Never interview a comedy writer and expect serious answers!

Boring Author Interviews Revisited
Craig Zerf

What’s so great about your crap book? (Don’t want the boring details, a couple of lines is suffice!)
It’s shorter than the bible, cheaper than the Mona Lisa and funnier than the plague. 

What do you really think about erotica? Is it the low of the lows for writers?
I believe that perversion is simply another art form, albeit stickier than most. Surely no writer can sink lower than copywriting for a multinational? | Amazon.UK

You’re (so far) the second to say that in these interviews, and it’s not something I’ve thought about until now, but I think you’re right.

If you didn’t have your book professionally edited: What made you
think you’re so perfect that you didn’t need to pay a professional?
Paid a pro!

Yawn, so basically you’re the same as all the rest of the authors on Amazon and
you’re the Next Best Thing. I don’t think so. Come on, tell me why should I
spend time reading YOUR book over more well-received authors?

Unlike most books available on
Amazon – mine has been completely re-mastered in full 2D. It contains a cast of
thousands and no expense has been spared. Must have done something right as it
was voted Best Read by BBC Radio 4!

Is there an author who inspires (perspires) you? Do you think you write better than them?
Is your aim to out-sell them?

Richard Bach…he wrote Jonathan Livingstone
Seagull back in the 70’s. I mean…it’s like 10 pages long and it sold over 40
million copies. Genius – lazy and wealthy. I’d love to outsell him.

In the writing world, have you ever regretted anything i.e written your own
review (or written a bad review on a competitor’s novel), argued on-line,
copied someone else’s idea?
Pretended that I was R.R.
Martin at a recent book fair. Wasn’t a problem until he actually arrived.

OMG! Bet that was awkward.

What qualifications do you have for writing in your genre? Many authors use their qualifications to show off their so-called talents i.e. crime writers are often coppers (police, for the non-Brits present) and the book becomes boringly technical. How have you managed to keep your knowledge low key? Or haven’t you bothered?

I drink whisky well. Very well.
In fact, some would say that I have a gift. This can be seen in most of my
writing…do I see that as showing off? No, probably not.

If I were to read your book would I have to scroll through lots of
acknowledgements saying how wonderful your book is before I got to the meat of
a story?

I put all the acknowledgements at the back
where they should be.

What part of the world do you come from? What do you think of your government?
Originally from South Africa but now I live in England. It is no
secret that the South African government both blows and sucks mightily.

If your book is set outside England would I understand your jargon? I mean,
fanny means lady front parts NOT backside, car hood is a car bonnet–everyone
knows that, right? Are British Englishisms/Americanisms/Australianisms etc
important in your book? It’s all about identity, isn’t it?
My books are set both in a mystical middle-earth type
environment as well as current day earth.
I make liberal use of Englishisms/Americanisms/Australianisms/Malopropisms and even solipsisms (although not so much of that last one).
Why that shitty title? Did you run out of ideas?
I built the title first and then I knew that the story would follow.

Your titles are, er, interesting. Plob? Really? I blame the whiskey.

If you were me (you know, perfect) and knew nothing about a
person and you were told to interview them, what’s the one question you would
ask? (answer it).

Q: If cloning were possible, how many versions of me would you invite to
your perfect dinner party?
A: Huh?
Two. Then I’d pour a single whiskey, hand you both two loaded guns and leave the room, locking the door on the way out. You’d be sure to shoot one another to get to the whiskey. Perfect.

How long did it take you to complete your book (from idea to publication)? If it took under a year to write: It didn’t take you long to write so does that mean it is poorly researched, edited and written on a whim? If it took over a year to write: Does that mean this book is boringly long and laborious to read?

Writing started on my book many, many years before I was even born. Some
might consider this over-researched…others may simply view it as an example of
Divine Providence.

You began in the womb. Now, that’s talent!

Do you have any bad habits, or stupid rituals you HAVE to do in order to write?
When opening my first bottle of
the day I always throw away the top. This prevents me from wimping out and
drinking anything less than necessary.


Authors are usually labelled as ‘dreamers’ and ‘loners’. Have you been labelled as such? And what implications do you think that has on a writer?

Mark Twain once said, “Be good and you will
be lonely.”
I am never good – thus, I am
never lonely.

