- Did you write when you were in high school? Have you always been a writer? I know why you started, when you began NKIS. But I was just wondering if that was your first real venture into writing, or have you always enjoyed writing fiction? 🙂
Actually, the very first story that I ever wrote was called “Why The Frog Lost Its Tail”, and I was five years old, I think. LOL! True story! And I drew pictures for it that weren’t much more than shapes and scribbles, but I still have it, and I can look back at it and laugh from time to time. After that, I used to write a couple of stories here and there, and by the time I was about eight or nine years old, I started drawing comic books and coming up with characters and stories of my own. By the time I was in high school, I was drawing comic books as fast as I could, and I would often give them to some of my classmates to read in class after taking a test or something. So…the people I went to high school with had to wait for the stories to be finished, much like readers of the Shack do today. Hehehe! I was drawing and writing as fast as I could, but I could only do so much. So, yes, I’ve always enjoyed story writing. I wanted to get into animation at one point, and one time I wanted to make video games, and I also went to school for film and television…but it was always the ‘story’ element that stuck out for me in all of those fields. I actually took a creative writing class in college simply because I couldn’t get into some of the film classes that I wanted, and I thought it would be a cool way to get some class credits while waiting to reapply. And the Shack was born not long after that. 🙂
- How do you keep your stories straightened out? Do you have everything all planned out in your head, or do you keep notes on the computer about each story? I know I don't trust my memory to remember details for the one story I'm writing, let alone DOZENS of them going on at the same time like you do. So how do you do it?
Actually, I do get a bit mixed up sometimes. I try to find the mistakes during the editing process, but I’m sure that I miss a few details here and there. Usually, when I come up with the idea for a new story, I know how it ends. I plan it out before I even get started. I feel like it’s a lot harder to keep a story focused and interesting when you don’t know where you’re going with it, or where your characters are ultimately going to end up. So having a basic series of guidelines in place keeps me from straying too far off topic. The ending may change or morph into something different over time, but I always have an idea of what I want the story to say and where to take it, chapter by chapter.
Now, I DID keep notes on every story online at one time. (It got lost in one of my computer crashes, unfortunately, and I never went back to rebuild them) It was mostly a listing of character names, details about them like hair color, eye color, particular interests, etc, and a ‘cliff notes’ collection of major events or important dialogue quotes that I had plans to use again at a later date or to bring things full circle. But, even without that…I don’t know. Hehehe, these characters are all a part of me. So they’re in my head at all times. So I may mix up a few names here and there, or forget something that I should definitely have remembered before adding a new chapter. But I’m getting better at smoothing that stuff out as I go back and refresh myself on some of the key chapters that I used to push the story forward.
- Not everyone has the ability to be a great writer like you, but one essential qualification would have to be being an avid reader. I am not sure that the love of reading is innate but I'm sure that it has to be fostered and encouraged. Was there someone in your life that taught you the love of reading? A relative/mentor/teacher? For me it was a great aunt. I couldn't have asked for a better gift.
It was my mom. DEFINITELY, my mom! 🙂
She still tells the story of when I was still a baby, barely able to talk, and she used to read me stories every night before bed. (I guess, even back then, I was an insomniac) And I had heard them so many times, that when I visited my grandparents, I could almost recite them from memory. And my grandfather was convinced that I already knew how to read! LOL! Which, of course, I couldn’t…but I knew the pictures and Snow White and The Three Little Pigs and The Crooked Old Man well enough to pretend like I could.
Jump ahead a few years, I think I was in the second grade, and there was this thing at my school where if kids read 100 books in a school year, we won…ummm…something. I don’t even remember what we won. But my mom wanted me to do it, and I did. I vividly remember this series about a young boy detective, and his name was Fargo North Dakota, and he loved pancakes and syrup. Hehehe! But every book, he’d have to solve a different mystery, and I got hooked on those stories right away. I’m really surprised that nobody’s made a movie or a TV show about that series yet. It would be awesome. Anyway, I read the 100 books, got my prize, and I was hooked on reading ever since. Then, as I reached my teen years, full of angst and antisocial behavior bullshit…I got more interested in comic books. I already liked to draw, and I loved cartoons, but I HATED homework! God, I hated it! Hahaha! I treated school like I treat work nowadays. “I’m all yours for my 8 to 10 hour long shift. After that? Leave me the fuck alone! Don’t bother me at home!” 😛 But I found such a deeper meaning and involvement in comic books once I got into the complex stories. The characters, and the motivations, and the dark plot lines…wow! I’m pretty sure that my mom thought she was giving me something ‘kid friendly’ originally…but comic books had sex, drugs, abuse, murder, violence, moral dilemmas, and much darker content than anything I could find elsewhere. It was a goldmine! So that’s where my greatest gift came from in terms of being fascinated with reading stories. Thanks, Mom!
