An informal checklist companion for your slog through revisions

When reviewing a finished draft, I've always put a big emphasis on reading it as quickly as possible, in nice large chunks rather than bits and pieces. When you're writing a thing, you're focused on the minutia of your snail-paced slog through every scene, and so I want to see how the completed story flows as a whole. Do I repeat phrases or emotional beats too often? Does the plot make sense? Does the narrative arc feel satisfying? Is it a STORY or just a series of things happening?

But recently, as I'm nudging the last few bits and pieces of the script for Chronin Volume 2 into place, I've been thinking a lot about the small stuff, too -- the details which are easy to forget about when you're worried if your protagonist's Big Plan makes any sense or if readers will like the romances you've ended up with.

I'm thumbnailing the book right now, in which I draw scratchy stick-figury blueprints of how the final pages might look. It's slow going, so I'm once again experiencing the story in much smaller slices. And I'm using this as an opportunity to think about people instead of plot; to consider character moments instead of narrative momentum.

Here are some questions I might ask myself as I go through a scene:

- What are the characters thinking about RIGHT NOW? How do they feel? Are they worried? Excited? Angry? Why? Is there something they want to be doing, but can't? Is there something they know they have to do soon, but so far they're putting it off?

- (For when a character enters a scene who's been off the page for a while) When did these people last see each other? How did they leave things? How have their situations changed in the time since? Is there an imbalance of information -- has one of them learned something vital that the other doesn't yet understand? Have they missed each other? Were they worried?

- What do each of these people THINK is going on inside the head of the other? Are they correct? If they're wrong, why is that? Do either of them realize that there's been a misunderstanding? Do either of them CARE? If they disagree, is one of them going to try and convince the other to change their mind? Why or why not?

- When was the last time these people ate or drank? When was the last time they slept? What have they been doing, physically, for the past few hours or days? Have they walked a long distance, or lifted something heavy, or been in a fight, or gotten soaking wet, or slept on the ground? Are their clothes comfortable? Are they dressed for the weather? Are they used to this kind of weather? Are they used to this level of physical activity? Are they hungry? If so, how does being hungry make them feel?

- If you asked everyone in this room to describe each other person in one sentence, what would they say? Whose answers would be similar, and why? Whose answers would be different? Would those answers change over the course of the story? Why? How?

- Based on the information they currently have access to, what do these people THINK is happening right now? What are they expecting to happen today, or tomorrow, or next week? How is that impacting their plans, or their conversations with each other? How useful are their plans going to be, given what you the writer KNOW is about to happen?

- Who does each person in this room currently consider to be their closest friends? How has that changed since the beginning of the story? How is that going to change before it ends?

- And seriously, your own feelings about it aside, for serious who wants to kiss who? WHY do they want to? Why is each person attracted to each other person whom you, the author, have romantic designs for? Are those reasons emerging organically from the story? Do you feel like you have to push them together, or is there a sort of narrative gravity between them?

I could go on about this basically infinitely! People are complicated, and so of course, characters are also complicated. I won't pretend that I run deliberately through a list like this for every single scene, but these questions are always in the back of my mind. And when I feel like something isn't quite working, or feels too easy, or too hard, I use these questions to help tease out where the problem is.

At this particular moment, though, the problem is super clear: I'm writing this LJ post instead of working on my thumbnails.

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Some Disorganized Thoughts on Hamilton: The Musical

I'm going to be trying to make more of an effort to journal about narrative experiences, particularly those which are fleeting. However I think I put a lot of pressure on myself to write Well, a pressure which makes it far less likely that I'll write at all?

So here are some basically stream-of-consciousness thoughts about going to see Hamilton at yesterday's matinee, which you can take a look at if you're curious but which may be borderline unreadable to anyone who isn't me.

A few notes beforehand:
- We sat way over on the far right of the mezzanine, but we were in the FIRST ROW, which was excellent.
- I bought these tickets way back in September. We could have gone to an earlier show, but this was the first show I could find with the kind of seats I wanted.
- I should have bought tickets like....jeez, summer of 2015, when I already knew the musical was coming out and was already excited about it because I'd watched Miranda's White House performance dozens and dozens of times, and I have a bunch of theater friends who were like "Alison you should buy tickets." I'm a moron, I don't know. I DON'T KNOW!
- But what the fuck ever it was a great! The entire original cast was there, aside from King George, who's been replaced a couple of times. I feel enormously privileged to have been able to watch Lin-Manuel Miranda, Pulitzer-winning MacAuthor "Genius," perform the role with which he has minted a new generation of Theater Nerds and transformed the American conversation about race and our own history.
- I spent basically the last third of the play crying.
- I very nearly shouted "CONGRATS ON THE MOTHERFUCKING PULITZER" during the curtain call but felt it would ruin the atmosphere

Here are my as-they-come-to-mind thoughts on Hamilton, which I am probably not going to proofread at all, apologies.Collapse )

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Comics Recs for Hugo Purposes!

