Books, Publishing, and the Creative Life

Archive for February, 2014

The Joy of Graphic Novels

This week I learned you don’t have to be a kid to enjoy comic books. . . er, graphic novels.

I’m feverishly working on a complete make-over of my book on dialogue for writers. The new book, Dialogue Mastery for WritersCreating Powerful Dialogue in Fiction and Nonfiction is in the proofing stage, yet I keep adding new material.

This week I explored the world of comic books and graphic novels, and then wrote a chapter on creating dialogue for the action packed world of superheroes and super-villains. As a kid who grew up loving comic books, I have no gripes with this genre. Comics are definitely lightweight reading, but now, calling them graphic novels makes this genre seem downright artistic.

As author Daniel Raebum wrote: “I snicker at the neologism, first for its insecure pretension—the literary equivalent of calling a garbage man a ‘sanitation engineer’—and second because a ‘graphic novel’ is in fact the very thing it is ashamed to admit: a comic book, rather than a comic pamphlet or comic magazine.”  (^ Raeburn, Daniel. Chris Ware(Monographics Series), Yale UniversityPress, 2004, p. 110. ISBN 978-0-300-10291-8.)

Writer Neil Gaiman, responding to a claim that he does not write comic books but graphic novels, said the commenter “meant it as a compliment, I suppose. But all of a sudden I felt like someone who’d been informed that she wasn’t actually a hooker; that in fact she was a lady of the evening.”  (Bender, Hy (1999). The Sandman CompanionVertigoISBN 978-1-56389-644-6)

In order to write this chapter, I learned to format scripts for graphic novels, which turns out to be great fun. I can’t think of a better way to learn the art of writing no-frills dialogue. Graphic novel characters don’t stand around dithering and discussing: They act.  And I love the idea of writing sounds that match the action, such as:  POW!   SQUISH   DRIP. . . BANG! and ZAP!

Unfortunately, my artist abilities don’t stretch far enough to draw a book unless all the characters are flowers, clouds, and trees. Perhaps a talking flower?  Drone clouds?  Ent-like trees?  Anything is possible in this genre.

My new favorite is the SAGA series by author Brian Vaughan and illustrator Fiona Staples. The artwork is magnificent, the characters well developed, and the central plot keeps you wantimg more.  And, of course, Vaughan’s dialogue rings true. He even tosses in humor from time to time.


The Joy of GoodReads

I’ve been slow to learn about GoodReads.  Two of our authors urged me to get involved several years ago, but I didn’t think I had time: Too busy publishing books.

Now I’m a believer.  We just did a give-away on GoodReads for Gin Getz’s wonderful book The Color of the Wild: An Intimate Look at Life in an Untamed Land.   Over four hundred people asked to receive a free copy (we were only giving away ten books).  We’re ready to mail those ten copies tomorrow morning, but in addition I received names and page links for the 393 people who lost this lottery.   Today I spent time looking at their profiles – and I want to be friends with ALL of them.

Scrolling through the titles of books these men and women have read simply boggles my mind. Some of them list thousands of books.  Good books, not junk.  This touches my heart.  And they write thoughtful reviews.


I guarantee we’ll be giving away more books on GoodReads, and I’ll be a regular visitor and reviewer.  Better late than never!

Almost Spring: The Color of the Wild

Spring is arriving in southern Indiana after a long, harsh winter. Our snow pack melted this week, letting the creeks and rivers run free and leave their banks. The ground feels squishy underfoot. Rivulets of fresh water trickle across the roads. Everything is moist and dripping.

ImageThe birds I feed every day are suddenly busy elsewhere, looking for tasty seeds and berries left over from last fall. Our prissy hens won’t venture out when snow covers the ground, but today they’re swooping across the yard with their winds spread like children playing Superman. Egg production is down, but that’s okay. The term cooped up obviously came from someone who keeps chickens, because my flock was literally cooped up for several weeks.

NorLightsPress author Gin Getz is writing about spring from her home at 10,000 feet in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado.  Read her amazing nature writing and view stunning wilderness photos at .

We’re proud of this new book, The Color of the Wild: An Intimate Look at Life in an Untamed Land. An review by Preston Hathaway caught our attention this week:

 The Color of the Wild provides readers a glimpse and feel of what living on a ranch in the wilderness, far away and cut off from neighbors, is like. It is rough and challenging. But the healing, peace, and solitude within is met with unexpected seasonal rewards; such as the songs of frogs in a mountain pond.

As a boy and young man I grew up in the San Luis Valley, in the long shadows of the San Juan mountains where Gin works, lives, and loves. The sun went to bed there. Water, white gold to farmers there and elsewhere along the Rio Grande, came from the mountains. Violent summer hail storms brought random ruin. The constant green coupled with an ever changing palette of red, yellow and gold marked the passing seasons.

