Marking a Milestone on my Creative Journey

Believe it or not, I was not always into comics. Sure, I had a Spider-Man light switch in my room growing up, and sure, there was a period in junior high school when I read the Daredevil and Thor comics that were in my orthodontist’s waiting room pretty consistently, but from the time I graduated 8th grade until the time I graduated college, I hardly read comic books at all.

The same held true for my writing. At that point in my life, I was torn between writing “serious” literary prose and scifi/fantasy. I thought it would be my project to marry the speculative and the literary, perhaps incorporating fantasy elements into my writing the way Vonnegut incorporated science fiction into his. I was writing a lot of short stories during this period, and perhaps influenced my writing-workshops at Columbia, where I majored in writing/literature, I had not even begun to consider writing in the comics medium.

My attitude toward comics changed in the early 2000s, because of my love for Neil Gaiman’s writing. I had read and enjoyed Douglas Adams’ Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy early in college, and having completed that series, as well as his two Dirk Gently books, I was eager to read more clever, British speculative humor. I had a friend who had an internship with Adam’s company (where she was working on the Starship Titanic text-based video game), and I asked her what I should read next. She suggested Good Omens, by Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, a book which has had a profound impact on my creative life.

From that point forward, I started working my way through Gaiman and Pratchett’s novels, alternating between books like Neverwhere and American Gods and Pratchett’s Discworld, happy to find authors I enjoyed who were both prolific and coming out with new material.

At this time, I also began to lean into writing witty humor. I had dabbled with it since reading Vonnegut—and after watching Monty Python, which, seemingly, was on a loop in our dorm-room common area—but as I read more Pratchett and Gaiman it began to seep into my writing more and more.

Fast forward to 2003, when I met Neil Gaiman after a reading he did promoting Sandman: Endless Nights. As I blogged recently, during this meeting, he gave me some great writing advice. It was a pivotal moment for me as a young writer with just two published stories to my name.

During the reading, I noticed something else: The majority of the attendees were fans of Gaiman’s comics work. This is not surprising, as the event was in support of the Endless Nights release. I was struck both by the enthusiasm of the crowd for The Endless, and by the quality of the prose in the passage that Gaiman read at the event, which came from the Despair story.

I decided to give comics another try.

At that time, I was working at trade magazine house located on 31st street and Park Avenue in New York City. I was living in Inwood, a neighborhood about as far north in Manhattan as you can get. Every day, on my walk to the subway, I passed by Jim Hanley’s Universe, a large comic book store, which was located directly opposite the Empire State Building on 33rd Street.

My old office building at 460 Park Avenue South

One day soon after Gaiman’s reading, I went in and purchased the first volume of The Sandman in trade paperback. The rest, as they say, is history.

I consumed the Sandman series voraciously. I was in Jim Hanley’s about once a week, to buy the next volume in the (of the at the time 12 volumes of the series) over the next few months, and when I finished the series, I continued to visit the store to buy other Gaiman titles.

Eventually, I branched out to other comics creators. Through reading Gaiman, I was introduced to other writers. I started reading Alan Moore, Garth Ennis, and Frank Miller (whom I remembered had written some of those Daredevil books I had read at the orthodontist’s office).

There was something in their writing that I really liked. They were doing something different than what the so-called-literary writers were doing at the time, something innovative, without the pretensions of that was so rampant among the darlings of the moment of the literary world.

Personally—and this is just my preference—I preferred Moore to Franzen, whose prose I always found overwrought, and Gaiman, whose allusions seemed more natural, to Lethem. I not only enjoyed these comics writers, I studied them, and incorporated what I learned into my own writing.

I learned so much about structure from Alan Moore, especially about the circular narrative, a technique which I’ve used in so many of my stories.

Purchasing “Genesis, Jiggered” inside JHU

I learned so much about dialogue from Frank Miller, both about brevity and about how to write distinct character voices.

