James’ Guest Post:
If you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.” – Friedrich Nietzsche
“Man looks in the abyss. There’s nothing staring back at him. At that moment, man finds his character. And that is what keeps him out of the abyss.” – Hal Holbrook in “Wall Street”
“Man attempts to back away from the abyss, trips over his tool, and plunges headfirst into it.” – Me
Why do we laugh? Why do we undervalue comedy?
As a humor writer, I spend a fair amount of time pondering such questions. You might think I would spend more time asking myself what we laugh at, but you would be wrong. I know what we laugh at:
1) Fat women falling down
2) Men getting smacked HARD in the groin
3) The word “nipple” if it’s said three times fast
(This is both art and science. Notice that if you substitute the word “crotch” for “groin” in item two, the result is exactly 13% less funny. If said aloud, the percentages reverse.)
So why do we laugh?
Swedish scientists have concluded that laughter is an evolutionary device based on pattern recognition.
Yeah, right. Asking a Scandanavian to explain humor is like asking an Italian to balance your check book. Ain’t gonna happen.
I’m old school. I think laughter is a evolutionary balance to the knowledge that we’re all going to die some day. What’s more, I think it’s that uneasy balance between laughter and death that leads us to shy away from a full appreciation of the comic arts.
For proof, I offer the joke that was declared the world’s funniest:
Two hunters are out in the woods when one of them collapses. He doesn’t seem to be breathing and his eyes are glazed. The other guy whips out his phone and calls the emergency services. He gasps, “My friend is dead! What can I do?”. The operator says “Calm down. I can help. First, let’s make sure he’s dead.” There is a silence, then a shot is heard. Back on the phone, the guy says “OK, now what?”
So, we now know that humor keeps us from going insane at the news of our soon-to-be-impending demise, and that our uneasiness with the whole death-and-chuckles cycle kept Ben Stiller from winning the Best Supporting Actor he so richly deserved for “Dodgeball.”
But is there any practical value to this knowledge?
Just this – when you fall into the abyss (and, yeah, you will), humor will be your ladder out. After you hit bottom, laugh at your problem, and you’ll be halfway out of the darkness. Laugh at yourself, and you’ll be all the way out.
And then, you will appreciate humor.
But Ben Stiller still won’t get an Oscar for “Tropic Thunder.”
RUE DE LA POMPE
Celebrating his thirtieth birthday alone in Paris, American businessman Michael Whyte realizes that it’s entirely possible to live an unglamorous life in the most glamorous city in the world. But an unexpected gift of formal wear followed by a party invitation from his eccentric neighbors lands him in a curious search for the first French franc-a coin said to be incredibly valuable and wickedly dangerous.
Guided by a deaf-mute and mentored by an epistemologist, Michael careens across the city in his quest for the coin. From the Chateau de Vincennes and the Musée d’Orsay to the sewers of Paris and the base of the Eiffel Tower, he braves the city for an answer to the perplexing question of the franc’s true nature.
Assisting, thwarting, or simply confusing him along the way is a bizarre collection of lunatic personalities, including a Castilian hit man, a Zen Buddhist Swiss jeweler, a flatulent statue of Benjamin Franklin, a foul-mouthed rhinoceros, the Concierge from Hell, and an enigmatic beauty named Chione.
Unforgettable characters and vivacious details make James Earle McCracken’s debut novel sizzle with expectation. Both hilarious and introspective, Rue de la Pompe is a fast-paced ride through the City of Lights with a hapless American who is caught in an exhilarating journey of discovery.
For your first published book, how many rejections did you go through before you either found a mainstream publisher, self-published it, or paid a vanity press to publish it?
None. No rejections at all. As soon as my credit card was approved for payment. I was on my way to becoming a published author.
In other words, I self-published.
How did the rejections make you feel and what did you do to overcome the blows?
I had many rejections when I was writing in my 20’s. Every rejection is a form of death, and I would cycle through the five stages each time: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. I was particularly fond of anger and depression.
Ultimately, I gave up. I stopped writing. I didn’t believe that I could make a living from it, and I was out of money.
When your first book was published, who published it and why did you choose them?
Rue de la Pompe was published in May 2008 by iUniverse. I selected iUniverse after researching the leading web-based self-publishing companies. I thought the company, because of its size and track record, provided the greatest opportunity of getting my book into print quickly and at a professional standard
How did it make you feel to become published for the first time and how did you celebrate?
I was a little embarrassed when I saw the book on Amazon the first time. I’m not sure if that’s a normal reaction. The process of writing is so closed and intimate that going public with the end product is a little jarring. I was tired so I stayed home and watched TV.
What was the first thing you did as for as promotion when you were published for the first time?
I set up a web site, issued a press release, and enrolled my book in the Search Inside program on Amazon. I would describe those steps as necessary, but not sufficient.
If you had to do it over again, would you have chosen another route to be published?
No, I would still choose self-publishing. The speed of the process and the degree of control outweigh the negatives, the negatives being continued obscurity and a net financial loss.
Have you been published since then and how have you grown as an author?
I have not published since then, and I don’t intend to until I finish the sequel to Rue de la Pompe. I have a notional deadline of June 2010, which coincides with my 50th birthday.
I think the process has helped me grow as a writer. At the same time, I worry that the next novel will be a “better” book, but won’t be as much fun to read. I’m very conscious of avoiding become conventional. I find it more enjoyable to make fun of conventions.
Looking back since the early days when you were trying to get published, what do you think you could have done differently to speed things up? What kind of mistakes could you has avoided?
I was in too much of a hurry, so speeding things up would not have been the solution. I needed to make the mistakes. I needed to learn the lessons. And I probably needed twenty years and everything that happened during that time for those lessons to sink in.
What has been the biggest accomplishment you have achieved since becoming published?
Each time a complete stranger picks up my book and reads it, I consider it an accomplishment. I can’t think of a greater one for a writer.
Any final words for writers who dream of being published one day?
The first step in becoming a published writer is to write something worth publishing. The rest is easy.
James Earle McCracken was born in 1960 in Takoma Park, Maryland, and grew up in the suburbs of Washington, DC. In 1973, he received a scholarship to McDonogh School, a boarding school in Owings Mills, Maryland. After graduating from McDonogh in 1978, McCracken attended the University of Pennsylvania, receiving a BA in English in 1982. He worked as technical writer before moving to London in 1984 to pursue his creative writing.
McCracken returned to the United States in 1986 and began writing greeting cards for Paramount Cards in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. In May 1989, he joined the Foreign Service of the U.S. Department of State. Since then, McCracken has served in Jamaica, Germany, Mongolia, Lebanon, Iraq and France.
During his posting in Paris, France, McCracken resumed writing and, in May 2008, published his first novel, Rue de la Pompe: A Satiric Urban Fantasy. He is married to the former Mirella Abdel Sater, a prominent attorney and human rights activist from Beirut, Lebanon, and has a daughter, Jamie, a junior at Foxcroft School in Middleburg, Virginia. You can visit his website at www.jamesearlemccracken.com.
The RUE DE LA POMPE VIRTUAL BOOK TOUR ’08 ends October 30. You can visit James’ tour stops at www.virtualbooktours.wordpress.com in October to find out more about his latest book!
As a special promotion, Pump Up Your Book Promotion is giving away a FREE virtual book tour to a published author with a recent release or a $50 Amazon gift certificate to those not published who comment on any of our authors’ blog stops. More prizes will be announced as they become available. The winner will be announced at www.pumpupyourbookpromotion.wordpress.com on October 30!