Join the Second Annual Comic Book School 8 Page Challenge

Over the last year, I’ve written extensively about my participation in the Comic Book School 8 Page Challenge. I wrote a comics story and flash fiction story for last year’s anthology, and edited the flash fiction section. This year, I will be co-editing the book and, hopefully, contributing two stories again. I welcome all writers and artists to participate in the challenge, which is starting now. Follow the link below for all the relevant information.

My Interview on The Nerds of the Round

Check out my recent interview on The Nerds of the Round Podcast where I talk about my current projects, including Under New Suns (Skullgate Media), the Comic Book School Panel 1 anthology, At The Festival, my one-act play at Black Horse Review, and how my martial arts practice affects my writing. Oh, and that’s me riding a space-shark. What’s a space-shark? You’re going to have to listen or watch to find out.

You can watch on youtube, or listen here:

It’s a longer interview, but you’ll miss my wild hand gesticulations.

Writing as Creative Play and The Remnants Anthology Release

I find it very sad that grown ups are not encouraged to play creatively. Most adults, following along with the conventions of contemporary society and do not engage in active, creative play. They rely on the creations of others to escape their dreary, every-day lives by watching television and movies, listening to music, reading books, and perhaps going to an art museum. Very few grownups, write, paint, compose, etc, Even when they do think creatively, it is often done in connection with their jobs, and therefore, they are creating for others—a boss, a company—rather than for themselves. In contrast, children are encouraged to play to draw, to make up stories and songs. Whether they consider themselves to be creative or not does not matter. Most children engage in creative play.

Many of the so-called-weird people who become successful in the arts encourage others to engage in creative activity as well. They claim, that there is a fulfillment one gets from doing art that is directly related to doing something creative for yourself. My favorite formulation of this idea is Kurt Vonnegut’s. Vonnegut, in a number of different places, encouraged his readers (and his listeners when he delivered his message as a speech) to engage in creative activities, even if what they end up producing is bad. One does not need, as Neil Gaiman exhorts his followers to do, make good art, rather, even making bad art is way of making “life bearable,” according to his view. “Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake,” Vonnegut claims.

I wholeheartedly agree, and I believe that the reason for this positive effect is the connection between making art—good or bad—and the creative play in which most people engaged as children. I have often, when speaking of my own writing, compared it to a (slightly) more socially acceptable version of childhood play.

During a recent live reading and discussion about the Remnants anthology from Kyanite Publishing (which was just released today), I extended that metaphor a bit further to explain the different mediums in which I write and connect them to common ways that children play.

When I want to play alone (and as an introverted writer-type, this is the kind of play in which I engage the most), I write short stories or poetry. During this type of play, I am the only one affecting the outcome of the “game.” When I want to play with others, I make comics. In this type of play, I collaborate with others to create. I work with an artist, and sometimes a team comprised of separate pencilers, inkers, colorists, and letterers, to create the final piece. We each have input into the story, and we collaborate to affect the outcome.

The Remnants anthology offered me a new way to play. Remnants is a “shared-world” anthology. It takes place in a post-apocalyptic world, created by Stephen Coghlan. Each of the authors in the anthology had to write a story which took place within this same, shared, world. Because of my background in comic books, I usually explain a shared world like the Marvel or DC universe. Each comic (or movie if you prefer) must take place within the shared world, but each is also the unique creation of the artists who made it. A Denny O’Neil Batman story is different from an Alan Moore Batman story, but they are both, recognizably Batman stories and therefore must follow the parameters of that universe. You could say the same thing about Kenneth Branagh’s Thor movie compared to Taika Waititi’s.

Similarly, the stories in the Remnants anthology each reflect the styles and talents of the authors who wrote them, yet they all take place within Stephen’s world. Writing for this anthology presented certain restrictions in terms of what I was allowed to do in the story, but it was also freeing in a way as I could just concentrate on writing the story without having to do all the world building associated with writing this type of science fiction story.

To return to my metaphor, writing this story was like go over someone’s house and being allowed to play with their toys. In this case, Stephen built this incredible world, a for a little while, he allowed me—and the other writers whose stories are included in this anthology—to come and play with it. The result’s which you can read in the anthology, are truly remarkable in they way they differ in tone, style, and content while all being true to the shared world.

I hope you consider purchasing a copy of Remnants, and reading my story, “The Forgotten,” (follow any of the hyperlinks throughout this post, including this one), and I really hope that if you endeavor to do something creative this week. Write a poem or story, draw a picture, write a song, even if you feel you’re doing it poorly, the benefits are immeasurable especially during these trying times.

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The Size of the Glass

Everyone knows the old test to determine whether someone is an optimist or a pessimist: Show them a glass partially filled with water, and see whether they say that the glass is half empty or half full. The cliché is so far ingrained in our culture, that it has become a popular subject for clever jokes: The glass is all the way full, half with air and half with water; I’m not an optimist or a pessimist, I’m a realist—tell me whether I started with a full glass or an empty glass—did I drink it (in which case it’s half empty) or did I fill it (in which case it is half full); and so on.

