Mindfulness and Laughter

Where I live, it’s winter, and though snow came late to the party, it didn’t neglect to arise. In the Northeast, we are approaching the time traditionally known as that of cabin fever. This period is characterized by restlessness, irritability, and the desire to see something green.

It’s a time when a good laugh can make a difference. Laughter is mindful. It puts us completely in the moment. Past and future fade away as we enjoy the hilarity of the present moment.

With this in mind, I invite you to visit the following web site:

The Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest

The URL will take you to the winning entries for the 2015 Bulwer-Lytton contest. Bulwer-Lytton was the author of the classic phrase, “It was a dark and stormy night,” and the contest challenges entrants to compose bad opening sentences to imaginary novels. Many are so bad that they’re very good.

Since the contest is completely about shameless bad writing, I have no hesitation in stating that I won a runner-up award in 2005 in the Fantasy category. Here’s my entry:

?The dragon cast his wet, rheumy eyes, heavy-lidded with misery, over his kingdom – a malodorous, rot-ridden swamp, with moss cloaking brooding, gloomy cypresses, tree trunks like decayed teeth rising from stagnant ponds, creatures with mildewed fur and scales whom the meanest roadside zoo would have rejected – and hoped the antidepressants would kick in soon.”

In a very different form, this entry became the basis for Big Dragons Don’t Cry, the first book of A Dragon’s Guide to Destiny. You can see the link to the right for more information.

This kind of humor may not be for you, in which case, I invite you to search on YouTube for one of Jimmy Fallon’s impersonations of famous singers. Or get a Laughing Buddha and contemplate why he’s laughing.

Interview with Jennifer Rainey, author of These Hellish Happenings

My guest on this week’s author blog is Jennifer Rainey, author of These Hellish Happenings. I could tell you how hilarious this book is, but the primary commandment for writers is Show, Don’t Tell (which bears no relationship to the recently-repealed Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell). The author’s blurb shows what you can expect in her novel.

In 1707, hapless vampire Jack Bentley made a pact with the Devil in order to escape a vampire hunt. Dealing with Satan seemed better than your standard angry mob at the time. But three centuries later, Satan is ready to collect His dues, whether the vampire likes it or not. He’s taking Jack down to Hell, and He’s even got a job picked out for him down below: an eternal position at the Registration Office of the Damned. Jack attempts to adjust to life on the Administrative Level of Hell where fire and brimstone have been replaced by board meetings and the occasional broken copier. But the whiny complaints of the recently-deceased and the legions of suited, cookie-cutter demons are the least of his problems. Try adding to the equation a dead ex-lover, a dangerous attraction to his high-ranking demon companion, Alexander Ridner, and the sticky and distorted anti-vampire politics of a Hell that is surprisingly like our own world.

CB: Jennifer, I have a feeling that whatever genre you chose, you would approach it satirically. Why were you attracted to the paranormal genre and specifically to the subject of vampires and demons?

JR: I do love my satire, and I’ve always liked paranormal stuff. I was always the kid reading “real” ghost stories and wandering through cemeteries and all that splendid nonsense. For as long as I can remember, my writing has had a least a little bit of a paranormal slant to it. The vampires and demons came in specifically because of my mother, who is absolutely in love with the darlings of the night and has been my entire life. I was sort of destined to write about them, I suppose, ever since I was that seven-year-old kid drawing pictures of The Vampire Lestat for my Mom as a Mother’s Day gift, haha!

CB: I think in our “modern” age, anything having to do with death is either ignored or feared, but you were there tripping happily among the gravestones. It doesn’t surprise me that this child ended up writing a satire about hell, Satan, and a demonic horde of bureaucrats.

I’d love to know more about your creative process. How did the characters and structure of These Hellish Happenings evolve?

