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Short Story Course- Humour and the Sense of Drama
Short Story Course Lesson 9 - How to Write Dramatic and Funny Stories
The Dramatic Sense
The dramatic sense in fiction has two different meanings. It can mean the characteristics of drama and “stage presentation” or the term can have a non literal meaning – “emotionally exciting.”
An incident is emotionally exciting – dramatic in the non literal sense when it affects people’s lives. Marriage i s dramatic because it profoundly affects the lives of two people; death is dramatic because it produces the most profound change in a person’s life. The manner of death can make this event even more emotionally intense, as in death by accident in comparison with death by natural causes.
Show, Don’t Tell
When a piece of narrative is said to be dramatic in the literal sense of the term, it means that it has the directness of stage presentation. The reader feels like a witness to the events unfolding in the story, rather than merely being a recipient of a report. He is shown rather than told.
Two Tricks for Dramatic Writing
One of the secrets of showing is to use active verbs. The other is to link these verbs to a person or persons. Mike leapt , Liz watched, cried the leader. “Was” is a passive verb as in was barred; was bundled; was driven.
If you want your narrative to be fast-paced, remember that every passive verb is a brake on the wheels.
Drama appeals to the emotions and so it is the emotion of the reader you need to arouse. If you just state that a character is frantic or deeply in love, your reader will not feel this emotion. You must show the character experiencing the emotion and to do this, you should yourself imagine experiencing the emotion, which means you need to be an actor to some extent. In fact a writer need to be an actor who can play many parts.
How Would You Write About Terror?
Suppose you were writing about a man who is scared of snakes and who looks down and sees a snake near hi s foot. You first impulse might be to just baldly write that he was ‘terrified out of his wits’ but what does the phrase tell you?
It merely seems like a common phrase or even a cliché that tells you nothing about the character’s emotion. If the man was terrified, his heart would definitely start to beat faster, a twitch might ripple over his skin, his hair might feel as though it were standing on end and his scalp might prickle.
Just how does his scalp feel when it prickles? It would certainly not be the pleasurable prickle of cold water being poured on the head or when the hair is being pulled. This is the sort of prickle which makes you feel like the whole scalp has suddenly tightened and that the brains are about to burst through.
So when you’re describing your character who is confronted by this poisonous creature, you need to imagine that you are him and describe your thoughts and feelings.
The next thing which might happen is that someone comes up to the man and sees the snake too. The normal reaction would be to scream, but what sort of scream is it? Describe the sound, the quality of that scream and if possible, marry it to the expression on the face and the posture of the body.
In this way, by building word pictures, you will build up the sense of the dramatic in a story and play on the emotions of your readers.
Humour also plays on the emotions but this is a much more difficult emotion to analyse. It is an accepted fact that everyone’s sense of humour is different. What makes one laugh aloud and roll on the floor will merely make another smile slightly and may leave another completely unmoved. The stuff that makes humour is not universal and cannot be defined in an exact way.
This is what makes it so difficult to write humour – successfully. A writer should try to pick situations which will appear funny to as many people as possible.
Contrast – the Key to Writing Humour
Contrast is a valuable tool for creating humour. A thin woman sitting down to an enormous meal; a short man dancing with a tall woman; a quick-witted character paired with a slow thinker.
Each of these situations can be exploited and made humorous. In contrast, it would be far more difficult to make a couple of more or less the same height dancing together or a normal sized woman sitting down at a normal sized meal appear funny.
Build the Humorous Story in a Normal Framework
Many writers, attempting to write the humorous story, make the mistake of making their characters act outrageously and do stupid things that are totally out of character. This only ruins the illusion of watching the story take place in front of one’s eyes or makes one think it is stupid.
The humorous story must be built up within a normal framework so that the reader can recognise the situation and thus, the humour in it.
Another trap the writer of the humorous story falls into is focusing so much on trying to be funny that all he has learnt about characterisation and other important elements such as the background of the story are forgotten. The result is slap-stick comedy with cardboard figures which is not at all funny.
