All posts by Cynthia Port

About Cynthia Port

Cynthia lives in the beautiful rolling hills of Southern Indiana with her husband, two daughters, and a head brimming with stories. Her first novel, Kibble Talk, was published toward the end of 2013. Book two in the Kibble Talk series, Dog Gone Dinky, was published in 2014, and Book 3, What Dat? is on its merry way. The Kibble Talk series is all about humor, but just underneath are heartfelt messages about acceptance and not taking the ones closest to us for granted. Young readers are hungry for lessons that will help guide them through the tough choices in their lives. So while my readers may come for the jokes, they stay for the experience of stepping into someone else's shoes and facing up to a challenge.

How Well Do You Know the Dogs of Harry Potter?

In honor of Rowling’s latest release and National Dog Day this Friday, let’s see how many dogs of the Wizarding World you can name….

A pair of adorable pups probably come to mind right away: Fang and Fluffy.

Fang is described as a BoaTitles for HP dog blogpostrhound, but that is actually another name for a Great Dane, so yes indeedy, Fang is an enormous, black, Great Dane. I imagine him like the tallest Great Dane in the world, George, who was 7’3” long from his rubbery nose to the end of his ouch-my-face-is-not-a-windshield tail. Sadly, George passed away in 2013, but he will forever live on in the scratches he left at the top of his family’s refrigerator. It doesn’t seem fair, but large dogs do not live as long as smaller ones. I hate to think how many raw steaks Hagrid will need to hold over his swollen eyes when Fang must leave him.

Titles for HP dog blogpostFluffy is the large, vicious, three-headed dog that guards the Philosopher’s Stone and can only be tamed through music. I love the idea of a three-headed dog. You get three times the adorable, loving stares and only one part of the . . . you know. In The Philosopher’s Stone, Hagrid explains that he got Fluffy from “a Greek chappie.” Rowling is showing off her impressive knowledge of ancient myths and legends with this off-hand remark, as Greek mythology is replete with three–headed canines, also known as hellhounds. The most famous of the pack, Cerberus, guarded the entrance to the Underworld.Herakles_Kerberos_Louvre_F204

This 2,500 year old Greek amphora shows  Hercules taming a two-headed Cerberus. I’m not sure what happened to head #3, but I guess you can afford to lose your head when you’ve got a couple of spares.

 

Titles for HP dog blogpost

Remember him? Maybe not, because despite his impressive name, he is a decidedly non-magical creature. Ripper is the favorite of Harry’s Aunt Marge’s twelve bulldogs. He once chased Harry into a tree, which wasn’t very nice, but he also sunk his teeth into Vernon’s leg, so there’s that.

 

Titles for HP dog blogpostWhat? You didn’t think of Crups? That’s okay, they only get one quick mention in The Order of the Phoenix, as creatFlying Jack Russellures studied in Hagrid’s Care of Magical Creatures class. Crups are wizard-bred dogs that look like Jack Russell terriers, except that they have forked tails. This Jack Russell may or may not have a forked tail, but he sure looks magical.   Accio Crup!!

 

Titles for HP dog blogpostThat’s right, Ron’s patronus, his alter-self, is a dog—a loyal if not altogether bright creature, AND a Jack Russell. The choice of a Jack Russell for Ron was a sentimental one, because Rowling once had one for a pet. I would have picked an Irish Setter, but that was probably too obvious. So obvious, in fact, that my patronus is probably a dog . . .

Titles for HP dog blogpostThe Grim is the omen of death in the form of aGrim image giant, shaggy black dog. Harry doesn’t actually see the Grim, but no spoilers.  Several dogs could be the source of Rowling’s Grim, including the Black Shuck of English folklore and the Cu Sith of Scottish mythology, both of which signal imminent death. There’s also the Church Grim of Scandinavian and English folklore, a guardian spirit that guards churchyards after being buried alive there for that purpose. Shudder. This description of the appearance of the Black Shuck at a church in Suffolk, England in 1577 begins with, ” A Straunge and Terrible Wunder wrought very late…” Gotta say though, looks more like a friendly sheep to me.

