Wednesday, May 4, 2022

"Write What You Know Part II"

 Continuing on the theme of 'Write what you know" that I began last week, I'd like to share some more thoughts. 

When I talked about my experiences eating in restaurants, I spoke about high prices, inferior service and bad food. I also talked about waiting for a table, waiting for menus, waiting to place an order, waiting for the food to arrive, waiting for the check. In this post I'd like to talk about what I, the customer, am guilty of when eating out.

Sometimes I take too long to order. I often find typos on the menu.  Sometimes I ask stupid questions of the server. Sometimes my food arrives and I don't like what they served me. Sometimes I send it back. Sometimes I complain about the service, or the prices, or the quality of the food. Sometimes I find errors on the check. 

Sometimes I ask for my remaining food to be wrapped up and then I decide to include in the bag the rolls and butter left on the table. Sometimes I throw in some extra unused napkins. Sometimes I joke that we need salt and pepper at home and maybe I should help myself to the condiments.

All of this is the material for my cartoon gags. I use all of this, both real and imaginary. 

The more I eat out, the more material I have to write what I know.

Any comments on this or last week's blog? Email me at: gagsbyhelene@gmail.com.




Wednesday, April 27, 2022

"Write What You Know"

 Advice to writers often goes, 'Write what you know.' I agree it's much easier to write about a topic you know a lot about or have strong feelings about than something you can't relate to.


I like to write about eating out in restaurants. Fancy ones, hole-in-the-walls and everything in between. Maybe it's because I like to eat, but I do find that eating out is a situation that's ripe for humor. A lot of it has to do with waiting. And everything that could go wrong. Here are some of the rituals: waiting for a table, being shown to a table, getting a menu, reading the menu, deciding what to order from the menu, actually ordering, waiting for the food to arrive, eating the food, getting the check and paying the check.


Like I said, there are a lot of things that can go wrong when we go out to eat. (And ordering takeout is a totally different topic for another day). A lot of it has to do with waiting. You go into a restaurant, with no reservations, and many times you have to wait. Sometimes for a long time. Then you're finally shown to a table. Maybe you don't like where they seat you. It might be near the noisy kitchen, or the front door (where, in the winter, you get a shot of cold air every time someone enters), or a window with no shade, or in a room where all the tables are so packed in together that not only can't you hear the person you're seated with but you can't hear yourself think. 


You're seated. Then you wait for the server to bring you a menu. This could take a long time. When they finally arrive they ask if you want anything to drink. You say, 'Just ice water.' The ice water never arrives. Then you read the menu. The prices are very high! For some of us this is an issue. You finally order (maybe the cheapest thing on the menu) and then you wait. Sometimes for a very long time. You watch the server pass by with plates of food, but they're not for you! You keep your eyes on the kitchen door. Again the server comes out of the kitchen loaded with plates of food. You even clear a spot for the food. Those meals aren't for you, either. 


Then the food arrives! Maybe it's not what you ordered. Maybe it's what you ordered but it tastes funny. You have to find your server, who has disappeared, because it's not what you ordered, or it tastes funny and you don't want to eat it. The server finally comes over. You explain the issue. They take the food away. You order something else. Then you wait for that to arrive, while the person you're dining with has a plate of totally fine food in front of them, they're famished, and you say, 'It's OK. You go ahead and eat.' They say, 'No, I'll wait till you get your food.' It's an issue.


Your correct order finally arrives. Your companion has already finished their food. You finally finish your food and then you wait for the check to arrive. First, you have to find your server. When they arrive they'll ask if everything's ok and you'll be tempted to tell them that everything was not ok and just bring me the check. The check finally arrives and it's wrong. They overcharged you $2 for your sandwich and you want an adjustment. Now they have to take the check back and refigure the amount, or tell you that they gave you, by mistake,  the "old" menu to begin with and now your sandwich does cost $2 more.


Finally, after the check issue has been sorted out, you decide to pay the bill. You wait on line to pay the bill and decide to tell the cashier how everything went. There's a line of people waiting to pay so you feel guilty keeping them waiting.


These have been some of my experiences at restaurants. I have hundreds more. Write what you know? You can see how I can get plenty of material for cartoons when I eat out. Anyone hungry?

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Creating with Words

 When coming up with ideas for cartoons, I first use words. As I've said before, I read...a lot. Some of the things I read on a regular basis are newspapers, magazines, books and online news sites. I jot down words and phrases that I think I'll be able to use in my gag writing. I don't draw, but I can visualize what the cartoon would look like - who the characters are, what the setting is. I write the caption first, then I figure out what the setting and characters will be. Of course my captions often undergo many changes, some many times, before they're sent to a cartoonist. The setting may change. Who is speaking to who may also change many times. When I'm ready to send the idea to the cartoonist, I first describe what's going on in the cartoon (very briefly) and then give the caption.

There are phrases that everyone knows. I could list hundreds of them. I get these phrases into my head by reading (again) extensively. You can tell I'm a library and bookstore person. You can also find familiar phrases online. What I do with these phrases is change one aspect of it, usually at the end, to make a surprise. Or I use the familiar phrase as is but have someone other than the expected person utter them. Or maybe have an animal say them. 

