26 Pickup, the Half-ton
One of the joys of reading your books is the humor; I always find myself laughing out loud, and I was just wondering how important that is to your writing process and what writers make you laugh?
It’s kind of essential to the whole process for me; I can’t envision a character without thinking about what kind of sense of humor they might have, as it is so essential to whom and what they are. If anything, I have a hard time being serious enough to write crime-fiction…
It’s a tricky business, because no reader has the same sense of humor, and what one reader finds hilarious, another finds completely offensive. Vic is a good example in that I have a few readers who are constantly lobbying for me to get rid of her because of her language, but I don’t think they realize what an addition she is to the ensemble. Sure, she’s profane and irreverent, but she provides an important counterpoint to what could otherwise be very bucolic books. I like to think that for every reader that picks up one of my novels and puts it down because of Vic’s language, there’s another two who find her hilarious.
People often ask me what the biggest differences between Walt and me are, and I always tell them that the main difference is that I haven’t had the heartbreak in my life that Walt has. Those tragedies have left him with a sense of humor and coping skills that are formidable. He’s the narrative voice of the books, and I think his benevolence is one of the strong suits of the series no matter how bad things get, Walt’s not going to lose his faith in humanity or his sense of humor. There are a lot of folks in law-enforcement who read the books and the one thing they say over and over is, “It’s the humor in the books that gets me—it’s my favorite part.” Being a cop is a tough job and having a sense of humor is almost more important than a bullet-proof vest.
Whenever I’m doing writing workshops, students will ask me how you get the reader to empathize with your characters, and I always tell them to give their characters a sense of humor. Inevitably, the next thing out of their mouth is that they aren’t funny. I’m never quite sure what to say to that because I believe that everybody has a sense of humor, it’s just a question of exercising it. That having been said, being funny and writing funny are two very different things. I don’t know how many writers I know who are absolutely hilarious in person but show no sign of it in their writing. I’m never sure if it’s because their humor doesn’t translate into the writing or that they just don’t want to take the chance of turning away readers.
For the record, here are some writers I find truly hilarious. John Steinbeck, not so much The Grapes of Wrath but pieces like Sweet Thursday, Cannery Row, and Tortilla Flat. Mark Twain will always be a favorite with his ribald understanding of humanity. George MacDonald Fraser, the entire anti-hero Flashman series but especially the McAuslan trilogy. Richard Russo’s dry humor never fails to crack me up, Erma Bombeck is immortal in my eyes, my buddy Bill Fitzhugh is pretty damned hilarious, and Stella Gibbons’ Cold Comfort Farm is still one of the funniest books I’ve ever read. Christopher Moore always gives me a gut laugh, and Dorothy Parker hasn’t lost her edge after a hundred years. Joseph Heller is the only writer I know who could’ve made WWII funny, and James Thurber’s sense of whimsey is always a treat.
See you on the trail,