Category Archives: 95

95 Novel Talk

Interview with Melissa Grunow by Trisha Sugarek

MelissaGrunow-4IM: Where do you write? Do you have a special room, shed, barn, special space for your writing? Or tell us about your ‘dream’ work space.

MG: I have a home office set up in my basement with a large desk, reading chair, bookshelves, a bulletin board, and an endless supply of Post-It notes. I have a laptop and an additional computer screen that is a tremendous help, as I often have multiple windows open as I write and revise. The floor is covered with a large colorful rug that brightens up the space, and more often than not, my husky Duke can found stretched out across the middle of it. One of his favorite things to do is to keep me company while I work.

IM: Do you have any special rituals when you sit down to write?

MG: I don’t have any consistent writing rituals. Sometimes I listen to music, sometimes not. Sometimes I have to clean my entire office before I can begin, sometimes I just dive right in despite the mess. Since I’m often working on multiple projects, I usually will reread the piece a few times before I get started, just so I can put myself in the mindset of that specific draft. Oh, and I need to be wearing slippers. I can’t concentrate if my feet are cold.

IM: Could you tell us something about yourself that we might not already know?

MelissaGrunow-3MG: I am a die-hard obsessive fan of The Walking Dead. It’s the best television series since M*A*S*H. I love it, because it embodies all of the characteristics of canonical literature. The Walking Dead has awakened in me an obsession with the zombie apocalypse, and has even inspired me to incorporate references into my lectures and develop zombie-themed activities in my classes. My students, for the most part, tolerate my soapbox-like rants, because they are helpful in memorizing literary terms. One of them even bought me a lanyard with The Walking Dead on it that she’d found at Target, to hold my campus ID!

Furthermore, it’s essential we all have some kind of contingency plan for survival. It’s just good common sense. Even the U.S. government’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have detailed information on their website for preparing zombie apocalypse survival kits. This is serious business, folks.

IM: Do you have a set time each day to write, or do you write only when you are feeling creative?

MelissaGrunow-6MG: My writing time is inconsistent, though I don’t wait until I’m inspired. I see writing as a lot like going to the gym. If I don’t do it frequently, I feel out of shape—or rusty—when I do. So I often force myself to write, even when I don’t feel like I can put sentences together. Even if I just get a page, or a paragraph, it’s more than I had before I sat down to write. Every new word is a victory.

IM: What’s your best advice to other writers for overcoming procrastination?

MG: Procrastination is usually a result of fear, so ask yourself, “What are you afraid of? What are the nagging thoughts that are holding you back?” Your fear is lying to you. Confront it, tell it off, and start writing.

IM: Where/when do you first discover your characters?

MG: Since I write memoir and personal essays, my characters all come from my life. I never know who or what I’m going to write about, though, until it actually happens.

IM: What inspired you to write a memoir?

MelissaGrunow-5MG: I always knew I would write a book titled Brick Walls. In fact, I wrote the first two-thirds of a heavily autobiographical novel when I was a teenager. I never finished it, though, because I didn’t know how to end it. To this day, endings are my kryptonite. It’s a terribly-written book, and it will probably always stay hidden on my hard drive, but I can’t bring myself to delete it.

Writing Realizing River City has a kind of unknown origin. I had the impulse to write about relationships, but it didn’t start out as a memoir. I just kept drafting and drafting and revising and drafting, until it finally started to take shape as a book about learning to love oneself in the aftermath of apparent failure when it comes to loving others.

IM: Do you ‘get lost’ in your writing?

MG: I’m more likely to get lost in other people’s writing. I can tune out the whole world when I read a good book, but writing requires a tremendous amount of concentration. Even the smallest distraction can derail me.

IM: Who or what is your “muse” at the moment?

MG: Anything that triggers a vivid memory. It can be a spoken phrase, a distinctive scent, a song, anything!

IM: When did you begin to write seriously?

MelissaGrunow-2MG: I started writing seriously in college, but my writing didn’t really go anywhere. I amassed a hefty stack of rejection letters. I wrote fiction exclusively then, which was part of the issue. My fiction-writing skills are mediocre, in my opinion. Although I’ve had a few short stories published, I haven’t generated any new fiction that wasn’t heavily autobiographical in probably fifteen years.

IM: How long after that were you published?

MG: Although I wrote seriously in college and graduate school, I took a ten-year break from writing in 2001. I finished my first new piece in 2012, and it was published a few months later. Since then, I’ve been widely published in journals and anthologies. Though I didn’t physically produce new work for a long time, I honestly think I needed those ten years to live. Once I started writing again, I had no shortage of material.

IM: What makes a writer great?

MG: A great writer produces great writing, and great writing starts with clear, strong diction and well-written sentences. It’s easy to find beauty in the beautiful, but much more interesting to find beauty in the mundane. So many beginning writers desire to write a book, but they ignore the basics of good paragraphing, because they’re so focused on a surprising plot. It’s rare that I remember (or care) what actually happens in a story. What I care about is how the characters respond to their circumstances. Start with short pieces to focus on fascinating characters. Don’t let dialogue do all your work for you. Spend a day on a single sentence until it flies off the page and smacks the reader in the face because it’s so good. Killer openings are essential, and there needs to be some shift in the piece from the beginning to the end. Don’t be compelled to answer every question the piece raises. Let the piece end, but never let it be over. Otherwise, what will your readers talk about?