What do you think of social media (pick one answer):
1. Somewhere to advertise my book.
2. Somewhere to interact with other writers.
3. Somewhere to find information.
4. All of the above.

1, 2 and 3…but never 4.

Does ‘being a writer’ make you feel like an outsider with normal,
everyday people such as your family and friends?
My family do not know that I am a writer. I tell them that
I play the piano in a ‘House of ill repute.’ As for friends…well, I make up new
ones every day.
Describe your perfect death (in case I have to kill you)?
I am happy with any death…as long as it doesn’t involve a
ferret, a tub of axel grease and four pounds of English cheddar.

Give me the first, middle and end line in your book.

  1. Plob
  2. Horgy stood up in front of the gathering. ‘Good people, I
    give you, Munge and Peasants Vegetable Industries.’
  3. With a
    stomach that felt full of lead and a heart that flopped in his chest like a
    stranded goldfish, Plob lurched nervously on down to meet with Death.

Craig Zerf, sober? No? Thought not…

Minor Characters: Big Humor in Small Packages

Jayne Denker

I write romantic comedies—emphasis on the
comedy part. I suppose I’d be able to write angst-filled dramas if I really
tried, but I’ve always believed that if I’m going to spend many months crafting
a decent story, and have a whole mess of characters taking up residence in my
head, I might as well be laughing the entire time.

However, there’s one thing I’ve learned: The
main character can’t have too much of the cray-cray. The reader is in that person’s
head and expects to sympathize with her or him. If the main character is too
weird, it alienates the reader.

So I reserve the highest level of insanity
for the peripheral players.
They can be there for pure comic relief, or they
can play integral parts in the plot, or both, but whichever role you set for
them, you—and they—have the freedom to make them as bizarro as you like, with
fewer consequences.

I had a lot of fun writing my second book, Unscripted, about Faith Sinclair, a
high-powered TV producer who gets fired from her own show. She’s fun, and crazy
in her own way, but the people surrounding her are really off the rails—just the way I like it.
She has a freeloading
stepbrother, a domineering movie producer mother who will only drink “pure glacier
water” (which Faith notes probably has mammoth poop in it), and Randy Barstow
(also known as Randy Bastard), the sexist head of the TV network who swears so
much he turns the air around him blue. Oh—and there’s Bea, a grouch of a studio
gate guard who hates Faith on principle, a few air-headed actors whom Faith has
to shepherd like wayward children, and others populating the story.

I didn’t know people exactly like these
characters, but I did infuse them with little bits and bobs of eccentricity I discovered
in real people I’ve come across in my daily travels
. With the character of
Dominic, Faith’s perpetually cheerful old Italian stepfather who loves to surf
and is always on a quest for some “tasty waves,” I paid homage to a dear cousin
of mine who had an accent so thick that I had to “translate” what he was saying
for anyone not in my family…even though he was speaking English, not Italian,
at the time.

“Dominic. How
are you liking the beach?”
“Is very nice. I
surf every day now. I think I buy the place.”
“Oh really?”
“Eh, we see.”
“I think you
should, Dominic.”
“Why you no call
me Papa?”
I admired his
persistence; we’d been having the same conversation for years.
“Because I’m
nearly forty, Dominic. I don’t call anybody Papa.”
He shook Mason’s
hand and, still gripping it, pointed at him with the other. “You call him Papa,
Okay, that one
threw me. I frowned at my stepfather, puzzled, then glanced at Mason, who also
looked bewildered. But after a second, Mason’s confusion cleared. “Oh. I think
you mean ‘Daddy.’”
“Ah!” Dominic
crowed, nodding. “Ah-hah! Yes! Daddy! Hah?”
My mouth fell
open. “Dominic! You dirty old man!”
He flapped his
free hand dismissively, still beaming, still trapping Mason in an apparently
permanent handshake. “I like him. You keep.” Then he turned to my blessedly
good-natured boyfriend. “You come with me. I get you drink. You play ukulele?”
“Sorry . . . ?”
“Ukulele. Is
good. You play? If no, I teach. Come . . .”
Dominic led
Mason through the airy, all-white “mod” main floor of the spacious beach house,
then down some stairs to the entertainment room and the bar. I was left to wend
my way into the kitchen, where my mother was helping her chef with the last of
the dinner preparations.
“Dominic has
kidnapped Mason, I see,” she murmured, sprinkling some slivered almonds on the
I put the
flowers we’d brought on the counter and started hunting in the cupboards for a
vase. “Since when does he play the ukulele?”
“Who says he

