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[00:10] Marissa: Hello, and welcome to the Happy Writer. This is a podcast that aims to bring readers more books to enjoy and to help authors find more joy in their writing. I am your host, Marissa Meyer. Thanks for joining me. As a reminder, we are still looking for our first official podcast sponsors. If you are interested in advertising here on The Happy Writer, please let us know. You can find contact firstname.lastname@example.org podcast one thing making me happy this week this is Halloween. This is Halloween. Halloween, halloween. You don't get to hear me sing on every episode. Did you know this is the 30 year anniversary of one of the best movies of all time? Tim Burton's the Nightmare Before Christmas I have probably mentioned in years past that we do have an annual family tradition of watching the movie with the girls this time every year, but here we are, four months living in our new house and we actually still don't have our TV hooked up. So I realized this a few days ago and I had a panic moment. How are we going to watch The Nightmare Before Christmas? But then I looked it up and was thrilled to learn that as part of the 30th anniversary, it's actually going to be in theaters this year. And I literally squealed and was like, girls, I have the best news ever. So we're going to go watch the movie in theaters this year and I am so looking forward to it. Perfect solution. Everybody wins. I am also, of course, so happy to be talking to today's guest. They are a director, writer and storyboard artist living in Los Angeles, and they have worked on the TV series The Owl House Star Versus the Forces of Evil and Gravity Falls. They're also the creator of the popular webcomic The Glass Scientists, which is now being published as a graphic novel series. Volume one just came out earlier this month. Please welcome S. H. Cotugno.
[02:16] S. H.: Thank you for having me.
[02:17] Marissa: Thank you. How did I do on your name pronunciation?
[02:20] S. H.: That was great. Thank you so much. Perfect. It's a tough one.
[02:24] Marissa: No? It's so lovely to have you. Thank you for joining me. And congratulations. I know you've been creating the web comic for quite a while, but this is your first physical publication. How's it going?
[02:37] S. H.: Yeah, it was my debut year. Oh my gosh, it's been so know. We had a really nice launch event a couple weeks ago, which is really lovely at this wonderful little bookstore in Los Angeles called Once Upon a Time Books. Are you in the area?
[02:54] Marissa: Oh, no, but I've been there in book tour.
[02:56] S. H.: Oh, that's awesome. But yeah, I've also been running this pre order campaign because as you know, this was a web comic for eight years previously, so it's been around for a bit and I have a pretty decent preexisting readership and so to kind of incentivize people who were previously reading the comic for free to come out and buy it. I wanted to give them a little something extra to incentivize it. So I am shipping out about 1500 little preorder packages in a few weeks. So it's been a lot.
[03:25] Marissa: Oh, my gosh, that is so much mailing.
[03:28] S. H.: It is so much mailing. Yeah.
[03:30] Marissa: What was the gift?
[03:32] S. H.: So I did a couple of things. Again, because I have the art background, so I can kind of produce whatever I want for it. So I did like, a little bookmark, a little sticker. My favorite thing was, like, I did a little enamel pin, which I'd never done before. So I had to learn that process. I really enjoy making physical objects. It's kind of a nice to me. It's like a nice little antianxiety thing where if you can get so wrapped up in the minutiae of word choice or color choice, there's so many little things you can get obsessed with and to focus your attention instead on just like a physical. Like, oh, this thing is made of metal. And there's only so many things you can do with a physical bit of metal. I find that to be a very pleasant just contrast with my daily anxieties.
[04:16] Marissa: Oh, how interesting. No, that makes sense too. And it's still a creative outlet, but uses different parts of your brain for it.
[04:25] S. H.: Yeah, absolutely. I used to do a needle felting. Have you ever heard of that?
[04:29] Marissa: I have, yeah.
[04:31] S. H.: I had this professor in school who I did not always agree with. So I would bring needle felting to class while he was doing this very long it was like three hour long classes. And I would just kind of, like, poke at my little needle felting thing just to kind of get some rage out. So it's fun. It's nice to have something to do with your hands.
[04:51] Marissa: That's funny. Needle felting voodoo dolls. Awesome. So the first thing that I like to ask all of my guests, I'd love to hear your origin story. Did you always know you wanted to be a writer, an artist? How did you get here?