Hugo nominations are due in a couple of weeks, which leaves me just enough time to slip some SFF comics recs in under the wire!

Most of these are webcomics, although many are also available as ebooks or in print. I've tried to focus on titles that an average reader who isn't already hip-deep in the comics community might not have heard of. All of these are excellent and quite different from one another — I hope you find something new that you enjoy!

***



Mare Internum
by Der-shing Helmer
It's difficult to talk about this comic without some fairly major spoilers, but let's say it's a character-oriented medium-near-future SF story set on Mars, in which hypothetical biologies play a major role. The comic started posting in early January of 2015, so the bulk of what's available to read is Hugo eligible.
(WARNING: on-the-page suicide attempt, allusions to childhood sexual assault, body horror)



O Human Star
by Blue Delliquanti
One of my personal favorites. The summary on the About page is actually very helpful, and begins with "Alastair Sterling was the inventor who sparked the robot revolution. And because of his sudden death, he didn’t see any of it. That is, until he wakes up 16 years later in a robot body that matches his old one exactly." Ongoing since 2012, the first page of 2015 is here if you're curious.



The Last Halloween
by Abby Howard
A comedic but frequently grim monster-filled mystery horror story? "The Last Halloween is the story of Mona and her unusual friends, who must work together to defend humanity from countless horrific monstrosities! Perhaps they will succeed, and humanity will prevail as it always has. Or perhaps this will be... The Last Halloween" This one's difficult to pin down, but although just based on the description alone it's the sort of thing I'd never be interested in, I've enjoyed it immensely since it started posting. Gorgeous artwork, distinctive voice. Ongoing since 2013.



Agents of the Realm
by Mildred Louis
This magical-girl-inspired webcomic came roaring out the gate and has been making waves in the indie comics scene ever since. "Shortly after starting their first year at Silvermount University, five young women discover they've each been chosen to to protect our world and its newly discovered sister dimension. Volume 1 begins at the start of their first year of college as they learn learn about this new responsibility and try to find out exactly what’s going on."



Beyond: the Queer Sci-fi & Fantasy Comic Anthology
Edited by Sfé R. Monster and Taneka Stotts
Exactly what it says on the tin! 18 short SFF stories from 26 creators, all of them explicitly featuring queer themes and characters. You can pick it up as a PDF and read it this afternoon. (Full disclosure, I wrote one of the stories in this anthology!)



Travlogue
by Aatmaja Pandya
A sort of fantastical diary comic of Nana, a small fuzzy person traveling the world. The comic itself is a series of usually low-key and always charming adventures on the road. Nearly all of its archive was posted in 2015.



Eth's Skin
by Sfé R. Monster
"Eth’s Skin is a comic about a fisher named Eth living on the edge of a ragged ocean. It’s a story set in a slightly different British Columbia, where raft cities called townships make up the bulk of civilization, and selkies and sea monsters swim through kelp forests and avoid strange masked land-dwellers called Beachwalkers." Dense with interesting and empathetic characters, with seemingly effortless worldbuilding bursting out of every page. Ongoing since 2014.



Relativity
by Beck Kramer
"When Irina Novak set off on NASA's first light speed travel mission, she knew the flight would change her life. She just had no idea how much." I love pretty much every single thing about this comic, if I'm honest! Near-future SF entirely focused on women and their work and their relationships. Ongoing since 2014



Strong Female Protagonist
by Molly Ostertag and Brennan Lee Mulligan
"SFP follows the adventures of a young middle-class American with super-strength, invincibility and a crippling sense of social injustice." This is probably the most famous-outside-of-comics of all the work I've mentioned, but that's because people LOVE IT. Ongoing since 2012.

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Stuff I've Been Up To, Spring 2015 Edition

After a long cold discouraging winter, there've been some new developments on my end -- which is great! And QUITE WELCOME, as wow did the back half of 2014 and the first few months of the New Year really put me through the wringer.

Looks like one of my Actually Getting Paid For This comics projects will be announced June-ish, which I'm very excited about. And in the meantime, I have some new work online, and some older work that's been significantly improved upon.