JR: The very first element of the book to come to me was Jack, the protagonist. He showed up in my brain, and I knew he was a vampire who worked in Hell, and that was it. So, I built the story, the setting, the other characters around him. The story itself was very different when I first started; the political subplot wasn’t there at all. It was just going to be this love triangle-based romantic comedy about Jack, the demon he falls in love with in the book, and his ex-lover who reenters his life with a dash of satire thrown in for fun.

But I thought it really, really needed something else. It needed some cajones, for lack of a better word. And one day in 2008, I was trying to brainstorm what I could add to it, and I hopped on Facebook and saw a campaign ad for Obama. Ta da! The political subplot was born and gave the work some much needed substance.

CB: That reminds me so much of how my first work began, with a depressed dragon living in a swamp and ending with attempts to overthrow a government.

You thoroughly made the most out of that subplot. The aspect of discrimination against vampires particularly caught my attention. It was so beautifully satirical.

Was your intention from the beginning of the writing to go independent? If so, do you feel that gave you more freedom to develop a fairly unconventional subject?

JR: When I decided to publish, I wasn’t one hundred percent sold on either independent or traditional publishing. I was both looking for an agent and researching self-publishing at the same time. But in the end, the reason I think I did go with the independent route was just that; I knew I wasn’t going to have to change anything to get the book published if I went with self-publishing. It was all in my hands, and that freedom is a very good thing. And now when I’m ready to publish the sequel, I can skip all that agent nonsense, haha!

CB: I’m very excited to hear about the sequel. At what point did you realize that you weren’t ready to say good-bye to the characters in These Hellish Happenings? Were you still writing the first novel when ideas for the second developed? Have you found writing the second novel easier than writing the first?

JR: I recently finished the first draft of the sequel, and I’m still not sure if I’m ready to say good-bye to these characters, haha! I love all of them, and I’ve gotten to know them so well. It was while I was editing the first book that I realized I still had more to say about the characters and Hell itself. I kept getting all these new ideas, new scenarios while I was editing and before I knew it, I had an entire new story for the characters! And yes, it was so much easier to write the second one; these days, I can slip into Jack Bentley’s character at the drop of a hat.

CB: I don’t want to ask you who your favorite authors are, because that question always paralyzes me. There are too many to name. Instead, could you name authors who have especially inspired you as you developed your own unique method of creative expression?

JR: Definitely Aldous Huxley, Terry Pratchett and Christopher Moore. They all mix elements in their works that people might not mix traditionally, and that’s something that has definitely inspired me in my writing.

CB: In conclusion, please say anything you’d like to tell readers about These Hellish Happenings and its sequel or about yourself as a writer. If you’d like to, include also an excerpt from your favorite review of your novel.

JR: If you’re looking for something different, something smart, something with a good sense of humor or all of the above, pick up These Hellish Happenings. It’s been so much fun to write, and like I said, I can’t see myself leaving these characters any time soon. I’ll leave you with this excerpt from a five star review of the book on Quirky Gurl Media:

Before I even read this book I knew I was going to like it., and I was right. The cover is engaging and suits the tone of the novel perfectly, and the synopsis was tight and piqued my intrest right away. The novel was all I’d expected and then some. Concise, evocative writing made this novel read like a movie- I could picture it in my mind, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it wasn’t made into a movie at some point. These Hellish Happenings is a mostly one of Dark Humor, mixed with a little light paranormal, a smidgen of suspense with a dash of romance– and all of these are perfectly balanced into a stellar first novel.

Jennifer’s biography: Jennifer Rainey was raised by wolves who later sold her to gypsies. She then joined the circus at the age of ten. There, she was the flower girl in the famed Bearded Bride of Beverly Hills show until the act was discontinued (it was discovered that the bearded lady was actually a man). From there, she wandered around the country selling novelty trucker hats with vaguely amusing sayings printed on front. Somehow, she made enough money to go to The Ohio State University for a major in English.

Get to know Jennifer better.
Buy her book at Amazon. (This is the Kindle link. It’s also available in paperback.)