Writing Funny in Unfunny Times by Lois Winston

I write two humorous amateur sleuth series, The Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries and The Empty Nest Mysteries. Currently I’m working on the second Empty Nest Mystery—or I’m trying to. It isn’t easy to write humor when there are so many horrible things happening in the world.

I live eighteen miles from Lower Manhattan. My husband, son, and daughter-in-law all commute into New York every day. Fourteen years ago I watched in real time as the second plane flew into The World Trade Center and as both buildings collapsed. I couldn’t write for six months. It’s hard to be funny when the world has turned grim and deadly.

I’m dealing with a similar anxiety now as events unfold around the world. Somehow it feels wrong to write about murder—especially in a humorous voice—given what’s happening. And the very last thing I want to do right now is write something dark and grizzly. I wrote dark and grizzly prior to 9/11. I can’t do that anymore. I’d much rather make people laugh than scare the you-know-what out of them.

I’ve never understood why people can’t just get along. One of my best friends has a completely opposite political view from mine. Politics is the one thing we disagree on, but our friendship is too important to let our political views tear us apart. We agree to disagree. End of discussion. We know we’ll probably never convince the other to change our views, so we don’t try. We respect each other’s right to our own beliefs. Too bad the rest of the world can’t do that.

A few years ago I began thinking about the difficult task parents have these days in explaining our violent world to their children. It’s impossible to shield kids from reality these days. Thanks to social media and 24/7 news they hear and see events as they happen.

I was recently reminded of a song from South Pacific that talks about how children have to be taught to hate. We’re not born with bigotry and prejudice built into our genes. We learn it. The other day I saw a clip from a documentary about children as young as three years old being instructed by jihadists on how to shoot guns. These babies are being taught how to kill anyone who doesn’t espouse their philosophy.

But just as children can be taught to hate, they can be taught that hate is wrong. They can be taught that it’s better if people learn to get along with each other. That’s why I wrote The Magic Paintbrush, a chapter book for young children.

When nine-year-old Jack and his seven-year-old sister Zoe are snowed in for days with nothing to do, their complaints land them in every guy’s worst nightmare—the kingdom of Vermilion, a land where everything is totally pink! At first Jack is mistaken for a spy from the neighboring kingdom of Cobalt, but Zoe convinces Queen Fuchsia that they’re from New Jersey and arrived by magic.

Queen Fuchsia needs a king, but all the available princes in Vermilion are either too short, too fat, too old, or too stupid. Jack and Zoe suggest she looks for a king in Cobalt, but Vermilion and Cobalt have been at war since long before anyone can remember. Jack and Zoe decide Vermilion and Cobalt need a Kitchen Table Mediation to settle their differences. So they set out on an adventure to bring peace to the warring kingdoms—and maybe along the way they just might find a king for the queen.

Without being preachy, The Magic Paintbrush addresses the issue of differences, in this case, a kingdom that is all pink at war with a kingdom that is all blue for longer than anyone can remember—so long that no one even knows what started the feud. It takes two children from another land to point out to the rulers of both kingdoms the benefits to getting along and how we're really all the same inside.

Now, if we could only convince the rest of the world to follow this philosophy…

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USA Today bestselling and award-winning author Lois Winston writes mystery, romance, romantic suspense, chick lit, women’s fiction, children’s chapter books, and nonfiction under her own name and her Emma Carlyle pen name. Kirkus Reviews dubbed her critically acclaimed Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery series, “North Jersey’s more mature answer to Stephanie Plum.” In addition, Lois is an award-winning craft and needlework designer who often draws much of her source material for both her characters and plots from her experiences in the crafts industry. Visit Lois/Emma at www.loiswinston.com and Anastasia at the Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers blog, www.anastasiapollack.blogspot.com. Follow everyone on Tsu at www.tsu.co/loiswinston, on Pinterest at www.pinterest.com/anasleuth, and onTwitter at https://twitter.com/Anasleuth. Sign up for her newsletter at https://www.MyAuthorBiz.com/ENewsletter.php?acct=LW2467152513