First off, I added color to one of the short comics I drew last year -- Pilgrimage, an SF story set on Mars. You can read it on my website if you're interested, and you can pick up a paper copy if that's more you're style.

I also had a couple of prose stories published! Noise Pollution, about cassette tape magic and literal battle hymns in the East Village, went up on Strange Horizons a couple of weeks ago. And The Last Wild Place, a story about very VERY old frenemies sorting out their damage on the pre-renovation High Line, was reprinted on Fantastic Stories of the Imagination.

I have some thoughts about both these stories!Collapse )

FINALLY: as a part of that effort to be more mindful of the good things in my life, I've decided to start collecting the handful of reviews and other articles that people have posted about my work, which I'll update from time to time. It will probably be of interest only to me, but that's okay -- I get self-conscious about this stuff anyway!

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Thoughts on Steven Quartz Universe and his television program.

I found myself abruptly overwhelmed with Thoughts and Feelings about cartoons this morning, at a length not appropriate for Twitter. SO! Time to dust off the ol’ LJ for some good old-fashioned nerd blogging.

Indulge me for a moment, friends. And let me tell you about Steven Universe.

A lot of the chatter recently has been about how it’s fantastic science fiction, how its cast is dense with amazing women characters and overtly queer relationships and the kind of sweet-hearted masculinity we rarely see on American TV, how it packs an insane amount of content and nuance into 12-minute episodes without ever feeling rushed or condensed, and all of those things are true! They’re all awesome, and they all make me enormously happy.

But this morning, I wanted to talk a little more about the emotional life of the show — the bits that leave me open-mouthed and wide-eyed on the couch, my hand pressed against my chest.

Steven Universe is a show about kindness — about being thoughtful and generous even (especially) when it’s difficult; about forgiving people for their mistakes, and trying to understand their reasons; about taking care with the feelings of others, even when you don’t completely understand them; about being kind to yourself.

It’s a show about the exhilarating joy of existence, the thrill of being alive on a planet that’s beautiful and delicate and wholly unique; the painful and important knowledge of how precious the people in our lives are and how easily they can be lost.

It’s a show about grief — for a mother you’ve never met who both passed on a legacy of incredible strength and generosity, and who cast a shadow so long and so imposing you’re not sure you can ever be free of it; for a friend who willingly left you behind for reasons you may or may not agree with, after you’ve already given up your old life and any hope of returning home for the sake of their ideals; for a wife you loved intensely and forever who literally surrendered her physical form to have a child with you, whom you also love, but who is not and will never be her.

It’s a show about laughter and fun, about singing your feelings and joshing your friends and talking about your favorite books; about going for rambling drives with the teenagers in your tiny town who are also kind of the older siblings you wouldn’t otherwise have had; about cheap boardwalk food and arcades and tourist season and all the myriad details of life in a seaside town on the Atlantic coast; about goofy puns and weird treasures in your dad’s storage locker and backpacks that look like cheeseburgers.

It’s a show about growing up; about how difficult it is to become the person you want to be; about recovering from trauma and learning how to ask for help; about recognizing when you need help; about that moment when you realize, for the first terrifying time, that the adults in your life often have no idea what they’re doing; about lying awake at night worried about dangers you don’t entirely understand.

Steven Universe is a show about a sensitive, kind-hearted, schmaltz-loving nerd of a boy, and his quietly badass brilliant best friend-who-is-also-a-girl, and his well-intentioned-but-not-entirely-cut-out-for-this dad, and his three surrogate moms who only barely grasp how humans work and are wrestling with an especially intense version of learning on the job.

It’s also one of the best — if not the best — SF/F shows on television. But that’s a whole other blog post.

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Webcomics Recs: Hugo Nomination Edition!

For the use of anyone who's still putting together their Hugo nominations -- or for folks who are generally interested in more Science Fiction and Fantasy comics to read -- a list!

All of these comics are eligible for this year's Hugo's in the category of "Best Graphic Story," and all of them are excellent! (And all of them available to read in their entirety online for free.)

O Human Star - The about page actually provides an excellent summary of the plot! More thematically: this is a queer SF family drama that largely centers around individual struggles with identity, questions of the nature of synthetic life, and how the two push and pull against each other. I always have a hard time summing up my thoughts on O Human Star because it's complex and multi-layered and delightful and interesting, and I never quite feel like I'm doing it justice. It's one of my favorite recent works of science fiction in any medium and worth a read, absolutely.
By Blue Delliquanti, first page here.