I learned so much about characterization from Garth Ennis, both in his Vertigo work, and his more mainstream work.

Eventually, there was Will Eisner, who combined character and setting masterfully in his Contract With God trilogy.

And of course there was Gaiman, from whom I had already learned so much.

This was a literary community with which I wanted to engage, a literary community, which unlike so many of the literary communities which I loved—was contemporary and active.

When I, eventually, decided to try my hand at writing comics, I began by studying Gaiman’s script excerpt, which I found at the back of one of the Sandman trade paperbacks.

This newfound interest in writing comics led me to attend New York Comic Con for the first time, where I discovered Buddy Scalera’s Comic Book School, whose panels furthered my education as a writer and as a fledgling comics creator.

Beyond the influence these trips to Jim Hanley’s Universe had on my writing, they rekindled my love of comics. Gaiman and Moore had both written Batman, and reading their Batman stories reintroduced me to a character I had not been involved with since I watched The Animated Series in the 90s. I revisited the Daredevil and Thor titles I remembered from those visits to the orthodontist slightly earlier. I began to go back even further to characters I enjoyed when I was a kid, like Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four.

Moreover, I enjoyed the sense of community I found at Jim Hanley’s universe. The staff, unlike the reputation that many comics stores had at the time, was helpful and enthusiastic. They were kind to me as I was learning, patiently answering my questions and offering recommendations. I remember one employee in particular, I think his name was Larry, who had a nearly encyclopedic knowledge of the store’s back issues. Based on minimal clues I provided about comics I had read 10-15 years prior—and without my knowing the publication date, writer, or artist—he went through the back issues, and found, more often than not, the book for which I had been looking.

Inside of the current iteration of JHU.

Beyond the comics, however, I found that comics fans were also fans of other nerdy things I loved, like Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, and in another circle back to the beginning of this post, The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. There was a used prose books section in the store, stocked with out-of-print science fiction titles, and my first introduction to the great Chris Claremont was through a prose novel (autographed) which he had co-written with George Lucas.

Hanging around the store, I made friends and had (let’s call them) discussions about a wide range of film and literature. These were my people, and I found them at Jim Hanley’s Universe.

Eventually, I moved on. I left the job at the magazine, and my next job was not in the same neighborhood. Jim Hanley’s has moved twice since then, further east, making it less convenient for me to get to. Still, the store held—and continues to hold—a special place in my heart. It still is, n my mind, my local comics shop, though it is no longer, truly, local. Whenever I need a title which I can’t find at the small store in my neighborhood, I order it from Jim Hanley’s, and whenever I happen to be in that part of the city, I make sure to stop in.

Like a good Alan Moore story, life tends to run in circles. And so, after many years of attending the Comic Book School panels at cons, I now co-edit their annual anthology. I’ve had comics published by Comic Book School, in literary magazines, and in anthologies. I’ve continued to publish my prose stories as well, and have won prestigious awards for my writing. I’ve also become a poet, something that young writer who met Neil Gaiman all those years ago would never have imagined in his future. I have had a good deal of success with my writing, and even though I aspire for more, I am grateful for everything that I’ve accomplished thus far on my journey.

My journey is far from over, however. A few months ago, I watched an episode of Comic Book School’s YouTube channel which featured Tom Peyer and Jamal Igle of Ahoy! Comics. After listening to them discuss their company’s vision—and describe their company’s open submission policy—I thought it would be a good market for my writing. The blend of literary and humor which permeated their conversation spoke directly to that part of me who fell in love with Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett, and Douglas Adams back in the day (there go those circles again). I submitted a story to them, and it was accepted.

I was thrilled by the email I received from my editor, Sarah Litt, and eagerly awaited the day when my work would appear in a book which would be available at comics shops nationwide.

Thus, it was one of the great thrills of my creative life to walk into Jim Hanley’s Universe last week, and purchase Black’s Myth 5, the comic book in which my story Genesis, Jiggered first appeared, and to see my work on the shelves in the place where my passion for comics was rekindled so many years ago.

