said for situational humor, particularly when the character and the situation collide, so to speak. It’s not so much the situation that makes it funny, it’s how the person interacts with the situation. Put a certain type of person in a certain type of situation, and voila – you have humor. Which is why you can take an essentially “straight” character, make his or her surroundings absurd, and sit back and enjoy the show – think Bob Newhart at his inn in Vermont and you’ll immediately get the idea. Or, if you’ve read The Vicar’s Daughter, you’ll no doubt be reminded of what happens when a perfectly stuff-shirted hero meets up with a heroine (and her family) whose behavior knocks the stuffing out of him. One of the funny things, of course, is to see how a “normal” character changes as a result of his surroundings, and the people who surround him. The epilogue of Bewitching, one of two romances (ever) to have made me cry as well as laugh, perfectly illustrates my point when the once-stuff-shirted hero tries to get his uptight son to loosen up as things levitate around the room. There’s more of a chance that this will go too far in episodic television, I think, than in a book; more than a couple of years after the cancellation of Newsradio, I can’t decide whether it was as funny once the characters played by Dave Foley and Maura Tierney (Tierney in particular) turned from playing it straight to playing it for laughs.

Because I think there’s a place for both character-based and situation-based humor, I’m as apt to laugh when reading about a medieval heroine falling in manure as I am when I read bon mots dripping off the tongues of drolly sophisticated lords and ladies at a Regency ball. An uptight hero’s slow born when a beautiful but accident-prone heroine drops a tray of jam and scones on his meticulous person? Love it. And I am in hysterics remembering Jillian Hunter’s Indiscretion, in which the proud viscount masquerades as a butler and is constantly counseled by the heroine’s household staff that it’s “quite clear he was born below-stairs” – can’t you just imagine Cary Grant playing that role? What of the blackly humorous scene in Patricia Cabot’s Portrait of My Heart that occurs when the selfish hero drugs a maid so he can get into his heroine’s bed? Sublime. Or the moment in Christina Dodd’s A Well Pleasured Lady when a conniving group of female relatives vie for the chance to entrap the hero in bed so as to destroy his relationship with the heroine? Wonderful, simply wonderful! As for those witty and crispy written set-downs between a hero and heroine who don’t want to admit they are coming to care for one another, I eat them like candy…but only if the rest of the romance lives up to the humor.

The proud hero in Indiscretion endures much more than “housemaid’s knee,” all to prove to his heroine that he’s a better man than he once was. This book is a DIK for me because of the combination of humor and romance; what’s funny wouldn’t even be funny if it weren’t for the romance. And while that’s not precisely true for either the Dodd or Cabot, the humor in these blackly funny romances enriches the love stories in an unusual and unexpected way.

So my refrain for the day is that comedy is simply a part of a romance, and if the rest of the romance doesn’t live up to its humor, what’s the point of reading it?

Those of us at AAR have very different sense of humor. Ellen is the only one who admits to liking The Three Stooges; much of what she enjoys is physical humor, which I enjoy as well, even though I don’t care for Moe, Larry, or Curly (the jury’s still out on Shemp). She finds Sandra Hill’s writing hilarious; I read a couple of chapters of what’s purported to be one of her funniest books, and I didn’t “get” it. Rachel doesn’t enjoy “Julie Garwood” humor while I adore it; I never find Garwood’s heroines TSTL. Robin tells me she tends to go for more sophisticated humor, and she enjoys the Regency-set historicals of Deborah Simmons, whose word choices, names, and phraseology are often so funny that I’ve read them aloud to fully enjoy them. Jane enjoys the early traditional Regency Romances of Kasey Michaels as much as I do, and I adore them because every single bit of dialogue between her heroes and heroines are written with precision, wit, and a light hand.

Julia Quinn wrote something that defined what I look for in a humorous romance more than anything as part of our conversation about humor: “If the characters don’t grab you, if you don’t care about them, if your breath never catches in your throat, then I don’t care how much a book makes you laugh – in the end, it’s not going to be a memorable read.”

I’ve enjoyed the humorous romances of many more authors than the few I’ve named here; those of you who have read my reviews or columns no doubt already know who these other authors are. Rather than repeat their names, I thought it would be interested to ask several authors of humor romance a series of questions that they could answer or use as a jumping off point to talk about humor in romance. Here are the questions Teresa Medeiros, Rachel Gibson, Julia Quinn, Sheri Cobb South, and Patricia Cabot answered for me:

  • How consciously do you incorporate humor in your writing?
  • Do you prefer clever dialogue or clever situations, or both?
  • What are some titles of your favorite humorous romances, and why?
  • What’s the funniest romance you’ve ever written?
  • What are your favorite forms of humor?
  • What’s your favorite humorous movie?

