Guest post & giveaway by author, Elisa Lorello (Ordinary World)


Elisa Lorello

What an honor to be welcoming back, Elisa Lorello. Last June, I interviewed Elisa on her debut novel, Faking It. Today, she’s back to give her take on mixing comedy and grief, as she does in her follow up novel, Ordinary World.

Leave a question or comment for Elisa! One lucky commenter will be randomly selected to win a print copy of Ordinary World. {US residents only, please. Comments must be posted before midnight tonight, Feb12}

Mixing comedy with grief: Can it be done?

~Elisa Lorello

When I finished writing Faking It, I knew Andi’s story wasn’t over. However, I had no idea how drastic a turn her life would take until I started writing Ordinary World. The novel opens with the tragic death of her husband, and Andi spends almost the entire novel learning to cope with that loss.

But wait, wasn’t Faking It a romantic comedy? How would my readers respond to this sequel that was much deeper and more complex than a professor and an escort trading lessons in words and sex? Moreover, was Ordinary World going to be funny? Could it be?

I describe Ordinary World as a “dramedy”, much like M*A*S*H or The West Wing, two television shows that blended comedy and humanity so well. No doubt, Andi is having a hard time, but her wit remains intact and some of the most comedic moments appear in unexpected times and places.

My comedy sometimes stems from the absurd, be it an idea or an image. Right away I started this novel with such an image in the opening scene, when Andi shows up to her husband’s funeral wearing an inappropriate cocktail dress and delivering an ill-prepared eulogy that becomes a bit of an obsession as the story unfolds. I chose this image perhaps as a way to ease the pain for my readers who had come to care so deeply for Andi as much as I did (and I grieved for her loss too). I also wanted to send a signal that it was probably going to get worse before it got better, but it was going to be ok.

Comedy is also about putting your characters somewhere they don’t want to be. Larry Gelbart knew this all too well when he wrote for M*A*S*H. The last place Hawkeye Pierce wanted to be was an operating room in the middle of a war zone. I kept this in mind for Andi as well and, like Hawkeye, sometimes it wasn’t funny.

Mixing comedy with grief is not easy. And yet, the moral of comedy is the same as the moral of death—regeneration. No matter how many times Wile E. Coyote (or Homer J. Simpson, for the next generation) falls off a mountain, gets hit with a frying pan, sits on a keg of dynamite, he lives on. In comedy, artifice rules. Plots are foiled, things fall apart, and yet everything will be ok. We’ll all live another day. Life goes on. In turn, that’s what comedy does for us. In real life, death is not a laughing matter, but some of our greatest comfort comes in the form of laughter. I remember being at a wake that felt more like a family reunion. We roared with laughter as we told old stories. We celebrated the living, not the dying, and we were reminded that we are resilient.

Ah, but how to put this on the page? Balance, is all I can say. Learn how to sense when is the appropriate time, when it’s ok to squirm a little. And I recommend you watch or read other dramedies to get a feel for that timing.

One of my favorite stories comes from Mel Brooks (who is one of the funniest and best storytellers I have never met) when he was asked if there was anything funny about death. He proceeded to tell a story about his friend Howard Morris (who appeared in several of Brooks’ films), whose father had passed away and had been cremated. When Morris went to pick up the ashes (he was intending to scatter them into the sea, if memory serves me), he was charged for the urn.

“I don’t want the urn,” he protested. “I don’t need it. I’m scattering his ashes into the sea.”

“It is required that you purchase the urn in order to store the remains of The Loved One,” replied the snooty funeral director.

Morris left the parlor in a huff and went across the street to an Italian deli, where he bought a can of coffee and dumped its contents outside. He returned to the parlor and waved the can in front of the director.

“Put him in here!” he demanded.

The director looked at him, horrified. “But sir, it reeks of coffee!”

“PUT HIM IN HERE!” Morris shouted. The director did as he was told.

Later, standing at the water’s edge, Morris held the coffee can of his father’s ashes, said some tearful, parting words and, in a sweeping motion, released the ashes. At that moment, a gust of wind blew the ashes back into his face and on his coat.

Brooks asked Morris where his father’s final resting place was.

“The cleaners uptown. I still get misty-eyed every time I walk past it.”

Elisa Lorello grew up on Long Island, NY as the baby to six older siblings. Growing up during the ’80s, Elisa covered her walls with Duran Duran posters and used lots of hairspray. She explored many passions, including drawing, tennis, and music, but in her early 20’s, exercised her gossiping skills while working as a manicurist.

In 1995, Elisa left Long Island to attend the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth for both her bachelor and master’s degrees. In 2000, as part of her graduate education in Professional Writing, she became a teaching associate, and met two professors of rhetoric and composition who took her under their wings. This union of teaching, rhetoric, and writing ultimately became Elisa’s calling, and remains so to this day. She now lives in North Carolina where she teaches academic writing at North Carolina State.

In 2004, Elisa began her first novel, Faking It. Since then, Elisa has written a sequel, Ordinary World, and is currently co-writing a third novel with friend and former student, S.R. Paquette. That is, when she can tear herself away from her favorite form of entertainment–Facebook.

Find our more about Elisa by visiting her websites:
Elisa’s website: www.ElisaLorello.com
Elisa’s blog: I’ll Have What She’s Having
Twitter: twitter.com/elisalorello
Facebook: Faking It Fans

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8 Comments

Filed under Advice, Author Interviews, books, Give Aways

8 responses to “Guest post & giveaway by author, Elisa Lorello (Ordinary World)

  1. I can see adding a pick of humor to lighten up a serious situation but do you think we should ever do the opposite? Does adding a bit of seriousness to a humorous situation give it more reality?

  2. Larry

    The first time I scattered some of Robin’s ashes it was on the shore of Duncan Bay, Which is near Cheboygan Mi, just south of the Straights of Mackinac on the East side of the Mitten. It was a place Robin loved so I wanted that to be the first place we visited. It was dead calm and as soon as the ashes started dropping a gust of wind kicked up she got me. She just showed up and started playing with me, I am quite sure of it.

  3. I love the Mel Brooks story- that is a great example of mixing humor and sadness. I don’t know I am courageous enough to do it in my own writing, but perhaps it’s time to try!

  4. Elisa

    “Does adding a bit of seriousness to a humorous situation give it more reality?”

    Jodi- it probably would, but I don’t know that I would want to. I don’t mind having some degree of suspended reality in fiction, especially when it comes to comedy. Mind you, I’m not talking about the genre of fantasy in which other worlds and peoples are created, but an escort and a writing professor becoming friends is ok by me, as are two turkeys running loose in the White House Press Secretary’s office (I’m referring to The West Wing).

    Melissa-
    Go for it!

    Larry-
    You do realize I’m going to have to steal that story from you now… 😉

  5. Bailey

    This looks like an excellent read! Although I haven’t read ‘Faking It,’ ‘Ordinary World’ seems like it would be a great introduction to this style of writing. I am always interested in finding authors who can successfully use humor in any context, since I think it’s a very challenging aspect of writing.

  6. Elisa,
    When I first saw your question: “Mixing comedy with grief: Can it be done?” my initial thought was, of course not! But in reading the rest of your post, I remembered also laughing (and crying) at my parents’ funerals as we exchanged family stories and fond reminiscences. Sometimes humor is the only thing that gets you through a painful situation. Your new book sounds intriguing.

    Cara

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