Exaggeration – Another Secret of Writing Humour
Often exaggerating an ordinary situation is enough to make a scene humorous. Maybe there is an old grandma with loose false teeth who irritates everyone by clicking them all the time. She is eventually persuaded to get a new pair of dentures and there’s no more clicking – to everyone’s relief which is however, short-lived. The new dentures keep falling out at the wrong times.
Maliciousness is Not Funny
We tend to laugh at other people’s downfalls but never mistake maliciousness for humour. It is very easy to cross the line so that the character who started out as a practical joker becomes by the end of the story, a malicious trickster. This is all right if that was your intention all the way through, but make sure that it does not happen without you realising it.
The sense of humour varies in nationalities. The English may find the magazine ‘Punch’ funny, while many Americans may not. However, frontiers are often crossed. The three English humorists Wilde, Sheridan and Shaw are universally acclaimed as is the American Thurber.
The Difference between Situational and Verbal Humour
The humour of a stand-up comedian is not suitable material for the writer of short stories. It is a mainly verbal series of disjointed wisecracks while the story requires continuity.
As for situational humour, if a story in which it occurs is turned into a play, even a deaf man in the audience would find it enjoyable and funny. This kind of humour is commonly seen in television series.
Short story humour is at its best when it cannot be communicated without virtually narrating the whole plot. The jokes cannot be extricated from its texture.
Here is Wodehouse describing Bertie Wooster encountering a formidable lady – an aunt of a young friend of his.
“The aunt took the chair which I’d forgotten to offer her. She looked at me in a rather funny way. It made me feel as if I were something the dog had brought in and intended to bury later on, when he had time.”
Humour in the Inferiority Complex
A lot of humour derives its impetus from the human sense of inferiority and the resultant dire for superiority. The popular Bridget Jones’ Diary is an example of this.
Everyone has an inferiority complex. It is a remnant from the considerable amount of time we spend as helpless infants. In order to cope, we welcome any situation which makes us feel superior. Any such situation will include a zest, a sense of jubilation, expressing itself in laughter.
What is Laughter?
Plato said: “We laugh at the misfortunes of others for joy that we do not share them.”
Laughter in its biological context is the snarl of the wild beast that is about to devour its prey. There’s the baring of fangs and the sound of triumph which accompanies it – the snarl.
Although some manifestations of laughter are more refined and wholesome, much of it is still sadistic in nature. The laughter of children can be grossly cruel. Regardless of his age, the person who is cruel is deriving a dramatic stimulus to his own sense of power. The suffering of his victim makes him feel superior. Much humour is designed to have the same effect.
Writers of humour can make a fortune. Readers love to read stories that make them feel good about themselves, especially stories that are told by the victims themselves. Notice how we warm to a public speaker who cracks a joke at his own expense? This has an even greater effect if he has been eulogised by his introducer. That is so much humorous fiction is in the first person.
Write a complete story (300-3,500 words) in the humorous or dramatic vein, with a strong scene of action to mark the climax.
Have You Tried Writing a Funny Story?
Writing Humour From Writer's Bureau
My Assignment for Lesson 9 of the Short Story Course
July 2, 1992
Dear Mrs. Johnson,
Short Story Course Lesson 9
I’m sorry to be writing this late but I just got down to doing the lesson a week ago. I’ve been very busy with my novel ‘CIRCE’ which I have almost completed. Perhaps I told you that Penguin India has approved the plot and suggested I do 50,000 words. I guess this is the dilemma of the short story writer – how does one write a novel of 50,000 words? I’ve managed a bit over 30,000 now, I suppose and hope to be able to expand on my second draft. Is there any magic formula?
If it’s not such a bother, and if you have the time, may I send you the first 100 pages of CIRCE? Your comments would be extremely valuable. I thought I ought to complete CIRCE before sending it to Penguin, even though he’d be satisfied with the 100 pages.
