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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Gini Koch: Why Don’t You Write Funny?

I’d been writing for several years and was at the “submit because you really think you’re ready” phase that every author hits. That one comes immediately before the “oh, wow, look at all those rejections” and “guess I’m actually not quite as ready as I thought” phases.

Needless to say, I wasn’t happy about these phases. But I persevered because that’s what you do if you want to actually successfully publish.

My family has always been supportive of my writing career. So have many of my friends. One of them, my friend Dixie, was constantly bugging me to, as she put it, “write funny”.

Now, for some people, this would be something to ignore. But I happen to actually be a pretty funny girl in real life. And, being something of a raconteur (which is the polite, French way of saying “someone who never shuts up but at least has interesting things to say while running her yap” in brief), I have a certain set of stories I like to tell. Dixie, needless to say, has heard all of them. Multiple times.

So has my husband, but for whatever reason, he didn’t come to the same conclusion Dixie did. Which was that I should write these stories down and try to sell them.

Everything I’d written up to this point was serious, dark, thoughtful, serious and dark, thoughtful and dark, serious and thoughtful, or serious and thoughtful and dark with gallows humor. There is a market for dark. Actually, there’s a GREAT market for dark. I just wasn’t cracking it. At all. Neither was I cracking the markets for serious or thoughtful. I was cracking my skull against my desk, but not any paying markets.

One can only be nagged for so long, of course, before one cracks or gives in. In my case, since I’m not a girl to crack easily, but after Dixie nagged for a good two or three years straight, I finally broke down and wrote one of my favorite humorous stories. It didn’t take me long -- heck, I’d honed that puppy for YEARS orally. So, I wrote a few more of them. None of which took me very long.

So, now I had some humorous essays, which, being as they were done, I submitted.

I would LOVE to say that The New Yorker immediately recognized my witty genius and the rest is history, but, sadly, I didn’t immediately crack the humor markets either. (I do have several lovely rejections from The New Yorker, though, so there’s that.)

However, because I had them, I kept on submitting, getting the rejection, and submitting again, just like I was doing with my completed novels and other completed short stories.

I found a new-to-me humor market that actually didn’t have a word count limit (as this post will show you, I have NO issues writing long, but many with writing short) and paid and I sent what I considered my weakest humor piece to them.

They bought it. Within three days of receiving it. They paid me money. They published my story and gave it the lead that month. I then wrote a humorous poem, subbed it to a different market, and said new market bought it. Within three days of receiving it. These two events happened in the same month.

Merry Christmas to me! (Yes, they both were December sales and pubs.) I was a paid, published author! Twice over! Happy New Year!

You’re all thinking I immediately started putting humor into my novels, now, aren’t you?  

You’re all wrong. 

No, some of us take a little longer, and require a few more life lessons to catch the freaking clue. 

No, I kept on writing really deep stuff and, to take a break from all that deep, dark and meaningful, the occasional funny story on the side. 

What actually flipped me over to the side of the obvious was a series of events I’ll save for whenever we’re in person (yeah, I still like to tell stories out loud as well as on the page), but which culminated in my having a dream. Not the cool, brave, world-changing Martin Luther King, Jr. kind of dream. No, more like a scary nightmare kind of dream that was, however, still very cool and interesting. It was a dark, noir-ish horror movie kind of dream. And, when I woke up, I planned to write a dark, noir-ish horror short story with it. 

Only…I’d been writing humor now for quite a while, interspersed with everything else. And as I wrote, the voice didn’t sound dark, the feel wasn’t horrific, and the main character was clearly falling on the “quirky and smart-mouthed” side of the house. By the third page I realized it wasn’t going to be a short story. By the time the hero came onto the scene I realized it wasn’t going to be a horror story. By the time I discovered my heroine’s actual name (Katherine “Kitty” Katt…because her parents have a sense of humor, thank you very much), I knew I was writing science fiction with a heck of a lot of humor, action and romance. 

As I wrote Touched by an Alien I knew things would never be the same again. It was, up until that time, the most natural, organic thing I’d ever written and I have never looked back since. I landed my awesome agent with that book, as well as getting a 2-book deal with DAW Books for it and Alien Tango. (DAW just purchased Books 7 & 8, so the Alien/Katherine “Kitty” Katt science fiction romance series is alive and well and rolling.)   

Well, I tell a lie. I’ve looked back a lot. Once Touched by an Alien sold, other things sold, mostly short stories under my Anita Ensal pen name. I still write new things of course, but I also pulled many of my older works out of mothballs, revised them, and submitted them. And many have sold, most recently to Musa Publishing. Many are pubbing under different pen names (Jemma Chase, A.E. Stanton, and J.C. Koch, in addition to Anita Ensal) because they’re not all funny science fiction nor are they all romance. Some are urban fantasy, paranormal, post-apocalyptic, and even horror. And serious. And dark. And some aren’t. (But most have romance in them, because, like humor, I appear to like romance and enjoy writing it. Go figure.) 

Want to know what the best part about my breaking down and writing funny, writing the way I speak and think, writing what was easy and natural to me was? Aside from the full time writing career, I mean? It was that it improved every other aspect of my writing. My serious, dark, and thoughtful stuff still is, but it’s better now, because there isn’t a part of my creativity bottled up and only allowed to come out at parties. Other quirky voices have been allowed to come out of their shells and share their stories, too.  

And every day, I get to write something that, somewhere down the road, will make someone laugh -- first me, then my editor, then the readers. It doesn’t get any better than that.
So, if you have a friend who loves you enough to nag you to write in a way you haven’t tried, listen to them. Their advice could change your life. After all, Dixie’s advice changed mine.


Gini Koch lives in Hell’s Orientation Area (aka Phoenix, AZ), works her butt off (sadly, not literally) by day, and writes by night with the rest of the beautiful people. She writes the fast, fresh and funny Alien/Katherine “Kitty” Katt series for DAW Books and the Martian Alliance Chronicles series for Musa Publishing. She also writes under a variety of pen names (including Anita Ensal, Jemma Chase, A.E. Stanton, and J.C. Koch), listens to rock music 24/7, and is a proud comics geek-girl willing to discuss at any time why Wolverine is the best superhero ever (even if Deadpool does get all the best lines). She also speaks frequently on what it takes to become a successful author and other aspects of writing and the publishing business. She can be reached through her website at www.ginikoch.com, follow her on Twitter (@GiniKoch), friend her on Facebook (facebook.com/Gini.Koch), and/or like her Facebook Fan Page: Hairspray and Rock ‘n’ Roll. Whichever you prefer -- as it says on the bathroom walls, she’s easy.

4 comments:

Jessica Subject said...

I'm glad you had Dixie nagging you to write funny, since I LOVE your Alien series! My mom keeps telling me to write funny, but I don't think I'm that humorous of a person. I think I'll stick with what I write for now. LOL

Michele L. said...

Great blog Gini! Kudos to your friend who inspired you to write using your alter self. Little did you know but you have inspired me to try some writing. I have been told by my friends and a couple authors to try a hand at writing books. Who knows?

You know, we should listen to our best friends more often. They usually know us better than we do ourselves!

marybelle said...

I smiled all the way through, beginning with the heading of the post. Thank you.

Gini Koch said...

@Jessica -- a girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do. I was very comfortable writing funny as soon as I tried it, but you have to do what works for you.

@Michele -- woot, so glad I've helped with the inspiration! Go for it! You have nothing to lose, after all, and much to gain. Good luck!

@Marybelle -- aw, thanks, I'm so glad you enjoyed it!