The Hartvane Chronicles, Book I: The First Two Chapters (Sneak Peek!)

Oh heck, oh golly, oh gosh! I’m writing a whole dang book, and I want you to read part of it and get excited about it!

The Hartvane Chronicles is the story of two merfolken sisters, Melodika and Harmonia Hartvane, as they seek to become their town’s Chosen One and save the Deepdivers from the looming Crimson Smoke. The town’s High Cleric, Coronith, has the utmost confidence in both of them, while Mayor Ekolo is determined to test them every tailkick of the way. (It would be every step, but merfolk don’t usually step.)

Will Harmonia and Melodika meet their destiny? What does Coronith know that they aren’t sharing? And how does Princess Prudence of the Elven Empire, whose claim to the throne across the ocean has fallen into question, fit into their story? The answers to these questions and more… won’t be found in this preview, but you’ll get a taste of what’s to come!

A few CWs: These chapters include profanity, a dude being a total bigot (and reprimanded for it), and discussions of a healthy, uncomplicated pregnancy.

Get the PDF now! No strings attached!

If you like it, please make sure that you’re signed up for my mailing list so you’ll know when it’s ready for the world to read! If you like it and have thoughts about it, feel free to contact me, either in the comments or on Twitter dot com. I’d love to hear what you have to say! (And I might need some beta readers in the not-too-distant future, if you want to be one of the first to read the whole thing. 😉)

And, most importantly, if you like it, please share it with a friend! I bet they’ll like it, too. You have excellent taste, after all!

Goodbye to “Don’t Worry About Their Classes”

How do you say goodbye to a comic that you spent over twelve hundred hours making?

Carefully.

Or, at least, not carelessly.

Don’t Worry About Their Classes was the biggest single project I’ve ever worked on. 256 pages of a color comic, created over the course of just over four years, averaging a little better than one comic per week thanks to an over-ambitious starting pace. Instead of investigating the comic as it is, which y’all can do at your own pace, I’m going to talk about the comic that was originally envisioned, and why I changed from those plans.

Idea #1: Background Characters, or, The Idea That Was Dropped Faster Than an 8 AM Elective

The original conception of DWATC was about a group of background characters in the midst of a grander story, just having their own fun. This is a very interesting idea! Don’t the background characters always seem more interesting? Why don’t we see what’s going on in their lives?

This idea didn’t work for two reasons: One, writing a separate “main story line” along with an interesting one for our heroes to follow is twice the work, and I was compelled to make the “main story line” better than the one we were actually focused on, or at least compelling enough to be a believable main plot. It was exhausting. And second, it just… Didn’t work? Once you move the camera to another set of characters, they become the main characters, no matter how protagonist-ish they may or may not seem. The characters taking a weekend to drive to Shreveport and gamble was no longer a C-plot; it was the main focus. And it had to be pretty dang compelling.

…There’s also the fact that I was very comfortable changing the male math major character into Amy, but we’ll talk more about that further down the page.

Idea #2: School Life, or, The Major You Try for a Semester Before Realizing It Doesn’t Fit

For the first 120 pages, DWATC was a grounded-in-reality slice-of-life comic about school life. I love anime and manga like K-On!, Lucky Star, and Azumanga Daioh, along with countless others that aren’t coming to mind right now, and I wanted to capture that same kind of energy. Having been homeschooled through high school, I couldn’t tap into that vein, so I turned to what I know instead: Attending a conservative, Christian university in East Texas. (A Baptist one, to be exact. A Baptist University in East Texas. Impossible to Google.)

I’m proud of most of what’s in these first 120 pages! I have, like, two writing regrets, and a bunch of technical art quibbles, but I’m glad these pages exist, and they’re foundational to the rest of DWATC. Again, these are here for you to read; that work is done. I’ll talk about why we didn’t keep going with that. 

I originally planned for Liz and Amy to get all the way to graduation, along with whoever else came along for the ride. Liz as the theatre-obsessed eternal optimist; Amy, the math-minded level head to counterbalance her without ever squelching her enthusiasm. Samantha showed up pretty early on — a shy, anime-obsessed nerd with little confidence and fewer friends, but eager to discover people who shared her passions. Ginny ended up filling the role I thought Esther would play — the devoted Christian who struggles between her faith and her belief that love should win out over hate, no matter what form that love takes. And then, of course, there’s Rachel, originally intended to be nothing more than an incidental character, who ended up as a trusted and relied-upon — perhaps too relied-upon — authority figure working for good in the team’s lives.