[05:09] S. H.: Oh, my gosh. I think I definitely always wanted to tell my own stories. I think probably some of my earliest memories is that my mom is not a creative writer by any means. She's very a smart person. She's a judge now, incidentally. But she would just transcribe little stories that I would kind of dictate to her as a little kid, which were these really bizarre space opera psychosexual adventures. So I've always been drawn to very strange, fantastical stories. But I think when I was probably, like, in fifth grade, my best friend was like, I'm going to enter this novel writing contest and I'm going to be a novelist. And I was like, no, I'm going to be a novelist. And she kind of got bored with it after about, I don't know, a few months or so. But I just kind of never stopped. But my kind of turn to visual storytelling kind of happened around like, I don't know, 7th or 8th grade. And I'd grown up watching the Disney Renaissance films. Your Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, et cetera. And I think at that age, I kind of stumbled back into them and was kind of the first time when I looked at them and recognized like, oh, these aren't just like cute kids films. There's like a huge amount of artistry and skill that goes into that. And so I got very interested in that type of storytelling and that type of art, which is more about character and emotion and bringing life to still images. Yeah. And so that was kind of my pivot into that. From there. I think I was always very aware of how precarious a creative life can be. So I was very hesitant to be like, I'm going to be a novelist 100%. But by comparison, animation is an industry and I feel like I had a clearer end to like, okay, that is a job you can do. It's a tough job to get into, but if you can, it is a decent living you can make. It is unionized, which I think is I'm very happy for and very happy that for the result of the writer strike that happened recently, I hope we can get something similar next year. And so I pursued that in college, but the entire time I kind of secretly holding this flame of like, I would still like to make a book though, someday. Yeah, it was always in the back of my mind. And I think after I graduated college and I was able to get into animation, I started my first full time job was on the show Gravity Falls, which is a really fantastic show. Around that time, it kind of sunk in like, oh, the thing about animation, it is a massive collaborative medium and industry where the people who get to tell their own stories are there's very few people who actually get that opportunity realistically. Most people are working on other people's stories. And I was like, oh, if I want to tell my own story, I've got to kind of do something else. And the specific profession I was in within animation is called storyboarding, which is basically you take a script and you kind of draw out every single moment down to the character beat, down to expression, changes everything. It's very similar to comics. And so I was like, well, why don't I try out comics? And I just kind of launched it one day and it never stopped. And that's kind of how I got to where I am now.
[08:27] Marissa: I love that. Were you a reader and lover of comics?
[08:32] S. H.: Yeah, I think I was very specifically into a very particular niche of indie comics. I was really online during your live journal days back in that's a blast from the and, like, there was this one group I don't know how I found them of indie artists, which included Jen Wang and Erica Moen and some other folks who had a little collective that they would post on this one live journal group. And I absolutely worshipped them. So I was never into your marvel DC. I'm still not a big superhero person, honestly, but I was really into these more kind of more slice of life or fantasy, but in a less action adventure kind of way that are know, emotions focused that are a little bit more grounded. And that's still what I'm drawn to the yeah.
[09:22] Marissa: Well, I love graphic novels, and, you know, let's point out that not every comic and graphic novel has to be Superman or Batman. It's such a wide variety in this genre. But I also think it's interesting that you started way back when thinking you wanted to write novels. So I have to ask, do you think that a novel might be in your future?
[09:43] S. H.: I would love I mean, I think I was actually just talking with Nate Stevenson, who wrote Know, which is the basis of the film that came out this year, and he is writing a prose novel. And I was just, like, absolutely fascinated by it. I'm like, how is that happening? How can you write words without pictures? So it's something I'm super interested in. As much as I love comics, I'm so happy. The experience I've had on The Glass Scientist, it's a lot of work. No matter which way you slice it, I think the amount of time you have to spend on the art is going to be about ten times longer than the writing, just because it is such an affair to create. And so I would love people to kind of focus in a little bit more on storytelling so I don't have to spend ten years making the next one. That'd be great.
[10:30] Marissa: No, that's fair.
[10:33] S. H.: There is something very magical about being able to write, like and then they walked out onto a busy city street, and there were thousands of people, all in different costumes, and there were elephants and magic and fire, and you could just write that in a single sentence where I was like, that is like a month of work.
[10:52] Marissa: No, that's so true. I love writing graphic novels. I've got one that's coming out, I think what is it currently scheduled for, like, spring of 25. But I only do the script. I'm not the illustrator. And so for me, it's like, this great. I can write the story, write the dialogue, kind of come up with who the characters are personality wise. But all of those little details, I'm like, well, that's the illustrator's problem.
[11:20] S. H.: Don't make too big of a problem.
[11:22] Marissa: You figure it out. It's totally different from writing a novel where I have to like, oh, now I actually have to describe what we're seeing, where we are, what the smells are, blah, blah, blah. And yeah, it's fun. I love writing graphic novels, but I'm also kind of grateful that I don't have to illustrate them.
[11:40] S. H.: I mean, it can be really nice, even, like, if I would be open to another graphic novel with someone else as the following. I'm in a writer's group with Molly Ostertag, who recently did a graphic novel series kind of based in the D D space, and she brought in one of my favorite illustrators. So I was extremely jealous that she got to work with this person. But seeing someone else bring their unique art and their unique vision to a space, something that you couldn't do even as an artist yourself, is really cool. That's been something. I've really enjoyed developing animated shows as well. A couple of years ago, I did a show that was Kaiju based, like Godzilla, et cetera, and I had to go up to my executive and be like, yo, I can draw characters. I can't draw monsters at all. You got to bring someone else to do that. And so they brought in some people to help me out with, and they did a fantastic job. And it was really cool to be like, you guys are so much better than this. Please go nuts.