Some of these authors’ responses may surprise you; Patricia Cabot, for instance, looks at humor in a very different way than Rachel Gibson or Julia Quinn do, and yet I know Quinn happens to adore Cabot’s writing. As for me, I’m going to have to deal with my propensity for liking both the high-brow and the low-brow.


Teresa Medeiros

Most of the time when I open my mouth, that’s just what pops out. I’ve been told that I do very character-driven humor, which means that putting certain characters in certain situations is just inherently funny. To be honest, I don’t consciously incorporate anything in my writing. I’m a very instinctive writer who can only tell the story the way it plays out in my subconscious.

I always enjoy a taste of slapstick, but clever dialogue would have to be my favorite. I love the old Cary Grant movies of the 30’s and 40’s. That type of fast-paced, witty banter never fails to win my heart. For pure slapstick delight, you can’t beat Jill Barnett’s Just a Kiss Away. I tend to remember specific scenes like Jane removing all of the marshmallows from Cal’s Lucky Charms in Susan Elizabeth Phillip’s Nobody’s Baby But Mine. Rebecca Paisley was always hysterical, but she could be poignant as well. I love it when an author can make me laugh and cry. (LLB: I agree; Basket of Wishes is the second of two books that can make me laugh as well as cry.)

Writers are rotten judges of their own books, but I’d probably have to say Fairest of Them All or Breath of Magic are my funniest books. At some point in all of my books, I usually have my tongue planted firmly in my cheek.

I don’t care much for bathroom humor, although the Austen Powers movies are a hoot. I tend to gravitate toward satire or romantic adventures with humor a la Romancing the Stone. I also like gentle comedies with a strong sense of place like Doc Hollywood My favorite humorous movie…Would you believe This is Spinal Tap?It’s not very romantic, but the satire is scathingly brilliant.

Rachel Gibson

I have never consciously incorporated humor. If readers get a chuckle out of something I’ve written, than I think that’s really wonderful and I’m pleased, but it’s not something I do on purpose. I know authors who do make a conscious effort to write funny and do it well, Julia Quinn and Janet Evanovich come to mind. I don’t work that way. Probably because I get bored with my own writing very easily. I write by the seat of my pants and consciously incorporating anything stops me from being productive.

But even if I don’t consciously write humor, there are two things I do know for certain about it. Things I’ve learned from both reading and writing. The first is that there is a big difference between laughing with someone and laughing at them. Laughing at someone isn’t funny. A heroine whose dress falls off, or she falls into a lake, or she’s constantly tripping, isn’t funny to me. Characters who are over the top aren’t funny. They’re painful to read. The second thing I know about writing humor is that it has to have an element of truth to it. Readers have to be able to say, “I’ve thought that,” or “done that,” or “my mother drags crap home from garage sales, too!”

One of the problems when talking about humor, for me anyway, is that usually when people ask me how to write humor, I tell them that if it doesn’t come naturally to them, than don’t attempt it. I can’t tell you how many bad “funny” books I’ve tried to read, and they feel like the author is shouting one-liners at me.

I much prefer clever dialogue to clever situations. Clever dialogue comes from character and is a delight to read.

In My Wildest Dreams and The Runaway Princess, both by Christina Dodd, are my favorite funny romances. Dodd’s characters often have a dry wit that cracks me up. Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum books, one through five. Evanovich is the only author I know who can pull off slapstick.

I’m not sure which is my funniest romance, but if I had to guess, I’d say it was It Must Be Love. The scene when Joe Shanahan discovers that the heroine has been painting nude portraits of him was a lot of fun to write.

I don’t care for slapstick at all. Other than Evanovich, I don’t know of any author who has pulled it off. I’m sure there are some, but I haven’t read them. I don’t really care for bathroom humor either. It can be done, but it has to fit the scene and has to be done with a very light touch. Nothing too gross or disgusting. I like some forms of dark humor, and a farce has to be very well done for me to enjoy it. If a book isn’t working for me by about chapter five, I toss it out. I don’t waste my time with books that don’t work on almost every level.

I love When Harry Met Sally. Billy Crystal cracks me up. There is such truth in his humor that I think he is a brilliant comedian. What makes the infamous orgasm scene work is not necessarily Sally moaning in a restaurant. What makes it funny is the universal truth that women fake orgasm but all men are convinced they never fake it with them.

When talking about humor, it has to be said that all humor is subjective. What makes me laugh, might make you groan. For instance, I absolutely hate I Love Lucy. I would rather stab my eyes out than watch one second of it. Obviously there are a lot of people who love those old shows. I’m not one of them.

Julia Quinn

The key to writing humor, at least for me, is that it has to derive from the characters. (In all truth, the key to writing romance, IMO, is that everything has to derive from the characters, so it makes a lot of sense that I’d feel the same way about writing humor.) It’s not particularly funny to toss your hero over the side of a boat just to see him get wet. It is funny when you show his reaction to it, and the reaction of those around him.

