When did you get your start?:
When I was a wee lass, my father’s uncle’s daughter asked me write a story about her cat. Since I kind of like this obscure relative I obliged, and thus a writing monster was born!
The first two stories I wrote for myself (I started them at the exact same time) were these terrible monstrosities that I posted on my Facebook. One was about a group of kids who could turn into wolves (very heavily inspired by Maximum Ride… shudder…) and the other was about this pair of kids who washed up on this island overrun by mythological creatures. I hated these stories a lot, I hated the characters even more. I think at this point my writing was only fueled by competition and the belief that I liked writing… even though actually I didn’t like writing.
I got my start with character creation while administrating a roleplaying group. I had to kill off somebody’s character (the somebody was breaking the rules or something) and resurrect someone else’s character (who knows why), so I made up this character with one purpose in life: kill one roleplayer, resurrect the other. My character Jake Thomson was born, and after I realized I actually loved making him up, I went on to create some 200+ more.
How many books have you written?:
Two. One I wrote for school when I was like eleven– I never speak of it because I hate it. One I wrote over several NaNoWriMo months– it is called Dreamcaught, is like a bajillion words long, and I never speak of it because I hate it.
What kind of experience have you had in writing?:
A frustrating one, filled with characters that won’t obey me and plot holes you can drive a shoal of giant squid through. There’s definitely a love-hate (but mostly love) relationship between myself and my writing utensils.
Do you participate in any challenges?:
NANOWRIMO, WHOO. That’s pretty much it, except occasionally I enter Figment contests to see how wacky I can get with two hundred words and a lot of rules. I love challenges, because I’m very competitive. Competition makes me write more than anything else. Also, I love finding loopholes in rules.
What kinds of writing do you do?:
Well, I used to only write novels. I would still very much like to finish a whole novel, but I have discovered that my true calling is script writing. My number one project right now is my murder comic, which is in typical graphic novel style, plotted like a novel but in comic form. My procrastination project, my pirate comic, is written in typical webcomic style, which just means that it isn’t plotted much at all and instead just sort of… happens. Next November I’m going to be writing a series of scripts in graphic novel form.
I write about pretty much everything under the sun. High fantasy, urban fantasy, sci-fi, modern young adult lit, superhero stories, murder mysteries, zombie stories, vampire stories… um, folk tales. I also mix genres kind of a lot.
What kind of themes do you use?:
Depressing ones. Murder comic, which is definitely the most thematic thing I’ve ever written, has many, many different themes all rolled together: at its core, it’s about the damage done to your soul if you disobey God. It’s also very theatrical– one of the characters is acting in the play Macbeth, and from it resonates the theme that power, even the seemingly small powers of being friends with a person or being trusted to be home alone, can corrupt you if used wrongly. From one character’s obsession with the musical Les Miserables comes the theme of redemption, which wars with the fact that blood (and blood guilt) cannot be washed from Lady Macbeth’s hands. Plato’s “is a thing good because the gods love it, or do they love it because it is good?” pops up a good bit.
I try to use themes that not only fits the plot, but also fits the characters. All these themes apply to each character in a separate and incredibly important way. Like… like, my depressed and secretive character Lucky Østergaard with the blood of Macbeth kills me every time. And Lucky’s very violent foil, Eliot, with the blood? Totally different effect, still totally exciting. I could write essays about how thrilled I am by themes.
In your first interview, Monica Bond quoted Mark Twain’s opening to Huckleberry Finn: “NOTICE. Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot.” She brought it up to illustrate her own no-nonsense thematic story-writing. I am the opposite. I love nonsense. I hope everything I write is over-analyzed by English teachers in the future.
What is your writing method?:
1.) Have a really stupid and crazy idea. (i.e. thousands of years after the zombie apocalypse, myths written during the first years after the outbreak suddenly becomes important to the budding romance of a pair of people who have never met in person.)
2.) Plot like two thirds the book. (Only the interesting stuff, of course. None of the boring in-between stuff.)
3.) Write the book. Probably during NaNoWriMo. (Make up the boring bits as you go along or, even better yet, ignore them completely and just write yourself notes where they belong.)