[12:40] Marissa: Yeah, no, and it's nice that when you're collaborating, you don't have to come up with everything all by yourself. And it can be really inspirational, too, to see someone else take this idea and take it in a totally different direction than your brain would have taken it.
[12:55] S. H.: Yeah, it's such a different skill, that collaborative, creative aspect, because I think there can be, on the one hand, a tendency to write the kind of and then a giant battle happened with 1000 horses, and it's going to last five chapters. Go draw it. That's not great. But there's also kind of like the micromanager space I can get into, which I think I land a little bit closer at times. So I feel like I'm still very much learning how to leave space for other people's creativity. But I feel like when it works, it's really magical and also adds, like, a nice social element, so it doesn't feel as isolating as writing sometimes can.
[13:29] Marissa: Yeah, no, that makes a lot of sense. And I think that writers in general have a little bit of that micromanaging aspect to us. I think that's fairly universal, which is maybe why we are drawn to creating stories and worlds in which we are in control of literally every detail and aspect of them. All right, so here you are. Your debut graphic novel has just come out. Not a collaborative project. It is all you, I'm assuming. I guess I could be wrong about that. Would you please tell listeners, what is The Glass Scientist about?
[14:08] S. H.: Yes, absolutely. I quickly want to shout out that I do have. I've worked with a couple assistants over the years who helped me with some color work or background inking right now. So I just want to call out that I've worked with assistants Tina Purin oh, my gosh. Julia Elliott and Lucy Shu. Anyway, sorry, I just want to get that out of the way. I wasn't overlooking anybody, but okay. Yes. Quick elevator pitch of the glass scientists. The Glass Scientists is a Ya graphic novel series. It's going to be a three series book reimagining characters from classic gothic science fiction such as Dr. Frankenstein, Dr. Jekyll, Mr. Hyde. It specifically follows a young Dr. Henry Jekyll as he tries to create a safe haven for mad scientists in a treacherous alternate Victorian London filled with bubbling potions and misunderstood monsters.
[14:59] Marissa: I love it. So, of course, inspired by the classic Jekyll and Hyde. So I had the book sitting out on my coffee table, and I hadn't started reading it yet. And my kids, I've got eight year old twins, and they saw it and they were like, OOH, what is this about? Because the COVID is so cool. And I was like, well, I don't know because I haven't read it yet, but I can tell you what Jekyll and Hyde is about. And so I was kind of giving them the elevator pitch for Jekyll and Hyde and they were like, that sounds amazing, that's delightful story. First of all for you, why Jekyll and Hyde? What was it that drew you to retelling or being inspired by this particular work of know, like, I loved that.
[15:45] S. H.: Story pretty much since I was a very little kid. When I was super little, I watched this film called The Pagemaster, which was this kind of like hybrid animated film from like, the early 90s, which kind of was going on a little journey through classic literature, and one of them was Dr. Duckler, Mr. Hyde. And it was just so dramatic and fun and spooky that it really made a really big impression on me. But I think what really drew me to that story in particular is that I've always been drawn to kind of dual identity stories. I am a dual identity person. I am mixed race. I am non binary and also queer. And I've always fallen in between kind of clear categories of things. I think, for instance, the bisexual experience is a kind of messy space where you're neither in the straight world or the gay world. And I think there's been a lot more discussion and discourse about that as a particular identity nowadays. But growing up, it was not really talked about or was fetishized. There were all these kind of unpleasant aspects to being in that in between space. And I think this story kind of tapped into all those feelings and the desire to be like, I wish I just was one thing or another. And so I totally get why this dude is that like, oh, I don't fit. I'm just going to take a potion that's going to split me into and then I'll fit in. I found that very.
[17:16] Marissa: Like for me. And it's been a long time since I read Jekyll and Hyde. I mean, I think it was like, in high school, maybe. And I love exploring characters that have those gray areas. Are they evil? Are they good? So many are like and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. It's like the epitome of that, of exploring good and bad in one character. It would be so fun.
[17:48] S. H.: Yeah. And I think what's special about that story is that the original story is a very simple novella. The plot is very, very simple. There's not a ton of characters, and a lot of it is kind of left in this kind of vague space. I think a lot of people are surprised when they go back to the old timey science fiction, that there is no scene in, say, Frankenstein where they go into the lab and he's got his lab coat on, and here's exactly how I did this. They often are kind of vague as to the scientific process behind it. And it's all very allegorical. And that leaves a lot of interesting room in Jekyll and Hyde, is that it really leaves space for this question, what? How are we defining good and evil here? How do we define this? And I think especially in the context of this is a Victorian story where everything was very categorized. Men did this and women did that, and civilized people did this, and savage people did that. That it really kind of muddies the boundaries because, I mean, the shock of the original story, why it's a little bit hard for, I think, modern readers to go back to is that the entire premise of the original story is that the reader doesn't know that Dr. Jekyll is Mr. Hyde. So if you already know it ahead of time, it's a little bit of a bummer.
