Reflecting on NaNoWriMo 2016

I wrote on 28 of the 30 days, missing only two days while traveling for Thanksgiving. I will make up for them by continuing to write for at least the first 2 days of December. It’s still my most consistent showing yet in the four years I have attempted NaNoWriMo. My final word count was roughly 13,016 words, covering just over 80 handwritten pages. My goal was never 50k words; it was to write first drafts for final 6 chapters of Dream Crasher.  I completed 2 chapters and did a detailed outline of a third.

It was refreshing to be fully immersed in story again, and not distracted by raising money, digital edits, selling books, shipping books, and social media. I learned a lot of unexpected things about my characters. I was really worried about parts of these chapters coming out contrived. I spent as much time meditating on the story as I did putting words to the page. I always do some form of this, but consistently writing helped me focus on the problem points. As I figured out the characters and what motivates them, I found ways through my plot without it feeling contrived.

It takes me roughly 2 weeks to complete a first draft of a chapter. This will make it easier to budget time in the coming year to continue writing the final 4 chapters. This metric might also help me dedicate some more time to short stories and other scripts I have wanted to work on. Typically I read during my subway commute to and from work. During NaNoWriMo, I read on the morning commute in and wrote on the way home. The advantage is I write a lot more; the disadvantage is I read a lot less. Writing on the subway can be tricky and it will only work for writing first drafts, so I don’t think it will or should become my new normal. However, if I dedicate myself to doing this in 2 week spurts for first drafts, this method works really well.

This was good for me creatively. I feel reinvigorated. I feel less like a salesman and more like a writer again. I still have to be both but I can’t have one without the other. We’re releasing Chapter 3 this month (it’s been pretty much done but the release was delayed). I’m tabling at Winter Con in Queens this weekend. Chapter 4 is underway for a Spring 2017 release.  Chapter 6 is undergoing its first script edits. Reed and I just spoke for an hour last night plotting out conventions in the coming year and how Stealing Fire Comics can be our vehicle for resistance in Drumpf’s America. I’m feeling really good about where I’m at even though I’m scared for society as whole.

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Making Our Own Fate: What Dream Crasher Means to Me

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The first sketch of Simon and Amalie (originally named Hope), June 2010.

“Whatever it takes to finish things, finish. You will learn more from a glorious failure than you ever will from something you never finished.” – Neil Gaiman

In the summer of 2010, a conversation between my friend Reed and I quickly turned to our shared desire to make a comic book. Within a month I was sending him story ideas and characters, and he was sending me some early sketches. Before long there was a script and paneling had begun.

By the following spring, the first chapter was drawn and painted and the second chapter had been started. We still hadn’t thought about lettering, logos, or print budgets – but we had momentum. For me, the stars were lining up. I had found my voice again in writing this story, I had found a brilliant creative partner in Reed, and we were actually making it happen.

Running parallel to what Reed and I were doing, I was also very much in love for the first time in my life. Blair changed my jaded views on that four letter word. He inspired and encouraged me on this project when it was still in its earliest stages. To say everything was perfect would be a lie, but I was the happiest I had been in quite some time.

When Blair died in the summer of 2011, my whole world fell to pieces. The unexpected trauma, the weight of the grief, and the subsequent depression and healing all took their toll in various ways. I have already written about this experience extensively on this blog (here and here), so I won’t go into the thick of the months that followed. I am bringing it up here mainly for context. This tragedy permeated every aspect of my life, and the still-unnamed Dream Crasher was no exception.

Comics were put on hold for awhile. I scribbled ideas in notebooks and thought about the project from time to time, but in the end it took more than six months before I sat down and began working again. Even then the work was slow. It took another year after that before I finished the script for the third chapter. It felt like starting from scratch and learning how to write again. In hindsight, the pause was in no small part due to a fresh perspective I had on my main character, Amalie.

