Friday, April 29, 2011


Inspiration. Where does it come from?

My sudden interest in the subject of inspiration comes because for two weeks I had been totally uninspired. Not only was I uninspired, the truth is, I was stuck. I had been going over the same pages for two weeks. Every day I didn’t write I felt more pressure. The book I am currently working on is supposed to be coming out at the end of the year, pushed up from March 2012. I still had plenty of time, but I wondered if I would miss my deadline.

I am one of those writers who doesn’t discuss his work. My friends and family usually have no idea what I am working on. My friend, G, and my reader are the only people who know at any given time what I am doing.

Last Monday morning I was playing tennis with my friend, Franklyn Ajaye. Not only is Franklyn a good friend and tennis player, he is a very funny man. He is a stand up comic who has toured the world. Remember that famous seventies film Car Wash? Franklyn was the star of that film. He had a big ole Afro back then, ha,ha. This is Franklyn today:

Monday morning, as my time on the tennis court was coming to an end, I could feel a sense of dread coming over me. I was dreading going back home to my office to work on the same pages I’d been staring at for two weeks. That’s when I did something I don’t normally do. I said: “Hey man, I’ve been having a problem with something and I’d like to run it by you. Do you mind?”

I know Franklyn pretty well. I am certain he has no interest in YA paranormal romance. Yet he listened as though he was interested as I told him where I had been stuck, and how I thought I’d get out of it. He listened quietly. He told me he thought my solution to the problem was sound. And then he told me about his god daughter, whom he had been giving tennis lessons. He said he could see the same kind of self esteem issue my character was having in her.

I thanked him, went home and started re-outlining the rest of the book. I worked for two days on a new outline and have been churning out pages ever since. I keep coming up with new and exciting ideas to push the story along. I was behind schedule. Now, I am ahead of schedule. Most of what I have been working on has little to do with that conversation in the parking lot last Monday morning. And yet, since then I have been on fire. I’m not sure what triggered the inspiration. I think all it was was having someone to tell me my idea was okay. Sometimes that’s all we need to get ourselves going—a little validation. Thanks Franklyn.

If you’d like to check out some of his stand up, click on his name here: Franklyn Ajaye.


Friday, April 22, 2011

The Key To Unleashing Your Humor--Thinking Crooked

Bill Cosby has an old comedy album called To My Brother Russell Whom I Slept With. It’s about Bill and his brother, Russell, who not only shared a room when they were small, they shared a bed. Growing up, my brother and I loved this album, because the antics between the brothers sounded so much like us. For a short time, while we were waiting for new beds to arrive, we shared a bed—the pullout sofa. So the album had special meaning.

There’s a section in the album where the boys are jumping on the bed and break it. CRASH! Their father comes into the room and asks what happened, and Bill begins to lie. He tells a preposterous story of a man who came in through the window, jumped up and down on their bed, laughed at them and left.

Bill’s father asks “Do you know what happens to little boys who lie?” He tells a horrible, graphic tale of going to hell and burning. He again asks a now crying Bill to tell the truth, and through teary eyes Bill says: “A man came in the window…”

Bill Cosby understood that children lie. They lie even when it is apparent they are lying. They tell preposterous lies with straight faces that have us often wondering: “Where did I go wrong?” The idea of children lying to their parents isn’t funny. We want our children to tell the truth. Lying isn’t funny until Bill Cosby took the truth and bent it. He was doing what my early comedy teachers called thinking crooked.

Crooked thinking is looking at what is common place and relatable, and coming up with a funny angle. It’s funny to the reader because we recognize it.

So, how do we do this? How do we teach ourselves to think crooked? You need to become an observer. Like a poet, you must begin to notice the small things. Then you must find an odd angle. Crooked.

Small thing: as my father got older he made sounds like hmm when he was eating or reading the paper. Lots of older people do this. Sadly, I am starting to do it. It’s an observation. But it’s a relatable observation because our parents and grandparents do it, which means when I talk about it my audience can relate. How do I make it funny? I have a few ideas, but I’m not going to tell you. What are yours?

Another exercise is to look at photos around the house and mentally add captions—funny captions. At first these exercises will be hard to do. Your mind isn’t used to thinking crooked. But keep trying. Add these two exercises to your daily life, and before you know it you will have unleashed your humor and be thinking crooked just like Bill Cosby.