Dominic, and all the other minor
characters, drew me to the manuscript every day. I loved writing about Faith
and her hunky college professor love interest, Mason, but I really looked
forward to seeing what the minor characters were going to do next. (And let’s
face it, I hardly ever knew what they were going to do next.) With Unscripted put to bed, and me missing my
loony cast of characters, I decided to double down on the crazy by setting my
third book, Down on Love, in a small
town filled with even more eccentrics. And why not? We could all use more comic
relief in our lives!


One of Hollywood’s hardest working women is about to discover there’s a lot more drama behind the camera than in front of it…

Faith “Freakin’”
Sinclair probably shouldn’t have called her boss a perv…or grabbed his
“privates.” But as creator of the hit dramedy Modern Women she’d had enough of
his sexist insults. Now she’s untouchable in the industry—not in a good way.
The only way to redeem herself is to convince Alex the wildly popular wildly
demanding former star of her show to come back. But there’s one obstacle in her
way—one very handsome broad-shouldered obstacle…

Professor Mason Mitchell
is head of the theater department where Alex is studying “real” acting. The
only way he’ll let Faith anywhere near Alex is if she agrees to co-teach a
class. It’s an offer she can’t refuse—and as it turns out the professor just
might end up teaching Faith that there’s more to life than work—and that
real-life love scenes are way more fun than fake ones…
Jayne Denker is the author of three contemporary romantic comedies, By Design, Unscripted, and Down on Love, and is hard at work on a fourth. 

She lives in a small town in western New York, USA, with her husband, son, and one very sweet senior-citizen basement kitteh who loves nothing more than going outside, where she sits on the front walk and wonders why she begged to go outside. 

When Jayne’s not hard at work on another novel (or, rather, when she should be hard at work on another novel), she can usually be found frittering away stupid amounts of time on social media.

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How to mix comedy into your writing

Alison Morton

Why do we laugh, giggle or grin? Or even give a little smile?

Perhaps it’s nervous relief we’re not in the other person’s dilemma and feeling their pain or maybe an instinctive reaction to being in an awkward situation ourselves. Sociologists, linguists and biologists say that our ability to laugh and desire to do so isn’t all fun and games, but actually serves two essential life functions: to bond with members of our “tribe,” and to lessen tension and anxiety. And let’s not discount wishing to look clever or impress somebody or to look like part of the cool crowd.

Unlike stand-up comedy, written humour is often subtle. Some may smile, but most people don’t laugh out loud when they’re reading. A stand-up comic has a huge advantage over writers; a comic can incorporate facial expressions, body language, gestures, and vocal inflections to reinforce their delivery. Writers only have wit, words, and the rhythm of the language. But if well-written, humour enhances how much we like what we’re reading and how well we remember it afterwards.

So how can writers do this?

Juxtaposition – Dragons getting smashed out of their minds and flying with a hangover the next morning, the tarty-looking girl speaking with an upper crust accent, a trucker quoting Hamlet.

Timing – As important on the written page as in stand-up. Don’t let the joke, witty remark fall into the scene until the end; string it out as long as you dare, but don’t let it lose its snappiness. Remember how effective punch lines are. And try to arrange the sentence so that the funny word or phrase falls at the end. If it’s the last thing readers see, a funny sounding word strengthens the memory of the joke in their mind.

Characterisation – Remember your characters are real people and why people use comedy in real life. This will round out your characters, make them far more human and let the reader connect with them more easily. Nobody likes poker-faced, hundred per cent driven and serious people – they’re rather boring…

Appropriateness and tone – Is your story the place for dry humour, wittiness, exaggeration, euphemism, understatement, knockabout, sarcasm or misdirected dialogue? Decide on the comic tone appropriate to your characters and, importantly, to your reading audience.

Integration – Weave the humour into the dialogue, speech tags, description and thoughts. Make it reveal something about the characters or push the story forward. These four lines immediately build an impression of the characters and their relationship, then lead to the next scene with anticipation of danger.

Crafty bastard. I gave him a dirty look. Lurio would never let me forget it if I gave in now. I also wanted to have the edge over Conrad.