IM: What does the process of going from “no book” to “finished book” look like for you?

MelissaGrunow-1MG: I just started writing personal essays. If there was a relationship that I learned something from, or I grew somehow, or was I defeated in some way, I wrote about it. Originally, Realizing River City was going to be a collection of essays titled Epilogues, in which I explored how I started over after my divorce when I was twenty-five. However, it felt inauthentic, because being single at twenty-five made far more sense in my life than being married. I wasn’t sure where to take it, so I just kept writing essays, trying to find a thread and a purpose. Much like the maudlin novel I wrote as a teenager, I got seventy-five percent finished with the book and couldn’t continue, so I thought it was done. The very next day, I had an experience on the river, where I was thrown from my tube, which eventually became the prologue of the book.

I went to a writing conference and had a group session with an agent who read my book proposal and told me to scrap the ‘memoir-in-essays’ structure, find a connective tissue, and reshape it as a memoir. I felt both overwhelmed and energized by the idea.

Around that time, I was coming up on my second and final year of my MFA, and the newly-shaped memoir became my thesis project. I owe so much to Amina Cain, my thesis advisor at National University, because she was so incisive in articulating what the book was actually doing and the potential that it had, in a way that I couldn’t get a handle on.

After I graduated, I shopped the book around, was systematically rejected by small presses and lost a handful of book competitions. A publisher offered to share the reviewer’s feedback with me, and that feedback—while harsh—put me back in the chair for another heavy round of revisions. I clipped the stray narrative threads, worked to make the narrative voice more appealing, and cut the scenes that were irrelevant and weighing down the text. I sent it out again, and within months, I was offered three book contracts. As a friend of mine says, Realizing River City was an overnight success three years in the making.

IM: How have your life experiences influenced your writing/stories?

MG: As a memoirist, my life experiences are my stories. Everything is potential material for a new piece.

IM: Have you, or do you want to write in another genre?

MG: I’ve written (and published) fiction and poetry. I would consider writing a novel, if I could come up with a sustainable premise for one. Poetry is a bit of a struggle for me. Ironically, I don’t think I’m a very creative person, and fiction and poetry require far more imagination than I have.

IM: Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know?

MG: I appreciate every reader who gives his or her time to my writing. Authors are nothing without their readers, so thank you.

IM: Thank you.

Follow up with Melissa at:

Trisha Sugarek *** Writer at Play **

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95 The Driving Force

IM90-Adriving- Copy     The time period right after coming home from a good comic show (in this case, I refer to SPACE 2016) is always one that goes by quickly, with feelings of hope, joy, and pressure to get new things done. If you have never sat at a table at a show, talking to random passersby and taking the time to seek out people you’ve conversed with by email or other means, but never met… then you can’t GET that feeling. No matter how you did financially at the show, that feeling is always the true prize.

     But let’s discuss show attendance. There are two groups of exhibitors: those who don’t really care how well they do and those that complain that there aren’t enough customers. I have put forth this idea before, and I think it bears repeating. If you go to a show expecting the show to provide you with enough customers to make it worthwhile, then you are not doing your job.

     A creator should be spending every minute they are not actually creating, working on building their following. Your financial ability to continue to create stuff for a living is wholly on your shoulders. When you go to a show, you should know some idea of the fans you have in that area and be able to excite them to come to that show to see you and buy stuff direclyt from you so you can sign it, etc. If you go with no clue, you should not complain that the random passersby are not there to buy your stuff… they are likely looking for someone they do follow.

     And I know how hard it is to build a following—it is something that I’ve studied, and tested theories on, and talked to people about for decades. And one thing I know for a fact: your actual TALENT has very little to do with your actual popularity. I have seen hugely talented people fail. I have seen people whose work I just didn’t feel was nearly prime-time ready take off like rockets. And it mostly boils down to how well the person connects with their audience.

     How do you build such a loyal following? I don’t have a magic answer. It is somewhere between your being yourself andyour being able to positively affect the moods of those you interact with. The first step is always going to be getting out there and saying something. Understanding others and being able to empathize, while still focusing on the goal.

     This issue, I am unleashing the return of the Review Section. Right now, it’s just me telling the audience if the book is worth going out of their way to check out. I predict we’ll need more reviewers, as much stuff as will come in, so if anyone wants to join me, let me know. Reviews have been sorely lacking on the Indy scene for a while, so it will be interesting to see the impact of starting it up again. It should be fun!

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95 A Written View


Setting Your Hook

By Douglas Owen

What do you think is the best phrase a writer can ever hear someone say about their book? No, not that it needs to be on the bestsellers list, but you are close. The best phrase a writer can ever hear is, “I could not put your book down!”

Think about it. As a writer, your main purpose is to entertain. In order to entertain, you have to give someone a reason to read your story. Once they start, you have to keep them reading. How do you do that? You leave hooks that will draw them into the story, get them vested in it, and give them just enough information to make them want to read more. Whether it is historical fiction or sci-fi, there needs to be something in the narrative that will pull the reader into wanting to finish the story. 

