Looking through my schedule for the techie job today and noticed next week begins two and a half weeks of France time.  New sites to see, new foods, art, history… at least, that’s what I imagine it would be like.  I don’t actually get to go there.  I’m just working France hours from my home office for a customer there.

There was a time with my job where the odds were I’d be traveling there, but oddly, the travel slowed down over the past year.  Honestly, the travel never bothered me.  As a writer, it invigorated my writing jumping from coast-to-coast all the time. 

Small towns.  Big cities.  Middle of nowhere.  Middle of somewhere I only read about in books. 

New accents.  New foods.  New mannerisms.  New traditions.  New people to listen to.

Never found out why my travel got reduced so much, but then I never bothered to ask.  On the plus side, I get to spend more time with my family.  On the down side, it took a while for them to adjust to having so much "dad time".  I guess they got used to me being gone so much and spoiling them on the weekends.  Now, they have to suffer through semi-exciting weekdays and boring (aka not spoiled enough) weekends.  They’ll live. 

But all the time working out of the home office did give me some time to… well, hate how much I neglected my office.  I began an overhaul to make this place more "all day (and some nights) tech warrior + writer by night" friendly. 

  • Picked up a desk to replace the folding tables I used for a decade. 
  • Bought a bunch of Expedit shelves to get my comics, graphic novels, and mini-library organized. 
  • Freed up wall space to hang up inspirational artwork I’ve collected over the years. 
  • And found a nice stand to hold my 42" plasma HDTV (that will become my new monitor when I finish all this).

So while I may be cooped up in this office all day and working strange hours (2am to 11am for those France hours coming up) while everyone around me keeps functioning on Texas time, I can handle it with much more ease… and wonder why it took me so long to set up my office like this.

Oh, right… it was the 75-95% travel year-after-year where my "office" wound up being whatever free cubicle, conference room or server room crash cart a client could spare and then finishing up in a nice clean hotel room at night.  [NOTE TO SELF: need mini-fridge and comfy bed for office now]

Time to expand on some characters.  I use a journaling software for most of my computer-based writing up until I get to scripting (and I’m also still fond of the old timey pencil and notebook method of hashing through stories).  One of the nice features it has is a template system.  So, I have various templates I use to populate a page pretty quickly with a basic structure.  For my character template, it pops these lines into the current page:

Marital Status:

Physical Appearance:

Core Personality Traits:




So, let’s take it from there and do a quick rough breakdown of one of our characters.  The important thing to remember at this point is these are just initial thoughts… super quick… first things that pop into our head.  No need to overthink this (just yet) because first impressions are usually the best ones.  Besides, the character will probably get revised and updated as the story develops, so we just want a baseline to get started with.  First up, The Ubataurrik…


Name: The Ubataurrik
Gender: Any
Marital Status: Widowed

Physical Appearance: Varies.  Most common appearance is that of a hunched-over troll with eyes of obsidian and gnarled up horns on the back of his skull and a dragon’s tail.  Depending on his mood, he sometimes likes to show up with tiny leathery bat wings on his back… just for affect.

Core Personality Traits: He’s a prankster who doesn’t take anything seriously except his job as a guardian and protector.  Despite his size, power and physical prowess, he prefers mind games over might.  Getting under someone’s skin to terrorize them.

Flaws: Again, his core personality is his biggest flaw.  He doesn’t take matters seriously, which will turn out to be his undoing in this story.  It’s okay to joke around and play the fool, but when lives are on the line (more than just your own), he might need to grow up quick and make some "big boy decisions".

Advantages: Shapeshifting.  He tries to keep that hidden from everyone that he can change appearances.  It’s part of his "mystique".  With the shapeshifting, he can grow to twice his size or to the size of a bug.  He possesses supernatural strength and survivability.

Background: The Ubataurrik is a construct… created by a community of faeries and minor daemons to act as a guardian for their home.  Even though they designed him with protective instincts, he did grow up amongst the faer-folk and his personality developed under their carefree and mischief-loving ways.

At one point, he fell in love with one of the faeries and married her and he let himself get lost in that emotion.

One day, a couple neared the glade where the faer-folk remained hidden.  He could see they were in love just like he was, so he neglected his duty and let them enjoy their secret lovers’ rendezvous.  It was just one night in the forest and they were camping a safe distance from the enchanted glade.