Melissa Keir said…
What a cute story! I wish you many sales!
J.M. Maurer said…
I wish we could teach the world this message too. Lovely post and sounds like a great gift idea. Thanks, Lois. All the best!
Kathleen Kaska said…
Everyone should read this, young and old. Thanking for sharing it with us.
Rose Anderson said…
Lovely post, Lois. Thanks for sharing and good luck with The Magic Paintbrush.
vicki batman said…
Hi, Lois! Wonderful topic. I saw the video with the kids and something in my stomach just ached. Thank you for writing the new book for kids and I hope good things happen with it.
This was great, thank you for visiting me!
Lois Winston said…
Thanks so much, Melissa, J.M., Kathleen, Rose, and Vicki! And thanks for inviting me to be your guest today, Marilyn!
Maria (MM Jaye) said…
The book sounds wonderful! I will definitely buy! Living in Greece where dozens of refuges arrive or are washed ashore on a daily basis, tragedy is right at our doorstep. I never wrote dark, but I did read dark. No way now...
Kathy McIntosh said…
Very timely post. The children's book sounds wonderful. And of course who can't love Anastasia? Even non-crafty folk like me enjoy that series.
Lois Winston said…
Maria, Greece certainly has had its share of challenges the last few years.

Kathy, so glad you enjoy Anastasia! She's on hiatus right now while I try to get going with the second Empty Nest mystery, but she'll be back with a new adventure sometime late in 2016.
stanalei said…
Sounds like a very timely story, Lois. Thanks for your humor and thoughtfulness in such frightening times.
Lois Winston said…
Thanks for stopping by, stanalei!
Cynthia Sample said…
I think it's times like these that people need humor in their lives. At least that's what motivates me to keep writing. And I love your work, Lois, so get that next Empty Nest book out.

PS - a few months ago I read an article in the WSJ about special classes that were being offered to teach children how to be nice. As a parent, it seemed obvious that my job description included teaching my children how to be good people and citizens.
Lois Winston said…
Aye, aye, Cindy! And thanks for saying you love my work! It definitely helps motivate me.

As for those classes you read about, makes you wonder about parents who abdicate their responsibilities and pay someone else to do what they should be doing. I know people lead busy lives, but jeez! IMHO people who can't find the time to teach their kids how to be decent human beings shouldn't have kids in the first place.
Angela Adams said…
Insightful post, Lois. Thanks.
Lois Winston said…
Thanks, Angela. Glad you enjoyed it.
E. Ayers said…
Lois, The Magic Paintbrush is adorable and should be read to every child. Actually they shouldn't need it! They are so quick to pick up what parents say and they way they act.
I am almost certain that my political views are opposite yours, but that's okay! I know my congressman's email addy and I often write to him so that he knows what I'm thinking, not what my party is thinking. Really who does agree with their party all the time?
The difference for so many of us in the USA is that we disagree and keep going. It's impossible for us to even comprehend the way some people think. So we teach our children to respect all people, but how do we teach them to respect those who would like to see us dead? We can't. Is that not what they are doing to their children?
It's a serious situation with no easy answers.
Nancy J. Cohen said…
Your story reminds me of a Star Trek episode where an alien was half black and half white. That symbolism was a bit obvious, wouldn't you say? But you are so right. We are all the same inside. We'd have a peaceful planet if people would acknowledge our humanity.
Lois Winston said…
E., sometimes i think there's a bit of lemming DNA buried in all of us, and ruthless, crazy people somehow know how to triggered it to amass followers to do their bidding. It really is incredibly scary.

Nancy, I remember that Star Trek episode. Star Trek was full of allegorical stories like that. Gene Roddenberry was a genius, but unfortunately, I'm not sure how many of those stories had the impact on viewers that he hoped for.
Barb Caffrey said…
What a cute story! I hope it does very well, Lois.

And I completely understand why you'd want to write something that does work out...our world is such a mess right now, and we need all the hope we can find.

I'm sure your book will help to spread that hope.

(Oh, and I made sure to Tweet about this, too.)
Ashlyn Chase said…
What a wonderful idea! I wish I knew a young kid...but I'm your empty nester. ☺️
GBPool said…
Where would we be without a little humor? Even cops rely on gallows humor to make it through some pretty tough times. As for teaching children, my parents did it the hard way: they set a good example. The best lesson ever for a kid.
Lois Winston said…
Ashlyn, maybe there will be grandkids at some point?

GBPool, sounds like we need more people in this world like your parents.

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