If I were an artist, my tools would be my paints. My tools are words. I type these words on a typewriter. I type these words on a computer. This is what I do.


Any comments? Email me at: gagsbyhelene@gmail.com. Stay healthy!




Wednesday, November 24, 2021

"Where I Get My Ideas"

I know I've covered this subject in previous posts, but people still ask me where I get my ideas.

First of all, I read a lot. I read newspapers, magazines, online news sources, marketing materials that come in the mail and books on various subjects. I'm always looking for words and phrases that I can use in my writing. 

A few examples: I write a lot of business gags and seem to focus on job interviews. I read online job boards and find words and phrases having to do with background, experience, perks and benefits. I then use these phrases to create cartoon captions.

If I were writing about cooking skills, or lack thereof, I read cookbooks, especially where the author gives a lot of background information about themselves. I also read the "Food" section of The New York Times (among other sections) to find the latest cooking trends. I use these words and phrases to create gags.

Similarly, if I'm writing a series of husband and wife gags, I pick out the traits I want to emphasize, like being a constant talker and interrupter, laziness and cheapness. In my reading I try to find words and phrases I can use to illustrate these traits.

Sometimes I just let my mind wander and write from personal experience. In humor, nothing is funnier than the truth. I write a lot about myself, my husband and my kids.

I am also an observer. I look around and see what's going on around me. I see the humor in things...and especially, people.

This is just a very short answer to a complicated question. 

Be well and have a Happy Thanksgiving!

Any comments? Write to me at: gagsbyhelene@gmail.com



Wednesday, November 17, 2021

A Few More Reading Suggestions

For those of you who want to keep up-to-date with what's going on in the cartooning world, I would suggest reading these two websites on a daily basis:

* Michaelmaslin.com. Michael Maslin is a New Yorker cartoonist who writes daily about New Yorker cartoonist news, history and events. For anyone who is interested in New Yorker cartoons and cartoonists, this is the place to find out about events such as art exhibits and book-signings plus new books by these cartoonists. I find this website very informative and I read it daily.

*Dailycartoonist.com. This is a website where you can find out what's going on with syndicated strips, new books, who's in the news, and so on. It's also very informative. You can sign up for daily emails, like I did, and get them delivered to your inbox every day.

A few books I'm looking forward to reading:

"Inked" by New Yorker cartoonist Joe Dator, which published in October; 

"Send Help," A Collection of Marooned Cartoons, edited by Jon Adams and Ellis Rosen, which published earlier this month;

"Comedy is the Remedy," by Peggy Clancy, which is publishing this month.


Anyone who can suggest other cartoon-related websites, please email me at: gagsbyhelene@gmail.com.


Be well.


Helene






Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Keeping in Touch

 Oh, yes. Keeping in touch. This is the subject I give to emails when I want to connect with friends,  family and colleagues. Since most in-person cartoon-related events are still cancelled, I like to keep in touch with people by email and phone. (I don't text). In the past year and a half  I've watched many virtual cartooning events. However, I can hardly wait for in-person events to begin again: holiday parties, book-signings, exhibits, panel discussions, interviews with authors and so on. Writing can be a lonely undertaking. As I've said before, I get motivated when I get together with other creative minds.

Right now I'm trying to get motivated by re-reading how-to-cartoon books and leafing through various cartoon collections, such as: 

"The Cartoonist's Muse: A Guide to Generating and Developing Creative Ideas" by Mischa Richter and Harald Bakken; 

"How About Never - Is Never Good For You?" by Bob Mankoff;

"The Arbor House Book of Cartooning" by Mort Gerberg; 

"Cartooning - The Art and the Business" by Mort Gerberg;

"The Complete Cartoons of the New Yorker," edited by Bob Mankoff;

"Drawing on the Funny Side of the Brain," by Christopher Hart.

This is just a small sampling of books I read years ago when I started writing gags. 

I'm also looking forward to reading new books by Liza Donnelly, in February, and David Sipress, in March.

Still writing full time. Still reading actual newspapers, magazines and books plus news online. Trying to keep healthy and productive.


Any comments? Email me at: gagsbyhelene@gmail.com










Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Let the Humor Out

It's been eight months since I last posted on this blog. Where did the time go? I'm still doing what I do...writing every day, sending out gags to my people, reading a lot. We're venturing out more. Dining outdoors wherever possible. Going into more stores than we used to. Getting together with a few more friends than we used to. This pandemic has really made it very clear that I need to be with people.

It's also made it very clear that there's a lot of funny things that have happened to me in my life that I need to write about. Also a lot that's not so funny. I seem to have a skewed way of looking at things and I tend to see the humor in situations. All I have to do is look at myself and the funny things that have happened to me and write about them. Also the aggravating and frustrating things. I'm my own best subject.

Of course I'm always looking for new cartoonists to collaborate with. I would like to work with a cartoonist and come up with a series of cartoons on a particular subject, to be published as a book.

I've started submitting stories to the "Chicken Soup for the Soul" series of books, focusing on the humor in my life. I'm looking into submitting material to other anthologies as well. 

The pandemic has limited the networking opportunities. It's an understatement to say that I appreciate getting together with people now more than ever.

Things will get better. Stay healthy!