One Writer’s Journey

November 30, 2018

Fan Faves: Writing a Story that Fits into an Existing Universe

Another week spent on rewriting but I’ve also fit in time to watch some more LibraryCon sessions.  Today I watched a session on Fan Faves or writing a story that fits into an existing universe.  The panelists were:

Jeremy Whitley who wrote My Little Pony, XMen, Hulk, Wasp and is currently working on Rainbow Brite. I have to admit that it really interested me to hear from a man who has written so many books with strong female characters.

Jo Whittemore who is writing Super Girl graphic novels.

F.C. Yee who is writing in the Avatar world.

When you write a book, short story or graphic novel for publication that is set in an existing universe, you have to get it right.  Mess something up and the fans are going to tell you all about it.

Because of this, authors who are invited to expand on this worlds have a lot of work to do.  When Jo Whittemore began writing about Super Girl, she had to do a lot of research to get CW approval.  Her slides showed the approximately 30 books that she read to make sure that whatever happened in her story was consistent with things that had happened in earlier stories.  She also read books that are still to be released.  She explained that one of the trickiest parts of her job is remember what fans already know and what they don’t because she has to be careful not to let anything slip.

I would think that to have the depth of knowledge needed to write one of these stories, you would have to be a fan.  But Yee emphasized that that brings its own issues.  He is a huge Avatar fan and when he writes a book for this series he has to be careful to keep his extreme fan tendencies in check.

This was definitely a reminder for any of us who want to try to write in someone else’s universe just how much work is needed to obtain the depth of knowledge required.

If you haven’t watched any of these sessions, they are still available.  Just register here and you will have access to all of the recorded sessions.

–SueBE

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November 16, 2018

Graphic Novels: Why Schools Like Them and Using Theme to Make a Retread Newly Relevant

Working my way through the LibraryCon Live! sessions, I’ve been finding out about a variety of new-to-me graphic novels. (You can register and log in to view sessions  here.)

Victor LaValle’s Destroyer is a Frankenstein’s monster story.  Some of the themes are true to the original (evil’s of science and environmental themes) while others are much more contemporary.  In LaValle’s version, police shootings of young African American’s also come into play.

Olivia Twist by Darin Strauss and Adam Dalva is, as you may have guessed, an Oliver Twist retelling.  It takes place in a dark future London complete with internment camps.

Various authors and editors that I’ve heard speak have discussed theme.  One of the reasons that theme is so important especially in these retellings is that it makes them relevent today.  Trying to interest a publisher in a Frankenstein retelling is probably going to earn you a yawn.  “Oh, another one.”  The trick is to bring in a theme that makes it current.

The beauty is that is not only current, it makes graphic novels useful for classroom discussion.  Where a discussion on police shootings may quickly get emotional when discussing it as a current event, discussing it as literature gives young readers a bit of distance. It is less personal. They are discussing a book vs discussing what is going on in their own neighborhoods and country.

This was an “aha moment” for me but it shouldn’t have been. When I was a newish writer, I remember hearing people talk about why so many picture books features animal characters.  We’re talking fiction stories where the animal characters stand-in for real children.  What we were told, and it still makes sense, is that by making the characters talking bears or whatever, you give young readers just a bit of distance.  A story that might be too scary becomes much less so when the characters are a bit less realistic.

Now I find myself thinking about classic stories.  How could you reboot Dorian Gray or the Hunchback?  What themes would help make these stories current and relatable for today’s young readers?

–SueBE

November 13, 2018

RIP Stan Lee

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Came back to my desk after lunch on Monday to see numerous posts on the death of Stan Lee.  Sadness.

Three years ago, my husband and I took the MOOC “The Rise of Superheroes and Their Impact on Pop Culture.”  Led by the Smithsonian, it was offered through EdX and included guest lectures by Stan Lee.  Yes, I saved every single one of those lectures.

What impressed me the most was his overall can-do attitude.  When he started at Timely Comics, he was an assistant.  That meant he assisted pretty much everyone at everything.  He filled ink wells for the artists.  He got people lunch.  But he also took advantage of opportunities. He wrote the filler “Captain America Foils the Traitor’s Revenge” which appeared in Captain America Comics #3 (May 1941).  This is where he first used Captain America’s shield as a ricocheting weapon.

