I met Jason at Miscon 33. We paneled together, and he came by with conversation and encouragement during my meet-and-greet. His latest book is Fighter Fred and the Dungeon of Doom, and it is hilarious. I love a book that can make me laugh. I also love books that poke fun at genres, tropes, and stuff I nerd-out about.
Fighter Fred and the Dungeon of Doom is a tongue-in-cheek adventure of a group of adventurers. The mage in the story is a bit of a know-it-all and knows the rules a little too well. All of us have either been that person or been annoyed by that person – or both. Each character is similarly molded around the classic people you meet when you’re in a group of any kind doing a team project. I loved it.
“And why do the fighters always take three times as long to heal as everyone else?” the thief asked. “If I’m at fifty percent and he’s at fifty percent, we should be healed up at the same time. But the guys who lost more hit points always have to stay in bed longer.”
“Ah well that’s because …”
They waited. Twilight finished the last knot on what would become Fred’s newest scar.
“Actually,” said Mak-Thar, “you’re right. That doesn’t make any sense.”
Twilight said, “Perhaps the body is too complex to be quantified.”
“What are you talking about?” asked Mak-Thar. “Nothing is too complex to be quantified.”
“Perhaps,” said Twilight, “all life is bound together by a bond that transcends physical bodies. Perhaps life is not a coin to be counted and hoarded, but rather an energy that we all share.”
“Hey, Fred,” said the thief, “can I borrow five hit points?”
Jason agreed to answer a few questions about being creative and taking risks.
PersephoneKnits: One of the characteristics we all take for granted in adventuring tales, is that the character will have a desire that can only be met by breaking out of their normal routine. Sometimes, there has to be a push to get them moving. What brought you to the adventure of writing and publishing that you’re on?
Jason A. Holt: There was this girl …
PK: Uh…I’m gonna need more than that! lol
JAH: Sure. My wife and I had been married for about a year, and we were living in the Czech Republic. She was going to grad school. I was still taking Czech lessons, trying to catch up to her language skills. I was nowhere close, but I had gotten good enough to read Dech Draka, which was the major roleplaying game magazine at the time.
There was a three-part serial (written by Cyril Brom) titled “Xaxy the Ranger”. The point was that the editor was sick of getting short stories that were obviously based on someone’s roleplaying campaign. He wanted people to send in better stuff.
Well, we looked at that and started talking about how silly it would be to write a story set in a world that follows the rules of a game. A story with a Dungeons and Dragons class-level system makes as much sense as a story set in the world of chess. Then we thought about it some more, and decided it might be interesting, or at least fun. So I started writing Fighter Fred and the Dungeon of Doom to impress my wife. When I got home from class, I would write a little bit. When she got home from class, she would read it.
She was always telling me to submit it somewhere, but I knew it was unpublishable. I didn’t do anything with it. Even so, Sierra has been the reason for everything I’ve written since. Mostly, I’m just trying to impress her.
PK: Aww, that’s so sweet. And super not what I was expecting with the whole Czech Republic part! I suddenly have a whole lot more questions, but none of them are about the book. ha!
Writing humor is notoriously difficult, yet this book makes it seem effortless. Do you have any advice for people who want to write humor? Or who have a character who’s funny? I’m a sucker for team banter.
JAH: I spent quite a bit of time studying humor before I wrote Galaxy Trucker: Rocky Road, and I encourage others interested in writing humor to do lots of research. For anyone whose research has led them here, I can give three quick tips:
1. To be funny, be specific.
Example: She made a face like a lactating badger.
Of course, badger is a funny word. But lactating badger is funnier, because it’s more specific.
2. The punchline goes at the end.
This is obvious, but you’d be surprised how often I have to rewrite a sentence or a paragraph to give it a better last word.
Wrong Example: She made a lactating badger’s face.
It’s still funny, because it’s still specific. But it’s weaker, because the last word lacks punch.
3. Make lots of jokes.
Okay, this sounds like the dumbest tip yet, but it’s actually the most useful. If you use intellectual jokes, dumb jokes, character humor, situational humor, slapstick, wordplay, erudite cultural references, and every other type of humor that you find funny, you increase the chances that someone else will find at least one joke they like. Shakespeare did this, and that’s why he still makes us laugh, even though we don’t get his jokes about syphilis.
Bonus Tip: Not everyone is going to get it.
Half the people reading this interview will not find lactating badgers funny. Taste in humor is highly individual. If you want to be funny, reconcile yourself to the fact that some people won’t laugh. Then write your stuff anyway.
… But writing a funny character is a completely different thing. Even a serious story with heavy emotional stakes and absolutely no jokes or wordplay can have very funny characters.
My character humor is deepest when I’m writing from a place of love. Every human being has really annoying flaws. But when you love your friend, that annoying flaw becomes an amusing quirk. One theory of laughter is that it is our acknowledgment that a seemingly dangerous situation is actually harmless. So if you have this conflict between two characters, and you show the reader that the conflict will not drive them apart – if it actually demonstrates their acceptance of each other’s flaws and their fondness for each other – then you get some sweet and funny moments that will really make your readers smile.
PK: That’s excellent and thoughtful advice. I think your bonus tip of ‘not everyone getting it’ is important to learn about any genre writing or any creative work early on. Sometimes it can be hard to have the patience to keep going while you find your audience.
What’s next in your writing plans? Are you going to be at any conventions? Are you working on more books?
JAH: Well, I released Fighter Fred and the Wombat Wilderness last week, and right now I’m getting ready to publish Fighter Fred and the Evil Temple of Evil. (No, I didn’t write them both in August. I just saved Fighter Fred and the Dungeon of Doom until I had the other two ready to go.)
So those are my publishing plans. I’m not sure what I’ll write next, but I hope it impresses Sierra.