I was (and still am) following Kurt Vonnegut’s sixth rule to a T. I was being a sadist and making awful things happen to my main character, but I hadn’t given a second thought to how it was affecting her. I hadn’t thought about how she processed the world around her, or who she was because of it. Through my own grief, I suddenly understood her on a whole new level. In many ways, Amalie is a representation of how strong I wish I could be. She’s a survivor. She can tame a beast but she’s still human. She’s still vulnerable.

I began to think of this bleak new world less like a graveyard and more like fertile soil. I realized that it’s not a story about the world that’s been destroyed. It’s about the new world taking it’s place. It’s about the children who have an opportunity to shape it. Beyond the horror of the present, there is hope. There is a future worth fighting for.

Ultimately Reed and I made the decision to completely redo the artwork for Chapter 1. It set us even further back, but I can confidently say that we have a better comic because of it. Reed’s patience, understanding, and empathy throughout this project has been instrumental in my sticking with it. There were plenty of opportunities to give up quietly and walk away, and yet we stuck with it. I can’t thank him enough for that. We’re still pushing on, and I believe now more than ever we will see it through to the end.

In his writing, Blair had a knack for extracting beauty from the darkest places. His example inspired me to do the same with this nightmare world Reed and I had created. As devastating as his death was, it hasn’t stopped me. If anything, it has made this a better story and strengthened my resolve to see it through. Life is too short to not pursue my passions. I am less afraid of failure than I am of who I would become if I never tried.

Our Kickstarter running now until 3/31/16.

Dream Crasher: The First Milestone

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If you’re don’t regularly back up your hard drive, let me tell you a story about an inconvenience that could have been a nightmare. My laptop hard drive was approaching 5 years old. I knew it had been getting funky and making strange sounds every now and again. It decided to completely shit the bed exactly one month before our June 2nd deadline for releasing Dream Crasher. Fortunately, I religiously backup everything with Time Machine, and that goes double for the comic book. Every page is additionally backed up in two different places. One can never back the important things up in too many places.

What you see in the picture above is my sisters old macbook that she set up for me with Adobe CS3 (for doing the final page edits) and my PC from work (for uploading/downloading the files for lettering). It took me twice as long to do everything as it would have on my own computer, but it didn’t stop me from doing what I needed to. What would have been a fun long weekend trip home turned into a lot of time spent at my makeshift desk on the dining room table.

Reed and I made the decision to hire a letterer rather than attempt it ourselves. This was excellent advice that came to me via the Comixology Submit panel at NYCC. We posted an add on Digital Webbing, filtered through several responses before we found Frank Cvetkovic. Here’s one thing Reed and I learned about ourselves through the process of selecting fonts: neither of us ever really notices lettering unless it’s abstract or poorly done. Much of the best comic book lettering doesn’t call attention to itself. It finds it’s own place in the narrative. It directs the readers eye around the page and works in cohesion with the artwork. Frank did a beautiful job and I could not be happier with our decision.

Through the process of finding a letterer we also found Greg Sorkin to do our logo. He was incredibly patient with our initial indecisiveness, but I’m ultimately very happy with the end result. My sister also came through for us in the eleventh hour, doing the cover graphics, internal credit and thank you pages, and the post cards we’ve been handing out for the last four months.

The last weekend of May brought us some gorgeous weather. It was the first true weekend of summer. I spent the entire time indoors working on the website. Minus some initial trouble with the download links, it all went off without a hitch on game day. It took us five years from the first sketches to the release of Chapter 1. There were many times along the way where it felt like it might never happen. Reed and I have trudged forward in the face of some major setbacks. We still have a long ways to go, but I couldn’t have asked for a better partner to take this journey with.

We will be launching our Kickstarter in late October. That’s less than one month away. We will be using it to print Chapter 1 as well as fund the lettering through Chapter 3. It will also be the first place you can order Chapter 2: The Land Vomits Ghosts. I’ve been exceptionally lazy in the last two months, making up for going all out on this. It’s time to come out of hibernation, though. I’m proud of myself. I’m proud of Reed. I’m proud of how the first chapter of Dream Crasher turned out. I’m excited and mildly terrified for what comes next, but I know I am fully capable of making it happen.

