Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Musical Scale of the Funnybone

Here are the overhead notes from the Humor Class at the Pikes Peak Writers Conference.  Obviously the CD's would give more info and nuances but for those of you who were there and want just the notes, here they are.

Musical Scale of the Funnybone
Plays on Words:  
Puns, Malaprops, Double Entendres, Oxymorons

The Pun – A Word used in such a way that two or more meanings are active simultaneously

EX.  Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet – "If you look for me tomorrow you shall find me a grave man."

EX.  Ad at a radiator repair shop – "A great place to take a leak."

Possible uses of The Pun in your writing

-In the mouth of your main or secondary characters to show clever or quick minds. 

-If a character thinks a pun in a situation, you know that he is not taking it seriously without you actually having to say so.

Malaprops – A misuse of a word or phrase 

EX An angry man – "I resemble that remark."

EX Yogi Berra – "90% of all baseball is mental.  The other half is physical."

EX Bushisms – "I promise you I will remember what was said here; even though I wasn't here."

Possible uses of The Malaprop in your writing

-A character that makes these types of mistakes has a unique type of mentality.  Can be used to show someone who maybe stumbles over his words but in a discernibly humorous and not necessarily unintelligent manner.

-When a character consistently uses Malaprops, particularly s reoccurring character in a series, your reader will grow fond of this character by awaiting what humorous thing will come next from his/her mouth – Think Gracie Allen (as in Burns and Allen).

Double Entendres – An ambiguous word or phrase that allows for a second-someties racy-interpretation.
EX – Marx Brothers - "If I said you had a beautiful body, would you hold it against me?"
EX – Marx Brothers – "Outside of a dog, a book is a man's best friend.  Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read."
Possible uses of Double Entendres in your writing
-They can be used to show a sly or lecherous personality in men. When females use them, they become confident and take charge individuals.  Think Sophie Tucker or Mae West (Is that a carrot in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?).
-For many of us, Double Entendres are a guilty pleasure.  If we have a character that uses them we as readers are at once repulsed and entertained.

Oxymorons – The joining of two incomparable ideas in one phrase.
EX – Jumbo Shrimp, Good Grief, Larger Half, Same Difference
Possible uses for Oxymorons in your writing.
-Oxymorons can be either annoying or delightful depending on the personality of the character who speaks them. 
-Also consider having one character say an Oxymoron then another character either get mad or correct him, thus showing the personality of both.

Stupidity and Slapstick
Both make us feel superior and/or smart.  We often revel in the misfortune of others.
EX. The misfortunes of Bertie Wooster.  He is "singularly lacking in intelligence" so he makes blunders, but he is also plunged into unfortunate and hilarious situations from which his butler Jeeves must rescue him.
EX The antics of the Three Stooges.
EX The series of cars owned by Stephanie Plum that invariably get destroyed.
EX The situations that the author of "Angus, Thongs, and Full Frontal Snogging" plunges her fourteen year girl into.
Possible uses for Stupidity and Slapstick in your writing
-Both these devices are more suited for physical humor (actions, events, schemes) than for words to put into your characters mouths.  Neither device makes your character look particularly smart.
-Both these devices are ideal for a secondary character--think Dr. Watson in the old Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes movies.
-In more lighthearted mysteries, both these devices can be employed to humiliate your bad guy or his henchmen. (Home Alone)

A device that adds a contradictory tagline to the opening line of a standard expression or cliché.  Often called the 'Old Switcheroo'.  Plays false with our expectations

EX "My girlfriend and I were incompatible in many ways.  I was a night person and she hated my guts.

EX "My wife was faithful to the end.  Unfortunately, I play quarterback."

EX Emo Phillips uses almost nothing but reverses: Cellar Door Bit.

