Writer’s Talk

Back in the November of 2011, I was a guest on Writer’s Talk, a local show hosted by Doug Dangler and produced by The Ohio State University’s Center for the Study and Teaching of Writing. For the show, Doug interviewed writers in various fields and disciplines, “focusing on how they produce text and communicate in a variety of genres. Its purpose is to demystify and promote writing, especially for academic writers.”

(Note that Writer’s Talk is no longer in production. However, Doug is currently hosting a similar new show, Craft.)

The episode I was on also featured 2 other prolific Columbus comic creators: Ken Eppstein, editor, writer, and publisher of the Nix Comics Quarterly, and Max Ink, creator, writer, and artist of Blink.

You can watch the entire episode right here:

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    Persia Blues: “Here and Now” flash fiction

    When I did the Kickstarter campaign for volume 1 of Persia Blues, one of the reward levels was an original piece of flash fiction by me, handwritten inside the published book. When all was said and done, 11 people earned the reward.

    Interesting factoid: in today’s world of technology, where we’re used to typing the vast majority of our correspondences, it’s a bit of a shock when you hand write a 300 word story 11 times and realize there are muscles in your hand you haven’t exercised in that capacity in a long, long time.

    Anyway, I wanted to share the story with the rest of you out there. It’s about our lead protagonist, Minoo Shirazi, a young Iranian woman living in Shiraz.

    Art by Brent Bowman

    Art by Brent Bowman

    “Here and Now”

    by Dara Naraghi

    Minoo placed a sugar cube between her lips and sipped her tea through it, savoring the aroma wafting off the hot beverage. The coffee house was packed, mostly with her fellow university students. The venue advertised its free wifi and homemade fresh pastries, but the younger crowd mainly came to socialize with the opposite sex, in the relatively private atmosphere of the shop, away from the prying eyes of the morality police.

    Her laptop screen was lit up with multiple windows – news sites from outside Iran, her favorite gaming cheat site, an online political forum – but Minoo’s attention was focused elsewhere. A group of four young men sat a few tables away, drinking tea, smoking a hookah, and discussing the latest trends in structural design. She knew the oldest one, Reza. He was an architectural student, like her.

    And she had quite the crush on him.

    Not that she could do anything about it. Not under the strict Islamic laws governing public behavior. And not with an overprotective father at home.

    But today, none of that mattered. True, her life was what it was, with all its unfairness and limitations. But she had decided that morning, rather uncharacteristically, to try and focus on the positive. On the here-and-now.

    And so, Reza, with his jet-black hair and hazel eyes, with his perfect amount of facial stubble, and his crooked, yet handsome smile…Reza was her here-and-now. She would sit in the back of the coffee shop and steal furtive glances at him, and listen to his passionate advocacy for sustainable architecture. And she would let her mind wander, and fantasize about him, and her, and what if…what if…

    For today, at least, no law or tradition or morality police could take that away from her.

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      Dial B For Brimstone

      This piece of flash fiction is actually my very first professionally published story. It was selected as one of three winning entries (from 407 submissions) in a “short, short story” contest held by my hometown newspaper, The Columbus Dispatch. They called them “Noveleenies,” and I think they had to be under 400 words. My story was published in the Sunday edition on May 13, 2001.

      Art students from the Columbus College of Art and Design were selected to produce mock book covers for the stories. Here’s the one for my story, by artist Genevieve L Wood (I think this is her website, but I’m basing that solely on the mention of CCAD in her bio):

      0513nva01ar

      The final layout in the paper:

      newspaper-scan

      Aside from publication in the paper, I think we were also supposed to receive a copy of The Best American Short Stories 2001 anthology, but I never got mine. Yep, stiffed by a newspaper on my very first published work ;-)

      Anyway, here’s my story:

      Dial B for Brimstone

      “Thank you for calling the Hades Hotline,” the lifeless recording announced. “This automated service is brought to you by Corruption, the new fragrance by Calvin Klein. Corruption. Entice mortals into premarital sex. If you know the extension of your party, please enter it now.”

      The old woman’s bony, wrinkled finger impatiently punched in a three-digit number.