Incidentally, I got married and am expecting a baby in September. So much has been happening! One reason hy I’ve almost completed CIRCE is because I want to do so before the baby arrives. I have been on long leave since almost mid April and shall only go back to work in February. It was kind of my agency to allow such long leave.
I am sending you two stories for this lesson. ADAM ON THE ROCKS, written earlier and GOING TO THE BIRDS last week. By the way, my great friend Minoo who is in the States has gifted me a year’s subscription to THE WRITER, an American publication which is really helpful and interesting. One of these carried an article by one of my favourite authors – Ursula K. Le Guin. I am waiting for the issues to come in. I got Roger Culpan’s science fiction story published in the newspapers here and am sending him a small Shiva Natarja with the money from the article as he has requested. I look forward to your letter.
Adam on the Rocks
“Pick up that rock,” said Maurice with authority.
“They’re not rocks,” said Peter,”they’re alive!” Maurice looked at the alien landscape scattered with rocks of all shapes and sizes. There was nothing living in sight, not even a tree. And the sky was a sea of roiling and boiling clouds that looked like God was about to peep from them. Peter felt like a fool. He should have kept those live rocks secret and taken them back to Earth and they would have called the rocks after him.
“Hmmm....let’s see,” said Maurice, bending to examine a bluish- grey chunk at his feet. Mike, who had an inferiority complex about his skinny physique, picked up a rock.
“They’re not heavy if you’ve got the muscle,”he announced, lurching under its weight, ”Do you think a couple of samples will be enough for the lab, Boss?”
“Sure,” said Maurice,”just don’t drop them.” Mike looked like a trusting dog who’d been kicked and putting the rock down, ambled away in search of a smaller specimen.
“I...think there may be someone inside this one,” said Peter, holding a rock to his ear.
“Oh yeah?” said Maurice, lip curling,”What’s it say?”
“It says `Put me down’.”
“Let’s hear it,” said Maurice, snatching it from him.
“I’m in here, you bumbling fool!” said the voice inside the rock.
“I’ll be darned!” shouted Maurice as a fist shot out of the rock. It had a boxing glove on it and it hit him on the jaw, hard. Maurice dropped the offending object.
Mike, who had ambled back with the smallest rock he could find, cried,
“L...look at that!”
“Wonder what the rest of the creature looks like?” said Peter. He did not have long to wait. It was an arm on skates.
“You’re holding an egg ,” said Mike’s rock.
“You don’t look like no egg.”
“All eggs around here,” said the rock.
“What laid them?”
“God. It’s creation time!”
“Hey Pete!” cried Mike (Maurice was still nursing his jaw and shaking his head), “My rock says these are eggs laid by God!”
“Amazing, most amazing,” said Peter,”Do you realise the import of this time? We’re about to witness the beginning of life on this planet. And remember, I was the one who discovered they’re alive.” While he spoke, all kinds of things popped up from the `eggs’ about them. Lovely legs, twisted torsos, heaving bosoms, even a bedroom slipper that set out to find its mate.
Chaos reigned . The boxing glove, for instance, landed up with one half of a zebra. Things scuttled around, trying to find their right places.
“Ah,” said the boxing glove, detaching itself from the zebra and attaching itself to Maurice’s hand. Maurice tried very hard to get it off, but he could not. “Drat this loony planet!” he muttered, heading for the ship that sat like a fat bug on the alien soil.
“There you are Adam!” boomed a Voice above his head. “I knew I hadn’t forgotten to create you. Now we can really begin in earnest. Let there be Eden!”
“Yech!” muttered Maurice, “I hate apples and I’m not going to make the same mistakes, oh no. This time it’s going to be different...this is going to be an exciting expedition after all!”
A flash of blinding light, the kind only God’s fingertips could create, and Maurice found himself in the ill-reputed Garden. Of course, it was very beautiful. He saw trees he had not seen before. But there stood the apple tree with big shiny red apples on it. He shook his glove at it.
