Hemingway in the Spring

Longtime visitors here will recall my association with the Hemingway-Pfeiffer Museum and Education Center located in Piggott, Arkansas. The Pfeiffer home is where Hemingway lived for a short time while married to Pauline Pfeiffer and where he wrote parts of A Farewell to Arms. I have a great affection for the place not just because they invite me there, but because it’s in Piggott, my second home of sorts.

The museum holds three annual retreats. Writing retreats are different from writing conferences in that the object for the writers (most of them) is to get away and just write. At a conference, the writers play more of a student role and sit in on lectures and presentations. While there are fun writing exercises for the writers at the HPMEC retreats, the goal is to WRITE! My function as mentor is to lead them in the short exercises, provide feedback and comments to them on their writing, and to generally encourage them to get’er done! I very much enjoy reading the work and offering the encouraging feedback. Writing is work, yes, but it should also be fun!

HemingwaySpring2014 copy*Pictured: Bethany Mallett Stephens, Linda Wyss, Anne Winchester, Barbara Taylor, me (in all my bearded glory!), Susan Hemingway, Ethan Baker, Doug Hemingway, Fay Guin. Yes, we did have a couple who shared Ernie’s last name and Doug even looked the part of Ernest!

I’m not sure exactly when the retreats started, probably 2002, because 2008 was the 6th Annual. Initially they were weeklong summer retreats led by Dr. Rob Lamm from Arkansas State University. I learned about the retreat when I was editor of The Piggott Times in 2007. The very next year, 2008, one of the mentors couldn’t make it and they asked me to step in to to help out, which I gladly did!! The retreats had become so popular that they decided to begin an annual Fall retreat and I was asked to lead the first one. It was an abbreviated version (three days), but was no less packed with writing! In April of 2011, I was then asked to lead the first ever Spring retreat, a near-mirror image of the Fall version (meaning, it’s just a little shorter).

During my association there, I’ve worked with three different directors, but it’s a testament to them and the staff there—who are fantastic!—that the retreats continue to grow and flourish. Last week, five of the nine retreating writers had never been to any of the retreats before (and I specifically mean the HPMEC retreats, not retreats in general…because I don’t know the answer to that).

Writers come from all over, but mostly from the Arkansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Tennessee area. I understand there was a New York writer there this past fall.

If you’re a writer and you’ve never been to a retreat, the Hemingway Writers Retreats are excellent ones to attend. They’d take great care of you and you can write where Hemingway did—maybe even channel some Hemingway in your writing.

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WIP = BEAH

The story of BEAH goes back to the late 90s for me. After Marvel fired about 400 people, me being one of them, I set about to writing full steam again. I also decided to become a full-fledged indy publisher and get away from Corporate Comics. I did just that for about five years, losing a ton of money because I was acting like a big company and yet it was just me flying solo (well, I mean that for the business/marketing/money end—I worked with some really talented creators). Essentially, I tried to do too much.

Anyhow, it was while watching multiple episodes of Winnie the Pooh with my kids that the inspiration of Beah hit me. Drawing my inspiration from the great indy title, Cerebus, I figured I’d start off with a parody of WIP. Wasn’t long till I figured that was doomed to failure…and so I started thinking, well, what if the toys grew up? Long story short, I eventually got around to the idea that what if the kid just leaves the toys? What would happen? Toy lawlessness would run amuck, right? For those who wonder, yeah, there’s some Toy Story inspiration behind it, too. But that’s a good thing, right?

But over time, Beah became completely its own thing. Oh, I did go through the Cerebus spoof stage, but not in publication–mine was all on paper only read by (mostly) just me.

My good friend John Drury was initially slated to do the project back in the late 90s. But life took him–and us, elsewhere and we simply stopped pursuing it.

Fast forward to 2012 when I spotted Tim Holtrop’s art online and was immediately taken by his style. That and the fact that he–like me– had ties to Caliber Press in the early 90s made me want to talk to him. Well, that and his voiced faith. Tim and I share a common faith and we hit it off immediately. I was happy to have found a new friend even if we never went anywhere with a project. As luck would have it, I pitched the Beah concept to Tim, and over time, I think he, too, has developed an affinity for the stuffed animals.