Flame Con 2015

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This one only took me 3 months…

I had originally made plans to get there bright and early before the start of the convention to help set up. However, due to my not being an “official” vendor and the fact that I was still exhausted from the previous weekend at Special Edition NYC, I opted to sleep in a little bit. I got to the convention a little bit after noon. Dream Crasher won’t be printed until (hopefully) sometime in early 2016, so paying for a table when all I have are post cards and one print prototype wasn’t something I had initially planned on. However, fellow BSF Writer Donna Minkowitz offered me a split portion of her table with Roberta Degnore, and I couldn’t refuse. And so this became my first experience tabling at a convention. They’ve already expanded Flame Con into a 2-day event for next year, and I will be better prepared to make it count.

Brad Parks (founder of Brooklyn Speculative Fiction Writers) stopped by with some BSFW post cards. I also spoke with Kaila Hale-Stern – who wrote up a nice piece on the event for i09. I ended up being tabled right across from Justin Winslow, whom I knew through Instagram and finally got to meet in real life. I bought one of his wonderfully inappropriate Christmas cards.

I took some time walking the floor a little bit, running into a  few of the people I had seen the week before at Special Edition NYC. Steve Orlando was there again, as were the Wayward Raven crew. I love the bizarre mix of drag and Cosplay that the convention inspired. I met Eric Cooper and picked up an issue of Knightseeker, and I also bought Power – the official Flame Con anthology. Goal for next year – be an official vendor and get something submitted into this anthology. Let’s see how I do.

Toward the end of the show I met David Rondinelli, and spoke with him quite extensively.  picked up a stand alone issue of Node from him (which I quite enjoyed reading). At the very end of it all, I bought a copy of Donna’s book Growing up Golem. I do regret that I couldn’t make it to any of the panels. I’m realizing how hard that is to do when you have a table and a job to do. This time around I had no merchandise to sell. Next year I will. It was a good experience to get that perspective for the first time.

When the floor closed, I went out for some dinner with Brad (and a charged my phone). It was also nice to relax away from the crowds. We then walked back for the drag show and after party. I didn’t know what to expect from the show, but I can assure you that I would never have guessed it would involve a Nevele Longbottom striptease. That turned out to just be the beginning. What followed was equal parts wonderful and weird.

Storm walking out to Garbage’s “Only Happy When it Rains.” Princess Leia in the gold bikini Jabba the Hutt made her wear, to the tune of Britney Spears “Slave for You” (and then ripping off her wig to Britney’s “Crazy”). She Hulk. Lana from Archer. Sigorny Weaver’s character from Aliens. Geek and Drag make for some strange bedfellows, and we all know that life is more fun with strange bedfellows.

After the show I went to TNT with my friend Matt, who introduced me to Nathan Archer. More drag shenanigans ensued. Eventually my friend Terrance met up with us, too. I stayed out much later than anticipated. Thankfully I had Sunday to recover from the inevitable hangover and several weeks worth of accumulated sleep depravity.

 

 

Special Edition NYC 2015

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It only took me 2 months to write this all up, but here goes…

Reed and I stayed up well passed midnight on Friday, cutting paper and using rubber cement to piece together our two prototype prints of Dream Crasher: Chapter 1. We listened to lots of Maria Bamford and Against Me! as we powered through it. It was labor intensive but absolutely worth it. The same can be said about the whole last five years we’ve been working on this.

Saturday

With our binders and postcards in tow, Reed and I met up with Jaime at 51st street around noon, then walked over to Pier 94 for the convention. We made a quick pass on artist alley before checking out Let’s Talk About Checks: The Business of Professional Comics, which was moderated by Alex de Campi (Writer). Also on the panel were Joseph Illidge (Editor and Writer) and Vera Greentea (Writer and Jedi Master of Kickstarter Campaigns) among others. Some of the takeaways for me: having an agent isn’t all it’s cracked up to be – you can always hire a lawyer for reviewing individual contracts. Editors and Publishers are not the same thing and shouldn’t be treated as such – the Editor isn’t the one you want to write a scathing letter to when things go awry. In fact, it’s best to avoid scathing personal email rants altogether. Lastly, it is important to pay the artists for the work they’ve done. Not that I didn’t know that one, but it’s one that’s worth repeating. I particularly appreciated Vera Greentea’s story about cutting her page count down so she could afford to allocate more of her budget toward pay her artists.