[19:03] Marissa: That's a good point. The twist gets lost a little.
[19:08] S. H.: Yeah. Yes. In a way, I feel like we kind of need adaptations of this story to kind of bring a new audience into it, because I love the original story. It's not a modern day crowd pleaser, I would say. But if you look at the original premise, what it's trying to do is it really is trying to take the audience's assumptions of what an upper class, well to do doctor should be and what a lower class, vaguely criminal, untrustworthy person should be. And then it's like, oh, hey, you're going to turn that on your head? So that's the whole premise is that these strict categories that we want to place people in don't really exist.
[19:51] Marissa: Yeah. And I love that you did set it in the same time period as opposed to doing a modern setting, a contemporary story based here. Did you play around with that? Were you like, no, I really want to be in this world that has these kind of narrow ideas of what is civilized, what is proper, because I feel like that would add some complications, but also kind of some avenues for exploring different things in these characters.
[20:24] S. H.: Yeah, I mean, I was always pretty adamant that it should take place in the original time period. There's a couple of things that I love about the Victorian era. One is like, the aesthetic is just peak, in my opinion.
[20:34] Marissa: Oh, so great.
[20:35] S. H.: Give me some neogothic. And I'm just happy. I'm very happy with a lot of big pointy arches, number one. But two, I feel like I've always kind of resonated with this time period that again, was so restrictive almost to almost kind of cartoonish level in a certain way. Because I think and maybe this is an aspect of neurodivergence in me, I think I find myself often kind of running up against the unspoken rules that still exist in our modern world. And I think to me, there's a weird comfort in taking gender expectations or expectations for class or morality, the things that still exist that we're still grappling with, but which people kind of try and act like don't exist or will take as an assumption. And then it's like, no, we're going to bring it out in the open and discuss it very literally and very directly. So it's not intended to be like a picture perfect, historically accurate depiction of the Victorian era. It's very much using that as a lens for the modern world.
[21:42] Marissa: Yeah. No, I love that. So talk to me a little bit about how the web comic got started.
[21:51] S. H.: So I have been dabbling in the web comic space since I was a teenager. What I love about web comics is it's so accessible. Literally, anyone can do one. All you need is a website.
[22:03] Marissa: No, that's not true.
[22:04] S. H.: I could not really okay.
[22:08] Marissa: Being able to draw something.
[22:10] S. H.: I'm sorry. Sometimes I literally forget that other people cannot draw. I'm sorry. Any artist, I suppose, can make a web comic. And as a result, I could experiment with that from a very young age. I kind of dabbled in web comics as a teenager here and there, but didn't want to settle on a story. It's a really common thing to be like, oh, I'm going to start a web comic. And then you restart the first chapter like 20 times and you never actually finish the story. So I'd done that many times. I put it away as I was very seriously pursuing animation. And then when it came to that moment, I was like, oh, I really want to tell my own story, but I don't know how. Well, one thing I knew that I could do was make a web comic. And so it was just this very natural thing. I did get specifically advice to be like, hey, don't do like a big epic comic straight out the bat, please. Start with something small, simple. So actually I did a Kickstarter for just like a short prequel comic called Bleeding Heart beforehand. And with that, that was pretty successful. We met our stretch goals and I then got to learn the process of having a comic, but then really taking it to a pretty professional level, taking it to print, making sure everything really looked nice and the presentation was nice and it was cool to see the response from that. And I was able to kind of take that momentum and start the comic with that small readership that has grown over the years. But that first little comic was very much the spark and that was a really fun little project to begin the journey on.
[23:49] Marissa: Yeah. So this is the thing that always I'm always so curious about, and it seems somewhat unique to web comic artists, although maybe not. I'd have to give some more thought to that. But this idea that you're creating and probably working on a schedule, maybe you release a new chapter every week or once a month or however frequently it is. But of course the idea is that it's all going to build into one complete story by the end. How much do you plan out in advance?
[24:22] S. H.: Yeah, so I had the entire story planned out pretty heavily in advance. I think I planned out the original outline in 2014, I want to say. So it's been around for a long time and then I'm still writing, like the final draft of the script, about a month. About not a month, about a chapter ahead of where I am in the art. I think the big difference between the art and the writing is that the art, because there is just such a massive amount of it, it does have to be on a really strict schedule. But with writing, and I'm sure you're familiar with this, it kind of doesn't like to conform to schedules all the time. And so I like to be a little bit more loosey goosey with that timeline so that in case I need to do a really heavy rewrite or like this thing is just not working or I'm really struggling with this or that. I have a little bit more wiggle room in that space. I also have wiggle room where, yes, the outline was done very early, but it's kind of bonkers to have to lock yourself into how you saw the world when you were, in my case, 25, about ten years ago now. And so even though the outline has stayed pretty much the same, like the overall direction, I do have space within scenes and within individual character arcs to update and play around within reason. I feel like I definitely learned that from working in television animation, where you're still writing as you go, but you're also a little bit locked in to the stuff you've done before. You cannot completely retcon everything unless you're like heroes season Two and you're just like, that just didn't happen.