 

 

Finally, there is mention of two dogs owned by Hermione’s parents after she modified their memories and sent them to live in nice, safe Australia (and I’m going to pretend they were dingos), and Hagrid compares baby Aragog to a Pekingese in size. How sweet. Additional dog mentions occur in the Harry Potter films, video games, companion books, and on Pottermore. Learn about them here: http://harrypotter.wikia.com/wiki/Category:Dogs

 

It’s no surprise that dogs sniff their way into Rowling’s books. If humans cannot live Dinky tailwithout the furry, tail wagging wonderfulness that is dogs, why would wizards want to do so? Only problem is, Dinky, the Great Dane at the center of my literary world, can’t stop drooling over the fact that Fang is a fellow Dane. Talk about a Fang Fandog! Down, Dinky, down!  I will get you a Fang poster for your doghouse, but in the meantime, my face is not a windshield!

Ouch!

For a good time call…an Indie!

 

 

Dear Reader,

Writers are reputed to be a bit standoffish, a bit inside our own wonky, tortured heads. Many of us just don’t like our fellow human beings. By logical extension then, we authors, as a group, must not want to be bothered by the “little people” lucky enough to read our books, right? We must find such extra-literary contact irksome, sycophantic, even stalky.  I’m going to type this slowly so everyone will understand:

WHEN IT COMES TO INDIES, NOTHING COULD BE FURTHER FROM THE TRUTH!

I cannot speak for the Rowlings, the Kings or the Kingsolvers of this world because I don’t know any of them (sigh), but I know a lot (as in thousands) of indie authors, and to a person they revel in hearing from readers. I know this because the briefest note left on their Facebook author page or website, the slightest comment made in the grocery store, an email, a tweet, a blurry instagram pic (tinted to look like a Polaroid from 1963), anything that suggests someone out there likes their writing—sends that author trumpeting joy all over social media like a happiness t-shirt cannon. Hearing from readers makes indie authors giddily, unreasonably, even stalkily, happy.

So please, Readers, don’t be shy. Don’t be sitting there all on your lonesome as you turn the last page of a cool indie novel, thinking, “Gee willickers, I loved this book. I wonder if the author is going to write a sequel? I wonder if any of it is biographical? I wonder if the centaur knew the chewing gum was inside that marshmallow before he gave it to the toothless guinea pig? Oh, well, I guess I’ll never know, because surely this author wouldn’t want to hear from the likes of me.”

Wipe that niggling negativity right out of your neurons because, trust me—hearing from you is that author’s lifeblood and will make his/her day. You don’t even have to say anything brilliant, pithy or insightful. On the contrary, it would be impossible for you to make a comment or ask a question about an indie book that the author of said book does not want to receive. To prove my point, here are some questions that might, on the surface, seem unwelcome, followed by a typical indie author’s response:


 

Did you hire a two-year-old to write this drivel?

“Thank you so much for contacting me. Funny you should ask, because my two year old did give me the idea about the marshmallow and the gum!”


 

Why do you bother getting up in the morning if this is the result?

“So nice to hear from you. I do most of my writing in the evening.”


 

Can I pay you to stop writing books?

“That is so sweet. You mean like a Kickstarter?”


 

See? No harm no foul. Though if you do ask questions like these, you might find yourself written into a novel only to be gummed to death by a toothless guinea pig. But, hey, that could be adorable!

And one more thing: if you are a parent, grandparent or teacher, please encourage and help (as needed) a young person to contact a favorite indie author. I often hear from young readers, and it makes me even more unreasonably giddy than when I hear from adult readers, because adding to the pleasure a child experiences through reading is, well, one of the highest accomplishments I can think of.

If you’ve been hurt before in your attempts to form meaningful relationships with your favorite authors, we understand.  Send us a note, ask us a question—on Goodreads, Amazon, FB, snail mail, smoke signals or knuckle tattoo.  I promise: we’ll love you right back.

Cynthia Port is the author of the humorous fiction series, Kibble Talk, 2015 Readers’ Favorite Gold Award winner.

