Friday, February 8, 2013

The gods of Snark: Comic Relief in Fiction

The gods of Snark
Laughter is a force of nature. It defuses terrifying situations, turns enemies into friends, and cures broken hearts. In motion pictures and novels, the tension can become unbearable, threatening to pull the audience out of the moment; comic relief eases the pressure and keeps the suspension of disbelief going.
But humor is elusive. It was invented by the gods of Snark, who added a distinct musical beat. Unfortunately, only dogs can hear it. Sometimes, though, the gods take pity on writers and raise the volume. This usually happens when the author is working by candlelight and falls asleep. After her hair catches on fire, those twerpy gods will swoop down and offer a choice: do you want curls or laughter?
When I was working on Hunting Daylight, lightning set off our fire alarm. Beneath that noise, I heard another beat, a droll, unmistakable tap-tap-tap. I’d just finished a chapter that had ended with a horrific event. Now, I just wanted to catch my breath.
As noise blared around me, I began a new chapter, narrated by thirteen-year-old Vivi Barrett, a girl with pink hair and razor blade earrings. She was the central figure in a prophecy, one that would end the immortal race, and vampire monks had issued a fatwā. But to Vivi, her biggest problem was her helicopter mother. Momster was doing wacky things, like renting Scottish castles and having Vivi’s father declared dead.
Her mood improved when a white, gangster-like limousine pulled into the driveway, and her godfather, Raphael, climbed out. This handsome Italian vampire had brought a vampire dog and a pretty human lady named Gillian Delacroix. After a little banter, Raphael gave Vivi a box of candy. She flung off the lid, expecting truffles. Instead, she saw a dozen tiny marzipan pigs, pink and plump, lined up snout to tail.
Pigs were the last thing Vivi wanted, but I liked them. When she and Gillian walked to the herb garden, I followed.
“Is your mom a vampire too?” Gillian asked.
Vivi frowned. “No, are you a ho?”
“I’m a malpractice attorney.”
“You could’ve fooled me. I thought you were an airhead.”
“You’re a rude little thing.” Gillian pronounced thing with a hard a, making the word rhyme with twang.  “How does Raphael put up with you?” she added.
 Vivi shrugged. “Before he was a vampire, he was a monk. He even went on a pilgrimage. Something about a homage to Saint James.”
“It’s an homage, not a homage,” Gillian said.
“So you’re a lawyer and the grammar police?”
Gillian shrugged. “I taught English before I went to law school.”
“Why do you talk like a swamp rat? Dropping your g’s. Pouring sugar on each word.”
“Honey, it takes unimaginable skill to talk this way,” Gillian said. “So how old is Raphael?”
“Maybe a thousand. Give or take a few centuries.”
Gillian sighed. “I’ve always liked older men.”
“He likes anything with tits.”
“Then we’ll get along perfectly.”
 “You’re freaky.”
“Honey, I’m from Louisiana. It’s against the law to be normal. But isn’t it a little odd that you know so much about vampires?”
“I found out about them when I was nine. My mom and I were spending the Christmas holidays in Australia. Raphael and Arrapato came to visit. On Christmas morning, we sat in the dark living room—Mom always kept the curtains pulled tight. I couldn’t see my presents, so I flung open the drapes.”
Gillian made a face. “Lord, what happened?”
Vivi lifted her eyebrows, remembering how light had blasted into the room. Arrapato had yelped, and smoke curled up from his fur. Raphael swooped down, his face red and blistered, and carried the dog out of the room. 
“My mom explained that Raphael and Arrapato were vampires,” Vivi said.
Gillian pointed to her right foot. “He bit me the other day—the dog, not Raphael. See those marks? I was afraid I’d turn into a vamp. But Raphael said it wasn’t that simple.”
“Yeah, it’s not three bites and you’ll grow fangs,” Vivi said, repressing a grin. She’d never talked to a human about vampires, but it felt good.  
Their dry banter felt good to me, too. It created a sturdy bridge to the next, more emotional scene. I could barely hear the fire alarm, because the gods of Snark were tapping out a snappy beat.
photo credit: mleewest