[25:59] Marissa: Which I imagine are there times when you wish you could do that? Like, no, that was all a dream.
[26:05] S. H.: Starting over, thankfully, just with small things in the Webcom. Definitely. In TV animation. Absolutely. But for the comic, I've been pretty consistent, I think, because it is one story as opposed to, again, television animation where you're doing like half hour stories over and over and over. I think there's a lot more to regret in a way, because this is a single story. There's less of that. There's a couple of moments where I'm like, oh, that got dropped. That panel was trying to allude to something that did not happen. But hopefully it doesn't interrupt the reading experience too much.
[26:41] Marissa: Yeah. So when you're creating a chapter, let's say is that what we call it? A chapter?
[26:49] S. H.: Yeah.
[26:50] Marissa: Do you have a set of guidelines or rules for things that kind of have to happen every chapter? Because it would be different when you just produce a graphic novel whole and people have the whole story all at once. I would think that there are some different ways of thinking about story if they're just getting it in little chunks week after week.
[27:12] S. H.: Yeah. I think overall I've tended to think of it as more of the entire story because otherwise what they're really getting is like a page a week. You cannot give a satisfying story piece at one page at a time. So just realistically, I couldn't think in those terms because I feel like if I were like a daily web comic, a gag at the end of each page, that's a very different format than what I'm doing. The downside of which is that when you're collecting it into books, I do worry people who are picking it up the first time and I'm like, gosh, I hope this is enough story for you all. It's going to make sense eventually, but it's a little bit of a trade off. And I think I've been fortunate that I kind of happened to land on spaces where there's like a decent cliffhanger at the end of both volumes one and two. So I hope that's enough to get people excited for the next one and to tie them over. But definitely I was not thinking of each individual volume as its own complete story. It's very much part of a larger story, right?
[28:12] Marissa: It is a series. So transitioning from web comic to now a published graphic novel, did you make any changes?
[28:22] S. H.: This may very well have been my agent getting this through, where I think she advocated for me really nicely in that she's represented a lot of people who work in animation understand that writing is not our full time job. Our full time job is a lot of work. And that especially with a web comic, you've already kind of made it. And it wasn't that I was against getting edits. I. Am very open to feedback, but it's purely just like, from a practical standpoint, if I were to get an edit letter, being like, this scene could use rewrites here, here, and here, I'd be like, I completely agree with you. It's not happening. And it's just the pure man hours that goes into every single page. We can make little changes. And actually, what was really nice is that my publisher is Penguin, who is, of course, they're relatively new to the graphic novel space, and I think they tend to approach editing from a more text point of view. Understandably. So the majority of the edits were regarding the dialogue. That's no problem for me. The harder part is going to be the art just because that just takes so much longer. So not a huge amount was changed between the web comic and the comic. It's just the little changes here and there. Little updates, a little bit of polishing. But you're definitely getting the full experience picking up the book. There's not a lot you're missing out on, honestly.
[29:53] Marissa: Yeah.
[29:54] S. H.: Except all of the rest of the story, of course, you have to wait.
[29:58] Marissa: A little bit longer if you're going to read the physical volumes.
[30:02] S. H.: Yeah.
[30:04] Marissa: Okay. So in the opening chapter, we meet 8 billion characters, approximately. There's, like, a huge cast in this story.
[30:15] S. H.: Yeah.
[30:17] Marissa: How did you go about creating them? And I assume that was a decision that must have been made, like, what you say eight years ago when you first started it. Have you had regrets since then? Why did I have so many characters?