4. Go back during Camp NaNoWriMo in April and try to write all the boring bits. (Spoiler: always ends in failure.)
5. Consider book finished.
6. Print book out and put it in fancy binder.
7. Never look at book again.
What’s the latest project you’ve been working on?:
Uh… a comic about a team of idiots who form an illegal smuggling company. They live in a world where the President of the United States is more like a Roman Emperor than a democratic leader. I usually call it my “super ridiculous post-apocalyptic pirate comic”. It started as a joke. It’s currently sixty-seven pages long.
Do you have any undercurrent themes (thematic elements) to your story? If so, explain:
In pirate comic? The single most unplanned thing I have ever written in my entire life? Uh… seagulls and engineers do not get along. And you also shouldn’t get an innocent and extremely feisty Scottish redhead sent to prison if you want to have peace after he gets out. I suppose it is mostly about the fact that literally everybody in the entire world is a person separate from every other person… that sounds appropriately professional, I guess.
What view do you position your characters in? Ex. First Person, narrative, etc.:
I’ve written almost everything. For a long time I wrote first person. Both of my novels are third person, with Dreamcaught being third-person omnipresent. (Seriously, Dreamcaught can’t stay focused on the same character for one page.) I’ve written stories in haiku. I’ve written stories with multiple point-of-view characters. I’ve got one that’s a series of myths, lectures about the myths, emails, and news stories, all stitched together. (I get bored really easily and like to have a lot of variety.)
What does your character’s voice sound like in your head?:
They all sound like crazy people. Voices vary a lot. My favorite voices belong to a vampire huntress with a lisp and an inflated opinion of herself and her brother who has a very even toned and logical way of speaking. Her voice is a little bit throaty, and she tends to talk quite loudly. His voice is deep, but he always sounds a little bit like he has a cold. I also have a really sweet teenager who happens to be vegan and usually talks about weird recipes and rescuing spiders and flies and his telepathic baby brother. He has a typical eighteen-year-old guy’s voice– it cracks periodically and is not very articulate– but I always enjoy listening to it.
Is this a creepy paragraph? Why yes, yes it it.
What accents do they have? Do they have any speech quirks or characteristics?:
Ha, depends on which character, of course! I’ve always been the type of person who liked giving my characters “exotic” speech quirks… my gateway drug character, Mr. Jake Thomson, had a strong English (Mancunian, to be precise) accent, and I am convinced that his accent alone saved him from the trash heap of my brain.
Since I’m talking mostly about my pirate and murder comics today (as always), I will point out that most of my stories have at least one character with a distinctive accent: in Pirate Comic, it’s Ginger with his thick Scottish accent, in Murder Comic it’s Lucky with his slight Carolina accent and his mother with her… not so slight one. Usually all the other characters have various nondescript American accents, although I keep a careful book on what kind of nondescript accents they have.
Also, when you’re writing a script of any sort, it’s always important to give all the characters distinctive speech styles– Pirate comic’s Richard Parker is unfailingly polite, Ekat likes to draw out her sentences in dramatic ways, Matt says “uh” kind of a lot.
Besides typical speech patterns which sometimes take a bit of time to pick out, there are also slightly more noticeable speech irregularities that immediately identify the character. Murder comic has the borderline gimmicky quirk of Rawlings’ stutter (which is secretly a plot point, which is why I don’t just go ahead and call it a full-blown gimmick), as well as the far less noticeable quirk of Orwell’s lack of the ability to use contractions. everybody who’s read my murder comic (namely my siblings) have immediately noticed Rawls’ stutttering, but nobody has noticed Orwell yet.
Can you describe their body structure/how they move?:
I have so many characters it would take a lifetime to explain everybody. Similarly to voice, body structure and movement is very important when designing a cast for a comic– I always want everybody to be district.
Pirate Comic’s Richard Parker is very large-boned. He’s very tall, has big hands and feet and tends to be a little on the chubby side, but despite his frame he always moves quietly and indiscreetly, usually in the background. Matt is tall and fairly muscular, his cousin Stanley is average height but gaunt, and yet both of them move in much the same way, with large and violent hand gestures, lots of bravado, and a lack of respect for other people’s private space. Richard Parker would never move with as much force as the cousins, but they’d never be able to be as unassuming as he is.
Murder comic has Lucky, who’s skinny to the point of severe unhealth, but due to his powerful bone structure he doesn’t look as thin as willowy-boned Rawlings. Lucky doesn’t react outwardly to much, but his friend Colette is a total drama queen– his rigid body and her curvaceous one accentuate it.