So, when you hear someone tell you they couldn’t put down the book, you must have done your job properly. I heard it several times with some of my writing, and encourage all the authors I talk with to do the same: put hooks in the story right from the start.

Noah Lukeman, writer of The First Five Pages, tells his readers that the book is mistitled. It should have been The First Five Words— Et Al, meaning it is all in the first five. Five words, five sentences, five paragraphs. You have to have hooks to keep your reader reading.

Using this type of approach will make you hear those words more than you do now. So always hook the reader right away with something. If you don’t, it could cause them to set down the work and move on. But when you hear those words from a reader, they ring magic in your ears.

How to Do It 

How you hook them will determine how long you can play out the fight. Don’t net them right away and allow them to flop in the boat through reams of narrative filling in back story. Let them run out some line and pull it in a bit. Give a little and take a little. Throw more chum into the water. 

Think about a book you started to read and just did not put down until you finished it. Now, how did they start it out? Was there a huge line of narrative describing the surroundings with little character development?

Let’s look at a controversial (at the time of its writing) novel by Robert A Heinlein, one of the masters of sci-fi. Starship Troopers hit bookstores in 1959 and became a study of what mankind would do if faced with an unconquerable foe. It starts off with the main character, Juan Rico, taking part in a raid on a planet. Action. Boom! Zap! Blam! Right away, he throws us into action. Small tidbits of information are fed through slams of action. Heinlein does not let up, even in the flashbacks. People are put into impossible situations, are killed or survive, and through all this, he shows how this one trooper takes on the impossible, and somehow lives.

Even if you are not a fan of sci-fi, you could still enjoy the read. To this day, the work stands the test of time. They have made movies of the work and many, even today, argue about it. He hit into a controversial subject that was suddenly the theme of his work: If you don’t fight for your country, why the hell should you be allowed to control policy for it?

But without getting into the theme, plot and breakdown of the message, we need to look at how he captures the reader’s attention. The main way is through action. It is non-stop, interspersed with narrative information to keep the reader informed of the world and what is happening.

Heinlein hooks us from start to finish in this novel, and you need to do the same in order to sell a lot of books. 

Get Ready, Get Set, Go! 

Most readers have a short attention span. They don’t want to spend the first 50 pages trying to get into your book. You have to set something up and go forward from there. Little traps, barbs, hooks, and insights. Some things that readers don’t want to see are: 

  • Dialogue
  • Descriptions
  • Irrelevant Information
  • Too Many Characters!


I’m not saying to stop using dialogue, but remember that dialogue should not be used as the first sentence of a novel. And I would caution against starting a chapter with dialogue as well. Usually, you’ll want to set up your world in the first couple of paragraphs. Paint that picture the reader needs in order to start the draw. It could be the look of a bullet flying out of a gun or how the orc in front of the fighter drooled rivers of saliva. Just make sure you set up who will be the characters in the scene.


I know I just said to use descriptions, but don’t overdo it. Spend just enough time describing something for the reader to get that mental picture. Why would you spend a page describing the way a raindrop falls from the flower petal? Two sentences for something like that would be sufficient, if not overkill. Don’t describe something that will play no relevance in the story. Remember the old adage: if you describe the gun over the fireplace then someone must be shot by it before the end of the chapter.

Irrelevant Information 

This is something many writers provide. Why would I need to know the history of a character who dies right after they are introduced? One writer spent a page, 360 words, describing the character’s checkered past before they were hung. And that was done at the start of the chapter when the character was introduced. There was a whole episode of backstory that was just page filler. Do I really need to know the convict they just hung came from a broken home where the father left him at two years old? No, I don’t. They are not a main character so just let them hang. 

Too Many Characters 

There is a good rule to follow in writing: Don’t introduce more than five named characters per scene. I actually think it is better to not name five in a scene and, if the scene changes, you can introduce more if needed. Think of it this way, how much of the following can you actually follow: 

Jason stared at Gail, wondering if Fred was there to ask her out or if the young man wanted to see his younger sister, Maddie. Jason knew his father, Zak, really wanted to talk to the young man and his father, Mike. But after a long time at the party where they met July, Paul, Francis, Sarah, Peter and Dave, there was a need to see the mayor, Adam.

Okay, without looking above, who was Fred there to see? If your answer was Gail, and you didn’t have to go back to the start of the paragraph to check, then good for you. Most would not remember.

The Plan 

So, you now know what not to do. How can a writer put hooks in their work in order to make the reader want to continue reading? The answer is simple, so please don’t slap a fish across your face when you read it. You want to make them wonder, pivot, become interested, be intrigued, find the unusual, and be compelled.

Make Your Readers Wonder 

Ever start reading something that makes you start to ask questions? That is the wonder hook. A question that you imply to the reader in order to make them wonder about the answer. They keep reading, looking for the answer. It will burn in their mind, cause them to drink copious amounts of coffee in order to stay up late reading, and generally drive them insane—especially if you don’t answer that question. The reader will then talk to others, who will have to buy your book to know what they are talking about, and thus you have a never ending circle of purchases to feed your royalties. 

