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Posts tagged ‘Connecticut graphic novelist’

Time And The Publishing Process, by Stephen Emond (graphic novelist)

There’s a good delay with books. It’s a time-consuming process, both writing the book and going through the publication process. Things like comic books or a daily comic strip can be really appealing because you have a constant contact with your audience. Every day or every month you can put your latest work out and you’re never far from your public’s mind. Stand up comics often have trouble doing any kind of written material because they’re so used to an immediate feedback from their material. With books, with what I’m writing now, you have to worry that what you’re writing will still be relevant, or topical a year or two down the line. Or that world events don’t render it irrelevant or distasteful, or that someone else doesn’t have the idea you’ve been spending months refining and beat you to the punch. Alas, all you can do is your part and hope the rest falls into place.

Personally, I usually have a handful of ideas on hand in various states of readiness. So, oftentimes I have a vague idea of what my next book is while I’m still working on a current project. The way I work, having a regular publisher, editor and agent, is I’ll develop the idea I want to do into a detailed outline, I’ll work on sample chapters and I’ll get a really decent-length pitch put together. This can take anywhere from a couple of months to over a year, as has been the case for this book I am writing now.

Winter Town came out in December of 2011 but I’d been working on the pitch for a while before that, so certainly over a year to develop this into a good pitch I can be proud of and ready to write. From there, my editor has to sell this idea to the other editors and marketing teams in an acquisitions meeting. A lot of people have to sign on and say yes, this book sounds good; this deserves to be on the shelves; and yes, we think we can sell this. Even if it was completely written already and was a masterpiece, there are only so many books a publishing house can put out per season. If spring 2013 is filled up, or if it’d get lost in all the powerhouse books coming out in fall of 2013, it would still get pushed out a year. Maybe if I was James Patterson they could make a case for getting it out sooner, but I’m no James Patterson.

In my case it works out. This gives me most of the year to finish writing the book. It gives us time to revise it and go through a few rounds of edits. It gives Little, Brown & Co time to print advance copies, to shop it around and build up interest before it’s officially released. To the public, it’d seem that I disappear for a couple years and return with a shiny new book, but really all that time is spent working, writing, revising, marketing and planning for the release.

It’s a lengthy process, putting a book out, with very little of the process spent in the public eye, generally right around the release there’s a big hoopla, interviews and talks and book shelves, and then it all goes quiet again as we work on the next one.

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Stephen Emond’s author website: www.stephenemond.com

Stephen Emond’s bio page

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Talking About My Writing At Conferences, by Stephen Emond (graphic novelist)

It can be really jarring being an author. It seems perfect for a quiet, unassuming shy fellow (that’s me). You sit in a room and type out words; you write stories and create worlds; you can play around, say all the things you think and live the life you want, all from the comfort of your home, maybe with a muffin and a cup of coffee. You create that wonderful book; you get an agent; you get a publisher; your book is released; and you’ve communicated with the whole world and touched so many lives, all from your computer screen.

Then you get the call: “We’ve booked you to speak at a teacher’s conference in Chicago next month, start packing!”

Speak?! Teacher’s conference?! My high school English teachers would spit out their water if they knew I was even writing a book! I have to somehow teach THEM something? Speak???

This thought process loops for weeks, getting louder, with pounding echoes. I write! Not speak! These are two exceptionally different skill sets. People who are great writers and great speakers still amaze me. I imagine if you can speak well, if you’re that social and outgoing, then you wouldn’t be the type to do the actual quiet writing part. That’s the case for myself, at least. I got just such a call. In fact, when I’d written Happyface I had to do a book release party in my hometown, an English teacher’s conference in Chicago, a librarian conference in Pennsylvania and another teacher conference in Texas. I was petrified.

I’d never been one to raise my hand in class, or volunteer to read a passage, or for any reason choose to stand in front of a class. In most of those cases, you’d be expected to talk for a few minutes. Here I was supposed to talk to a quiet room for 20, 30 or 40 minutes!