“Do not eat the shiny yellow fruit,” boomed the Voice, “or is it the red one? If you do...well find out for yourself. I’m tired of repeating the same story.” Maurice kept looking up at the roiling, boiling skies where the pterodactyls were learning to fly. He was rather disappointed. He’d expected to see God dressed in His voluminous white robes, parting the clouds to look at him. He felt very sleepy. Lying on the soft grass, he thought, “I’m the first one on this grass!” The boxing glove hit him in the eye. “What the -!” he said.”
“Let’s enjoy ourselves for a bit,” it said,”If you sleep, God will create Eve and women only complicate things.”
“All right. Just don’t hit me too hard,” said Maurice, rubbing his eye, “But you’re right about women. I wonder if Eve will insist on eating apples.”
So they enjoyed themselves all day, exploring the Garden of Eden and once in a while getting entangled in thick vines that hung from the great trees. And every time Maurice felt drowsy, the glove hit him in the eye. But the following night Maurice found it impossible to stay awake. He fell asleep beneath a flurry of blows and dreamed that someone was tickling him in the ribs. He giggled in his sleep and tried to push the hand away but it always came back to tickle him.
Next morning Maurice almost fainted at the sight of Eve lying beside him, snoring. He shook her violently.
“Look here!” he shouted in her ear, “I’ve sacrificed one of my ribs for you. Don’t you go eat any apples, do you hear?” Eve woke snorting.
“God!” she cried, staring at Maurice, “what kind of creature are you? Like me, and not like me?”
“Are you talking to ME?” boomed the Voice.
“Who said that?” said she, looking about.
“Never mind who,” said Maurice,”Are you out of your mind woman? I’m Adam, that’s who I am. And I’m not going to let you eat those apples.”
“What’s an apple? I’m hungry,” said Eve, getting up and looking around. “Ah, I see it!” she cried, spying the shiny red orbs.
“Come back!” shouted Maurice, “you won’t like apples, they’re yechh!”
“Why did you do that?” said the boxing glove,”Tell a woman not to do something and you can be sure she will.”
Satan was at his tricks again. His beady little eyes gleamed greedily. He knew he’d win again and make God look like a fool. Seductively he slithered down the branch above Eve’s upturned face. “Yessss,” he hissed, “Go ahead, sink your teeth into that juicy, crunchy, sssweeet apple, the besssst you’ll find in Eden, ah yessssss!”
Maurice was watching. In fact, he was just behind Eve. ”Go on, eat it,” he said,” I was only joking, it really is the most delicious fruit hereabouts.”
“Nah,” said Eve and stalked away.
“It ssseems to me, “hissed Satan, “thisss Adam is ssmarter than the other Adams.”
Months passed pleasantly. So pleasantly that not once did Maurice think longingly of Earth or wonder about the fate of his two crew members. Eve bore him two sons. They called them Chain and Cable. “There’s just one drawback,” mused Maurice, “Eve and the kids are stupid. They have not eaten of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge and they don’t know the difference between good and evil. Well, at least no raging angel is going to drive us from this paradise! It’s a good life.”
Satan was growing desperate. Each time Eve passed by his tree, he dropped an apple on her head. And that was the beginning of direct mail advertising. But like so much `junk mail’, she only kicked them away with more “nahs”. “Aha!” thought Satan, “I’m sure that’s not the real Adam. God is getting muddled in his old age. Ha, ha,ha, wait till e hears of this - an Adam wearing clothes, an Adam with a boxing glove, ha! But what’s the use, He won’t believe me anyway.” And sighing, he retired into his hole in the apple tree.
Meanwhile, Peter and Mike had sneaked into the Garden of Eden. Even God had not spotted them. One day Eve found them and the inevitable happened because she did not know the difference between fidelity and infidelity. This Satan saw. He decided to tell Maurice about it.
