Category Archives: Short Stories

Humor & Satire Writing Pt. 2: Excerpt from ‘Hillbillies Prefer Blondes’

Marilyn Monroe from the film, "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes."

Marilyn Monroe from the film, “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.”

Today, The Writing Well is delighted to showcase Roy Richardson’s unique brand of humor writing with an excerpt from his short story collection, “Hillbillies Prefer Blondes.” Last week, Roy was featured on The Writing Well along with author Jameson Gregg on how they create prose that makes people laugh. On Monday, Jameson will share an excerpt from his new comic novel, Luck Be a Chicken.

Hillbillies Prefer Blondes

By Roy Richardson

Roy Richardson

Roy Richardson

First grade was pure hell for me. Because I had not attended kindergarten, I was put in with a bunch that the state of Georgia had deemed “Slow Learners.” A cage packed with Howler monkeys would have been more civilized.

In front of me sat a snub-nosed little girl with white blunt-cut hair and freckles. Her skinny legs showed scabs on both knees, which she picked at as she appraised me through squinted eyes.

“Daaang, little boy, you sure are ugly!’ she decided. “You look like my granny’s billy goat!”

I was taken aback by her white trash candor. True, the Good Lord in his infinite wisdom had graced me with a cleft palate, but the accompanying scar had never been described to me as ugly, and I had certainly never been compared to a farm animal before. I made what I imagined to be a truly ugly face at her, and decided that the best way to cope would be to ignore her. This established my relations with the opposite sex for years to come.

Behind me in this hillbilly version of the Inferno sat Wilber the Stutterer. I quickly concluded that given a choice between stuttering and looking like a billy goat, Pan would win every time. Poor Wilbur was hounded relentlessly by the other little rednecks.
I myself did not tease poor Wilbur. Whether it was out of true compassion or just a Baptist fear of burning in Hell, I cannot say. Poor Wilbur took this simple act of Christian restraint as a sign that we were to be lifelong friends, and proceeded to follow me around like an ADHD puppy dog.

While Wilbur’s vocal handicap did not vex me, he was in fact dumb as a post, and tended more and more to react to the unrelenting taunting of his fellows with violent outbursts. So while I did not torment poor Wilbur, I did decide it would be in my best interest to distance myself from him.

Slow as he was, Wilbur was no fool. He approached me one day with his hands stuck in the pockets of his grubby jeans, a purposeful look on his dull face. He pulled one hand free and extended it to me, saying “I-I-I want to give you this for being my f-friend.” In his sweaty, thick-fingered little paw was a grimy quarter. I was screwed.

Fortunately for me, this moral dilemma soon resolved itself. Based on my grades and the recommendation of my long-suffering “Slow Learners” teacher, one Mrs. Garner, God bless her soul, I was transferred from her torture chamber into an “Advanced Learner” class. While this group had its own entirely different set of problems, at least the smart kids were a little quieter.

Not long after this ascent into the higher echelons of grade school learning, I received a reminder from whence I had come. I was standing in the lunchroom line with the rest of the Shining Elite, when I felt a sharp pain hit my arm. I turned to see the grinning face of the Little White-Haired Girl, who had just pinched the hell out of me.

“Hey, Ugly!” she shouted happily, evidently delighted to be able to insult and injure me in front of a whole new group of my peers.

Conjuring up the worst epithet I could imagine, I hissed back: “Hey, Turd!” She looked genuinely hurt, and made no reply, save to scowl and jut out her lower lip.

That was the last time I ever saw her, as her family soon moved off to parts unknown. Many years passed before I had gained enough insight into the female psyche to realize that “Ugly” had been intended by the Little White-Haired Girl as a term of endearment, and that she probably had been genuinely hurt by my retort.

I have occasionally wondered, as the years have gone by, whatever became of that little girl. I like to picture her as a grade school teacher, wrangling year after year with increasingly large classrooms full of loud, ugly little children.
Of course, judging from the examples of other old flames that I have encountered in recent years, it is equally likely that she is either a Dominatrix, or ensconced in an asylum somewhere.

© 2014 Roy Richardson

 

A Look Inside the Craft of Humor and Satire Writing

Laughter

By Anne Wainscott-Sargent

Georgia writers Jameson Gregg and Roy Richardson share three things in common: they love language, they love Mark Twain and they love to make people laugh.

I recently sat down with these two talented wordsmiths over lunch to talk about how they go about the craft of humor writing. And in the next week, I will be featuring excerpts of their writing here on The Writing Well.

Jameson Gregg

Jameson Gregg

Jameson, a North Georgia attorney of twenty years, left the law profession to write full time a few years ago. He recently celebrated the launch of his debut comic novel, Luck Be a Chicken, a tale of a redneck southern family trapped in generational poverty and facing a gut-wrenching crisis of how to raise money for their baby daughter’s operation.

