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Humor in Books, and Other Places, Too! An Interview with Camila Sortica AKA Blackbird (@Bbird_26)

KRR- What was the last thing that literally made you laugh out loud?

BB- Uhm, my friends and I joke around quite often and last night before going to sleep one of my friends and I were making dad jokes out of the scene I was writing whereas one of my characters has suffered a stab wound and was asking to speak with her friend before letting the Healer work on her. So stuff like: Maddie: “you’re bleeding.” Lena: “actually, my name is Lena.” Maddie: ... Lena: *finger guns*

And "What's your type?" "I mean, Eldric isn't the smartest sometimes, but he's really nice..." "Your blood type!" This came about because I was talking about how despite a lot of my writing dealing with themes of loss, death, and grief I like to inject levity and humor whenever possible. I don't like to make things bleak to the point of depressing myself or depressing my readers. And it turned into actively joking about this really serious emotional moment I was in the process of writing. That was, so far, the last time I laughed out loud at something. KRR- Gotta love the dad jokes! I love stuff like that, in real life and in writing. Levity is often really important. Again, in real life and in writing. It can be a tough thing to pull off, but when done well, it's great.

What kinds of things do you usually find to be funny? BB- I like puns, I like situational humor and satire. I don't seek out comedy exactly; it's been a long time since I watched a comedy film or a sitcom, but I do like stories with characters that have a sense of humor and joke about situations they find themselves in, sometimes in order to alleviate other people's concerns or in order to cope. I find that a very likable, human trait. I also like humor that stems from dark situations. Or from how nonchalant a character is in a dark situation. KRR- Name a few books that have made you laugh?

BB- I reviewed Kissing The Coronavirus a while ago and that book made me laugh throughout. And don't get me wrong; it's not a good book. I would only ever recommend it to a "so-bad-it's-good" enthusiast like myself, but I do believe that book's humor was actually intentional and well-executed in many places. The Conjuring of Zoth-Avarex is a book I'm still in the process of reading and I've been finding it really funny. Admittedly not all jokes have landed for me, but I'm still enjoying a lot of it. I like self-aware humor and I enjoy books that don't take themselves too seriously. The Alienist by Machado de Assis has a moment that cracks me up where the main character who is a psychiatrist has a man committed for hitting on his wife, but it's not because he's jealous, it's because he thinks no sane man would think his wife is attractive. And it's funny not in a "haha, I hate my wife" kind of way, it's funny because this character is so rational that, even though he does actually like his wife and shows it in his own ways throughout, he objectively thinks she's ugly and sincerely does not understand how this other man could think otherwise. This character genuinely just believes that this man's advances on his wife indicate a flaw in his mental faculties and he's legitimately concerned as a doctor. So that's extremely funny to me. I love it so much. And this dry brand of dark humor is one of the many reasons Machado de Assis is one of my favorite Brazilian authors. Many of his characters just operate on a level of such ridiculous skewed logic and morals and it makes them so genuine in the batshit things that they say that all you can do is laugh at it because what the fuck.

KRR- I have seen some of the…uh…coronavirus erotica stuff before. It’s such a wild concept. Like you said, horrible, but hilarious. The Conjuring of Zoth-Avarex is a literary travesty written by a hack. The Alienist sounds strange, but interesting. Do you read in Portuguese, too?

BB- The Conjuring of Zoth-Avarex is turning out to be a great read, but I don’t want to spoil my review of it too much. Though if you're curious I do make notes on Kindle and those are public on my GR page. ;)

And yes. A lot of works by Machado de Assis have English translations, but I am Brazilian, so I actually learned to read in Portuguese first; English took a little longer than that.

KRR- You're too kind ;)

How do you incorporate humor into your writing (blogging)?

BB- I have a different approach to humor in my blogging than I do my serious writing. In blogging, I do reviews, and I write reviews in a very conversational, commentary style. I talk about books, movies, cartoons, etc... From an audience perspective. Occasionally I do draw from a writer's perspective to try and seriously elaborate on why something doesn't work, but even with works that I enjoy—actually, especially with works I enjoy—I like to riff on things. It's always been my way to interact with media throughout my whole life; talking about books I like, watching TV with my siblings, I naturally live poking fun at things. I also exaggerate my reactions a little with things I don't like; not a lot, just a little, because I know my readers' entertainment often stems from watching me suffer through some horrible works of fiction and I'm more than happy to provide that.

In my actual writing; refer to answer 1, those were jokes made between me and a friend, but they're also the same type of dumb joke a couple of my characters have made in my web serial. As mentioned, I like to integrate humor into my writing to offset the bleakness of the actual subject matter. The ways in which I incorporate this depends on the character I'm writing. Some will be more situational, some will be dry deadpan one liners, some will be silly puns and dad jokes. I write characters with a sense of humor and who manifest that sense of humor in ways that are particular to them. That said, there was also an instance where I used a heartwarming moment where a character made a ridiculous pun she was proud of as a gut punch in an emotional scene later. And it was very effective. So, it's not as if my readers are really that reassured by the existence of lightheartedness and humor in this story either.

KRR- Oh, wow. The idea of a ridiculous pun being used as a gut punch later is really good. Now I’m curious what that was!

BB- It was a very interesting moment too, because my co-writer was looking over the chapter and he said “there’s a lot of built up tension in this scene that doesn’t culminate in anything. There needs to be something either funny or sad to dissipate this tension and I don’t think funny works here”. And I read that comment and I thought… Why not both? Because, I don’t want to spoil the exact situation, but I think it’s a relatable scenario to lose someone (in whichever way you lose them) and suddenly having your happy memories of them become painful. And this is essentially what happens with this character. They’re remembering a silly joke and how happy their friend was telling it, but with that comes the realization that they may never have that again. It was a very raw moment and I’m actually really proud of its execution.

