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Lois Winson on Writing Dead Funny

Lois Winston has graciously hosted me on her blog, Killer Crafts and Crafty Killers, any number of times. Today, she’s come to my blog and writing about being funny when it comes to murder. She knows the funny part – her series featuring Anastasia Pollack, crafts editor for a woman’s magazine is a hoot.

Lois Winston

I came to the mystery genre via romance, where I’d previously published two books, the first a humorous chick lit book, the other a dark romantic suspense. One day my life took a dramatic turn when my agent said she’d spoken with an editor who was looking for a cozy mystery featuring a crafter. My agent knew in my day job I designed craft projects for publishers and kit manufacturers. She thought I’d be the perfect author to write such a series.

So I set off to learn all I could about cozy mysteries. Fast-forward fifteen years, and I’m now the author of two cozy mystery series—the Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries and the Empty Nest Mysteries. Both are humorous.

Why, you might ask, did I decide to write funny books about murder? Simply put, I had discovered after the sale of my first two books that I enjoyed making people laugh more than keeping them up at night, continually checking the locks on their windows and doors. I also prefer to read books that make me laugh, rather than ones that give me nightmares. My research into the cozy genre indicated there was even an entire sub-genre devoted to humorous cozies. So I knew I wouldn’t offend readers by mixing murder with mirth.

Of course, I don’t find anything humorous about murder. None of the characters in my books laugh about the dead bodies they come across. They react much the same way you or I would—by dialing 911. However, I do find that it usually helps to have a sense of humor to get through what life throws at us, and I try to convey that in the way my characters approach life.

My mystery series is also populated with a cast of zany characters. I love throwing polar opposites together to create conflict. In the Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries, my protagonist’s mother believes she descends from Russian nobility, while her mother-in-law is a card-carrying communist. Throughout the series, the two women are often forced to share a bedroom in Anastasia’s home. Zany characters + conflict = humor. Even when it’s in the confines of a murder mystery.

The problem with writing humor, though, is that you never know if your readership will “get it.” For me, writing humor is the second hardest part of writing a mystery. The first part is creating a story where you keep your readers guessing as to the identity of the killer. As the author, I have to know who the killer is. So it’s difficult for me to be objective. Did I leave too many clues? Not enough? The worst thing in the world is to have readers figure out whodunit by the third or fourth chapter of the book.

Humor is very subjective, though. Mine is more cerebral than slapstick. For instance, I have a Shakespeare-quoting parrot with an uncanny knack for squawking situation-appropriate passages from various plays and sonnets. I have a detective named Sam Spader. I refer to Anastasia’s shopaholic mother as engaging in a ménage a trois with Mr. Lord and Mr. Taylor. Will readers “get it”? With each book I hold my breath, fingers crossed, waiting to hear if I’ve succeeded. Some readers laugh; some don’t. But I learned a long time ago that I’m never going to please everyone with my writing (or anything else I do in life, for that matter.) I can only hope more readers than not will “get” my brand of humor.

My latest Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery is Handmade Ho-Ho Homicide, the eighth book in the series. It was inspired in part by The Great Christmas Light Fight. What would happen if someone took the ultimate revenge on the homeowner with the most obnoxious, blinged-out Christmas display on the block? I hope it will make you laugh as you try to figure out whodunit.

Thank you, Lois. Readers can find out more about Lois Winston and her latest novel, on her personal site here.

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