Imagine, if you will, a montage sequence, set to the music of your choosing. I’m listing every noteworthy event that happened in the creation of the book; thinking about all the conversations I had with my editor; searching desperately for any little nugget of information I can pad out a half hour with; creating any artwork I can to at least divert a few eyes off of me; and getting on a plane, sitting in a hotel room, reading over notes and timing myself.

So much of the anxiety is just getting to ‘the moment’. I guarantee you the five minutes before a speech are always worse than the five minutes after beginning a speech, and the five minutes after a speech can be near-euphoric.

One thing that bridges the ‘speaker’ and the ‘writer’ is that it’s the actual writing you’re speaking about. I never had to recite someone else’s work or talk about something I didn’t care about, and that helps. I can’t say I’m the best speaker, but each time I’ve gotten through it.

Oddly enough, those times end up being the memories I look back on the most at the end of the year. I think to myself, “I’m a WRITER, not a SPEAKER!” I just want to WRITE. At the end of a trip like that, I think back, talking with other authors, speaking about my books, traveling, signing, hearing from people who’ve read my stuff, wrapped up in a whirlwind of activity all centered around not only books but MY books, those things I spent all that time writing. I have to remember, that this is part of being a writer, or the public version of a writer. That’s when I’m in full on glamorous author mode, when being an author seems like a really cool gig. I go home after that and it takes a  few days to adjust. Suddenly everything feels kind of empty and confusing. Why isn’t anyone coordinating my travel, driving me around, ordering me food? Does anyone want me to sign something? I’ve got a pen…

At the end of the day, you write to finish your book and you talk to sell it. It’s creative; it’s a business; it’s a strange, bizarre world being an author, but you do it and you love it.

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Stephen Emond’s author website: www.stephenemond.com

Stephen Emond’s bio page

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Writing Stories In Different Formats, by Stephen Emond (graphic novelist)

I’ve had the privilege to write for a few formats that are not novels. Namely, I got my start working on comic strips and was very entranced with that industry for a long time. I also spent a few years working in comic books, and because of my comic book Emo Boy I was given the chance to work on a feature film screenplay for a proposed film adaptation. I’ll talk here about those unique processes.

All of them are of course very different from prose writing, for teens or otherwise. While the heavy lifting of creating an airtight plot remains the same for any form of writing, and believe me that can easily be the most effort-intensive part of the process, there’s less focus on detail, generally because an artist or director will be supplying the actual images needed. Your job is strictly telling the story.

Comic strips may seem the easiest but I’ll always maintain that it’s a great boot camp for writing. You only need to do a small number of panels, usually one to four, with minimal dialogue, a small cast of characters and usually just the one scene. To do that well, to tell a full story AND elicit a laugh or a heartfelt moment, or to make someone stop and ponder something for a moment, is difficult. To do it day in and day out, week after week, year after year, you’ll understand quickly how hard it is to keep that momentum going. Every strip needs to set up who is talking, where they are, what the context is and then somehow turn that idea on it’s head by the end of the strip in a clever way. Sometimes a comic strip will have a storyline that goes on through a week or a month; Bill Watterson of Calvin and Hobbes fame occasionally would play a game and see how long he could keep an idea going. Watterson is especially famous for pushing boundaries and testing the limits of the form. But through these storylines you can never assume a reader has read the previous instalments. You have to assume they’ve never even heard of your strip. So not only do you have to carry on the story, but you have to address it as if this is the first instalment of the story and find a clever or quick way to recap. Every strip is essentially a tiny standalone story.

