Irresistible distractions of a Google search

I’m drawing a fireplace mantle for this new project and I thought I’d like to punch up my drawing with a few details. So I do what I normally do. I search online images and find a few that work wonderfully. But I can’t just do that and move on to the next drawing, can I? Of course not. That would show discipline.

Creepy SantaNo, I have to focus on a black and white photo of a repulsive, zombie-like Santa with a child and a donkey. Text accompanying the image says, “10 Creepy Santas Whose Laps We Want…”, and now I have to know what’s after the dot-dot-dot and see all those creepy Santas. Obviously. Click. I’m looking at the column of photos. Oh, it’s as satisfying as I can imagine. Num num num num. I’m just eating up all the Santa creepiness. Delicious and ugly Santas. Underneath the last pic are suggestions of other time-wasting lists. “15 Celebrities With Physical Deformities.” Yep, I’m doing THAT now. There’s Seal, Damon Wayans, Ke$ha. Then I see Kate Bosworth, and I’m thinking, come on! Deformed?! Really? Differently coloured eyes constitute a deformity? Well, maybe the compiler of this list showed her editor the first draft without Kate Bosworth and was told to make it more sexy. I’m now completely consumed with imagined scenarios of the process by which this list is constructed. And I’m really not liking the imagined editor at this point, and want to stick up for the genius first draft.

Then I see Ashton Kutcher on the list of deformities. The accompanying text says he revealed his webbed toes on a BBC chat show hosted by Jonathan Ross. Straight to YouTube! And I type in “Ashton Kutcher Jonathon Ross”, and it autofills “webbed toes”. It AUTOFILLS webbed toes. A LOT of people have done this before me if it autofills webbed toes. In the video clip, Kutcher takes off his socks, puts his foot on the host’s desk and Jonathan Ross brings a little travel pair of scissors dramatically close to the webbed toes and…

Do you have to know what comes after the dot-dot-dot? Did you stop reading this to find out? I don’t blame you.

But what is this all for? That’s the state I’m now in. Embarrassed and self-critical for giving in to such pointless distraction.

Alright, I’m done with the momentary self-pity. Time to regroup, and on to my next drawing. I need an image of a Victorian bicycle. Over to Google I go and…what’s that? A dog riding a bicycle? And there are videos of other animals peddling little bikes? Better see what YouTube has to say about that…

Check out my last published book and other fun things on my online shop:

Dwellers of Lurching Swill by Dan Holst Soelberg


You can’t please everyone

Oh boy, oh boy, it’s time for fan mail! I’ll take a look at the ol’ Facebook message box. I got one! Let’s see what it says:

nasty little message

I love fan mail!

I’ll start with my humble thanks. I’m not being sarcastic. Seriously, thank you, dear critic. Although veiled, this is a huge compliment. To be compared with someone as uniquely talented and accomplished as Edward Gorey is a compliment of the highest order.

Next, let me address my critic’s question of where my work originates. I guess my brain?

My critic is not the first to compare me with Edward Gorey. Gorey is an obvious influence. Dark humour is a very small niche category and Mr. Gorey has made a staggering mark as one of the greats. My black pen drawings and affinity for short poems make comparison easy.

Dan Holst Soelberg's drawing of Edward Gorey

My drawing of the legendary Edward Gorey, originally posted on Facebook February 22, 2010

While I’m carving out my place in the world, it’s inevitable that I will be compared with others more famous and established. It’s human nature to categorize, and it works in my favour. It helps people figure me out, and hopefully helps publishers and shops categorize my work so it reaches a broader audience. Since I started exhibiting at literary festivals and comic conventions nearly two years ago I have heard hundreds of comparisons. Edward Gorey comes up. Tim Burton. Charles Addams. Shel Silverstein. Roald Dahl. Heinrich Hoffmann. On a few occasions I have been compared with Edward Lear, a sentimental favourite of mine.

I am indebted to those who came before me. They paved the way to give my work a frame of reference. They made whimsical, weird and dark humour my happy home.

This is the point where I insert a little note. Here’s my “but”, if you will. While I remain humble in the shadows of Gorey, Burton and Addams, there is a point when every creator must assert that his work stands on its own merit. I acknowledge the greatness of others because their work is truly awe-inspiring and deserves recognition. But, I don’t think I need to acknowledge the greatness of others in order to give my own work legitimacy.

I have fans that have never read a book by Edward Gorey, and appreciate my work. What my critic might find interesting is that I have fans that are the most loyal Edward Gorey fanatics you could meet, and they appreciate my work just the same. One of the reasons I keep doing this is the resoundingly positive and encouraging feedback I receive. Every creator endeavors to find his medium, and this is mine. I am bursting with passion for the work I do. If you’ve read recent posts on this blog you know that I am shopping for an agent with my fourth book, and I am currently working on my fifth. I have filled many notebooks and sketchbooks with scribblings, so you can be sure to expect a lot more from me.

