Friday, September 12, 2014

I write a regular (award winning!) column for a credit magazine, and thought I'd pop in and post the most recent one here. The subject is labor charges by a contractor when ... well, I think you'll get the gist.  Enjoy.

“We got problem,” Grog said.

Trug lifted his eyes to the orangutan shape looming over him.  Trug was squatting on a rock outside of his cave sorting grubs in a sea shell he’d gotten in the nearby bay. He sighed heavily. “Just because we’re cavemen, it doesn’t mean you can’t use proper diction.”

(Actually, this was mostly grunted, but in the interests of story-telling, we’ll use contemporary language.)

Grog frowned, his heavy eyebrows sliding over thick supraorbital ridges like water over the Niagra.  “We gots problem?”

Trug snatched a grub attempting a kamakazi move over the lip of the shell. “No, we have a problem.”

Grog’s mouth dropped open, releasing a small cloud of Crest-not-discovered breath into Earth’s young atmosphere. “How’d you know? I didn’t tell you yet.”

“You just told me we did,” Trug said. Grog’s lips pursed, but before he could say anything, Trug interrupted. “Never mind. Tell me what the problem is.”

“See this?” Grog said. The hairy caveman lifted an arm that had never seen an antiperspirant.

“Agh, put it down!  Put it down!” Trug gasped, eyes watering from the stench. When his eyes cleared of water, he saw what Grog was holding. “A club? What about it?”

“This was supposed to be a crocodile-killing club,” Grog said.

“No, that’s a badger-killing club,” Trug said, after his expert eyes examined the ridged, bumpy club. “Is that why you have that?”  He pointed at Grog’s leg which had a fair sized crocodile clamped onto it.

Grog just grunted, and whacked the crocodile between the eyes. The big lizard snarled and bit down harder. “Krunk tell me this crocodile club,” Grog said, grimacing.

Trug closed his eyes. Krunk was a caveman from up the river who made the clubs that Trug sold to the caveman. He wasn’t supposed to deal directly with Trug’s customers, but once in awhile he did, and almost every time it caused a problem. So Trug tried to keep the talented clubmaker away from the paying customer.

“I want money back,” Grog said.

Trug sighed again. “You didn’t pay me money. We haven’t invented money yet, remember?  You gave me three pelts for this.”

“That’s right. Okay, I want my pelts back.”

“We do have a pelts-back guaranty, but wouldn’t you rather we do an exchange?” Trug said, always a salesman first.

Grog frowned. “You do that?”

Trug showed nearly carnivore incisors in a smile, which probably back then wouldn’t have appeared as scary as if it were seen today. “Sure, hand me the club.”

Grog smacked the crocodile again, which stubbornly held on, and then handed it over. In a moment, Trug was back with a larger club. “Here you go. And because of my vendor’s mistake, I won’t charge any more for the larger club.”

“Well. That’s okay, but what about labor charges?”

Trug frowned. “What do you mean?”

Grog gestured to two other cavemen who were holding the crocodile’s back legs. “These guys?  I hired them to help me carry the crocodile after I clobbered it. They aren’t cheap and the job is taking way longer than it’s supposed to. I shouldn’t have to bear that expense.”

Trug sighed again. “Look, I’m just the distributor.”

It was Grog’s turn to frown. “You’re a car part?”

“No, we haven’t invented cars yet, though we did invent the wheel. No, I’m a distributor, meaning I sell what others make. If the problem was the manufacturer’s fault, we have to go to them for that.”

“You mean Krunk?”

“Yep. Let’s go talk to him. If you have a labor charge, it’s better to get you and the manufacturer together rather than both of you blaming me. That way you can sort it out.”

Grog nodded. “Sound good to me.” Using his new club, he klonked the crocodile over the head. His two cavemen dragged it away and Grog followed Trug down the path near the river to where Krunk was outside his cave, working on a spear.

“We have another labor charge,” Trug said when Krunk looked up.

A wary look flitted over Krunk’s face. “Do we have to resolve it the normal way?”

“Yep,” Trug said. “I’ve always found that it’s easier for you two just to bang out problems directly.”