Tim set out to do the design work and MAN, it would take an entire publication just to show you all the cool designs he did for both the characters and the setting. I present you with just a tiny smattering of those here, but I think you’ll agree how wonderful those are.

And, to top it off, fantastic colors have been provided by Emily Y. Kanalz. I worked with Emily back in the day at Malibu/Marvel. I know you don’t get to see them here much (and truthfully, I’m not sure whether the book will BE in color–but I sure hope so!), but WOW! She’s knocked it out of the park!

No, Beah doesn’t have a home yet, but we’re hoping to find one soon! In the meantime, don’t forget to find us on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/beahcomic) and LIKE the page! We need more likes, so go now! We’ll be posting update there for you to get some sneak peeks and keep you posted as we search for a publishing home for Beah.

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MegaCon 2014 report

Conventions are always highly anticipated, take a long time to arrive, but fly by in such a hurry. So it was with MegaCon 2014. Like last year, I had a fantastic time. This year was a little different, though, in that my entire family actually got to attend at the same time. Usually, it’s just me and one of them, this time, Friday saw all four of us there (see pic).

Friday was a great day. The doors opened at 1 o’clock on Friday and we were there around 11:00. It took us longer to park on Friday than any of the three days. It seemed like the folks parking us wanted to stop each car that came through and chat with them. It wasn’t tough to get the stuff in because I had four sets of hands—which was nice. On the way inside, we bumped into Cully Hamner doing the same thing. When I told the kids I knew him when he had hair down to his waist, they were surprised—not that I knew him, but that his hair was once that long! We located my spot—which was allllll the way in the back next to the cool Lego stuff. We got set up and immediately Brittany and BJ took off headed to a Smallville panel. Brett and I held the fort has folks came rolling through. Before we knew it, the day was over.

We’d been worried that Brittany would not be able to make Saturday, but her professor worked with her and let her make up her work so that she could attend with us. Pretty rockin’, I’d say. We were there right before 9, because the security guard told us as we left on Friday that it would open at nine a.m. I guess I should have clarified exactly what he meant by “open,” because it was open for us to set up, NOT for attendees. Really, I should have trusted the MegaCon schedule!

Saturday was a very hectic day. Crowds were crazy packed in the exhibition hall (we used to call this place, “dealer’s room”) and we later learned that traffic outside was terrible. My friends Thomas and Rene’ Florimonte (who are part of Ka-Blam!) said they were waiting three hours just to park! I heard that from several different people but I guess we were there early enough we didn’t see it at all. I’ve seen some people on social media really lashing out at MegaCon because of that, but I remain unconvinced it is their fault. Certainly they should address it for next year, but it would seem to me that it is the Orange County Convention Center’s fault—like they’ve never parked that many people before? Maybe they should simply call in help from an SEC school, who multiple times a year get in crowds of 50,000 to 100,000 people for a football game. Seriously, it shouldn’t be that hard to park people. My experience with the folks at MegaCon has been nothing but fantastic, so I’m sure they’ll address the issue and it will be resolved next year.

I was on a panel Saturday afternoon; Break-In Stories with Mike Miller, Frank Tieri, Russell Lissau, and Steve Horton. Each of us told our own story of breaking into the comic industry, gave hints to budding creators, and then took questions from attendees. All in all, it was a very fun panel.

Sunday was back to normal craziness, but was a good day. I think many were relieved that the massive crowding from Saturday was gone. That’s not to suggest it wasn’t busy, it was—Sunday was actually my best day—but it was a healthy crowded where Saturday was jam packed. I got to see several folks and visit, even if the visits were short. Aside from those already mentioned, Mike Miller is someone I haven’t seen in close to twenty years! Regrettably, I didn’t take more time to try to catch up with him. I got to see Jimmy Palmiotti—who is probably one of the most encouraging creators I know, Bill Sawyer and Barry Gregory (who is the other main player of Ka-Blam). On top of that, I got to see several of my students from Full Sail University. Was cool seeing them there, if a bit different.

