By Heather Pontius
What are writers but a night light to reality.
— S. A. Check
<body>Scott Check is a natural storyteller. From retelling old favorites to imagining new ones, Scott focuses his passions in the comic book industry. As most writers begin, he grew up reading comics. That passion for reading transitioned into writing and thus began an interesting and diverse career.
“Comics are unique, blending pictures and prose, dialogue and depiction, juxtaposing each to evoke cliffhangers and conflict,” Scott says. He asserts that writing is already visual, but comics allow those descriptions to personify. That visual component actually helped his writing. “I write comics because I love the medium, and I think I have something to contribute to it.”
Scott likes his writing ideas to simmer. If after some time, the original idea still stirs him as it did when he first thought of it, it’s worth developing and turning into prose. “Every book I write becomes a bit of an adventure of its own.” He says with his second novel, Maxx Fragg, V.P.I., portraying the virtual and paranormal words together intrigued him. He spent weeks, even months, stewing and mulling over the concept, the plot, the characters, turning it around in his head. “I always say if time were money, I’d be the king of nickels.” Each novel writing gets easier, though. Each one brings its own challenges, for sure, but over time, he refines his process, and it requires less time. “I may have a general idea for an ending, especially in the longer stories, but I like to watch how an ending evolves through the process too.”
For comic books, he chews on a new idea for a few days before capturing the key themes on the computer. These “little snippets” fill his hard drive and wait for him to select one to develop further. For those lucky ideas, he expands it, paying little attention at first to form or structure, and starts filling out pages. Once Scott finds the flow, each page is broken down into panels, with dialogue, narration, and information for the graphic artists who will convert the panels into the final manuscript. Scott admits that he is “only one part of the creative process when it comes to comics, and I enjoy seeing what everyone from the artist, to inker, to colorist, to letterer adds along the way.” He appreciates and enjoys this “team-oriented approach” to creating the final product.
Novels, though, follow a different process. Scott starts novels on his tablet. He claims that this technique is “very organic” because he can easily list out his characters, their traits, plot points, etc. He starts with the outline, which allows him to take a bird’s eye view of the story. Once it’s set, he fleshes out the structured details into chapters on his computer.
For inspiration, Scott studies his environment. “It’s all about the people, the small dramas, and how we interact with each other on a daily basis. The world brings out the best and worst of us, sometimes at the same time.” It’s the small details that define us, as people, as characters, and he draws on those to bring his own fictional characters to life—to make them real. For example, Scott tells a story of meeting a man who used “thundering” as an adjective: “I’ve been waiting ten thundering years for that to happen!” Years later, that minor yet interesting detail stuck with him and fit one of his leads, John Traveller from Welcome to GreenGrass, “like a glove.” Scott even goes on to say that John remains one of his favorite characters to date.
After the writing is done, Scott simmers some more. Often, the editing process requires some time away from the piece after writing the last word. His first editorial pass allows him to add large elements to the story, narrative details, or descriptive scenes. The second editorial pass subtracts elements that hinder the storyline’s forward motion. A final review smoothes the final draft prior to submission to a group of beta readers for feedback. He also appreciates his publishers’ in-house editors, who help polish any areas that still need work or to guide him through the overall publishing process.
It’s no surprise, considering his affinity for tablet outlining, that his favorite writing tool is his cell phone. Despite the small screen, he uses the iPhone Notebook app every day. He documents intriguing words or phrases or great ideas before they vanish from his mind. He calls it his “creative pocket resource.” He regularly scrolls through the growing notes for new ideas or to fill current projects with these lonely details.
He also uses social media to develop his author platform. He admits that “it’s hard to keep track” of all of the social media outlets, but he stresses the need to have a digital voice, “especially those in the indie markets.” He has chosen to use only two or three, to manage the updates and fresh content needed for each. He encourages authors building their social media presence to “take it slow.” Start with one social media platform. Build from there. The numbers will grow with time. The important element with a digital audience is that fans like to see regular, updated content. So if you can’t keep up with it, then find a different outlet.