KRR- Is there anything off limits in comedy?

BB- I don't know if I feel any topics are off limits, but I do think humor needs to evolve. And I think that, as someone who enjoys and utilizes dark humor a lot, being offensive and just calling that a joke needs to stop being acceptable. Especially towards marginalized audiences. If you make a joke at the expense of a vulnerable person or a whole group of people, and not only are you laughing at them, but you're inviting your entire audience, or potential audience to laugh at them as well, that's not what I would call a joke. Being inappropriate towards anyone and calling it a joke is unacceptable to me. I'm asexual, for instance. And personally I don't mind sexual jokes, I make them often, I have a dirty mind just like most people, I do understand the humor in it. But... Sexual jokes directed at me personally tend to make me extremely uncomfortable. And I've had that "it's a joke, you're being too sensitive" argument directed at me numerous times. And it's like, no. If you meant something as a joke and that joke didn't land, then apologize and move on. If you wanna be ballsy and push boundaries, be it to a wider audience or on a personal level accept the fact that you may push too far, that it might not work. And if that happens, it's on you not on the person whose boundaries you've inadvertently crossed.

I don't think topics; what can and can't be joked about universally, are the issue. I think it's the attitude around comedy and jokes that needs to change. Not all jokes are well-received in all situations, coming from or directed to every individual or demographic, and that's a reality that artists need to learn to accept.

KRR- Yeah. I couldn’t agree more. It’s the intent that I often come back to. Like are you making a joke to be mean, or to try and show dominance over someone, or are you just trying to be funny? And yeah, sometimes you might push a boundary, but it’s important to know when you’re being hurtful and back the fuck off.

BB- Exactly. I think people get too caught up in their egos and forget the fact that humor is supposed to make people laugh, make them happy, and not cause harm to anyone. Your art; whatever it may be, isn’t worth causing damage to anyone else.

KRR- On a scale from 1 to 10 (1 being dead serious, and 10 being non-stop jokes) what is the level of humor you usually prefer to read?

BB- Depends on what I'm reading, but I think I'm never a 10. I think even if I pick up a book that advertises itself as comedy or satire, it needs to leave me some room to breathe. I think non-stop jokes even in a comedy setting comes off too try-hardy and borders on annoying. End of the day, unless I'm reading a joke book, I still need a story and characters I can relate to and care about, so there needs to be some room for that.

KRR- What is the funniest thing that ever happened to you?

BB- I was dive-bombed on the side of the head by a pigeon and it hit me so hard I actually passed out for a couple seconds after. The pigeon didn't make it. I don't know if there was already something wrong with it and that's why it hit me. Anyway, it's been a joke among my friends for many years now that pigeons are out to get me killed.

KRR- Wow! That’s quite a story! I can see that being something you and your friends will keep going forever.

BB- It’s definitely the weirdest thing that’s happened to me. And hopefully nothing weirder happens.

KRR- What is the funniest thing you’ve ever seen/heard/read/written?

BB- The funnest thing I've written is tough because I don't think I'm funny. I legitimately don't. I know I make people laugh so I take their words for it, but I don't see myself as funny. So I know it must exist, but I couldn't be able to tell you a funny thing I wrote. Yeah, I know, poor writer self-esteem is a bitch that way. The funniest thing I heard is a Brazilian band called Mamonas Assassinas. They were popular when I was a kid and sadly they suffered a fatal plane crash early into their popularity, but... Their music first of all really slaps, but their lyrics are absolutely ridiculous. And I wish I could accurately convey why they're so hilarious but I feel that'd get lost in translation. The funniest thing I've read... I hate giving it this much credit but I have a huge soft spot for My Immortal. It's bad. It's so bad. It's one of the worst pieces of fan fiction ever written, but I still revisit it sometimes and I still quote it with friends and laugh about it to this day.

KRR- Okay, I had no idea what My Immortal was, so I just looked it up. And just reading the plot summary on Wikipedia was cracking me up. “Draco invites Ebony to a Good Charlotte concert” and “Dumbledore yells at them for having sex in the Forbidden Forest and calls them motherfuckers” and “the members of My Chemical Romance reveal themselves to be Voldemort and his Death Eaters.” What the fuck???

BB- I have a loving history with My Immortal. I actually made a commentary series of it on my blog; I literally riffed on the entire thing, chapter by chapter, and to this day it’s still the most read thing I’ve written. Hopefully one day my actual writing will surpass it and My Immortal commentary will no longer be my online legacy. But if you look into those blog posts, you can just see my sanity slip more and more with each installment. Reading that entire thing is not for the faint of heart or for the sound of mind. It’s an experience. lol

KRR- While teetering on the razor’s edge of the all-consuming void, is humor the best tool we have to fight the existential dread of a finite and bewildering existence?

BB- If there's anything better I'd like a double dose of it, please. Honestly I cope with humor; especially self-deprecating humor and I understand that may worry people sometimes, but when I'm being particularly down on myself, making a joke out of my perceived faults helps break me out of that mindset. I also often turn to my friends for a laugh when I'm having a shitty time of things.

KRR- What projects do you have out in the world, and where can we find them?

BB- I write reviews and talk about writing on my personal blog Blackbird's Nest

More importantly though, I actually write things as a part of The Shadows Crew. You can find our ongoing fantasy web serial, where characters make silly puns that I may or not then weaponize to make you cry, on our blog Written In Shadows, as well as on Royal Road and Neovel


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