The reason body structure and language is so important in graphic novels and comics in particular is because most of your character development comes from watching how the characters act, even when they aren’t speaking.
Do any of them have siblings?:
Practically all my characters have siblings. I just really love sibling relationships. In pirate comic, for example, before I’d even come up with actual personalities for any of the characters I was already naming their siblings.
Stanley Yorick is the sole only child in the cast– Ekat had a sister named Natasha, Khan has a brother named Peter. Ginger, who is really named Miles Ambrosias, has two elder siblings named Nelson Aristotelis and Tabitha Octaviana, respectfully called Nelly and Topsy. Richard Parker has two sisters and a brother, all named boring stuff like Mary and David (I can’t remember what their names actually are. Sue me.). Matt has five elder sisters named Constance, Annalise, Tanya, Rebecca, and Megan.
And this is just one cast. Think of all the siblings I have in my other casts! (GASP. THE HORRORS.)
My most challenging/favorite set of siblings is obviously Murder Comic’s Eliot, Rawlings, and Orwell Barns-Myeong. Trust me when I say that playing with family dynamics for a set of three siblings is waaay harder than playing with two siblings.
How does your character show affection?:
Depends very, very strongly on the character. I can’t think of any two of my characters who show their affections the same way… just as they’re all their own separate people, they all react to things differently. Similarly, they all show their affections towards different people in different ways… so, affection takes a long time and a lot of work to write.
For my rambly example, let me talk about Lucky Ostergaard and Colette Baker from Murder Comic. Lucky and Colette are best friends and to the outside observer they’re complete opposites. Lucky is rude, sarcastic, cripplingly introverted, tends to spend his time bundling up in hipster clothing and hiding behind newspapers. Colette is friendly, optimistic, a loud and boisterous extrovert, and likes to follow people around chattering about clothing or set design or how much she loves acting. Writing the very loving, very platonic relationship between these two is a challenge, but it’s a fun challenge.
Lucky tends to show affection very quietly. He’ll pay for her coffee, give her a new set of pencils, texts her at random times telling her that her hair looked nice at school. Colette is very noisy. She screams that she loves him in the middle of the coffee shop. She buys him a set of used books and wraps them all up and then gives them to him at lunch in the cafeteria. She tries to hug him every time she sees him. At the same time, they are veeeerrryy platonic, which means most of the time they’re not showing affection: they’re being rude and picking on each other.
How well do they take criticism? How do they react to others noticing their flaws?:
It depends on the character. (I say that a lot, have you noticed?) In pirate comic, Khan and Ekat don’t really care, Matt gets all high and mighty, Ginger gets frustrated, Richard Parker gets extremely mortified and apologizes profusely and kind of panics, and Stan laughs it off and then later goes and hides in a closet to cry.
I think one of the ways to test how well developed a character is, and certainly the manner I use the most, is to run them through any and all scenarios you can think of– even highly impractical ones– and see if they react in a way that seems natural to them. How they take criticism is one of my favorite scenarios.
Last of all, how much do you work on your books on a weekly basis?:
I would say I work on planning/writing them for perhaps three hours a week, although I think about my books constantly. It’s actually really hard to say because most of my work isn’t writing, it’s drawing. I spend hours and hours and hours drawing my stories and characters every week. Today, so far, I’ve spent half an hour writing character information down but close to two hours drawing (and I haven’t even gone to Starbucks yet, and that’ll be another three or four hours of doodling.)
Do you have any advice for any aspiring writers?:
Writing is hard and stupid and it isn’t always fun, but if you decide to do it anyways you are awesome. Also, don’t spend too much time on Pinterest.
About the interviewee:
Chloe Cunningham was born back in 1792 and promptly began life as a crazy person. Obnoxious, overly enthusiastic about everything, and probably the happiest person on planet Earth, Chloe spends most of her time drawing comics and spouting random facts about her 200+ characters. Things to note: she is friends with a Pomeranian named Beowulf the Hero who can teleport, and is suffering from addiction to chocolate milk. She thinks she’s funny, even though she really isn’t.
Chloe has lived in six different states and nine different houses. She has been a hostess in an Asian restaurant, a docent at a French Colonial historical site, a bed-and-breakfast maid, and was once President of her 4-h group, despite the fact she never ran for president. All this has contributed to her terribly wacky creative nature.
You can read her practice comic about smugglers at it’s website: Rocking Boats and Making Waves. You can also be her friend. You know, if you want.