This is turning out to be one of the busiest months of my life. Here’s a taste of what I’m up to in the near future – including some events you’re invited to, which are bolded!
May 10th – Graduate reading! I get to stand up in front of my peers, professors, and dad and read from my thesis novel.
May 12th – Helping my roommate of 3 years move out.
May 15th – Last day of work in the department where I’ve been a student worker for over 8 years
May 18th – GRADUATING FROM GRAD SCHOOL OMFG
May 18th-19th – SpringCon, 10am-5pm at the MN State Fairgrounds! I’ll be there selling coloring books and tiny watercolors of Calvin & Hobbes style superheroes. You should stop by and say hello. (Saturday at SpringCon overlaps a bit with my commencement ceremony. I’ll be rushing out the door in a blur of polyester graduation robes around 2:30pm, but I’ll be there the whole time on Sunday.)
May 24th-27th – WisCon, including a reading! I’ll have plenty of coloring books for sale in the art show’s print shop, and on Saturday night at 10:30, I’ll be a part of the reading group Family Stories and Secrets. Outside of the reading, you’ll most likely find me lurking about with my face in a sketchbook or being forcibly placed in conversations by my more outgoing friends.
May 31st-June 1st – Moving into my new apartment and painting it. Sometime after this, I might be able to breathe again.
Also, you might notice that this site has a new look. It also has a new URL: theonicole.com! I did that this month, too. Whew.
Earlier this week, I got a chance to sketch through another dress rehearsal of the MN Opera – this time, Puccini’s final opera, Turandot. It’s a visually stunning show. I had to set down my sketches at a certain point and call them done because I wanted to just soak in all the colors and gorgeous costumes.
ESPECIALLY THE HATS.
If I had a hat like that, I’d wear it everywhere. Wedding? Giant horned emperor hat. Work event? Just let me get my giant horned emperor hat. Amusement park? It’s cool, you go on the log ride without me, I’m gonna sit on the mom bench with my giant horned emperor hat and eat a corn dog.
What was I talking about? OH RIGHT. Opera.
Performed in Italian, Turandot centers on a Chinese princess named Turandot who vows that no man will ever have her. When suitors come looking for her hand in marriage, she poses them three riddles to answer, and if they get one incorrect, she has them executed. It’s basically the bloodiest speed-dating ever. One day, an unnamed prince wanders into her kingdom and falls madly in love with her at first sight -which I can’t blame him for. I mean, the woman’s robes feature the faces of screaming dead suitors. She’s a delightful tiny murder princess. I fell in love with her at first sight a little.
Anyway, the kingdom’s three wise men try to bribe the mystery suitor with women and riches to keep him from throwing his life away, but he attempts to court Turandot anyway and correctly answers all her riddles. Turandot refuses to marry him, so he poses her a riddle in return: if she can’t find out what his name is within one day, she has to marry him. In the end, after a lot of civilian panic and one secondary character’s suicide aria, the prince tells Turandot his name willingly and she falls in love with him all of a sudden. The opera ends with her announcing to her people, “His name is Love!”
Fun fact: Puccini died with Turandot unfinished, so one of his students finished writing the last act. You can tell. Although, as the maestro explained to us at the reception before the show, the whole suddenly-in-love thing is also pretty typical “because it’s opera.” A lot of his sentences summarizing this show for us ended with “because it’s opera.” Which I think is the best explanation for opera plots I’ve ever heard.
My favorite subjects to sketch during the show were the three wise men
And Princess Turandot herself
When the line “No man shall ever possess me” came up in the opera, I thought, man, that would be a great line to have in your OKCupid profile. But I don’t have an OKCupid account anymore, so naturally I spent the rest of the performance thinking about what Princess Turandot’s OKCupid profile would look like.
I’m just gonna leave you with that tonight.
I am cold, proud, and homicidal.
No man shall possess me
What I’m doing with my life
Exploring terrifying new fashion, watching reality television
I spend a lot of time thinking about
The moral implications of preserving yellowface in modern performances of opera from the 1920s
You should message me if
You like riddles LOL
MN Opera’s Turandot is in town for one week only. For more information, click here.