Unfortunately, the couple carelessly burned down the forest.  Most of the faer-folk died in the blaze including the great guardian’s wife.  He banished himself from the forest and wandered the world at large letting himself get lost in mischief and constantly poking fun… hoping he can keep enough laughter going to keep the pain suppressed.


Name: Marq
Gender: Male
Marital Status: Too young and focused on his "career", so he’s definitely not even looking.

Physical Appearance: A young boy in his mid-teens.  Slim in stature but healthy and doesn’t lose sleep over keeping up appearances (disheveled hair, wrinkled clothes, etc).

Core Personality Traits: He’s a mechanical savant probably due to high-functioning autism.  As such, he’s a little socially awkward… fearless, no respect for personal space, and not much of a mental filter when he’s talking (he tends to say what he’s thinking).  Oh, and he hates monsters.

Flaws: The boy has a big brain in that skull of his, but he tends to overthink things.  He gets carried away with the non-important details and can easily begin thinking in terms of the "worst case scenario".  He’s like that D&D thief in the party that has to search every little thing for traps.  "You see a room with a door at the opposite side of the room and a simple desk with a fern on it."  "I search the fern for traps."

Advantages: As a mechanical savant, he likes to build gadgets and toys to help him ply his trade as a "monster hunter".  Traps and weapons along with modifications to his "armored hunting machine" cleverly disguised as an RV.

Background: Marq grew up as the middle kid in a family full of rural mechanics who spent their days traveling from farm-to-farm and town-to-town fixing vehicles, farm equipment, motors and whatever else needed tinkering with while they were available.

Since they covered a large area, they converted an RV to be their home away from home and mobile workshop.  The kids were homeschooled and smart as anything but not quite as social as most families.  They worked hard but they made sure to make time to enjoy their lives… they even managed to pick up a stray cat, which they nursed back to health as their companion and pet.  So overall, their lives were good.

Until the monsters came.

The monsters showed up one night and began tearing through the RV looking for something.  They tore through anyone in their way and only Marq and their pet cat managed to escape.  The next morning, Marq snuck back to the RV to find the monsters were gone.  He buried his family, fixed up the RV and vowed to hunt down every last monster he could find. 


And my fifteen minutes are up (well, 22 minutes actually).  It’s a good start and I’ll continue on with the rest of the characters tomorrow or Thursday.

This morning, some of the comic-based news hitting the web make me think of some traumatic events from my younger, crazier (and healthier) days.  Back then, I encountered this affect dubbed "seeing the wizard" during the indoctrination course for Air Force Combat Control and Pararescue trainees.  Our lovely little OL-Hell on Earth as some of us referred to the course.

This "seeing the wizard" phenomenon occurred during our water confidence training.  It’s where you’d hold your breath long enough to get tunnel vision… and maintain that tunnel vision long enough to see a tiny speck of sparkly light at the end that looked like a robed man with a cone-shaped hat.  If you saw the wizard and didn’t come up for air soon after hitting that point, you’d usually find yourself lying by the side of the pool being resuscitated by one of the cadre. 

I learned that lesson the hard way.

I also learned the cadre didn’t like resuscitating cone-heads like me.

Today, Wizard magazine came up for air.  It had been holding on to the past and on to some of the more lucrative days of comics for quite a while, and the magazine was probably at the point where it needed some resuscitation.  But I will give them credit for one thing… the employees who I met from there over the years always had a passion for comics.  And after reading Agent M’s blog on his experiences there, I can see that passion was probably more widespread there than just the few people I’d met.

I might not have seen eye-to-eye with all the magazine’s reviews or all of the fanfare over certain creators, but I’d never expect that from any publication.  Opinions vary from person-to-person and the only way you’re ever going to see eye-to-eye with an entire magazine or website is if you write it all yourself (and there are people I think would still hate on their own publication just because they have an overdeveloped hatin’ gland).

So, here’s to Wizard as they follow in the footsteps of the Dragon by dropping the print version and taking their articles to the digital realm.  I may not have always appreciated what they had to say, but I rarely doubted the fire behind the people putting the actual words to the page.