Appropriately enough, my first “professional” comics work is actually a prose story—and here is another of those Allan Moore circles coming around again at the conclusion of this post—a satirical fantasy in the mode of Terry Pratchett or Neil Gaiman.

Though the story is now available for free on the Ahoy! site, if you like it, I encourage you to order the issue to your favorite local comics shop. I hope you have had similar experiences there as I had in mine.

With my story, “Genesis, Jiggered”, in front of JHU

Deleted All My Dating Apps

Deleted all of my dating apps so I could find someone the old-fashioned way—by hiring a woman as a governess for my ward, being a brooding jerk toward her, and not telling her that I’m actually already married and that I keep my crazy wife hidden in the attic.

Deleted all of my dating apps so I could find someone the old-fashioned way—by sneaking into a ball thrown by my family’s arch enemies, falling in love at first sight, and then sneaking into her garden under her balcony, like a peeping tom.

Deleted all of my dating apps so I could find someone the old-fashioned way—by acting like a scruffy-looking nerf-herder until she realizes the guy she’s kissing is actually her brother.

Deleted all of my dating apps so I could find someone the old-fashioned way—by hoping she develops stockholm syndrome before the last petal of my enchanted rose falls.

Deleted all of my dating apps so I could find someone the old-fashioned way—by buying her a gift at the Araby bazaar.

Deleted all of my dating apps so I could find someone the old-fashioned way—by buying her ancestral home, marrying her husband’s sister, acting like an abusive, deranged, jerk, and brooding around the moors.

Deleted all of my dating apps so I could find someone the old-fashioned way—by coming unstuck in time, being kidnapped by aliens who don’t see time linearly, being kept in a zoo on their planet, and sharing my cage with a pornographic film star.

Deleted all of my dating apps so I could find someone the old-fashioned way—by removing the stone from the top of a well, working seven years for her hand, having her father dupe me into marrying her less-attractive sister, and then working seven more years for her hand.

Deleted all of my dating apps so I could find someone the old-fashioned way—by changing my name, becoming a bootlegger, throwing lavish parties to impress her–but not inviting her–and then staring longingly across the water at a green light fraught with symbolism.

Deleted all of my dating apps so I could find someone the old-fashioned way—by using a gorgon’s head to rescue her from a sea monster.

Deleted all of my dating apps so I could find someone the old-fashioned way—by sneaking into her room while she’s sleeping and biting her neck to make her undead.

Deleted all of my dating apps so I could find someone the old-fashioned way—by finding a sleeping princess and awakening her with a kiss.

Deleted all of my dating apps so I could find someone the old-fashioned way—by selling my soul to the devil in exchange for his help in seducing her.

Deleted all of my dating apps so I could find someone the old-fashioned way—by being poisoned by a nefarious knight, changing my name, and seeking out the only woman in the world with the knowledge to heal me.

Deleted all of my dating apps so I could find someone the old-fashioned way—by buying turtle food from my local pet store worker, and maintaining a relationship with her while training for a fight with the heavyweight champion of the world. Also, saying “yo” before her name a lot.

Deleted all of my dating apps so I could find someone the old-fashioned way—by answering the sphinx’s riddle, freeing the town from its tyranny, and marrying the widowed queen without asking any questions–eh, maybe not.


Be sure to check out the links page to read some of my published writing, and to follow me on TwitterInstagram and Facebook.

42 Loosely Connected Thoughts About Douglas Adams and The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy

Last week one of my favorite books, The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy celebrated its 42nd birthday. For fans of the book, the significance of this anniversary needs no explanation. (If you are unaware of the reference, stop reading this blog post and pick up a copy of the novel—go ahead, I won’t be offended; Come back after you’ve read it). Douglas Adams birthday was a few days ago, and, either of those days would have been the perfect time to write about my love for the series, Adams work in general, and its influence on me as a writer. Since I do not have a time machine, and, therefore, cannot travel back a few days and willant ont have written the post then, I must rely on one of Adam’s most famous quotes about writing to justify my subject matter today.