Here are some of those wonder points: 

  • “Those old cows knew trouble was coming before we did.” —Half Broke Horses: A True-Life Novelby Jeannette Walls 
  • “A secret’s worth depends on the people from whom it must be kept.” —The Shadow of the Windby Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Starting At a Pivotal Moment 

If you start your work at a pivotal moment in the story, then you have started a hook. Your reader is more likely to be pulled into the story, because something important is happening, and they want to know the outcome. It will raise their desire to know what happens next.

  • “It was dark where she was crouched, but the little girl did as she’d been told.” —The Forgotten Gardenby Kate Morton 
  • “Christine screamed as another contraction racked her already tired body.” —A Spear In Flightby Douglas Owen 

Interesting Pictures 

Descriptions are your best ally when encouraging a reader to keep reading. Painting a vivid picture in their mind is often a lost art in most of today’s self-published writers, so learn it well.

  • “Last night I dreamt I went toManderley ” —Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier 
  • “She stands up in the garden where she has been working and looks into the distance.” —The English Patientby Michael Ondaatje

Intriguing Character 

Introduce someone intriguing right away. The possibility of learning more about them will drive the reader to keep going until their curiosity is satisfied.

  • “I was born twice: first as a baby girl on a remarkablysmogless Detroit day in January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974.” —Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides 

The Unusual Situation 

Take something out of the ordinary and place your characters there. By starting a novel out this way, it brings the curiosity out in the reader. They will continue to read in order to find out why they are in such a bizarre location or instance.

  • “They had flown from England to Minneapolis to look at a toilet.” —Juliet, Nakedby Nick Hornby 
  • “Last night, I dreamt that I chopped Andrew up into a hundred little pieces, like aBenihana chef, and ate them, one by one.” —The Opposite of Love by Julie Buxbaum

A Compelling Narrative Voice 

Have you ever started reading a book and found yourself identifying with the main character? That is the compelling narrative voice we are speaking of. Usually in the first person, it allows the reader to immediately understand what is happening to the person and why, or convey the confusion they are feeling. 

  • “I am ninety. Or ninety-three. One or the other.” —Water for Elephantsby Sara Gruen
  • “As I begin to tell this, it is the golden month of September in southwestern Ontario.” —No Great Mischiefby Alistair MacLeod

Wrap It Up 

Always keep your reader in mind when you write. Understand what they will want to get out of your work and dole it out in little chunks of discovery. It will make the reader want to keep going, and add so much joy to their experience as the end of the writing approaches. The second best thing you could hear is “I loved the book from start to finish. Didn’t want it to end, but was satisfied when it did.” 

Doug’s Website:

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95 Raising Dragons

By Louise Cochran-Mason

JamesArtVille-4James Art Ville is a graphic designer and digital illustrator from Oregon. He has worked both on his own projects (including some with his writer wife Shiloh Ville), and as an artist for hire on other people’s.

His has provided art for numerous companies including:

His YouTube channel ( has several QuickDraw sequential art demonstrations, as well as a trailer for Raising Dragons.

James talked to Indyfest about his work and future plans.

IM: What is Raising Dragons about?

JAV: Raising Dragons is a story about dragon heritage and survival. Thousands of years ago, Merlin saved the dragon race from the bloodthirsty slayers, by turning them into humans. Now, in modern times, these long living “dragons” have married normal humans and produced offspring with dragon traits. A boy learns he has dragon breath and meets a girl who was born with dragon wings. They work together to escape the clutches of a modern-day slayer who wants nothing more than to rid the Earth of all dragons and their half-breed children.

IM: Was Raising Dragon a work-for-hire job, or are you a co-creator?

JamesArtVille-7JAV: It was definitely a work-for-hire. In 2013, I was commissioned by author Bryan Davis to adapt his first novel, Raising Dragons (published in 2004) as a graphic novel. My wife Shiloh Ville adapted the original novel to fit nicely into 150 pages in comic book format. I illustrated the book using her script adaptation.

IM: Who is the target audience for Raising Dragons?

JAV: The book is targeted for a general audience aged 12 or higher. Readers who love a good wholesome fantasy story, such as fans of the Chronicles of Narnia and Lord of the Rings, will appreciate this story the most.

IM: What is Beelzebed about?

JAV: Beelzebed is a children’s book that Bryan Davis commissioned me to illustrate in 2013. The story is a bedtime tale of a boy, who literally battles with his bed at night to try to sleep. His menacing bed keeps him up and gets him into trouble. Of course, as soon as mom and dad show up, the bed assumes its stationary position. The story was written to encourage children to confront their fears and laugh with the silliness of the events that the boy goes through.

IM: What is Hallow Statum about?

JamesArtVille-6JAV: Hallow Statum is Latin for “Holy Stance”. It’s a fantasy story series that my wife and I have written based on an old story that I wrote as a ten-year-old boy. It’s a religious story of good versus evil, where the heroes are able to fight against dark spirits, using a unique form of martial arts that uses faith as the source of power. “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you could move mountains.” The story has a dear place in my heart, and I hope to publish it as a series of graphic novels in the future.

IM: What is GunSkins?

JAV: GunSkins is a company that produces vinyl camouflage wraps for firearms and gear. They’re a great alternative to painting or hydro-dipping, because GunSkins are non-permanent and cost a fraction of the price. This is great for hunters, airsoft players, and gun enthusiasts alike. I have been offering my graphic services for them since they started in 2013, and I am good friends with the owners.

