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.
From the Tor/Forge December newsletter. Sign up to receive our newsletter via email.
More from our December newsletter:
- Michael Scott and Colette Freedman on Inspiration
- Scholar—Pursuit of a Different Dream by L.E. Modesitt, Jr.
- A look back at my weird, cool life by Rudy Rucker