by Robin Donovan
Editing is always critical, no matter what you write. Editing a humorous murder mystery is considerably more critical than a non-humorous fictional murder because you can easily lose the empathy of your reader if the humor goes too far or becomes too macabre. Even if the victim was a vile person, there is still a line over which the protagonist dare not step. On the other hand, if you’re not into cozy mysteries, becoming too macabre may be your goal. Long live Stephen King!
The humorous murder mystery has to maintain something of a pathos throughout, while highlighting humorous components whenever possible. And there had better be enough tasteful humorous components or you will lose your audience to boredom.
While my protagonist in Is It Still Murder Even If She Was A Bitch? can’t pretend to be sorry her horrible former colleague has been murdered, she does take the time to comment on her feelings of sadness for the widower and the now motherless child. In other parts of the story, through another character, we are informed that the clownishly large feet of the murdered woman were almost too big to fit in her coffin. Were these elements juxtaposed too closely and not timed perfectly, it might highlight the humor in a negative or cruel light, leaving a bad taste in the mouth of the reader.
That sounds like an extremely delicate balance – and it is. But hitting that sweet spot, that perfect balance of humor and compassion, can be so rewarding.
When I first started writing cozy mysteries, I took my cue for humor from the extremely successful Janet Evanovich. She typically employs about 6 different comedic incidents in every book. That’s harder than it sounds. Not to mention that a humorous undertone must work right alongside pathos when murder is involved, so the author must carefully interweave these elements with masterful timing.
The husband of Is It Still has to make a somber decision to give up the woman he loves, his mistress, as it is in the best interest of his young son after his wife’s tragic death. At the same time, said mistress is having a laughable public meltdown as she decides that the dead woman’s mother is responsible for her being dumped. With these scenes, I hope to elicit respect for a man who is able to make a difficult decision to sacrifice his own needs for those of his son, and conversely, amusement over a woman who takes a completely self-centered viewpoint of a tragic event that does not directly involve her. If my timing misses, this whole scenario is likely to fall flatter than a pancake. But if it works, I will succeed in taking your emotions way down and then back up all the way to laughter. That’s a very heady feeling for an author.
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Robin Leemann Donovan is the author of the blog, Menologues, a humorous yet informative look at the trials and tribulations of menopause by someone who’s been there. Menologues has been republished on two commercial sites: Vibrant Nation and Alltop, and has won regional honors for social media at the AMA Pinnacles and PRSA Paper Anvil awards. Her first book in the Donna Leigh Mystery series: Is It Still Murder Even If She Was A Bitch? won an AMA Pinnacle award. Her second book: I Didn’t Kill Her, But That May Have Been Shortsighted, was released in November, 2015. And her third book: I Don’t Know Why They Killed Him He Wasn’t Really That Annoying, came out early last year.
Donovan was born and raised in New Jersey but lived and worked in Connecticut for a number of years before moving to Nebraska in 1999. Starting her career as a high school English teacher, Donovan moved into advertising in the early 80’s and became a VP Media Director working on brands like Duracell, Stanley Tools, IBM, Visa and Merck Pharmaceutical. In 1999 she accepted a job offer from Bozell, an Omaha based ad agency. In late 2001, she and three colleagues purchased Bozell from its New York-based parent company, where she is currently the president.
She has served on the boards of the Omaha Children’s Museum, the Omaha YWCA, and she was chairman of the Alzheimer’s of the Midlands board for two years, serving a total of six years on the board. She is currently the membership director for Kick for the Cure, an organization that raises funds for breast cancer through soccer tournaments.
Donovan lives with her husband and three bulldogs; Roxi, Frank and Sadie (Sweet Pea).
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