When I first started writing, I think I did think to myself, “I’m going to write a funny romance.” I suspect this was simply because the romances I loved best always made me laugh or at least smile. But in truth, my style and voice naturally incorporate humor (I don’t think I could write something unabashedly dark and depressing if I tried) so even if I hadn’t set out to write humor, I think it would have ended up that way, anyway.

With my more recent books, however, my creative process has changed. Now, my primary goal when beginning a book is figuring out who my characters are and what in their past has made them this way. This usually ends up including issues that are darker or more serious, and in truth not funny in any way. If you looked at one of my outlines, you would have no indication that the final product would be a novel that incorporates a great deal of humor. The humor just comes out as I write. It’s unplanned, but I always have faith that it’ll show up as a go along. It’s in my writing voice, and I don’t think that voice is likely to change.

Some romance authors I recommend for humor are Suzanne Enoch (I think she writes some of the best dialogue one-liners around) and Meggin/Patricia Cabot (her The Boyfriend Next Door, which was e-published but will be re-released in trade paper this fall, had me rolling on the floor, howling with laughter.) I also recommend An Affair to Remember, which comes out next month from Karen Hawkins. She begins her chapters in such a clever manner that I was smacking my forehead, groaning that I should have thought of it.

Sheri Cobb South

I never thought about the conscious/unconscious approach to humor before, but a recent experience has convinced me that I must come down on the unconscious side: my November book, The Cobra and the Lily, is a biblical romance between an Egyptian nobleman and his Hebrew slave. While it’s obviously a more serious book than my Regency romps, touches of humor kept slipping in. And the “powerful man/powerless woman” scenario was a surprisingly easy fit for a writer of Regencies!

On the conscious side, however, I tend to gravitate toward plots and/or characters that offer potential for humor. I love witty repartee, but clever situations seem to offer more opportunity for writing it. The Weaver Takes a Wife came plot-first: I was reading another Regency (Charade of Hearts, by Paula Tanner Girard) in which a minor character threatens to marry off his daughter to a wealthy Cit if she fails to attach the titled hero. (She does indeed fail, but she gets her own book later, sans wealthy Cit.) That single line of dialogue made me realize that, while I’d read tons of Regencies which have a penniless nobleman marrying the daughter of a wealthy Cit (including the recently-discussed A Civil Contract), I’d never seen the situation reversed. Furthermore, these daughters had usually gone to finishing school in Bath, etc., where they were exposed to the daughters of gentlemen and therefore possessed a veneer of gentility. What would happen if the wealthy Cit had no pretensions to gentility at all? And of course, the haughtier the heroine, the greater the potential for clever dialogue between the two. Originally, I had planned to “polish” Mr. Brundy as the book progressed, but soon trashed that idea. First, I’d gotten so attached to that man, I couldn’t bear to change him! Next (and probably more importantly), was that I realized he didn’t need to change: She did! She needed to fall in love with him just the way he was. I think it made a much better story, partly because it allowed me to maintain the fish-out-of-water element throughout the book. (And this is so much more than you wanted to know! )

Anyway, French Leave was just the opposite: it came character-first. I knew I was going to use Lord Waverly, the villain from TWTAW, as the hero, so I asked myself what sort of woman was the last person one might expect him to fall hard for? I decided she would be very young and naïve, and, hey, why not go all the way and make her a runaway nun? There had been a line in Brighton Honeymoon about him fleeing to France to evade his creditors, so the stage had already been set. Unfortunately, ingenue heroines have fallen out of favor in recent years, but that is the great freedom of self-publishing.

I think my funniest book to date is probably Miss Darby’s Duenna, which is really more farce than romance. It’s been interesting to me that while MDD is more highly regarded outside the romance genre (it was a finalist in the 2000 Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards, competing even against mainstream fiction), the Weaver trilogy, with its less over-the-top humor, is more popular among romance readers.

Some of my favorite humorous romances? Well, the list wouldn’t be complete without a liberal dose of Georgette Heyer: The Unknown Ajax, because of its wonderful hero and hilarious grand finale, and The Reluctant Widow for its tart-tongued heroine and a dog named Bouncer. Geraldine Napier’s 1966 romp Here Come the Brides, about a buyer for the bridal department of a Manhattan department store. Connie Willis’ To Say Nothing of the Dog is intelligent, funny, and works on so many levels. And Lois McMaster Bujold’s A Civil Campaign contains the most hilarious dinner party scene ever committed to paper!

My taste in movies seems to lean toward older films: musicals like Seven Brides for Seven Brothers; the faux-medieval splendor of Danny Kaye’s The Court Jester; the witty repartee of early Hitchcock films like The 39 Steps and The Lady Vanishes. I’m sure I’ll think of a dozen more right after I hit the “Send” button!