I just put the finishing touches on my thesis novel, and it’s ready to go out to my thesis committee members for final approval. Someday I’ll write about this little story that won’t die and what it’s meant to me to have worked on it for the past fifteen years, but right now, I’m tired. So instead, here’s an awful sentence I cut from the last draft:
In the yellow candlelight, my grandfather’s face was old, but peaceful as the gentle wind over the rooftops.
I caught this while reading the penultimate draft aloud to a friend, and we couldn’t get through it without laughing, because oh my god, gentle wind over the rooftops? This is sixteen-year-old me trying really hard to be poetic. That was the last pure high school sentence in the whole novel. Everything else has been either cut or reworked so heavily that I can’t tell what’s old and new from the writing quality alone. And that, to me, is astonishing. So much material has been cast aside in the pursuit of finding the right words to tell this story that there’s not a single bit left that I can identify as part of the first draft.
Raise your glass if you’ve got one, because it’s time for a toast.
Here’s to everything that didn’t make the cut.
It sounds like a good, formidable number. Twenty-eight is how old I am today, and here is an abridged list of the projects I have going on between now and the next birthday, in no particular order:
- Further coloring book tycoonery, which may be done hand in hand with a publishing house and/or self-published, but which will definitely involve at least one new book out this year. That I promise you.
- Finishing Thesis. (Am currently in the final stage of it, reading the whole manuscript aloud and polishing it.)
- Graduating with my MFA in Fiction!
- Finding a new day job.
- Renting an apartment of my very own with lots of sunlight and no roommates.
- Getting this website overhauled with a better design and accurate URL.
- Legally changing my name, I hope?
- Acting as Director of Marketing for a fanworks convention that will be held in 2014.
- Querying agents about my novel, which HOLY CRAP am I excited about!
- Tabling at a minimum of two local conventions and attending at least three more.
- Finishing one of the novels sitting half-done on my back burner, and probably starting another, because if I’m not actively working on a novel-length writing project at all times, I start making sad puppy noises and listening to Death Cab for Cutie too much.
- Finishing the script for Peter Apteryx webcomic on my own and get more done on Not So Secret Gay Vampire Webcomic Project with my team, who prove themselves more wonderful collaborators every time we work together. (<3)
- Making at least one short-form comic (10-20 pages) and getting started drawing one longer webcomic project (50+ pages).
- NOT DYING OR KILLING ANY COLLABORATORS. This one’s important.
- Fanart, fanfic, and podfic, always. Fanworks keep me sane.
Twenty-eight is shaping up to be full of major life changes and Hufflepuffery. I’m excited to see where it takes me.
So far in 2013:
- I started making concrete plans to go to the Sheep and Wool festival, one of my dream vacations, which means finally getting to meet a whole host of my long-time Ravelry friends/internet family!
- I met with my thesis advisor to get feedback on my novel, and it went really really absurdly well. Well enough that instead of having to retreat into a revision bunker for two months, living off Cheez-Its and deadline stress, I get to do a few relatively quick passes through the manuscript, retain my normal life, and finish thesis early. It also means both members of my thesis committee have now told me, yeah, this book I’ve been working on since I was a teenager is actually salable.
- A certain cockamamie fanworks convention scheme that’s been brewing between myself, some friends, and various associates has started to look like an actual convention we can afford to make happen. *knocks on wood*
- My coloring books are now represented by Sasha Raskin at The Agency Group.
- Coloring book sales are still doing really damn–
Wait, back the truck up, what was that last one?
- My coloring books are now represented by Sasha Raskin at The Agency Group.
YEAH, THAT HAPPENED. I’ve been sitting on this for a couple of weeks now, waiting for the ink to dry. Sasha reached out to me after finding one of my coloring books, and whaddya know, she was awesome and her vision for these books totally meshed with mine! Her agency is well-established and deals a lot with the sorts of books you see as gift and impulse purchases, which is a niche my coloring books fit into nicely.
I am so psyched to see where this goes. After the ridiculousness of December, I was fresh out of goals for these books, and now I’m setting new ones.
One of those goals is to say the phrase “my coloring book agent” as often as possible, preferably in a posh voice while eating finger sandwiches.
