...for readers who love animals, and animal lovers who read!

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Seriously Funny

by Susan J. Kroupa

One of my favorite saying is from Proverbs: "A merry heart doeth good like a medicine: but a broken spirit drieth the bones."

Sometimes I forget that. The other day, in a blog post, after promoting what a friend calls my "doggy books," I said, "But I've also written serious stuff set in the Southwest, in Hopi and Navajo culture. I was referring to several stories published some years back, "Scapegoat", "The Healer", and "Harden Times". (All of which, by the way, feature animals, although in "The Healer" the animal happens to be a wolf spider.) 
What was I thinking? For all their comic tone, the Doodlebugged mysteries are every bit as serious at their core as those works I wrote years ago.
Sometimes I think comedy doesn't get enough respect. On another blog (yes, I need an intervention for Internet addiction!) when someone posted, "I don't do comedy. I'm serious about what I write," I wanted to say, Well, pin a medal on you! (Fortunately, I curbed the impulse.) Because the fact is, if the writer has something important to say, comedy might just be the way to go.
Back in the dark ages, (1983), I was thrilled when Tootsie won the Oscar for Best Picture. I hadn't expected it to because it was a comedy and traditionally only Serious Films with Serious Messages (capital letters required) won that award.  But I felt that Tootsie was just about a perfect film. And I still think that because it was a comedy, it drove home its message about gender bias and the differences in treatment of men and women much more effectively, roping in all those who go to the theater for entertainment rather than moral education, than it might have if had been a drama,. When comedy is done right, we laugh with the people rather than at them, and that very act helps us to understand and empathize with them.
Because laughter is a huge reinforcer.
We discovered this when we adopted Shadow, a manically energetic, highly intelligent, but not particularly biddable labradoodle puppy, who eventually turned out to be the inspiration for the Doodlebugged books.  Our early efforts to train him taught us how little we actually knew about dogs and training.  Nothing we did seemed to make a dent toward getting him to do what we asked.  In desperation, I started reading about clicker training and positive reinforcement, delving into such excellent books as Gail Tamases Fisher's The Thinking Dog and Jane Killion's When Pigs Fly. And they taught me about the power of laughter. Giggle when a dog rolls over in the ring in the middle of a retrieve and he's apt to do it again.
My Doodlebugged mysteries have a light tone and, according to readers, many laugh-out-loud moments. Narrated by Doodle, an obedience-impaired, service-dog flunkee, Doodle proves to be a somewhat unreliable narrator in that the reader often understands more about what's actually going on than he does.  That leads to misunderstandings of what the humans around him say and to his wry observations on the inconsistencies between what their words and actions. But underneath Doodle's breezy narration, the characters deal with real and serious problems—a child's abandonment by a parent, the plight of U.S.-born children whose illegal immigrant families have been deported, the treatment of dogs by bad trainers, and the peril of dogs who end up in animal shelters.
Don't get me wrong. I've written serious and sad and even more, I've appreciated the serious and sad and sometimes anguished works of great authors, wonderful and profound books that have enriched the world and our understanding of human nature.
But as I've aged, as real life grief has given me plenty to worry about, I find that more and more in fiction I'm seeking that elusive "merry heart." That doesn't mean I've abandoned serious intent. Comedy may dilute the trials and tragedies of life and serve them up in a more palatable form, but what does it matter how the meal is prepared if the end result is digested?
Which is why I reread books such as Michael Malone's wonderfully funny Handling Sin almost every year, learning new things each time through. The very passages that have me weeping with laughter often move me at the same time with their poignancy.
While I might not be able to aspire to writing a book like Handling Sin, I do hope to communicate to readers the ideas and issues important to me. And I hope, as well, to leave them with a merry heart.
Which sometimes works in reverse.  Last year, when I was undergoing a period of intense discouragement, a dear friend, one who has seen more than his share of sorrows, wrote to tell me he was nursing his mother through cancer and that they were reading the Doodlebugged books together. "Thank you," he wrote, "for helping my mother (who is on chemotherapy) to laugh out loud again and again."

That gave me a very merry heart indeed.

Susan J. Kroupa is a dog lover currently owned by a 70 pound labradoodle whose superpower is bringing home dead possums and raccoons and who happens to be the inspiration for her Doodlebugged books. She’s also an award-winning author whose fiction has appeared in Realms of Fantasy, and in a variety of professional anthologies, including Bruce Coville's Shapeshifters. Her non-fiction publications include features about environmental issues and Hopi Indian culture for The Arizona Republic, High Country News, and American Forests.
She now lives in the Blue Ridge Mountains in Southwestern Virginia, where she’s busy writing the next Doodlebugged mystery. You can find her books and read her blog at http://www.susankroupa.com and visit her Amazon Author page at http://amazon.com/author/susankroupa.


  1. Mary Poppins said it best, "A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down."

  2. I agree that light-hearted fiction can be such a benefit. A lot of people want to get away to someplace better than the one they're in. It's a gift to be able to provide that!