Thursday, March 25, 2010

You don't suck that out of your thumb

Mom & Dad Fenske
My brother and me
I am not the funniest member of my family. Not even close.

I thought of this yesterday when I called my baby brother for his birthday. Since he’s 33 and about 10 inches taller than me, it’s possible I should stop calling him my baby brother.

Nevertheless, he’s been cracking me up since not long after my mother broke the news that she had not given birth to the giraffe I desperately desired in place of a sibling.

The summer I was 9 and my brother 7, our parents read us C.S. Lewis’ THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE. Though the story itself was enthralling, it was the language that captured my brother’s attention.

This was apparent when the lifeguard at the local pool pulled him aside for a scolding. My brother nodded stoically for a few moments before interrupting the lecture.

“Come come now, Joe, we mustn’t start a row – let’s call it pax betwixt us.”

The lifeguard stared at my 7-year-old brother. Then he walked away, shaking his head.

Our father is known more for a dry sense of humor that allows him to deliver absurdities with such a straight face, people who don’t know him generally suspect he’s insane. My parents recently joined a hiking tour in Hawaii, and the guide spent a few minutes cautioning the group about wild boars in the area. My father held up his two-inch pocketknife and informed everyone that he was equipped to spear any boars they might encounter.

The guide was not impressed, leaving my mother to promise sincerely that they had no plans to boar hunt with a pocketknife or any other sharp instrument.

Which leads me to my mother, the physical comedienne of the family. At my brother’s high school graduation, my grandmother sat fluttering a handheld fan to fight the heat. When a man seated in front of her grew annoyed and reached back to grab the fan, my mom snatched it from him and hit him over the head with it.

“You want to rethink that, mister?” she snapped.

He got up and moved.

I think of this whenever someone asks me why I chose to write humorous fiction. Certainly there were points in my long road to publication where I considered other genres. I’ve even attempted to write more serious novels, showing one to my agent at a point when we were struggling to find a home for my comedies.

“That’s not your voice,” she told me. “Writing comedy is harder than most people realize, and it’s something you do well. Don’t give that up.”

As always, she had a fair point.

So that’s where I’ve settled, not that I had much choice. I’m pretty sure I was genetically predisposed to write humorous fiction.

How about you, dear readers? Is there something you’re genetically wired to write? Please share in the comments!

13 comments :

Karla Nellenbach said...

Why yes. When a girl grows up with a sharp-tongued garden gnome, a demon with the heart of gold, a witch who routinely messes up even the simplest spells, and an angel on a killing spree as BFFs it kind steers her toward paranormal YA. What? Didn't you all have the same circle of friends?

Candyland said...

Hmm, I'm definitely better at writing serious crap vs. funny. I'm more sarcastic, but, in a dark kind of way. I'd love to have a humorous fiction voice.
My cookies crumble in a different way, I guess.

Liz Czukas said...

Even when I'm trying not to write funny, it ends up funny. Readers say, Oh that line was hilarious! I've learned not to fight it. Besides, I hate the way I feel inside when I'm writing too serious. Drags me down, and I'm in favor of feeling as light and bubbly as champagne for as much of my life as possible.

- Liz

LR said...

Ha ha! That's hilarious what your brother said. What a silly bunch you are.

My genetic wiring relates to your previous wine post and is therefore no longer topical here. :)

Linda G. said...

You come from a seriously cute family. :)

I tried to write "serious" once. Gave up when I couldn't stop snickering. I have no trouble reading weightier stuff, but if I try to write it...well, it's kind of like trying to suppress a giggle in church. (Yeah, that's tough for me too. There's just something about knowing I'm not supposed to laugh...)

Flannery said...

Your agent is right! Funny is hard. I, for one, cannot wait until your books come out, because if your blog makes me laugh this hard, then your books can only do it more so! One future sale, right here.
Your family sounds like awesome on toast. I think your mom and my mom...should get together and go bowling.
She's been known to whack a few offending heads in her day, too.

Tawna Fenske said...

Karla, your family sounds fascinating! Pretty sure they could beat up my family (though my mom could give that sharp-tongued gnome a run for her money).

Candyland, your cookies seem just perfect to me! Wow, that sounded dirtier than I meant it to.

Liz, I'm sorta surprised it didn't dawn on me earlier that humor is where my real voice was. It's what I like to read, and what I really enjoy writing. How long did it take you to figure it out?

LR, my brother is most definitely a goof. He's only gotten worse as he's gotten older.

Linda G, some of us just aren't meant to be serious, eh? I suspect our agent is glad about that.

Flannery, my mom would love to bowl with your mom. If anyone got in their way, I'm pretty sure they could take 'em down. (Incidentally, my mom called this morning and thanked me for not telling the "full story," which I had forgotten included a shoving match. Pretty sure she drew blood. My mom is no one to mess with).

Thanks for reading, guys!

Tawna

Jen said...

What a fun family!!! I'm not sure there is something I write best, I started off loving romance and chick lits, I wrote little snippets of chick lits and then had a terrible nightmare next thing I know I'm writing murder mystery stories, then turned into a twist and became a suspense/magical series for young adults... I'd say I travel at the moment!

Sierra Godfrey said...

I write women's fiction, and even that ranges in tone and style from book to book, from sugary and poppy to more literary. I sure as heck can't write serious stuff. I get flack for it in writing groups, but I can't stop writing what comes naturally for me and what I enjoy. That said, I'm reading a traditionally chick lit book right now and its language is so upbeat and clever that I'm not sure I can make it through the book. (And it's not funny. Well, one thing was. But that was it.)

I'm totally not saying I write funny stuff, or that it comes naturally. I don't think I'm that funny either although I do suffer from crackmyselfup-itis. I had a line in my current novel about Mr. T pitying the fool, which nearly made me pee my own pants, so...

Right, so what I'm saying is that I make MYSELF laugh. And I'm pretty sure THAT road is paved with vanity publishers.

Claire Dawn said...

I write what I call "cause fiction". Stories are always centered around the sort of stuff that would be a high-school debate topic: abortion, discrimination, religion, etc. They may be a hard-sell, but I don't think I could write anything else.

Tawna Fenske said...

Jen, isn't it funny how authors arrive at what they're meant to write? It sometimes takes awhile to figure it out, but it's a fun journey along the way!

Sierra, there's no greater feeling for an author than catching yourself laughing at one of your own jokes. There's a silly line in one of my romantic comedies that cracks me up every time I read it, and then I feel ridiculously happy because I WROTE IT!

Claire Dawn, I like the term "cause fiction." Would you say that's what Picoult writes? Or are you talking less commercial than that? Either way, sounds interesting!

Thanks for reading!

Tawna

Jess said...

I have the opposite problem - I lack a sense of humor completely. But having been raised by a slightly mentally unhinged woman whose mother and husband died within days of each other leaving her with twin six-year-olds? I can do angst very, very well.

Harley May said...

I have my brother to thank for a lot of my humor. He's a year younger than I am and constantly has me in tears.

I'm in a similar bind where writing is concerned. I love to read ALL genres and as a result have tried to write in most of them. People seem to respond well to my humor but never attempted that kind of novel. When you figure it out, I'll be here. (eats popcorn)