Category Archives: characters

Imaginary People

Millis 2

It pretty much goes without saying that, since I am an author of fiction, determined to be a storyteller, I spend most of my time talking to people who exist only inside my goofy old head.  Sure, most of the imaginary people I create to keep me company are at least loosely based on real people that I either once knew, or still know.  You can tell that about Millis, the rabbit-man, pictured here on the right, can’t you?  Sure.  I had a New Zealand White pet rabbit that I raised as a 4-H project.  His name was Ember-eyes… because, well, yeah… red eyes.  It just happens that my goofy old memory transformed him into an evolution-enhanced science experiment in my unpublished novel, The Bicycle-Wheel Genius.  But he was a real person once… ’cause rabbits are people too, right?

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Anita Jones, a character from my unpublished novel, Superchicken, is based on a real person too.  I admit, there was a girl in my class from grades K through 6 that I secretly adored and would’ve done anything to be near, though every significant event I remember from my life that involved an encounter with her, involved red-faced embarrassment for me.  That’s why I remember her as having auburn-colored hair.  Charley Brown’s Little Red-Haired Girl… duh!  I would’ve died sooner than tell her how I really felt, even now, but by making her into one of a multitude of imaginary people who inhabit my life, I can be so close to her that sometimes I am actually inside her mind.  There’s a sort of creepy voyeurism-squared sort of thing.

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Dorin Dobbs, the main human character of my published novel, Catch a Falling Star, is an imaginary character based mostly on my eldest son, though, in fact, I started writing that novel five years before he was born.  Like most of the imaginary people in my life, I talk to Dorin repeatedly even when the real Dorin is half a world away in the Marine Corps.  And even though the Dorin I am talking to is not the real Dorin, he is still constantly using language that is extra-salty far beyond his years, and is often defiant of my fatherly wisdom, and always argues for the exact opposite of any opinion I express.  That’s just how it is to be the father of an imaginary son.

Realistically, I have to admit that even the flesh-and-blood people in my life are imaginary.  No one ever actually inhabits another person’s head except through the magic of imagination.  Even though I am talking to you at this moment, you are only an imaginary person to me.  I don’t even know your name as I write this.  And I am the same to you.  You may have read my writing enough to think you know something about me… but you really only know the Mickey in your mind that I have worked at putting there with my words.  And I really have no idea what that imaginary Mickey you have in your head is like.  He is probably really the opposite of who I think I am.

mANDY

I am, after all, married to this girl panda, Mandy Panda from the Pandalore Islands, and my three children are all Halfasian part-panda-people.  Yes, this is the imaginary person who is my real-life wife.  The secret is, we only ever know the imaginary people we have in our goofy little heads.  We don’t know the real person behind anyone in our lives, because it is simply not possible to really know how anybody else thinks or feels, even if they write out their lengthy treatise about how all people are imaginary people.  That stuff is just too goofy-dippy to be real.

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How to Talk to Real People

While visiting in Iowa, I ran into an old high school friend at a local eatery. I remember how in high school and junior high, I played basketball on the same team with him, I listened to his exaggerations about a probably non-existent sex life, and helped him on one or two occasions to get answers on Math homework (even then the teacher in me wouldn’t let me just give him the answers, I always made him work out the answers step by step).

Now he is a judgmental and basically crabby old coot. He is a Trump supporter, hater of immigrants who take American jobs, and an unpleasant arguer of politics. And the sorest point about his intractable coot-i-ness is the fact that, as a classmate, he is the same age as me and I am, therefore, just as intractably coot-y as he is.

So, how exactly do you talk to a mean old coot?

Well, you have to begin by realizing that it is not like the dialogue in a novel or TV show. This is a real person I was talking to. So, I had to proceed by accepting that he thinks I am an idiot and anything I say and think is wrong. Not merely wrong, but “That’s un-American and will lead to a communist takeover of our beloved country!” sort of wrong. I can then laugh off numerous Neo-Nazi assertions by him, make snarky comments about his praises for the criminal president, and generally get along with him like old friends almost always do. I play my part just as furiously as he plays his, and we both enjoy the heck out of it.