Woof vs. Meow: The Battle of the Book

In the world of real things, cats win—at least by the numbers. According to the Humane Society, the US has 86 million purrfect domestic kitties but only 78 million tail waggin‘ doggies. But in the world of fictional characters (books, cartoons, movies, etc.) the situation isn’t just reversed, it’s tipped over onto its adorable, swivel-eared head. Sure, you can find examples of beloved dog and cat characters aplenty, but keep trying to name them, and you’ll run out of cat characters long before you run out of the Fido’s of fictiondom, the Cujo’s of crime, or the Lassie’s of late night.

unnamed-2On Wikipedia’s pages about fictional animal characters, the cat and dog lists are broken down into literature, comics, film, and television. The cat list offers twenty-six, including such dew-clawed notables as Garfield, the Cheshire Cat, the Cat in the Hat, Puss in Boots, Sylvester the Cat, Tom & Jerry, The Aristocats, and the cats in Stuart Little and Sabrina, the Teenage Witch. They are huggable, cantankerous, acrobatic, crafty, conceited and aloof, reflecting all of the complicated feelings we have about our feline companions.

 

unnamed-1But hold onto your leashes, folks, because the dog list has two hundred and eight-five, including such well-bred personalities as Snowy from Tintin, 101 Dalmations, Bolt, Old Yeller, Snoopy, Marmaduke, Toto, the Beverly Hills Chihuahua, Scooby Doo, Clifford the Big Red Dog, Martha from Martha Speaks, Hank the Cowdog, Underdog, Einstein, Timbuktu, and on and on and on and (Down, boy!) on!  They are loyal, courageous, and food obsessed, mirroring the simpler feelings we have toward dogs.

 

But if there are so many cat lovers on this planet (and as evidence I present to you: The Internet, which is actually made of cats), why aren’t cats at least equally reflected in our most beloved forms of entertainment?  I suspect there are two main reasons:

  1. WTFPortability. Dogs love cars and walks and travel. They are at their happiest when they are on an adventure with their humans. Cats not so much. If you are featuring a cat in your book or movie, for the most part it will need to take place inside a house or within a relatively small geographical area. That’s limiting for a storyteller.
  1. Expressiveness. While cats experience emotions just as intensely as dogs, they don’t express them as clearly. A cat’s emotional signs are subtle – an ear twitch, lowered eyelids, a tail snap, sitting down with their backside guilty-dogtoward you, or planting themselves in the center of whatever is currently occupying your attention (instead of them!).  Meanwhile, dogs broadcast their feelings on hi-def with every furry inch of their being—eyes, mouth, feet, tails, head tilts, sounds—they have a visual language of emotion so expressive that we humans are known to adopt their communication methods in order to better express our own mood states. Dogs are SO expressive it feels as if they are talking to us, a fact that probably explains the plethora of talking dog characters in books and movies.

Talking dogs is something I’m a bit of an expert on because, wKT front cover 2014 with gold awardhile I am technically (full disclosure) a cat person, my award winning humorous fiction series, Kibble Talk, features a talking dog. Readers also get to hear what a cat has to say, but the main focus is on Dinky, an enormous and cantankerous Great Dane.  That earned the book a 1-star review from an avid cat-lover, but on the bright side, fans tell me they will never be able to look at their dog quite the same way again.  That’s music to my swively ears.

Where do you fall on the cat–dog continuum?  Got any fave cats or dogs of literature that I’ve missed?

 

Me Write Funny One Day Part II: Building Funny Into Your Novel

In Part I we discussed that smorgasbord of giggle-busters: one-liners, including how they are great for adding a touch of little levity to scenes or keeping the guffaws rolling, but, much like Tribbles, can easily end up being too much of a good thing. That’s because focusing too much on the one-liners means you are likely selling character development and plot short. But, you ask (hopefully in your best outrageous French accent), how do we get beyond the one-liners? That is the topic of today’s post: The House that Funny Built.

 

bounce-house-550x671What’s so funny about a house?

Well, nothing, unless you BUILD it funny. A house built with straight walls, flat floors and ordinary right angles as far as the eye can see will not be funny. But give those floors a wobble and those walls a tilt, and your guests will be smiling all through the tour. It’s the same for humorous fiction. One-liners are funny, but in the house that is your novel, they are nothing more than the interior decorating. For true humorous fiction, the jokes must be built into the very structure of the novel from the ground up.

