My Illustrations: Why I started and where I’m going

Recently I started drawing again using only black and red sharpies on paper. No pencil, no eraser. I don’t know why I made this decision but it’s been a lot of fun so far.

It started with reading Show Your Work by Austin Kleon (read my review). He does regular pieces of art, sketches and blackout poems, stuff like that.

Sounds like fun. I used to draw a lot. I had a comic book I was aspiring to write back in the day, this absurd comedy following a team of bank robbers — a sloth, a turtle, and a badass starfish. It didn’t make it very far, and this was a long, long time ago.

I’m getting more and more interested in graphic novels lately, and have been thinking about writing/illustrating one in the near future. I have no delusions that my illustrations are works of art. But writers like One (creator of One Punch Man, and Mob Psycho 100) have created masterpieces from simple lines. Maybe I can do the same.

But I can’t just jump into that. Drawing a graphic novel would be a huge undertaking and would demand a ton of my time. Plus I have 2 other projects to finish before I can even consider diving in (Grim Curio and The Gin Theif: Eps 2-6ish).

On top of that, I need to develop some kind of style. I can get away with mediocre art if it has a cohesive style that can communicate a story. So that’s my vague goal, creating my own sense of style. I think I’ll fill one more sketch pad with my red and black marker shtick before moving on to pencil, and ink.

If you want to support my artistic journey, whether you’re looking forward to more sketches or a novel release, sign up for my mailing list. It’s free, you get a free ebook copy of Discovering Aberration, and when I make a release I’ll keep you informed. It’s literally an email every 6 months or so. So sign up below.

But if you want to give me money instead, buy a copy of Discovering Aberration or The Gin Thief: Ep 1. Click on one of the book covers on the right to buy. Every sale counts, so buy one for a friend.

Planning a Novel: The Spark of an Idea

While writing Grim Curio is still in full swing (but nearing its end), I’ve been thinking about future projects a lot lately. I have two other novels in the works, The Gin Thief episodes and an untitled novel I’m co-writing with my wife, Tana.

She’s not much into social networking or blogging, but she’s a voracious reader and you can follow her on Goodreads. Last year she read well over 100 books and this year she’s already on track to surpass that.

I’ve been asking her for a while, “When are you going to write your own novel?” and she shrugs.

She’s the reader, I’m the writer. But I knew there was a story inside her if I could just coax it out. So during an hour long drive, I grilled her. I started with the broad questions. “If you were to write your novel,” I asked, “What genre would it be?”

She was skeptical of my motives, but after a little coaxing she opened up. “My favorite books are mash-ups of Science Fiction with a Fantasy element,” she said. Turns out, she likes the Sci-fi aesthetic, and magic systems from novels like the Mistborn trilogy. Sounds good to me.

“I really like the plot of Treasure Island,” she said. One of my favorite novels. Scored a big point with that one. “I’m interested in a science fiction retelling of Treasure Island with magic and a heist.”

I was taken aback. “That sounds amazing. I’d totally read that. In fact, I’d totally write that.”

We tossed ideas back and forth, getting more and more specific along the way. And what we came up with was this.

It’s a mess. But it’s also a jumping off point.

Let’s say you’re interested in writing your own novel, but don’t know where to start. What can you take away from this?

Find someone to bounce ideas off of

As it turns out, Tana has more interesting ideas than I do. Go figure. She’s read everything under the sun. She’d throw me an idea, and I’d build on it and throw it back. Pretty soon we had the seed of what could be a promising story.

It’s important to remember that there really isn’t such a thing as a bad idea in this stage. It’s ok to say, “That’s been done before,” or “I’d rather see something like…” But don’t shoot the other person’s ideas down. They are doing you a service, and if you want their continued support, be encouraging.

Start broad, then go more and more narrow

You’ll notice that in the beginning there wasn’t a specific idea. But as we explored settings and themes and plot structure, we began to get more and more specific.

Of course this isn’t the only way to go. In fact, this is the first time I’ve ever attempted to create a novel this way. But it seems to have worked well.

Alternative ways to begin a novel include: start with a character, start with the plot, find an idea you want to explore, find an aesthetic, or just find a book you want to emulate. It really doesn’t matter where the spark of the idea comes from. Just find a something you love and run with it.

Ideas change

What you brainstorm here will likely not be your final product. What sounds amazing in the idea generation phase may be terrible once executed. There’s no way to know until you do it.

Embrace change. Pivot once you realize something isn’t working. Don’t hold yourself to your early ideas, because in the end it doesn’t matter how you started, only how you finish.

Realize that this is just the first step

The work is only just beginning. An idea isn’t worth the paper it’s written on unless you follow through with it. Writing a novel is a lot of sustained hard work. Be prepared to follow through for months and months in the trenches, taking fire and shooting back until… you’re novel is written I guess. Not a great analogy, but I’m keeping it.

That’s all I have for today. Hope you enjoyed this peek behind the scenes. If you’re looking for more on this subject, checkout my blog post called Find Inspiration, Generate Ideas, and the Myth of the Perfect Concept.

Change log: Chapter 1 Part 1 Revised

Last week I shared my critique ready version of Grim Curio Chapter 1 Part 1. It was 3600 words long and was the first piece I shared online. I was pleasantly surprised at the quality of feedback and felt compelled to revise it right away.

Well the revision is done, and a lot has changed, including the addition of nearly 1000 words! If you want to read it, follow this link to the critique page on Reddit.

So what is the difference between the two versions?

There were a few points of feedback I received which resonated with me, but one overshadowed all the others: the setting is too vague. Readers seemed to picture a British gentleman when they pictured James, not exactly what I was going for. Clearly something was off.

It makes sense why that is. While writing the first 10,000 words, I’d never formalized a setting. There was something vague in my head, but I was having trouble solidifying it.

But once the feedback started coming in, the setting began to develop in my mind. This story will be cosmic in scale, involving the ripping apart of the boundaries between multiple realities. So not typical. For this kind of story, I need a setting equally not typical. And now I’ve got it!

The new setting

The concept of this setting is: 500-1000 years in the future, the earth is a husk of what we know today. It’s been ravaged by scientific progress. A multitude of events have shaped the world to it’s current state: ecological devastation, nuclear war, chemical weapons and more have made the planet an inhospitable place.

What little of humanity remains are packed within relatively non-toxic safe havens. Spores linger in the air, and spore storms are a ever looming danger.


Of course, humanity has divided into sects, as is always the case. Two of these sects are the Scientists and the Naturalists.

Scientists are devoted to furthering scientific progress above all else, even treating sciences as a religion. They believe that those who do not embrace Science will eventually be swallowed up by the desert. So it has been projected by their analytical analysis of the planet and her patterns.

Naturalists are devoted entirely to nature, living simply off the fungi that surrounds their villages. They believe that the only way to survive on this hostile planet is to embrace what little nature we have left, as toxic as it is.

These factions are just subtext. They only have a little baring on the story, but they flesh out the world and expand on some of the themes I’m working on. 

Weird Fiction

This new setting moves the genre closer to the weird science fiction genre, which is the realm of authors like China Mieville. If you haven’t read his work, I highly recommend it. The nice thing about this genre is it offers nearly unlimited freedom to explore the ideas I want to dive into.

That’s all I have for today. There’s a lot more I want to share with you, but it’ll be information overload if I just spill the beans all at once. Here are some hints of things to come: character profiles, the meat factories, how spores affect the environment, and how the layered universe works (plus more).

I’d like to hear from you. So what do you think of this format? Do you find these kinds of posts interested? Is there a topic you’d like me to cover in a future post? Let me know by leaving a comment.