IM: Where you involved in the Kickstarter for Raising Dragons?

JAV: It was Bryan Davis’ suggestion to seek crowd funding for this project, since we wanted to self-publish and cover the cost of printing and distribution. However, I was responsible for setting up the Kickstarter campaign, managing the rewards, and everything else involved.

IM: What upcoming projects do you have in the works?

JamesArtVille-3JAV: I’m currently working on the special edition version of Raising Dragons, which will contain bonus story content, concept artwork, sketches, and other extras. This will be an exclusive version with a limited print run. After this, I hope my next graphic novel will be a story that my wife and I make together. She is a writer, and together, we have so many good stories to tell.)

IM: Are you planning any appearances in the near future?

JAV: I plan to appear at local book signings and events in Southern Oregon. I hope to also speak to the local middle school and high school students—especially to the art classes—regarding digital illustration and comic book creation.

IM: How do you market your work?

JAV: The majority of my marketing consists of online interaction with fans and the community of like-minded artists. My website and blog will play a major role in bringing great content on a regular basis, in the form of new artwork, articles, tutorials, and web comics. As I gain momentum, I hope to make more appearances at events throughout the country and embark on a book tour.

IM: How do you distribute your work?

JamesArtVille-2JAV: Raising Dragons is available online from my website, Amazon, and other online marketplaces. However, the book is also available at local book stores, including Barnes & Noble. The book can be easily ordered using the following ISBN: 978-0989812290.

My artwork is distributed for viewing online only. Most of my illustrations comprise fan art; however, I do offer prints featuring original work for sale on my website. I can also be found on all major social media networks @jamesartville.

IM: How important do you think it is for creators to have their work in bricks-and-mortar shops as well as online?

JAV: I think there will always be a place for physical books and book stores. Just like there are online communities, there are also communities that gather at local bookstores, and it’s important for fans and book enthusiasts alike to have a safe place to go to read, buy, and hand out. It would be a missed opportunity not to have a presence in bookstores. As a consumer, if I had the ability to walk into a store and buy a book on the spot, I would prefer that to online shopping any day.

Indyfest: Do you think the internet has made it easier for people to self-publish, and distribute their work?

JAV: Yes, the internet has definitely made it easier for creators to self-publish. However, it’s a double edge sword. A flood of new content from authors with little reputation creates a flood of books that can easily overwhelm the market. For sure, there are great self-published works, but unfortunately, there are many other books that, in my opinion, were published too easily or too early, and therefore, don’t contain the quality content one would expect from a book published through a traditional publisher.

IM: What made you choose Kickstarter over the other crowdfunding sites?

JamesArtVille-1JAV: Kickstarter was the only crowdfunding site I was aware of at the time. When people think of crowdfunding, I’m sure Kickstarter is always mentioned, because it was the site that put crowdfunding on the public radar. However, looking back, I believe I would rather have used a different site, because of Kickstarter’s strict funding goal campaign policy.

IM: What advice would you give someone planning to crowdfund?

JAV: I would highlight that the work put into a crowdfunding project before launching the funding period is of the utmost importance. The campaign page has to be phenomenal and easy to understand. You simply can’t expect readers to scroll through and read a dozen paragraphs before deciding if the project is worth their time and money. Image-filled, concise and clear messages go a long way to attract and retain visitors, convincing them to believe in the project enough to pledge. There’s an emotional aspect that needs to be addressed. Without good incentive (aka: rewards), it’s going to be difficult to obtain enough donations to meet the funding goal.

IM: Is there anything you’d like to add that we haven’t covered?

JAV: My experience breaking into illustration has been unique. If it weren’t for meeting Bryan Davis and initiating conversation regarding his story, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to publish Raising Dragons, my first graphic novel. Rarely do people find success by going it alone, not even self-publishers. It’s important to put yourself out there and make connections with people in the business. Conversing with fellow authors/artists is a great way to gain advice and constructive criticism. Don’t be afraid to show your work to anyone willing to look at it. It may be humbling at times, but it will strengthen your work for the better.


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95 Table of Contents


Also in this issue, available only in the PDF: Perfect Storm Sneak Peek by: Rob Jones, Vittorio Garofoli and Ashley Lanni, and the return of our Reviews Section – this issue 10 publications reviewed. Click the cover image!


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95 Training Your Stalkers

IM90-moores1By MJ Moores, Author. Editor – Infinite Pathways Press

So you’ve taken your storytelling artistry, be it writing or illustrating or whatever your indy-flare happens to be, to the masses. You want to connect with people in a genuine way where they will then turn around and buy what you’re selling. Good on ya.

But, what happens when those subtle, yet carefully-crafted, boundaries dissolve, when the connection becomes one-sided, when you’re no longer the one selling, but being sold to? How do you even begin to acknowledge that little ‘ole you has a stalker?

Now, don’t deny it.

Don’t tell me it isn’t possible; that this is only a “famous” person’s problem.

It can happen to anyone. And now that you’re putting yourself out there, you’re going to come in contact with people who don’t understand the concept of ‘personal space’” or ‘taking a hint’. And yet, as uncomfortable as people like this make you feel, you know how crucial it is to maintain a positive public persona.