MY COLORING BOOK AGENT.
To quote a friend: I like 2013. It’s got moxie.
This week, I tagged along with the Black Hat Collective to sketch through a dress rehearsal of Doubt, the latest production of the Minnesota Opera. Thanks to MN Opera’s eagerness to work with bloggers, social media butterflies, and comic artists, this was my seventh opera with them in the past three seasons. I had never seen an opera before settling into the back of the theater with a book light and a sketchbook for Mary Stuart, and now I look forward to every new show like it was a new Marvel movie. Except, y’know, with less fan fiction.
(Side note: I just checked, and there are 10 fics for the 2008 movie of Doubt on AO3. Bless you, internet.)
I was especially looking forward to Doubt because it was a world premiere – an opera commissioned by the MN Opera’s New Works Initiative based on John Patrick Shanley’s Pulitzer Award-winning play. Shanley, who wrote the opera as well, and Douglas J. Cuomo, who wrote the music, did a quick Q&A at the reception before the show. Hearing about their collaborative process was fascinating. The way they described it, it seems co-writing an opera is very similar to the creative collaboration I’ve been doing lately in co-writing a comic with some friends: building a shared language is key, whether you’re talking about arias or panel layouts, and you have to be willing to be thoroughly schooled by your collaborator when something isn’t working.
Doubt did not disappoint. After The Giver opera, it might be my favorite show I’ve seen so far.
Doubt takes place in a Catholic school in the Bronx in 1964, where head nun Sister Aloysius begins to suspect well-liked Father Flynn of abusing the school’s first black student. It’s a nuanced story with no concrete answers – you leave the theater unsure if either side is right. It’s a powerful, emotional show, and weirdly…funny? Doubt is certainly not a comedy, but it’s the only opera I’ve seen that had a room full of teenage boys chanting the word “booger” in it or a main character who’s so staunchly old school she refuses to let students use these new-fangled ballpoint pens.
Or radios. Or hair clips. Sister Aloysius is not a fan of anything convenient or fun, basically. Meanwhile, Father Flynn is the cool basketball coach who teaches boys about dating and wants the school Christmas pageant to feature “Frosty the Snowman” (or, as Sister Aloysius calls it, “Pagan propaganda”).
Caught between the two of them is Sister James, a young, innocent nun who doesn’t know whether to believe her superior or the charismatic priest. I wound up with a whole page of Sister James sketches. (Process note: This time around, I did my sketches in ArtRage on my iPad and imported the ones I liked into Manga Studio to finish.)
Sister James is constantly trying to please everyone, and Sister Aloysius is constantly pulling her into her battles as backup. Worst backup ever. See: highly subtextual conversation about whether Father Flynn likes sugar in his tea. “Sugar?” Sister Aloysius asks her colleagues. Father Flynn and Sister James responses, respectively:
By the end of the show, a fantastic role reversal has started: Sister James is able to choose a side she believes in and stand up for it, and Sister Aloysius, once so convinced of her own moral high ground, is haunted by doubt. She worries that, like in Father Flynn’s sermon on gossip, she’ll find God pointing a disapproving finger at her for her actions.
Is Father Flynn a guilty man rightfully punished or an innocent man whose name has been sullied? In the end, the question is left hanging.
I’ve been tagged by the fantastic Sunny Moraine to participate in the Next Big Thing blog hop, which has been really cool to watch spread. (Sunny’s got me excited for A Murder of Crows now, because psychopomps and genderqueerness? YES, PLEASE.)
If you’ve been wondering about that thesis novel that’s eating up all my time, here’s the gist of it.
What is the working title of your next book?
Where did the idea come from for the book?
Friends: “IT WAS ORIGINALLY FANFIC FOR–” Thunk. Sploosh. ”Why did we wake up inside a steamer trunk? Do we hear whales?”
(That secret’s going to my grave or yours, guys.)
I’ve talked before about how long I’ve been writing the main character of this novel. This is the oldest story I have in my writing queue. It was born from bad fan fiction and teen angst, but it’s grown up since then.
What genre does your book fall under?
YA urban fantasy
What is the synopsis or blurb for this book?