“Do you know that Eve hasss had torrid affairsss with two men in thissss very Garden?” he hissed to Maurice who turned up with an axe (for he was taking no chances).
“What men? There aren’t any males around here except me, Chain and Cable!”
“Oh yesss, there are. Ask Eve. Ssshe’ll tell you all about it.”
“Is it true you had torrid affairs behind my back?” asked Maurice of Eve.
“What’s so behind the back about it? I was going to tell you anyway.”
“Mike and Peter!” cried Maurice,”You stupid woman! Next you’ll be clobbering Chain and Cable to death because you don’t know the difference between good and evil! Just you go near the apple tree again and I’ll, I’ll....!” The glove hit him so hard that he keeled over. Satan was overjoyed. Hissing with pleasure, he dropped another apple on Eve’s head. And this time Eve picked it up and bit into it.
Short Story - Going to the Birds
"You seem nervous," I told the owner of the pet shop,`Claws and Paws', "is anything the matter?"
"Seems like there is," he said, going to the window again and peering down the street. "Two men came in a while ago saying they were willing to pay anything for the parrot. They said they'd be back. They looked mean. One of them has a scar on his chin and red hair till his shoulders. The other wears a gold earring, tall and dark hair. I don't like the look of them. They don't look like bird lovers. Constantine here kicked up a racket when they got near him. You should have heard the other animals... it was cacophony! Take him away for a fiver, that's cheap."
"Where did you get him from?" I asked. I adored the colourful bird but I wanted to know more about him. Perhaps he had a secret something hidden beneath his feathers.
"He belonged to a rich old miser who died a week back. Lived hereabouts. A farm hand sold Constantine to me. He's a lovable bird. Look at how he looks at you already!"
Constantine was looking at me curiously and I thought pleadingly with his grey rimmed eyes. He had a magnificent red, blue and yellow tail. He hopped on to my finger the moment I prodded his breast gently. I remembered how as an ignorant child I had made life miserable for a parrot. I chopped his tail feathers so the cat couldn't get at him through the bars of the cage. Whenever he managed to escape, which was surprisingly often, he would hop and fly in bursts to the lemon tree and then proceed to climb it with the aid of his beak. I gave him baths under a tap turned on full. He sat on his perch, eyes closed tight, shivering and pathetic. No, I wasn't going to do that to Constantine. I was older now and wiser. In fact, I'd even read up on what to do with parrots.
When I took him home, he spent an hour cooing at himself in the mirror and spitting digested seed at it. Even a woman would not spend an hour doing that. Suddenly there was angry banging on the door. The doorbell trilled a dozen times. I hate that. Constantine looked up from the mirror and was, I suppose, about to mimic the sound of the doorbell when I tapped his beak and told him to shut up. He actually did. It was the men the owner of 'Claws and Paws' had described to me. I opened the door, letting the chain stay in place.
"You're Paul Reid," said the red haired one.
"No I'm not," I said.
"Well, if you are, and we think you are, you must have bought a parrot this morning from 'Claws and Jaws'.
"'Claws and Paws'," I corrected him, "no."
"Then who the hell are you?" said the one with the earring.
"I'm Mark Grey," I lied, "Paul Reid lives two lanes from here."
I prayed Constantine wouldn't squawk. He didn't.
"But this is the address we were " began the one with the earring, towering over me like a dark cloud.
"Good afternoon, gentlemen, I hope you find your parrot," I shut and locked the door. Breathing a sigh of relief, I glanced about for Constantine. He flew in through the window and sat down on his perch by the bookshelf, drooping, feathers sticking out in all directions. Then he closed his eyes and put his head under his wing.
"You could have gotten yourself caught!" I cried to him.
"Drat, I've caught psittacosis again!" It sounded like a wheezing Constantine. There was no one else in my bachelor's apartment.
"Who said that?" I said.
"Constantine said that. I've caught psittacosis, those damned birds in the garden gave it to me."
