(Modified from a post on my Patreon page.)
As you’ve probably noticed, there hasn’t been much art activity here for a bit, so I think you’re due for an update.
There reason there hasn’t been much to see here in the way of comics and such is that I’ve spent the past few months writing a novel instead. Getting Rough Housing up and running has been a much more arduous process than I thought it would be, and while it has had some success, it doesn’t seem to be making the kind of impact I’d hoped it would. So, while I’m not ready to just can the project, I am looking for other things I can do that will get more bang for the buck, so to speak, and writing is one of those. The fact that I wrote a 70,000 word first draft in a month and a half probably gives you an idea of how much more facile I am with writing than with comics, even though I love them both.
In the meantime, there has been another wrinkle, which is that the company where Mrs. Gneech worked for the past 20 years is rapidly shutting down, taking her job with it. We have some savings to live on, but they will rapidly get burned up, so starting some time next week I will be returning to the life of a barista in order to bring in reliable income, at least until Mrs. Gneech finds herself something new. That will probably put the kibosh on putting out comics reliably any time soon in any case, as it takes me so long to draw them.
What does that mean for my Patreon? Honestly, I’m not entirely sure. One thing I will definitely start doing is posting story previews, character sketches, sample chapters and other such things there. That said, I know it may not be what you signed on for, so while I’d hate to see anyone go, I won’t take it personally if folks reduce or discontinue their patronage.
But for those who are staying (Thank you! ^.^) I’m very open to suggestions as to what you’d like to see! I’m going to retool the whole Goals and Pledge Rewards structure, and I was thinking of shifting from the “per month” model to a “per creation” model as well, but I’d love to hear what you have to say on the topic.
So let me know! And seriously, thank you everyone for the support you’ve provided over the years and into the future. It means a lot to me!
-John “The Gneech” Robey
Because I have a terrible sense of timing, I spent August writing a novel. (Alas, no NaNoWriMo bragging rights for me this year!) After being consumed by the muse for a month and a week, I wrote the last sentence of the first draft yesterday, and did the mental equivalent of flopping over in exhaustion.
In a day or two, I shall attack the next project on the stack, which will be either to finish off a few more commissions or to draw Dungeons & Denizens, not sure which yet. But before I do that, I’m going to read a mother-hugging book.
Mere words cannot describe how important books were in my life once upon a time. My mother was a librarian until I was five or six, and never lost the temperament even when she left the job. As such our family hoarded books the way some families hoard cats, Beanie Babies, or collectible holiday glasses from fast food restaurants. Since the advent of the internet, however, books and I have somewhat drifted apart. As in, I still have more books than average and going to the bookstore is still my favorite recreational activity… but I don’t always have one in my pocket and pull it out whenever there’s a lull in the conversation, and I don’t have a room full of bookshelves stacked three deep any more.
I regret this state of things; going from someone who read two books a month to someone who reads two books a year has left me feeling out of sorts and given me the gnawing fear that my brain may be atrophying from disuse. But the reason I don’t read any more is because I tend to work myself to exhaustion, then not feel like I have the “time” to read. Generally once I start a book, I have a hard time putting it down until it’s finished, and if I try to read in small chunks over time, I lose the thread and get bored. In short, if I can’t read a book all at once, I have a hard time reading it at all.
But reading, and reading a lot, is fundamental to being a good novelist. You have to read in your genre of choice, so you know what’s going on and what’s “been done,” and you have to read outside your genre so you don’t become myopic or stale, and you have to read nonfiction to learn what the world is actually like, not just to add to the verisimilitude of your stories, but also to know how to actually be a proper human being.
Recognizing this, I have decided to treat reading as a project. When I finish one project (such as the manuscript I just wrapped up), I will read a book, and then move on to the next project. Besides getting me back into reading, hopefully this will also act as a mental palate-cleanser. When I’ve been deeply involved in a big project, even once it’s “finished” I tend to spend the next few days or weeks wanting to tinker with it, like somebody coming back and saying “And another thing!” after the argument is long over. Sometimes these thoughts are improvements, but usually they’re just puttering, and occasionally they’re making Greedo shoot first, so on the whole I’m better off ignoring them. By picking up a book, wildly different from the last thing I worked on, I hope to make my brain shift gears more quickly.