[30:31] S. H.: I mean, I regret every single panel that has more than one character on it. But I think the idea to have this society of mad scientists, this big, colorful, lively secondary cast, I think that came actually from a role play that I used to do in high school with a friend where it kind of built out of, like, oh, we like these different, classic mad scientist characters. What if there were this place where they all came to and was actually also a little bit inspired by my college? I went to the school called CalArts, which is this kind of historically well known school for animation specifically. Of course, there are other disciplines as well. The way that our department was arranged was that the animation department had, like a central ground floor level with all the little classrooms in it. And then arranged in several tiers above it were all these little workplace cubicles where everyone had a little tiny place where all their art was and they could make their own little projects and whatnot. And it was just this very lively kind of little beehive of creativity. And I think that kind of inspired having the Society for Arcane Sciences where all these mad scientists, all these essentially these creatives coming together and having that creative energy of working together. So there's something was very important to the story from the beginning, but I do try to try to balance that out. This is definitely Dr. Jekyll's story, so I try and focus that. Yes, it does have a big cast, but it's not really an ensemble story. It is very much one character's story with these colorful secondary characters kind of adding a little bit of liveliness in the margins. One thing that has been nice, though, about building out this society for mad scientists is that it's one of those things in fandom that encourages fans to kind of dream themselves into the story. It's like with Hogwarts Houses, all the bad stuff about JK. Rowling notwithstanding, where you can be like, oh, well, I'm a Gryffindor, I'm a Ravenclaw in this story. You can be like, oh, well, here's the particular kind of mad scientist that I would be. Here's my costume, here is what my discipline would be. And there was a period where I had to actually kind of go into the comments because people were role playing their characters in the comments and massively inflating the comment count. So I couldn't see who was actually commenting on it because people would just be role playing. I had to be like, Guys, this is great. Please take this elsewhere. I cannot see people talking about the actual page. And there are actually still like roleplay forums for the comic, which is really cool.
[33:08] Marissa: That is really cool. And I bet you get amazing cosplay.
[33:11] S. H.: Oh, my. I mean it's. You know what's funny? I actually haven't gotten like original character cosplays. Mostly I'm getting Jekyll and Hyde, which I love. Those are really cool, though, getting cosplayers.
[33:23] Marissa: So as you say, it's not an ensemble know, they're really just kind of on the margins, all this big cast of characters. But do you have a way of keeping track of them? Because even though they're not the focus of the story, they each have very clear personalities and obviously they're all off doing their own experiments and things. Do you have a way of keeping track of what each one has going on?
[33:50] S. H.: Yeah, I think kind of to more or less extent with each character. Like, there's one character, the junior neo Alchemist character, Virginia Ito, who gets a little bit of a highlight in chapter two. I've definitely planned her out a bit more in no small part because she is Japanese, I'm half Japanese, and I'm very interested in that history. And so I've definitely planned out her a little bit more because of that. But I think for the most part, I do try to have a simple elevator pitch version of each character because again, because they're such a large cast, they often don't get a ton of time to each single one. But I try and give them at least one clear personality trait and one clear visual quirk so that you can recognize them and track them throughout the story. And I think that's something that I've learned from doing smaller, larger casts for screenplays as well, where you're not going to understand the full implication of the backstory, but to give readers enough that they can kind of continue to imagine into that space, and it gives a.
[34:57] Marissa: Layer of depth to the world as a whole, too. They don't feel like they're just placeholders. You feel like each one has a story. We're just not following that story right now.
[35:08] S. H.: Yeah. And I do want to kind of drop little hints that these are people who come from all different walks of life. In a way, it's a little bit similar to a queer community as well, where people are coming in with all these different backgrounds, all their different baggage, all these different competing needs and desires and vulnerabilities, but they've all kind of come together under this mantle to work towards something together, because at the end of the day, they're all outsiders.
[35:37] Marissa: Tell me about your process. Like, if you're starting on a new page, let's say, or a new chapter, do you write a script? Do you storyboard it? Do you write dialogue first and then start drawing? How does it come together?
[35:52] S. H.: Yes, I'm like a really heavy outliner to the point that I actually probably want to force myself to draw back a little bit. I'm someone I get like, as everyone does, I have a big fear of the blank page. Right. I particularly get really tripped up on elegant word choice. Kinds of like I'm the sort of person where I will get so intimidated whenever there's I was reading, like, that Brandon Sanderson kind of hit piece in Wired recently, and they do a thing where they're like, oh, well, this is proof that this person is a bad writer. And they pull out one sentence, and I'm like, oh God, what's going to be that one sentence for me? We're both going to read it and be like, oh, based on that one sentence, this person is garbage. I can get so hung up on that kind of word choice level stuff. And so I'm the person who will do the Comic Sam's technique. Do you know that one?
[36:47] Marissa: No.
[36:49] S. H.: So the premise is that writing is scary. Comic Sands is inherently silly looking. So if you go into your Word program or whatever and you change the font to Comic Sands, your brain will kind of be like, oh, this is not serious, and it'll take some of the pressure off. Right. So I'll do that. And also I will quote, unquote outline. But my outlines will just get progressively and progressively more intense until functionally. They are scripts, but I'm like, I'm not scripting yet. The pressure is still not on. So I'm all about tricking my brain into not realizing what it's doing.
[37:25] Marissa: I am also a big fan of tricking my brain. I have a number of techniques, too, that I'm like, it's not work. We're just playing around still.
[37:32] S. H.: Yeah, because I can absolutely get so paralyzed when it comes to work. I'm having to finalize some design pages right now and paragraph by paragraph, it is just everything is a torture. So the more that I can keep myself in that exploratory phase and tell myself that it's not a big deal, usually that's when much better ideas come out because they're not tortured and you can't feel the pain in the writing and it allows you just be more free.