“Fine with me,” Krunk said.

“Me, too,” Grog said.

Trug handed them each a club and backed away.

(Yep, this is how you handle labor charges.  If you enjoyed this story, you may enjoy my full length novel, Bonk & Hedz, a caveman … and woman… story, available on Kindle and Amazon)


Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Death by Cookie

I remember once when I was a teenager, I was sitting at a table across from my best friend Brian and we were demolishing … as only a couple of teenaged boys can … a plate of enormous chocolate chip cookies.  And when I say enormous, I mean cookies about the size of my credit card debt.
“Bet you can’t get a whole cookie in your mouth,” he challenged.
Ah, a dare.    “Oh, yeah?” I retorted, and without thinking I jammed an entire cookie in my mouth.
His eyes widened, in admiration … and hopefully … shock and awe.  Then his eyes narrowed, and he quickly stuffed one in his mouth.  Because this is what guys do.  Dumbness and dumbness repeated.
So we leveled a look at each other over the table like Clint Eastwood and a bad guy. 
Then I tried to bite down on the cookie.  But couldn’t. It was wedged too far in my mouth.  I tried to break the cookie in half with my tongue.  It … the cookie … was too thick.  Frantically I tried to poke a finger in my mouth to break the cookie’s clutch.
Nothing.  There was no room for my finger.  I grabbed a shoehorn … no, I didn’t … but I wish there had been one.  I looked up and saw that Brian was having the same problem.  His mouth was stretched out like a hammerhead shark with a mouth full of tennis racquet.
Then I started laughing. Not much of a laugh, mind you.  More like a choked, gargling sound like what a gum chewing turkey might make.  Brian saw me laughing, and the wave of laughter carried him away.  He dissolved in silent laughter, tears of mirth leaking from his eyes.  He crumpled and fell to the floor.  I wasn’t far behind.
Laughing, not dying.  But if I was going to die, there are worse ways to go than dying while laughing.
Until this moment I had never understood the phrase, ‘rolling on the floor laughing.’  Anyway, when God invented enzymes and acids and stuff to break down foods in our mouths and stomach, I doubt if He did so with figuring it would save me from a cookie some day.  
When I write, I write what makes me laugh.  Manic dialogue, ridiculous situations and a frenetic pace.  Things that are funny because they are true, or funny because they are unexpected.  
I draw upon techniques that the great comedians have gleamed over the years.  Like the observational humor of the late, great George Carlin, “Have you ever noticed that anybody driving slower than you is an idiot and anyone driving faster is a maniac?”  Or misdirection, a favorite technique of Steven Wright, “I bought some batteries, but they weren’t included.  So I had to buy them again.”
My first attempt at writing a book was a horror demon book and my second was a kidnapping book.  Neither saw the light of day or of one of those really bright moon-lit nights or even the muted glow of a night light.  Then one day I bonked my elbow on something which reminded me that I had a funny bone.  What’s more fun to read than fun stuff, things that make you chuckle, laugh or snort your Dr. Pepper? 
So as long as I can avoid death by cookie (you know, like a sudden cookie avalanche, or stumbling into a vat of cookie dough that sucks me down like quicksand, or the Cookie Monster crawls out from under my bed to devour me like a Norm-Oreo cookie), I'm gonna keep writing humor. 

(Norm Cowie is the founder of the Humor Writers of America and author of seven humor books.)

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson (reposted!)

   Back in 2009 I wrote a monthly humor column for Pop Syndicate which gave me the opportunity to interview some great humorists. Unfortunately, Pop Syndicate bit the big one ... maybe the real Syndicate got to them for name plagiarism .. and these columns and interviews disappeared into the ether.
   But not forever. My blog last week "Chasing Dave" reminded me of these interviews, so I thought I'd start dusting them off, starting with the interview I did with legends Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson.
   So here ya go...
     This month I’m delighted…well, not delighted... I don’t get delighted.   I'm a guy, I haven’t been delighted in my life. We have emotions … mostly anger … the others all buried deep and all that. Anyway, I’m emotioned (as much as a guy is able) to be able to talk with not one, not two, but THREE best selling authors!   

