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The Cure for Romance Burnout

9 Aug 2009

I like to mix up my reading every once in a while because all romance all the time can get too much. When I look at a romance title and the thought of reading it fills me with OMG, not another one, I know it’s time to hit another genre. If I’m not hitting the comic books, then it’s mystery or sci-fi…doesn’t matter which as long as it makes me laugh.

Strangely enough, while I enjoy comedies, I don’t look for them within the romance genre. (The exception would be the Crusie/Mayer collaborations–but only his parts are laugh-out-loud funny while hers, like SEP’s works, merit the occasional smile. I can’t be the only person who enjoyed Don’t Look Down!) Too many romance authors attempt to be funny by making their characters–namely the heroines–do too many dumb-ass things, until they come across as TSTL. Personally, TSTL behavior doesn’t make me want to laugh with them–or even at them. It only gives me the urge to reach inside the book and smack the idiots upside the head.

Outside of the romance genre, I have no problem finding humor that works for me. Maybe because it’s more wit than bumbling behavior. While I have walked into a wall once (maybe twice), reading about a heroine who does it constantly irks me. Or maybe it’s because what romance authors tell me doesn’t coincide with what they show me. Don’t tell me the heroine’s a genius if she can’t chew gum and breathe at the same time. Making a character stupid for the sake of a laugh isn’t funny. Or maybe it’s because I read male authors outside of romance. I do find my sense of humor is more inline with the opposite sex than my own.

Or maybe it’s because I found some really great, really funny writers and they just happen to be men.

Anyway, for science fiction with laugh-out-loud wit, I go to John Scalzi. His Agent to the Stars nearly killed me. While his novels in the Old Man’s War universe take a more serious tone overall, they’re interspersed with memorable one-liners and scenes. His short stories, however, are my favorite reads. “The State of Super Villainy” is simply hilarious.

JA Konrath is perhaps the funniest mystery/thriller author I’ve come across. He combines my favorite elements in his Jack Daniels mystery series: a strong, competent heroine; scene-stealing sidekicks; fast-paced plots; and deadly funny dialogue. Think Janet Evanovich, but with intelligence, wit, and some truly fucked up villains. Yesterday, I turned a friend onto his books when I let her read the following scene from his short story “Taken to the Cleaners” from the 55 Proof collection on his web site (God, I love my iPod Touch and Stanza’s search function):

I killed the stereo. Billy continued to snore. Among the clutter on the floor were several issues of Famous Soldier, along with various gun and hunting magazines. I poked through his drawers and found a cheap Rambo knife, a CO2 powered BB gun, and a dog-eared copy of the infamous How to be a Hitman book from Paladin Press.

I gave the kid a shake, then another. The third shake got him to open his eyes.

“Who the hell are you?” he said, defiant.

“I’m your wake-up call.”

I slapped the kid, making his eyes cross.

“Hey! You hit me!”

“A woman hired you to kill her husband.”

“I don’t know what you’re—”

He got another smack. “That’s for lying.”

“You can’t hit me,” he whined. “I’ll sue you.”

I hit him twice more; once because I didn’t like being threatened by punk kids, and once because I didn’t like lawyers. When I pulled my palm back for threesies, the kid broke.

“Please! Stop it! I admit it!”

I released his t-shirt and let him blubber for a minute. His blue eyes matched those of the woman upstairs. Not many professional killers lived in their mother’s basement, and I wondered how Marietta Garbonzo could have been this naive.

“I’m guessing you never met Mrs. Garbonzo in person.”

“I only talked to her on the phone. She sent the money to a P.O. Box. That’s how the pros do it.”

“So how did she get your home address?”

“She wouldn’t give me the money without my address. She said if I didn’t trust her, why should she trust me?”

Here was my proof that each new generation of teenagers was stupider than the last. I blame MTV.

“How much did she give you?”

He smiled, showing me a mouth full of braces. “Fifty large.”

“And how were you going to do it? With your BB gun?”

“I was going to follow him around and then…you know…shove him.”

“Shove him?”

“He’s an old guy. I was thinking I’d shove him down some stairs, or into traffic. I dunno.”

“Have you shoved a lot of old people into traffic, Billy boy?”

He must not have liked the look in my eyes, because he shrunk two sizes.

“No! Never! I never killed anybody!”

“So why put an ad in the magazine?”

“I dunno. Something to do.”

I considered hitting him again, but didn’t know what purpose it would serve.

I hit him anyway.

“Ow! My lip’s caught in my braces!”

“You pimple-faced little moron. Do you have any idea what kind of trouble you’re in right now? Not only did you accept money to commit a felony, but now you’ve got a price on your head. Did Mrs. Garbonzo tell you about the guy her husband hired to kill you?”

He nodded, his Adam’s apple wiggling like a fish.

“Are-are you here to kill me?”

“No.”

“But you’ve got a gun.” He pointed to the butt of my Magnum, jutting out of my shoulder holster.

“I’m a private detective.”

“Is that a real gun?”

“Yes.”

“Can I touch it?”

“No.”

“Come on. Lemme touch it.”

This is what happens when you spare the rod and spoil the child.

“Look kid, I know that you’re a loser that nobody likes, and that you’re a virgin and will probably stay one for the next ten years, but do you want to die?”

“Ten years?”

“Answer the question.”

“No. I don’t want to die.”

I sighed. “That’s a start. Where’s the money?”

“I’ve got a secret place. In the wall.”

He rolled off the bed, eager, and pried a piece of paneling away from the plaster in a less-cluttered corner of the room. His hand reached in, and came out with a brown paper shopping bag.

“Is it all there?”

Billy shook his head. “I spent three hundred on a wicked MP3 player.”

“Hand over the money. And the MP3 player.”

Billy showed a bit of reluctance, so I smacked him again to help with his motivation.

It helped. He also gave me fresh batteries for the player.

“Now what?” he sniffled.

“Now we tell your parents.”

“Do we have to?”

“You’d prefer the cops?”

He shook his head. “No. No cops.”

“That blonde upstairs with the face like a snare drum, that your mom?”

“Yeah.”

“Let’s go have a talk with her.”

Mrs. Johansenn was perched in front of a sixty inch television, watching a soap.

“Nice TV. High definition?”

“Plasma.”

“Nice. Billy has something he wants to tell you.”

Billy stared at his shoes. “Mom, I bought an ad in the back of Famous Soldier Magazine, and some lady gave me fifty thousand dollars to kill her husband.”

Mrs. Johansenn hit the mute button on the remote, shaking her head in obvious disappointment.

“Billy, dammit, this is too much. You’re a hired killer?”

“Sorry,” he mumbled.

“You’re father is going to have a stroke when he hears this.”

“Do we have to tell Dad?”

“Are you kidding?”

“I gave the money back.”

“Who are you?” Billy’s mom squinted at me.

“I’m Harry McGlade. I’m a private eye. I was hired to find Billy. Someone is trying to kill him.”

Mrs. Johansenn rolled her eyes. “Oh, this gets better and better. I need to call Sal.”

“You husband?”

“My lawyer.”

“Ma’am, a lawyer isn’t going to do much to save Billy’s life, unless he’s standing between him and a bullet.”

“So what then, the police?”

“Not the cops, Mom! I don’t want to go to jail!”

“He won’t survive in prison,” I said. “The lifers will pass him around like a bong at a college party. They’ll trade him for candy bars and cigarettes.”

“I don’t want to be traded for candy bars, Mom!”

Mrs. Johansenn frowned, forming new wrinkles. “Then what should we do, Mr. McGlade?”

I paused for a moment, then I grinned.

“I get five-hundred a day, plus expenses.”

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