Possible uses for Reverses in your writing.
          -Can be used for both physical and spoken humor.
A) Physical – set us up for an expected situation then pull the rug out from under us. 
EX Man comes home from work early, "Darling, I'm home." Walks into the bedroom and finds a naked couple in bed.  "What is she doing here?" 
B) Spoken: Timing is everything.  By the appropriate placement and timing you can make your character seem clever (wisecracking Private Eye, Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet , Woody Allen in his early funny movies) and often time downright funny (A PI getting beat up is asked, "Had enough?"  He answers, "How can I ever get enough of you sweetie?") 
EX Consider Standup Comics such as Leno.  "Is everybody having a good time?  Well, we'll put an end to that."


For those of you who were at the RED HERRING panel and didn't the notes you wanted, here at least is the section on Misdirection. 

Leading a reader to believe they have discovered something that isn't true.

I Consumers of mysteries – not just books but TV, movies, even video games – are becoming increasingly sophisticated.  They are extremely hard to fool.
A) With just TV alone, the average reader say, 25 years old, has been exposed to a plethora of plot variations" CSI, Law and Order, cop shows, PI shows, specialty shows (new: Castle, the Mentalist; old: Murder She Wrote).
B)  Unlike the time of Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie, the gloves are off as far as the rules are concerned. Cops can be villains.  Children can be murderers.  The modern reader has seen it all.
C)  That said, there is an upside to having a readership that is well-versed in the ways of mystery.  They want, almost need, to figure out the puzzle, the crime, the murder.  In this heightened state, they are extremely susceptible Misdirection.
D) Think of Misdirection like throwing an opponent in Martial Arts.  Use their own momentum to send them off down the wrong avenue.

II How does modern misdirection work with such a sophisticated readership?  I recommend two methods: Subtlety and Backtracking
A) Subtlety.  
-You can't hit the reader over the head with your phony-baloney, heavy-handed, glow-in-the-dark red herring.  If you stick it in straight in their face, they simply won't bite, and they certainly won't be entertained.  Picture your reader saying, "Puleeeeease, do you expect me to fall for something so obvious?"

-Try being underhanded instead. 
a) In The Witch of Agnesi one of the murder weapons is a baseball bat.  About half wy through the novel an unlikely character is revealed to have played softball.

b) The vital false clue was hidden in a list of information.  I believed that there would be a significant fraction of my extremely intelligent readers who would go, "Wait a minute.  This girl might be disabled, but she could maybe have pulled this murder off."

c) Once the intelligent reader is led even partially astray they will pursue this avenue of investigation. The slightest additional hints (and I mean make these additional hints micro slight) will confirm, at least in their own minds, that they are on the right track.

d) What's really cool about using subtlety is that from that moment on, the reader will feel smart and a reader who feels smart is one who is being entertained.
B) Backtracking – uses the hide-and-seek principal that the best place to hide is somewhere the seeker has already looked.
          -Early on, you parade your killer blatantly in front of your reader.  Then you use some method to show that this individual cannot possibly be the one: she has an alibi, she is physically incapable of performing the deed, anything will work as long as you get your reader to accept the premise of innocence.
          -Then you go about the business of the investigation.  One needn't look back in the corner where the killer is hiding because we've already looked there and we know that avenue will bear no fruit.
          -You can even get the killer to be part of the investigation as long as you don't overdo it (subtlety is still a virtue). 
          -In the end, your sleuth discovers that perhaps the killer's alibi isn't as air tight as we thought.  Or even better, if this is perhaps a non-standard mystery, our sleuth only discovers the truth after the killer gets away.
          -This method was used most effectively in an episode of the old Alfred Hitchcock Show about a serial killer who is murdering nurses.   

The Witch of Agnesi


The title of this post is also the title of my first Bonnie Pinkwater mystery.  I can't even begin to tell you the number of disgruntled e-mails this title has engendered.  A reader recently sent me a message letting me know that he read the first hundred pages and felt cheated when no paranormal activity ensued.  He then proceeded to give me a one star review and promised to read no further.  A move which I think is reasonable. I mean there it is, a title that contains the word witch with no 'Bubble, bubble toil and trouble', no love potions, no green faced crone who melts because a singing girl from a black and white Kansas gave her an impromptu shower, and certainly no seemingly sweet old lady who lived in a gingerbread house with a candy cane chimney, who for cannibalistic purposes fattened up a boy running around the Black Forest wearing those funny pants we see in the Sound of Music. It's amazing this reader didn't ask for my head on a spike.

