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Thursday, July 26, 2012

HUMOR IN WRITING WITH ELLE DRUSKIN

Hi Jane! Thanks so much for inviting me to be a guest with you. For those who don’t know, Jane and I first met online and eventually in person in New Zealand. Our kids had fun together and we’ve been friends, writing buddies and supporters of each other for many years.


How long have you been writing?

Probably forever. I really enjoyed creative writing in school and I was editor of my high school yearbook which was an award winner. I had a fabulous teacher to moderate the work on the yearbook and a great crew of peers. Despite being a very long time ago, some of us are still in touch. That teacher, the fabulous, Cecilia Whitehouse, was also an award-winning teacher and taught us all a lot about writing.

I’ve written a lot of academic material; book chapters, scholarly articles. That’s not fiction but any writing helps develop skill and craft. I started writing fiction because I had a story flashing in my head. It was driving me crazy and I thought the only thing to do was try to write it and get it out of my head. I had no intention of doing anything with it, didn’t know if I could write a coherent book, but it didn’t matter because nobody would see it. I wrote the book, put it away and forgot about it for a while. Took it out, re-wrote it, having learned something about fiction writing in the interim and finally showed it to several critical readers including that teacher. Here’s the thing, one thought it was a romance, a little unorthodox, but a romance, one thought it was a mystery (I never saw that myself) and one thought it had elements of a thriller. Hmmph. I still didn’t know what I had written. The important thing was that they all loved the book, said it was very entertaining, funny, engaging with realistic characters and it should be published. That book went through a few titles (pretty awful, you don’t want to know) before I submitted it and guess what? The book became To Catch A Cop which was a bestseller for Red Rose Publishing and developed a sequel, To Catch A Crook. Every single review was excellent which really floored me.

So the answer to the question is that I’ve been writing for a long time. In the end, I think of myself as a storyteller more than a writer

From The Romance Reviews for To Catch A Cop

This is an absolute must read!!!  Thank you so much for creating Lindy Kellerman! She's a smart ass 40-something divorced mother with two kids, who wears plain cotton underwear instead of thongs, has runs in her pantyhose and wrinkled, stained clothes.  http://tinyurl.com/co5rcb6


Your books have a lot of humor in them.  Because humor is subjective how do you know if the humor is going to go down well with readers? 

That’s a good question. I laugh a lot, at just about anything or everything including myself. Laughing with other people at yourself is fine, having them laugh AT you is not. I come from a long line of terrific storytellers and some very humorous people. They never had to try, they could turn anything into a laugh. It’s a gift. I’m not sure I’ve inherited the Make ‘Em Laugh Gene, but I try.

Before I submit any book off to a publisher, I have several beta readers who read through a completed draft. These wonderful people make comments and suggestions for changes. They read for overall story, punctuation, realistic dialogue and anything else that is important in creating a book. The one rule that differs from other beta readers that writers use is that they must be laughing out loud at least some of the time.  With the Liberty Heights books one of the beta readers said she wet her pants one time, which we thought, was pretty good. She recently read a draft of what I hope will be Book 4 in the series and told me she had to stop for a few minutes because she was laughing so hard. That’s a pretty good test. So now, you guessed it, we have the Have To Wet Your Pants Rule. I am personally responsible for a number of underwear incidents <g>.

I’m also grateful that my two editors, Gloria Oren and Penny Ehrenkranz at MuseItUpPublishing also “get” the humor in the books. They are as devoted to Liberty Heights as I am and keep telling me, keep writing. You HAVE to write a story about this or that character. You can’t stop now. No idea where all this insanity comes from but it makes sense in the books and always makes people laugh. I kind of like that.


Tell us a bit about your Liberty Heights series.  How did it come about?