[38:01] Marissa: Yeah, and that's fun, too. I mean, if we're just playing around, then you can enjoy the process rather than having all of this pressure and the internal criticism and all the things that can drag us down creatively. If you can kind of try to keep in mind that I'm just messing around with really cool characters and seeing what happens, then it just brings a lot more joy to the process, which is kind of our shick here on the Happy Writer.
[38:29] S. H.: Yeah. And I feel like, in a way, I think I tend to be happiest in a creative space. Some is when I'm absorbing other stories and being like, oh, how am I reacting to this? What do I have a desire to write based off what I'm viewing? I mean, that's one of the aspects also that kind of inspired this book because I was obsessed with Jekyll and Hyde for so long. It is a story that's been adapted enormously over the years. There's over 100 adaptations of this story, and every time I would watch a new version, I'd be like, this is cool, but now I want to do this. Oh, this is interesting, but I want to take it in this direction. And I feel like keeping in that outline space keeps it in that more playful, just like just engaging with a story, having a reaction. And then I feel like, in a way, like, your readers are going to be like that, too. And I definitely see that on a day to day basis with the page updates, people will be able to speculate about this or that. Oh, wouldn't be this scenario be fun or that scenario be fun? Obviously, I can't let that affect the story itself because otherwise I'd be full on Game of Thrones rewriting the story based off the reddit, which is not in a good space to be. But seeing that creativity is really helpful and seeing that, oh, this level of ideation and playing around and coming up with unexpected ideas can be really difficult to access when I think you're in the thick of it. So it's really nice to do anything that I can to preserve that space and protect it.
[39:53] Marissa: Yeah. No, 100%. I couldn't agree more. I did want to go back and touch on one thing. You mentioned how there are these reviews that will come out where they pick out one sentence and like, look, they're a terrible writer because I had a review for one of my books in the New York Times. I think this was years ago, and it was one of those it was not a great review. And they had four or five examples of sentences out of the book that they were like, these are just terrible. And for the record, I don't think I'm a perfect writer. I do think that there are probably sentences that today I'd be like, cringe. But reading their review, the ones that they had picked out, I was like, I actually think these are okay. I don't see the problem. So for me, it was like just one of those, yeah, it's all subjective.
[40:47] S. H.: Yeah. And again, I went down a super deep rabbit hole with this Brandon Sanderson interview of people, then critiquing the interview. One of the funny things about that, know, people saying, hey, like, sentence by sentence and word choice is not really how most viewers oh, my gosh, I'm sorry. I'm thinking animation, how most readers are absorbing books. They're absorbing it for the story. And in that Wired piece, he was know, Brennan Sanderson, he can't write. All he cares about are story characters and the ending. And I was like, really? Oh, yeah. Who cares about endings? We all know endings do not matter in books.
[41:26] Marissa: It's all an amateur.
[41:30] S. H.: I know. And also, just like, clearly you can feel him, like, the frustration of, like, what real auteurs do not read about. Do not read him. Only people read his books. And I find that so funny. I'm never going to be like, a super intense literary writer, so I probably have some inferiority complex about that. But just like, I don't know, man. I just don't think I can think that way. And I feel like when you're writing, there's so many things that you can be focusing on. And I think if you try to focus on all of them, you'll just end up doing all of them in a kind of mediocre way. The animation equivalent is just today we're getting notes back from our network criticizing the back legs of a walk cycle on a dog who is not the focus of a shot to the point that we had to go. Back and forth between two frames and stare at them for about a minute or so and be like, oh, yeah, that's a little off. But I'm like, one, this is a children's cartoon. Kids aren't going to pick it up. Two, if you have to have, like, 20 years of experience in the animation industry to pick out a flaw, I don't think that's where your focus should be and where I get frustrated, it's kind of like, yo, these things are never going to be perfect. When you're spending your time at this level of detail and this level of minutiae, there are things that you're not paying attention to. It's a choice. It's always a choice between what you're going to fix and what you're going to live with. And if you try and be a perfectionist, I think things are going to slip through the cracks.
[43:10] Marissa: Yeah, no, I think that's a great point. I think it's important to try to keep perspective on what exactly is it that we are trying to accomplish here? Yeah. And same with novel writing. Yeah. Trying to think, am I telling a story that is exciting, that is romantic, that will keep readers engaged, or is getting whatever message I'm trying to tell across? Those are the things that we should be kind of coming back to again and again. Not necessarily. Is this a perfectly crafted sentence? Is this the best possible word I could use here? Which, of course, it's never a bad thing to try to improve your skills and your craft and check a thesaurus. Sure. But yeah, you can lose sight of what is it you're actually trying to do here.