Unsounded - If you're interested in epic fantasy stories with sprawling settings, large casts of characters, international intrigue, mysterious and disturbing backstories, plucky young antihero heroines, unsettling magic systems or gorgeous GORGEOUS artwork, then you should probably be reading this comic! Also notable for containing one of the only two zombie/undead characters that I've ever cared about in fiction.
By Ashley Cope, first page here.

The Last Halloween - Starts out as a sort of black comedy romp through the horrific landscape of a monster apocalypse and gradually reveals itself to be something much larger and more complex -- both smart and thoughtful, and utterly absorbing for me despite the fact that I normally don't care about so many of its individual elements. Featuring the second of two zombie characters I actually care about! I'd say it's Burton-esque but it's more interesting than anything Burton has done in a long while.
By Abby Howard, first page here.

Relativity - A hard SF story about an astronaut on a difficult mission, one which will take six months from her perspective but leave her wife alone on Earth for three entire years. So far only the first chapter has been posted, but in a way that chapter works as its own self-contained SF short, ending on a note that brings us full circle while promising a great many complications in the pages to come. "Relativity" is exactly what I mean when I talk about how excited I am about the future of SF comics.
By Beck Kramer, first page here.

Boozle - This comic is completely different than anything else I've mentioned above: an all-ages fantasy story inspired by classic video game RPGs, about a grumpy but penitent wizard and his (over??)enthusiastic cyclops traveling companion. It's so charming and so genuinely funny, drawn with intelligence and affection and a great deal of skill. She makes it all look effortless! A joy to read.
By Sara Goetter, first page here

when the darkness presses - I've seen Emily Carrol's book "Through the Woods" show up in some Hugo conversations, but her work from last year that really struck me was this short. In addition to being the sort of excellent psychological horror that Carrol is known for, this piece also plays with the form and format of webcomics in ways I found extremely interesting and rewarding and great. This comic is GREAT.
By Emily Carrol

***

That's it for now! Although I may very well come back and add to this list later on.

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On Cultural Differences and Taking the Train

I've been spending much more of my time in the prose fiction community in the past six months or so, and it has been a strange experience. If nothing else, it's given me a much greater appreciation for how comfortable I've become in comics. As much as I worry about how best to promote my work, whether I'm a good fit for this Comic Arts Fest or another, how to manage the various stresses and responsibilities of my paying comics work, which publishers to approach with new projects and whether I'd be better off just posting them as webcomics...a LOT of things. I worry about so many things! But I never worry about whether or not I understand the landscape I'm navigating, or whether I belong here at all. I'm anxious about chatting to strangers at the SPX afterparty, but I always have a group of friends I can go chill with in the corner if (when) I chicken out. I haven't made as much progress with my career as I'd like, but I've been around long enough that I can make professional chitchat when needed.

But prose! PROSE!

Lucky me, between my connections with Clarion West and friends' connections with Viable Paradise -- two genre writing workshops, if you aren't familiar -- when I go to a SF/F convention I'm likely to know at least a handful of people there. But what to SAY? People always ask what I've done, and I end up just talking about my work in comics. This isn't entirely bad, as at least it helps me stand out. But it can also make me feel a little like a Curiosity, as opposed to an up-and-coming peer. I have a couple of "pro" publication credits now, at least, which will help with the small talk. But culturally I still barely know what I'm doing.

Writing this now, ugh, it's hard to even explain! I guess it's a little like the difference between how I feel on the New York subway system, as opposed to ridding the Tube in London. They're both pubtrans, and I'm perfectly capable of navigating the latter when I need to. But what are the norms? How much am I allowed to talk on the Tube? Is it okay to ask directions when I'm turned around? How much am I sticking out, and is it a problem? In New York, where I've lived for fifteen years, I get grumpy and frustrated and sometimes I get on the N instead of the D and end up down in Bay Ridge like an idiot. But I'm comfortable on the subway. I know how I fit into that particular system, even when it's being shitty. On the Tube? Every decision is something to worry about, regardless of how smoothly the trip is actually going.

So far, my trip through Prose is going about as smoothly as I could hope for. But boy, could I use some directions. And I sure do hope that I'm on the right train.

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A Year of Doing Stuff

Like many of my friends, I've been feeling nostalgic for Livejournal this past year or so. As an experiment, I'm going to try and start posting here more often!

And to start that off, it seemed appropriate to post an update about the work I've been doing in 2014.

