And Hilarity Ensues - Tor/Forge Blog

And Hilarity Ensues

By Lev AC Rosen

I’d never thought of myself as particularly funny person before setting out to write All Men of Genius. But somehow, I got it into my head to write something inspired by two classic romantic comedies. I’m not sure entirely why. I suspect because at the time I was writing the novel, there wasn’t much lighter steampunk out there—this was before Boneshaker came out, much less the Parasol Protectorate series—and while I loved the aesthetic, and the books were good… they were all such downers. I wanted to do something fun. So I looked to fun for inspiration. And then somewhere along the line, well into writing it, I realized I had to be funny.

Humor is one of the hardest things to do, and if you don’t find my book funny, I will not hold it against you. It’s incredibly subjective—moreso, I’d be willing to say, than other forms of art. I tried to hit as many different notes of humor as I could—high witticism, low sex humor, dark humor, random swearing bunnies—but I also know that these are all funny to me, and might not be funny to my next door neighbor. There are some books/tv shows that my friends find hilarious which I find so tedious that they are actively aggravating and make me want to hit things. Humor is like that—hit the right note for the right person, and they’ll laugh, hit the right note for the wrong person, and they’ll get offended, or angry or sad. But one thing I did learn is that you have to hit it hard. Sure, you could right something mildly amusing and safe—and everyone will find it pleasant. But the risk of going over the top is one worth taking—a laugh is better than a smile. I’ve never been the sort to try to write a book for everybody, something sweet and mildly amusing and forgettable. That’s something I learned while writing this—I think humor needs to go to extremes (in my case, that extreme is most often of the ridiculous sort) to really be worth doing.

The other lesson I’ve been learning about writing funny is that it’s not taken as seriously—once the book is out. That may seem like a contradiction—humor isn’t meant to be taken seriously—but I like to think that at least some of my jokes had a point, and overall the book had some weight to it. They say a comedy can never win best picture at the Oscars, and I’m feeling something similar when I hear people react to my book. Not all of them, mind you—there have been many wonderful reviews and letters which get at the heart of the more serious aspects of the novel, as well and enjoying the comedic wrapping—but there have been several who seem to read it and soon as they laugh, and understand that the book is a comedy, stop engaging with it on an intellectual level—they just sit back and enjoy the laughs. Which is great—anyone enjoying my book for any reason is great. I want to make that perfectly clear. But it makes me feel a little marginalized on behalf of what I’ve written. I don’t mind being thought of as funny. But it’s a little sad to me that some people think of it as just funny.

It’s a tricky business, the funny one. It’s a little like juggling while giving an impassioned speech on the repeal of DOMA. You have to keep all the balls in the air, and even then, sometimes people will just applaud the juggling, not the speech, and maybe someone will throw rocks at your afterwards. But it’s worth it for the people who laugh and nod. Hell, it’s worth it if you can make yourself laugh.


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13 thoughts on “And Hilarity Ensues

  1. Really? Boneshaker and the Parasol Protectorate are “such downers??!” Did you even read them? I will never understand an author who has to knock another author’s work as part of the argument for reading his book. Seems you spent a good portion of your article here, telling your potential reader why NOT to read the other books, instead of trying to show us why to read yours. It appears you are also the self-appointed arbiter of what’s “forgettable?” I’m presuming you don’t mean your own book. That’s the best argument ever, for skipping yours and moving on to something else. I’m sure it won’t take me long to forget about it.

    1. Actually, i usually pass on Steampunk BECAUSE it is usually very dark and gritty and glum. I had seen the above book in stores but i passed on it due to it being steampunk. Now, i do enjoy Cherie Priest’s other works(just finished Hellbent) and i have looked at the Parasol Portectorate books in my local bookstore, but neither series looks to be in any way Light steampunk. They sound very dark, realistic and gritty, and there is nothing wrong with that. What IS wrong is stating that there is no room for a lighter, more humourous touch of steampunk, as well as attacking a author for making a statement that he was going for something lighter and for calling the books downers, which i am sure the author was talking about overall TONE of the book, not the books himself(or why would he even mention them?). Your supposed “knock” sounds more like a defensive aggressive measure on your part due to your enjoyment of both series which he states are very good books.

      I think this was a excellent article and gave a good idea what the book is about, and i am a lot more interested in it that i was. If it helps, since Stacey is going to pass and “forget” about your book, i will pick it up and give it a shot.

      Thanks for writing!

      1. Let’s face it, more steampunk is always a good thing – there’s not nearly enough on the market right now… as for the ‘light/dark’ categorisation, The Parasol Protectorate series is inventive but a little too arch to hold my interest much past the first book. It’s fun but it errs on the side of fluffy where it could have slightly more resonance (and to hark back to the original post, they made me smile rather than laugh). The cover art is absolutely to-die-for gorgeous though…

        I’ll admit I haven’t read Boneshaker yet, but I was very taken with the indirect sequel, Dreadnaught – still steampunk obviously but with a hefty dose of gothic Western horror. It’s fairly high adventure and very readable, but I wouldn’t call it light in tone as such – more horror-inspired if anything. It’s knowing rather than deadly serious but it is definitely gritty, and far as I know, Boneshaker is much the same kind of tone?

    2. The sentence says that at the time of writing there wasn’t much lighter fare available (it was *before* Boneshaker and Parasol Protectorate), and it was the *others* that weren’t mentioned that were downers.

      I haven’t read any of these books, or any steampunk, but now plan to add each of these, including All Men of Genius, to my list.

      1. I stand corrected, thanks for pointing it out. I’ve seen more than a few authors bashing other authors to “sell” their stuff, and by not reading closely enough, I jumped to an unfair conclusion.

      2. Just to follow up, I recently finished reading “All Men of Genius” and really enjoyed it. I didn’t know from this entry that it had ties to “The Importance of Being Earnest”–one of my favorites!

        I look forward to more works by this author.

    3. Someone already pointed this out – alas I was away all week when they put this up – but I was absolutely not referring to those books. I love love love both those writers – I was thinking more of the steampunk from the 1980s, which were more experimental and were springing from the cyberpunk movement, which was very dark and gritty. Which isn’t to say they were bad in any way, but a book can be good and still leave you feeling like you just want to curl up for a few hours and cry, which is what I mean by ‘downer.’ I love a good downer, but at the time I was writing All Men of Genius I felt they had overrun steampunk – and being someone who’s studied Wilde extensively, I felt that was unfair to the Victorians. Anyway, I’m sorry if I was unclear. A downer, to me, isn’t a bad thing. It’s just something I’m not always in the mood for.

  2. I haven’t read a lot of SteamPunk yet (Boneshaker is on my ‘to be read’ pile), however, I recommend _Steamed_, by Katie McAlister. Subtitled A Steampunk Romance, it is definitely on the lighter side, although there is enough action adventure for all (except Rambo/Ahrnie fans).

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