Roy Richardson

Roy Richardson

Roy, a lifelong Georgian, has spent three decades as a writer/artist for Marvel/DC/Darkhorse Comics. He collaborated with his wife, June Brigman, inking, lettering and coloring the Brenda Starr comic strip for 15 years. Roy continues to juggle his freelance art assignments with his writing, a constant challenge.

Currently, he is compiling a series of short stories, titled, Hillbillies Prefer Blondes, which in addition to seeking a publishing home, he intends to record as an audio book. His writing is inspired by his own life —coming-of-age in Georgia in the 70s. I’ve gotten to know Roy through our writers’ group, and I can tell you that his readings are always a comedic highlight of our group’s gathering.

Check out our conversation below:

Q. How would you describe your unique writing voice? What inspired it?

Roy: I read a column by Stephen King recently where he stated his belief that voice is the single most important factor in keeping a reader engaged. I agree, and I always try to use voice in a way that will make the reader feel that I am telling a story just to them. As for describing my voice, it’s more of an instinctual thing rather than an intellectual process. I’m afraid if I analyze it too much, I won’t be able to do it anymore…

Jameson: I would define my voice as the ability to a) recognize the potential for humor in a situation, b) add to, expand, and embellish with imagination, c) write it with clarity. What inspired it? I think the desire to deliver humor, writing or otherwise, is either in one’s DNA or it’s not. Every child I’ve known loves humor. I think as we grow, that interest in humor becomes less important as other serious and complicated issues cloud our lives. Every adult I know also likes humor and likes to laugh, but few have the inclination to pursue it as a living. That’s where the DNA comes in. Personally, my humor DNA comes from my (now deceased) mother and grandmother. They would both go to great lengths for a practical joke.
Q. What things do you draw upon to bring humor to your writing?

Roy: I find that stating the obvious in the most obtuse and pseudointellectual manner possible is usually funny. And if that doesn’t work, then I try the exact opposite approach, presenting the obscure as though it should be completely obvious to all. Also, having my characters stress out and bluntly spill some of the really stupid things most people secretly believe is usually good for a laugh.

Jameson: It’s important to be alert and on the lookout for it because it’s all around us and usually unintentional. Sometimes it’s putting two ideas together. For instance, when Dahlonega was hosting the latest Big Foot Conference, I saw a huge dude in Walmart and it resulted in the attached Sasquatch article. Another time, I was at the local farmers market and noticed a couple of old-timers hanging out in the shade. I wondered what they talk about, so instead of continuing to wonder, I sat down and made up what I thought they may be talking about. It appeared in a column I periodically write for the Dahlonega (Ga) Nugget.

Q. What writers and works inspire you?

LuckBeaChickenJameson: Picaresque novels. Ever heard the term? I hadn’t until after I wrote one. When fellow Georgia author George Weinstein wrote a blurb for my novel, Luck Be A Chicken, he called it a picaresque novel, the first I ever heard the term or the genre. How about that – write a book in a sub-genre without even realizing the existence of the genre! Examples of this type of writing include Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn and A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole, who is kind of my hero. Also, anything by Dr. Hunter S. Thompson or Richard Brautigan. As for living authors, I read Tim Dorsey and Bob Morris. Carl Hiaasen is the king now.

I like Mark Twain’s tall tales. His work inspired me to write American History 101, attached, published this year in Stonepile Writers Anthology III, by the University Press of North Georgia.

Roy: Though I’m writing fiction rather than memoir, Mary Karr and Rick Bragg, as great Southern writers, have both informed my stuff. I also think that Michael Chabon writes some beautiful sentences. There’s some Twain, Poe and Harlan Ellison in the mix as well. What I get from Twain is to write about something absurd in an extremely serious and intellectual sort of way – the way he uses language, sentences and phrases like a puffed-up college professor.

Q. What would be your top piece of advice to other writers looking to inject humor into their writing?

Jameson: I think the most effective way is to write situational humor – where you get your characters into a situation that is funny – like we all do sometimes.

Roy: What I do is use language – taking an absurd situation but talking about it in a very serious analytical way, which makes it even more funny. I have a lot of dialogue and try to simulate how people talk – using accents without laying it on too thick – “daaang, little boy.” I’m working with a friend to record some of my stuff. I’m a little bit of a ham with southern accents.

Jameson: I try to capture the vernacular of my southern redneck characters in my novel. But you have to be careful – if you go too far it can make it unreadable. You have to hit a balance. One of my favorite nuances of the southern vernacular is the double negative: “I ain’t done nothing.”