Comics

A Leaf in the Night -- wordless sequel to A Stray in the Woods
Hourly Comics 2014 -- One or two panels per waking hour of last February 1st.
Boyfriends of Brooklyn -- co-created with Paul Starr, who wrote the flavor text
Pilgrimage -- a short science fiction comic about the cultural history of Mars
Going Up -- another short SF comic, this time about running late for your space elevator trip
Accidentally Indie -- a short that I'll be putting online soon, featured in Dirty Diamonds #6
A 6-page comic for The Tribute Album, a collection of art and comics about The Less than Epic Adventures of TJ and Amal which you can download as a PDF for free

I also wrote large portions of two non-fiction graphic novels for First Second Books. Looking forward to passing them both on to their respective artists!

Prose

King Tide -- a SF short set in a drowned near-future Brooklyn (on Motherboard)
Authenticity Soup -- about nostalgia for the Colonial Era and a not-terrible-well-planned camping trip on Mars (on The Sockdolager)

Also, two of my older Sockdolager stories are now available to read online for free:
Moxie -- basically Mulan, only with yacht racing
Off Nominal -- a science fiction novella about the first manned mission to Mars, in which there are mundane-but-potentially-deadly technical problems and awkward romantic entanglements

In Summary:

I spent a lot of time on small personal projects in 2014, but the majority of that time was in the first half of the year. The fall was basically devoured by paid work about which I'm very excited, which is great, buuuuuuuuuuuuut....I'm feeling pretty twitchy about getting some more self-pub comics work out the door. I really, really want to have some new minis done in time for this year's con season.

I'm tentatively excited about having made three prose sales in 2014 -- to Motherboard, to Strange Horizons, and to The Sockdolager -- but I'm nervous about whether or not the trend will continue. I'm not nearly as well-established in prose as I am in comics, and keeping up with comics has been challenging enough! 0___0

Clippings

(Just a place for me to keep track of the reviews and articles that folks have written about my work.)

|||| Reviews ||||

:: For Noise Pollution ::


Charles Payseur, on Nerds of a Feather
With a wry punch and a fast pace and a smooth finish, "Noise Pollution" by Allison Wilgus is a golden IPA, just a little brash and bitter but with a taste that makes it incredibly fun and drinkable.

Charles Payseur, on Quick Sip Reviews
It's a great story, fast and with a flow that just made me smile, that, like a song, pumped me up and got me nodding right along. It's just so much fun, and has the benefit of being filled with interesting ideas and strong images.

K. Tempest Bradford, on io9
The battle to keep noise at bay is a lot of fun to imagine, and I’m so down with the world Wilgus has created where musical folk must sing and create music to help people, cure disease, and keep chaotic noise away. More than that, I adore the narrator’s voice. It’s strong and grabby and amazing.

Bob Blough, on Tangent
The setting is not new but the atmosphere is clearly and well created. The characters, although again not terribly original, are drawn very well. As a first sale, this is an evocative piece of writing.


:: For King Tide ::

Joshua Berlow, on Tangent
It’s a soft-spoken story with little overt conflict. Nostalgia for drier days pervades the piece. Scientists warn us that global warming and rising sea levels will transform New York City. This story is a quiet snapshot of what we may expect.

Charlie Jane Anders, on io9
Brooklyn is a trendy place to live right now — but what about after the ocean level rises and the ocean floods in? In the new story "King Tide" by Alison Wilgus over in Vice's science fiction magazine Terraform, we get a sad, contemplative look at a flooded New York.


:: For A Stray in the Woods ::

Alex Thomas, on Pipedream Comics
It’s a brilliantly original piece of story-telling that makes for a really fascinating story, however this collected edition does have a slightly disjointed feeling – but that is to be expected considering the source material and is part of the charm. Although the story is unlike anything else, the true stand out for the book is Wilgus’s simple yet stylish artwork.

Nick Montfort, on Post Position
Perhaps I’ve been primed for this, but I thought the book’s presenation of this rather elaborate process was effective. I thought at first that page numbers would help, but perhaps these might have suggested a CYOA-style book, which this is not. While decisionmaking by mob is not always best, and can rule out nuanced plans, it works well enough in this case.

Little Willow, on GuysLitWire
Well, I read the entire thing in one fell swoop and I can tell you: Very cool. The pictures truly tell a story, with the text explaining all that needs to be explained.


|||| Interviews ||||

with Frank Duran, Real Books Don't Have Batman - 11/18/2013 (video)
with Zack Smith, Newsarama - 8/26/2013

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