Would You Care for Some Humor With Your Homicide, Madam?

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I’ve been addicted to murder mysteries since the age of six when I discovered the Nancy Drew series was far more intriguing than the adventures of Dick and Jane. My first manuscript, “Cindy Parker and the Haunted Mansion,” was written when I turned my third-grade spelling words into a sixteen page novella. If my mother hadn’t made me go to bed at 8:30, who knows what kind of masterpiece I could have created. When the teacher gave me an A plus, I was officially bitten by the writing bug. It’s somewhat similar to malaria. Once you’re bitten, it may go dormant for awhile, but it will never totally go away.

Although a corporate career, marriage, children, and divorce intervened, my personal anti-depressant has always been to read a mystery by one of my favorite authors, a group of writers who not only devised a puzzle for me to solve, but also kept me laughing. They could turn the gloomiest day or mood into pure sunshine. When I sat down to write my first novel, I had one goal in mind. To write an intriguing murder mystery that also provided plenty of giggles. Seems simple, right? NOT!

I discovered it wasn’t that easy to mesh the suspense of a murder investigation with those special laugh-out-loud moments. We can’t have our heroine blithely tripping over dead bodies, right and left. While the premise of mid-life dating itself can provide laughs (ah, the true stories I could share) there is still a definite fear factor involved. What if you don’t meet Mr. Right and instead meet Mr. Wrong?

It’s critical that readers identify with and root for the protagonist as she searches for the killer. She may be forced to do so to save her reputation or to stay out of jail. It definitely helps if your protagonist is relatable to her readers. In one scene in DYING FOR A DATE, Laurel McKay discovers that when faced with a gun, she didn’t want to flee, she just wanted to pee. I know I’m not the only member of the “hot flash” set who can relate to that.

There’s also the romance factor. How do you maintain conflict and tension between your protagonist and the investigating detective? Especially when he can’t decide if he should arrest the adorable soccer mom, or kiss her? We need to keep the audience engaged in the mystery but still provide those moments that sizzle and sparkle with laughter.

I would love to hear from both mystery readers and authors. Does anyone else enjoy a little slice of humor with their homicide? 

Although Cindy Sample’s initial dream was to be a mystery writer, she put aside her literary longings and applied for a job as a receptionist with a real estate office. Her career eventually led to President of a national mortgage banking company. After one too many corporate mergers, Cindy decided it was more fun to plot murder than plod through paperwork. Her experiences with on-line dating sites fueled the concept for Dying for a Date, a humorous romantic mystery set in the California gold country.

Cindy writes a column entitled Hot Flash for the Gold River Community Newspaper. She is a past president of the Sacramento chapter of Sisters in Crime and is the co-chair of the Left Coast Crime Convention, which will be held in Sacramento in 2012. If you’re interesting in volunteering, she’d love to hear from you. Contact Cindy at www.cindysamplebooks.com




30 responses to “Would You Care for Some Humor With Your Homicide, Madam?

  1. Hi Cindy. Yes, humor is a wonderful way to offer a sudden release of tension when a scene (or whole story) gets intense. Shakespeare was a master of it, often bringing in “low class” uneducated bit parts to provide it such as the gravediggers in Hamlet. My favorite, though, is the Fool in King Lear, the professional funnyman who ends up one of Lear’s few true companions, yet always has a wisecrack at just the “wrong” (i.e. right, dramatically) moment.

    In fact, you’ve inspired me to reread King Lear as soon as I have a chance.

    • Hi James. Every time I see one of Shakespeare’s plays I’m reminded what a genius he was, in comedy as well as tragedy. I think I’m going to follow your suggestion and re-read a few of his plays myself. Nothing like learning from the master. Thanks for commenting.

  2. I find that humor in a mystery is essential. It keeps me turning the page to find out if murder, mayhem, or some unexpected twist of fate or folly is afoot. Without some humor, nonstop murder or mayhem can get awful tiring thereby causing me to put the book down in order to seek some relief.

    • Thanks, Elaine. I’m thrilled to discover that so many mystery fans enjoy a soupcon of humor along with those dead bodies we mystery authors so love to dish up.

  3. Everything you’ve said is 100% true, Cindy. Humor and homicide make a great couple when the chemistry is right. Balancing the chemistry is the trick. You did a great job of it in “Dying for a Date.”

  4. I not only like to read it, I write it. You’re right, Cindy, the balance is difficult when you do it for the first time. I’m sure you’ve learned it gets easier the more you do it. There are those that are cozies with a huge dose of humor and a mystery plot and those with a grittier story line. Yours falls in the middle somewhere, I think, and is a delightful and outstanding read that I thoroughly enjoyed.

    Thanks for the great post!

  5. “I was officially bitten by the writing bug. It’s somewhat similar to malaria. Once you’re bitten, it may go dormant for awhile, but it will never totally go away.”

    Oh, I guess that’s what happened to me 🙂

    Thanks so much for sharing! sounds great.


  6. Gimme humor and a solvable crime, and I’ll be a happy reader. Why not catch a killer with a bit of humor for a background?

  7. Next time we’re together I’m getting an autographed copy of your book, could kick myself for not buying a copy when we were back to back at that book fair.


  8. Likewise – reading whodunnits has been the great escape route for me and if it’s coupled with humor then there’s no better combination in my book.

  9. Yes, I love a b it of humor- in all things. I think it defuses tension and makes the characters more human. Loved this book!

  10. Cindy, I am SO with you on the value of mysteries to get one through tough times. It’s nice to have a mess neatly cleaned up in a cople hofours just by reading. I like my mysteries with humor and a bit of romance. Defacto chocolate is what I’m looking for. Keep writing!

  11. Sometimes you don’t have to mix hot flashes with murder. sometimes they CAUSE the murder. LOL!

  12. Thanks for the opportunity, Karen. I hope you enjoyed the post. I love giggling through a mystery and I’m looking forward to reading what others have to say.

  13. I’m a strong advocate of mixing humor with homicide — what better way to get a laugh!
    Cindy, mixing hot flashes with homicide definitely works!

    Betty Gordon

  14. Mysteries have also been my tonic for everything! Good blog, and agree with your points, especially how the reader really needs to like your protagonist and be rooting for them! Well done.

  15. I would have to say, I often mix humor into my books. Was even told by an editor (a long time ago) that it was “inappropriate! Can you believe that?) I love humor mixed in anything. Laughter can make any day go better. So laugh on!

  16. Currently reading Dying For A Date and it’s a funtastic read. Loving it.

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