Patricia (aka Meggin) Cabot

I absolutely make a conscious effort to be funny – whether or not it works is another question! I often stop writing to figure out what would be the funniest thing for my character to do or say next. Sometimes I even have to take a break to shave my legs or clean my bathroom before I think of something. I don’t know why these two activities inspire funniness. In fact, I’m not sure they do.

Having clever dialogue and clever situations is obviously the ideal, but sometimes you just have to settle for one or the other.

I think Johanna Lindsey writes really funny romances. Julia Quinn, too. I also like British author Jilly Cooper. And of course the master (or should I say mistress) of wry, Jane Austen.

I think just about any form of humor works for me, if it’s done cleverly. One thing I have found about humor is that one’s taste for it seems, in some ways, to be inherited. I grew up in a household with a couple siblings, one of whom was adopted, and he had a completely different sense of humor than my other brother and I did. For instance, he loved Lucille Ball. Margaret Cho, Chris Rock, and Cartman are more my idea of funny. I guess it’s all in the genes.

There are a few authors I can think of who write series featuring certain heroines whose love lives are routinely put into shambles because their creators often seem to sacrifice the romantic happiness of their characters for the sake of a more humorous outcome. I sincerely hope that if I ever start doing this, someone will let me know. As to my favorite humorous movie, South Park makes me laugh until I cry. I also really love Rushmore. And (my secret shame) Revenge of the Nerds!

End of Part I



Part II:

Humor in Romance (Anne Marble)

Pinning down what makes some funny romances zip along and others trip is like trying to catch a soap bubble. Just when you think you have an idea, it dissolves into a slippery layer. Still, I’m going to give it a whirl. Once I’ve gotten this gunk off my hands.

Reading funny romances can be a dangerous proposition. So often, I settle down expecting a humorous read, and the next thing I know, I’m reading yet another book where the heroine keeps tripping over her skirt while the arrogant hero smirks at her. I end up thinking “This was supposed to be funny?” Why don’t these arrogant heroes ever trip over their own feet? Now that would be funny. I have a brief message for all writers who think writing about clumsy heroines is all it takes to create a funny romance. Aaargh! Okay, here’s the long version of that… “Romances are stories written for women. Why do you expect women to sit still for a story that manages to make fun of the inept heroine while making the smug hero look even more smug?”

This was the problem I had with Stobie Piel’s The White Sun. I hate to keep picking on that one, but it hit the wrong buttons. It hit buttons I didn’t know I had. Much of the humor came from the heroine’s clumsiness. My favorite character was the lingbat, and as I wrote in my review back in 1999, “You know you’re in trouble when the best secondary character is a small, bat-like creature who eats insects and talks a lot.”

If Piel’s whole book had been written in the style of the lingbat humor, the book would have been a keeper. Maybe this was because the lingbat humor was freer and more easygoing. The lingbat accepted that he liked to eat a lot, for example, and the hero accepted that as well. For most of the book, he got along better with the lingbat than with the heroine. On the other hand, lots of women loved this book. Maybe they liked the heroine’s spunk. Maybe they liked the alpha hero. Maybe they liked the lingbat. But as for me, I winced every time the heroine tripped her way around the plot.

This isn’t to say that physical comedy doesn’t work. I’ve come to appreciate it – when it’s done well. I also appreciate good ditzy heroines. Julie Garwood has heroines who can be ditzy, yet I love them. Gracie Allen played a ditz, and I loved her. Maybe that’s because of the wit. (We know Gracie was really smart.) Maybe it was because the special way George Burns loved her showed, just as the love of a Garwood hero for his heroine shows through. Maybe it’s because she was simply funny.

Two things recently opened up my eyes to humor. First, the angst-ridden fantasy story I was writing took a turn toward earthy humor mixed with the angst. Second, I recently wrote an article (this is a “jump” link and will open a new window in your browser) on writing humorous romance, and I questioned some of my existing theories. OK, let’s be honest. I shoved those theories’ heads in the toilet and flushed repeatedly. I used to think that there were two types of humor, physical humor and witty, verbal humor. Women are supposed to like the witty stuff and eschew the physical humor. Now I know better. The best humorous stories contain elements of both. The important thing is that the humor should be based on character. Sometimes you hear distinctions between physical humor and character-based humor. But to me, the best physical humor is character-based. (I make an exception for movies like Airplane, which are funny – character-based humor or not – just because they tickle me the right way. Whoops. That soap bubble just popped. ‘Scuse me, I have to go wash my hands again.)

A panicked naked man locked out of a room is kind of funny, especially if he looks like John Fiedler, the hen-pecked and nerdy Mr. Peterson from The Bob Newhart show and the voice of Piglet in Winnie the Pooh. But is it funny enough? It can be funnier. How many people here saw the movie Harper Valley PTA? For me, the funniest scene was the one where Bobby Taylor, a hypocritical local (played by John Fiedler), tried to get into the pants of the heroine. She tricked him into taking all his clothes off, and then locked him out. That bit is very physical (especially for John Fiedler) and yet character-based. It wouldn’t have happened if the versatile Fiedler’s character hadn’t been a horny goat and if the heroine hadn’t been cleverly trying to get him back.

