What a topsy-turvy-skull-fuck of a year.
It opened with the loss of my second grandmother on January 27, seven weeks after the loss of my first in December. There were two months between her funeral on January 31st and her memorial on April 9, on what would have been my grandparent’s 63rd wedding anniversary. I spent much of the Spring writing a eulogy for both grandmothers.
Between funeral and memorial, I put the final touches on this beast:
The most difficult entrant in the WHIZ!BAM!POW! world, BOOK TWO had been my white whale for almost three years. It was a story that grew on me, through numerous iterations and drafts. While I released it initially only for Kindle, I’ve since serialized it and have removed it from the Kindle store. The final installment will be released on December 22nd. It will be available in THE COMPLETE WHIZ!BAM!POW! in 2014.
I also started a newsletter called THE SPINNER RACK. Feel free to sign up. It only took me a few years to do it, because I hate newsletters, but I like mine.
In May, Katie and I went to the Cleveland Zoo, where I took a picture of her niece’s spontaneous fear at the animatronic dinosaurs which would go on to win me a second place prize and a kick-ass $15 dollar Drug-Mart gift card (along with other prizes). Here’s that picture:
When we got back to the house that evening, I asked Katie to marry me with my grandmother’s 50th anniversary ring. My grandfather wanted Katie to have that ring. At our wedding this coming year, my grandfather will be my best man, just as he’s been for my entire life.
In fact, two of the life stories my grandfather liked to tell eventually became two of my short stories (with significant dramatic license), the first, A PERFECT FAMILY, was written in December of 2012 and the second, JUNE, the story of a cross dog’s last chance, told from the point of view of a dog, during the Spring of 2013.
I followed up JUNE with two other short stories, the “written in two hours on a Saturday morning for a lark” BEDTIME, about my door locking OCD and THE THREE JESI(I?) TURN WATER INTO WINE, a fictionalized account of the true story of a psychology experiment in the 1960s where three schizophrenics who believed themselves to be Jesus Christ were put in a room together to work it out. THE THREE JESI were not one of my grandfather’s midwestern folk tales.
After a brief respite from death over the spring, we learned that my mother had breast cancer. Fortunately, we caught the cancer in time and she’s on her way to a full recovery. While I’ve vowed to not write non-fiction about cancer through the duration, I do need to share the oddest incident of the entire journey thus far: her 11th-hour reprieve from her first chemo treatment on September 30th and the decision to go with surgery first. This was what she had wanted all along, and as my mother will tell you herself, things usually work out in that outcome.
That same evening, Katie and I took Orson, the anything but standard poodle and my best friend, to the vet. He wasn’t eating. We thought he had something in his stomach, a sock or something he ate. The next day, I learned that it was stomach cancer throughout 75% of his stomach, and, on October 1, at 3:57PM, I had my best friend, exactly six and a half-years old, put to sleep. His ashes are in my office, in a place of honor, below what I think is a fitting epitaph, a quote from Ray Bradbury:
Treasure this day and treasure yourself. Truly, neither will ever happen again.
After Marley, Katie’s greyhound, and I won a blue ribbon at the Loudonville Street Fair on October 5th with this picture:
… and after I made a return to percussion playing (djembe only, so far) in public the previous Sunday, on October 17th, my mother had a double mastectomy and recovered with flying colors in a few days, even though I tried to convince her she had been asleep for two years and that Hillary was president. Once the anesthetic fully wore off, and we found QVC on the hospital TV, the con was up.
Fortunately, she was in a hospital bed and couldn’t do much damage.
In the hospital, once we learned that we were indeed in the present, I designed the cover and, in the two weeks that followed, I put the finishing touches on the work that consumed me for the entire year:
If 2012 was the year of COMICSTORYWORLD, 2013 was the year of COMING TO QUIET COUNTRY. Throughout the entire insanity of the year, I was working on this piece, 40 pages and infinitely more difficult to write than the 300-page book on the evolution of comics and transmedia storytelling.
QUIET COUNTRY is the story of Katie’s mother’s best friend, Nancy Tysl, who owns the Quiet Country bed and breakfast in Holmes County, Ohio. She is a quiet woman with a wonderful sense of humor who, at age 16, escaped on foot from North Korea in 1950. The tale follows her escape from the North and her life in the South before coming to Cleveland and eventually, to Holmes County.
Over the course of the year, from November until September, I recorded four separate interviews with Nancy and spent much of the year staring at Post-It notes, clueless as to how to arrange the pieces. Fortunately, I figured it out and released COMING TO QUIET COUNTRY as a Kindle Exclusive on October 28th, Katie’s birthday. The print version was released last week.
As QUIET COUNTRY was released, I had to to transition to my next bit of work, my speaking engagement at the Billy Ireland Cartoon Museum Festival of Cartoon Art on November 15th. I was part of a two-person presentation on the future of comics storytelling with my good buddy from high school, Geoff Long. It was a bit of a transmedia high school reunion, where Geoff spoke of the wild and crazy things he’s doing at USC with Henry Jenkins (we were Henry’s opening act) and I spoke on how digital comics can become the new Spinner Rack if they take advantage of the unique capabilities of Internet storytelling. A version of that talk will be made available in 2014, though I haven’t quite figured out how to do it.