Next Week: POV

Friday, April 15, 2011

Dare To Be Funny

When I was quite young, I heard an old joke that became one of my favorites. It goes like this:

A woman and her young son are strolling along the beach when a huge wave comes along and pulls the boy out to sea. A man standing nearby, who witnesses the event, springs into action. He dives into the ocean, swims against the current, and somehow is able to reach the child. He brings the child back safely, and presents him to his mother on the beach. The mother looks at her son and says to the man: “He had a hat.”

It’s probably a corny joke, but I’m smiling right now. What makes the joke work so well for me is the audacity of the mother. The man just saved her child, and she is not satisfied.

Many writers who don’t write humor on a regular basis have a fear of writing it. They feel they will either come off as corny, or not funny. Truth is, sometimes we’re not funny. Sometimes we are corny. But to successfully add humor to your work, you need to be like the mother in the joke, and have the audacity to dare to be funny.

This is your greatest challenge in writing humor. Have you ever written something in a manuscript, chuckled to yourself and then cut it, because you thought no one else would think it’s funny? Just as you have to believe in your prose, must also believe in your sense of humor. Every one of us has one.

When I was writing Never Slow Dance With A Zombie, I had my sense of humor turned way up. It was my first YA and I wanted to take advantage of what I thought was one of my greatest assets –my humor. Being a sitcom writer, I realized that some things I thought were funny were going to fall flat. However, some things I thought were cute were going to get big laughs. That’s exactly what happened. In readings, passages I thought were funny didn’t get so much as a chuckle, while other things I didn’t think were funny at all, got laughs. I knew I had achieved my goal when one reviewer called my little book “a laugh out loud debut novel.”

When a comedian goes on stage he has no idea from night-to-night what material is going to get a laugh. Some nights, things that have been sure-fire funny fall flat. That’s how it is with humor. It doesn’t work the same for every reader. But the beauty of injecting humor into your work is it adds balance. It adds color and depth, and can illuminate the most dramatic of moments. And it sets you apart from writers who are afraid to attempt it. So, if you want to step up your game as a writer, you must make the conscious effort to dare to add humor.

Next week: The Key To Unleashing Your Humor—Thinking Crooked

Friday, April 8, 2011

Adding Humor To Your Writing

This is the first in a weekly series of posts on adding humor to your writing.

Humor Me

When I was a boy growing up in the Bronx I loved making my older brother laugh. I’d do anything: tell bad jokes, drizzle milk out of my nose, armpit farts, butt farts. I was a real laugh riot. However, as I got older I grew more serious… and at some point in time the farting stopped being funny.

I’d never thought of myself as a funny person. My early writing was dramatic, almost melodramatic. As an undergrad I’d read Hubert Selby Jr.’s Last Exit To Brooklyn, an epithet-filled tale of the horrors of living in 1950s Brooklyn. I decided these were the kinds of stories I wanted to tell. The difference is, I wanted to tell my stories about growing up in the hard-scrabble streets of the South Bronx.

I set out writing humorless tales about the underbelly of society. I gave one of my gut-wrenching tales to my brother, and as he read it he started to laugh. ”Hey, what’s so funny?” I demanded. “This,” he said pointing to the pages in his hand. I loved making my brother laugh. However, I did not like making him laugh when I wasn’t trying. I was insulted.

Fortunately for me, later in life I would learn why my story was so funny to him. It happened at a production of The Great White Hope. I had just moved to Los Angeles to attend graduate school. The Great White Hope is a play written by Howard Sackler about the life of Jack Johnson.

The night I attended the play, the actor playing Jack Johnson was in the midst of performing a gut-wrenching soliloquy, when the audience started to laugh. I was surprised. I didn’t hear anything funny, yet the laughter continued. In fact, it grew. Embarrassing. There was a famous director seated a few seats away from me. I heard him say “The audience needs a release.” I realized instantly what he was talking about. The audience was being bludgeoned by the weight of the material, and the actor’s melodramatic performance. They needed some relief from the drama. When relief wasn’t provided for them, they created their own.