After the panel I walked the floor a bit. Back at my first ever comic convention experience (NYCC 2012), I picked up the first few issues of First Law of Mad Science. So it was pretty cool to pick up Issue #5 this year. I also backed their Kickstarter for their first collected edition when I got home. It’s wonderful seeing the progress fellow independent creators have made over the years. Stopped by Steve Orlando‘s booth, who was already sold out of Midnighter #1, so I picked up a copy of the December 2014 Vertigo Quarterly.  I Also picked up Whatzit #1 by Gideon Kendall and The Calamitous Black Devils by Joseph Schmalke.

Next up was Writers Unite: Pitching Creator-Owned Comics featuring Charles Soule, Greg Pak, Marguerite Bennett and moderated by Jim Zub. There was some truly valuable tips and examples on how to pitch an idea. As a naturally long winded writer, this is something I know I need to work on. Marguerite Bennett sold me on her entire catalog of work with the example she gave (forgive my butchered paraphrasing): a “psycho-sexual fantasy” where “a nightmare falls in love with it’s dreamer.” There emphasis placed on the need to show that you can make consistent, professional quality work before anyone will pay you for it. Lastly, the host Jim Zub summed up a sentiment that really seemed to dominate my entire weekend: “most people don’t appreciate where there at.” It’s not about jumping to the top rung of the ladder. People in comics tend to move up and through it together. It’s about knowing your contemporaries, learning from and growing with them. Thinking about where I was just last year, with not even a title to show for four years worth of work Reed and I had put in, I have come along way. We have come a long way. We’re nowhere near finished but I can appreciate the progress and remind myself to enjoy the process.

This was all the perfect segue into the last event of the evening: Creator Connection hosted by Buddy Scalera and Dirk Manning. I’ve learned a lot about effective networking over the years, and I really like the way this event is set up. In rapid fire speed dating style, I exchanged business cards and conversations with some really talented people.  Right off the bat I got placed with Stan Chu, who has a really solid portfolio of some truly beautiful artwork. I also met Steve Pertivelli, who’s first comic Sweetie should be out later this year. At the tail end of the event I met Anna Leue, who had just finished the first issue of her webcomic Half Man (you can support it on Patreon). As the floor closed up, the Creator Connection moved to the Brew House a few blocks away for the after hours event setup by Stan, Steve, and J. Jacob Barker. Reed and I went along for a drink and some fries. I met a few more people, including James B. Emmett who just put out the first issue of his comic The Committee with Wayward Raven.

Reed and I ducked out of there a little early to grab some dinner with Jaime, which was followed by some celebratory ice cream at Sixteen Handles in Chelsea. It was near midnight by the time I got home, and not all that surprising that I overslept on Sunday morning.

Sunday

After I overslept (and Reed kindly let me sleep in) we got to the upper west side and had wonderful lunch with Anna, her husband, and Half Man artist Patrick Tsao.My friend Alex also stopped by to take over Jaime’s Sunday pass. I found out that Anna and I would be crossing paths again in July at ReaderCon, and we talked a lot about process, business hurtles, and comic book finances. Fun stuff if you’re into that. We parted ways when we got back to Pier 94. I opted to not go to any of the Sunday panels, having already had a late start, and made a more decided to more thoroughly walk Artist Alley.

I picked up Nightmare World Volumes 1 & 2 by Dirk Manning, as well as The Bible 2 by Z.M. Thomas and Amelia Woo. I ended up stopping by the Hijack Press table and picking up The Cult House #1 from writer Joven Tolentino. I also had a really wonderful conversation with the colorist Kwan Wilson, and bought one of his last prints of “Winter Barbarian.”  Henchgirl creator Kristen Gudsnuk, whom I met at NYCC in the Fall, was also tabling. I snagged Issues 2-6, and am now eagerly anticipating #7.

