"I want to write a novel but instead of a book, it takes place across the internet."
It was a glorious November day, one of those warm, sunny fall days that hits Chicago at the end of the year and you go outside and you soak up every possible minute of it because you know you will not see a day like that again for a long time. I'd been walking around in that glorious November heat for an hour or so, catching up with Joe Meno, an old friend and collaborator who I'd fallen out of touch with. We'd gotten through the what-are-your-kids-up-to part of the conversation and had moved on to the dreaming-out-loud part, when he hit me with the novel-across-the-internet idea.
I said when do we start. Of course.
Since then, we've been plotting and writing and building and it has been amazing. Not only because what we're plotting and writing and building is, honestly, really really good (more on that in a second), but because we haven't worked together in 15 years and fell right back into step like no time at all had passed.
I first met Joe at the Punk Planet offices. We were introduced by a mutual friend who worked at the bagel place down the street. We got to chatting and he mentioned that he had a novel he'd completed, his third, but that he was considering a more DIY approach to publishing it than he'd taken in the past. And I mentioned that I'd recently partnered with my friend Johnny Temple's independent press Akashic Books to start an imprint, Punk Planet Books, and if he'd like, I'd give the novel a read.
I was hooked from the first page and that book, Hairstyles of the Damned, was our first release and ended up becoming a huge indie hit. We ended up doing a second book together, The Boy Detective Fails (still one of my favorite books of all time), and Joe became a contributing editor for Punk Planet and a co-founder of our short-lived skate culture magazine BAIL. As a writer, Joe was an endless well of creativity and he brought an amazing energy to everything we did together. Every day we collaborated was a joy.
And then Punk Planet ended, our careers moved in different directions, life got lifey, and we drifted apart in one of those ways that you don't totally know it's happening until it's happened. That is until last fall when another mutual friend, Megan Stielstra, was reading with Joe at a bookstore in Chicago and Janice and I thought we'd make a night of it. Joe and I hugged and made a plan to go on a walk.
And like I said, on that walk a plan was hatched and we were right smack in it like we were back in the Punk Planet office all over again, both pushing ourselves—like a series of escalating dares—to make something amazing. Which brings me to today.
Today is start of the first chapter in a new project, Question Mark, Ohio, that Joe and I have been building together since that warm November day last year.
Today, Joe and I invite you to meet Violet Bookman, a 17-year-old high school student in Question Mark who's spent the last few months trying to find the source of the strange sounds she's been hearing at night. She's documented her search on Instagram—yes, we've been surreptitiously posting since February. Violet's posts all there for you now to dig through and they serve as a small introduction of sorts to the town of Question Mark.
But today it's not the mysterious sounds emanating from the woods that has caught Violet's attention: Today, her best friend's cat, Mr. Business, has gone missing, and she is on the case. Violet doesn't know it yet, but Mr. Business isn't the only thing to have disappeared in Question Mark. She has no idea where her search will lead, the people she will meet, or the peril ahead.
Neither do you.
So go join Violet on her search. Hers is only the first story of Question Mark, and it is only just beginning. You won't believe where it leads.
Published April 21, 2023.
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