Roy: It’s very hard to interject humor into something – I never liked the concept of comedy relief, which was something that John Ford would do in his films when all of a sudden the characters would stop and decide to have a fun fist fight. Comic relief, unless it’s done really well, takes you out of the story. It has to grow more organically with the characters – you have to set it up.
Q. In closing, can you share some favorite sayings, quotes, or words of wisdom?

MarkTwain“Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.”
– Mark Twain

“I may be drunk, Miss, but in the morning I will be sober and you will still be ugly.”
– Winston Churchill

“What does it take to be a writer? – An indifference to money and a willingness to take risks.”

“Re: twisted people – it’s the cracked ones that let the light in.”

“Last year’s words belong to last year’s language and next year’s words await another voice.” – T.S. Eliot

“Moderation is a fatal thing. Nothing succeeds like excess.” – Oscar Wilde

Paraphrase from the movie, Beasts of the Southern Wild: If I ever get too old to drink beer and catch fish, put me in the boat and set me on fire so they can’t plug me into the wall.

 

 

 

Death of a Bookstore

PeerlessBookStore

Today, The Writing Well features local Atlanta author Stephen R Drage, an entrepreneur and award-winning public speaker. Stephen is a gifted storyteller, who is working on the second book in his Mud Lane series, which he describes as “comedy nostalgia about growing up in England.”

A member of my writing group, Stephen wrote the following short story right after Atlanta independent book retailer Peerless StephenDrageBook Store closed its doors earlier this year. The news of the store’s demise hit the Atlanta writing community hard and our group especially hard. Peerless’s owners, including fellow writing group member Susan Jimison and her husband, Mike, were advocates and friends to Atlanta’s author community.  Losing an enclave that supports indie and established writers is always distressing, especially since Peerless was a gathering place for both writers and readers who love good stories. It makes one wonder what is to become of local bookstores when even big chains such as Barnes and Noble are struggling to survive against the might of Amazon, so well articulated by economics writer Megan McArdle in an article posted last February in The Daily Beast.  I leave you with Stephen’s eloquent and haunting goodbye to a very special place.

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 Peerless_closeupA somber cloud of doubt and despair settled like a layer of dust on the shelves at Peerless Book Store. With several other of the store’s hardcore devotees, I stood in shock – as if at a small graveside gathering – mourning the passing of what had become a second home.

The shop had been the community cornerstone, a retreat for writers and readers and the lucky ones able to step into the stuff of imagination and build worlds. But tomorrow the vultures would come with padlocks and red closure signs. Accountants’ practiced eyes would then perform their dubious calculations, and the soul of the bookshop would be auctioned away.        

I found myself choked with sadness  by the image of the shop’s owners, their normally cheerful countenance surrendering to a hopelessness that their brave exterior couldn’t quite mask. It didn’t feel real. I had been absorbed into one of a thousand stories that lined the shelves.

Chance might have assigned me a home in yellowing, adventure-filled pages where I could assume the role of a pirate captain, a daring explorer, or a brilliant detective. Instead, I had silently slipped between the leaves of a tale of loss and unwillingly accepted my part as the awkward bystander, unable to find words of consolation or encouragement. I wanted to frantically turn to the end, to discover wrongs had been righted and the shop was open for business the next morning.

But the unforgiving rules of time trapped me in a painful now.    

A small boy shuffled in. Only 10 or 11 years old, yet I’m sure he sensed something was wrong. After a cursory lap of the store, he approached one of the owners, George, unaware of the mental geography that separated them.

“Er…do you have any good books about zombies?” the child said hesitatingly.   

Good books about zombies?” replied the bookseller, emphasizing the word good and demonstrating that, despite the aching avalanche of circumstances, his sense of humor remained intact.

“Well…they don’t really have to be good,” replied the boy.

There was a long uncharacteristic pause from the owner, where it seamed to me he was forming about half a dozen replies simultaneously. I know George, and I knew what he wanted to say was;

“Yeah, kid. You like zombies? Hang around here for a few hours and you’ll see some. They’ll be here in the morning. Dead inside, uncaring and unfeeling as they dismember and consume this store. A business that has absorbed its share of sweat and tears and struggle, yet it was still able to provide joy and entertainment to thousands. They’ll come and unmake all that, driven on by a column of numbers and the need to destroy, as they tear this place apart book by book, to be parceled and packaged and sold off to the highest bidder. You want monsters, you’re in the right place.”

But maintaining his dignity, all George said was, “No, not really. Sorry.”

The boy ambled out.

The owner continued boxing up some rare used books.

And then it struck me that this was just another story, a mere thread in the tapestry of life’s elaborate unfinished script, the end of which had not yet been written.

I could but hope this was merely the end of the eleventh chapter.

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