As a writer, I’ve learned that listening to my characters can bring new life into the dullest of scenes. Imagine this scene from the fantasy novel I’m writing as I originally wrote it. My hero Gorok is in a penal colony of sorts. He walks into the pantry, and the mage who runs it tosses him an apple. Gorok catches it. Yawn. When I rewrote that scene, Gorok was distracted, so he didn’t see the apple coming in time. He ducked, and the apple rolled into the guard’s office. Yeep! Moments later, the guard returns, apple in hand, and drops the apple down the mage’s pants. Now that scene is no longer dull! Even better, the characters behaved as expected – not like people following a bad sitcom script.

Bad physical humor, on the other hand, is … dull. No matter how many people trip or get hit with that pie. The same can be said of bad witty stories. No amount of clever banter will save you from an empty story. Witty banter might sound great on the page, but without a good story and believable characters driving it, it’s like a meringue without the sugar, egg whites, and vanilla. Badly done physical comedy is like tossing the sugar, egg whites, and vanilla into a bowl but forgetting to beat them so you end up with gloppy, sweet fried eggs. Yuck. And when that humor relies on a clumsy, inept heroine, that egg ends up on her face when so often, it’s the hero who should be splattered!

For me, the best funny romances are about real, grown-up interactions between the hero and heroine. (Or between hero and beloved lingbat.) It doesn’t matter whether the humor is physical or verbal. You can have mistakes, mishaps, and misunderstandings. But they should be funny. That doesn’t mean serious things can’t enter the plot.

Characters must have something at stake, be it love or a family fortune. One of the funniest romances I have ever read was Emma Jensen’s Best-Laid Schemes. There was plenty at stake there. The hero wanted to marry the “right” woman. Would the heroine turn his head in time to save him from the world’s worst possible choices? This story easily managed to combine both physical and character-based humor with lots of wit, including some subtle writing that respected the intelligence of the reader. As the hero and heroine grow closer, you can see them falling in love, right before your eyes. Not all romances can boast this. The best moments in that came not from the heroine’s incontinent monkey, but from watching the hero’s plans go, well, awry.

Stuffed shirt heroes are fun to torment, aren’t they? Especially when they see their careful plans go down the tube. One of the funniest movies I ever saw was I Love You Again with William Powell and Myrna Loy. While not as well-known as their Thin Man films, it’s still wonderful. In this one, William Powell plays a crook who got amnesia, became a nice man, and married Myrna Loy’s character. Their marriage was on the skids because he was now too dull! Then he got hit on the head and recovered his memory, and tries to make her fall in love with him again, at the same time trying to con people out of their money because they respect his new (dull) persona. There was wit, there were physical bits, and it was character-based.

In the past, I’ve heard that the best comedy plots take potential tragedies and turn them around. In that way, I Love You Again is a great blend of a potential tragedy (what if the hero gets arrested?!) and humor. It walks the tightrope between comedy and tragedy – without a net. I can do, however, without funny romances that suddenly twist around in the final chapters and turn into a deadly serious chase after a serial killer or an arsonist. Sure, the plot should move, but not at the expense of the comedy. I’ve read funny romances where the comedy ground to a halt when the hero had to shoot a villain or save someone from the clutches of a kidnapper. Sometimes the effect is so jarring that it’s like a printer’s error that interspersed the pages of MacBeth in the middle of Much Ado about Nothing. Really, imagine going from “A bird of my tongue is better than a beast of yours..” to “It is a tale/Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury/Signifying nothing.” Shudder.

The best funny romances manage to combine serious plots with the humor. In Hannah’s Hunks, written by Bonnie Tucker for Harlequin’s defunct Love & Laughter line, the hero is investigating a drug ring in a small town. Yet that didn’t drag down the humor at all, and the overall effect was charming. By being funny, Hannah’s Hunks got away with things that a serious romance couldn’t have pulled off. Do you hate big and little misunderstandings? In an early chapter, the hero thought that Hannah was running a male escort service, and he was ready to turn her in until he learned that her “hunks” were a type of candy. In a serious romance, this hero would have come across as a presumptive jerk. In this book, he was adorable. The heroine was a caterer who couldn’t cook. But rather than seeming TSTL, she came out as (you guessed it) adorable. When the humor works, you can play in a sandbox that other writers have had to abandon.