 

The Foundation

The foundation of your house, the thing everything else will be built on top of, is its premise. For humorous fiction, your premise is like the lead in to a good joke: “A giraffe, a camel and a naked mole rat walk into a bar…” It will probably sound inherently ridiculous, and it will definitely make the reader eager to hear the rest of the joke. In Kibble Talk, an enormous Great Dane wants desperately to be a teeny tiny lap dog. In Barbara Park’s Junie B. Jones series, a kindergartener dispenses wisdom. For Douglas Adams’ Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, a hapless Englishman travels outer space with nothing but a towel and an eccentric digital travel guide. In A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole, a brilliant but utterly slovenly and rude young man expects the world to take him seriously.

 

The Walls

Next come the walls, which in our funny house are a book’s characters. With one important exception, straight, upright walls aren’t as funny as ones that hang at odd angles or veer off in unexpected directions. My protagonist Tawny isflat,1000x1000,075,f generally a rule follower, but she is also unable to resist a dare, which sends her into the oddest adventure (so far) of her young life. Her best friend Jenny is a brilliant schemer, but she never stops to think of the effect her schemes have on others, a fact which invariably ends up being the fatal flaw in her plan, the wobble in her wall. Throw in an all-knowing dog and some parents who take their hobbies way too seriously, and your fun house will be ever-teetering on the brink of hilarious disaster. At that point, even straight walls will look funny, and that is the exception I mentioned earlier. Including a few straight-laced characters can be invaluable to highlighting just how off-kilter the rest of your characters really are.

 

The Rooms

Continuing with this metaphor (cause we’re pretty much stuck with it now!), the chapters of your book are the rooms of your funny house. It’s pretty straightforward, really. Each room has some number of walls (which we already know are the characters). The best funny of all happens at the point where those walls meet up (e.g., the characters interact), with each trying to convince the other that they alone are plumbed straight and true.3674bf48b1573dc7618ad2f52a411883

But don’t’ forget that each room has a floor too, which is like a mini foundation. That’s right, each chapter is based on its own joke. It’s hard to give a meaningful example of this without reprinting an entire chapter here, but pretty much all of my chapters begin with a funny premise—what the lunch lady is serving that day, what it’s like to spend an entire school day filling out standardized tests, what pet Dinky can’t recognize by smell at the Peet-R-My-Kidz Superstore. By the end of that chapter, I’ve returned to that joke and given it a brand new punchline that is only funny because of what we learned by reading that chapter. Barbara Parks uses this exact same tactic in her Junie B. Jones books. An example I love is Junie B.’s excitement and pride over being allowed to play with a spatula—because she is mature enough to do that. By the end of that chapter, her spatula has been taken away because, she admits to the reader (and we have seen for ourselves), she is not mature enough to play with a spatula.

 

 The Doorways

Bear with me here. You know how when you’re in an actual fun house and you think you know where you are and then suddenly you walk through an opening or look through an interior window and see something you saw several rooms ago? It’s jarring, but also delightful. Recurring jokes and character quirks work this way, and as long as you don’t overdo them, your readers will love you for them. For example, Dinky, being an all-knowing dog, is always referring to things that most 10 year olds will not understand, like protoplasm or the Unknown-9Bay of Pigs or deconstructivist art. Each time he does this, he answers the kids confused looks with an offhand, “Oh, look it up,” and the story moves on. In Dog Goner, a character insists he knows Jenny’s name, but still gets it wrong every time. (And it’s not until book 3 that we find out why.)

Why are these seemingly dumb, simple character quirks so powerful? Each time you give the reader another glimpse of these ‘ticks’ in your characters’ personalities, you are reinforcing for the reader the sense that she knows the character so intimately she can predict something ridiculous the character will do or say. In other words, you are creating inside jokes between your characters and your readers, and only true friends share inside jokes.