“I love deadlines,” Adams said. “I like the wooshing sound they make as they fly by.”

As such, here is my tribute to Mr. Adams and his work, as well its far-reaching and multi variegated influence on my life and work. What follows are 42 random thoughts from the infinite improbability drive known as my brain.

  1. I first read The Hitchhiker’ Guide To The Galaxy as a freshman in college. More than anything else that happened to me that year, it would prove to be the most important thing that happened to me that school year.
  2. Many of the friends that I met that year were hoopy froods, though I will admit that only a few really knew were their towels were.
  3. I met my wife in the summer following that school year, so I will not get into trouble with her for the above statement. The following year was her freshman year of college.
  4. At the time, she had never read The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy.
  5. I soon corrected that gap in her education. It is now one of her favorite books as well.
  6. In Columbia, where I went to college, a group called the philolexian society holds a bad poetry competition. The competition is officially a tribute to the poet Joyce Kilmer, a former Columbia philolexian who duped the literary world by writing what he believed was bad poetry. Kilmer created a pseudonym, as well as a whole backstory about his fictional persona who was supposed to be homeless man living in a water tower on the roof a New York City apartment building.
  7. The bad poetry contest, despite being named for Kilmer, was widely known to be inspired by the Vogon bad poetry in The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy.
  8. I had a friend—a big Douglas Adams fan—who was a philolexian. She asked me to enter the contest because she knew I was majoring in writing.
  9. That same friend once met Douglas Adams and asked him to sign a towel. This is the most brilliant author signing story I’ve ever heard.
  10. Adams thought it was brilliant as well, and my friend parlayed his admiration for the gesture into an internship at Adams company, where she worked on—and appeared as a character in—the text-based video game for Starship Titanic.
  11. My entries into the bad poetry contest were well-received, but they did not win. I was much better at writing funny parodies of famous poetry than writing really bad poetry.
  12. One of my ideas for the bad poetry contest, a parody of Macbeth, is something that I kept and continued to work on.
  13. A more-fully developed version, which focused more on the comedy and less on the poetry, ended up being chosen as a winner in last years Serious Flash Fiction contest.
  14. You can purchase a copy of the winners anthology here. I believe my Macbeth parody is the second funniest piece in the anthology.
  15. After the Hitchhiker’s Guide, I wanted more books in that vein. The recommendation which followed (from my friend the philolexian) was Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett.
  16. I would not have read either of them had I not first read Douglas Adams.
  17. I have read more words by Terry Pratchett than by any other author, and often cite him as a major influence on my work.
  18. I have heard Neil Gaiman, another major influence, read live six times.
  19. I met him during a signing after the first time. I told him how much I admired his writing, and the Stardust was the kind of book I wished I’d written. He responded by saying he wrote it because he wanted to read a book like that and that nobody had written it.
  20. This was highly encouraging to me as a young writer. It really boosted my confidence.
  21. Because of the last few thoughts,and because they kept publishing books after Adams had stopped,  I often listed Pratchett and Gaiman as two of my greatest influences when the subject came up. I would cite them before Adams, and often leave Adams off the list entirely. This was a mistake.
  22. A few years ago, I re-read the Dirk Gently books in anticipation of the show which was soon to air on BBC America. Upon reading that book, I realized that my writing—at least my comedic writing–was actually more heavily influenced by Adams than by virtually any other author, Pratchett and Gaiman included.
  23. Much like them, I was writing with Adams voice in the back of my head. Re-reading it, it was clear as day, even if I had forgotten whose voice I was actually listening to.
  24. My story “Darkness My Old Friend” which originally appeared on Hawk and Young’s blog was compared (by Young, of Hawk and Young) to both Pratchett and Adams. It is the nicest thing anyone has ever published about my writing. (Really! Click the link and scroll down to his thoughts about the story.
  25. He also compared it to Asimov, but that is the subject of another blog post.
  26. Reading Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency also reminded me of my love for Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who figures prominently in the novel.
  27. Since that time, I have had more poetry than prose published. My poetry tends to be formal, metered and rhyming, influenced by the Romantics, Coleridge chief among them.
  28. Recently, however, I have been writing a lot more satire in the Douglas Adams vein.
  29. Current events have made it such that most comfortable way I can respond to the world I see around me is through humor.
  30. Unless I, like Arthur Dent, could ask whatever god is running things to step outside for a fight, only to watch him plunge thousands of feet to his demise.
  31. I often wonder how Adams would respond to today’s world.
  32. He would have a field day with social media and so-called-smart phones, I’m sure.
  33. On second thought, we tried that whole incompetent celebrity president thing and it didn’t work out so well.
  34. On third thought, Zaphod Beeblebrox was kept isolated from the important aspects of government in The Hitchhiker’s Guide. He is not allowed to govern as he would only screw things up and get in the way.
  35. Besides, we shouldn’t be using satire as a model for how we run our society. Maybe that’s how our section of the galaxy became so unfashionable.
  36. I would, however, vote for a hooloovoo over anyone running right now.
  37. And I have spent an inordinate amount of time searching for the perfect sandwich knife.
  38. And I’ve used the babel-fish prove of the non-existence of god as part of a lesson on Kierkegaard for high school students
  39. I am experiencing a lot of fear and trembling right now over the state of the world–so much so, that I might make Marvin look like an optimist.
  40. But I suspect if Douglas Adams was still alive, he would look at the state of the world, and react much like the oft-overlooked bowl of petunias that accompanies the whale on its descent toward the planet Magrathea: “Oh no, not again.”
  41. He would probably tell us to keep calm, wash our hands, and above all, “Don’t Panic!”
  42. Thank you for reading. So long and thanks for all the fish.