- Are we ever going learn more about the mimic that came before Justin? With his ultimate goal being to avoid the prophecy I feel like learning exactly what happened to his predecessor would be interesting.
May have already been answered and I just missed it. Got a lot of reading to catch up on.
The thing with the “Gone From Daylight” series is that it’s difficult for me to talk about certain aspects of the storyline without giving away any spoilers. But it’s sort of designed that way. So, I’ll try to tell you what I can.
First off, yes! Readers will eventually be given some information on the past Vampire Mimics that came before Justin. And there are some hints about what has been going on behind the scenes in some of the spinoff stories like “GFD: Circle Nocturnus” and “GFD: Executive Order”, as well as a few others. It is also mentioned in the “Nights Eternal” chapter with Justin visiting the Nifty Archive in the IceZone club. But there is more info coming about what happened and whether it can be avoided or not.
Through Justin’s current dreams, the circles, The Jeweler, and other situations…more will be revealed in future chapters of the series. Hehehe, I wish I could say more…but that would be cheating, wouldn’t it? ::Giggles::
- The big one is, and you don't have to answer it, where do you find the strength or resolve to interact with that "man" after everything he did, and why continue to do it at all?
That ‘Man’, being my father? Well, it’s not really as complex as I’m tempted to make it out to be. As sad as it sounds…I actually love my father. I just don’t like him a whole lot. Or, well…at all. I won’t pretend that I don’t ask myself the same question, or ignore the idea that I might simply be reacting to some sort of brainwashed mentality that keeps him connected to me in one way or another. But, if it makes any sense…it would take more pain, more energy, and more effort, to avoid having him in my life than it would to talk to him on the phone for ten minutes on birthdays and Christmas. You know?
I know what he put me through as a kid. I remember the abuse as clearly as I do my first kiss, and I hate it. But, at the end of the day, it made me who I am. I’ve been built from that blueprint of emotional, verbal, and physical, abuse…and while I wish I could have been brought up in a house full of love and support instead of dealing with his daily tantrums and violent outbursts…I can’t really say that I regret any of it. He failed in trying to break me, and I know I have my down moments and occasional dips into depression…I’m stronger for it. I really am. I think that being able to write my experiences down in stories like “My Only Escape”, “New Kid In School”, and “Gone From Daylight”, really helped me to open up and examine what happened and what I’ve been through. And it’s probably the best thing that I’ve ever done in terms of being able to deal with it and repair whatever damage was done during my formative years. It’s a liberating feeling. You can’t imagine how much better I feel now, knowing how little effect his influence has had on my life as it is today. I still have value. Purpose. And he can’t take it from me. He’s just too weak.
Time is catching up with my dad now. He’s been married twice after my mom, and those wives both have moved on as well. He lives alone now, and he sometimes calls when he’s feeling old and lonely. My mom and I humor him for a while, but…he’s going to die alone. I hate to say it like that, but it’s true. And it won’t be because of any misfortune or ill will that I wished upon him. He did it to himself. He’s experiencing the bad karma that comes from treating other people like trash. And I don’t want to be a part of his downfall.
So…thanks, Dad, for making me a fighter. And making me struggle to find a way to love myself and empathize with others in ways that you’ll never understand. If he needs me, I’ll be here. If he calls, I’ll answer. But I’m pretty sure that he knows that I’ll never be that little boy that he used to beat up on ever again. I’m not his victim anymore. I’m a reminder that his life could have been better if he only had the balls to be a good father, a good husband, and a halfway decent man. I take pride in not being bitter about it. That only keeps me from being at my best, and I refuse to give him the satisfaction of knowing that he beat me. He didn’t.
- Do you have any plans to stop writing? I remember a long time ago you were going to stop because you were moving to California, or something like that. Of course plans change. And I no longer think that's the case. But when I first read it, I was worried. Lol. Worried we'd not get to find out how our favourite characters end up at the end of their stories.
Hehehe, all the stories end the same way! A giant meteor hits the Earth, and everybody dies! Spoiler Alert! LOL!
Any plans to stop writing? No. I, honestly, don’t even think that’s a possibility at this point. Writing has become such a natural part of my daily expression, such a useful method of expression my emotions, that trying to live without it would probably throw me into a fit of mental and emotional CHAOS! Hehehe! Sad, but true.