 

The Roof

The roof of your house, like a capstone, is its conclusion. The roof finishes what the foundation started. For humorous fiction, as we’ve already discussed, that foundation is the lead in to a joke. This means that the roof is the punchline to the greatest joke of all in your book—it’s premise. And while that may seem easy, it is by far the hardest part of any work of humorous fiction. Any fool can pour a wobbly foundation and put up some crooked walls, but only the most gifted carpenter can get a roof over it that will actually fuse that mess together into one structurally strong piece. And you can’t just have an ordinary old, gray-shingled predictable roof either. Your roof must complete the premise joke while offering its own surprises, such as being touching or mind-bending or shocking. If your original premise is ridiculous enough, you won’t be able to put an ordinary roof on it anyway. Plus, your reader will want to get to the end just to see if it’s evePerspective-illusion-roomn possible to slap a roof onto the literary Escher house you’ve built. In The Hitchhiker’s Guide, the answer to the joke is both funny (42) and mind-bending (planet Earth was just an experiment run by higher beings in the form of laboratory mice). At the end of each of her books, Junie B. Jones ends up giving us some actual wisdom after all—wisdom we’ve known all along, but hadn’t realized until it was shown to us by a kindergartner. At the conclusion of Kibble Talk…. haha, as if I’m gonna tell you!

Final pic Building Funny house

So roll up your sleeves!   

Get to work on the funhouse that is your humorous fiction novel, but first make sure your glasses aren’t on too straight, your ruler has a bend in it, and the glass in your level is cracked. Your readers, young and old, will want to lose themselves in the new, the quirky, and the unpredictable, and will delight in visiting again and again!

But before you do, please leave me a comment!  


KT front cover 2014 with gold award Dog Goner CynthiaPort




Me Write Funny One Day, Part 1: So Long and Thanks For All the Frogs

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Analyzing humor is like dissecting a frog. Few people are interested and the frog dies of it.  –E.B. White

frog-mascot-dies

 So . . . let’s kill some frogs, shall we?

In my last post I explored the phenomenon of the reluctant reader, concluding that both graphic novel formats and humor can be key to ditching the X Box in favor of a book.  Not every writer can whip out a graphic novel, but most of us can make our writing funnier.  In the next two posts, I’ll talk about what makes writing funny, how to get more (but not too much) funny into your writing, and how to identify books for middle grade readers that don’t equate funny with the words “fart” and “butt.”   (Am I right, weary parent?)

 It’s All About That Layering  

To paraphrase Winston Churchill, good humorous fiction is a chuckle wrapped in a guffaw inside a knowing smile.  By that I mean that, while Meghan Trainor may be all about that bass, true humorous fiction is all about that layering. Some jokes take a full chapter to develop, some take several chapters, and some even take the whole book.  In this post we’ll focus on the simplest layer, the thin veneer, if you will, of humor: the famous (and infamous) one-liner.

Did you hear the one about the one-liner?  (. . . it felt all a-groan)

One-liners are quick, one-dimensional jokes most anyone can write now and then.  Part of the reason they are so easy to write is that there are a myriad of forms to choose from. Here are some common categories along with examples from my novels Kibble Talk and Dog Goner (from my ongoing Kibble Talk series).

 1. EXAGGERATION.        Zach is so thin and bony he could hoola hoop with a Cheerio.

 I do a lot of exaggerating in my novels and it can be a blast to write—I just let my mind spiral out in ever more ridiculous circles until I hit the right image.  But two caveats.

First, it is easy to be overly cruel.  If you are writing for children, a little wincing on the part of your readers is okay as long as it’s only a tiny little wince and it’s accompanied by a chuckle.  If you’re writing for adults, you can go for the gut punch, but again, there must be a correspondingly impactful laugh.

Second, if you are writing in first person dialogue, make sure your language conforms to the way your character (in terms of age, education, etc.) would speak and think about the world.  In the example above, a nine year old is describing her best friend’s super skinny older brother. Your average nine year old is familiar with both hoola hooping and Cheerios cereal. On the other hand, your average nine-year-old would not be so familiar (one hopes) with someone being so skinny he could fit into the barrel of a 9-gage shotgun.

Here’s a few more examples of exaggeration from my writing:

  • His face was kind of pointy, with eyes so small it looked like they might disappear the next time he blinked.
  • That lady could talk the ears off a field of corn.
  • Dinky prancing is worse than a hip-hopping hippo.