So I guess what I’m saying is that romantic comedy can get away with plots and characters that a serious romance writer wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot-pole (“Luckily, I happen to have an eleven-foot-pole…”)… Yet they also have to strike a balance between the serious and the funny; avoid making heroines look like twits (unless they’re really funny twits); make stuffed shirts stumble on their words (or steps); avoid forcing the humor (unless they have some really funny jokes); choreograph elaborate set pieces without seeming contrived; and manage to be witty without being too frothy, all at the same time. Sounds easy as pie, doesn’t it? ;) And speaking of pie… Look out!!! SPLAT.


Humor in Romance (Robin Uncapher)

When Laurie asked us to come up with an ATBF piece on humor I admit that I approached this project with some trepidation. It’s not that I don’t like comedy. Confession time here. The problem is that, for want of a better phrase, I’m probably a humor snob.

I’m not proud of this. I don’t choose to find Oscar Wilde funnier than Gene Wilder or Cary Grant funnier than The Three Stooges. It just happened. From the time I was a kid I remember going to the circus and staring at the clown bored to tears. “Everyone likes clowns,” my mother said. Hmm not me it would seem. I was the only kid I knew who actually got the inside jokes in Rocky and Bullwinkle – you know, the ones lancing the Cold War. I still love Rocky and Bullwinkle and Fractured Fairy Tales, but Road Runner? Nope.

Let me tell you, this snob sense of humor I have doesn’t make you friends either as a kid or an adult. People judge you by what you laugh at and turning up your nose at Larry, Moe and Curly makes some people really furious – as though we non-slapstick people had a choice. Not liking slapstick is like being born colorblind. I know Chaplin was a genius. I know because people tell me. I honestly can’t determine it for myself because to me Chaplin is boring. I will trust all of you people who have the laughter gene that it’s true. It’s a fact but it’s a fact I can’t feel for myself.

I’d probably get rid of this snob sense of humor if I could, except that my sense of humor is as much a part of me as my taste in books, clothes or what I think tastes good. It’s not voluntary, though some might not completely understand that. When I was in high school I had a boyfriend who loved Jerry Lewis. I still remember the day he told me about his semi obsession with those movies. It was the beginning of the end. I smiled one of those smiles you know nobody believes and said, “oh yeah, he’s uh, really good.” The guy looked at me like I had three heads and I knew immediately that I would soon be replaced by somebody who just loved The Nutty Professor. He even brought it up when he dumped me. He said we had too little in common and that I was really “too good” for him, because he liked Jerry Lewis. I didn’t think I was too good for him. I just was incapable of finding Jerry Lewis funny. (Have I mentioned that I’m half French?)

So, when it comes to romance, what’s funny? The happy answer is “just about everything?” Why? Because slapstick isn’t really slapstick when you are hearing about it. Real slapstick is for watching. When Laurel and Hardy struggle to get a piano up the stairs many people find it hilarious. People like me are yawning. But hearing about two guys pushing a piano up the stairs can be hysterical for both groups of people if the right person is describing it. The writer doing the describing has to put more into the explanation than just “They went up the stairs. Then they fell back. Then Hardy started yelling. Then they started up the stairs.”

One of the funniest romances I have ever read is Miss Darby’s Duenna by Sheri Cobb South. In that book the hero, Harry, is worried that the heroine won’t take his advice, dresses up and impersonates his “grandmother.” The grandmother then becomes a duenna and confidant to the heroine.

I’m not at all sure that watching this romance would have struck me funny. The visual joke of a man dressed as a woman doesn’t do much for me. But reading it was hilarious. Harry’s valet must sneak into the house and bring him clothing and Sheri Cobb South describes the scene in a kind of Jane-Austen-meets-Lucille-Ball way. When the characters in the book start noticing a strange man (the valet) going to “Grandmother’s” room during the night I laughed not only at the scene, but also at the way Cobb South was turning the “dreaded gossip” storyline in many traditional Regencies – on its head.

Another very physical situation that had me laughing was the highway robbery of the hero Henry in Carla Kelly’s Miss Billings Treads the Boards. In that book Henry is held up by a highwayman while traveling on the road.

The man came closer. “Stand and deliver,” he said gruffly waving the pistol about.The voice sounded vaguely familiar to Henry, but he could think of no road agents among his acquaintance. He watched, frowning, as the man thrust the pistol closer. The pistol wagged about as though the hand that held it shook.

“Sir, is this your first robbery,” Henry asked pleasantly. “I would be most obliged if you would not wave the pistol about in such a fashion. Those things have a habit of going off, you know.”

Carla Kelly’s books often have a very sad center but are lightened with this kind of irresistible wit. Her most tortured heroes have the ability to laugh at themselves and see the absurd even in the most stressful situations.