Short version: It’s about a boy who’s hiding telekinetic powers that led to his best friend’s death.
Things break around Tiern. It’s not intentional – it’s just, when he’s stressed out, cracks snake up the walls or a laptop shorts or his grandfather’s car snaps an axle on the interstate. And one time, when things got really bad, his best friend’s heart stopped working. Tiern’s heard enough about Silverbloods on the news to know that he’s the sort of freak with super-human powers that Congress is up in arms about. His grandfather won’t even talk about Silverbloods in the house.
When a confrontation with a bully gets Tiern outed in front of his whole school, another student steps in to save him from his powers’ explosive reaction. Tiern’s never known anyone like himself before. Suddenly he’s got an in to the underground Silverblood community and a friend willing to help him train his powers. As a school-wide witch hunt gears up and his secrets threaten to cost him his family, Tiern turns to his newfound community for help. There’s just one little catch: his powers are a special breed of suck that even the other Silverbloods are afraid of, and they’re getting stronger and harder to control.
What actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
Honestly, I have no actors in mind for the main cast. If it really did become a movie, I’d love to see some unknowns cast.
Christopher Heyerdahl would be great as the big bad of the trilogy, though. He does creeptastic and disconnected from reality well.
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
I’m hoping to land an agent with this novel, but I’m keeping the idea of self-publishing on the table. Self-publishing coloring books has been such a fantastic experience that I’m curious to see how it might work with my fiction.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
It took around 3 years from the genesis of the idea to writing “THE END” on the manuscript, but I think the actual writing time was around a year and a half.
Rewriting a new first draft largely from scratch for my thesis project took just a few months.
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
My initial goal was to write a fantasy novel that I wanted to read. That’s always been the main drive of this project, but what I want to read has changed over the years, so the story has evolved pretty dramatically.
In high school, I wanted to read a novel about an outsider with kickass powers. Those elements are still there, but now I’m also interested in exploring identity, family as a DIY project, and what makes a person worth loving.
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
One of the central characters is a trans guy whose character arc does not center around coming out or gender angst. (It’s about choosing sides between his brother’s witch hunt and his Silverblood friends. Also, archery and sarcasm.)
The story also involves a crumbling fantasy world hidden just beneath our reality, a narrator who finds his roommate’s label-maker and secret magical book equally eye-roll worthy, cage fighters with ridiculous names, psychic bonds, family drama, redemption, and giant shadow monsters.
So that’s Everything Breaks, AKA book 1 of The Fantasy Series What Ate My Life, which I plan to shop around to agents this spring.
To continue the Next Big Thing blog hop, I’m tagging the fabulous:
I turned in the fall draft of my thesis novel on December 1st. Since then, I’ve mostly been refreshing my CreateSpace and Amazon pages. I’m not even kidding, my #1 hobby this month has been clicking Refresh buttons. My friends, coworkers, and therapist can vouch for this. Because everywhere I’ve gone this month, every fifteen minutes, I’ve felt the need to check my coloring book sales.
That Mental Floss post in November got my books seen by a lot of people. Ever since then, sales have been rising, suddenly 5, 10, 20 times normal. On December 4th, I passed my all-time sales record of 1,000 books. When I started making coloring books, I was thrilled when 25 people bought them, because that covered the expenses of making something that was effectively a 2am sci-fi convention pipe dream. So to suddenly pass a thousand was amazing. It was a milestone I never expected to hit when I started out.
Passing 1,000 in all-time coloring book sales: check.
But sales kept on going after that. I took this screenshot from Unicorns Are Jerks’ Amazon page on the 14th:
I didn’t get a screenshot of it, but in the Top 100 in Fantasy list, Unicorns Are Jerks was sitting just above Cloud Atlas.
I’m gonna be honest, I laughed for like five minutes straight. And then danced a little. And then laughed some more. And then danced. There was a lot of laughing and dancing, and it’s really just pure luck that I didn’t upend my desk and face plant off my chair. (These are genuine concerns when I dance. I’m banned from krumping in my own kitchen and from Muppet and Adventure Time dancing in my friends’ apartment. Glass has broken. Shame has been dealt. It’s no good.)
