Patrick McManus,
The Deer on a Bicycle:
Excursions into
the Writing of Humor

(Eastern Washington University Press, 2000)

In The Deer on a Bicycle, renowned humorist Patrick McManus offers advice for budding humor writers -- and he does it, of course, with a great deal of wit. While McManus remains editor-at-large of Outdoor Life and focuses his own columns primarily on the funny situations that arise from camping, hunting and fishing expeditions, the wealth of down-to-earth information in this slim volume could be applied by any aspiring writer.

Through a series of questions from the fictional character Newton, McManus discusses topics such as acquiring an agent and a book contract, pitching magazine stories and the timing of humor. He even reluctantly attempts to establish rules for humor writing at Newton's request. Through numerous anecdotes from his personal experiences and examples from popular culture (Roadrunner cartoons being a favorite), the humble mentor offers suggestions and admonitions, such as overwriting with flowery language greatly distracts from the story.

The last half of the book includes samples of McManus's short humor pieces with commentaries. Reading about the inspiration for each story and the thought processes used in developing the "jokes" and humorous situations is especially enlightening. And for those not familiar with McManus's work, these selections are an excellent initiation though he points out they were chosen for various aspects of humor writing discussion, not because he believes them to be his best.

Proceeds from the book benefit a scholarship endowment for Eastern Washington University journalism and creative writing students, so McManus suggests that buying it helps a good cause whether the information is truly useful to the reader or not. Then he offers his own round-about journey into a writing career as encouragement that "anyone can do it."

The Deer on a Bicycle: Excursions into the Writing of Humor will find a prominent place among my favorite writing books. I'll likely read it often -- whether I need inspiration or a laugh.

[ by Julie Bowerman ]

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