Perhaps my favorite deconstruction of the old paradigm comes from the great Sir Terry Pratchett:

“There are, it has been said, two types of people in the world.” Pratchett writes in The Truth,” There are those who, when presented with a glass that is exactly half full, say: this glass is half full. And then there are those who say: this glass is half empty.

“The world belongs, however, to those who can look at the glass and say: What’s up with this glass? Excuse me? Excuse me? This is my glass? I don’t think so. My glass was full! And it was a bigger glass! Who’s been pinching my beer?”

In this post, I would like to explore how we, as writers, can acquire that bigger glass.

Most writers whom I know are searching for ways to grow their audiences, but our audiences are limited by a number of factors, some of which are in our control, and some of which are not.  Without the backing of  a major publisher, or a professional level marketing and press budget, the extent to which we are filling our glasses is not nearly as consequential to our ultimate success as the size of our glass. Our limits, in terms of time, money, marketing and social media skills, determine the size of our glass, and therefore our potential audiences way more than many of us would like to admit.

Recently, I have come across a strategy to expand my audience which I would like to share with you.  The idea is to grow your potential audience by cross-promoting with a group of other like-minded authors.

I was introduced to this idea twice in the last week, by two very different and disparate sources.

The first instance, came when I was asked by Buddy Scalera, of Comic Book School, to join a group of independent comics creators, which included writers, artist, retailer, and educators in the world of independent comics. This “Coalition of the Willing” as Scalera describes it, agreed to try to keep the enthusiasm of the panels that Comic Book School runs at New York Comic Con (NYCC)  going throughout the year. If successful, this initiative would have a number of benefits. First, if the participants are able to keep the enthusiasm which they had when they left the show, they will be more productive in the coming year. Second, by keeping the discussion going throughout the year, the profile of independent comics in general, and Comic Book School in particular will be raised, giving the organization a bigger platform when it comes time for NYCC to select panels and give out panel times for the following year. (In recent years, there have been fewer professional panels at NYCC, a subject which I will address in a future blog). And Third, and most relevant to this post, the participant will cross promote with each other and with Comic Book School, gaining more eyes on their social media, thereby growing their audiences.

The way an initiative like this can help grow a creator’s audience, can be seen in the first challenge presented to the group. Each member was charged with posting about an independent comic that he or she enjoyed with the hashtags #MakeMineIndie (a play on the old Make Mine Marvel advertising campaign) and #ComicBookSchool, and explain why she or he enjoyed that comic. We each posted about a book that wasn’t our own, and the posts, depending on when you’re reading this, either will be—or will have been—collected on the Comic Book School page. By combining their efforts, liking and sharing each other’s posts, each member of the group raises the profile of all. Through the hashtag, we are also raising the profile of our medium by posting about independent comics. We each bring our own audience, our own glass if you will and pour our water into a larger pool which we all can share. Over time, our pool will grow as we add to it, and everyone will end up with a bigger glass.

We can also learn from each other. I am much more successful on twitter,  than I am on facebook or instagram. Some of the other creators are more successful on the other platforms and less successful on twitter. Collaborating in this fashion will allow us to learn from each other as well as bring built-in audiences to the platforms with which we struggle.

I also encountered the idea of pooling audiences in the November/December issue of Poets and Writers. The cover story of the issue, “The Future of Indie Publishing” is comprised of eight stories, written by eight different editors of independent literary presses. Each was asked what independent publishing needed to do be successful in the future. The articles offered a variety of suggestions, but the one which caught my eye—perhaps because I was just starting to get involved with the Comics Book School project—came from Molly Barton, of Serial Box. In her article, entitled, “Right In Front of You + Immersive”, Barton relates a story of “The Silicon Guild” a group of “future-focused business writers who agreed to promote each other’s work through their social channels and newsletters.” By doing this, she claims, “just by combining their individual followings, they suddenly had a direct collaborative audience of millions.” (p67). Barton suggests that this not only raised their profile and expanded their audience exponentially, but that in her professional opinion, they could have started their own publishing company. She suggests that more writers engage in similar tactics, which will not only enhance their profiles, but make them more attractive to publishers as well.

Looking at these examples, one in the field of comics, and one about future-focused business writing cited in a magazine aimed largely at literary writers, I couldn’t help but be struck by the power of this strategy, especially in a world where an author’s social media footprint is so important. I am glad to be part of the Comic Book School group, and hope to find similar groups for the other genres and mediums in which I write (which include literary fiction, Science Fiction and Fantasy, and poetry). That way, no matter the vagaries of the glass—whether it’s more full or more empty—it will become a larger glass.