Now, some years back…I actually was going to retire from writing as ‘Comicality’ online, and that was because of what was going on with the site and the utter hysteria that was happening in my life at the time. Nowadays, you guys might look at the forums and the site and only see a few positive comments here and there, no big deal, right? But there was a time when I simply couldn’t handle the stress of being online in that capacity. It got to the point where I was so brittle and exhausted that I couldn’t even function in my daily life. People trying to hack into my files, trying to disrupt and shut down my forums, people who were outraged that I’d write a story like “Untouchable” with adult/youth content (even people that I thought were close FRIENDS of mine at the time), and hate mail galore. Angry trolls. Suicidal teens depending on me to give them a reason not to do it. People demanding stories faster than I could possibly write them. You really have to experience it for yourself to understand what kind of toll that takes on your psyche after a while.
Around this time, I was actually meeting Shackers in person, hanging out with them, even had some of them sleep at my house for a weekend. SO much fun! Hehehe! But things got out of control rather quickly, and that had to stop. People were trying to find my address, calling my house, trying to figure out where I worked…it got to be insane. And between the invasion of privacy and the unfathomably hurtful amount of hatred that I was getting for no reason at all (Even Encyclopedia Dramatica did an entire article on me. WTF? Are they still around? No? Oh well…guess who outlived you! Bunch of bitches!) So, there was a time when I had a countdown on the site, and I said that I was going to simply stop. It wasn’t worth the pain anymore.
However, things have changed since then.
A bit older, and a bit wiser…and maybe a lot less mature, hehehe…I think I understand the game people like them play now. I get it. And I take pleasure in stressing them out, because they HATE that I have fans. They HATE that I can keep going without paying them any attention. And it feels good. It really does. So I doubt that I’ll ever stop writing stories. Even if I don’t do it as ‘Comicality’, this is a part of my DNA now. Writing stories is right on my priority list with eating dinner and getting a decent night’s sleep. Hehehe! It won’t stop. Not as long as I’ve got fingers to type with and a beating heart…you’ll continue to get new material from me. Always.
And if I piss off a few haters along the way? Good! Hehehe, now they know how I used to feel, back when they mattered. 😛
- What kind of neighbourhoods are the stories set in and is that based on where you lived yourself?
Hehehe, funny you asked this. I would say that about 90% of all of the stories that I’ve ever written take place within the same ten to fifteen blocks on the North Side of Chicago where I grew up. All surrounding the three story apartment that I lived in from about…age six or seven…until I was about 14. So, Elementary School to Junior High.
If you were to read all of the stories, back to back, you might see the similarities in the locations, even though I did make an effort to make them seem different. For example…I was close enough to walk to my Junior High in the mornings, and one of my best friends at the time, Adam, lived across the alley from me. And another of our best friends, Sam, lived a block in the other direction, and he’d have to run to catch up to us in the mornings so we wouldn’t leave him. (He was a year younger than us) And we would take a shortcut through this alley on the way that had this ‘secret park’ in the middle of it. It had a whole playground and a big hill with a tree at the top of it, that we would cut through in order to get back and forth, to and from, school every day. So…if you read “My Only Escape”, that park might have showed up once or twice. If you read “On The Outside”, there’s a park where Ethan and Drew go to have lunch in private under a tree. If you read “The Secret Life Of Billy Chase”…Billy and Sam have a special place that they go to called ‘The Hill’. And if you read “Gone From Daylight”, Justin confronts one of his former bullies in a park at night as he’s coming home from a party. ALL of these scenes take place in the exact same park. All of them.
Then there are other places like Navy Pier, or my personal high school or junior high buildings, that I just envision when I’m writing, because I know them inside and out. Like, the stories “Shelter” and “SKYLIGHT” are based on the layout of my high school. Well, most of my stories are based on that blueprint, but those two specifically. Because that blueprint is so well defined in my mind. I could walk through that place blindfolded if I had to. Hehehe!
So, yes, folks! Almost all of the stories you read on the site take place within a five minute drive from one another. Check out the story “Welcome Back To Shacker High” some time for shits and giggles! I think you’ll like it!
- So we all know you are a big fan of all things Chicago and that many of your stories are based here (I'm a Chicago boy too).
I seem to remember reading something in passing that you are no longer living in the Windy City. Say it isn't true! If you had to leave, what brought that about and do you get back at all or have plans on returning?
Chi-Town for LIFE!!! Yay! Hehehe!