Comic books have a bit more space to play in. You can grow from a 3 panel story to a full 3 act story. Comics generally have 24 pages to tell your story in; whether it’s a standalone story or part of a longer arc, which has become more common in the past decade or two. Comics are a very visual medium, so it’s often the artist who tells the story in terms of movement and dynamics, and the speed a scene may pass along at. The writer is generally setting up the scene and delivering the major actions and dialogue. I can draw decently, so I had written and drawn my comics. I’d usually come up with a long list of potential plots, as most of the issues of Emo Boy had anywhere from one to three short stories (Issue 11 had 11 stories). Once I had decided on a plot, I’d spend a day or two coming up with jokes, scenes and a general three act structure, and when it was time to write I’d keep those notes handy and often write the full issue in one sitting. The majority of the month I would spend doing all the art.

When I started work on the Emo Boy movie, I had to learn a lot about structure and writing a long-form work. With books and movies, that freewheeling speed and quick note jotting was no good, I needed to really sit down and put everything together like a puzzle. Theme, recurring motifs, and strong set pieces all became important. I had to really think of big visual moments that would look good in a trailer, I had to see everything on a screen in my head. I had to learn to cut for the first time, because, at 90 pages, you need a clean, strong storyline and you have to be aware of any scenes that divert from your story or don’t in any way enhance or add to the story. Real estate is precious in a screenplay: scenes are generally short, a few pages long at best, so you don’t have the freedom to stroll at your own pace the way you do in a novel. You can’t spend a page talking about the flowers your character just passed. A novel can be a thousand pages or it can be 300 pages, you set your own pace. A movie needs to hit the right beats at the right times and hit them strong.

One of the best things about novel writing is the control you have over it. There’s no space demand of a comic strip or even a movie, there are far fewer hands in the production. It’s essentially you and your ideas, particularly at the start when the blank page truly is an invitation to your own world, as large or small as you feel comfortable existing in.

There’s always an option for a writer whether to express a story as a comic, a movie, a video game, a novel, a blog, a news article… there’s always a need and a place for good writing.

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Stephen Emond’s author website: www.stephenemond.com

Stephen Emond’s bio page

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Structuring Novel Chapters, by Stephen Emond (graphic novelist)

With Winter Town I thought of each chapter as its own mini story, paying close attention to giving each scene a three act structure and changing the values at stake between the start and finish. A common “rule” you’ll read in writing books is that if a scene starts off positive then end it negative, and vice versa. It’s really the value at stake in a scene that gets changed. Positive and negative is just a very broad way of looking at it.

A good example from Winter Town is in chapter 14. This chapter takes place early on in the relationship of Lucy and Evan, and takes place from Lucy’s POV. What I wanted to show here was Lucy’s inner struggle and inability to fully commit to something. She’s always liked Evan, she’s thrilled to be with him, but she’s self destructive and already picking at the relationship. The scene takes place in the evening when Lucy and Evan leave Evan’s house to walk downtown to the movie theater.

I divided the chapter into three main sections; Lucy getting outside and into a more cosmopolitan hustle and bustle, Lucy and Evan discussing small town life, the city, art and school, and then arriving at the theater where Lucy’s tone shifts.

It starts positive; Lucy finds a strong energy in the night, with people all around her, the downtown lights, she holds Evan’s hand, she kisses him, she can barely contain herself. The lights are reflecting on the snow, the streets are decorated, people are all out enjoying themselves, and it’s a romantic scene as Lucy and Evan go out in public as some variation of boyfriend/girlfriend for the first time.

The “second act” plays with the positive and negative. Lucy and Evan talk about a fantasy life in the city, making art. Movies, comics, teaming up and living off art and love in a creative community. This is Lucy’s dream and Evan’s fantasy. For Evan, it isn’t real. He knows he can’t leave his family, he has plans for school. Lucy doesn’t fit snuggly into his future vision.

The third act and “epilogue” of the chapter has Lucy reeling during the movie, emotional and on the verge of tears, while Evan just watches the movie. Lucy decides that Evan can’t appreciate her or art because he doesn’t know pain the way she does. He doesn’t suffer and his life is too clean and neat. The chapter ends on a negative note as the idea is planted in Lucy’s head that she is going to break his heart.

