Category Archives: Humor

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!

Dealing With the F-Word (Failure!)

Failure.

The word can evoke as many strong reactions and emotions as another F-word that isn’t appropriate for polite company.

Why is that? We fail every day. (I just missed my mouth with an almond because I was concentrating on my computer screen too hard. Fail!) Yet, the prospect of failure can cause the very thing we’re trying to avoid, or even keep us from starting something we might find incredibly rewarding.

Happy funny messy eater

I believe the fear of failure is instilled early. Parents are so afraid of damaging their children’s self-esteem, we’ve created things like participation awards and have graduation ceremonies for kindergarten.

Boy painting

Now, while these things have a certain cuteness factor to them, what they don’t teach us is how to fail, or more importantly, that it’s okay to fail.

I coached youth soccer for many years and one thing I always told my players was that mistakes are good things, because they give us an opportunity to learn. Blind luck can sometimes produce a perfect result the very first time we try something, but luck isn’t reproducible. It’s only by practice — trying and failing and trying again — that we can truly master something. Even then, we are often still subject to failure.

Soccer, in fact, is what inspired this post. I was watching the Copa America championship game this weekend between Chilé and Argentina. Lionel Messi, who plays for Argentina, is arguably the best player on the planet — possibly the best player ever — yet, the game went all the way through overtime without a score for either side. When that happens, a winner is decided by a series of penalty kicks. One player places the ball on a spot, twelve yards from the goal, and has a single kick to score against the opposing goalkeeper. Now, the goal is eight feet high and twenty-four feet wide. It’s a lot of space for one person to cover and the kicker scores a goal most of the time. Piece of cake for the best player in the world, right?

Not this time.

Messi missed his penalty and Argentina went on to lose in the shootout.

The story, and lesson, however, don’t end there. How did Messi react to his failure: the first time he’d ever missed in a penalty shootout?

He RETIRED!

Yes, the pressure on him was enormous and the loss was devastating, but his failure was not the sole reason for the outcome. Other players had chances to positively impact the game and the result during the match, but they, too, failed.

Is this how we wish for our children — or ourselves — to respond in the face of failure? To quit? To give up?

How do we overcome failure?

1: Own It.

Recognize your mistake and own up to it. When confronted with failure, our first instinct is often to deny it or shift blame.

Car crash

Resist this impulse, take responsibility, and…

2: Embrace Your Opportunity to Learn

Dissect and diagnose your failure. Where, exactly, did things go wrong? What can I do to achieve a better result when I try again? Many times we will need help from an outside source with this examination. Asking for that help can often be as difficult as the failure itself, but benefitting from someone else’s experiences is usually less painful in the long run than making all the mistakes yourself! Then…

3: Define Success Before You Start Again

This sounds like it should be step one, but I think we need to try something once to establish just how difficult a task it is before we try to set goals for ourselves.

Hypothetically, let’s say a budding, not-so-young writer discovers a book called Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and sees the success J.K. Rowling had with it, then says, “Heck, I can do that!” and sits down to pen his first novel. Well, I think we can all agree that’s a recipe for failure if we’ve ever heard one. I certainly wouldn’t know anyone who has done that. *Rolls eyes and mutters*

Regardless of how easy something looks, we have to remember one key detail: If it was easy, everyone would do it. If everyone isn’t doing it, then perhaps it isn’t as easy as it appears at first glance. Why do you suppose 80% of the populace thinks “they have a novel in them if they only had the time to write it.”? If they actually sat down and tried, most would quickly reassess the difficulty of the task.

So, set goals which take effort to achieve, but aren’t so lofty as to be impossible to reach straight out of the gate. And stop to reassess often to determine if outside help might be required, or if the bar for success needs to be adjusted.

It’s been about seven years since I published my first book, which took nearly ten humbling months to complete, and I’ve written five more, plus one novella (ghost written for someone else) to date. I’m still failing and learning from those failures and I’m sure I’ll continue to do both. Ms. Rowling’s top spot hasn’t come under much threat from my direction… yet! But, I’m not about to give up and retire.

And I hope Mr. Messi reconsiders his decision and continues to offer his services playing the beautiful game for Argentina in the future. I, for one, will mourn the loss if he does not.

_____________________

TuckerPenny1010smAlan Tucker , author of The Mother-Earth Series (A Measure of Disorder, A Cure for Chaos, and Mother’s Heart), as well as a new science fiction series, beginning with Knot in Time, is a dad, a graphic designer, and a soccer coach. Mostly in that order. He’s had a lifelong adoration of books, beginning with Encyclopedia Brown, progressing through Alan Dean Foster’s Flinx, and continuing on with the likes of Jim Butcher, Rachel Caine and Naomi Novik, to name a few.

“I wanted to write books that I’d enjoy reading. Books that I hoped my kids would enjoy too!”

Visit his website for more information about his books. View maps, watch trailers, see reviews and much more!

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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?

 

New Release: A Snarky Princess Story Collection

I’ve talked before about humor and tweens, and I’ve discovered that spoofing well-know stories is a big hit for many. To that end, I have just compiled a 4-in-1 volume of short fairy tale spin-offs designed to tickle the funny bone that is no longer clad in Disney Princess jammies.

Snarky Princess CollectionThe four stories are as follows:

Princess Pennilopintha and the Magic Mouse-Made Momphibrak

This one isn’t a direct parody of a known fairy tale, but it has all the exaggerated elements. It pokes fun at the genre by giving us a princess in a tower who really hopes she doesn’t have to get married to a valiant warrior-knight. She lucks out when her prince turns out to be a pastry chef.

Saccharine White and the 7 Dwarfs of SAGA

Obviously this is making fun of Snow White. Unlike the original, Saccharine is only artificially sweet–mostly because she’s tired of dealing with the paparazzi group, SAGA (Slander And Gossip Association). Fortunately, what she lacks in sugary demeanor, she makes up for with a quick mind (and quick feet).

 

The Quest for a Wide-Awake Princess

This one features two famous sleepy maidens–Sleeping Beauty and the Princess and the Pea. It follows Prince Jack on a quest for a princess who can stay awake long enough for that first kiss. When true love strikes, though, it’s full of comic energy.

 

Stormy Jane and the Damsel in Distress

Ever notice how the princes and knights always have to rescue a damsel in distress? Well, what if the rescuing is done by a fair maiden? And what if the “damsel in distress” is a 90-foot monster?

 

Slathered in snarky silliness, they’re sure to get tween eyes rolling (in a good way).  Available individually or in an omnibus collection on Amazon.


A shot B&WLia London has been on a writing frenzy this year, releasing seven new titles in 2015 alone. Much of that his humor or fantasy geared to tweens and teens. Stop by her website for more information.

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