Monday, November 7, 2011

Guest Post: Ben Sobieck

Screw It: How a Crime Author Learned to Write Humor

by Benjamin Sobieck

I never thought I could write humor. I'm a crime fiction guy through and through. But along comes a publisher named Giovanni Gelati, of Trestle Press infamy, who offers the chance to do a collaboration with him on a short story.

The catch? Most of his other short story collaborations - although having a crime fiction bent - were humorous. You could call them, "crime fiction humor."

I remember thinking then, as I still do now, that writing humor has to be the most difficult genre to nail. The reader goes into the story expecting to not only be entertained, but also to laugh. There isn't a magic bullet with humor. My wife still doesn't "get" how The Simpsons is the least bit funny.

After letting this digest for a bit, I came up with a simple two-word solution:

"Screw it."

What that meant is that I wouldn't consider what other people thought was funny. The only thing that mattered is if I thought it was funny.

Not only did this relax my writing process, but it gave me a new way to vent my frustrations. The root of humor is tragedy, disappointment and anger. At the time of Giovanni's offering, I was still recovering from a kidney transplant, facing a mountain of medical debt. Writing humor gave me a way to cope with the situation. That's what makes the genre so valuable to writer and reader: It makes you feel better.

The result? A private detective named Maynard Soloman. He's profane, clueless and stuck in the 1930s, right down to his vocabulary. He was forced into retirement and got stiffed on medical bills. So he runs his own investigation business out of his dilapidated Winnebago RV. He's broke, pissed off and tired of wading through problem after problem. Just how I was feeling when I created him.

For shits and giggles, I threw him into a bunch of politically charged situations. Each short story addresses a different issue of the day. So far the topics have been the War on Drugs, Social Security and illegal immigration. It's all in the best satirical traditions, I'm not preaching a certain philosophy. I like using those issues as a backdrop for his cases.

And, man, is Maynard fun to write. Here's a bit from the newest installment, Maynard Soloman & The Job Nabbin' Illegal Immigrants. Maynard tries to order tacos at a drive-through, showing how removed he is from the times:

"I'll have six tacos," I say into the speaker. "I'm in a hurry, so no foolin' around back there. Just straight eggs in coffee, OK?"

Kids nowadays need a remindin' every now and then, see.

"Umm, we don't sell eggs in coffee. Just tacos," some voice on the other side of the speaker says.

"Now see here. Can't you understand proper English? Stop bein' a hard pill and make my gal-damn tacos," I say.

I thought kids were hip to my figure of speech. Eggs in coffee. That means smooth. Did people forget? Sometimes I feel like I'm on another planet.

"So you only want tacos then?" the voice says.

Why do I always have problems at drive-throughs? "Yes, you egg. Six. Gal. Damn. Tacos," I say.

"With two eggs?"

"No. You. Are. An. Egg. Egg means you're a crude, disrespectful person. Look it up," I say.

"Talk about the pot calling the kettle black," the voice says.

"Now what in the hell is that supposed to mean? I don't want a pot or a kettle. And don't burn my tacos black, egg," I say.

Twenty minutes and half a sawbuck later, I'm eatin' my tacos, curin' what ails me.

Or not. The doctors say I have a medical condition known as "chronic gut rot." It's gettin' worse every day. Makes me spit blood upstairs and downstairs, if you catch my drift. They say it'll put me in the boneyard if I don't watch my groceries.

It's tough for me to take 'em seriously. I have no money. I only have 180 pounds of piss and vinegar in a meat sack called Maynard Soloman. I'm countin' on that much to keep me out of the casket.
The reviews for the Maynard series have been overwhelmingly positive. I don't think that would've been the case had I tried harder to appeal to everyone. When you're having fun writing, the reader can tell.

So if you're looking to dip your toes into humor, remember: "Screw it."

Benjamin Sobieck is the author of the crime novel Cleansing Eden, the Maynard Soloman short story series and many flash fiction works. His website is