I was always interested in storytelling. I studied acting, theatre, film, and writing in college. I had friends who were aspiring novelists. They inspired me and I started writing a couple of books (that I never finished). But it was the pages and pages of poetry I wrote my first couple of years of college that made me think I could have some kind of career as a writer.
I signed up for a University poetry course. The professor had been mentored by a former poet laureate, and that got me excited. I had all these pages of poetry and I thought I was pretty good at it, but knew I could learn even more. The weeks leading up to the course, I dreamed of being mentored on word choice, composition, structure... everything that I didn't know about. All I had were my words and imagery, and people telling me that I was good. So I looked forward to getting even better.
Unfortunately, the professor seemed more interested in turning us all into small-minded, bitter poetry critics, than actually helping us to become poets. It seemed like if you didn't come in with an innate talent, she had no way to help you. Considering poetry is about putting your emotions down on paper, it was an awful experience to get derisive criticism with no guidance toward improvement. It's true, I didn't really know what I was doing (and my very experienced hindsight tells me that no one else in that course did, either. Including the professor) but to be derided for it when I was in a class that was supposed to help me learn... I'll admit, it broke me.
I figured I didn't have the stuff to be a writer. I didn't know what that stuff was, or what it was supposed to look like, but too many people had just told me I didn't have it. And while my aspiring novelist friends were cranking out novel after novel (little did I know they would never let those books see the light of day), I was surrendering. Not completely, mind you. I wanted to remain a storyteller. I was just letting go of something I thought I was bad at to focus on the storytelling I was good at... theatre.
Since I didn't live in New York or Los Angeles, full-time work in the theatre wasn't going to happen. I took a day job. I was working as a trainer for a call center. After I taught my first course, I asked if I could re-write the course materials. My boss told me to go for it. Really, this was just a means to an end. My goal was to fix the documentation we presented to the students so that it was easier to read and comprehend, and save me time as a trainer. Without realizing it, I was a writer again.
The person who did realize it was Louise Westcott. She was the technical writer for the corporation, and it was her job to review all corporate communication, even training materials. She told me that I was a great process writer, and that if I was interested, she wanted me on her team. Turns out it was more money, so I went for it and started my new career as a technical writer. Louise mentored me and helped close up the gaps in my writing education. I got really good at copy editing, formatting, and page design, as well as just writing, in general. It turns out that I did have the stuff.
It was around this time in my life when my friend, Jason Anderson, told me about this new magazine he wanted to publish called "Masters of Roleplaying." We'd played plenty of RPGs together when I was in college, and he wondered if I would write some articles and such for the magazine. I was excited to. I also mentioned I could help edit articles if he needed it, as I had just acquired this skill.
Before I knew it, I was editing almost everything being submitted to the magazine, and Jason made me the Editor in Chief. We worked together on the magazine for a couple of years with some pretty big successes. Jason got us a major distribution deal through a back-door I think the distributor didn't realize was there; Lucasfilm sent us exclusive images for their upcoming film: Star Wars: Episode 1; and the game publishers were sending us game after game to review. But without advertisers or investors, apart from Jason, we soon ran out of money and had to shut the magazine down.
The "Dot-Com" crash of 2000 and the attacks on September 11, 2001 had me bouncing from one corporate tech writing job to the next. It was frustrating. I was always the last one hired for the team and the first one let go once the manual, help system, or whatever they wanted written was done. Nobody had the money to keep me. Usually it wasn't my boss making the decision, just some guy at the top who wanted his bonus and he saw me as an unnecessary expense.
I ran into my friend, Robert J. Defendi outside a Costco. He mentioned he was heading to a writers group. I practically begged him to let me join. I think he tried to talk me out of it, trying to scare me with how many pages people would submit and the like, but I persisted and he let me in. After a few meetings, I felt comfortable enough to start submitting my own material. If you're a writer and have never worked with a writers group before, I highly recommend it. I learned a lot about the craft of storytelling through interacting with other writers. I got amazing feedback, and positive reinforcement and guidance for my own work, which encouraged me to keep going (take THAT, university poetry course!).
Sadly, as the early 21st Century wore on I was struggling more and more to pay my bills, and we were forced to move in with my wife's parents. I took a job at a start-up. The promise of this job was a big payout at the end, when the software we were developing was sold to another corporation. The down-side was the long hours. We were working 10-14 hour days six days a week. That schedule forced me to give up on a lot of my creative endeavors for a while and even leave the writers group.
Of course, I kept writing... Technical writing, web design, marketing copy, white papers, certification documentation, even ROIs for the sales team. And, when I did have a moment, there were a couple of short stories here and there (usually written on company time).
In the end, the big payout promised to us didn't happen. I was laid off and broke, but I left with a whole new set of marketable skills, and I kept pushing forward.
Jason Anderson reached out to me and asked if I would edit his two latest book series: Soulchasers and Jean Archer. I was happy to help out, so I dusted off my old editorial skills and "bled all over his books" for him. It was inspiring to work on something creative again, and I started to think about how I could get back into it. I considered a few things, but comic books kept coming back to me. The problem? I didn't know how to break into comics... yet.
When I started podcasting about comic books a few years ago, I met Chris Hoffman. He and his friends had created a comic book about a Utah superhero team: The Salt City Strangers. We had them on to talk about their book and breaking into comics. I must have expressed both a desire to do that, and revealed that I was a writer to them... I ran into Chris at a Comic Book Convention a few months after their appearance on my show and he asked if I would be interested in writing something for them.
Scroll back up and click the next tab to find out what I wrote. That's the one that made it to final print. More projects are coming soon.
I've included the script page with each finished page to show my process and how often an artist, letterer, and editor can improve the book.
Click on any image to view at full size.
On the first page you'll notice The letterer improved my ontomatpeia and Alexandre improved my combat panels layout.
Everything on these pages came from my own volunteer Scouting experience (semi-autobiographical). I even named a couple of the boys after some memorable boys from my Webelos Den. Since Alexandre was from Brazil and wouldn't know anything about Cecret Lake (it's a real place), Springbar Tents, or my super-specific Scouting details, I created an images page, with photos of everything I was describing. So when you see "(see Figure 1)" in my script, it's referring to that images page. Also, you will see my flashback concept explained at the top of page 4. I wanted these flashbacks to have no panel structure. Just images that flowed into one another, or, in the case of page 16, had photographs dropped on photographs. For the most part that happened, and when it didn't it still worked.
When Chris Hoffman asked me to write this origin story for Den Mother, I asked: "What do you have written about her origin so far?" He said: "Not much, but her entire family was tragically killed." Suddenly "Weird" Al Yankovic's "Nature Trail to Hell" started playing in my head. This whole story was the result of me recalling the lyrics: "There's a homicidal maniac who finds a Cub Scout troop and hacks up two or three in every scene!"
My original page 11 became 2 pages. This was because Alexandre didn't include the third panel, the hero image, in his final artwork for page 21. So we got him to do the hero image as a splash page for page 22. It was a happy accident, because it's so cool to see her in her full glory on a splash page (especially after the horrible things I did to her and her family in this story).
Colored image of Page 12. Colors by JC Carter and Photoshop