By the 1950s he was writing a variety of comics including romance, Westerns, humor, science fiction, medieval adventure, horror, and suspense. When he got the chance to premier a line of superheroes, he introduced something never before seen, flawed heroes who were just a human as they were heroic.

If you get the chance to take the EdX class, I highly recommend it.  Even if you don’t plan to write a graphic novel, this is a new way to think about literature.  Me?  I signed up for the Library Journal Conference all about science fiction, fantasy and graphic novels.  I’ll fill you in on that tomorrow.

–SueBE

 

October 9, 2018

Graphic Novels: Is This Form Right for Your Story?

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EstrangedLast week, I attended a webinar by School Library Journal on comic book writing.  The guests were Ethan Aldridge, author of Estranged, and Wendy Xu, part of the SLJ team.   One of the things that they stressed was how vital it is to recognize both novels and graphic novels as legitimate means of story telling.

A novel is text-based.  It challenges readers to imagine what the characters and setting look like.  It stresses reading and literacy and is great for one type of learner.

A graphic novel may be better for visual learners because it stresses images over text.  It helps readers develop visual literacy, especially as they work to read and identify emotion.

But it also means knowing which is the better form for your particular story.  A fantasy or science fiction graphic novel allows the illustrator to develop the world.  It doesn’t require paragraphs or pages of text to tell the reader what the buildings look like and what people, if they are people, wear.  The illustrator simply depicts it.

The illustrator can also expand on the story by including characters in the background of multiple panels.  Readers will begin to look for these characters and they can be used to develop a visual subplot.

The fact that a graphic novel is illustration based means that it can be difficult to have an unreliable narrator.  The reader sees the world that the main character sees.  That said, the reader may see something in the distance that the character doesn’t.

I can’t say that I feel prepared to start writing graphic novels. But I’m curious to learn more about how the various elements work together to move the story forward, create tone, and more.  I’ve got a number of books on request including Sanity and Tallulah by Molly Brooks, Fake Blood by Whitney Gardner, and of course Estranged by Ethan Aldridge.  I’ll be requesting more as I finish these so let me know if you have any favorites.

–SueBE

May 10, 2018

Random House: New Graphic Novel Imprint in the Works

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Random House Children’s Books recently announced the addition of a new imprint dedicated to graphic novels.  Random House Graphic will produce graphic novels for children and teens under Gina Gagliano as the imprints publishing director.

Gagliano is coming over from First Second Books where she was one of the founding staff members.  She explains that it is too early to say how many books the new imprint will produce and on what schedule but the plan is to release the first list in Fall 2019. Random House Graphic will expand on the list of graphic novels already produced by Random House Children’s Books, including:

  • Babymouse by Jennifer L. Holm and Matt Holm
  • Rickety Stitch and the Gelantinous Goo by Ben Costa and James Parks
  • Lucy & Andy Neanderthal by Jeffrey Brown
  • Hilo by Judd Winick
  • 5 Worlds by Mark Siegel and Alexis Siegel, with art by Xanthe Bouma, Matt Rockefeller, and Boya Sun

When Publisher’s Weekly asked Judith Haut, senior v-p, associate publisher of Random House Children’s Books, about the plans for these backlist titles, she said, “There’s still a lot to figure out. But no changes are planned right away. Backlist graphic novels will remain with their current editors. We have a number of editors at RHCB who are passionate about graphic novels and we want them to continue. We want to encourage collaboration and Gina is looking forward to working with all the editors at RHCB.”

I’ve always enjoyed the graphic novels that First Second produces so it will be interesting to see what they produce in the future as well as what comes out from Random House Graphics.  Getting young people to read needs to be a priority and graphic novels are one way to pull in those who enjoy visual story telling.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I feel inspired to check out a graphic novel.  Which will it be this time – Lucy & Andy or Rickety Stitch?

