If you follow me over on social media, you’ve surely already seen the cover for A Work in Progress, my illustrated novel in verse. But I have yet to share this important bit of artwork here. So, without further ado…
A Work in Progress publishes six months from today (!), on May 2nd, 2023. The book is very different from anything I’ve published so far. It’s in verse, for one thing. In order words, the story is told in poems. But not just poems. Art, too. As you might’ve been able to surmise from the cover art, the book is structured as a kid’s notebook. That’s the whole conceit. That you are opening and reading a notebook belonging to that kid drawn there on the front cover, Will Chambers. It’s his personal, private space for recording, recollecting, and reflecting, and he does this with both words and pictures.
But the book is different for me in other ways, too. The protagonist, Will, is a bit older than any of my other characters, and his story is much darker and more serious — much of it based on my own struggles with things like body image and disordered eating.
Like Will, writing and drawing are how I make sense of the world and my experiences within it. And for years, I’ve tried to use words and pictures to tell a version of this story. It started in college, when I made my first attempts to craft stories about characters much like Will Chambers. I could never make much headway with those stories, though. They just never felt right, and I always ended up setting them aside. But months later, I’d find myself coming back to them — trying to inject new life into what I’d previously abandoned, or starting from scratch with a new twist on the old idea.
This happened, again and again and again, for over a decade. It wasn’t until, one day toward the beginning of 2020, that I had a breakthrough — that I decided, during the same writing session, to frame the novel as my protagonist’s notebook, and to write it in heavily illustrated verse. Maybe that sounds a bit like a too-good-to-be-true moment straight out of the movies, but remember: it came about after more than a decade of difficulty, frustration, and dozens (if not hundreds) of false starts. And I don’t believe that lightbulb flash, that lightning strike of inspiration could’ve come about without all those years of stumbling through the dimness and fog. But it came — it finally came — and I poured out 50 or so pages of a manuscript. I sent it to my agent — feeling, at last, like what I had down on the page was right — and asked her what she thought. She wrote back as soon as she’d read it and told me that I had to finish it.
I knew that my agent was right (she almost always is). But I didn’t know that it’d take me two more years to finish the book (it’s actually still not done… I’ve got until the end of the year to finalize all of the artwork, which there is a lot of). I didn’t know that the book would pose a whole host of enormous challenges that I’d never grappled with before as a creator. And I definitely didn’t know that the story would continue to elude me — that I’d go through several accelerated versions of that cycle I’d spent the previous decade-plus going through. And that, during one such cycle, I’d get close to giving up, to calling my agent and editor and letting them know that I couldn’t figure it out, I couldn’t get this story out of me, couldn’t manage to put what I needed to put on the page and couldn’t bear to publish something that I didn’t feel to be authentic and accessible and productive and true.
But I did it. Thanks to my wife, to my agent, to my editor, to my art director, I did it. It took me fifteen years — and took all the growing and thinking and learning and failing that happened during that decade and a half — but I finally got this story out of me in a form that can now be shared with others. It’s a relief. And it’s exciting. But it’s also terrifying. The thing I keep telling myself, though — the thing I’ve been telling myself throughout this entire process — is that this book can do some good. Maybe a whole lot of good.
That belief has sustained me, and I know it will continue to sustain me as I share more about the book over the next six months. And once the book is out, I’m hoping it doesn’t need to be a belief anymore. I’m hoping that I’ll get to actually see the good that the book can do. And seeing it, being able to be a part of that good, whatever form it takes — that right there will make all the difficulty and frustration and terrifying feelings totally worth it.