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Humor in Books, and Other Places, Too! An Interview with L.L. Stephens

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

LLS- Mythic Quest. Have you ever watched that show? It’s hilarious, about gamers and the business of video gaming and fantasy. That show cracks me up. There’s this character, Jo, who is from Wisconsin just like I am, but the part last night that I laughed out loud at was the way she got a little too into her role-play as an executioner at a company party and everything she said got a little… death-focused.

KRR- I have seen Mythic Quest, and I agree, it's great. I kind of have a little crush on Dana (Imani Hakim). You've just made me realize I missed season 3. I'll have to get on that!

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

LLS- Clever word play, for sure, which is why I love Terry Pratchett’s books and parodies in general. John Oliver has a way of saying things that makes me laugh. I think Seinfeld is one of the funniest shows ever… because it’s absurd—are people even like that?—but at the same time ridiculously real. Yes! People are like that! Odd relationships make me smile and sometimes laugh; people who “get” each other but you wouldn’t think they would be together. I know a married couple like that: she’s vivacious, spontaneous, makes friends easily, and is always on the go, whereas he’s curmudgeonly, bookish, and just wants to be left alone with his well-planned life. Somehow, they work as a couple and are always good for laughs. People being stupid, of course, are always fun… but not if they or anyone else gets hurt.

KRR- My family quotes Seinfeld, like way too much. Literally everything can be related back to an episode of Seinfeld, I swear.

You mentioned Pratchett, but name a few books that have made you laugh?

LLS- Terry Pratchett — Mort, Discworld 4

John Marzalkowski — Buy My Book, Not Because You Should But Because I’d Like Some Money

Paul Fussel — Class

Douglas Adams — Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

KRR- How do you incorporate humor into your writing?

LLS- Books I write just for fun can dive into absurd territory, like barbarians who use unicorn horns in inappropriate ways. Anything goes and I like to aim for laughs. For contemporary stories, I like to bring out the humor of regional cultures and divergent personalities, like in a story I wrote about a traditional Philly cannoli maker and the hot shot marketing guy with ideas who invades his world.

For my more serious books, I’m fond of irreverent characters. They often serve as exposition, but I love having them make inappropriate observations such as details about someone’s lineage/liaisons or add color. King Endelarin in SORDANEON is one of those characters. “Oh look! I think your horse is trampling the stableboys!”

Humor will slip in by way of incisive retorts, too. Dorilian, the main character in my fantasy epic, has a dry sense of humor and will often deliver a smart quip. His narrative voice is filled with dry commentary on what’s going on (… he would rather plunge his cock into a beehive…), then when he finally unloads in dialogue, his delivery can be biting and quite funny.

KRR- Is there anything off limits in comedy?

LLS- I don’t laugh when people get hurt. Crotch shots don’t make me laugh. People getting injured doing jackassery… no laughs. So I don’t go for that kind of comedy in my books.

In the same vein, I don’t like humor that’s mean or petty. I consider that off-limits for myself and turn away from it whenever I stumble upon it in journalism. It can be funny in fiction, though, because it’s not “real” people doing it. Pedophilia, on the other hand, is never funny. Rape is never funny.

KRR- I kinda wish I was like you in that regard, but I do laugh at crotch shots and Jackass type stuff. I can't help it! I think it might be some kind of defense mechanism, but what the hell do I know? I completely agree about mean-spirited humor, and those other things, though.

LLS- It's a guy thing. Totally. Must be related to having testicles. My husband thinks crotch shots are hilarious. So do all three of my sons. I have yet to write a scene with a crotch shot in it. When I do, I will have to pass it by at least three guys to make sure I capture the nuances.

KRR- The subtle nuances of crotch shots are an art form.

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?

LLS- I’m so boring… probably a 4. I prefer serious books such as fantasies with lots of character development and interpersonal conflict, grand designs and imagery laced with heroic wonder. Humor comes from the characters and situations, but in small doses sprinkled in for leavening purposes, to help other things rise to the surface (truth, plot/character development, conflict, etc.).

Every once in a while, though, I reach for Pratchett. Sometimes laughs are what this writer’s soul needs.

KRR- That's not boring! Everyone has their tastes, and I would guess that most readers are somewhere around the 3-4 level. Being Pratchett-like is TOUGH to pull off.

What is the funniest thing that ever happened to you?

LLS- Probably when I told my future spouse I was from Wisconsin and therefore knew how to hop a snowbank—then proceeded to fall flat on my ass on Broad Street (if you know Philadelphia, you know that’s a main boulevard) during rush hour. Half the city laughed at that.

KRR- Ouch!

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

LLS- No one in the world thinks this is funny but me… there’s this scene at the end of the movie Best in Show where Harlan Pepper (played by Christopher Guest) explains that ventriloquism originated with the ancient Egyptians and this drawing pops up like on old tombs and things that shows a seated ancient Egyptian holding a tiny ancient Egyptian. It’s hilarious. I break out laughing every time. No one else ever does… just me. I laugh like a loon and my husband or company just… stare.

I do think Buster Keaton’s The General is the second funniest movie ever made… after Best in Show. If you’re a dog person like I am, Best in Show will have you rolling on the floor. The General is a silent move, comic gold. Brilliant.

KRR- That sounds hilarious to me. I think I've seen Best In Show, but I might have to revisit it, as that kind of humor seems like it's right up my alley. Alright, time to get serious.

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?

LLS- Humor is definitely one of the better toolkits in the Void-Teetering Combat Toolkit. I’m on the Do Something! side of that scale, though humor has a starring role. I’ve faced overwhelming assault on my life and found the best weapon was Fuck You pragmatism. Just keep hitting me until you tire yourself out and I can move on. It worked. I didn’t find humor to be useful at the time because the bewildering existence was right in my face… but I will say this: I find LOTS to laugh about now when it comes to those days.

KRR- Humor and a Fuck You pragmatism are a hell of a one two punch!

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

LLS- My current project is the only one available at the moment. SORDANEON is an epic fantasy, first in a series. Deeply immersive with vivid, richly developed characters: a determined, utterly human king… a godborn and infuriatingly hostile young prince who wants to destroy him… and a scheming sorcerer on the rise who wants to destroy them both. Also in play are two immortal, utterly inhuman Entities with roles to play.


Forest Path Books



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