Newsletter #23: My Kind of Prompt

More shameless self-promotion and a writing assignment of sorts


Hey guys,

It's Scott, and I am freshly back from Legoland with the family, which was a trip. It's a great place, by the way. It's mostly outdoors and they have Lego models of cities and landmarks from around the world. They got a great sense of humor about themselves, it's a good place for the kids to run around. So, fully endorsed. And I actually was the first person ever in the history of the park to have their phone fall out of their pocket and jam itself into the booth on the Ninjago ride, or really any ride, so that the ride actually had to shut down until they could get it out with a stick that I had to get out of a bamboo forest to help the poor kids that ran the thing get my phone out. So, I'm not Batman, but I do my best.

And also, I wanted to say thank you for such an amazing class last week. The next day I was sort of walking on cloud nine about how great the questions were, how terrific the comments were in terms of the engagement, and how probing and thoughtful a lot of the takes were on some of the stuff we discussed with voice. Again, that topic is something that I sometimes save for later in the semester, but this class in particular, I feel like people have been so enthusiastic and invested in craft in general that I figured I'd put it up early. And it really blew my mind how exuberant the response was to that topic. So, I'm so thrilled.

For people reading now who weren't taking the class, we did a session all about voice and voices. For me, the idea is that it's how you express what you're trying to express perfectly. It's using all the tools of the craft and techniques that you're learning about to perfectly marry form and content. So, you're seeing exactly what you want in just the way that it hits hardest given what your priorities are for that story. So, it's a really broad topic. It was hugely fun and all the classes are archived. So, I would encourage you if you haven't signed up yet, it's never too late. It's only seven bucks a class and we're having a blast. There's a huge Discord now that has like 1500 people or something and they're sharing their work and everything. This has been like one of the highlights of my whole career, honestly, doing this stuff. So, I'm really thrilled about that.

Self promotional quick plug, but it's the probably one of the biggest things in my whole career, if not the biggest. Next week, a week from today, Tuesday on 10/5, the very first creator-owned book from me and Greg Capullo with Jon Glapion and Dave McCaig, who are longtime partners, and Tom Napolitano on letters, another longtime partner, comes out from comiXology Originals. It's the first of our eight books coming out, and it's called We Have Demons. It's big blockbuster fun. It's got all the kind of energy that Greg and I brought to Metal and Death Metal and Last Knight on Earth and Batman. It's kind of over the top Spawn-level mythology and gore and fun and heart. So, I hope you enjoy it. We worked really hard on it for a long time, probably harder than anything, and we're really excited and proud of it. And it's a book that we really hope to return to many times. So, this is the first of three issues, but each issue is the size of two and a half issues. So, it's like 100+ pages, the whole thing.

And then the following week, 10/12, Clear #1 comes out. That's the book I'm doing with Francis Manapul, it’s speculative science fiction, and it’s, I think, one of the best things that I've been a part of. And then Night of the Ghoul comes out the week after that, Night of the Ghoul #1 with Francesco Francavilla, and Deron Bennett on letters, (he's on letters on Clear also). And that's an homage to classic horror, but done with a really terrifying and unsettling modern twist. So, I really hope that you guys will check them out. If you get a subscription to comiXology Unlimited (or if you're overseas, Kindle Unlimited), that will allow you to just get all the books as they come out for the price of one each month.

But every month for the next six months, we have multiple books coming out per month. So, it'll go like, in October: Demons #1, Clear #1, Ghoul #1, November: Demons #2, and so on and so forth all the way through the #6s. And then, the second wave of book starts. So, there'll be a sampler that shows you material from all those books on the fourth week of October, on the 26th. So, really, really excited, super nervous. If you're wondering if writers who've been doing this a long time ever stop getting nervous, the answer is 100% no.

I think I said this in one of the classes, but Neil Gaiman once told me about this when I was sitting next to him (terrified of him) at a Vertigo get-together years ago. He saw me and saw that I was really nervous about being on Batman and he was like, “oh Scott, right now you're worried you're not good enough… Soon enough, you'll just worry that you used to be better and that's all there is.” And weirdly, I found that terrifying comment to be extremely comforting, because it means even the greatest writers feel that way. The anxiety and the worry about whether or not you're gonna produce something that’s total shit or the best thing you've ever done never goes away. And if it did go away, I feel like it would mean that you weren't caring enough, you weren't passionate enough.

As an aside, Neil also told one of the most amazing and Neil Gaiman-y stories ever at that get together, where he talked about visiting the oldest shoe store in London, and how they invited him down into the catacombs of shoes where they had the molds of feet of people that they had done shoes for, and they had done everyone from the Queen of England to Frank Sinatra. And the molds were called the lasts. So, the lasts of the dead were the molds of people that had passed away and so, he was like, “I was down there with the lasts of the dead…” And I was like, this is the best story, this is my most Neil Gaiman moment ever. And then we all went did karaoke, which was also amazing, and the least expected moment of all.

So, really quick, outside of my self promotional stuff, I wanted to also give you guys a writing prompt, because I've gotten questions from a lot of people about whether I’d give you something that would jumpstart your writing. And for people who aren't in the class, I think this is something that can give you a sense of whether or not my style of teaching or the way that I approach it might be right for you. I'm not a big fan of prompts, I never was. I've done like hundreds of them over the years. I took many writing classes where I got all kinds of prompts and the reason I'm not a big fan is because usually they're really situational and plot-driven. And I find that confining, it'll be like, you’re in the shower and notice a tattoo that you never saw before on your body and what does it of and why? or it'll be like, you create a character whose dreams become real...