For more on the plans for this new imprint, check out these articles at Publisher’s Weekly, Newsaramaand The Hollywood Reporter.

–SueBE

December 12, 2016

Comic Books in the Classroom

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lunar-landscape-804147_1920I’m a very visual person.  Because of this, I’ve always been a little surprised that I don’t like comic books and graphic novels more than I do.  My son believes its because I haven’t found the right graphic novels. “You like some of them a lot.”  And he’s right.  It either clicks with me or it doesn’t.

Oddly enough, I’m the same way with “regular” books.  I either like it or I don’t.  That said, I’m better at picking novels that I like I think in part because I know what genres I like — historic fiction, fantasy, science fiction, mysteries and thrillers/espionage.  I know just as well what I don’t like — romance and the vast majority of self-help.

I also grew up in a culture that didn’t encourage us to read comic books.  Sure, my grandparents bought me some but these were Scrooge McDuck and that sort of thing.  Comic books were fine until I became a strong reader and “outgrew” them.  Smart kids, after all, did not read comics.  If they did, you’d find comics in the classroom.

And I did, but only rarely.  Now and again some enterprising teacher would bring in a handful of classic comic books.  I think that they brought these in for the reluctant readers.  I may not have been reluctant but I loved these comics.

If you haven’t seen it yet, Gene Yang recorded a really interesting TED Talk (see below) on comic books.  He was a teacher for almost 20 years.  He gave lectures (no, really!).  He left video lectures when he knew he was going to have a sub.  His students pointed out just how boring these videos were.  But he also drew comic lectures and these went over incredibly well.  Why? They presented a self-paced visual learning opportunity.  His students could read as quickly or slowly as they needed to read to absorb the information.

He also discussed how comic books went from being popular with teachers to being kept out of most classrooms.  Once again, sloppy research is to blame.  His lecture is only about 10 minutes long so take the time to watch it and learn about how comic books can help young readers learn.

–SueBE

November 18, 2016

Graphic Novels: Telling Nonfiction stories

comic-book-1393153_1280Oh, the vagueries of the internet.  Monday or Tuesday a story popped up in my blog feed.  It was extolling graphic novels that tell stories of science, nonfiction stories of science.  Awesome!   Then I took a closer look and realized that the original post was from 2013.  Okie-dokie, not sure why it decided I needed to know about a three year old post right now, but there you have it.

Still, my favorite graphic novel is science so I decided to look into this.  My all time favorite, until something surpasses it, is Clan Apis by Jay Hosler.  Yes, the bee talks but this is a graphic novel about bees.  Somehow Hosler makes it work.  He is a Ph.D. who studies bees which means that he knows his stuff.  He delivers tons of bee facts — life in the hive, how they defend the hive, bee predators, etc — along with a healthy dose of humor. As with many graphic novels, just because it is illustrated doesn’t mean it is a book for the picture book audience. The publisher recommends the book for 9 – 12 years old, and I wouldn’t go much younger. Hosler discusses the life cycle of the hive.  The whole life cycle.  Hint:  Bees do not live a long time eve if they are the main character.

Fortunately, I’ve also found a number of newer science graphic novels.  I’m really interested in how authors tell nonfiction stories in this format.  I found Science Comics by First Second books.  This seems to be a new line with books published in 2015 and 2016.  I’ve requested a whole selection from my library, Coral Reefs by Maris Wicks, Dinosaurs: Fossils and Feathers and Human Body Theater both by M.K. Wicks, and Volcanoes by Jon Chad.

Dominic Walliman also has a single author series, Professor Astro Cat, with Flying Eye Books.  I’ve requested both Atomic Adventure and Frontiers of Space.  

The format is consistently appealing to young readers, especially those who “don’t like to read.”  I know there are also history topics in graphic novel format, including March by John Lewis.  I have book 1 of that series on my desk.  I’ve never tried writing a graphic novel before but this is an interesting format to explore nonficiton topics.  Once I do a little research I may pitch an idea to some lucky publisher.