Here are five simple steps to use to help train your stalker:


Be nice but be brief —The last thing you want to do is piss someone off who thinks they have a ‘connection’ with you. Allow them to talk, but you need to let them know that you’re the one in control, here. Set actual limits to your ‘face time’.


Limit your eye contact—This is an extension of letting them know who’s boss, and you do need to let them know again, and again, and again. If they walk by often and try to engage you in longer conversations, you need to find purposeful reasons for diverting your attention. This will tell them that they need to share your time with other people and for other reasons beyond what they’ve connected to you with (and sometimes it has nothing to do with what you’re actually selling).


Bring backup— Never venture out alone when you’re making a public appearance. Bring a friend or three, a colleague, even your mom. Do it. By keeping the numbers in your favor, your stalker will never have the opportunity to take you by surprise. Utilize whoever is with you to strengthen your resolve on steps 1 and 2.


Never accept gifts—Not even a coffee. Just don’t do it. You need to keep the power in this strange relationship squarely in your back pocket. You might think this person is simply being nice, but just like we’re taught when we’re children, don’t take ‘candy’ from a stranger. They want something more from you than you are able to give and they will make you feel as if you owe them, should you accept anything from them.


Act like Royalty—Arrive late(r) and leave early. Your stalker needs to be reminded that you already know you’re special. Your time is precious, as is your art. Don’t allow him to feel as if he’s giving you this pedestal; you’re already on it—and own it. Be confident in your actions, even if you don’t feel that way inside. You. Rule.

Now, go forth and bring your artistic flare to the world, knowing that you can handle anything your stalker might throw at you. From blown kisses to polite questions to wanting to have someone listen to the sound of his voice, you can groom him to behave properly without him even realizing it.

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95 Comics Talk

By Ellen Fleischer

RayTimRob-9Raymond Francis, Timothy D. Craggette, and Robert Spencer have decades of comics experience between them. In addition to creating their own titles, they are speakers, mentors, and consultants in the field. Together, they host the Ray, Tim, and Rob Present Podcast.

This month, these three gentlemen take time out of their busy schedule to chat with Indyfest about their work.

IM: Who are Ray, Tim, and Rob? Where do you each hail from and what are your backgrounds?

RF: Ray Tim and Rob are three comic book guys who met in high school. We are all from the DC area. We all have a background in the arts and have a common love for comics and comic book culture. We’re very big proponents to the medium and have given back as speakers and mentors at schools and libraries.

RS: We have a wide range of things in our backgrounds, such as fine arts, painting, photography, mixed media, web design, internet marketing, and the list goes on.

IM: How did you all get together?

TDC: We all met during our high school years at the Duke Ellington School of the Arts as visual art students. It was a fun time learning the arts and growing with each other over the years.

RayTimRob-4RS: We started to hang out and then started to work on projects together, some successes others not so much, but those moments led us to where we are today.

IM: Ray, you’ve been described as a ‘comic book consultant’. Can you elaborate on what that means in practice?

RF: Well, it means that I have used my extensive knowledge of the different aspects of the comic book process from the creative, to the business, to networking, to marketing, to self-publishing and everything in between, to help up-and-coming creators along in their own projects. I help guide writers and artists and up-and-coming comic book studios to perfect their craft through edits and art direction. I help to promote them and their work; I represent them and their interests with regard to negotiating page rates or pitches to companies and studios. I help guide them with questions they have from how to format a script to portfolio reviews. Kind of a jack of all trades.

IM: Tell us about your work with the Hero Initiative. What is the Hope Anthology?

RF: Yes, that was such a HUGE honor for me, and it was my first official published work. I was so stoked to have my work be a part of The Heroes Initiative. The Hope Anthology was a collection of stories from some great creators, and I have to thank Marc Fletcher for the opportunity. It was amazing that my first body of work was with such a great comic book non-profit like The Heroes Initiative.

IM: Can you tell us about some of your other comics?

RayTimRob-7RF: We have a few titles in early development. My project is called Crew. It’s a story of a group of young people who just so happen to be some of the most powerful people on the planet—which gets them constantly hounded and hunted when they really want to just be left alone. They’re always being pulled into the superhero game and saving the world. There are twists and turns and action… tons of action… and humor and love and traitors and all things crazy in a crazy world. These young people are considered legendary with a reputation of being superheroic bullies.

RS: Another one of them is Fret. Fret is different from our other titles. It is a hybrid story mixing manga and traditional American comic style. It is a story of betrayal, love, forgiveness, and following your path in life, as we follow the story of Fret, a rock-n-roll/heavy metal infused clown who turned from his evil family to spend the rest of his life correcting the wrong of his family with his ability to alter reality and corporealize sound through playing the guitar. There is a lot of death and destruction in this series, but there is a message of hope and a wild ride.

IM: Describe your creative process for us. How you go from inspiration to publication?

RF: I like to get into a creative zone. When I sit in front of my workstation or my carry board, I like to immerse myself with comic book paraphernalia to keep me comic-centric and focused. I have read tons and tons of comics and have seen just about every comic book movie or cartoon, and so, to get in the zone, I will play different comic book cartoons or movies. I also have a big affinity for 80s cartoons, so that might be playing as well. I will binge-watch these shows and movies while drawing. I may reach out to Rob or Tim as a sound board on things from time to time, just to get another perspective and to keep ideas fresh. Once all of that is going on, I create some really cool stuff, while making a complete mess of my office area.

