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Humor in Books, and Other Places, Too! An Interview with Darran Handshaw

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

DH- I'm reading Fall of Babel and there's a scene where Iren grabs the binoculars from a random bystander to check something and the bystander is yanked into her because they were wearing a strap around their neck. It's especially funny because Iren is a generally tough and humorless character, so it's a humorous situation for her to be in.

KRRL- I'm hoping to start that series soon. Is it as good as it looks?

DH- The last ten years or so I've been a very picky reader. I was skeptical about Senlin Ascends because of all the hype around it, but when I finally picked it up I found that the world building and prose are second to none. They are big books, but I fly through them because they are so interesting. Josiah Bancroft is definitely an author to read! You'll enjoy his series.

KRRL- What kinds of things do you usually find to be funny?

DH- The funniest things for me are when hilarity occurs in an unexpected moment. I tend to enjoy sci-fi and fantasy with a more serious tone, so when something absurd happens during a tense or dangerous situation, it can be very funny (though not necessarily for the characters!). As a firefighter, I find that I enjoy the ludicrous situations the most. People like to ask what the worst thing I've ever seen is (which you know is a terrible question to ask a firefighter!), but I much prefer to relate some of the funniest things I've ever seen!

KRRL- Yeah, people do like to ask about the worst things we've seen... I prefer the funny stories, too!

Name a few books that have made you laugh?

DH- Catch-22 is one of the funniest books I've ever read. The dialogue is some of the most hilarious I've had the pleasure to read. If you haven't read it, I'd highly recommend it for a much different style of humor than is seen in most literature. Erikson's Malazan series also had a number of delightfully hilarious moments, especially centered around Bugg and Tehol Beddict.

KRRL- Catch-22 is great. Very sarcastic about the absurdity of it all. How do you incorporate humor into your writing?

DH- I like to explore unexpected humorous situations that develop naturally over the course of the story. In the same way I like to bring elements of the story together to help solve the problems for the protagonists (or create them), I like to find ways for events and characters to overlap that generates some hilarity. One big example in The Engineer is the Waiting Ones. When Actaeon, Trench, and Wave bring an artifact statue back to Act's workshop from the ruins, a cult forms around it, led by a madman named Phyrius Ricter, who self-titles as the First of the First of the Waiting Ones. Phyrius and the Waiting Ones keep showing up throughout the book (and its sequel) at some of the most inopportune and opportune times, with some hilarious results.

KRRL- Now that's funny! Is it somewhat based on the cults from Lovecraft's stuff?

DH- Never read Lovecraft, so I'm not sure. Phyrius Ricter is a strange character. Each time I write him I feel a bit nuts myself, but the end result is worth it.

KRRL- Is there anything off limits in comedy?

DH- I think there are a lot of serious topics and situations that could do with a little humor injected into them. Comedy can heal a lot of divides and help build camaraderie among people with otherwise big differences. Thus, I think humor can be used in a lot of situations, but should be done so respectfully, especially in situations where people have died or suffered or continue to suffer. I explore this a bit in my upcoming novel The Dark Heart of Redemption, because many of the characters end up dealing with loss as a result of the war they find themselves in. There are ways to joke about those that we have lost while being respectful to their memory and even honoring it. In my fire department, we like to share funny stories about members who have passed on. It helps keep their memory alive in a way that is uplifting to talk about.

Here's a quote from Actaeon in response to a Keeper Knight asking him why he jokes around while they're all in danger of dying: "I see no better time than the present. To laugh in the face of great risk. Is there a greater act of defiance?"

KRRL- Firefighters are kinda known for having dark senses of humor. Probably a coping mechanism, right?

DH- Definitely a coping method. I learned that after a particularly bad call when someone said something terrible to help themselves deal with the trauma. There is some gallows humor that can be harmless, but when it hurts others around you that's when it touches on that off limits area, in my opinion. At the time I was a young firefighter and the person that said it was a chief officer, so hearing that was pretty hurtful. It wasn't until years later that I understood why people say things like that during tough times.

KRRL- 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?

DH- Three or four. I like stories with a good amount of humor injected into them, but if there's too much then it can become unbelievable. One good example is The Office (US). I thought the first season was really hilarious because they were pushing the bounds of what was reasonable in a normal office environment. After a time though, the antics became so ridiculous that it was no longer a normal office, it was an absurd place. At that point, many of the jokes weren't funny any longer.

KRRL- Yeah, I totally get that. I definitely wouldn't recommend my first book to you, then:) (One reviewer called it a cross between The Office and LotR, and they probably meant those later seasons).

DH- Sounds like it might work though in a fantasy setting like that because there are fewer preexisting expectations to subvert.

KRRL- Well, some people like it (shrugging emoji).

What is the funniest thing that ever happened to you?

DH- I have so many funny stories from the fire service that I one day plan to write a novel about them! There are a lot I could choose from, but one of my favorites that comes to mind is the time I was called to an odor of gas emergency. When I got there, the resident was shooting water under his house and the entire interior of the home smelled like gasoline. Beside the resident was an empty 5 gallon gas can. I asked him to shut off the hose and explain to me what happened and he told me that he poured gasoline under his house and was now trying to dilute it with water from the hose. Why did he do it? To get the damned raccoon out from under there! I asked the gentleman to remove himself from the property so he couldn't contribute further toward his house's explosion risk. While my crew filled the entire crawlspace under the house with foam, the man kept coming back to verify that we hadn't let the 'goddamn raccoon' back under his house. I finally got him to settle down by promising we'd spray it with foam if it tried. Before I left, his wife told me she needed to talk to me and was in tears. "I don't know what to do," she said. I tried to console her by saying that mistakes happen and that they'd be able to deal with the problems with the house. She shook her head and said, "No, I don't care about the house. I mean him." She pointed to her husband. "He's an idiot!" How about you? I bet you've got some fantastic ones yourself.

KRRL- LOL! That's hilarious! People at work are always telling me, "You should write a book about this department," with all its disfunction and whatnot. But you should totally write that book. I'd read it.

I guess the story that comes to mind first is a time I had an older woman (about 80) in the ambulance (I'm a paramedic, too). I told her we needed to get her shirt off so we could do a 12-lead and she looked at me and says in this Blanche Devereaux accent, "Well, you might see something you've never seen before and get a little excited," then winks at me. The people at my station are never going to let me forget that one.

DH- That's funny! And they certainly shouldn't let you forget about it if they're doing their jobs! I was an EMT also for 15 years, so I've got my share of weird patient stories, like the guy who wouldn't give me patient information until I answered questions about the Boondock Saints (he was absolutely convinced I was the Director of the movie). Sounds like we'll both be writing comedy books about emergency services one day!

KRRL- For sure!

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?

DH- No! Absolutely not! How dare you? Just kidding. Yes. The answer is yes!

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

DH- My debut novel, The Engineer is a SFF adventure that takes place in a ruined, futuristic city called Redemption. It can be found on Amazon and anywhere Ingram Spark and Draft2Digital sell.

I'm currently closing in on the release of my second book, a standalone sequel to The Engineer, called The Dark Heart of Redemption. The planned release is Q1/Q2 2022 if all goes well and none of the characters muck it up!

Also, since you're a fellow firefighter, here's the link to a Fire Safety video myself and another firefighter made with the survivors of a fire in our district: Everyone should give it a watch - it may save your life!

KRRL- Thank you for the fire safety video, and thank you for participating in this interview!

DH- Thanks for including me!


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