If you’ve read the previous installments, you know that Grace & Witherbloom started life as a web comic. That didn’t really take off. I had thought about continuing with the web comic on my own. All it takes to start one is some web space and a web site. As a graphic designer, I could accomplish the latter easily enough. And the former didn’t require a ton of money. But I realized that sequential illustration might not be for me.
I realized that the story was what I really craved to tell, and that perhaps there was another—more appropriate—way of telling the stories of Josiah and Helen.
Just a note, for this third (and final installment) there are still no story-specific stories. So if you haven’t read the books, you can keep reading…
I don’t really remember the moment I decided to write a series of novellas, but I can say with certainty that Grace & WItherbloom was always conceived that way. At the time, I had imagined they might be printed and wasn’t even considering e-books. I didn’t yet have a Kindle or iPad. The iPad was still just a glimmer in Steve Job’s eye at that point, I believe. Though rumors of it were to spring up shortly thereafter. The Kindle had been introduced, but I didn’t understand the appeal. I have since come to love the Kindle, I should hasten to add. But at the time I liked REAL books and really couldn’t imagine reading books in any other way.
I went back and forth on how I might present the novellas though. For a while I considered doing illustrated novellas, but that didn’t quite work for me on a number of levels. For one thing, I didn’t feel my style of illustration was right for the stories I imagined in my head. It was fine for the comic, but I was afraid if I did my own illustrations that the novellas would feel like kid’s books or something. And that wasn’t the sort of stories I intended to tell. I also considered the audience for my books. Should they be young adult novels? Well, I decided to let the books sort of tell me that as I wrote them. I decided to write the books I wanted to read and then worry about classifying them. My chief concern was making them entertaining and interesting. But, of course, all of this was purely academic until I actually wrote the thing!
The very first decision I made was that I would go with my initial instinct and set the books in Victorian times. As I had said before, I decided to make the web comic set in modern England partly because I couldn’t be bothered to do research. This time, I was going to spend the time to make the book as convincing as I cared to. I will be the first to admit that the era in which G&W live is not meticulously researched. I learned enough to avoid major blunders (I hope,) understand the history of the time and get some fun details to sprinkle throughout the books. The reason for this is that I always planned for the books to clip along at a brisk pace. It’s just the way I like to write things. It’s fairly rare that people will stand around talking in my books. I try to have conversations on the move, and I try to avoid long chunks of exposition or try to work them in fairly naturally. This is really just because this is the way I like to absorb stories as a reader or a viewer.
The next major decision was getting rid of Kathy. I sort of ended up hating Kathy by the end of the one installment of the web comic. I just realized that she’d probably get annoying fast. Kid sidekicks often do. And there is a part of me that thinks it’s very odd when people have kid sidekicks and then go into all sorts of dangerous situations. There is a point where you wonder if the adult in the situation isn’t a bit psychopathic… or at least highly irresponsible. Having said that, there is a panel in the comic where Josiah is giving Kathy a cup of cocoa, and you get a sense of the size difference between them. That sparked my imagination and I decided I really liked the image of a young girl with this dapper gentleman character. So I decided to de-age Helen without changing her personality or relationship with Josiah at all. I found this dynamic very appealing, and thought it would be something fun to play off of in the stories.
So, I had my characters and I had my setting. Now, I just needed a plot for my first story. Also, I knew in the back of my mind I wanted some larger story to tie all the individual stories together as well…