And now the real reason for this post.  I have been invited to write a series of guest posts about historic mathematicians.  I thought to myself, "Self, if you're going to post this bad boy in someone else's blog, why not post it in your own as well?" Sadly, I do speak to myself in this fashion.

Sooooooo, if you have no interest in a story about a really cool female mathematician this would be a good time to slip quietly away and perhaps go back to reading 'Game of Thrones'.

Marie Gaetana Agenesi, who's name has been lent to this misnomer of a book title, was born in Milan in 1718.  Her father was a professor of Mathematics at the University of Bologna. Brilliant, her early years read much like those of Mozart. By five, she could speak French.  By nine she had mastered Hebrew, Latin, Greek, and most of the languages of Europe.  By her teen years she was well into her formal study of Mathematics: Newton, Leibnitz, Fermat, Descartes, Euler, and the Bernoulli brothers.  By twenty, she had begun her most famous--and we shall later learn her most infamous--mathematical work Analytic Institutions.  In this master work she continued--among other things--the analytic geometry of Fermat, in particular the study of curves. She would also tackle the newly developed areas of Differential and Integral Calculus.

All of this brilliant work would be eclipsed by a bizarre incident that happened two years after Marie's death.  In Analytic Institutions Marie discussed at length a geometric curve called a versed cubic curve.  In Italian she called this curve Versiera, a musical sounding term that means nothing more than 'a curve that turns'. 

Marie would die in 1799 and in 1801 a Cambridge mathematician, John Colson took up the task of translating Marie's wonderful text.  It needs to be said that Professor Colson did an admirable job with his translation.  In fact he translated the entirety of Analytic Institutions perfectly--except for one word.  When Colson translated Versiera he added one letter to the Italian word making it Aversiera.  One might ask how much would the translation be changed by the addition of one insignificant letter?  Well, unfortunately, in this case a great deal. You see while the word Versiera means 'a curve that turns' the word Aversiera means 'Bride of the Devil'.  Thus Marie's innocent geometric curve was renamed 'The Witch of Agnesi.'

While all of this might seems comical to a modern reader; after all we're just talking about an absurd mistake, it is unlikely Marie herself would have agreed.  You see the great ambition of Marie Gaetana Agnesi (one that her father denied her) was to become a nun. Maybe it was a good thing she died before Colson did a number on her reputation.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Hint for My Facebook Chess Problem

Two hints actually.  The sister was clever in crafting the scenario to fit her scheme of outdoing her brother.  One facet of the scenario is that she is playing black in one game and white in the other.  Another important thing to recall is that the players cannot see the other game because they are being played in separate room.  Also remember she only has to win one game to do better than him.

A Review of Radical Equations

Radical Equations, by Robert Spiller

Kaye Booth of the Southern Coloado Literature Examiner reviews my newest.

True to form, Colorado Springs author Robert Spiller has created another perplexing puzzle for his heroine, math teacher Bonnie Pinkwater to solve, in Radical Equations.

A rash of murders suddenly occurs within her community, and as usual, Bonnie finds herself thrown right into the middle of the melee. This murder mystery keeps readers guessing, as the first murder is discovered by Bonnie and her “witchy” friend Rhiannon, but before the authorities arrive, the body disappears.

After barely escaping a tornado, Bonnie rediscovers the body in amongst the ruins of the school. She, of course deduces that two and two is not adding up to four and her insatiable curiosity carries her off to discover the truth about what is really going on.

The stakes get higher when she and Rhiannon are shot at and another murder is discovered. Before it’s all over, Bonnie will truly have to use her deductive skills to figure this one out, but never fear, the sleuth in Bonnie is always up to the task.