Yes, sadly, it’s true…I moved away from Chicago when my mom retired from her job on Michigan avenue, and I moved down to Georgia a few years ago so she could be close to family, and I could help her out with expenses and stuff. I really REALLY get homesick sometimes though. I mean, even when I DREAM…it’s always about Chicago! I mean…maybe other people don’t get it, but there are certain aspects of cities like Chicago, New York, Los Angeles…that NEVER leaves you! Like…ever. There’s a pride and a vibe that seeps into every fiber of your being. I didn’t just live in Chicago…I AM Chicago! You can’t get away from it, and people can see it. I really do miss home. If I had the money, I’d move back in a heartbeat.
More than anything, I miss the food! The variety of food from all over the world was just…omigod! I actually spent a LOT of money for my birthday a year or two ago so that I could get some freeze dried stuffed pizzas from Giordano’s delivered to my house in the mail! Worth every PENNY!!! Oh GOD, it was so good! They don’t have Chicago stuffed pizza here. At all. No Italian Beef, no Kuma Burgers…you have to drive quite a distance to get any Gyros…I swear, I thought I was going to starve to death in the first couple of months of being here. Shameful!
Anyway, I do like being close to my family here. That’s something new to me. I’m an only child, and I used to only visit my family in the Summers when I was growing up. And now I’m smothered in kids and cousins and aunts and uncles all the time. And I’m just a big kid myself, so having them jump al over me and treat me like a human jungle gym is actually pretty fun. Hehehe! But I still miss home. And once this pandemic thing is all over and done with, I’d love to come back to visit for a while. And eventually move back permanently. Only time will tell.
- About choosing the next update. I know you mentioned before that you have a specific mood related to each story, but did you ever get in a situation where you would make yourself "get in the mood" for a particular story?
I’ve definitely pushed myself to work on stories that I wasn’t in the mood to work on in the past, but I feel like it always shows in the writing itself. Like, when I go back to do my last minute edits and fix up any errors, I can feel the ‘disconnect’ in my words. Usually, if I’m trying to force myself to finish something off or write a new chapter, it’s because I felt pressured by the readers to ‘hurry up’ and get it done already. And I totally understand their frustration. I really do. I think a lot of people think that I don’t get why they’re so angry that they can’t finish the story in one sitting, but I also don’t think that they get how difficult it was for me to write what they’ve read so far. Like…it’s HARD! Hehehe, seriously!
But, when I’m in the right frame of mind, I might be able to sit at this keyboard and spill all of my feelings out for an hour straight and get almost half of a chapter finished without any effort at all. It’s like…this huge ‘release’ for me where I can splatter all of my current emotions on the screen in their most potent form, and then send them out to other people to read. And that’s what readers usually connect to the most. When I’m REALLY angry, or happy, or horny, heartbroken, and I channel that into my writing without having to force it…those are the chapters that people respond to most. I feel like that raw expression is what makes my stories work, and what gives them their impact and longevity. I do try to hurry certain things along sometimes for the sake of meeting a self set deadline and please the public readers that are only invested in one or two stories and want to see something new.But I feel that I do my best work when I follow my heart instead. And it’s a bit of advice that I give to any other writer that I’ve ever talked to about creating projects of their own.
- Why so long between the chapters? Are you not worried that readers forgot what happened before?
I really do wish that I had more hours in the day to write story chapters much faster and more often than I do, but the truth is, it’s just not humanly possible. And it’s not because I’m slacking, I PROMISE! Hehehe!
A few years back, I was getting so many complaints, and so much anger and criticism from readers about the lag between chapters, that I actually began to doubt myself. I mean, I write every single day. Not almost every day…but EVERY…SINGLE…DAY. So, I started looking into my own practices and release dates to see if I was being as mean and cruel to my fans as they claimed that I was being. And when I looked at the actual data…I was actually doing a lot better than I thought I was in terms of putting out new material. So, I put together an extensive release schedule on the top of the Comicality Library forum, to let the whole world know what I was posting, when I was posting it, and how long it had been since I posted a previous chapter before that. So everybody could see the hard work I was putting in. Because some readers were like, “Omigod!!! It’s been a YEAR since you’ve posted anything new at all!” But now I can look at the listing and show them, “No…I just posted two days ago.” And that’s pretty much indisputable, because the story chapters are right there for people to look at and read at their convenience. It may not be the ONE story that they’re dying to read, but I’m tossing out chapters left and right and I’m busy every single day of the week. So…I get the frustration, but don’t try to twist it around and write it off as Comsie is being too slow or too lazy to put out new material. Because ‘Comsie’ is putting out more material than TWO or THREE of your favorite authors put together every week. So, chill out.