I love that kind of humor in the face of difficulties and I think one reason is that I consider a sense of humor absolutely essential to sex appeal. Something magical happens between two people when they discover they laugh at the same things. Now that I think about it, my Jerry Lewis boyfriend may have had a point – not that I was too good for him, but that we were probably not suited if we did not laugh at the same things. I remember reading that none of Groucho Marx’s four wives thought he was funny. This is so sad because humor in a relationship is a kind of communication. Witness the old Cary Grant/Rosalind Russell movie His Girl Friday. In that movie, Hildy Johnson (Russell) and her ex-husband and current boss, Walter Burns (Grant) team up to one last story before Hildy goes off to marry an extremely dull insurance agent. Even if you didn’t know that Hildy and Walter were destined to be together you would figure it out pretty quick by the fact that Walter and Hildy share the same sense of humor. They are quick as can be and top each other so fast that Hildy’s beau can’t even follow the joke, much less add to it. The same thing is true in the wonderful Spencer Tracy/Katherine Hepburn movie, The Desk Set. Gig Young, Hepburn’s boyfriend, may be handsomer than Tracy but he doesn’t begin to compete as a wit. When Hepburn and Tracy are together their humor is completely in tune – locking everyone else out of the picture.

This kind of romance, where two people are in sync and play off each other is very hard to write. When it works though, its wonderful. Michelle Martin’s The Mad Miss Mathely is one book where the hero and heroine have this kind of magical repartee. Lord Carlton, the hero of The Mad Miss Mathley, has always reminded me of Cary Grant. One reason is that his funniest lines are simply reactions to Melinda Mathley’s ditsy comments. If you watch a Cary Grant movie you will notice that many of the funniest moments are those where Grant plays straight man to the female lead who talks very fast often in a nonsensical way. This is true in Bringing Up Baby, where Grant raises his eyebrows again and again at Katherine Hepburn and goes on in his career where he uses a raise of his eyebrows to lighten scenes in Hitchcock’s Charade and North by Northwest.

One of my favorite scenes in The Mad Miss Mathley is the one where the fearless and intrepid virgin, Miss Mathley seeks out her faux fiancé Carlton in his former mistress’s, Miss Hill’s, home. Far from being appalled (a feeling which Lord Carlton would understand) she is fascinated, a state which terrifies Lord Carlton. In a matter of minutes Miss Mathley and the courtesan are discussing a mutual acquaintance. Can you imagine the terrified look on Lord Carlton’s face during this scene?

[Miss Mathley] :”Is Lord Carlton your newest protector?”“No,” Miss Hill replied, quite unruffled, “merely and old friend. I’m enjoying a few months of independence right now, though I have my eye on a duke with a Friday-faced wife.”

“The Duke of Glockson? How marvelous! He’s too good a man not to have some happiness in his life.”

“That was my opinion,” Miss Hill said in amusement. “You’ve met his wife I take it.”

“Several times,” Melinda said with a grimace. “Friday-faced is too kind.—Oh my! That is the loveliest negligee I’ve ever seen!”

A variation on this kind of man/woman repartee occurs in the J.D. Robb In Death series, which features Detective Eve Dallas and her CEO husband Roarke. Eve and Roarke do have their moments in terms of humor but to me, Eve’s funniest moments are with her partner Peabody and Roarke’s long suffering butler. Eve and Peabody go at it again and again and, of course, what is so funny about it is that neither one cracks a smile. In Eve’s case the reader is not always sure that she is trying to be funny. Here’s a sample where Eve is bemoaning the fact that she had to attend yet another fancy benefit dinner with Roarke:

“Gee that’s tough on you. I’ll bet you had to get all dressed up in some beautiful gown, shuttle down on Roarke’s private transpo, and choke down champagne.”Eve lifted a brow at Peabody’s dust dry tone.

“Yeah, that’s about it.” They both knew the glamorous side of Eve’s life was both puzzlement and a frustration to her. “And then I had to dance with Roarke. A lot.”

“Was he wearing a tux?” Peabody had seen Roarke in a tux. The image of it was etched in her mind, like acid on glass.

“Oh yeah,” Until, Eve mused, they’d gotten home and she’d ripped it off of him. He looked every bit as good out of a tux as in one.

“Man.” Peabody closed her eyes, indulged herself with a visualization technique she’d learned at her free-ager parents knees. “Man,” she repeated.

“You know a lot of women would get pissed off at having their husband star in their aid’s prurient little fantasies.”

“But you’re bigger than that Lieutenant. I like that about you.”

The more I think about it I think this kind of bonding with humor is what I like most about humor in a romance. It doesn’t have to be between the hero and heroine, thought that is wonderful. It can be between the heroine and her friends or a bunch of Brockmann’s U.S. Navy SEALS.

One thing I noticed, as I reviewed the books I thought were funniest, was that fact that only a few of them were published as comedies. That is they are not those cartoon cover “funny” romances that you see marketed as such. Most of the books I find funny seem to have comedy as one element in a larger story. Julia Quinn can make me roar with laughter, as can Connie Brockway, whose The Bridal Season had me smiling ear to ear. But just as often I am laughing at something like Linda Howard’s Mr. Perfect – where one minute the reader is laughing and the next minute there is a terrible, very unfunny, murder.