To add more surreality to the proceedings, I was actually on a panel with Henry, and proved that I was the most old school person on the panel, despite being the youngest. Oh yeah, and right after the panel, I got word that I had won second place with that picture of Katie’s niece and the dinosaur. So that was nice.
My time at the Festival was brought to a close with being in the audience for a conversation between Jeff Smith and Paul Pope, one that gave me creative fuel for the next year… which I’ll jump to in a bit. The short of it: those guys are bad-asses.
While COMICSTORYWORLD wasn’t at the front and center of my mind in 2013, I did release quite a few new things on the book’s companion site, including AN INTERVIEW WITH CAROL TILLEY, and my first – and last – review of Marvel’s disappointing AGENTS OF SHIELD. I also began writing a monthly column for SCRIPT MAG dot com, the first, MORE THAN STORYBOARDS, on comics, the second, FRAGMENTS, focusing more on transmedia storytelling as a whole.
Among the other COMICSTORYWORLD happenings were a fascinating acceptance of my book in education and academia, an audience I had never anticipated when I wrote the tome in five months. The day after Orson’s death, October 2nd, I joined Anna Smith’s TEACHREAD class to talk transmedia and the day before I went to OSU, I joined Ryan Rish’s class to again talk transmedia and how I dislike LORD OF THE RINGS.
After my return from OSU, another visit to the vet was in order.
On November 24th, we had to make the painful decision to put Sarah, Katie’s 18-year-old miniature schnauzer to sleep. She joined the other Sara, my grandmother, in the picture above. The poor girl needed new kidneys and it just wasn’t going to work. The same vet who had to put Orson down, made sure that the Muffin was comfortable. I told him we still appreciated all he did for our babies, but that I wasn’t willing to pay his psychiatry bills wrought by the one-two punch of two dogs in a month from new clients.
As my mother’s appointment with the chemo chair drew near, December 5th, the search was on for a new family member. Marley, Katie’s greyhound, had become my dog by default (and love) and Sadie, the other greyhound, was – and is – an über-princess who blesses us with her affection when she deems it fit, usually between bouts of princess-ninja squirrel killer missions.
On December 2nd, Katie, Siri and I wheeled our way through the backwoods of Holmes County and found our new family member, a maltese-yorkie puppy, who we named Hildy, after Rosalind Russell in HIS GIRL FRIDAY. On Wednesday, the 4th, we took Hildy to her first vet appointment and the vet was relieved that the third time was a charm and that we have a perfectly healthy and happy baby puppy, who, he says, will have an amazing life.
On Thursday, the 5th, my mother began chemo treatment (after falling in love with her newest grand-dog) and made it through with flying colors and understood that my threat to scatter her ashes on a public school playground (she was a teacher for thirty years) should she not get treatment, was worth it. She was hungry and ate everything in sight, but that’s because she’s pumped full of steroids to become a cancer-slaying bad-ass.
To the best of my knowledge, she has not yet turned into the Hulk, though we have three more treatments to go, so who knows. I do know that I won’t try to convince her she’s been asleep for two years, because, you know, ‘roid rage.
While we wait on the outcome of Hulking out, here’s a preview of what 2014 holds.
My first planned release of 2014 is my first short story collection, entitled A PERFECT FAMILY: STORIES/ESSAYS VOLUME ONE. It will contain the final versions of the short stories I’ve published up to this point (I view digital as a beta release, but more on that in another post). The print-exclusive collection should be available in January, and will feature and exclusive short story, which will likely wrap up 2013 in a more satisfying way than this post. SPINNER RACK subscribers *may* get an exclusive digital version of the new short story, though I haven’t yet decided.
Following, or perhaps in conjunction with that, WHIZ!BAM!POW! BOOK THREE will be released, in weekly chapters on Sunday mornings, just as I’ve done with BOOK TWO and BOOK ONE. With BOOK THREE, and the Coda, and the digital-only release of the comic, WHIZ!BAM!POW! will at last conclude in 2013. Following its conclusion, a print and digital version, THE COMPLETE WHIZ!BAM!POW! will be released.
Keeping with the release schedule of COMING TO QUIET COUNTRY, I’m planning a self-published novella to be released in October or November of 2014. It’ll be a crime story, I think.
Oh yeah! There might be a new collaboration: a children’s book. Or a comic book. Or an animated short. Or a combination of all three. We’re not sure yet. All I know is that it will be absolutely awesome and I’ve been working on it since September.
And finally, the big one. In my eulogy for both grandmothers, I said that they lived long enough to see me settle into the passion and the role that I’m most comfortable with, that of a writer, a book writer. To that end, I’m writing my first novel, and have been throughout most of this year. Over the course of the year, three were drafted, though I’ve settled on the one I’m going to push down the long road from infinite rewrites to publication.
Well, wait. Sure the novel will be the big one of 2014, but there’s a bigger one. By year’s end, I’ll be married to the love of my life. So I’ve got that going for me.
Onward to 2014.