So! Having written a potboiler adventure novel about steampunk air pirates, today I delve into Assholes: A Theory by Aaron James, a nonfiction social studies book. Once I finish my next project, which is likely to be furry art or comics either way, I’ll probably re-read Soulless by Gail Carriger, or one of the various short story anthologies that have been building up by my bedside for the past few years.
By making it an assignment for myself, I can make reading a thing I don’t feel like a slacker for doing during the day, and doing it in binges is totally doing it right. Win/win!
“Hymn to Breaking Strain” by Julia Ecklar and Leslie Fish
The careful textbooks measure: “Let all who build beware!
The load, the shock, the pressure material can bear.”
So when the buckled girder lets down the grinding span
The blame of loss or murder, is laid upon the man
Not on the steel– the man!
But in our daily dealing with stone and steel, we find
the gods have no such feeling of justice toward mankind!
To no such gauge they make us, for no laid course prepare.
In time they overtake us with loads we cannot bear
Too merciless to bear
The prudent textbooks give it in tables at the end:
The stress that shears a rivet, or makes a tie-bar bend
What traffic wrecks macadam, what concrete should endure
But we poor sons of Adam, have no such literature
To warn us or make sure
We hold all Earth to plunder, all time and space as well
Too wonder-stale to wonder at each new miracle
’til in the mid-illusion of Godhood ‘neath our hand
Falls multiple confusion on all we did or planned
The mighty works we planned
We only in creation! How much luckier the bridge and rail!
Abide the twin damnation: to fail, and know we’ve failed!
Yet we– by which sole token we know we once were gods–
Take shame in being broken, however great the odds!
The burden or the odds
Oh, Veiled and Secret Power Whose Paths We Seek in Vain,
Be with us in our hour of overthrow and pain!
That we– by which sure token we know Thy ways are true–
In spite of being broken
–Or because of being broken?–
Rise up and build anew!
Stand up and build anew!
EDIT: It has since been pointed out to me that Rudyard Kipling wrote the poem that comprise the lyrics of this! Which, as someone with a degree in English and who actually, y’know, studied some Kipling, makes me feel like a bit of a nimrod. ^.^’ What I said about it being the most steampunk song ever written still applies, tho!
Weird thing about listening to the characters when I write, is that what I think the characters are going to do at the beginning, and what they actually do when they get there, are often completely different. In the current book, I’ve just hit 34,000 words and finally put into words a scene that I have been writing in my head for three years– a scene which is one of the major touchstones of the book for me. I’m pleased with the scene, and overall quite pleased with the book, but I am also faced with a problem, which is that the plot is off from my outline by about 33°. My intended next chapter… totally doesn’t make sense any more.
So, loathe as I am to do it, I need to stop my forward momentum and go back to the macro-level outlining stage and re-think the back half of the book. I didn’t want to be doing any story surgery on that big a level until I had completed the first draft, because I’m sure I will find more things that need doing on the way, but I also can’t complete the first draft in its current state because I have no idea what’s going to happen.
On the other hand, this can be a great opportunity to come up with a much better ending. If I take the first half plot as it has come out as my starting point and ask the characters, “What do you do now?” instead of trying to figure out a way to wrangle the story back to the outline I already had, hopefully the new ending will be stronger, more satisfying, and truer to the characters.
It’s just, y’know, more work for me. 😛 *shakes his fist at an uncooperative muse*
Greg shook his hand in the air. “Guh, you wouldn’t think stirring cookie dough would hurt so much.”
“Worry not!” said Brigid, shoving her finger into the bowl and pulling it out covered in dough and chocolate chips. “Your sacrifice shall not have been in vain!” She greedily gulped down her prize.
“You shouldn’t eat raw cookie dough!” said Greg. “You could get sick from it!”
“No I couldn’t,” said Brigid. “It’s never actually happened to anyone in the history of ever.”