There are romances I just don’t find funny. It’s that tone-deaf humor snob thing that fouls me up. I love Rachel Gibson’s books in part because she seems to have a knack for knowing when to be serious as well as when to laugh. Her Lola Carlyle Reveals All had me laughing…but I felt the romance too. Judith Arnold’s recent Love in Bloom’s made me love her earthy realistic New York characters, and the fact that she knew New York so well had me laughing all the harder. When I read Linda Jones’s DeButy & The Beast however, the snob thing kicked in. I knew the book was funny but it was like watching an Oscar Wilde play with the sound turned down.

“The book is set in post Civil War North Carolina and the butler is white!” I railed to Laurie.

“Yes,” Laurie said patiently.

“And all the other servants are white! How could somebody set a book in the 1870s in the South and have a house full of white servants? Good grief. Southerners hired black ones for pennies. Who would hire a white butler in North Carolina.?”

Laurie spoke slowly, though not unkindly, “Uh, Robin, it’s a fairy tale. It’s supposed to be light, not realistic.”

“Oh yeah.” I said. I did understand. But I didn’t really get it. I just knew on an intellectual level she was right. It’s that snob humor thing. I just can’t help it.

Time to Post to the Message Board

Here are the questions we’d like to have you consider this time (the first six questions were from Part I; the remaining questions were added with Part II):

histbut Our Sixth Annual Purple Prose Parody ContestHow did you enjoy this year’s contest, and do you agree with the choice of winners? Does this contest continue to make you laugh? Would you make any changes in next year’s competition? Finally, feel free to comment on any and/or all of the entries; we’ll archive them to the contest page itself in a couple of weeks.

histbut Humor – What makes you laugh? What are your favorite books (not romances), movies, and television shows? Why do you love them? How important is humor in your daily life?

histbutHumor in Romance – What makes you laugh in a romance? What are your favorite funny romances, and why do you love them? How often do you turn to a funny romance to read?

histbutCharacter-based versus Situational Humor – Patricia Cabot and LLB mentioned that they enjoy situation humor as well as character-based humor. Most of the other authors who shared their views on humor clearly prefered character-based humor. What about you?

histbutOpposites Attract? – Even though most of us have clear humor preferences, which romances did you find hilarious that you didn’t expect to find as funny? If you’re a lover of bawdy humor, was there a witty traditional Regency you adored, or vice versa?

histbutFalling Flat – Which romances have you read wherein the humor simply fell flat, and why? For LLB, this occurs when she senses the author is trying too hard. Is that the case for you? If it’s not, what simply does not tickle your funny bone, and why do you think that is?

histbutThey’re for Women, Stupid! – In her segment, Anne asks: “”Romances are stories written for women. Why do you expect women to sit still for a story that manages to make fun of the inept heroine while making the smug hero look even more smug?” If you’ve enjoyed romances with clumsy heroines and smug heroes, how would you answer Anne? Are you really laughing at the heroine, or is something else going on? Could it be that these heroines are generally beautiful and intelligent, and having clumsy moments is so jarring for these other-wise perfect women? Or could it be that those smug heroes generally end up with a mess on their meticulous selves?

histbutVenus and Mars – Do men prefer physical comedy while women prefer verbal comedy? (And, if so, why do most punsters seem to be men?) Think back to some of your favorite funny romance novels and see if there’s a mix of the physical with the verbal, then report back.

histbutTurning Tragedy Around – Anne also writes: “I’ve heard that the best comedy plots take potential tragedies and turn them around.” Is there truth in that? This is also a good time to ask what are the names of romances that managed to make you laugh and cry, and why? Which romances tried for this balance, and failed, leaving a sort of MacNothing behind?

histbutAre You a Humor Snob? – Robin considers herself a humor snob. Are you a humor snob or do you go for the high-brow and the low-brow? Do you enjoy the Mel Brooks and Oscar Wilde? If you are more a fan at one end than the other, or if you enjoy both, let’s talk about it. Remember, Robin feels badly that she’s a humor snob and LLB is embarrassed that she likes stupid, mean, and bathroom humor in addition to witty word play and sophisticated comedy. Where do you fit?

histbutWhen Humor and Reality Collide – All romances require the suspension of disbelief on some level, but do you need to surrender more reality when reading a humorous romance? An AAR Reviewer gave DeButy & the Beast a grade of B+, but for Robin the fact that it seemed historically unlikely ruined the read. Where are you on this continuum of disbelief where humor is concerned?

histbutBrass Tacks – Which funny romances did you begin with a keen sense of anticipation because you’d heard they were hilarious, only to discover your sense of humor did not jibe with the authors? Why did these books fail for you? And, with their humorous component not working, were you also disengaged from the romance?



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