• What’s Going On Here?

    (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

  • The Most Steampunk Song Ever Written

    “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!

    -The Gneech

    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!

  • What’s Up With You, Gneech???

    It’s no secret that I have been dealing with dysthymia since childhood; the same way some people have a bad back or a trick knee, I have recurring low-grade depression. It’s further no secret that I have had a bad few years. I lost both parents, a favorite aunt, and literally half of my circle of closest friends, all since late 2010. Put shifting to self-employment, an extremely difficult short-sale of our house, and recurring worries about Laurie’s job situation on top of all of that, and I guess it shouldn’t be surprising that I’m still riding a psychological roller coaster.

    Nevertheless, it continues to surprise me. My emotional center is completely broken and seems to be governed at the moment by a random number generator. I get ridiculously angry at nothing; when I find myself screaming at the top of my lungs at the phone to quit ringing all the goddamn time and physically restraining myself from throwing it across the room, I know I’ve entered the land of disproportionate response. But I also can’t seem to figure out anything to do about it.

    My mood right now seems to have three basic settings, depending on my energy level. If my energy level is high, my mood is either edge-of-rage angry (bad day), or crazy manic productive (good day). If my energy level is low, my mood is lonesome, self-loathing, edge-of-tears despair (every day starting around 3:30 p.m.). There doesn’t seem to be “good day” version of low energy.

    I am in counseling, and we have addressed this somewhat, but frankly I am such a basket case it’s taking a long time to get around to it. But if you have observed my behavior being erratic, this is why. Thanks for being patient. I am trying to broaden my emotional repertoire: I’d like to think “quietly productive and content” is an option and I just need to find the right buttons to push to get there.

    -The Gneech

  • What I Want to Do When I Grow Up

    A while back I posted to my LiveJournal, “I left my day job with the plan of doing all these things I didn’t have the time to do before… so why am I still spending so much time not doing them?” As I’ve been exploring the issue further, I have come to the conclusion that drawing comics all day, writing short stories etc., while it’s fun and I love it, is not really what I want to do with forever.

    It is, essentially, a selfish pursuit. The best metaphor I can think of, is that it’s as if I was being paid (not very much) to play Solitaire all day… enjoyable, but when it’s done, what will it have achieved? With the original Suburban Jungle Starring Tiffany Tiger, I felt like I had something to say to the world, at least. Currently I have no real message, just a series of entertaining vignettes that give me an excuse to draw pretty pictures.

    I came to the conclusion yesterday, that it’s time to figure out what I want to do when I grow up. The only problem is, at the moment at least, I have no idea what that is. All of the jobs I’ve had, even if they were Srs Bzness Jobs, were not really grown up. They were what I cruised into and what was available. I’ve never really seriously studied anything but art and literature, so I’m pretty short on real-world skills. I became a graphic designer because it was kinda-sorta like doing art for a living. I became a web designer because it was like being a graphic designer except with prestige (at the time).

    Right now the only ideas I’ve got are pretty nebulous and kinda random. I’ve worked the floor at a bookstore and enjoyed it, but that doesn’t pay a living wage in the long term. I have a pipe dream of owning a coffeehouse on the beach somewhere, but having worked as a barista I’m pretty sure that’s something that should stay a fantasy.

    One of the “Would you enjoy a task like this?” questions I came across on a Holland Code test was “mapping the ocean floor,” and I was surprised at how interesting that actually sounded. I enjoyed “earth science” in school and always got into things like National Geographic, Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, or The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau, and I think I might enjoy being a marine biologist or something along those lines. (That in particular would give me an added bonus of having a reason to live on a California beach somewhere. 😉 )

    As I say, the ideas are still only half-baked, and I need to really work on honing in on them. To that end, since I am currently free of having a day job other than the comics, I’m going to find a career counseling program and start going through it. Right now the top contenders are The Oxford Program, which Laurie used with limited success, and the Rockport Institute/”The Pathfinder”, which my counselor recommended. Either one would be a fairly hefty investment, cash- and time-wise, but if it leads to a real career that earns me a good living, it’ll be more than worth it.

    For the record: I will continue writing and creating comics. I can’t imagine that ever going away. But I am starting to think that’s something I should be doing as recreation, rather than as an obligation, because that seems to be sucking the joy and vitality out of it.

    Wish me luck! If anyone has career (or other) suggestions, I’d love to hear them.