I stared at the bird and thought we really underestimate intelligence of species other than ourselves. Why couldn't a bird learn to understand the language he learned to speak?
I said, "You've got psittacosis, is that why those men are after you?"
"Silly, it's not some kind of treasure. It's a respiratory disease and you could catch it from me, so stay away. Just hand me a red pepper and I'll be all right." He made me feel like a fool.
"Is that what you eat when you've got psittacosis?," I said, "you need antibiotics."
"Can't you see I'm different? I even talk back to you. I say there's nothing like red pepper," he glared at me balefully.
"Do you know who those two men were?" I passed him the pepper on the stick I always keep handy in case of intruders.
"Yes, I do," he said, taking the pepper with a claw," that was a stupid thing to do, telling them where Paul Reid lives. They'll be back." He really made me feel like a fool.
"Who are they?" I said.
"They know I know about the treasure," he took a big bite.
"Treasure? Where? What?"
"The old geezer left it...buried it inside the doorway of a ruined house on a hill."
"What was the treasure?"
"The old geezer sang about an emerald as big as your head."
"Do you know where the hill is?" I said, "could you take me there? I just can't believe there's an emerald as big as my head!"
"I will," he said, "if there's any of your head left." He began to sing in a cracked voice "Under a wall, under a brick, beneath a trick lies my EMMMERALD as big as my head!"
"Was he a miser?" I asked.
"Yes, he was a bachelor like you. He didn't want to share his hard earned pennies with anyone. When friends asked him wasn't he lonely, he'd say 'I've got my parrot, I trust him."
"Even with an emerald as big as your head?" they'd say and he'd say " This time there was no banging on the door, someone crashed in through the window, shattering the glass.
"Squawk!" shrieked Constantine, digging his claws into my shoulder. I ran out through the back door and did not stop till I was in sight of the hill Constantine had been leading me to. I used to be a long distance runner. On the way I recited for his benefit my poem on the beauties of mud. All he said was "Nicenicenicenice". Birds know more about mud than we do.
We were inside the ruined house and around us the round small hills spread to the horizon, trees gathering like purple clouds in their folds. The house must have been very spacious. The roof had caved in ,scattering bricks onto the floor now sprouting grass and smelly white hairy flowers.
"Where do I dig?" I said excitedly.
"Near the door, there used to be a wall there, see that watermelon patch creeping in over the threshold?"
My hands shook as I fished out my penknife. It would have to do for a spade.
"You're going to dig with that thing? Hurry up, will you? If it rains I don't have a change of feathers."
I was about to jab the mouldy earth, covered with watermelon leaves with my penknife when something hit me on the head and I blacked out. Vaguely, as though from afar, I heard the wail of police sirens and a voice saying "Surrender, you're surrounded!" Then I felt something hard against my lips. I woke up. Constantine was nipping my upper lip in a parrot kiss.
"What are you doing, waking up Sleeping Beauty?" I said woozily.
"I knew this would wake you up," he said.
"What happened? Are they gone? Was the police here?"
"The red haired one hit you on the head with a spade. Yes, they're gone, I did the police bit." He puffed out his green chest.
"You're a genius," I said, beginning to dig. A few inches and I unearthed a saucepan, a pair of old suspenders and a box full of stones which I opened with shaking fingers. Constantine chuckled. I fumed. An inch more and juice squirted into my eye. It was a watermelon as big as my head. There was a note pinned to it "I got rich on emeralds like this melon. Take my advice, become a farmer!"
"I had no idea the old geezer had such a wild sense of humour," said Constantine.
July 31, 1992
Short Story Course, Lesson 9
Thank you for your letter and for sending your ninth lesson. I am so pleased to hear your god news and wish you and your husband every happiness. It was lovely to receive your photograph; I don’t very often get to see what my students look like!