It was in that moment in a darkened theater in the early 1980s I recognized the power of humor. I became a student of it. Since then I have gone on to work for one of America’s greatest living humorists, Bill Cosby. I wrote and produced The Cosby Show. I learned a lot from Mr. Cosby. I will share some of my lessons with you here. In the early 90s I had the pleasure of originating the humor course at USC’s graduate school of professional writing, also known as the prestigious MPW program.

Humor has served me well. My first YA novel, Never Slow Dance With A Zombie, was a laugh-out-loud satire about high school life. In that first novel I wanted to prove to myself that I could be funny in prose as well as in a script. In my new novel, Boyfriend From Hell, there’s a good dose of humor, but it’s blended much better with action and drama. This time I am not trying to prove anything to myself. I am just trying to tell a good story.

Over the next few weeks I will share some of my lessons with you on how and when to add humor to your writing. If you think you are not funny, I will show how to find your funny bone. If you’re interested in learning more about adding humor to your writing, check back. Peace.

Next week: Dare to Be Funny

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Sal Conte

I want to introduce everyone who reads the blog to a new author. He is one of my favorite people. He is the author of the graphic horror novels, Child's Play and The Power... And he is me. You heard me right, I am 80s splatterpunk author, Sal Conte.

A little back story.

in 1980 when I was a student at USC, my greatest goal was to be published. I started my writing career by selling stories to romance and confession magazines. True Romance and True Confessions among others. How I chose confessions was, I wanted to be published, but I needed to get paid for writing fiction if I was going to give up my job and become a full time fiction writer. I'd read in a Writer's Digest article that the true stories in those magazines were indeed, fiction. I surmised that there were eight magazines publishing six to seven stories each a month. Most literary magazines publish one story a month, but with fifty or more opportunities available to be published in this genre, I figured my chances of getting published were greater.

I was right. I sold the second story I submitted, and soon became a regular contributor. The pay was a paltry $40-$150 for a story. I wrote two stories a week with the goal of earning $400 a month. Not every story sold.

Most of my reading at the time was horror--big time. Stephen King and Peter Straub were my faves. I read that King had started out by publishing horror short fiction in magazines aimed at men. So, emulating King, I started writing horror shorts. Again, I sold my second story. These paid far better, $350-$1000 per story.

I was happy. I was making more than $400 a month writing fiction, paying my way through college. I was a success. A professor of mine at USC (Shelly Lowenkopf) didn't think so. I had written the opening of a horror novel in his class, and he asked me what I was doing with the book. "Nothing," I responded. "I make four bills a month writing short fiction." I know, I had no vision.

He thought the book was terrific, and at his prompting I finished it. This was my first novel, Child's Play (not the Chuckie movies, which I love and wished I'd written, but no)

I decided to write under a pseudonym. Why I chose Sal Conte is a story for another post. You now know more about me than I thought you'd ever know. But here comes the big news. The books were published by Dorchester, under their Leisure Imprint. Last Friday I read about authors boycotting Dorchester because of what they were doing with their digital rights. "Wait a minute," I thought. "Sal's books (yes, I call him Sal, as if he's another guy) have digital rights that I own.

So here's my announcement. I am going to republish Child's Play and The Power as digital books available on the kindle and Nook for 99c. I am even starting work on a new Sal Conte novella. The Sal Conte books will come out after Boyfriend From Hell (which is coming in September, friends), in October or November.

I am not asking any of you to purchase them. I am sure I will get a few sales from 80s horror aficionados. I just thought it was high time you heard a bit more about my literary roots. So, there you have it.


Monday, April 4, 2011

It's Over!

I haven't posted since March Madness began. I posted twenty minutes before the start of the madness, and I am posting now, twenty minutes after. My friends cannot believe what a nut I am for the NCAA basketball tournament. I can't explain it. I am not this way about anything else. But once the tourney starts, it becomes my main focus. While I haven't been posting, I have been writing. Two weeks ago I received a galley copy of Boyfriend From Hell. I did quite a few edits, and I am turning it in tomorrow. This is good news for those of you who won ARCs. They should be available in the next month. I also turned in the first third of the Boyfriend from Hell sequel last week. See? I told you I was writing. It's not all b-ball for me, I have also been working. That's it for tonight. I will be posting again tomorrow with an announcement. Until then... Peace.