Be sure to check out the links page to read some of my published writing, and to follow me on twitter and facebook.

How (Not) To Pick A Poem For Your Valentine

But soft! What light through yonder window breaks

It’s too early, babe, shut the shades.

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?

I’m hot, you’re sweaty—are you sure you want to go there?

How do I love thee let me count the ways—

Ok, but don’t leave any out—I’ll be mad if you don’t list the right ones…

When you are old and grey and full of sleep…

Is this about the curtain thing? I was working late last night, otherwise…Wait! are you saying my roots are showing? I just had them done.

A queen from some time dead Egyptian night/Walks once again.

Are you really comparing me to a zombie?

We loved with a love that was more than love—

Doesn’t she die in the next verse?

And all that’s best of dark and bright/Meet in her aspect and her eye…

Didn’t his relationships usually end “in sorrow and tears”?

Come. And be my baby.

Sorry babe, you’re “going nowhere”.

My luve is like a red, red rose

After I prick you with my thorn your blood will be like a red, red rose.

I love your lips when they’re wet with wine

Are you trying to get me drunk?

Oh then, each breath tasted sweeter

That’s probably the wine again.

Come live with me and be my love…

You’ll need to make a deal with the devil.

The beauty of the heart/Is the lasting beauty—

So you think I’m ugly on the outside.

When the rain is blowing in your face/and the whole world is on your case/I could offer you a warm embrace

You had better offer me a lot more than that. An embrace ain’t gonna solve my problems.

Upon what instrument are we two spanned?

I don’t know, with all this poetry, the rack, maybe?

OK, I give up. What would you have me do?

Blow out the lights and come to bed at last.

Happy Valentine’s day (with apologies to to all the poets referenced here. Click through the hyperlinks to read the original poems.

Be sure to check out the links page to read some of my published writing, and to follow me on twitter and facebook.