Dave  -   PULITIZER PRIZE WINNING   -  Barry  (Woo-hoo!   Clap, clap, clap!)
and …
 (Woot!   Shrill whistling)
and …
Dave Barry/Ridley Pearson, co-authors of …  a bunch of books!
     Okay, okay, there are just two authors.  I got excited.  But two best selling authors?  It’s like having three regular authors, so of course I’m excited.  Who wouldn’t be?
     Anyway, Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson have collaborated on yet another Peter Pan book, Peter and the Sword of Mercy, which should be hitting the best seller lists any time now.  Between them they’ve written a bunch of books (legally defined as more than sixty), and gained fame on their own before ganging up together to assault the book world with their combined efforts.
     Without much more ado or adon’t here we go: 
Question (for Ridley):  You’re a mad talent as a thriller writer, but now you’re into the humor/YA market.  Are you doing this just to show off? 
   RP:  I make porpoise sounds to show off (which is why Molly can speak porpoise in the books).  I'm writing for young readers because they are the best readers out there.  That, and I never grew up. 
      Question (for Dave):  When I was reading the Peter Pan books, all I could think was, ‘what, no exploding cows.’  How hard was it to keep the cows out of the books? 
     DB – I thought about putting some cows in the Neverland lagoon – mer-cows – but this would not have been popular with the mermaids. I also considered flying cows, but that could get really messy. So as of now it’s basically a cow-free series. Although we do have a really smart bear. But it does not explode. 
     Question (for Ridley):  Did Dave let you write any of the funny stuff in the books?  
      RP:  Dave is -- thankfully -- the humor police in this collaboration.  But I sneaked in a line or two when he was napping. 
     Question (for Dave):  I guess this is more of a comment, but you realize you ruined my Sundays when you retired from writing your Pulitzer prize winning syndicated column and it no longer appeared in the Chicago Tribune. 
       DB – Just for you, I’ve written a bunch more columns, which will appear in a book coming out next May called “I’ll mature when I’m dead.” You had BETTER buy this book, Mr. You-Ruined-My-Sundays. 
     Question (for either or both):  Tell us a bit about the hardest part in the process of collaborating on a novel and the part that surprised you the most. 
       DB – The hardest part is when we spend days arguing as we try to figure out a plot that’s exciting and satisfying and not utterly ridiculous. The most surprising part is how often, when I’ve written myself into some hideous plot dilemma, Ridley comes up with some nifty solution. Exploding cows, for example. 
       RP: We outline the books together - usually in person. Then we divide by character and write first drafts of various chapters -- and we send the first draft to the other guy and a war of editing begins that is actually very healthy for the prose, story and characters.  We've learned over time to write in a kind of third voice -- not Ridley, not Dave -- but the editing is still as ferocious as ever, in hopes neither we nor readers can tell who was behind the keyboard at any given time.  Unless a character breaks wind: that's Dave. 
     Question (for both):  When I was contacting you, the name ‘Disney’ came up.  Disney!   Wow!  So, um … what’s up with that?  
       DB -- We LOVE Disney. They support us and let us wear pirate outfits and make our books look beautiful. And they found us a wonderful illustrator, Greg Call.