In part 1, we covered the concept of the story, so now it’s time to start gathering ingredients.  First up… characters.

Though part of me really wants to do the dark fairy tale, I decided to go with the ensemble storyline.  Why?  Because there are more characters and I do love developing characters.  So when working on the concept, I wanted to pull in characters from other story ideas to use in this.  I never really developed those other stories beyond a concept, so that’s all there is to start with here… the basics of the characters.  Let’s see who we have:

  • The Ubataurrik — our horrible and nasty but fun-loving guardian/protector type of monster.  Mean lookin’ on the outside but butterflies and rainbows on the inside (not literally).
  • Marq — originally, he was the boy who the Ubataurrik took pity on and accidentally let burn down the forest that hid the place he protected.  With this story, he’ll be a teenage mechanical savant and one of the best monster hunters on the planet.  And he’s been tracking the Ubataurrik.
  • Spook — Marq’s cat.  He’s arrogant and talkative (to those who can understand him).  He has a dark secret and a reason for hanging out with a monster hunter.
  • Caprice — she’s a young teenage girl from a realm where her planet is torn apart by a great war between humans and demons.  She was accidentally fused with a deadly demonic assassin and remained the dominant personality controlling the hybrid human/demon body.
  • Black — a tournament fighter whose manager used dark magic to kill him off and bring him back as an undead fighter.  After the manager died of old age, his immortal undead fighters were free to roam the world.  Black became a recluse and found peace authoring a popular set of children’s books.
  • Gan — a martial artist monk cursed and turned into a tumbleweed.  But the curse didn’t stop there.

The common thread though most of those "monster" characters should be easy to see.  They’ve been touched by darkness but they each have a non-malicious nature to them in the way they act.  So these descriptions give me a "block of marble" to work with and I just need to start chipping away at the characters until I get them shaped and ready to write.  Let’s start with my favorite aspect… the flaws.

  • The Ubataurrik — despite his appearance, he’s a prankster and doesn’t take anything seriously.  This will be his undoing when everything’s falling apart around him and he has no choice but to make a "big boy decision".
  • Marq — the boy has a big brain in that skull of his, but he tends to overthink things.  He gets carried away with even the non-important details.  He’s like that D&D thief in the party that has to search every little thing for traps.  "You see a room with a door at the opposite side of the room and a simple desk with a fern on it."  "I search the fern for traps."
  • Spook — arrogance.  I already made that a strong part of his personality.  He used to have reasons for being "confident", but those days are long behind him… but the attitude isn’t.
  • Caprice — even though she has this powerful demon body, she’s still just an awkward, geeky teenager at heart and is still "growing into" the body and encountering your typical growing pains clumsiness.  And since the demon’s power and strength derive from fierceness and confidence, she isn’t able to tap into its full potential. 
  • Black — after being released from his years of slavery at the hands of the mystical fight manager, he vowed never to fight again, so he’s become a devout pacifist.
  • Gan — he’s a kung fu wielding tumbleweed.  I think my work with this one is done.  No, wait… I’m getting something… he’s from a temple that cherishes balance with life, so we’ll make sure the curse does something else every-so-often to throw him off balance and torture him emotionally.

Well, that’s a little past my 15 minutes for the day, but we’ll stop there and let the characters percolate a bit.  Next week, I develop them further with more personality traits, physical characteristics, and add more to their histories to where we can see them in our minds and start to imagine how they’d actually act and talk if we met them in person.

Along with blogging every Monday through Friday this year, I also set out to work on my writing projects on a regular basis (Wednesday through Sunday).  So far, so good this year.  I’m a little late with the blog today (just got off work for the day), but it keeps moving along.

Now, the writing part is easy.  Especially for the novels and screenplays.  Revising/editing, though I’m good at that, takes a bit longer since my logical brain gets tapped out most days from the day job (disadvantage and advantage of being a techie… your logical brain gets a good workout all day long, but it just wants to kick back and recover the rest of the day).  The toughest part of all these projects involves the comic book scripts… and finding artists.

Because of the work I’ve been doing the past few years, I haven’t had to look for artists (work-for-hire doesn’t really leave me much control who I work with and then I also had a couple artists ask me to write for them).  Now, I want to get more of my comic stories out there, so I have to wander the wilds of deviantart.com, conceptart.org, Digital Webbing, drawingboard.org and other sites to look over artists and piece together styles with stories.