After that I ran into Stan, from Saturday’s Creator Connection. He very graciously introduced me to a number of the other artists and writers he knew, including Soo Lee. If I had any more wall space/money to spare at that point in the day, I would have bought one of her beautiful prints. Instead I opted to spend my last $5 and picked up Fight Like a Girl #1, which Soo had drawn with writer/creator David Pickney. When my love for Power Rangers came up in the conversation, Stan quickly ushered me over to to meet writer Brian Visaggio and artist Kevin Roberts. They were unfortunately sold out of Stronghold Volume 1, but I still have every intention of getting myself a copy in the near future. I had exceeded my budget for the weekend, anyhow. Before the convention store closed, Stan gave me a copy of Carl D. Smith‘s Be Careful What You Wish For #1  – which features the short “The Courier” that Stan had done the art for.

All in all, one of the reasons it has taken me so long to write this is that WordPress deleted my first draft. The other reason is that I immediately followed this weekend with Flame Con, and then went to Reader Con with the Brooklyn Speculative Fiction Writers a few weeks after that. It has been a wonderful, stressful, important, and inspiring two months. I have met and stayed connected with some truly talented individuals who are making some beautiful comic books. I needed to take some time to myself after it all (3 conventions in 6 weeks) to process everything, recalibrate, and remind myself that I’ve come along way and should appreciate where I’m at.

One of the more important things I learned from this weekend – always take off the Monday after a convention if you can swing it. I wish I had thought to do that.

 

East Coast Comicon 2015

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It’s been a month, but I am finally getting around to chronicling my day at East Coast Comicon. In my defense, I’ve had a lot going on behind the scenes with getting my own comic ready for release on June 2nd. The first five pages are up now on Circus Book. Regardless of good excuses, I will be posting here more frequently in the next couple of months.

April 11, 2015

I ended up getting to the convention center a bit later than anticipated, but all in all it turned out to be a great day. I met up my friend Mel at the door – his father Rudy Nebres was a featured guest at the convention. He showed me around and introduced me to several people. The convention floor was much bigger than I was expecting.

I had a great conversation with David Gallagher, writer of The Only Living Boy along with Artist Steve Ellis. He recommended I check out Tapastic and NoiseTrade Books when I release Dream Crasher. I picked up Issues 2 and 3 of Only Living Boy – I had actually had Issue 1 from NYCC a few years back. It’s a really well-written series with some excellent artwork and a fully realized world. I highly recommend it, and look forward to the release of Issue 4.

I also stopped by the Wayward Raven booth, where I met Writers Mark Frankel and Alexander Sapountzis. Really nice guys with quite an impressive enterprise going. I picked up the first two Issues of their ongoing series, Horsemen. I also met Ramon Gil and picked up the first issue of his Scifies series, for which Rudy Nebres did the cover. Haven’t had a chance to read it yet, but like his concept for doing multiple serial shorts.

Finally, after backing Papa and Neneti of the Forgotten Spirits on Kickstarter over the years, I finally met Vera Greentea. She has been one of the most responsive and well-organized crowdfunding campaigners I have had the privilege of backing. I picked up the first issue of Recipes for the Dead. She’s worked with a variety of artists across these different projects, and has brought some beautiful dark fantasy to life.

I also picked up Iron Horse, and had a nice conversation with writer Gavin Spector of Soldier of Fortune Comics. I got some great insights into comiXology Submit from writer Eric Grissom. I bought the first two issues of his series, DeadHorse. I met a fellow Commander Keen fan at the Rare Earth Comics table, and picked up the first two issues of Shadow Tracers.

Toward the very end of my day, I discovered an isle I had somehow missed before. Spent my last few dollars grabbing The Magnificent Mariposa created by Alex Lowe as well as America’s Kingdom from Gnosis Comics.

It was a great day overall. Mel’s parents were really wonderful and let me keep my backpack at their table for the duration of the day. I left with it filled to the brink, with more comics than I have had time to read in the last month. I somehow managed to stay under budget. My hope is to return next year as a vendor, with printed copies of Dream Crasher in tow.