Scott has been fortunate enough with his workload, and the diversity of projects, to stay busy with his time. In addition to his novels, he writes for American Mythology’ The Three Stooges, Casper the Friendly Ghost, Underdog, and Pink Panther comic series. Scott converts “legacy characters” into modern day comic series. He says, “I need to make sure each one is paid the respect they deserve.” He also recently contributed to their Stargate Atlantis series. This work has also led to an original two-part creation of his, called Volcanosaurus.
Keeping “hot embers in the fire” is important to Scott. For instance, in addition to his contributions to these various series and his own original work, he’s waiting on a release date for his newly finished novel Legend Gary (to be released in early 2019 by World Castle Publishing), he finished another manuscript ready for publication, and he’s already outlining his next book. Also, he dedicates serious time to promoting his work through his author platform, as well as attending local events and larger conventions. He says, “it’s a marathon, not a sprint.”
Scott strives for that sweet balance of writing, promoting, and living life outside of his career. He finds that flexibility in his schedule, and not being stuck to a desktop computer, allows him to achieve his goal—words on the page. “It’s persistence. It’s drive. I’ve written chapters before on my phone. I’ve scratched down a quick outline on a napkin. Don’t get caught up with schedules… Don’t make writing a chore. Enjoy the ride, take notes along the way.” Fundamentally, writers write about what they experience, and Scott remembers to live as much as he works because real life feeds his material.
Part of that life experience comes from the writing community around him. Scott has been a member of several writing groups. Not only do such groups provide incredible validation to the author lifestyle or current project ideas/writing roadblocks, they serve as a sounding board for life as well. “Writers are a curious breed,” so it’s nice to receive feedback from kindred spirits—those people experiencing the same challenges and success. The support system is invaluable, and Scott admits that while writing is a solitary task, he receives such a creative energy boost from that community of writers around him.
When asked which book was his favorite to write, Scott responded with the nostalgic memories of his first-ever published novel. Published by Necro Publications/Bedlam Press, Welcome to GreenGrass is a “crazy mashup of sci-fi, sorcery, alternate dimensions, demi-gods, cyber-assassins, dragons, and at its heart, a murder mystery detective novel.” For comics, he is also proud of his writing for The Three Stooges series; as a life-long fan, he feels honored to be contributing “new stories for such comedic legends.” For example, he’s portrayed the trio “on a reality game shows, sent them back in time to a local Renaissance Faire, they saved Christmas – sort of, they were deep in Dr. FrankenStooge’s castle, and even elected Curly the new P.O.T.U.S. a couple years back. It’s been a blast.” It’s clear that Scott’s passion and enthusiasm for his subject matter makes writing fun and close to his heart.
In the new digital age, readership, reading methods, and even publishing are evolving. The comic book genre plays into this trend by representing such a versatile, multi-medium collaboration of great, visual stories. Scott sees a new challenge in the comic industry: “Just because people enjoy superhero movies, that doesn’t equate to those fans carrying over to readership in comics. There is a separation, to an extent, of those fan bases. The new challenge is how to bridge that gap and introduce new fans to comics, or adapt comics to meet the needs of today’s digital generation. I think all the pieces are on the table. Someone just needs to put it all together in a way that will click with fans.” I think the same could be said for many other genres adapting to new and changing readers in the growing overabundance of entertainment and material out in the world today.
So how did Scott get his big break in this environment? He calls it a “bit of a Cinderella story. Just take away the ball, the step-sisters, the magic, and all the other fairy tale stuff.” So what’s left, you may wonder? “A middle-aged guy with a degree in English.” He goes on to say finding success first required a lot of hard work. He kept revising after every rejection, and eventually, he found the right fit for the right story.
