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Can Murder Be Funny? by Lois Winston

When I tell people I write humorous amateur sleuth mysteries, they often respond with looks of horror. How can murder be funny? Even within the mystery writing community some people have very strong opinions regarding this particular sub-genre. They find nothing humorous about murder. Personally, neither do I. However, I do find that it usually helps to have a sense of humor to get through much of what life throws at you, and I try to convey that in the way my characters approach life. (I also prefer to read books that make me laugh, rather than have me constantly checking the locks on all my windows and doors!)

So when I began writing mysteries, I knew I wanted to write humorous amateur sleuth mysteries, not police procedurals or dark, gritty serial killer fare. I get enough of that reading my daily newspaper and watching the evening news.

I like to make my readers laugh, even if they’re reading about a murder investigation. That’s why, when I killed off the fashion editor in Assault With a Deadly Glue Gun, the first book in my Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries, I did so with a hot glue gun. And when I killed off a TV executive in Death By Killer Mop Doll, the second book in the series, I used a knitting needle. After all, anyone can kill off a victim with a Glock or a Ginsu knife, but how many killers use a glue gun or a knitting needle?

My mystery series is also populated with a cast of zany characters. I love taking polar opposites and throwing them together to create conflict. My protagonist has a mother who believes she descends from Russian royalty and a mother-in-law who’s a staunch communist. Not only are they both living under Anastasia’s roof, they’re forced to share a bedroom. Zany characters + conflict = humor. Even though 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 your readers figure out whodunit by the third or fourth chapter into the book.

Humor is very subjective, though. I’ve written scenes where I’ve laughed out loud as I’ve typed, then again each time I reread the scene. However, I never know if others will find those scenes funny and always hold my breath, fingers crossed, once the book is released.

So you can imagine how absolutely thrilled I was when Assault With a Deadly Glue Gun received starred reviews from both Publishers Weekly and Booklist, with Publishers Weekly stating, “Crafty cozies don’t get any better than this hilarious confection…” and Booklist saying, “Winston has hit a home run with this hilarious, laugh-until-your-sides-hurt tale.” Kirkus Reviews called the book “North Jersey’s more mature answer to Stephanie Plum.”

I held my breath once again recently, awaiting the reviews for Death By Killer Mop Doll. Would the critics think it’s as funny as its predecessor? Yes! Reviews have started coming in, and I’m breathing once again. Publishers Weekly called the book “droll” and said that “readers who relish the offbeat will be rewarded.” Booklist called Anastasia “a crafting Stephanie Plum,” and Kirkus Reviews said the book was filled with “oodles of laughs.”

Now, once again, it’s up to readers. If you’d like to find out for yourself, I’m giving away 5 signed copies of Death By Killer Mop Doll as part of my January blog tour. To enter the drawing, post a comment to any of the blogs on the tour. The full tour schedule can be found at my website, http://www.loiswinston.com, and the Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers blog, http://www.anastasiapollack.blogspot.com. In addition, I’m giving away 3 copies of Death By Killer Mop Doll on Goodreads, http://www.goodreads.com/giveaway/show/15173-death-by-killer-mop-doll

BIO: Lois Winston is the author of the critically acclaimed Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries published by Midnight Ink. Assault With a Deadly Glue Gun, the first book in the series, received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Booklist. The new year brings with it the release of Death By Killer Mop Doll, the second book in the series. Read an excerpt at http://www.loiswinston.com/excerptap2.html. Visit Lois at her website: http://www.loiswinston.com and Anastasia at the Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers blog: http://www.anastasiapollack.blogspot.com. You can also follow Lois and Anastasia on Twitter @anasleuth.

23 thoughts on “Can Murder Be Funny? by Lois Winston

  1. Cindy Sample says:

    HI Lois. I too prefer reading humorous mysteries since I read for entertainment. There are enough dark stories in the news. I think the most difficult aspect of writing humor which I struggle with myself, is developing the perfect blend of humor and suspense. Are you going to ruin a suspenseful scene just because you’ve come up with the funniest line ever? Timing is everything. You’ve mastered the art of comic mystery writing perfectly, Lois. I love this series.

  2. Liz says:

    There is always a need for humor. I had collected a reading pile for post surgery but then realized I was crazy thinking I wanted serious reading materials. I wanted laughter, to quell the pain and to lift my spirits. Thank you, Lois.

  3. Lois Winston says:

    Good points, Jeff. However, I’m sure there are many people who would disagree with you regarding Love & Death, Mel Brooks, and Jerry Lewis.. Humor is very subjective. What works for one person doesn’t for another.

  4. Margaret Koch says:

    It’s not that the murder itself is funny. It’s the human foibles that abound in the attempts to solve the murder, and the floundering people surrounding the deed that can be funny. The more stressful an event, the more it brings out the extremes of human nature and the more it places people in impossible situations. Some of those are very funny. And it’s not bad to laugh in the presence of death. It’s probably healthy. We’re all going to be there some day. Fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly. We gonna laugh though some bodies die.

  5. Fran Stewart says:

    I took a break from my Biscuit McKee mystery series a year or two ago to write what I planned to be a dark suspense/thriller. But it kept turning funny on me, so I finally gave in and wrote it the way the story wanted to go — knowing full well all along that A SLAYING SONG TONIGHT turned out the way I wanted it to go. It’s easy to blame the characters, but I really didn’t want to live in blood and gore for 95,000 words.

  6. Jeff Salter says:

    “The problem with writing humor, though, is that you never know if your readership will ‘get it’.”

    Very true, Lois. And, of course, some things are funny to me that aren’t funny to anybody else I know.

    But another HUGE issue with humor is knowing when enough is enough. I was watching an old Woody Allen film the other night (Love & Death) … and was appalled at how he milked most of the gags. If 30 seconds would have been funny, he apparently figured 300 seconds would be funnier. Nope. In that film, he fell into the trap that Mel Brooks and Jerry Lewis fell into: both needed stronger editing AND a DIFFERENT director than themselves.
    My point: A writer of great humor needs to know not only where to place it and how to phrase it … but when to DROP IT.

  7. Madison Johns says:

    I agree, I wrote a a senior sleuth and while I think it’s funny, you just never know if anybody will get it. Zany characters are a must and killing someone by way of knitting needles is funny if you ask me.

  8. Jane Robinson says:

    I’ve noticed that even the more “serious” mysteries often have small snippets of humor. Whether intentional or not , I think that really represents human nature. Can any of us forget the Mary Tyler Moore Show, when the elephant kills the staff member dressed like a peanut? Mary is appalled at the jokes that are made and then can’t stop laughing at the funeral. That’s a great example of how we deal with stress and sorrow. Humor can help us get through a lot and the humorous mysteries simple illustrate that.

  9. Piper Mizula says:

    There are far too many humor-less mysteries out there in my opinion. I read them and I think – what life are they living in because there is always a humor view in tragedy and if we don’t look at it we are likely to die of complications of seriousness. Seriously.

    Thank you for looking on the light side, of the dark side.

  10. Nancy J. Cohen says:

    I feel the same way you do about humor in mysteries. If I want to wallow in serious crime, I’ll watch the evening news. When I read, I want to escape from reality. Hence I read humorous cozies. I write them for the same reason, as my Bad Hair Day series will testify. It’s wonderful that you’re getting such great reviews!

    • Mollie Cox Bryan says:

      Thanks all for your comments. And Lois, thanks so much for stopping by my blog and adding such lively conversation to it. You are welcome to come back anytime!

  11. Gemma says:

    I believe I’ll have to read your work in full too get the funny part of killing with a glue gun! And of course, the same thing does not seem funny to all. Loved the conversation here!

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