That being said…I really wish that people could have some faith in me, and see my dedication to these characters and to the story in general…but if they don’t recognize it at this point…shrugs. I just can’t make ‘making them appreciate me’ a priority anymore. Making them happy just isn’t possible. All I can do is keep writing with the hopes of finishing what I started all those years ago. I just hope they’ll be there when the story ends…and maybe, just *MAYBE*…they’ll send me a quick note to say thank you. Maybe…
As for forgetting what happened in the earlier chapters, I forget sometimes too. Hehehe, so I understand that as well. I sort of look at it the way that I look at members of my family or old friends from high school. I mean, it might have been months, or even years, since I’ve talked to them last…but when I see them, I recognize them and we can pick up right where we left off. Because they’re close to my heart. That’s how I want the characters in my stories to be for my readers. You haven’t seen them in forever, but you remember them, right? You know who they are, and now we get a chance to catch up on what’s been happening with one another. It should be fun. You know?
So many people want to burn through an entire series that took me over a DECADE to write in a single weekend, and then leave without doing so much as clicking a friggin’ ‘like’ button to say thank you for all the hard work that I put in. And, at the risk of sounding whiny…it sucks. They bust a nut, roll over, and go to sleep. And they leave the authors of these amazing, well crafted, stories completely invalidated and unsatisfied. You’d think they’d give us a ‘pity’ fuck every couple of months out of guilt alone…but they never do. So, hehehe…I’ll keep writing as fast as I can, and I’ll work on getting new chapters out more often to keep things moving…but to the folks who only find the time to write to me when they want to complain, and can’t even bother to leave a comment when I give them what they want? I mean…what’s the point? You know? I’d rather write for the people who actively support me and participate in the site as a whole. Why would I go out of my way for people who refuse to show any appreciation for what I do? Especially since I do it for free.
- Have or how often do readers take away a different reaction or opinion in a chapter, scene etc, than you intended to make?
For example, maybe you wanted to inspire some sympathy or anger at a character or situation, but you were surprised by a different response. Everyone reacts differently to various situations and you can't always get the reaction you intended.
Hehehe, good question! And it happens to me a lot, to be honest.
I think that one of my biggest flaws as a writer is getting subplots to sort of stay in the background instead of taking center stage. It’s like, I can’t find a decent balance between the main story and the side characters. LOL!
For example, in “New Kid In School”, Ryan and Randy are the main focus of the story. That’s what the story is about. It’s what I want people to be the most invested in. But once Ariel and Tyler entered the picture, most readers were like, “Ryan, Randy, blah blah blah….get back to ARIEL already!” Hehehe! In “Jesse-101”, the two main characters fall to second place when it comes to Scotty and Artie. Over and over again, I find myself having to ‘defend’ the importance of the original story when readers keep practically telling me to abandon it altogether and focus on the side characters instead. It can be maddening. Because I want the subplots and side characters to be lovable and important to the story…but I don’t want them to overshadow the rest of the series. Like I said, it can be a hard balance to work out. Trial and error, I suppose.
Emotionally, I’ve done some things in my stories that I thought people would be disgusted by, but they ended up loving it. And I’ve written some things that I thought would be met with joy and excitement, but ended up being judged with a harsh eye instead. There’s no real way to predict how people are going to take the twists and turns of a certain story.
I think the best example of this was one of the later books in the “Billy Chase” series. For people who were around at that time and saw the discussions taking place…people were sooooo HARD on Billy! The poor kid, he was a teenager! I, personally, thought that people were being unnecessarily harsh on him for just being a kid. But Book 6 of the series was a direct response to that. It was like, “Fine! I wanted to make Billy a decent human being and a relatable character, but all you want is for him to be vengeful and evil and cruel and FUCK everybody in sight! Well…here you go!” And I gave my harshest critics the “Billy Chase” that they said they wanted. And a lot of people hated it. GOOD! Hehehe! Oh the outrage was unbelievable. But hey…since they thought they were the experts on how a story is supposed to go, let’s do it their way. I’m glad that I did it, because I think it took the series to a new level and it was one of the most popular books in the series, even if it angered fans and caused quite a few of them to rage quit in the middle of it.
Bottom line, you never know how readers are going to react to anything that you’ve written. You have high hopes, and you want people to ‘get it’ the way you get it. But I think reading fiction is a symbiotic experience. Writers express what they feel, and readers are bringing their own ideas, imagination, and sometimes…their own baggage, to the table. So people see and interpret things differently. The best I can do is try to find some common ground with whatever audience that I can get, and hopefully get my point across without having to force it or make it too obvious. I don’t want to be manipulative. I just want to put my true feelings out there for people to see, and latch on to what they see as being similar to their own thoughts, beliefs, and experience. That relatable quality is what makes stories last forever in the hearts of the reader. That’s my opinion, and I’m sticking to it! Hehehe!