For me, that was always constraining, because it put you inside of genre or a premise. What I like to do with writing—it's kind of how I try to break down things in class and try to show you how I did Court of Owls, and last time I talked about Death of the Familyis to prompt you to try and approach it from a more personal standpoint. So, it's less a premise or a plot driver and more of a probe for you to use to get to the material that will excite you the most.

So, for me, I think the best kind of prompt is to say to you, pick one of your deepest fears. Think of something that really keeps you up at night, whether it's something everyday like public speaking, or it's something deeper, like fear that we're in the last stages of civilization. But something that you worry about for yourself, for your kids, whether it's a fear of heights, a fear of getting murdered, to something like a fear that that you'll never get to say the things that you want to your parents, of fear that there's no afterlife. Whatever it is that you're afraid of in a really poignant acute way, find something that you said, these are my top three biggest fears. And then what I want you to do is try and write a story with that fear realized.

So, for example, if you're afraid of heights, I want you to write a story or start to construct a story about being trapped in the tallest building in the world and the only way out of that is to go even higher or something like that. Or if your your fear is not being able to communicate something to your parents before they die, then I want you to write or start or begin to construct a story about getting a call that your mother, your father, whoever it's about, or both, are in critical condition or are about to pass away and you have to travel to this place or your character has to travel to wherever it is they are to help them or to say goodbye or that kind of thing. And that might be just too right up the middle for you, but it's a start.

What I'm saying is, what I want you to start with is the core heart. I want you to start with the thing that's the hardest, to start with the thing that is purest, start with the thing that you're afraid to look at in some way. Because your process might wind up being different than this, your process might be something where you more slowly wind your way in. And you start with a premise or a plot and you discover what it's about for you as you go. And if that's the way it is for you, that's totally cool, you should do that. But if you're asking me (and I've gotten like at least two dozen requests) for a prompt and you want to see how I think of them, I think of them this way.

I think of prompts starting not from way outside the Venn diagram of what you want to write about premise or plot engine. Instead, I think about it as starting right at the center of that Venn diagram and working outward. What is the thing you want to write about right now? What is the thing that matters to you? What is the fear you have? Things won't change, they can be political fears, they can be personal fears, they can be giant, expansive fears about the future. Whatever it is, try and figure out a way to make your main character confront that thing so that what you're working with is stuff that resonates for you off the page and feels energized, okay? That's sort of a quick version of a prompt in my world.

Anyway, I can't thank you enough. Again, this whole endeavor is so far beyond anything I'd hoped, and I just want to keep it going and make it what you want. So, please, please, please give me any suggestions, any comments, anything that you want me to do more of or less of, from mundane, silly things like telling anecdotes about cons and people I've met, to showing my art collection, to talking more about craft, or war stories inside the bullpen. Whatever it is, let me know and I'll go there, because I want this to be a fun place for you to visit and to feel like you have a creative treehouse.

Also, one last thing I almost forgot, but I've gotten some requests to use this site as a place to also offer collectibles, offer signed books, offer variant covers that I order myself and sign things, like that. Mostly right now it'd be for signed books. If you want to get your book signed, you can go through the person who manages that for me, but subscribers would have constant year-round access to that as opposed to waiting for me to do cons. I want to see if that's something you guys are interested in, because I would make that part of the paid subscription so you would get the class and you would get access to signed material and special exclusive all year long. So, let me know.


P.S. Here’s a quick FAQ with some info on properly accessing and using comiXology:

Q: Scott, what’s the best way to get these Best Jackett Press books coming via comiXology Originals?

A: All comiXology Originals titles are available free-to-read digitally with an Amazon Prime, Kindle Unlimited, or comiXology Unlimited membership. If you are in the US, the best way is to subscribe to comiXology Unlimited using this link here. You not only get access to the BJP titles that are coming out in October, but you also get access to over 30,000 other titles and special discounts. If you sign up on Android or web, the first 30 days are FREE. After that you'll be charged 5.99/month.

Q: Hey, I’m outside the US! How do I get these books?

A: Both Kindle Unlimited and Prime Reading are available outside of the US in select territories. Prime Reading is included as part of your Amazon Prime membership. Kindle Unlimited is available in the UK, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, India, China, Japan, Brazil, Mexico, Canada and Australia. Customer in those countries can sign-up for Kindle Unlimited in their local Amazon marketplace. There are over 5,000 comics, manga, and graphic novels available in Kindle Unlimited today, including all of our comiXology Originals comics.

Q: Are these books coming to print?

A: Yes, starting in 2022. More details will be announced soon. Many comiXology Originals titles are available in print via their deal with Dark Horse Books, with more on the way. For instance, you can buy my fellow Substacker Chip Zdarsky’s book AFTERLIFT in print after you reading it digitally here!

Q: What the heck is comiXology Originals?

A: ComiXology Originals is the exclusive digital content line from comiXology, an Amazon company. All titles are available at no additional cost for members of Amazon Prime, Kindle Unlimited, and comiXology Unlimited, and are available for purchase on the Amazon Kindle Store and comiXology. For those of you who haven't enjoyed a comiXology Original title yet, read Kel McDonald and Tyler Crook's The Stone King for free until 9/30/2021.