Scott admits that writing a novel is a tremendous undertaking and an accomplishment worth celebrating. However, once the writing is complete, the real work begins. He pitched to agents, publishers, even Santa (he might be kidding). Ultimately, though, writing is a journey. “I always looked at each query letter I’d send out as another brick in the literary road I was trying to build.” In the end, he found a great home for each of his works. He encourages other writers to “be open to the full publishing landscape around you as you make those choices. There are pluses and minuses to them all. You just have to find that chair that fits you just right.”
His newest novel, Legend Gary, stretched his literary skills into a new genre—middle grade fantasy adventure. Scott believes that his experience in comics prepared him for this new challenge. Yet, as true for modern literature today, this genre-bending, age-group-defying story should please a large variety of audiences: “The book revolves around the main character, Gary, who inherits a book of legends, given to him by his long-thought lost father. Gary finds himself thrust into the middle of a fight between a group of myths and fantastic creatures bent on releasing an army of nightmares into his world. So, be ready for some demons, a dead gunslinger, a satyr, a skinwalker, and maybe even a sasquatch thrown in for good measure.” The main character’s grandfather also plays a vital role in the story, so the multiple perspectives add to the multi-generational appeal.
Other publications written by Scott to look out for in the spring include additional Stargate Atlantis titles, another full-issue Three Stooges story, and a new fantasy series. He’s also—as always—continuing to develop other original ideas.
Here’s a final story to summarize Scott’s perspective on writing, which might just give aspiring authors the hope they need:
I was doing one of my very first book signings at a small chain bookstore inside of a shopping mall a number of years ago. They treated me very nice and set me up in the front of the store with a table and chair and a stack of my books. I was wearing my best “does this make me look smarter” sports coat and glasses, and I settled in, waiting for my legion of fans to come find me. Three hours, and maybe a couple dozen people later, I was slumped in chair, jacket slung over the back, basically in my “mall people watcher” mode.
There was a guy manning a kiosk in the middle of the mall a little farther down from me. It was one of those we’ll redo your bathroom in a day operations. He was an older gentleman, wearing a nice suit. He had been watching me sitting there all afternoon. Finally, he walked away from his booth and approached me. I saw him coming and figured maybe he was a connoisseur of just the type of fine science fiction I was selling. I sat up in my chair a little straighter and was pretty eager for any type of human interaction at that point. We shook hands and introduced ourselves. I immediately starting talking about my book, and he listened intently and smiled the entire time. When I was done, we had a moment of silence as he slowly reached into the inside pocket of his jacket. I figured I must have made an impression, and he was buying one of my books. Instead, he produced a business card and then went into his own speech about the quality of his bath products and how a remodeled bathroom could very well change my life. I listened politely and smiled back at him. When he was done, we exchanged smiles again and paused momentarily before we both went back into our own little worlds. My lonely table and his shower stall in the middle of the mall.
I may not have sold a book, but I did come away with two things that day. One. Whether we’re selling words or water faucets, it’s all about making connections with the people you meet along the way. Have fun with it, don’t take yourself too seriously, and remember why you started writing in the first place – to tell some stories you think other people may want to hear. We all have expectations when we interact with one another, but that doesn’t always mean they’re the same. Just because an agent or publisher didn’t accept your werewolf zombie romance and they publish in the same genre, that doesn’t mean there’s not another publisher out there looking for just that story. It’s all a matter of finding the right person at the right time. Oh, yeah, and two…my bathroom looked awesome after they were done.
Do it because you love the craft. Do it because you have something to say. Do it because your story is just as important as any other. I’ve spoken with agents, publishers, and comic book professionals on all different levels. They all share one thing in common. They want the next great story. They want you to succeed. Don’t take a rejection personally! I know. I know. You can only hear the market is a subjective one, and what might not be right for me may be what someone else is looking for only so many times (See – I told you I’ve gotten more than my share of them), but push on. It can be a long road, but enjoy the journey as much as the destination.
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