I never set out consciously to write The Liberty Heights series. I originally was writing what I thought was a stand-alone book with several titles in mind. I eventually settled on Animal Crackers for a few reasons. Yes, there are animals, boy are there animals in this book! The hero is named Jake Marx, yes, like The Marx Brothers—no relation, and Liberty Heights is just this side of loony. How can you not have fun with a stressed out New York workaholic who loses her job and apartment in one day. House-sitting a movie star’s home sounds like the answer to her prayers. Water the plants, bring in the mail. Pretty easy. Too bad nobody mentioned the house has more critters than the Beverly Hillbillies and worst of all, it’s in Liberty Heights, New Jersey. Local cutie and all around nice guy veterinarian Jake Marx is pretty desperate to meet a woman he hasn’t known since kindergarten.  Soon everybody in town is doing their best to ensure Jake and Hayley get a happily ever after.

Night Owl Review for Animal Crackers:  
Elle Druskin brings to life a New Jersey like you’ve never seen before with this feel-good story. http://tinyurl.com/ce7bmhe
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As I was working on Animal Crackers, Jake’s cousin Ellie, cruise director and party organizer, popped into my head and pretty soon Ellie was running riot with foreign correspondent Zach Resnick in between Daddy baby showers, Not Quite Sweet Sixteens, and parties for any and every occasion.  Can Ellie turn cranky Zach into the Life of The Party? I guess you have to read the book.

The nice thing about writing a series is having peripheral characters. Liberty Heights does have some pretty quirky residents and it’s natural to pick up their stories, bring them front and center while catching up with the characters from previous books. It’s tremendous fun for me and I honestly am surprised at some of their shenanigans myself. I kind of liken these characters to Arctic explorers who would leave food caches for emergencies. While not an emergency, these characters are my caches; I get the chance to pick them and help them develop those layers that are so important while telling their stories.

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Why do you think animal stories connect with readers?

Lots of people have pets. All sorts of pets and many feel they are part of the family. Nothing really wrong with that. Having a pet is terrific for many reasons. I never really intended to write “animal stories” but they keep turning up in my books. For me, the animals are characters too. They serve lots of purposes; they can be humorous, like Antoine The Parrot in The Liberty Heights series, who swears in French at everyone. (He can’t help it, he previously belonged to a madame in France and overheard some rather choicy expressions.) They might serve as a catalyst to bring characters together, for example, Henry, the deaf dog who lip reads in Animal Crackers (Book 1 in the series) who is injured and forces house-sitter Hayley Weaver and veterinarian Jake Marx to spend the night together. You can guess where that’s going. Or a stand alone book, Going To The Dogs, about a cop tracking his partner’s killer. The catch? His new partner is a junk food addicted poodle and the chief suspect is a dog trainer with a caseload of clients that could pack Belleview. In this case, the dogs are smarter than the people and it was lots of fun creating havoc around a crime and a dog show.

Your Liberty Heights series particularly has great characterization.  What makes a great character for you?

Layers. They have to have layers. By that I mean, they can’t be one-dimensional. Somewhere along the line, they have to make mistakes, be able to learn from them and gain insight. They have to meet challenges, have fortitude and confess to being wrong occasionally. They can have compassion, face heartbreak, help other people (or animals, remember the animals?) or face up to their pasts. Characters do things I don’t always like and things that I wouldn’t do. Heck, you don’t even have to like all the characters—we certainly don’t like villains, but they have to have dimension.

Characters have to be real. Real people wear cotton underwear at least some of the time. (Lindy, the heroine of the To Catch books). It’s the least of her problems since she’s trying desperately to juggle her kids, a job, a house that’s falling apart. Slam a dead body on top of that and we’re going to learn a lot about Lindy by the way she handles that. Just lucky for her she has hottie Detective Fraser MacKinnon as another problem which really isn’t a problem in a romance novel. Lindy always surprises me and comes up with things I wouldn’t say or do. So do other characters but it’s their story, not mine.


 What animal for you has the best characteristics to write about?