–SueBE

 

February 2, 2016

Graphic Novels and Comic Books

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If you are interested in this literary form, California College of Arts instructor Matt Silady is offering a course, “Comics: Art in Relationship” through Kadenze.  The course starts on February 17, 2016 and features 5 sessions.  The description is sketchy enough that although I assume that means 5 weeks, it is an assumption.

Here is what will be covered in the 5 sessions:

  • Session 1: Defining Comics
    Identify key relationships in sample texts & demonstrate the use various camera angles on a comics page
  • Session 2: Comics Relationships
    Create Text-Image and Image-Image Panels
  • Session 3: Time And Space
    One Second, One Hour, One Day Comics Challenge
  • Session 4: Layout And Grid Design
    Apply multiple panel grids to provided script
  • Session 5: Thumbnails
    Create thumbnail sketches of a multipage scene

The time required to do the coursework each week is estimated at 10 hours/week.  This is a bit more of a time commitment than I can make right now, but it looks really interesting (see video below).  Hopefully some of you will be able to take advantage of this opportunity. Me?  I’m still waffling.  I don’t  have time but … I’m not an illustrator but …

–SueBE

 

 

 

August 17, 2015

Writing a Graphic Novel

My current favorite graphic novel.

My current favorite graphic novel.

When I took the MOOC, or massive open online course, “The Rise of Superheroes and Their Impact on Pop Culture” from the Smithsonian through edX, I had to complete several assignments.  In addition to creating a hero (Shadow Walker), a villain (The Preacher) and mock-up three panels.  Goody-two-shoes that I was in school, I’d love to admit that I did all the work, but I had a book deadline and fizzled out when it came time to mock-up the panels.  I don’t illustrate.  I’m not going to use a program to create something clunky if I submit my story.

Fortunately, I like doing research.  For those of you interested in learning how to write and submit your own work, I’ll give a few resources below.

  • Graphic novels may look as long as novels but the text has to be much tighter.  Like a picture book, you don’t to hog all the space or write about something the illustrator can show even better.
  • Write it panel by panel.  Describe the visual, and write out the narrative, dialogue, and sound effects.
  • When you describe the visual, you are giving the illustrator the action.
  • Your description of the visual, though brief, has to include tone, mood and perspective.
  • The manuscript will be formatted much like a screen play.
  • In addition to the script you will need biographical sketches of your characters (we had to write these for Rise of Superheroes) and also a synopsis (ugh).

On this blog post, Shannon Hale gives a page of manuscript that you can compare to the finished book Rapunzel’s Revenge to see how the artist added to and changed the manuscript.  Writing a graphic novel is a lot like writing a picture book.  I need to keep reminding myself of that so you get to hear it too!

Robert Smedley has written a blog post on the ins and outs of writing a graphic novel.  He also includes a photo of a script page.  This post is jam-packed with useful information.

You can find a lot of information online.  Much of it assumes you also illustrate.  Other writeups assume you’ve never written a story and don’t know the basics.  These are the bits that I’ve found most useful as I noodle over the possibilities.  The most useful thing for me right now is reading graphic novels.  Some I like.  Some I just don’t get which makes them just like any other type of literature.  My current favorite?  Welcome to the Jungle.  

Time to get my class materials back out and start playing with them some more.

–SueBE

 

June 17, 2010

A course on writing the graphic novel

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Last week, I blogged about a course being taught by writing buddy Anya Achtenberg.  This week I found another great class, this one brought to my attention by Julie Douglas of the Missouri Humanities Council.

The Graphic Novel, An Introduction looks like a great opportunity if you live near Springfield, Missouri.  The course  has both credit and noncredit options and it taught by Jen Murvin Edwards, a faculty member in the English Department at Missouri State University.  She writes fiction and children’s comic books, including work for the First American educational series Chickasaw Adventures and Catholic educational series Stories of the Saints.  She has also written for the World History Ink comic book series published by McGraw-Hill. Ms. Edwards’ short fiction has appeared in the MacGuffin Literary Journal.

The course also includes a presentation by Matt Kindt, an award-winning independent comic book artist and graphic designer from St. Louis, Missouri. Check out the site to find out more about his work.

If only I lived closer to Springfield!

–SueBE

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