I remember working on my first novel as a teenager and daydreaming about being on this exact list. Someday, I thought, I’ll write a book good enough to make me a bestselling author. Fourteen years, five novels, and 9/10ths of an MFA in Writing later, I have achieved that dream with a coloring book featuring unicorns farting in elevators.
Top 100 Fantasy bestsellers list: check.
And then today, I passed 1,000 coloring books sold in a month. One thousand coloring books. In a month.
That was my last milestone, guys. That was, in fact, the milestone I only dreamed might happen in Happy Theo Land, that magical place in my imagination where Fan Fiction Reader is a legitimate career choice and universities offer graduate degrees in Puppy Counting. I am all out of milestones. I have no idea what comes after this.
Selling 1,000 coloring books in a month: check.
Here be dragons.
I know three things for certain:
First, the profits I’m earning from coloring books in the month of December are going to be more than I’ve ever made in a month at a day job - even that time when my supervisor took a 3-week vacation and left me working 55-hour weeks while our student workers slowly filled his office with crumpled paper from the campus recycling bins. (That was awesome.) These coloring book profits are a little bit life-changing for me; I will actually have a safety net for once, and right in time to graduate grad school, find a new job, and find an apartment on my own.
Second, I am so grateful to everyone who’s made this happen. I’ve seen my coloring books linked around Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, Wanelo, Reddit, Facebook, and countless other corners of the internet in the past few weeks. I’ve been absolutely baffled watching this spread, and I feel so lucky. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
And third…I’m definitely adding “coloring book tycoon” to my business cards.
Hi, folks. If you came here from Mental Floss’s 10 Bizarre Coloring Books for Adults, welcome, and thanks for stopping by!
This website’s been a bit neglected lately, thanks to me working on my graduate thesis in fiction. (Wow, it sounds so respectable when I say it like that. Not at all like I spent most of last night playing Bubble Shooter and writing about teenagers who can kill people with their minds.)
I’ll get this place tidied up soon, but I’ve got to submit a new draft of my thesis novel by December 1st, so right now everything else is on the back burner. My social life has been whittled down to nothing, I never go anywhere except my apartment and work, and I’ve said the words “I can’t, I have thesis” so many times that I feel like the world’s worst talking action figure.
Thankfully, Thesis Theo is limited edition.
See you in December!
With Halloween coming up, I thought it might be a good time for a ghost story. Those of you who’ve been hanging around here for awhile might recognize this one – I posted a very short, early draft of it almost two years ago. It’s been thoroughly overhauled since then and wound up being my WisCon reading this year.
The Cadwalladers drove nine hundred miles across sticky-hot July roads to move into a haunted house. Nathan, age nine, was the only one of them who noticed the ghost, because it was in his room. The first night there, he lay clutching the goodbye Build-A-Bear bear his friends had made him to his chest and staring out into his dark room. The ghost shuffled between cardboard boxes, its claws dragging ruts in the carpet and its low growl reverberating off the drywall of the development house.
“There’s a dinosaur ghost in my room,” he told his moms in the morning, as they unpacked boxes of knick-knacks for the mantle.
“There’s no such thing,” his mama said.
Nathan’s hand clenched on the arm of his goodbye bear. “I can hear it at night, all low and rumbly. The floor creaks when it breathes. I don’t think it wants us here.”
“Sweetie,” his mom said, sighing at a china teapot, “sometimes houses creak. You’ll get used to it.”
The house sat at the far end of the development, bordering on unfinished lots and overlooking a ravine that had split in the carefully leveled landscape. On the second night, a flash-flood tore through the area, washing strips of sod from their yard down into the ravine and flushing it out toward the river on the other end of the development. Nathan spent the night curled up with his back to the wall and his goodbye bear wedged between his knees, glaring out at his room by the glow of a flashlight. The dinosaur ghost paced from the rain-spattered window to the door, its tail upturning boxes that Nathan had refused to unpack.
“The dinosaur ghost gives me dreams,” Nathan told his mama the next morning over breakfast. “Last night I dreamed about the Cretaceous Era. There was mud between my toes, and when I ran, the trees moved for me like traffic making way for a police car.”
