Who needs a laugh? Everyone! Sadly, women like me who write funny novels are thought of as the Rodney Dangerfield’s of publishing. We get no respect. Actually, we’re likened more to the childrens photographers at the mall. People love our work but don’t consider it art.
A few years back, authors Jennifer Weiner and Jonathan Franzen engaged in a well publicized duel, with Jennifer arguing that chick lit and humorous novels by women were the bread and butter of publishing. They just didn’t cause any excitement at the bank. In turn, Jonathan nailed her for complaining about the income disparity between men and women authors. Fair is fair, and all that sort of thing.
But, Jennifer Weiner was right. Historically, male authors have commanded the big advances, the talk show appearances and the take-a-bow reviews. Even male novelists who write funny, like Carl Hiassen and Joshua Ferris, get to don the green jackets, like Masters champions.
Why do you think that when J.K. Rowling ventured into writing adult thrillers she chose the pseudonym, Robert Galbraith?
It’s still a man’s world, but it’s no joke.
Q. How many male novelists does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A: Nothing happens for 350 pages; receives fourteen awards.
I raise the issue because I have just re-read two of Jonathan Tropper’s novels, THIS IS WHERE I LEAVE YOU and ONE LAST THING BEFORE I GO. His work is a delight. Hilarious, honest, touching and filled with pathos. He deserves his success, including the film adaptation of THIS IS WHERE I LEAVE YOU.
Trust me, I don’t begrudge Jonathan or any novelist success. I just wish that the double standard would die. Like Mr.Tropper, my novels A LITTLE HELP FROM ABOVE, CLAIRE VOYANT, FATE AND MS. FORTUNE and DEAR NEIGHBOR, DROP DEAD (Avon/HarperCollins) are funny, heartfelt tales of Jewish families in distress. They also have been optioned for TV and films and remain beloved by book clubs, especially after members have read one too many dark, literary (and often boring) novels.
Or, as I will often hear after a discussion, “When I read your book I laughed, cried and wouldn’t come out of the bathroom until I finished. When I read INSERT LITERARY TITLE, my mind drifted and I wondered if my Dunkin’ Donuts coupons were still good.”
It’s why I keep going. I have just completed my first novel for middle-grade readers, SO SICK OF SECRETS (calling all great agents!!) and am knee-deep into my new adult novel, WHEN WE COME BACK. Both stories are high-spirited and filled with great humor and heart. Both stories introduce characters that are in big, big trouble and will emerge triumphant (we don’t call ’em heroes for nothing). Both stories will hopefully get readers to hug these books to their chests and think, what a ride. That was so much fun.
But, see for yourself. Here is Page one from WHEN WE COME BACK, and then a clip in which Paula is trying to console her best friend, Jill at the funeral of Jill’s mother-in-law.
Like a storm surge that could overpower a seawall, Franny Segal was a force until her final day. And though her obituary referred to the fatal car crash that ended her life, it belied the truth. Cause of death was extreme stubbornness. Had she listened to her daughter-in-law, Jill, she would have had more time to terrorize those whom she claimed to love most. But the seventy-nine-year old matriarch hated to follow orders. Even well-meaning ones. Thus, she entered eternity due to an end-of-life decision involving nail polish.
Which is when the finger pointing began…
Paula hugged Jill. “How’s my bestie holding up?”
“And see? I thought you’d be happy. Ding dong the wicked witch is dead.”
“It’s not that,” she replied.
“Okay. What did Jackass do now?”
“It’s unimaginable, but I can’t tell you here.”
“Understood… Hey. Have you noticed all the old ladies like us are in black from head to toe? Then we cover up like mummies with scarves as big as burqas.”
Jill elbowed her. “Stop.”
“And could the girls’ dresses be any shorter? Is there a bar crawl after the final Amen?”
“You are not supposed to make me laugh.”
“Yes, I am. Whoa. You dug out The. Chanel. Bag.”
“It’s a Jewish funeral. It’s required for entry.”
Paula laughed. “Must be, because I’ve counted twenty of them and I just don’t get it. Chanel is so damn expensive that when I read their ads, I don’t know whether I’m looking at a phone number or a price. At least you didn’t get yours at a consignment shop.”
Now here is the big question. Will this novel make it onto the New York Times bestseller list? A girl writer can dream. Meanwhile, I’m wondering if I should submit this one under a man’s name.
Author of UNDER THE GRANDSTAND