[44:01] S. H.: Yeah, of course, there's obviously a huge merit to that more literary type of writing. It's a very different thing, and I think it's great. There's nothing wrong with it. But I don't know, I think what's hard for me especially, is even if you kind of keep your values right and you're like, no, this is what I care about, and these are the things that I'm choosing to let go. It's so hard when you get that review, especially if it's from a very prestigious place, I imagine, and to lose focus on that and to ruminate on it. I have not been looking at the reviews for the book so far.
[44:37] Marissa: No, reviews are terrible. Don't look. I've been told that it helps nobody.
[44:42] S. H.: Yeah, but it's so hard not to, and I can't deny that. One of the things I would fantasize about is that there's a couple reviewers who are like, oh, I really wish they would talk about my book the way they talk about other people's books. Almost like a weird kind of like, reviewer jealousy, in a way. But again, objectively, I know that's not what's actually going to make me happy and that's not the thing. But it's so hard not to get wrapped up with that.
[45:07] Marissa: Yeah. No, it is difficult. It gets easier. I feel, at least for me, it's gotten easier over the years to not read reviews, to not pay attention, and just to know that it is subjective and you can't please everyone. There's going to be people that don't like your work for whatever reason. And for me, I just always try to stay focused on hoping that the book finds the people that are going to connect with it.
[45:36] S. H.: Yeah. I'm just sitting here trying to drink your words into my soul and just absorb them.
[45:41] Marissa: That's my advice right there.
[45:44] S. H.: I know on a soul level that it's true. I've heard it so many times, but I just have to internalize it more. And I do think it is about finding the audience. Bad Scientist isn't going to be like, a crazy mainstream mega blockbuster, but I do feel like there's a specific niche and gosh, I just really hope it does find that niche.
[46:07] Marissa: Yeah, and I mean, obviously you already have readers. You've already found a lot of that. And I think that this is just going to push it to a new level, open it up to people who aren't there in the web comic sphere. No, you're going to be just fine.
[46:22] S. H.: Gosh, I hope so. I really hope so.
[46:26] Marissa: All right, are you ready for our bonus round?
[46:28] S. H.: Yes.
[46:29] Marissa: What book makes you happy?
[46:32] S. H.: Oh, my goodness. Actually, could I pause and think about this for a second? I'm so sorry.
[46:36] Marissa: Sure. No, I know it's kind of a tough one to pull out of thin air.
[46:40] S. H.: Oh, my gosh. I feel like I should have had you said that. The things that make you up. I should have had this on the down low already. Okay, this is so not within my genre and still not the answer I should be giving. But I love the Area X trilogy, like the Annihilation books, if you're familiar.
[46:58] Marissa: I am not.
[47:00] S. H.: Okay. They made a movie out of them a couple of years ago. It's kind of like this surreal, environmentalist, speculative, horror kind of, and the movie did quite well. The movie takes a little bit more of, like, puts a little bit more action into it. The books are really just vibing and dark and spooky, but also just very psychological and internal. I weirdly feel like it's a book for if you were, like, a weird, loner kid who didn't have many friends and so he just kind of, like, stared at nature all the time. It's a very good book for that kind of contemplative vibing with the world, and it's spooky, but it's also just, like, comforting in a weird way. So I have that just on my little coffee table at all times, and it's one of my favorite books.
[47:57] Marissa: What are you working on next?
[48:01] S. H.: Oh, my gosh. I'm possibly planning on taking the Glass Scientists out for film and TV shopping, which I do not have the energy for, but I may be doing anyway. In terms of, like, a whole next project, I would like to do something that really kind of explores mixed race identity a lot more. It's kind of allegorical in The Glass Scientists, but I want it to be really front and center. I also want it to be something about monsters because I can't get entirely away from that allegory piece, but I just want to really attack a more modern take on mixed identity very directly.
[48:36] Marissa: Lastly, where can people find you?
[48:39] S. H.: You can find me on all social media, Instagram, Twitter, et cetera. At arithusa. That is spelled A-R-Y-T-H-U-S-A. You can find the Glass scientists anywhere. Books are sold, but if you want signed copies. Or if you want to continue reading the web comic, you can find that at theglass scientists. That is pluralscientists.com.
[49:03] Marissa: Awesome. Sage, thank you so much for joining me.
[49:06] S. H.: Awesome. This is so much fun. Thank you so much for having me on, readers.
[49:09] Marissa: Definitely check out the Glass scientists. Volume One is out now, and as you heard, you can then hop right on over to the webcomic and keep on reading. Of course, we always encourage you to support your local indie bookstore. If you don't have a local indie, you can check out our affiliate email@example.com slash shop slash marissamire. Next week, I will be talking with Terry J. Benton Walker about his new apocalyptic middle grade, Alex Wise, versus the end of the world. If you're enjoying these conversations, please subscribe and follow us on Instagram at Marissa Meyer, author and at Happy Writer Podcast. Until next time, stay inspired, keep writing and whatever life throws at you today, I hope that now you're feeling a little bit happier.