“Of course it has,” said Greg. “There’s the well-known case of Silas Gunderson. In 1874, he was making cookies to comfort himself after having accidentally slashed his arm open on a sewer grate while trying to fend off the diseased rats who chewed off two of the fingers on his left hand. Took one bite of raw cookie dough, and dropped dead on the spot.”
“What?” said Brigid. “That’s stupid. Even if you hadn’t just made that up on the spot, all that would mean was that he died while eating raw cookie dough, not from eating raw cookie dough.”
“Well, yes, but still. Better safe than sorry, don’t you think?”
“No, I so don’t,” said Brigid, scooping out another dollop with a large spoon.
For the past two weeks, when not sending off job applications, most of my time has been spent writing another novel. I had intended to hold off until November and do it as a NaNoWriMo project, but for whatever reason the book said, “NOAP, you will write me NOW!” and so I have been. As of last night, I hit 20,000-ish words at the end of chapter seven, and I’m taking a “creative recharge and look back at the progress so far break” today before attacking chapter eight.
I have to say, I am very pleased with how the book is coming along, and as far as this story is concerned, it’s about damn time. This story started out as a nugget of my Arclight Adventures comic project, then morphed into my Coventry idea, then emerged as its own thing, then got shelved, then informed the creation of Rough Housing, then got shelved again, and now has finally re-asserted itself with forcefulness that will not be denied. Verity and Tanya want their story to be told, and they want it to be told in the right way, dammit! And when characters yell at me that loudly, well, I’d be a fool not to listen. The book is coming fast, and solid, and fun, but also with a lot more depth and texture to it than I expected. As I tweeted last night, I think this is going to be my best book yet, and this is the one I finally feel is a good candidate for publication.
The revamped Brigid and Greg novel is another good candidate, actually, and I may put that into the NaNoWriMo slot if this book is finished by then. That one would probably have been finished by now if the house sale hadn’t knocked me out of my groove.
A major factor in this level-up of my writing craft has been Scrivener, which has turned building an outline/story structure from a horrendous pain into an absolute joy. For both the B&G book and the new one, I have started with five notecards:
- Act One: Setup
- Act Two: Conflict
- Act Three: Rising Action
- Act Four: Catastrophe/Falling Action
- Act Five: Denouement
Drilling down from each of these, I put in 4-6 more notecards with major story beats. On each of the story beat notecards, I then drill down and put 3-5 short scene summaries– not even whole sentences, just things like “Brigid and Isadora argue”. That whole process takes me a few days, and by the time I’m done I have a nice and solid skeleton to start hanging my story on. From there, it’s just writing out each scene as described in the summary, usually in a 500-1,500 word chunk, of which I can write around three on a “normal” working day and more on a really good day. Just looking at the math, you can see what happens: four scenes of 1,000 words each make a 4,000 word chapter; five chapters of 4,000 words each make a 20,000 word act; four acts of 20,000 words, plus a denouement that’s probably one or two chapters tops, make an 80,000-90,000 word novel.
(Of course, nothing ever goes completely to plan. In the current story, in order to twist the emotional knife on a particular scene, I decided to elevate something that was basically speed bump in my outline into a major catastrophe, which in turn made complications that had to be coped with, but which had not been factored into the original plan. Using Scrivener, that was relatively easy to fix, basically by just shoving in some more notecards for new scenes or chapter. Since it’s just shoving little pieces around at the outlining level, it doesn’t feel like major plot surgery.)
Anyway, I think that with this book, I will actually be making the transition from perennial dabbler to true professional novelist. Not just because of the quality of this piece, but because I now feel like I have the tools and the experience to repeat the performance. I can now confidently build a novel-length story, and I know both what I want out of the process and what the process will need out of me to pull it off. And honestly, I think that when I actually finish something my writing is as good as anybody’s out there.
Building an audience, translating these books into earning a living, and all that stuff, is something else I will need to tackle, of course, as is integrating all of this with my desire to keep Suburban Jungle alive. But those are all topics for another day.