Fanboy Nerd Rage and the Star Wars Expanded Universe

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Two months ago, we saw the release of the first Episode VII trailer. Two weeks ago we saw the launch of Marvel’s Star Wars #1. Before Disney bought Lucasfilm, I don’t think I was alone in my belief that the fabled VII, VIII, and IX trilogy would never be made. Given how disappointing the prequel trilogy ended up being, I was OK with the final trilogy never happening. But now the Star Wars franchise has been given new life. The anticipation for Episode VII is already breaking all sorts of records.  I’m beginning to get on-board with the hype.

I have been reading Star Wars books since middle school. Back when I wore mom jeans and listened to the Spice Girls, I was also steadily making my way through the Star Wars Expanded Universe. For me, the movies were only the beginning. In the books, the characters were much better realized and stakes were always higher. They will never be hailed as high literary classics, but they were special to me. I was especially a fan of the New Jedi Order and Legacy of the Force books.

I am writing about all of this because the Expanded Universe has just experienced it’s first ever reboot. Reboots are nothing new in the Entertainment Industry. Both DC and Marvel have done more times than I could count, but it has never truly been done with Star Wars. I recently read an article about DC’s upcoming Convergence event. It’s an incredibly ambitious idea that I find a bit difficult to wrap my head around. Marvel is also doing a new reboot of sorts with their Secret Wars event. I get it – reboots are necessary. It rids the canon of clutter and redundancies. It gives new writers a chance to write something new without being bogged down by what came before them. It gives new readers an entrance point.

As soon as Episode VII was announced, I knew a reboot was inevitable. What remained to be seen was how extensive it would be. As it turns out, the reboot is to be all encompassing. All existing Star Wars books will now be published under the Star Wars Legends banner. I went to the New Dawn panel at New York Comic Con back in October, where they talked about the future of Star Wars publishing. It was informative, and it actually reinvigorated my own fandom. I actually think that they are going about it in the best way possible. My Fanboy Nerd Rage only kicks in when I consider the following: Jar Jar Binks is still an official part of the Star Wars canon, but Mara Jade and the Solo twins no longer are.

There are some who are still holding out hope that these (and a few of the other Post-RotJ EU characters) might make their way into the next trilogy, but I’m not holding my breath. The rumors of a Kira Solo character have been making the rounds, presumably Han and Leia’s daughter. The fact that they’d change the names of Han and Leia’s kids feels a little bit like salt in the wound. Here’s what I wish would have happened: The reboot would wipe the slate clean of everything but the movies and a few select works. Timothy Zahn’s Thawn Trilogy, for instance. Would that one trilogy of books, set 25 years before Episode VII, truly be a hindrance on the creativity of  new Star Wars writers? Why not keep Drew Karpyshyn’s well-reviewed Darth Bane Trilogy? I can’t see how a single well-regarded work set one thousand years before Episode I would be a drag on the canon.  </end rant>

One of my favorite things about the Star Wars books and comics is that they all fit into the same shared universe. Where characters like Batman have been revamped and reintroduced so many times that it borders on ridiculous, Star Wars kept a single timeline throughout it’s mediums. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of inconsistencies within it, but there is nothing on the scale of a multiverse. I realize that Expanded Universe readers are not the target demographic of the new movies, or even the new Expanded Universe. I also know that pleasing the hardcore fans, with purist diatribes, is near impossible. The look of Episode VII seems promising. I will continue reading the entire new Marvel Star Wars line. I just wish the old slate hadn’t been wiped in it’s entirety.

I have met many aspiring comic creators in the last few years that grew up reading the superhero comics, with goals of writing for the DC and Marvel universes. One of my goals as a writer is to one day publish something under the Star Wars banner. I have gone so far as to hold off on getting the Madalorian Crest tattoo that I want until that happens.  My hopes of one day adapting the New Jedi Order into an animated series maybe crushed, but my resolve to contribute to the story of a galaxy far, far away have not abated.