      “We’re sorry, that extension is no longer valid. Please select from the following options: To check on the status of your soul, press (1). For real-time quotes on pestilence, famine, war and death, press (2). To listen to the latest ‘N Sync single, press (3). If you are a Fox executive looking to develop a new show, press (4). To search our patented Covet Thy Neighbor’s Wife database, please have your ZIP code handy and press (5). If you are a telemarketer looking for a listing of families currently sitting down to dinner, press (6). If you live in California…”

      After two dozen menu options, 18 minutes on hold, and several threats of disembowelment directed at an obtuse customer service representative, the old woman’s call was finally transferred to its destination. In a cluttered, unassuming office, buried under piles of legal forms, a phone emitted discordant rings. Without looking away from his computer screen, a rotund middle-aged man with a graying goatee picked up the receiver.

      “Hello? Mom? Ah jeez, I thought I asked you not to call me at work.”

      “Don’t you take that tone with me, young man! What, is The Prince of Darkness so busy with his career that he can’t even take the time to talk to his own mother? And why doesn’t your old number work anymore?

      “They just installed a new voice mail system and I…”

      “Couldn’t be bothered to tell your poor mother the new extension, is that it? And another thing…”

      With a resigned sigh, The Dark One switched his call to the speakerphone and turned the volume down. Adjusting his reading glasses, he focused his weary eyes once again on the flickering computer monitor before him and continued with his e-mail.

      To: Legal

      Re: the Jordan contract

      Please advise if Michael is covered for a second comeback under the terms of his original contract.

      In the background a shrill voice droned on over the speakerphone. “…and when are you going to find someone nice to settle down with?…”

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        Bill Bryson quote

        I’m currently reading “A Walk in the Woods,” Bill Bryson’s memoir of hiking the Appalachian Trail. At times funny, insightful, academic, and even frustrating, it’s been a good read so far. The quote below is one of my favorite observations made by him on the nature of change in America:

        “At the time of our hike, the Appalachian Trail was 59 years old. The Oregon and Santa Fe Trails didn’t last as long. Route 66 didn’t last as long. The old coast-to-coast Lincoln Highway, a road that brought transforming wealth and life to hundreds of little towns, so important and familiar that it became known as “America’s Main Street,” didn’t last as long. Nothing in America does. If a product or enterprise doesn’t constantly reinvent itself, it is superseded, cast aside, . If a product or enterprise doesn’t constantly reinvent itself, it is superseded, cast aside, abandoned without sentiment in favor of something bigger, newer, and alas, nearly always uglier.”

        walk

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          Daredevil film treatment by J.M. DeMatteis

          On his blog, writer J.M. DeMatteis has the entirety of his mid-90s film treatment for a Daredevil movie, for producer/screenwriter Chris Columbus and his 1492 Pictures company.

          DAREDEVIL,
          THE MAN WITHOUT FEAR
          Final Draft Treatment
          by
          J. M. DeMatteis

          ACT ONE

          FADE IN—

          —on the Manhattan neighborhood called Hell’s Kitchen, fifteen years ago, where we find a gang of teenagers strutting their stuff down the hot summer streets. The clear leader of the group is sixteen year old MATT MURDOCK…a cocky young Cagney, with energy, anger, and an attitude. He’s the focus of the group’s attention: their unquestioned leader.

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            The working title of my memoir, as presented on BuzzFeed

            “21 insanely boring facts about my life that will blow your mind”

            “This man was born in Iran. You simply won’t believe what happened next”

            “13 of my life experiences only anxious geeky extroverts with disabilities would understand”

            “53 signs that I can’t believe I’m over 40″

            “My career in comics, as told by Sir Mixalot lyrics”

            “38 questions people from Iran living in America are sick of being asked”

            “The shocking truth behind my poor eyesight, and why you won’t see the world the same ever again”

            “My 8 most epic blog posts from 2008, and how they didn’t change my life”

            “Nerve-wracking story of my 1988 SAT test will make you laugh and cry at the same time”

            “12 countries I’ve traveled to, and why you’ll never see the pictures on American TV”

            “18 times I almost used the word ‘YOLO’ but then decided not to”

            “This Vine video will break your heart, but it made me just shrug”

            “10 (not so great) quotes vaguely about my life from 80s indie comic books”

            “37 Twerking pics of people who are not me”

            “Some reporter on FOX News made an extremely racist remark, but I wasn’t watching so I missed it”

            “27 most overused hastags that describe my life, if I knew what hashtags were”

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              “Caspian” Story in Dark Horse Presents #18

              I was quite happy with my first autobiographical short story for Dark Horse Presents, which was published in issue #4 (September, 2011). It received some good reviews, and it’s always fun for me to work with frequent collaborator Victor Santos. So earlier this year, I email Victor to see if he had the time and was interested in doing another similar story. The answer was yes, so I sent him a page of script, and then put together a simple 1-page proposal to send to Dark Horse publisher and DHP editor, Mike Richardson.