It’s good news about CIRCE too. It sounds as if you have broken the back of your 50,000 words. Unfortunately, thee is no magic formula, just hard work! Though you yourself may feel better if you can complete it, I would suggest that you send Penguin the first hundred pages if that’s what they want. I’d be delighted to look at the first 100 pages of CIRCE, for interest, perhaps advice and to see if there is any way in which I can help. It would be nice to think that CIRCE will go ahead with Penguin.
I hope Roger Culpan is duly grateful to you and will exert himself equally on your behalf. And what a lovely present, a subscription to THE WRITER. That should help you with possible UK markets.
‘GOING TO THE BIRDS” is fun, a spoof on all those hidden treasure stories. It’s full of humour, from the name of the pet shop onwards, and written in a lively style. Constantine is a splendid and truly colourful character. There’s not a lot t say about this one; it is competently handled, perhaps a little jerky in its progress, but one of those stories for which there is no obvious market but which might appeal to some editor somewhere. This is more likely, I have to say, with your home market than here. But I did enjoy it.
Incidentally, I’m told by a high-powered friend in publishing that adult fantasy novels are not enjoying a great deal of favour at the moment and it’s a declining market. She didn’t know whether or not this carried through to children’s fiction, probably not, and the short story market probably remains much the same. Fashions in fiction, like so much else, tends to go in cycles, so it will probably become popular again, but in the meantime it’s worth bearing in mind.
ADAM ON THE ROCKS is delightful, a sort of hybrid between fantasy and satire. I loved the scenes in the Garden of Eden with Eve being so resistant to advertising. And it is an interesting thought to examine: is there is no difference between good and evil, or of one is unaware of it, one might do anything at all. Seems to me God wanted it both ways.
This is in some ways fiction a la Salvador Dali. All those objects coming out of rocks in a desert-type landscape. Once again, it’s going to have to be a person to whom this makes an appeal which will decide this story’s fate, which is a slightly tricky way to be operating. All the same, if you have faith in yourself and are prepared to wait and keep on writing, then you may never know what may happen. Technically, it’s a nicely-written story, except just at the beginning, as I’ve noted, it would be better to show that Maurice is the expedition leader rather than simply to say so in a rather flat way.
These two stories show a rather different line of thought from your previous work. In many ways they are much more robust. It will e most interesting to see how you develop. (I shall not forget Eve saying, ‘Nah’ in a hurry!)
I wish you well with your book and your baby and look forward to reading CIRCE.
Hilary Johnson, M.A., Ph.D.
Excerpts from my Novel 'Circe'
My first novel 'Circe' was first published by Electric Umbrella/Mylero.com. My experience with them wasn't good and then I found Mojocastle Press. My editor from Mojocastle Press barely changed 2-3 sentences in the entire manuscript. She said:
:I really didn't find much at all, You're a very clean writer and you have a unique voice. I think it's a great story. I know it wasn't originally a satire on the romance/erotic romance publishing industry but it is, You really nailed the whole community."
I sent the first 100 pages to my tutor Hilary Johnson, of course (when it was in its final draft stage) and I offer a few excerpts:
Warts and All
In which Circe examines herself
and muses over the nature of Love
Oh I know what everyone thinks of me: wanton, femme fatale, promiscuous, fickle, with strange evil powers; and not to forget, never to forget - narcissistic.
Why can't I be narcissistic? I'm gorgeous, I have a heavenly voice, I weave cloth of unearthly splendour on my loom, I concoct great potions - turning man into beast, woman into gorgon, I brew storms from stillness. I also
separate sex from love. I'm very proud of my ability to separate sex from love -whatever love may be. Most women can't. They get tied up with `love', like trussed fowls awaiting slaughter.
I have never felt guilty about bedding a stranger, or two, just because I like how he looks. Men are cowards. Pursue them and they flee. Ignore them and they pursue you. I do not play games with men. It does not take them long to know how I feel about them. I never wear a mask. Perhaps that's why they either adore me or despise me.
I'm terrified of ugliness. At least I don't worry about old age. There's always my daily goblet of ambrosia. Do I ever wonder about a time when we could lose the ambrosia? Yes, I do. However, I am actually more terrified of growing ugly than growing old.