Sadly, I’ve done this before and I had a list of 34 "artists with potential" bookmarked to possibly use with projects.  Twenty-seven of those artists are currently working on books or full-time in the video game industry.  The others haven’t updated in months/years, so there’s no telling what happened to them.  So, I know I have a good chance at spotting talent to work with…

But talent isn’t everything with comics… talent won’t take you anywhere if you can’t deliver.  That combination is a little tougher to find out there.  It is out there… I’ve been lucky over the years to work with a number of artists with talent and the ability to turn in pages.  Besides, I really enjoy looking through art, so even though the task can be long and require barrels of 80 proof enforced patience, it’s not a torturous process.

So… be vewwy, vewwy quitet.  I’m huntin’ artists…

With today’s 15 minutes, I wanted to work on a comic, so I thought I’d dig up an old story idea where I had the basic concept and build it out into an actual comic book…  character development, plotting, scripting, editing, revising, and pitching.  The whole she-bang.  I’ll probably work on it a few times a week and see how it goes.  So, there’s no time to waste.

Let’s get started with the basic idea and see how it evolved over the years.  It started with a monster.  He was a cutie know originally as the Ubataurrik that I wrote some micro-fiction on nearly 7 years ago.  I was working with an artist at the time who wanted to do something more all-ages, so I transformed the Ubataurrik into a guardian monster protecting an enchanted patch of woods (and we softened his looks up a bit)…

Well, I have this one idea…"The Horrible, Horrible, Mean, Nasty Ubataurrik" (yes, a long title… originally intended to mimic the form of some children’s book titles).

The Ubataurrik is a monstrous, legendary creature like a big ol’ hunched-over troll with eyes of obsidian and gnarled-up horns and a dragon’s tail… he looks horrible… just horrible, nasty and mean. He lives in a small crop of woods where he lurks in hiding and comes out of the shadows to deal with any trespassers.  All to protect a portal to an enchanted realm filled with wondrous sites and magical creatures.

One day, a young boy enters the woods to escape his terrible life–hoping the frightening tales of the Ubataurrik are real and hoping his troubles will finally come to an end. For the first time in his entire life, the Ubataurrik takes pity on someone and leaves the boy alone… alone to survive on his own in the woods… alone to start his own campfire… alone to burn the place down.


So, after thousands and thousands of years protecting the portal, the Ubataurrik quits in shame and runs off to live with the boy’s family. While he mentors the young boy in the ways of nastiness and terror, the magical creatures from the enchanted realm scramble to keep the legend of the Ubataurrik alive in a smoldering husk of a forest while another small group of them fumble their way through the world of modern man to find their guardian.

Originally planned to be a look back on the darker days of faery tales… blending comedy with occasional bits of Poe-style terror. Anyways, just one of my weird ideas.

The artist got pulled into other projects, so the story didn’t go very far.  The idea sat for a while until I started working on some pitches.  I wasn’t sure they’d go for a dark fairy tale, so I thought of other ways to use the character.  I also had these other "good in evil’s clothing" characters from other ideas I dabbled with in the past and I stumbled across them as I read through my various notes and ideas.  I decided to put him in an ensemble with a few other of these good-hearted nasties and had some fun with it.  Went crazy in a sense…

An ancient civilization stands on the brink of extinction as a white substance (tentatively called "The Mire"–a substance you can breath in and allows you to walk in any direction–up, down, straight ahead, etc) destroys and takes over the rest of their dimension, whiting it out.

One city remains due to a protective field they developed, but they aren’t sure how long it’ll last.  They invent a device to locate beings from other dimensions that might be able to help them and then send small beacons to retrieve them (still working on the logic on how they can send beacons and bring others to their dimension but can’t escape it themselves).  The beacons recover the creatures or people and everything within a small distance, which leaves them stranded on a small pocket of land in the middle of The Mire (the beacons also contain miniature versions of the protective field). 

Now, they need to follow the beacon to the city while surviving hunger, thirst, and the vicious denizens of The Mire, the Whitemares–small pure white shark-like creatures with turtle shells (with three shark fins as part of the shell) and tyrannosaurus rex style front arms (there are other nasty things out there too, but the Whitemares are the most common).  And when these summoned beings finally arrive at the city, this ancient civilization suddenly realizes they’ve made a terrible mistake. 