    -The Gneech

  • Commissions and Workload

    If my records are correct, I still owe two people commissions from January; I can only apologize, offer an explanation, and let you know my current plans.

    In November of 2012, my mother had a stroke while in the hospital for treatment of pneumonia. In the time since then, my sister, my wife, and I have been spending increasing amounts of our time tending to my mother’s health and affairs, first taking care of her at my sister’s home, then transitioning her to an assisted living situation and selling her house. And while my mother’s personality was altered by the stroke and her mobility was noticeably limited, she was until recently doing relatively well.

    All of that changed in December, when my mother took a nasty fall and went into the hospital again. Although she initially seemed recovered from that and was fine at Christmas (except for a nasty bruise on her face), she had some bleeding on the brain that we were not aware of at the time. In late January, she fell again, and it was a fall she did not recover from. During the month of February, she was in a rehab center, where she eventually simply stopped eating and would not willingly take care of herself– and the staff of the rehab place would not push her. Laurie, my sister, and I did what we could to mitigate the situation, but Mom’s doctors were frustratingly unhelpful despite my sister’s best efforts and Laurie and I were up to our elbows in settling Mom’s house in order to make sure her assisted living stay would be paid for.

    By the time we got Mom back to her home at the assisted living facility, she had lost too much weight, and her body began to shut down. For a few days it seemed like she might perk up, but it was like once she was back in her own room and knew her affairs were settled, her body just let go. She passed away in the early hours of last Tuesday, and her funeral was this past Friday.

    I didn’t post about this much while it was going on, for various reasons. First, it seemed to happen so fast, and while we were in the middle of it all there was no way to know what was going to happen. Second, for the past several years, it seems my online persona has been a never-ending series of these situations, starting with my father and going on from there, and I simply didn’t want to subject my readers to any more. (And there’s no denying, my life has been a bumpy ride since 2007 or so. But after a while, even tragedy becomes “normal” if it never relents.) Finally, well, what free time I did have, I wanted to devote to doing productive things. My writing and art have to some extent a shield I’ve used to keep myself focused and running. (“Can’t spend the day screaming at Kaiser Permanente, I’ve got NaNoWriMo to do!”)

    But this is why my January commissions in particular got stalled. Since January, my full-time job has pretty much been taking care of my mom or her affairs, and everything else has fallen increasingly by the wayside. I am amazed (and glad) that I’ve managed to actually launch Suburban Jungle and not miss any updates during all this– faltering right out of the starter gate would have been painful for everyone.

    Of course, now my mom’s estate has to be settled, but compared to the day-to-day workload of caring for her, that seems a relatively easy task. So now I can turn my attention back to what is supposed to be my day job: writing and comics. So here is my plan:

    The first half of April will be spent rebuilding the Suburban Jungle buffer by finishing off the first issue so it can be in print by AnthroCon. During the third week of April or when the first issue is done (whichever comes first) I will turn my exclusive attention to finishing off my outstanding commissions and getting rewards out to my Patreon subscribers. Laurie and I will also be at AwesomeCon in Washington D.C. April 19-20, but purely as attendees, I won’t have a table.

    Where things go from there depends on how this plan works out. 😉 But as I’ve said before and I will surely say again, I am very grateful for everyone’s patience and wish to assure you that you will get your commissions as soon as I can make it happen. I haven’t forgotten!

    -The Gneech

  • Learning From My Trial By Fire: @NaNoWriMo 2013

    NaNoWriMo Winner 2013Thanks to National Novel Writing Month (a.k.a. NaNoWriMo), my third full-length novel, and the first novel-length Michael Macbeth story, Who Tend On Mortal Thoughts, finally has a solid first draft. I actually got to “The End” somewhere around 48,000 words on November 25th, and spent the next three days going back and finding any and every thin spot I could find to expand out a bit terribly worried that I would fall into the dreaded “Close, but no cigar!” category . But then, just after midnight on Thanksgiving, I managed to pull it off, earning the Winner’s Screen, the bragging rights, and most importantly, the experience of having spent a month as a full-time writer on a tight deadline and knowledge that I could indeed hack it.

    Yesterday, I spent mostly sleeping, followed by steak dinner and a trip to Barnes & Noble (the literary geek’s equivalent to “I’m going to Disneyland!”). I also did my best to not think about the book at all, although I did find myself going back and adding another 100 words or so in a moment of weakness. Now that I’ve had a little time to let it sink in, it’s time to reflect and try to pull some lessons learned from the experience.