In what is probably not a surprise, if you ask me which of these characters is me, my answer is “Yes.” There are big chunks of me in each of these characters. None of them are a perfect fit, but I could see myself in any of their shoes.

The reason this didn’t work long-term is that I started applying for university teaching jobs. I felt deeply uncomfortable writing about college students if I was going to be teaching college students! And so, after Page 120, things took a… dramatic turn.

Idea #3: Magical Girl* Adventure, or, A Semester Studying in Another Country

*Yeah, we’ll talk about that in a second

It was October of 2017, and I was trying to figure out how to shift gears from a comic about a bunch of friends in college to a story about a bunch of friends who were… not.

I had seriously considered leaving things as grounded in reality as they were for the first 120 pages. Liz and Amy would find work and stay at the Brookshores’ house until they could get their own place, probably with Samantha and Ginny either moving in with them shortly thereafter or visiting frequently.

Presumably, that version of DWATC 2.0 exists somewhere in some alternate timeline. I’m sure it’s delightful! But there was one big reason why I decided to not write that comic.

Why I, instead, wrote a comic about a group of queer kids fighting against an autocratic man, acting in the role of president, who believed himself to be as unto a god, abusing powers he had no right to wield for the sake of his own selfish, wretched needs.

I mean. Do I need to say it?

The biggest struggle during this part was if I wanted Liz and Amy to get the same power, and when I wanted them to get it. Again, I think there’s an interesting comic out there where Liz never gets the power. But, again, I unconsciously knew that I didn’t want the moral of the story to be “You don’t actually have access to the power to make the world better, but your friends might, so believe in them.”

No, the message of DWATC is, “You have unbelievable potential, so make sure you use it for good.”

Tying in my own novel, Souls Incorporated, was lazy. I’ll be the first to admit it. I wanted to use the same magic system I’d already created, so I just said “It’s this, read this other thing I wrote if you want more details.” I was teaching by this point, so… cut me a little slack, huh? (My employer sure wasn’t! But that’s another story for another long-winded post.)

I didn’t have a clear vision in mind for the Goo People when I first introduced them. I thought they were just visiting from another plane of existence, and were going to stay a small problem for Samantha to battle against! The “Solve global warming by taking radical and probably unethical action” angle didn’t come to mind until later. And then earlier this year, the concept of a global infectious malady sweeping across everyone became way harder to write, but most of that plotline was thankfully winding down by that point, so I’m grateful for that. (Thank you for wearing a mask, staying at least six feet away from others as much as possible, washing your hands with soap and water frequently, etc.)

(There’s also the fact that Storm/Tiffany was supposed to be the Real Big Bad when I first wrote her, and then she became a romantic interest. All I’ll say on that front is: I have certain tendencies, alright?)

And, of course, we should talk about Amy. Amy, the character I realized was nonbinary shortly after I realized I was.

I don’t want to talk too much about myself here, but I’ll talk about Amy all day long. Amy never really felt like their gender fit. Amy didn’t know how or why that was the case, but they knew that much. Amy needed a while to figure out why that was the case, but when they did, they felt a lot better.

I’m very happy that Amy realized they’re nonbinary, and that their friends embraced them for who they are. And anyone who isn’t happy about that can go kick rocks.

So, yeah, Amy isn’t a Magical Girl. But they are magical.

Conclusion: Moving Forward, or, Moving Forward

DWATC is done. I will not write or draw another page of DWATC. (I might draw some covers for DWATC if that Patreon goal ever makes, but that’s another story.) These characters will certainly return — one of them is going to show up in the upcoming Patron-Only comics on Patreon, and I’m not going to rule out new comics with these characters. But DWATC was, and is, a very specific story. It’s the one that’s 256 pages long, and you can read all of it. None of it is missing or waiting to be added.

And I’m so glad that’s the case.

The Guildmistress, my other webcomic that I started in the middle of DWATC (there are reasons for this, but they’re bad, so I’ll just say I’m happy The Guildmistress exists even though its genesis was faulty), is still ongoing, and I’m in the middle of shaving off the rough edges of my second novel, along with maybe setting the foundation for a new comic series. I’m not lacking for work, y’all.

But DWATC was and is special to me.

DWATC took me from grad school graduation to now.

Now, with three years of adjunct teaching experience under my belt.

(Well, let’s not kid ourselves. I haven’t worn a belt in eight months. My elastic waistband, let’s say.)

And now I leave DWATC for y’all, crystallized, for you to read and enjoy, I hope.

I hope that you find some joy from it.

I hope that it gives you a little bit of inspiration to make it through a tough time.

And I hope that you’ll look forward to what I’m working on next.

Love,
Josh