‘You know full well I’ll do it,’ I grumped. ‘Just don’t get me killed.’

Lurio laughed. I smiled back in a sour way.

(Extract from INCEPTIO)

Avoiding author interference – Let the characters and situations be funny, don’t try and inject ‘funny’ e.g. ‘he laughed uproariously’. Use reaction in others as one of the main reflectors of the humour, e.g. how a wittier person reacts to the words of somebody suffering from a humour bypass, such as Lizzie’s reaction to Mr Collins in Pride and Prejudice.

Hard sounds are funny – It’s an old cliché, but comedy writers as a rule don’t search their brains for ‘K’, ‘G’ or ‘C’ sound words to end their jokes, but their minds instinctively choose words with those consonants. What’s not funny about ‘pumperknickel’ or ‘chicken’?

Don’t fall into the ‘joke first, scene afterwards’ trap – Tempting as it is, don’t wrap your scene around the hysteria-inducing joke you’ve thought up. Readers will spot that one. Let the humour arise naturally out of the scene’s action. If there isn’t anything funny, then fine. On to the next scene…

When to use humour and comedy?

If you are writing a rom-com, comedy is integral. If your story is a saga or a relationship-based contemporary novel, then wry humour or a laugh to relieve an embarrassing situation will engage readers even more. Sci-fi and historical work can vary as much as any genre from the witty male buddy-to-buddy, master/mistress to servant/robot, girl-to-girl banter to full-on insanity at every level (Thinking of Hitchhiker’s Guide and Discworld here).

Crime, thrillers and mystery are different as the grim events, whether written in a gritty or cosy style, need some relief as do the characters in them.

In my own Roma Nova series, kidnapping, attempted murder, psychotic villains, rebellion and heartache are balanced by my heroine’s tone; historic novelist Simon Scarrow, called it ‘a winning dry sense of humour’ when he endorsed the second in series, PERFIDITAS. Raised in the States, but forced to flee to Europe in the earlier novel, INCEPTIO, Karen has used her humour to keep herself secure and stable after a difficult childhood and adolescence. In both these books, her character voice is distinct by the use of her down to earth attitude and humorous remarks.

Of course, wonderful jokes and exciting, original humour or comedy can’t carry a book on their own; the underlying story must be solid and strong. Above all, it must be tightly-edited. As the Prince of Denmark said, ‘Brevity is the soul of wit’.

Happy writing!

 second in the series of Roma Nova thrillers 
Captain Carina Mitela of the Praetorian Guard Special Forces is in trouble – one colleague has tried to kill her and another has set a trap to incriminate her in a conspiracy to topple the government of Roma Nova. Founded sixteen hundred years ago by Roman dissidents and ruled by women, Roma Nova barely survived a devastating coup d’état thirty years ago. Carina swears to prevent a repeat and not merely for love of country. 

Seeking help from a not quite legal old friend could wreck her marriage to the enigmatic Conrad. Once proscribed and operating illegally, she risks being terminated by both security services and conspirators. As she struggles to overcome the desperate odds and save her beloved Roma Nova and her own life, she faces the ultimate betrayal… 

“Sassy, intriguing, page-turning… Roma Nova is a fascinating world” – Simon Scarrow

Alison Morton grew up in Tunbridge Wells, a former spa town in South East England, and worked in the City of London, dealt in coins and antique jewellery, head-hunted chief executives, served as a reserve military officer and owned a translation company. She completed a bachelor’s degree in French, German and Economics and several years later a masters’ in history. She now lives in France with her husband.

A ‘Roman nut’ since age 11, she has visited sites throughout Europe including the alma mater, Rome. But it was the mosaics at Ampurias (Spain) that started her wondering what a modern Roman society would be like if run by women…

A wordsmith much of her life – playwright (aged 7), article writer, local magazine editor and translator – she came to novel writing in reaction to a particularly dire film.

‘I could do better that that,’ she whispered in the darkened cinema.

‘So why don’t you?’ came her spouse’s reply.

Three months later, she had completed the first draft of INCEPTIO, the first in her series of Roma Nova thrillers.

INCEPTIO was shortlisted for the 2013 International Rubery Book Award and awarded a B.R.A.G. MedallionTM in September 2013. The next in the series, PERFIDITAS, was published October 2013. Alison is working on the third book SUCCESSIO.

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