All in all, a great show—I already hope to get put on the guest list for next year!

Up next is the Spring Hemingway Writers Retreat. There are still seats left, so if you’ve ever wanted to write where Hemingway wrote, this is the time/place to do it! Anyone interested should email Dr. Adam Long @adamlong@astate.edu

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Memphis report and MEGACON tomorrow!

For those of you who came for the MegaCon info, it starts tomorrow. If you’re in the Orlando area and consider yourself a geek/nerd of any sort, you should be there. I’ll be there all three days. You can find me in Artists Alley at Purple10. This will be the first year my entire family has gotten to attend with me (though Brittany will be limited because of her class schedule) and I’m pretty excited about it. Bring some books for me to sign, or better yet, pick some stuff up from me there!

Additionally, at 5:20 on Saturday afternoon, I’ll be on a panel “Break-In Stories,” talking with other comic creators on how we “broke in” to the comic industry. Others will be: Cully Hamner, Chuck Dixon, Mike Miller, Frank Tieri, Steve Horton and Russell Lissau. I know several of them so know you will get some good stories AND will get some good answers to your questions. We’ll be in room 310 EF.

Last week…make that two weekends ago (I skipped a blog, last week, didn’t I? Oops!) I was the keynote speaker at the Mid-South Christian Writer’s Conference. I know, right! While I’ve spoken and had sessions at conferences/conventions before, this is only the second time as keynote…and yes, it gives me butterflies. Pretty much always! But, I tend to remember about 10 minutes in (I have to warm up, I guess) that I’m talking about WRITING, something about which I’m fairly passionate and then the overdrive motor kicks in.

I did two sessions as keynote and then a “breakout session,” where I gave an overview of how to write for graphic novels as most of the attendees were more traditional (ie., prose) writers. As I do in my class at Full Sail where we get the chance to really dive in deep, I get very excited to see the lights of possibility come on in the eyes of those in attendance. Often, it’s like revealing an entirely different world to them—and that’s kind of exciting.

The keynotes were a big challenge for me. Generally, as in the graphic novel session, the subject is pretty focused and straightforward. The staff (thanks April and Tracy—with no E!) wanted me to talk about something that could be for ALL writers. You see, the conference was not just for novelists. Also in attendance were songwriters, poets, memoirists and devotional writers (I’m sure I left somebody out!). Yikes! Generally, I’m all about STORY. You see, just ask my students and they’ll tell you that they constantly hear from me STORY IS KING! And I believe that! SO, I had to try to come up with something that covered all writer types.

And then they tossed in the curveball. Oh—and make it accessible to writers of all skill levels, from beginners to established/working writers.

Yeah.

In the end, I used that time to (I hope) both challenge and encourage them to BE BETTER WRITERS and to HONE THEIR CRAFT regardless of what level their writing may be or where they consider themselves. And while it very difficult to tell sometimes if those who are listening are enjoying it, I didn’t see anyone nodding off (the same is not true for my classroom!) and I take that as a good sign.

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Mid-South Christian Writers’ Conference

This is just a quick entry to remind all those particularly in the Mid-South area (that area around Memphis, Tennessee, for those who don’t know) to come on out to the Mid-South Christian Writers’ Conference where I am both honored and delighted to be the keynote speaker. For more info, just click on the image below.

The conference has an entire day long schedule full of workshops, including writing query letters, discussions on the pros and cons of self-publishing, how to write a 50,000 word novel in a month, writing graphic novels, and several others. The hours are 9am to 5pm.

The day ends with a big presenter panel and the conference includes a bookstore. This is the first one, So come on out and join the festivities. Pick up a book of mine while you’re there. I’ll even sign it for free.

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WIP=Citizens

While I’m not sure this will be the first of my new working projects to actually find its way into the mailbox (or the email outbox in this day of technology!), that chance is pretty good. So let me tell you a little about it—I look forward to your comments!

Citizens began a long time ago for me. I started the project with a different artist and a different STORY in mind. When it didn’t happen then, it languished in the filing cabinet—the way projects like that tend to do for creative sorts.