The constant shifting of good and bad, and light and dark, creates a dynamic flow and keeps the reader wondering what will happen next, and never getting too complacent with how things are. As readers, we truly appreciate the happy moments when they come from dark places and we cringe at the dark material that follows the lighter pieces. Beyond all that, it gives you a guide and purpose in your writing. Are things going too good for your character? Too bad? Try flipping the values at stake, sooner rather than later.

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Stephen Emond’s author website: www.stephenemond.com

Stephen Emond’s bio page

***

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My Fiction Writing Process, by Stephen Emond (graphic novelist)

I’m going to talk a little bit about what works for me when it comes to the process of writing. Everyone’s different, and no doubt you will be too, but here’s a little insight on how I work and how I came to use this process, and with any luck it can help you find your way as well.

I taught myself to write in gradual steps, by need, generally. My first ‘writing’ was my short comic strips. It doesn’t sound like much but writing comic strips is a great boot camp – every strip has a beginning, middle and end, or set up, development and punch line. You’re essentially telling a small story every day. By the time I was working on my Emo Boy comic book, I figured I’d read enough comics and watched enough TV. I knew the basic gist of how a story should look and feel. Some issues had one issue-long story and some issues had story several smaller stories. I’d generally set up the storyline, come up with some events and jokes, then wrap it all up, and if Emo Boy could learn a lesson by the end, all the better.

In 2008, I was working on two projects at once. One was Happyface, a full novel I was writing for Little Brown Books For Young Readers and the other was a screenplay for an Emo Boy movie for Vanguard Films. In 2008, I learned I knew absolutely nothing about storytelling.

The main complaint I kept hearing was: “Where’s the structure?” This was coming from both companies. Having worked on short comic strips and comic books, my stories tended to feel too episodic. Emo Boy, the movie was having multiple adventures stemming from the comic book storylines. Happyface was jumping from month to month and place to place with little arc.

I’ve since become a strong outliner – I often spend as much time, if not more, outlining a book as I do actually writing it. I start in broad strokes and break it down piece by piece. It goes something like this:

  • Have an idea.
  • Give the idea a basic arc – a beginning, middle and end.
  • Flesh those pieces out into 3 acts – so the beginning, middle and end each have a beginning, middle and end.
  • Jot out ideas, scenes, character traits and lines of dialogue. Picture a video trailer for the book. Think up themes arising from big ideas. I ask myself: what is it about this story that excites me and makes me want to write about this in particular? How do I connect with the story? I take all those puzzle pieces and try to fit them together into some kind of loose outline.
  • From there, I start thinking in chapters.
  • For each chapter, I’ll write a beginning, middle and end. I’ll add more dialogue, locations and characters.

My editor says my first draft for a chapter is always very loose, like I’m racing to the end. It’s closer to a comic or a screenplay: this person says this, that person says that, they both do this, the end. I’ll go through it again to add more observation, detail and surroundings. I’ll go through it again and add more mannerisms and movement, what the characters are thinking, sensory details like how something looks, smells or sounds. In final drafts, I pay attention to word choices, how sentences flow and the general feel of the text.

Things change a lot as I write. The outline will bend and sway, characters will reveal themselves to be far more important than I’d anticipated. So, even though I have a blueprint, I’m still discovering along the way. Some people prefer to start blind – they have a germ of an idea in mind and they start writing. I’ve tried this but I just stare at a blank page trying to think of something clever to say. It doesn’t work for me – but we’re all different. This is just my process.

In a more general day-to-day look at my writing process, I like to write outside of my home. I find I’m easily distracted at home, I have all my books there, my TV, video games and, worst of all, house chores. I also find that other places have better lighting. It makes me feel more awake. It could be a library, a cafe, a Panera Bread or a Barnes & Noble. I listen to music while I write – nothing with lyrics or too distracting – or sometime movie scores, and there are some indie bands that do instrumental music. I like jazz, anime soundtracks and, lately, I’ve added hip hop instrumentals into the mix.