Robert Spiller has once again used his experience and knowledge as a math teacher, to lead readers through a maze that can only be negated by logic and deductive reason. For Bonnie Pinkwater to solve this daunting dilemma, it will definitely require some Radical Equations. Radical Equations is a thoroughly enjoyable mystery read.

Left Coast Crime

Here's the Deal.

I read Terry's blog on LCC and she did such a good job I hesitated in writing one of my own.  I mean how can one compete with perfection,  Then I thought, Wait a minute (It's true; I think in Italics) every  panel, every class that Terry took, I took something else. You might say that in a Set Theory context we were Complementary Sets (I know the math stuff excites me too!)

Soooooooo, if you didn't get to go to Left Coast Crime last week in Sacramento, here is another perspective.

I didn't stay at the conference hotel, so Wednesday night I walked about a mile through downtown Sacramento - what a cool town - to early register for the next day.  It had rained so the air was moist and cool, the night sky perfect.  The folks who put on the conference were welcoming and so friendly I knew I was in for a great weekend.  Plus I got to work at the registration table handing out canvas bags full of goodies.  what is better than handing out canvas bags full of goodies? 

The conference itself started off with a bang for me because I was a member of the very first panel on Thursday afternoon: IN THE NICK OF TIME: HOW DO YOU GET YOUR PROTAGONIST IN AND OUT OF DANGER?  I shared this panel with four other terrific writers. Camille Minichino (who has several series in play including one where her sleuth is a mathematics professor), Keith Raffel (who writes action thrillers), Audrey Braun (who writes a series with a woman who's husband abandoned her in the jungle) and Robert O'Hanneson (who wrote the coolest mystery set in a carnival).  My fellow panelists were witty, charming, gracious and the time sped by like a dream. Afterwards, our moderator, Mars Preston ushered us down to the bookstore for a signing where I got to meet a legion of mystery readers.  Let me say this right up front, I love, love, love mystery readers.  They know so much and ask so many questions.  Truth was I didn't know all of the headline authors, and they schooled me so I wouldn't look like an ignoramus.  The signing was a kick in the butt, and I made some friends for life, including a wonderful couple from Highlands Ranch, Colorado with whom I plan to have lunch with in the near future.

I've never been into crafting mysteries, so I attended a panel titled Killer Crafts.  Out very own Maggie Sefton was on this panel, and I was enchanted by sleuths who built dollhouses, knitted, and quilted.

I'm going to mention the silent auction because I spent a lot of time there and the folks who were running this show gave me a lot of pointers for next year.  That's right, next year yours truly is running both the silent and the not-so-silent auction.  I also learned how to spell tchotches.

I won't go into all the panels I attended but I will give a list of them:

Tea and a Cozy - delightful panel and I met some wonderful female writers.

The Killer Thriller panel - this had one of the big guns of the weekend, James Rollins

All in the Name of Research - Twiss Phelan moderated this panel which was a hoot.

Laugh Yourself to Death - need I say more?

Pre-twentieth Century History - one of my favorite authors, Ann Parker was on this one and it was great.

20th Century History Mysteries - Another great one.

Sex in Mysteries - Again, need I say more?

One of the coolest things I got to do was take a walking tour of Old Sacramento along the Sacramento River.  All along the tour, ghosts would appear and tell us tales of how they died.  In fact, our guide for the tour was a ghost.  One confused specter, who died when the floor of an opera house collapsed, kept asking us if we'd seen her equally dead husband.  I had to tell the poor woman I hadn't and she wandered off down the street. We learned that the city had been totally destroyed twice - once with fire and once with flood.  Very cool stuff.

One mistake I did make was to drive to the conference.  Does the wind blow constantly in Wyoming?

Anyway, one last bit of info.  Left Coast Crime 2013 will be in Colorado Springs next year.  Is that cool or what?!!