But it was one of those projects that never quite hid in my memory. As a student of history, particularly US history, I’ve never been that drawn to the Vietnam War. I can’t explain why—even though I had two uncles to serve in that nasty conflict. But when I think about all the wars my ancestors have participated in (Rev. War, War Between The States, Seminole Indian War, WW2, and Vietnam), I kept thinking how different their participation in war was different from my other kin. One thought led to another to another and there it was: an idea for a story.

In a nutshell, Citizens is the story of a soldier who joined the military in order to earn his citizenship, the same reason for many who joined. The problem is that when he returns ten years later, a new political party is in power and his rights to citizenship is denied. Essentially, the main character (and other soldiers) lose ten years fighting a war and earned nothing—they are basically discarded and have no value in the societal atmosphere to which they return.

To make matters worse, they’ve become steamborgs (it’s a steampunk story) in that half of their body was replaced with robotic weaponry, weaponry which belonged to the government and is promptly repossessed as soon as they arrive home. Thus, they’re left with deformed physical bodies, no citizenship—and a world of hurt.

Joe Badon is the incredibly talented artist who’s breathing artistic life into the story. In an age where it can sometimes be difficult to distinguish one artist from another, that’s not possible with Joe. Like his work or don’t, you’ll never confuse his work for someone else—it is incredibly unique—as I think you’ll see by the few images here.

I “met” Joe on the internet—spotted his art and was intrigued at the thought of his unique style bringing Bedford (the main character) and other to life. And he hasn’t disappointed. Click the link to his work on his name above and check out some of his other work.

The logo was designed by Mike Belcher!

And let me know in the comments below your thoughts on Citizens. Does it have a chance at finding at home? Any thoughts or suggestions along those lines?

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Smash…book 1?

I recently read the Smash: Trial by Fire graphic novel by Chris and Kyle Bolton (as far as I can tell, no relation to comic great John Bolton). There were a lot of elements that drew me to give it a whirl: It was published by Candlewick Press, a non-traditional comic publisher (they publish more prose than graphic novels); it was listed as a “graphic novel;” and it was an all ages book, something I’ve really found myself drawn to in this age of traditional comic publishers filling their pages with gratuitous violence, blood, boobs and language.

I wanted to like Smash, I really did.

And while it wasn’t terrible, I’m going to have a very hard time recommending it to you…at full price. If you can find a reduced $ copy, pick it up.

Why, Roland, don’t you recommend it?

I’m glad you asked, thanks. Here’s why:

First off, it was too dang slow. It took page after page after page after page after page…well, you get it…for ANYTHING to happen. There are certainly some interesting characters, but there’s a lot of nothing happening.

In a nutshell, Andrew, the story’s protagonist is a big fan of the local hero Defender. Defender dies in a battle with his archenemy Magus. When this happens, his superpower leaves his body and lands in Andrew. Nice and convenient, huh? Andrew wants to become Defender’s sidekick, not realizing Defender is dead. He jumps into action as a superhero and people start calling him Smash. Magus, however, wants the power (no explanation is ever made to explain how “superpowers” can jump from body to body?). So Magus tracks down Smash, captures him, and attempts to take his powers. But, because Andrew/Smash is a small boy, he slips out of the bonds and escapes and to be continued.

WHAT? I buy a 150 page graphic novel and it’s CONTINUED? Who the heck at Candlewick thought that was a good idea? Granted it’s called “book 1,” but that doesn’t mean it has to be CONTINUED. Lord of the Rings is three volumes, but each of those volumes have complete STORY ARC contained in the pages so that there is a feeling of completion when finishing one of the volumes. No “editor” is listed and that may very well be the problem—I dunno.

And it’s not that the content is terrible—it isn’t. It just needed some smart guidance: pick up the pace (lighten the really dark pages because some of the art is difficult to see when the color is too dark), and complete a STORY ARC, leaving it open to complete a larger story arc with additional volumes.

So, there you have it. I’m looking forward to reading Jimmy Palmiotti’s all ages GN Forager, soon! That, and it looks like I’ve got three—count’em: 3—new projects I’m preparing to pitch. I’m working on the blog entry for the first one even now! I look forward to your comments on it.

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