And if you want to share your thoughts and comments, please feel free. I appreciate the feedback.


Adventures in agent hunting

Full disclosure – Please read the following for what it is: an author who knows nothing about the publishing world and jumps eagerly into his research online. This is not a criticism of the industry. I’m far too new to publishing to presume an opinion. Rather, the following is my experience trying to decipher legitimate online advice from bunkum, which is difficult for a novice who can’t recognize credentials and gets thousands of results with a simple search engine question. I can only imagine what seasoned agents think of some of the stuff online. Please read to the end for my epilogue. That’s my preamble. Here’s my article:

My search for a literary agent is enlightening, to say the least. Cyberspace is bloated with heaps and mounds of “expert” advice on how to format a submission and how to find the right agent. I don’t think it’s a stretch to assume that expert advice should, by definition, come from an expert. Apparently, that is an egregious assumption. Online “publishing expertise” is a big, faceless, foggy swamp of quicksand that swallows hopeful new authors whole, and drags them to a bottomless pit of blind contradiction and wrongy-wrongness.

People who know me think I’m a calm and happy person. I am. Normally. But something about my experience spelunking the depths of publishing has sprouted a Lewis Black persona with the outrage knob turned to 11. 

What I was hoping for when I started this journey was to find an industry standard that I could use as a template to fashion my own professional approach. After some dedicated research, I found the standard I was looking for. I was so relieved. Now I could speak the language of publishing and meet industry-seasoned agents as peers. I thought publishy thoughts, like drafting a “query”, and formatting a relevant author bio. Boy, was I happy.

Then I found another standard and it was really different. But that couldn’t be right, could it? Oh yeah, it was. This other standard had things under the “DON’T” header that were in the other expert’s “DO” list. One expert’s standard practice was another’s amateur misstep. And then I found more standards written by other experts.

I have a theory for all this contradiction. I think there are two enormous forces that publishing has spawned. Think of the forces as two raging storm fronts barreling through the sky towards each other at a frightening velocity. One storm front is made of a billion clouds of mediocre talent, each dressed in a clown suit and screaming bloody murder in the hopes of standing out from the crowd of other mediocre screaming clown clouds. The other storm is made of a billion hoops made by agents who use past success to find future success. Each hoop swirls in a frantic, unpredictable pattern and constantly changes shape and size and sometimes disappears. When the two storm fronts meet, the clowns try desperately to jump through the hoops, and the hoops are doing everything to avoid the clowns, and the noise and the hurricane winds whip the clowns and hoops into a thunderous tumult that cracks the earth and rains sadness and rejection on wounded egos. Then these wounded egos cry and write dumb advice online.

It’s a theory. At least the outrage is out of my system now.

I haven’t found an agent yet, but I’m not giving up. My new book must find a home.

Epilogue – While it’s hard for the novice author to verify the legitimacy of certain expert advice online, I have managed to find truly helpful instruction. All legitimate agent sites have specific and easy to understand instruction on unsolicited submissions. It’s a matter of spotting and discarding the other skewed information. While it sounds obvious, it seems the best approach is patient research with a critical mind. The comments and suggestions I have read from working agents have been the most helpful. They sometimes contradict each other, but it makes sense when you consider the fact that a gardening book specialist has requirements that are very different from an infant picture book specialist.

Page from Dan Holst Soelberg's upcoming book

Sample illustration from my new book. I hope to find an agent soon so this can be published!


I’m now available in shops!

Big B street shotFor the past few years, my books have been available for purchase exclusively online. That will change as of now. I’m starting with independent shops like Big B Comics in Hamilton, Ontario.

I was introduced to Big B last week by my good friend Josh. It’s a wonderful shop filled with everything you’d imagine a comic shop could have. The shop even has a basement crammed with thousands of $2 comics. I picked up a few Groo comics by the inimitable Sergio Aragones. I’m also a sucker for classic Mad magazines and they had plenty. I grabbed a couple of early 1970s issues from the basement. I was tempted by some that were much older, better condition and a little more pricey, but I’ve learned to bring in only what I can consume.

Browsing the newer comics, I couldn’t resist picking up a couple illustrated by my college classmate, Chip Zdarsky. One being the much-lauded Sex Criminals, volume one, illustrated by Zdarsky and written by Matt Fraction. I’ll have to get some signatures on this at the next comic convention.

You can visit Big B at 1045 Upper James Street, just off Lincoln Alexander Pkwy. They are currently stocked with my soft covers.

Next, I’m heading to some favourite Toronto shops. If you want to recommend your favourite bookstore or comic shop in southern Ontario, just send me a message and I’ll check it out.

Big B store front Big B sign