Writing is hard. This is an issue for me and I know it is for a lot of people. Sometimes you know you want to write but you think, “I don’t have any ideas. I don’t know what to write.” So you don’t. It takes me a few minutes to get started. My head is racing, full of to-do lists, distractions, it’s been a long day, my brain is fuzz and I just want to tune out, but once I sit and just stare at the blank screen or notebook paper my brain will, one by one, shut off all those distractions. I start to think, one thought leads to another and eventually I’ll be lost in my own little world. Time slips away and I can easily sit there for an hour or two and not even feel it. I imagine it’s what meditation is like.

Anyone can write: you need to find what works best for you. Find that process and put your trust in it, and you’ll be piling up pages before you know it.

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Stephen Emond’s author website: www.stephenemond.com

Stephen Emond’s bio page

***

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HappyfaceWinter TownSteverino: The Complete Collection     The Gypsy Crown (Chain of Charms)The Night She DisappearedI Rode a Horse of Milk White Jade

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Using Art In My Teen Novels, by Stephen Emond (graphic novelist)

I had always considered myself an artist and had a strong interest in comic strips and comic books, and only in writing my own comics did I come to really appreciate the art of writing.

My first YA novel, Happyface, came about after the slow demise of my comic book series, Emo Boy. I’ll admit, I went into it both bitter and refreshed. I felt like there was no place for me in comics, that my book wasn’t embraced, blah blah blah, sour grapes. Of course, the book had its fans, one of them being the editor that I ended up pitching book ideas to.

When I started working on Happyface it was a new adventure for me. It was a chance to put comics behind me and to become… drumroll… an AUTHOR! Not too far into the process my editor suggested we bring art into the project, and I made this face: :\

Art? In a book? What if it’s too child-like? What if it gets shelved with COMIC BOOKS? I’d done comics already! I was onto the next thing and strongly against the idea, and my editor was okay with that. We could do text only. If the book didn’t work without art it wasn’t going to be a good book anyway.

Then the more I thought about it, I started to come around. It was for all the wrong reasons but I was suddenly open to the idea. What intrigued me was that the story was written in a first person voice, so we could make it like a blank journal that the main character is hand-writing in. I had the absurd notion that I would hand-write the entire book, that as Happyface enters his downward spiral his handwriting would become manic and messier, that his once relaxed art would become rushed and he’d fill in all the spaces in the margins – stuff you can’t do just with typed text.

However, you can’t edit hand-written text as conveniently as typed text, you can’t simply have it translated for foreign language editions, and you can’t have sloppy handwriting. It’s not just a piece of art – it needs to be a book.

As I started drawing for it, though, I embraced the idea again. As long as we could avoid the comic book racks it could really stand out – a new frontier, a book FULL of illustrations. Not just spot art or random chapter headings but tons of art on each page, text integrated directly into the art! I wasn’t aware of Diary of a Wimpy Kid, which was starting to catch on as I worked on Happyface. My editor sent me a copy of the book and asked for my thoughts on it. I felt like Happyface still stood on it’s own – that it was for a different age group, and the art was more mature and more integrated. We agreed to keep going.

I initially wanted to use illustrations to make my story stand out as a work of art and not just another book on the shelf. My editor wanted to use all of my capabilities since other authors didn’t have the option. It was its own little market. What I learned after releasing the book informed why I use art in all my projects post Happyface.

I’d certainly never thought of or intended for it but Happyface became a big book for reluctant readers – particularly for teen boys, who are generally considered too busy blowing things up in video games to read books. I got emails from people saying their son had read the book three times, and that he never reads ANYTHING. I got emails from kids thanking me for writing it. A lot of reviews pointed to the art in Happyface as a bridge for teens that would generally only read comic books or find dense blocks of words intimidating.

I write for myself, generally. Then I hope my writing can find an audience. To actually build an audience where there wasn’t previously one – to actually get people that don’t read to pick up a book and read – clinched the deal. Thank goodness I used the art. I still want those manic margin-filled pages, though.