RayTimRob-6RS: The process is different for different people. We get ideas a lot from talking to each other and bouncing ideas off of each other. We might give an idea for a story arc or an issue, and then we help pick out what works and what needs to be fixed. We then sit and start to work out the visual through story thumbnails. Ray likes to watch old-school cartoons like Voltron, Bionic Six, X-Men, SilverHawks, and many others while he is drawing. Tim can create without any outside stimulant, and I like to listen to music when I am drawing. It helps during the creative process to get the ideas and juices going. Also, having my wife Kia as a sounding board is a tremendous help. Bouncing ideas around with her provides such great inspiration. Once we get a good flow going, we are ready to bring it to the world. Ray draws and produces his comics traditionally using a wide variety of mix media, Tim switched to digital colors and digital 3D work, and I use a hybrid method, but am currently producing work exclusively in Manga Studio—a comic software. After we go through our edits and corrections, we send it to Ka-Blam and have it ready for cons.

As far as the podcast, we come together and think of a cool topic or a hot button and then, we create a show. Once we decide on what show we are doing, we record it. Once recorded, the show goes through its long process of edits to ensure we have a good show. Then, we add the show notes and put the final touches of the show together. Lastly, we push it up to the RTR site for the world to hear.

IM: What is the Ray, Tim, and Rob Presents Podcast?

RayTimRob-8RF: It’s a really cool show about comics and comic culture. It started out as secondary content for to beef up our website, where we sell our comics or prints or what have you. We initially were just goofing around, talking shop, and then people caught onto it and started really digging it. In our first year, we cultivated such great connections that we started getting invited to major venues to record and interview. The show literally took off with a life of its own! We went from just recording in-studio to, like, 18 events, to being interviewed for internet TV, to being reviewed on YouTube. All within our first year. EPIC!

TDC: The Ray, Tim, and Rob Presents: PODCAST! is about three comic book guys talking shop about comics and a comic book culture/interview show. We discuss the fun, artistic, or technical aspects of comics and cover a lot of DC Metro comic-related events. It’s a labor of love, which comes through on the show.

IM: What kind of work goes into each podcast? How do you plan and produce?

RF: A LOT goes into the overall product. I’m a co-host and I provide the content. I am considered the comic book historian and expert on the show. As Tim says, I secure the talent for the interviews on the show and am usually the initial contact for shows and events. On the show, I’m the funny one. Tim is the main host and executive producer of the show. He records and does the initial edits. He provides the tech work. He puts the end product together for final approval. Robert does final approval on edits and does the distribution of the show. He is a co-host, and on the show, he is our straight man. He also is considered the overall general manager and brings the show together. We get together and enjoy the culture. We have a lot of fun and create podcast magic!

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TDC: Well, it all started from an idea to sell books, but grew into its own thing. The biggest task we have to do is be in the same place to record. Ray handles talent acquisition… meaning he finds and books our guests. When we don’t have interview shows, everything else stays the same. We come together in my studio, get everyone leveled on their mics, and I run the mixing board. After a recording session, I do the edits to the show, trying to make us sound super sweet. Then, once the shows sounds right with the intros, edits, outros, and all that, Rob handles the upload and distribution. Some shows are topical, so we don’t have to plan much. Other shows, like interview shows, might have us do some light research for questions… but most shows are just us shooting the breeze.

IM: How do you land your guests? Any interesting stories on that front?

RF: I hound them. Ha ha. No, really I kinda hound them, but this is such a great medium with such great people who are like-minded in comics. They love what they do as much as we do, and I think that should always be shared with the world. Alvin Lee, for example, was such a great guest. I asked the guys who they wanted on the show, and the first name was Alvin Lee. I have a pretty awesome network of pros in the industry, so I reached out and connected with him. I was very persistent in getting him on the show. He was very cool and open to it. Jonboy Meyers also, just such a great guest. And they both liked our show, which is so very cool.

IM: Who would you say is your target audience for the podcast?

RF: Avid comic book, gaming and pop culture fans. Like-minded people who love the culture and have a great sense of humor. People just like us that enjoy the medium.

TDC: Our target audience is just like your magazine’s. Comic book fans. [Editor’s Note: While Indyfest Magazine features many comic creators, our target audience are indy creators and fans in all media.] Our goal is to just represent the fans in a show, because we’re the same people. We love hearing from other pros, just like regular fans. We like to fight about Batman versus Superman, just like regular fans. We just want to entertain fans of what we’re fans of and have fun doing it.

IM: How do you promote your activities?

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TDC: A good bit of our promotion comes from five things: social media, our network, guest mentions, paid traffic, and live events. Everything that’s not live is a more hands-on approach, where we’re using inbound attention to increase our reach. Whether it’s a post, an ad, or a shout-out, it all helps to increase the fan base. As for the live events, that has helped us a lot. Doing panels at conventions, workshops, and live shows, has taken our voices and added faces, so people are starting to know who we are first, then become listening fans.

IM: Has this been the case from the start, or were there other methods that you’ve tried and since moved away from?