    • Yes, Virginia, I am a writer. This isn’t something I learned really, but it was a nice reminder of something I already knew. I put in long hours and bent all of my brainpower towards getting this book done within the deadline, which included coming up with logistical strategies (“I won’t be able to get any writing done Sunday, I’d better double up on Saturday and Monday…”), exercising discipline (“I really don’t feel like writing this scene, but the story won’t work without it…”), and improvising fixes for damage control (“Ack! This part of my outline actually makes no damn sense for this character to do this action at this time. How can I fix this?”). But as grueling as it was, and as wiped out as I was by the end of the day, I was never once as resentful or burned out as I was by any given day of the former day job. This is my true and correct work, what I “should” be doing– now I just have to solve the logistical problem of making it profitable.
    • 2,000 words is a pretty good day’s work for me. The target for NaNoWriMo is an average of 1,667 WPD (or 11,669 per week), but that also assumes you’re going to write every day of the month. 2,000 WPD for five days a week comes to an average of 10,000 words per week, which is still a pretty ambitious pace but allows you to recharge your batteries. So when I’m not doing NaNoWriMo, that will probably be my target for a regular project. I know that there are people who claim you can easily crank out 10,000 WPD, and they may be right, I’ll certainly investigate the possibilities. But for now, a target of 2,000 WPD makes three novels a year comfortably possible, and that’s a good place to start.
    • “Write the book you want to read” may not work, but is probably a good place to start. It’s no secret among those familiar with them that my Michael Macbeth stories have always been “I wanted another Dirk Gently book, dammit!” at their heart. Who Tend On Mortal Thoughts started from this same premise, and when stuck I often went back to “What would a Dirk Gently book do here (besides miss another deadline)?” But of course, Michael is not Dirk Gently, Richmond Virginia is neither London nor Cambridge, and I am not Douglas Adams. So by the end of the book, I still came out with something that was almost, but not entirely, unlike a Dirk Gently book, and I now must consider the work on its own merits and flaws. I think it’s a good book, and I think there are even parts where it might be a great book. So that’s not a bad consolation prize, anyway. 😉
    • I really need to write “fatter” and slower. The “sweet spot” for novel publication, particularly in the genre I was writing for, is 75k-90k. I was trying to come up with a novel to fit that size, and it took a lot of going back and fleshing out to get it to 50k as it was. But when I sent the beta readers to check out the first rough of the first act, the reaction was a pretty universal “It happens too fast”/”You’re skimming over the plot”. I suspect this is because I write the same way I read (or watch movies), looking for the plot points and ignoring everything else. I don’t know when I got so ruthless about throwing out everything else, and really it’s not a good habit. If I’m going to read that way, why bother with a novel at all? Why not just read the Cliffs Notes? Or an outline. [1] I have to remember that sometimes, just taking delight in the characters and stepping into their world is also “the good stuff,” and that I shouldn’t be afraid to write a scene just because it would be a fun scene to include.
    • I need to bake more complexity into the plot directly from the outline. I still need to develop the skill of thinking in terms of more complex stories. Right now, I have graduated from “A + B = C” (short story) to “A + (B + C)/D = E” (novella/short novel). I now need to level-up to “(A + B) / (C + D) + E = F”. If that makes sense. Which it probably doesn’t to anyone but me. Point is, I don’t need a “bigger, more epic” story, but I do need a story with more layers and a more intricate structure.

    There is probably more, but that’s the extent of what I can easily bring to words right now. I’m very glad that I could finally participate– and win– NaNoWriMo. I don’t know how people can manage to pull it off with a day job! But anyone who jumps in and gives it a real try, whether they reach the arbitrary 50k “finish line” or not, you have my admiration, affection, and respect. I’m proud to be among your number!

    -The Gneech

    [1] Actually, upon reflection, the Cliff Notes comment may be telling. So many of my college literature courses were of the “Read six novels this week, ten novels the weeks after that, and the entire works of William Shakespeare by the end of the semester…” variety that eventually I gave up and did just read the Cliff Notes because there was no other way to get through the class. Not proud of the fact, and always regarded it as a major failure of the University curriculum that I was forced into it. FWIW, for most things at least, I did try to go back and actually read the text later in adult life.