2. SURPRISE:        “I am a humble man and I will shout that from the mountaintops,” Mr. Higginbotham said.

Here the reader anticipates that the last half of the sentence will reinforce the message given in the first half, but instead, it entirely contradicts it. This type of one-liner is perfect for delineating a ridiculous character—one who, like Mr. Higginbotham, is oblivious to his own contradictions.  It is funny to your audience because they do see the contradiction.

3. Set up a funny visual. (Here Tawny is describing her dog to us for the very first time.  The actual one-liner is the last sentence, but you need the lead-up for it to make sense.)

Dinky is huge. He is a Great Dane and an especially great one at that. He weighs more than my dad and is taller than my dad when they are both down on all fours. His undersides are the color of whipped cream, his back, legs and head are caramel, and his face and ears are chocolate brown.  I like to think he’s the world’s largest ice cream sundae! 

 I like this visual in particular because it explains a great deal more than just Dinky’s size and coloring.  Without her coming out and telling us, it provides an immediate sense of Tawny’s feelings for her dog.  Using those same exact colors, she could have compared him to a military tank in desert camouflage.  Instead, he is every child’s dream—an enormous sweet treat.

4. PHRASE TWIST:  Jenny has a way with words, and by that I mean that when she is using words, people get out of her way.

I use this style of one-liner the least in my fiction because a) the jokes tend to be formulaic and can come off as wooden, and b) your audience must be familiar with the original phrase and I can’t be as sure of that with children.  But if cleverly done, they are very memorable because the reader already knows the original line.

5. BODY HUMOR:

This isn’t so much a category as a caveat. In all of these one-liner formats, body humor is always an option.  Both kids and adults (you know who you are!) DO think butts and farts are funny. But if you want your books to be enjoyed by all ages, as I do, you will want to limit them. The Kibble Talk series is certainly not immune to body part and body effluence jokes. After all, these are talking dog books, and dogs aren’t exactly shy about their bodies.  But I use them sparingly, and to even things out, I add in plenty of one-liners that only adult readers are likely to get, such as a math teacher talking about the finer points of isosceles triangles, how table manners are genetically determined, and even references to The Fonz and the Cuban Missile Crisis.

The Rotten Tomato Blaster is No Laughing Matter

The challenge when it comes to one-liners is not in the writing, but in deciding where, when, and how much to use them. The well-placed one liner in an otherwise serious book (mystery, crime, romance, etc.) will endear your readers to you, especially when it arrives like a lifeline just after an emotionally fraught moment. But what do you do when your whole genre is humor?  One thing you don’t do is rely so heavily on one-liners that they are essentially the only layer of humor in the book.

Sadly, I see this most often in children’s humorous fiction. Wanting to please her audience, the writer thinks to herself: “Children, and especially boys, like jokes, so all I need to do is write a lot of them and they will love my books.”  Sigh.

frog not amused

When that happens, the book becomes a series of throwaway lines and personal slams drowning in a soup of endless whining and negativity, very much like this sentence. The first few quips may be entertaining, but after a short while of having to react to them over and over again, the reader feels as if he or she is in a batting cage at the receiving end of a pitching machine well stocked with rotten tomatoes. Splat! Splat! Make it stop!  Splat!

Of course, the real problem is that with so much of the page (and so much of the writer’s mental energy) devoted to the next one-liner, there’s little room left for character development and storyline.

By all means use one-liners, but make them an occasional treat, not the main course. For true humorous fiction—satisfying humorous fiction—the funny must go wider and deeper.

The House That Funny Built

Stay tuned for my next Emblazoners post, Me Write Funny One Day Part 2, where I will share my methods for doing just that. I’ll be pulling examples from two of my favorite series (Barbara Park’s Junie B. Jones and Douglas Adam’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) as well as more from my Kibble Talk series, so it wouldn’t be the worst idea ever to rush out and read all those tomorrow, now, would it?  Just sayin. And if you can find a young person to read them with, all the better—cause just like hugs, funny is best when shared.

No frogs were harmed

How do YOU funny?
If you’re a writer, how much emphasis do you put on humor? Where do you usually use it?  If you’re a parent, how much does humor seem to matter to your young reader(s)?

kibble talkBio pic white backgroundDog Goner