·        RP:   Enough said      
     Question (for either/both):  As most of the world knows, you guys play in a rock band with Stephen King, Amy Tan and Mitch Albom.  Who plays what … who sings … are you breaking any state laws … and is this on YouTube somewhere? 
       RP:    The Rockbottom Remainders is a garage band of authors that raises money for non-profits, but as Amy Tan has said, "I would do this to kill the whales. 
             DB – About 17 of us play guitar, but never exactly in unison. Most of us also sing. Amy Tan wears Spandex. Scott Turow wears a wig. We try very hard never to allow ourselves to be recorded, or even to allow our notes to linger too long in the air. 
       Question for (Dave):  What do you like most about what Ridley contributes to your joint writing projects? 
         DB – Ridley is a great combination of being disciplined and psychotic. You cannot beat a disciplined psychotic as a writing partner. 
       Question (for Ridley):  The same question, er, though, about Dave’s contributions. 
         RP:  Eye patches. 
       Question (for Dave):  How’s the campaign for Presidency going?  
         DB – I am leading in all 57 states. 
       Question (for Ridley):  Did you have to alter your writing habits or style in order to go from writing thriller to writing a joint YA book? 
         RP:  Dave and I strive to write story and fun characters.  We aren't there to teach life lessons, we're there to entertain.  We don't "write down" to our younger readers, and I think they respect us for that.  I think I can speak for Dave (but do I dare?) in saying we've never had this kind of fun writing. It's simply the best -- and that's because of the audience.  Kids are the best. 
       Question (for both):  Why should people rush right on out, through heavy traffic, caffeine overdose and exploding cows to buy Peter and the Sword of Mercy? 
         RP:  Because our daughters have to go to college someday.  Actually, it's because Peter and Molly and Tinkerbell are at it again, and any reader knows WHAT THAT MEANS! 
         DB – Because it – and I say this in all modesty – is a terrific book. If you’ve enjoyed the previous books in the Starcatchers series, we think you’ll like this one a lot. 
       Question (for both):  Where can people get your stuff, follow you on Twitter, FaceBook and all that? 
         DB – Google! 
        Thank you very, very much for showing us more of the Dave Barry/Ridley Pearson world! 
         RP:  What's amazing is that it looks a lot like the regular world, only more regular.

Okay, readers, you know what to do!  Get out and buy their books!! 

founder, Humor Writers of America

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Chasing Dave

I'm chasing Dave Barry. You know him, tall dude, shaggy hair, Pulitzer Prize winner. But it's not about what he is that has me chasing him. It's what he isn't.

A member of the Humor Writers of America.


When I decided to create the Humor Writers of America, it's because I realized it was something that had to be. A place where people could Google 'humor' and get this big fatty website stuffed with writers of fun stuff. I was a member of Mystery Writers of America, SCBWI and the Missouri Writers Guild... yet, these weren't my real homes. Sure, I write some YA, but some of my stuff isn't. There might be some mystery in my books (like why the heck did I write them), but I'm not especially into whodunit.  But my books all had humor. Fun stuff. Slapstick. Satire. My tongue has been in my cheek so much it's wearing a groove.

But when I looked for a group that I could join devoted to humor, there was nothing.

My next step was to approach some humor writers and ask them to start one. A bunch of topselling thriller writers got together, basically over drinks, and created the International Thriller Writers (read here for their story). But look at who those writers were, Lee Child, Barry Eisler, David Morrell). And look what it's become. The answers when I asked around varied around the theme, "Great idea, I'll be happy to join if someone starts it."

I'm a realist, I know what I am at this stage in my writing career. I get good reviews, schools love to have me talk to their kids, I'm good at speaking .. but I'm not Lee Child, Barry Eisler or David Morrell. If I build the baseball field, there's no guarantee that anyone other than field mice will show up.  So I didn't want to start a group, because I didn't have the confidence I could attract the names  that would make it a success. But I did know it's a worthy idea, something that should be.

The Erma Bombeck Writers Workshop changed all that. I had started the Humor Writers group a couple years ago, but didn't really solicit members or so much other than keeping the admittedly sketchy site up to date. But when I met with Teri Rizvi, the founder of the workshop and she agreed to a loose affiliation with the group, and better, allowed me to introduce it at breakfast, and even better, is allowing me to use the email list of the attendees.

With this victory in hand I approached a few of the speakers at the conference, and readily signed up best selling authors W Bruce Cameron, Mary Lou Quinlan and David Henry Sterry. When I approached Lisa Scottoline, whom I'd met a few years ago at Love is Murder, she accepted nearly before the words were out of my mouth. It's clear from their reactions that it's an idea that's overdue.

So it's happening now despite my fears and insecurities about it. Best selling author Tim Dorsey accepted just the other day, so we're building momentum. Momentum to what, I'm not sure. But the boat has launched.