              The pitch went out at the beginning of March, 2012, along with this sample page:

              51 minutes after emailing the pitch, I received a simple reply from Mike: “I am up for this.” Hands down, my fastest approval, ever.

              So Victor and I went to work. Besides finishing the script, I also had to find many photo references for him. For this, I used a combination of scans of photos I had taken myself during my trip back to Iran in 2009, plus a few I found online. Victor did his usual magic penciling the pages, and we then worked together to tweak each page through the various stages to completion.

              I thought it would be fun to share the process from start to finish on one of the pages for you. So here it is, page 5, starting with my script:

              Page 5

              Suggested Page Layout: 5 widescreen

              Panel 1: Wide. Bird’s eye view of a narrow 2-lane mountain road zigzagging across the dry, rocky landscape. (see Ref_photos5.jpg, or lots of good general reference photos for the road to the Caspian here)

              Caption: I have equally vivid memories of making the 4-5 hour trip from Tehran to the Caspian, on the long, winding road that cut across the Alborz Mountains.

              Panel 2: View of the scenery as it would be seen from the car: majestic mountain ranges in the background, beautiful rock formations in the foreground. Also, if you can manage it, place the funny “car going over the edge of a cliff” sign on the road (see Ref_photos4.jpg).

              Caption: The non-Caspian side the mountains is dry and arid, but no less spectacular.

              Panel 3: Shot of Young Dara and cousins sitting outside by a roadside café (PhotoRef1, PhotoRef2), enjoying a sandwich and Coca Cola from a bottle.

              Caption: We would usually stop halfway at a nice little roadside café for lunch or a snack.

              Panel 4: View of the “avalanche protector” structure over a section of the road, as seen in the reference picture in Ref_photos4.jpg.

              Caption: I loved seeing the protective structures at key spots along the route, designed to protect the cars in case of a rock slide or avalanche.

              Panel 5: Show a line of cars waiting about 20 feet from the entrance to the one-way Kandovan Tunnel (PhotoRef1, PhotoRef2). Note: these pictures are newer, from when the tunnel was widened to 2 lanes. Use them as general reference for the shape of the opening, but draw it smaller, because during my time it was only one-lane wide and cars would have to wait on each side and take turns going through.

              Caption: But the biggest attraction of the trip was always the trip through the Kandovan Tunnel.

              (The places in the script where it mentions phrases like PhotoRef1 were hyperlinks to pictures or websites with the appropriate photo references for the scene.)

              And here is Victor’s rough pencils for the same page:

              I didn’t have any changes to suggest, as it all looked good to me. So the next step was to ink the page, and then throw on some colors. Per our last story, I asked that he use a very limited color palette, almost monochromatic. Given the subject matter of this story, we decided to go with blues and greens. Here is the original colored page:

              At this stage, I suggested toning down the green, and adding in some blue highlights, as I felt the original art was being overwhelmed by the colors. Victor agreed, and turned in this second version:

              Perfect. It was now in my court to do the lettering, which I did using Adobe Illustrator, and the font “Silver Age” from the Blambot site, designed by Nate Piekos:

              When lettering my own stories, I tend to do a lot of editing and rewrites at this stage. In the page above, you can notice some changes made to the caption text from the original script, most notably in panel 4.

              And just for fun, here are a couple of my photos that I had sent Victor to use as reference:

              And finally, here’s the cover for DHP #18, in which our story was published (November 26, 2012):

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                Of pitches and publishing seasons

                A couple of links related to the business side of comics…

                Publishing Seasons – First Second editor Gina Gagliano explains why publishing houses offer their catalogs in intervals broken into “seasons.”

                Winter: January through April

                Spring: May through August

                Fall: September through December

                If you publish your book with a major publisher, your book will one day be assigned a season of its own.

                Why is this?

                Near Misses From My DC Era – Writer Brian Wood shows how even successful, popular creators can pitch projects in vain, and even when you think you have a greenlight and your editor loves the book, it can still be scrapped for capricious reasons.

                Rima The Jungle Girl – I was asked by Azzarello to write a miniseries for his First Wave thing, and I wrote the outline and met with the editor and got that approved and all seemed cool, but the green light to start scripting never came, and to this day I have no idea why. I like the story, and since I wasn’t paid anything by DC for the outline the story’s mine, so maybe I’ll find a use for it.