RF: It initially started as word of mouth. We then started expanding the brand through social media, and I would network to my colleagues, who were great to take time out to be a part of the show. The entire process was a true trial and error, and has evolved into such a great product. MUST HEAR RADIO!

TDC: Everything we’ve done has been a progression. One thing has led to another, and we just try to find our sweet spots as we experiment. I don’t think we’ve done something yet that hasn’t worked in some way. We have the good fortune of marketing as a strong suit for what we do as a team.

IM: What advice would you give to someone just starting out, either in comics, in podcasting, or both?

RF: Be patient. Let success come to you. Rome was not built in a day. In comics, as in podcasting, dedication to your art form is key. You have to live what you do as much as you love what you do. No quitting. As a great guest said, “Comics as an industry is not a sprint, but a marathon.” And let it be about the journey, not the destination. Work hard. Perfect your craft. Network. Don’t be fearful of criticism, it’s there to make you better. Have a voice and have fun!

RayTimRob-1TDC: Do something fun, so when you hit the hard points on your journey, you can use the fun bank and withdraw some good vibes to get you through. Also, do what you can handle. Find people willing to help you along the way. People love being a part of cool things.

RS: Do what you love and keep a clear vision of what you want to do and how you want to do it. Do not be afraid to ask for help along the way. Times are different from when we were growing up. There are a lot more resources now to help you in whatever you are trying to do. Fill your life and surround yourself with positivity, even during rough moments. Keep the big picture in sight and remember that it is worth it.

IM: What does the rest of 2016 (and beyond) have in store for you?

RF: More shows, more guests, more events, more cons, more fun, more CREW and Fret, more craziness. More! More! More!

TDC: More shows, definitely. lol. Also, more training from us on creating and getting into comics, podcasting, and stuff like that. More fun stuff.

RS: More shows and a lot more guests. We have been blessed with the amazing guest list we’ve had on the show, and there are more guests to come and more great content. We will also be releasing more issues and a graphic novel this year. We have a few things coming down the pike.

IM: Finally, how can folks keep up with you online?


TDC: The best is, for our Ultimate RTR Bundle with Sketchbook, Artwork, and Preview Comic Book + Podcast Updates. That leads to everything we do, which is all about fun.

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95 Hall of Fame Update


May 2016 Update by Ian Shires

HOF-1     And so, the April SPACE show came and went and it was a good time for all. I spent my time promoting Indyfest, talking to people about what they want, need, and would like to see in the industry. It’s hard to gauge how much of an impact I made, but we got a good number of new people to fill out the HOF form, and we’ll be developing our longterm relationships with everyone.

     This issue, I’ve already talked about my main observation from the show itself, but the other side of the coin is the general drift away from feeling like we’re all in it together. I’ll sound like an old fuddy duddy here, but Facebook and Twitter are major reasons. Crowdfunding is another (and while Indyfest still intends to start our own version of it, I recognize the law of diminishing returns at play; it was something more HOF-2than one publisher mentioned as we discussed things.) Basically, getting started with a crowdfunding event can work. Relying on it for continued success… not so much. Nothing beats having an actual following who crave new work from you, and that’s the core of what Indyfest is seeking to create. Anyway, that’s for another day.

     Sunday was all about the Tim Corrigan memorial event. I’m hoping the video of the event— from our friends at the Underground Video Network (—will make it online soon. We will make sure everyone gets a chance to see it, as soon as they have it available.

HOF-3     We had on-panel, Bob Corby, Michael Neno, Matt Feazell, and Pam Bliss, while I played host. In the audience were Carol Corrigan and her sons Nathan and Mathew (whose band and art we will be featuring soon), as well as an array of Tim’s fans, and other interested passersby. All in all, it was a decent turnout and it made the event very special for everyone.

     Panelists each spoke of their memories and feelings, about what Tim Corrigan meant to the development of the small press network from the mid 80s into the 90s, and his comic work from before then to well after, as well as his music.

HOF-4     When it came  to my turn, I began the Hall of Fame presentation part of the event. I spoke of Tim’s mentorship to me over the years, how we didn’t always agree, but how he was always right in the end. Nobody ever did more than Tim to turn a mishmash of people making their own photocopied comics into a network of lifelong friends. And so, it was only fitting that we made him the first official honoree of the Self Publisher Hall of Fame. It was Tim himself who challenged me, back around 1987, to create the first directory of who was actually in the network, which led to the Indyfest Network we see today. And it was an honor to present the plaque to his family in eternal memory of what he meant to us all.

HOF-5     One copy of the framed certificate, signed by myself and Bob Corby, was given to the Corrigans; the other will remain with the Hall of Fame records to be shown at future shows.

     Our attention now turns to the future of the Hall of Fame. My goal by next issue is to be able to present the people for whom the public will be eligible to vote for the 2017 presentation. It will be based off the Hall of Fame Starting Point Book presentation, but will be online and give clearer instructions on how  people can submit their info quickly and easily, and set forth what the voting procedure will be.

HOF-6     History means nothing unless it is preserved and shown in a way that people can check out and learn from it in fun and interesting ways. A permanent record of who did what and when, with meaning and feeling. And you, yes you, will be able to vote on who we induct into the Hall, very soon. See you next month folks!


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