Gin Getz has created a multilayered artwork as timeless as the mighty Rio Grande that flows from the Great Divide. Like the river giving life on its journey, Gin’s work gives a voice to mountains that cannot speak for themselves as she shares the wounds, healing, and love of her journey. A must read for anyone that needs to step away from the busyness of life into the healing solitude of the wilderness.

The Color of the Wild    If you’re looking for a book to savor in front of a warm fire; a book you’ll read twice and then order for your friends, try The Color of the Wild. You won’t be sorry.


The Color of the Wild

The Color of the Wild

Newest book from NorLightsPress

The Publishing Life: A Three-Mouse Night

Last night after a violent rainstorm, our office cat Captain Nemo awakened from a nap and went outside for a bit. Within half an hour he brought us:

one field mouse

another field mouse

and a third field mouse.

(No, this was not the same mouse three times). These little fellows probably washed out of their holes in the torrential rain and were looking for dry ground, which they found inside our office – with Nemo’s help. The Captain is a gentle cat and doesn’t kill mice, but he does bring them inside so he can receive full credit for being a great hunter.

The first mouse stayed quiet as I scooped it up, cradled it in my hands, and made a quick trip to the hay field across the road for a live release.   The second mouse was a fighter; he sank his front teeth into my hand and held on for dear life. I had to rip him off my hand and leave him in the sink while I washed, treated, and bandaged my finger.  I wrapped him in a towel and made a second trip to the hay field.

Fifteen minutes later, Nemo delivered the third mouse.  Emboldened by my earlier success, I tried to grab this one with the mouse-towel, but he zipped under a bookcase.  I sprawled on my stomach with a broom, trying to dislodge him from the corner and shoo him into a paper bag.  Captain Nemo watched with mild amusement. Evidently he felt he’d already caught the mouse once, so now it was my turn.  This mouse eluded capture and is still at large, although we set a live trap in the office baited with peanut butter and bird seed.

Office Mouse So now we have an office cat and an office mouse (a real mouse).  A literary mouse. Captain Nemo

This reminds me of a classic series of newspaper columns from years ago: Archy and Mehitabel.  In 1916 (no, I wasn’t alive then), Don Marquis introduced a fictional cockroach named Archy into his daily newspaper column in The New York Evening Sun.  Archy the cockroach was an incarnated free verse poet who began writing stories and poems on an old typewriter after hours.  Mehitabel the alley cat became Archy’s best friend.  Freddy the rat was another character.

Does this sound like a bad acid trip?  I’m not making it up. I was introduced to Archy by my friend Eugene Povirk, now co-owner of Whately Antiquarian Book Center in Whately Massachusetts (   Don Marquis’ delightful columns are available in book and ebook format, with a reprint from Anchor Books in 2012.  Here’s a sample:

We came into our room earlier than usual in the morning, and discovered a gigantic cockroach jumping about on the keys. He did not see us, and we watched him. He would climb painfully upon the framework of the machine and cast himself with all his force upon a key, head downward, and his weight and the impact of the blow were just sufficient to operate the machine, one slow letter after another. He could not work the capital letters, and he had a great deal of difficulty operating the mechanism that shifts the paper so that a fresh line may be started. We never saw a cockroach work so hard or perspire so freely in all our lives before. After about an hour of this frightfully difficult literary labor he fell to the floor exhausted, and we saw him creep feebly into a nest of the poems which are always there in profusion.

Congratulating ourself that we had left a sheet of paper in the machine the night before so that all this work had not been in vain, we made an examination, and this is what we found:

expression is the need of my soul
i was once a vers libre bard
but i died and my soul went into the body of a cockroach
it has given me a new outlook upon life
i see things from the under side now
thank you for the apple peelings in the wastepaper basket
but your paste is getting so stale i cant eat it
there is a cat here called mehitabel i wish you would have
removed she nearly ate me the other night why dont she
catch rats that is what she is supposed to be fore
there is a rat here she should get without delay

most of these rats here are just rats
but this rat is like me he has a human soul in him
he used to be a poet himself
night after night i have written poetry for you
on your typewriter
and this big brute of a rat who used to be a poet
comes out of his hole when it is done
and reads it and sniffs at it
he is jealous of my poetry
he used to make fun of it when we were both human
he was a punk poet himself
and after he has read it he sneers
and then he eats it

i wish you would have mehitabel kill that rat
or get a cat that is onto her job
and i will write you a series of poems showing how things look
to a cockroach
that rats name is freddy
the next time freddy dies i hope he wont be a rat
but something smaller i hope i will be a rat
in the next transmigration and freddy a cockroach
i will teach him to sneer at my poetry then

dont you ever eat any sandwiches in your office
i haven’t had a crumb of bread for i dont know how long
or a piece of ham or anything but apple parings
and paste and leave a piece of paper in your machine
every night you can call me archy

   By Don Marquis, in “archy and mehitabel,” 1927       Archy and Mehitabel

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