In my next article, I’ll talk a bit about how I generate ideas. Thanks for reading!

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Stephen Emond’s author website: www.stephenemond.com

Stephen Emond’s bio page

***

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HappyfaceWinter TownSteverino: The Complete Collection     I Rode a Horse of Milk White JadeAuslanderTarzan: The Jungle Warrior: Bk. 2

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Writing Personal Stories For Teens, by Stephen Emond (graphic novelist)

I would never say that I write autobiography but I like to say that I write personal stories, because I do cull a lot from my life and from people around me and things that I see, as I imagine most authors do. It gets more difficult with each project because writers look for new aspects of their personality to mine, and usually it’s that first book that is the culmination of a life’s worth of experiences.

I was no different, as my book Happyface definitely felt like a look back on everything I’d lived before. It really wasn’t intentional. It would have been bold of me to say, “I plan to write a book about me, and the people shall love it.” Although, I may have pitched that at some point. It was an organic process, and when you’re sitting there asking, “What would this character say? Where can they go?” it’s definitely easy to answer with what you would say and where you’ve been.

In case you haven’t read it, Happyface is about a boy who suffers an unnamed family tragedy, moves to a new town and decides to start life over for himself. It becomes a social experiment and he uses it to bury pain and escape his reality. It’s a “downward spiral” story.

The genesis of the book came from a title I’d just written it down in a sketchbook. Later I wondered who Happyface was, and the idea of a kid smiling through a lot of inner pain seemed like a great character to dive into. I had his parents divorced, because my own parents were divorced. I made him kind of shy, a little geeky, because I could definitely sell that. He was an artist. That pretty much clenched it -this was going to be a personal story.

I spent a lot of time thinking about my high school years when working on Happyface. I often wished I’d kept a journal of some kind, something I’ve always felt through life but never actually did. It would have been a goldmine for material! I had moved to a new town my sophomore year of high school when my parents divorced, and I viewed it as a chance to be a new person, but this was honestly lost on me as I wrote and only after did it dawn on me that I had actually lived through that experience. I thought I’d just been coming up with interesting story points. Other things I did intentionally use. I pulled a lot of details and banter and relationship tics from my first girlfriend. I thought about the kids that reached out to me when I first moved. These girls Leslie and Emily would always talk to me in French class. They didn’t seem to realize I was an unpopular hermit, so they inspired the Moon sisters. A kid I sat with at lunch with a strong affinity for Married With Children inspired the character Mike. Much later in life, after a breakup, I met new people and had a new group of friends, and that inspired a chunk of the story as well.

This all sounds like autobiographical fiction but it really isn’t. A book starts off as an idea and usually for me it has little to do with anything going on in my life. The arc of the story, even when it involves real events, usually needs to be fictionalized. It needs closure, it needs structure, a lesson to learn, a theme, things a little more tidy than life ever offers. As I flesh it out, personal details tend to fill in the spaces, and round out the characters, and provide the little bits of wisdom and insight. Eventually, though, it also goes through my editor, and a much wider audience than myself or my friends is considered. It goes back to telling a story the right way, giving it a real structure, adding drama and taking away fluff. This is when we get rid of the 90s nostalgia, the Super Mario references, the old sitcom references. I keep adding those in, I can’t help it. This is when we search the story for those universal truths, where we find the pieces teenagers will really relate too, and we strengthen those and bring them to the front. That’s the stage where I stop writing for me, and start writing for an audience.

In my next article, I’ll talk a bit about how I use art in books – thanks for reading!

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Stephen Emond’s author website: www.stephenemond.com

Stephen Emond’s bio page

***

United States (and beyond)

   

United Kingdom (and beyond)

   

Australia (and beyond)

HappyfaceWinter TownSteverino: The Complete Collection    The Night She DisappearedNecromancing the StonePrison Ship: Adventures of a Young Sailor

Writing Teen Novels
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