Now if I could only get Dave Barry on board.


(Norm Cowie is author of seven humor books and is founder of the Humor Writers of America)

Monday, April 14, 2014

Leaving the Toilet Seat Up at Erma Bombeck Writers Conference

If you're a humor writer, what better fun than going to a conference of humor writers, for humor writers, about humor writing? The Erma Bombeck Writers conference only happens every other year, and if you want to get in, you have to strike fast. It sold out in twelve hours.

Fortunately, I made the cut, though I got into a secondary hotel, playfully nicknamed Redemption Island by its outcasts. That meant a shuttle, and missing a shuttle meant forking over thirty five bucks for a taxi, and worse, risk running into a certain cab driver who told anyone who boarded that he hated Americans. Kind of a weird way to ask for tip.

Still, it was a four day conference, and that meant my house would be empty of me, so I created a dummy in my clothes and left it in my favorite chair, with slim hopes my wife would be able to tell the difference. If you know history, you know the word 'guy' comes from Guy Faulkes who was executed in 1606 after trying to blow up the British Parliament. Afterward, kids would drag dummies through the streets and to this day in England they hang Guy in effigy every November. We guys were named after this dummy, so nobody should be surprised if one has trouble telling one from the other.

The weather was perfect, the polar vortex shoved back into Canada where it belonged, and the daffodils were blooming, as were we very-weary-of-winter Ermites (as we started to call ourselves). When I got to the hotel, I learned I forgot just one thing, a brush. That meant I would have to arrange all four heads on my hair manually every morning.They didn't object, though a couple of them decided to celebrate their new freedom by standing up to look around, so I looked a bit like a unicorn. I also left the toilet seat up, because, well, you simply don't do that at my house with two daughters and a wife. Still, it felt liberating in a Gloria Steinem sort of  way. And when I saw the pool was about the size of the enlarged liver of a drunk,  I took this as a sign I should skip swimming and any other form of exercise and get to know fellow writers in the bar.

At the conference itself, I quickly ascertained we guys were considerably outnumbered (using mad math skills my daughters claim are genetically bequeathed to all guys).  I suspect if we had been at a Dave Barry conference, the odds might even or go the other way.  A couple of us guys got together and counted up the male attendees listed in the program. Even allowing for Ronnie being a woman, and Val being a guy, we guestimated eighteen guys ... out of more than three hundred attendees,bringing to mind Custer on a certain wind swept prairie.

These woman touches manifested in the made- for-rabbit lunches featuring salads, fruits and veggies ... and chocolate cake smothered in sugary frosting. Most writers conferences don't feature the variety of cakes, cookies and brownies that adorned our plates.

Still, we guys weren't dismayed, despite some tense moments in a a few very pro-women sessions, particularly the panel, "Women Writing Their Lives - Truth Telling, Wisdom and Laughter" with Suzanne Braun Levine, Gina Barreca and Ilene Beckerman.  While my sympathies were with the women, I admit there were a few moments where I thought I might have to defend myself by tossing a piece of cake as a diversion while I made my escape.

I went to this conference with some very defined goals, the first to hang with and connect other people of humor, who would rather laugh than cry when reading, or at least laugh while crying. I also wanted to introduce everyone to the Humor Writers of America, because we need to band together more than just once every other year. And I wanted to kick myself in the butticus about blogging, because, frankly, I suck at it. As George Dubya Bush would say, Mission Accomplished on all fronts, and you are reading the results of one of these goals.

As often happens, I got way more out of the conference than I expected. I got to appreciate the raw comedic talents of humorists who bravely tackled Stand Up Night. The pitch sessions also brought out writers who were tentative about their abilities, but still had the courage to stand up and tell everyone who and what they were. The resulting enthusiastic applause was not fake or sympathetic, but was well earned and authentic.

We were all reluctant to leave, and I'm sure a few people shed tears. I shed tears, too, but it was because when I got back to my car, I discovered my car door dented and scraped from some inconsiderate lout (who obviously wasn't an Erma attendee).


author of seven books and founder of The Humor Writers of America