Their device selected creatures of a dark nature–demons, undead, nasty mythological beasties, and the like.  Not the sort to be "helpful" when torn away from their normal haunting grounds.

And now we boil that down to a more manageable mouthful… a quick sales pitchy version of it…

A living light known as "The Mire" works its way across a
dimension devouring it, and the last surviving race of this universe
grabs champions from other realms to fight the threat.  But when your
threat is living light, the only hope for countering it means
recruiting champions filled with darkness… and hoping they don’t kill you before The Mire does.

This is mostly to give a quick feel for the story… something I can easily read back to and get that initial emotion of the story.  But I still like that storybook idea as well.  Hmm… I’ll have to think on this some more (until next time).

Your brain sends you this wondrous idea for a story in a bolt out of the blue.  You see landscapes and events and… waitasec… who’s gonna be your star?

Ahh, the joys of character development.  Early on, aspiring writers fall into that infamous trap of living out fantasies by putting a doppelganger of themselves onto the page.  Not quite a clone or true replica because this character has it all.  Looks, athleticism, charm, money, power, and an endless supply of Taco Bell.  It’s the perfect character.

And it’s crap.

If you decide to inject a bit of yourself into your stories, you need the elements that define you.  The elements that deep down, you know they make you who you are.  But sadly (whether we want to admit it or not), most of our actions result from our flaws.  Got a gambling problem?  I bet that influences how you act, react and plan things out.  Got a nervous twitch from a childhood dodge ball incident that kicks into high gear when people say the word "ball"?  I’d imagine you’d do anything to avoid going to sporting events.

Eating disorders.  Psychological trauma.  Physical impairments.  Emotional instability.  A hard-on for your inner zealot.  A fourth nipple that looks just like Frank Zappa.  These characteristics make people do things.  It makes them take action (even if it’s motivation is to avoid certain actions).  The story gets movement with these flaws… forward, back or sideways.  They provide an innate trigger for action within the character.  And without these flaws?  Well…

Invulnerable, immortal and devilishly handsome Awesome-naut sits by the pool at his mansion enjoying the tickle of expensive bubbly while reading through a mountain of fanmail.

"A meteor just made a u-turn in space and bolts its way straight toward Earth.  Save us, Awesome-naut!", screams the announcer from the radio.

"Meh.  I’ll survive.  Joey!  Refill, por favor!"

Pretty exciting stuff there, eh?  Well, what if you make a minor tweak…

The nearsighted yet invulnerable Flawed-naut makes his way from the optometrist… dark glasses in place to protect his dilated eyes when screams echo down the street.  A large vehicle heads toward an intersection where a crowd crosses the street… toothpicks before a five ton woodchipper.

Flawed-naut leaps into the street and muscles strain and twist as he grinds the large vehicle to a stop.  He turns to check on the citizens crossing the street, and for saving the day… the crowd greets him with boos.

He squints to get a closer look at the vehicle he stopped with all its… decorations and people standing on top… and all those large balloons shaped like Underdog and Taz filling the skyline behind it… and a banner with fuzzy letters on them.  He strains further and cheeks flush with a heat and color as he makes out the words, "Bieber Day Parade".


And yes, that last character is an amalgam of most muscle-bound superheroes and Mr. Magoo.

When you look for that perfect character to fit your story, try starting not with the heroic, protagonist or "perfect" qualities that will fit the story.  Think of the flaws that would instinctively bring that character to action and help breathe life into the story all on its own.  Cause characters that drives themselves make it much easier to get that story written.

Back in 2007 with mine, Seth and Anthony‘s Brat-halla webcomic, I made a reveal on our interpretation of the Norse goddess Hel by depicting her as half corpse (the lower half).  It sparked some comments back then and I explained the reasoning behind the decision, so I thought I’d share those thoughts here (since those comments have long been lost).

The subject of Hel’s nature  tends to drive a wedge in-between some people.  To some, she could be part corpse.  To others, she’s just half blue or blue/black in color (as some artists have depicted her).  I always thought it was more fitting for her to be ruler of the underworld AND half-dead herself.  It feels right considering how often parities like that show up in the legends of the Vikings.