“You know what I hear is popular with boys your age?” his mama said, frowning at her tablet. “Cowboys.”
That night, there was a cowboy-themed comforter and sheet set laid out neatly on his bed. Nathan frowned at it. A growl wheezed through the room, like the sound his moms’ sedan used to make starting on cold mornings.
“I know,” Nathan said, hiding his face under the comforter. “It’s not my fault.”
The dinosaur ghost roared, rattling the windows and making Nathan’s chest hum. He hugged his goodbye bear tight.
When his moms brought home groceries, Nathan tried a peace offering: a bowl of chili. The dinosaur ghost didn’t get any quieter, and after three days on top of his dresser, the bowl of uneaten chili developed moldy speckles and a sour odor. Nathan’s mom instructed him to throw it out.
The dinosaur ghost followed him across his room whenever he was there – which he was all the time, because the options his moms had given him were “Go find some kids to play with in the neighborhood” or “Go play in your room.” So he held his goodbye bear in his lap and played video games while the dinosaur ghost grumbled and grunted at his ear.
“I don’t know what you want!” Nathan hissed.
The dinosaur ghost made a soft keening sound and thumped onto the floor beside him. From downstairs, his mother yelled at him to stop jumping around.
Nathan tried reading to the dinosaur ghost from his favorite books. A Light in the Attic elicited only grumbles. The dinosaur ghost began whining loud enough to hurt Nathan’s ears halfway through the third chapter of Harry Potter. They very nearly made it to the end of Where the Red Fern Grows, but once Nathan started crying, the dinosaur ghost did, too. Rain pattered down from a fresh crack in the ceiling, and Nathan carried a bucket upstairs on his head, using both hands to block out the sound of the dinosaur ghost wailing. He didn’t sleep at all that night, the dinosaur ghost’s head dipping his mattress morosely.
The internet got hooked up the week after they moved in. Nathan borrowed his mama’s laptop while she was at a job interview and spent two hours in the breakfast nook with a bag of Marshmallow Mateys, reading articles about ghosts. The internet said that ghosts were anchored in place by their remains. Nathan checked the email account his mom had set up for his friends back home to contact him – empty – and closed the browser window with a jab of his finger. When his mama got home, he asked to borrow her trowel.
“Going to venture outside, finally?” she said, ruffling his hair.
Nathan took up the trowel and his flashlight and slung his goodbye bear in a backpack over his shoulder. “I’m going to dig up the dinosaur ghost’s bones and move them,” he said.
His mama pursed her lips for a moment, then shrugged. “Be back for dinner.”
It had been drizzling all day, and the ground around the house’s foundation came away easily under the trowel and his hands. He dug for two hours along the shady side of the house and hit a pipe, a patch of limestone, and a large, cracked tooth. He tugged at the tooth, but the limestone held it firmly in place. The dinosaur ghost’s grumble vibrated the foundation.
“Fine!” he shouted up at his bedroom window. “I’ll dig you out from underneath!”
The ravine cut a dark line across the bottom of the yard, the bare patches where sod had been washed away now ribboned with mud and clay. Nathan marched up to the ravine and climbed over the lip of it, grabbing roots to lower himself down. On the third foothold, his sneakers slipped, sending him tumbling to the bottom on a slick of wet clay. He landed with a hard strike to his elbows and winced. It was dark down there, and a shallow stream trickled over his hands. He felt for his backpack and choked down a shrill sound when his hands found it empty. Turning on his flashlight, Nathan scanned the stream bed.
The beam of light caught on the ravine wall in front of him, and up in the house, the dinosaur ghost cried out mournfully.
Bones and bones. Old bones of all sizes and shapes protruding from the clay – the foot of a dinosaur, the shapes of ancient fish, the tails and pelvises and skulls and vertebrae of so many long-gone animals he’d seen in books. Dozens. Hundreds. The place had been a riverbed once.
The goodbye bear his friends had made for him sat in a muddied lump at the base of the wall. Nathan hugged it sopping to his chest, his eyes roaming the wall of bones.
When he climbed out of the ravine, his backpack sagged with bits of bone and company for the dinosaur ghost followed with him.