One Man’s Poison, Another Man’s Meat
In which Circe recalls how she saved a Poison Maiden from the sea
and in a rare act of benevolence, presented her to Count Hackula.
Fatality and Beauty make an irresistible combination. The more dangerous a beautiful woman,the more alluring she is to a man. Centuries ago,one such woman had aroused my envy and my sense of kinship. Once in a while, beautiful women do feel a kinship for each other. They've got something in common. Damayanti and I had this very special relationship.
Damayanti was beautiful in that classic Indian hourglass way. I untied her from the shattered mast of a sinking ship floundering on the Death Rocks. Whenever a ship does that I like to be as near as possible to the Death Rocks. You never know what you'll find in the wreckage. Had I ignored Damayanti, or turned her into something else,either some dragon of the Deep would have made her his captive (What does a dragon find in common with a woman? They're not even the same size), or the Great Deep himself would have drowned her in his watery embrace.
Damayanti’s storm ‑tossed beauty like the sea about her had drawn me to her. And what she was wearing: gold brocade and sheer muslin clung to her wet hips and long legs; a gold bustier lifted her perfect brown orbs as though for a kiss. Her navel shimmered with gold; her long hair had pearls and jasmine woven through it. I could see her wince each time the storm‑tossed pearls whipped her face. Everyone else, with the exception of Damayanti and the captain's parrot, (who was shrieking above the wrecked ship: "We've had it this time folks!"), had either drowned or were in the process of doing so.
The moment Damayanti was free, she fell at my feet and wouldn’t rise till I lifted her.
"Why did you refuse to rise?" I said.
"In India when a younger touches an elder's feet, he means to show respect and gratefulness," she said in a voice soaked with sea.
"Impetuous woman who I saved from a cruel death!" I said, dramatically flinging my red silk cloak on the sea breeze. "Are you saying that I, Circe, look older than you?"
"I don't know. You have an air of being an elder, although you are young and beautiful," she smiled, white teeth in a dusky face.
"I “I feel a burning in my feet," I said. "You held them too long." I looked down. They were purple.
"O cursed, cursed, cursed!" she wrung her hands. "Every living thing I touch turns purple!"
"Why is that?" I said, intrigued.
"I’ve been fed on cobra venom ever since I was a babe, so I could be a deadly weapon when I grew up."
It is said that Alexander the Great would have succumbed to a Poison Maiden if he had not been warned by that dirty old man, Aristotle, who ravished young boys as was the custom in ancient Greece ‑ and some say, still is. I was deeply intrigued.
"Are you saying," I said, as we stood on the sand, watching the last of the ship sink or float away, "that you wield the Bite of Death?"
"And the kiss, the copulation, the perspiration of Death!" she said proudly, arching her long neck. "But I like biting best."
I thought I understood her obsession. Biting is so primeval. I like biting men too, and sometimes women when I'm mad at them.
Hilary's Assessment of 'Circe'
" I greatly enjoyed these chapters of CIRCE, partly because I have always liked the myths of the ancient world, but also because of the pacy narrative style and the brisk, no-nonsense personality of the narrator, Circe.
I wouldn't do a thing to change this, other than whatever polishing you feel is necessary - but whether or not it has any commercial potential I would not like to guess. Everything would depend upon its catching the imagination of an editor who then felt sufficiently enamoured by it to put her head on the block for it.
As I've said before, troubles arise when a novel doesn't easily fit in a recognised category! An added problem is that the number of those with any knowledge of the Greek and Roman myths seems to me to be rapidly decreasing and although it is not necessary to be familiar with them in order to enjoy this story, since Circe obligingly takes the trouble to give a little run-down whenever necessary, the mere fact of the mention of classical gods and goddesses may be something of an off-putter.
Oh dear, I just don't know about this one: lively, tremendous energy and fun, but commercially a problem. "