                That last sentence is what interests me. Good ideas are good ideas, regardless of their initial failure in finding a willing publisher. As long as there’s no contract or NDA involved, I think creators should definitely keep all options open and revise their company pitches into creator-owned books. There are many examples of this in the field, with one that comes to mind is writer J.M. DeMatteis retooling his rejected “death of Captain America” story from the 80s into the mini-series The Life and Times of Savior 28 decades later.

                And on a more personal footnote, back during my own failed attempts to pitch new series treatments to DC last year, one of the characters I was interested in was Rima The Jungle Girl. I was told at the time that another writer had plans for her, so that particular character was off the table. Now, this was after the whole “First Wave” series of pulp books, so I don’t think it was Azzarello or Wood, but I do find it amusing.

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                  Archaia – effective submissions

                  The Beat has a nice little piece about Archaia’s How to prepare an Effective Submission panel at the recent NYCC. Archaia submissions editor Rebecca Taylor lists what every submission packet should include:

                  • Cover letter introducing the creative team and mentioning the vision for their book and why Archaia is the right fit for it
                  • Full title
                  • Names of the writer and artist
                  • Short description of the book
                  • A synopsis about one page in length
                  • Scripts for the first several pages (optional)
                  • Character descriptions.
                  • At least six pages of sequential art (colored and lettered, if possible)
                  • Your contact information
                  • Signed terms and conditions, which are available on Archaia’s website

                  But even better, here’s a link to a blog entry by one of the creators who participated in that panel, Michael Lapinski, artist of Feeding Ground:

                  FEEDING GROUND _ NYCC 2012 Effective Pitches Panel

                  At the link above, you can download the entire pitch packet for their comic in PDF format, and it’s definitely a very well put together presentation.

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                    Cullen Bunn on managing your time

                    Here’s another great process post for aspiring (and professional) writers. It comes from Cullen Bunn, writer and co-creator of The Sixth Gun from Oni Press, as well as a bunch of books from marvel Comics. The topic is time management, especially when you’re working on multiple projects and need to effectively and efficiently divide your working time between them all.

                    I use a cooking timer to keep myself on track. You can find software and apps to facilitate this method (Google “The Pomodoro Technique”) but I think a simple plastic timer and a cheap notebook work well. I divide my day up into thirty-five-minute segments. I call these segments “mods” thanks to a funny bit on The Office. The number of mods you complete in a day is completely up to you. I have a goal of completing 10–12 mods a day…

                    Click on the link above to read the rest of his process.

                    I have to say, I really like this method. I use a very informal version of this process for my own writing, but to be honest, I haven’t been doing a good job of it as of late. So I can see the advantages of really sticking to a concrete plan.

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                      On writing: Joshua Dysart (and yours truly)

                      Writer Joshua Dysart has a nice bit of writing process posted on his blog, titled How I start writing (and eventually finish) a story. I particularly liked this bit:

                      “Let’s talk about the Editor’s Mind vs. the Writer’s Mind. You have two modes when you write. The Writer’s Mind: where everything you write is awesome! You can do no wrong. You’re a genius! And the Editor’s Mind: where everything you write is open to scrutiny and can, nay… must, be improved. These are the two hemispheres of your process. And you have to be careful with them. When the Editor’s Mind is employed too soon or in concert with the Writer’s Mind, creative blockage can occur. But if the Editor’s Mind is disregarded altogether, bad writing will most certainly occur. The two modes are equally important, and you must struggle to keep them separate.”

                      Here’s what I wrote in the comments section, which I feel is worth re-posting here:

                      “On my part, the most difficult time I have is shutting off my “Editor’s Mind” in the beginning stages of writing a story. I constantly want to edit and perfect, worried that I may forget to do so later, leaving some of the crap in.

                      At some point, I had to just embrace the fact that this is how my mind is wired, and trying to fight it is a losing battle. So instead I tried to work with (and around) it.

                      I start with a pencil and a notebook. Old school. Somehow, knowing I’ll eventually have to type this all up, makes me feel that at this stage it’s ok to just go with the flow and put all my ideas down on paper. Also, psychologically, I somehow feel less intimidated staring at a blank piece of paper, rather than a blank screen. So I info dump and write choppy sentences and (in the case of a comic book script) doodle pages and panel breakdowns. Then I refine and edit a bit, erasing or crossing stuff out, until my Editor’s Mind feels better about the whole mess.

                      Only then do I sit down at the computer and start typing. Of course, the story still needs a lot of rewrites and edits at this point, but at least I’ve tricked myself enough to not be paralyzed by the over-analysis.”

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