Technically (well, depending on your translation), the section of the Poetic Edda that mentions Hel describes her as half blue or half blue/black.  So where does this notion of corpse-titude come from?  Well, considering the culture of the time (those wily Vikings) with all their sailing and cold weather antics, they dealt with two conditions on a regular basis… drowning and frostbite.

Drowning (especially with cold water) will leave a bluish tint to the skin and leave one kinda dead.  Frostbite will turn the skin a bluish black color (noticing a pattern here?).  With frostbite, the part of the body stricken with it can pretty much be considered dead if the affliction is bad enough (and in modern times, requires amputation).

In those days, I could see a blue or bluish black skin discoloration easily conjuring up images of a dead body to the Vikings, so I took it to that level in characterizing Hel as being half-corpse.

I hit one of those milestone years with my birthday on Friday.  The big 4-0.  Aside from the high cholesterol, the arthritic knees, the greying beard, the numerous pills the doctors have me on and the extra "insulation" around the midsection, I still feel pretty spry and young.

Hmm… that doesn’t sound like a good start to the second half of my life, does it?  But oddly, I’m doing better than I expected.  Even with the bad knees, I can still jog and run… something the doctors said I probably wouldn’t be able to do again with the damage that was done with my knee.  And even with the high cholesterol, all my other tests came out great–sound heart, fairly healthy organs, perfect blood pressure, no other major blood chemistry issues, no rabies, no Lyme disease and (sadly) no latent mutant abilities either.  I really thought those toxic waste scrubs would do the trick.

I wonder if part of it all is that I’m not afraid to let the little kid in me out to play.  Arts and crafts.  Video games.  Comic books.  Acting crazy while my wife tries to shop.  Being kid-like when I get time to spend with my kids.

So, maybe the secret to staying young is being young… and not fully growing up.  Sure, I take care of my responsibilities and get my work done.  But I don’t stress out over most of it or let work fully control my life. I’ve seen some people who work out of fear.  I work to pass the time.  To make sure my brain gets regular doses of challenges to work on.  To keep my idle hands from tearing apart expensive electronics to figure out what makes them tick.

And in regards to my part-time job… well, I do that to have fun and escape from the logic-ruled techie world of my day job.  

For a while (many moons ago), I did a series of articles at the DigitalWebbing site called "Breaking Out!".  It actually started as a newsletter I put together with articles and interviews and even its own comic section.  But it wasn’t easy to print up newspapers like that (and I was very raw in the ways of the pre-press), so I went digital with it.

The  whole purpose of the Breaking Out! column was to motivate new and aspiring creators and also get them to approach finding work in the industry like a job hunt.  Oddly, there was this disconnect that some young creators didn’t think they had to treat it like a job hunt (but then I doubted most of them considered it a real job anyways), and I wanted to change some of that mentality.

My background at that point was mostly from the military, but I knew about helping people find jobs.  As people left the military, I watched many of them make mistake after mistake.  Not wanting to make those same mistakes, I learned all I could about job searching and resume writing and interviewing.  I turned out to be pretty good at it.  I volunteered a lot of time to help friends leaving the military get good jobs (or better jobs than what was being offered).  I remember helping one person get offers $15K higher just by tweaking her resume and helping her evaluate companies before interviewing with them.

When I did leave the military (medical severance, so it hit quickly), I was prepared.  Resume written (and kept updated).  I kept in the loop with various companies in the area that had Oracle shops and could use my skillset.  Plus, I had an interview lined up within 15 minutes of emailing my resume out to companies and was hired for a new job before before I even finished outprocessing from the military.

So these series of columns was my way of passing on some of that information I’d gathered over years.  A lot of creative folks pour all their time and energy into actually creating and little things like building resumes and developing interview skills and learning how to interact with businesses… well, those things escaped them sometimes.  I actually got a lot of good responses from these articles and a couple dozen success stories from readers who had applied the techniques and found opportunities.

These articles no longer appear on the DigitalWebbing website, but I have them archived here for anyone who wants a little extra motivation and some creative business sense.

Look for more archive of some of my other columns (The Art of Words and The Creative Adviser) to show up here in the coming months.