The Hinky Velvet Chair is my attempt at a house-party comedy of manners. I’ve always wanted to write a Wodehousian silly story about people who visit a rich person’s posh home, posing as someone they’re not, run up against really good imposters, and make asses of themselves while struggling and failing to maintain the two most important things—their secrets and their dignity.
This is trickier than it looks. You want everything to come unraveled in a very specific order. Because Wodehouse wrote old fashioned farcical romantic comedy, he took care to resolve the relationship questions last…but not always dead last. Wodehouse wrote farce for musical comedy on Broadway, as well as for the big literary magazines like the Saturday Evening Post. He knew that sometimes your curtain should come down on the audience’s favorite secondary character—the butler, the goofy villain, the comic American.
Tone is also important. The characters take themselves terribly seriously, but the reader is invited to laugh at them, especially when they’re suffering the most. “Tragedy is me getting a hangnail. Comedy is when you fall down a manhole.” I think that was Mel Brooks, but the principle holds.
At a house party, there aren’t many manholes. One must do one’s best. To that end, I have employed:
- Beds. At least three beds. As often as possible, someone else’s bed.
- A massage table at a spa.
- A magic potion.
- An ice cream cake the size of a 1978 Cadillac transmission.
- Feathered Mardi Gras masks.
- Singing toads.
- Four con artists, a black widow, a mad scientist, a sex demon, and a lot of frustrated hairdressers.
- A tracer anklet, such as parolees might wear.
- A Rube Goldeberg device I made up after reading up on numerous frauds involving mechanical devices, electricity, and 18thC Viagra.
The last item gives its name to my novel, because the /v/i/c/t/i/m/ patient who seeks viagratic enhancement sits on—and is strapped into—a velvet-covered Hepplewhite chair.
(Now someone who knows more about furniture than I do will write in to say that Hepplewhite never covered any chair in velvet, but instead used gros-grain or petit-point. Fine. We love instructive conversation the interwebs.)
An important part is getting your characters fuddled with wine, or magical enhancement, or the compliments of someone very attractive, and encouraging them to make some bad decisions.
Also, where possible, have at least two people lying through their teeth (imposting, defrauding, seducing, or merely putting the best face on idiocy) and then add a third liar. Then add a fourth. It’s like juggling, only with adorably clueless people.
I got flustered trying to keep track of all this stuff, but it was fun to write. Try a sample.