All of them depending on their purpose and how they’re used. I’ve used a lot of dogs probably because I’m a dog owner and used to breed and show them so I’ve seen lots of different breeds. I’ve also used Antoine The Parrot and Pansy the chimpanzee in Animal Crackers. There are more animals coming in the series. Mostly, the animals are exhibiting their normal behavior; it’s the human responses that are interesting and occasionally, pretty funny.

What is coming next in the Liberty Heights series?

The Liberty Heights series has Book 2, The Life of the Party coming out in August. It’s available as a pre-order now:
http://tinyurl.com/bu4xxwk

I had a great time with this book. Some of the characters from Animal Crackers appear but this story focuses on Ellie Marx, Jake’s cousin. But this party planner is on a collision course with foreign correspondent Zach Resnick. After ten years on the road, Zach’s finally home in Liberty Heights seeking peace and quiet to write a book. Zach doesn’t stand a chance with Ellie around because she’s determined to turn him into The Life of The Party.
Book 3, Hanky-Panky, should be out in December 2012

Kaboom! A gas leak destroys Dana Fremder’s apartment and business in Brooklyn. With nowhere to go, Dana runs straight to best friend Hayley in Liberty Heights where a gunman is running loose. Or so Dana thinks. Voice over actor Hank Axelrod is loaded with sound effects that pop, whine and screech, irritating Dana’s overstretched nerves. Too bad for Hank and Dana, that Grandma Baumgart’s joyride on a skateboard results in a concussion, and an unshakeable conviction that grandson Hank and Dana are married. Nobody wants to upset Grandma. What can Hank and Dana do?  It’s Grandma as matchmaker along with Algernon the Meerkat. More romance, fun and mayhem in Liberty Heights.

I had a ball with this book and hope readers will too. Yes, there is a fourth book in the works.


My books are available at Amazon:  http://tinyurl.com/cu7p9gu
 
At Barnes and Noble for Nook:  http://tinyurl.com/c5bbp8p

You can find me on the web in lots of places:
Website:          www.elledruskin.com  with my blog, book excerpts, reviews, news, free bookmarks and recipes.

Twitter:           https://twitter.com/ElleDruskin

I also hang out at Books and Writers Community, a great place for writers and readers. It’s free, it’s fun and everything you can possibly imagine is discussed. You’ll see some famous names there including Diana Gabaldon and Joanna Bourne.
http://tinyurl.com/ykv698y




Many thanks to Elle for her fabulous insight into writing great characters, whether they be human or another species, plus how she puts humor into her stories. 

Happy writing.

Jane Beckenham

10 comments:

Lee Christine said...

Great article! Elle books sound fab and funny.Well done.

Helen Lacey said...

Fabulous article Elle! I love books that have humour in then. Off to check the links. Thanks Jane for a great interview. :)

JaneB said...

HI Lee, thanks for dropping by, Elle's books are a riot!

jane

JaneB said...

Tks for popping in Helen,
Jane

Elle said...

Hi Lee,
Gee, I hope so. I really love the Liberty Heights series, my editors and I have such a darned good time. I just finished a draft of Book 4 and I'm hoping to get Book 5 done some time soon. Making people laugh makes me happy. Thanks for taking the time to comment. You can see some excerpts on my website.
Elle

Elle said...

Hi Helen,
Thanks! Ditto to Jane. I've been having problems responding on the blog so hoping this gets through.
Elle

Cheryl said...

Nice interview! I enjoyed your Animal Crackers!

Tina Donahue said...

Great interview! Your books sound wonderful, Elle. :)

Elle said...

Hi Cheryl, So glad you enjoyed Animal Crackers! Despite the work of writing a book, I really enjoyed the process. I think it is because I enjoy the characters and Liberty Heights. It's a real place to me and I hope you'll enjoy Life of The Party. You'll see a lot of Jake and Hayley there too.

Elle said...

Hi Tina,
Glad you enjoyed this. I had fun too. It's a huge help when writing and doing interviews are fun and not just work.
Elle