We are both of us crazy old coots, likely to say just about anything to get the other one’s goat. Getting goats is apparently vital to the conversations of real people. But we have more in common than we have as differences. We don’t keep score in our world-shaking debates, nor do we count how many goats we get. And that is how you talk to real people.

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Characters From Superchicken

Superchick

These are a few of the main characters of the old story which is now my newest novel.

Superchicken is Edward-Andrew Campbell.  He is basically a me-character.  His embarrassing nickname, from a Jay Ward cartoon that used to be on TV Saturday mornings, was actually my nickname in junior high and high school.  Many of the emotional changes he goes through and the embarrassments he endures to be a super hero were based on my own experiences.  But he definitely embraces the nickname as his superhero name in a way I can only wish that I did.

Brent

Brent Clarke is the outgoing athlete sort of kid who was definitely not me.  He becomes leader of the Norwall Pirates because he pitched for the softball team, and because anyone who met him naturally assumed he was the most important kid in the group.  Others look to him for leadership even when they don’t need it.  Making friends with Brent is one of the most difficult and important tasks the Superchicken must undertake.

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Milt Morgan is the wizard of the group.  He is obsessed with magic and imagination. And though Brent is nominally the leader of the group, all their evil plans and hair-brained schemes come from Milt’s imagination.  The picture of Milt is drawn from me as a boy, but in reality he is the other Mike from my childhood, the one with a rather tough life and a heart of… well… maybe not gold, but at least silver.  He is also the one who insists on making Edward-Andrew part of the gang.

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The Cobble Sisters, Sherry and Shelly, are a pair of identical twin girls.  They are both nudists at home on the farm place and at the nudist club in Clear Lake.  They are problematic for a shy boy just discovering girls, but Sherry definitely pursues a crush on the Superchicken and tricks him into a family camping trip at the nudist camp.

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Sherry at the Sunshine Club

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Anita Jones is the shy girl who has a crush on the Superchicken.  And he secretly has a crush on her.  But she is also the girl who becomes, completely by accident, the first girl that Edward-Andrew sees naked.  Love and hate, embarrassment and attraction, she is the one girl whose opinion seems to matter most.  I, of course, will never reveal the real life girl she is based on.  I could never live that down, even though we are both now more than sixty years old.

So those are a few of the main characters that make this novel work for me.  They are real people to me now that the novel is written, just as they were once real people when I was a boy and living the nightmare of being a mere boy in a world that needs heroes.

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Critical Characters in My Fiction

Valerie Clarke
Ricky Porter
Poppensparkle the Butterfly Child
Horatio T. Dogg
Mickey the Wererat
Grandma Gretel Stein and General Tuffaney Swift the Storybook Fairy
Blueberry Bates
Tim Kellogg
Devon Martinez
Francois Martin
Derfentwinkle and her Master, Sorcerer Eli Tragedy

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NPC’s (Non-Player Characters)

In Dungeons and Dragons games you are trying to bring characters to imaginary life by getting into their deformed, powerful, or magic-filled heads and walking around in a very dangerous imaginary world.  You have to be them.  You have to think like them and talk like them.  You have to love what they love, decide what they do, and live and die for them.  They become real people to you.  Well… as real as imaginary people can ever become.

But there are actually two distinct types of characters.

These, remember, are the Player Characters.  My two sons and my daughter provide them with their persona, personality, and personhood.   They are the primary actors in the stage play in the theater of the mind which is D & D.

But there are other characters too.  In fact, a whole complex magical world full of other characters.  And as the Dungeon Master, I am the one who steps into their weird and wacky imaginary skins to walk around and be them at least until the Player Characters decide to fireball them, abandon them to hungry trolls, or bonk them on the top of their little horned heads.  I get to inhabit an entire zoo of strange and wonderful creatures and people.

Besides the fact that these Non-Player Characters can easily lead you to develop multiple personality disorder, they are useful in telling the story in many different ways.  Some are friendly characters that may even become trusted travel companions for the Player Characters.

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D & D has a battle system based on controlling the outcomes of the roll of the dice with complex math and gained experience.  In simpler terms, there is a lot of bloody whacking with swords and axes that has to take place.  You need characters like that both to help you whack your enemies and to be the enemies you get to whack.  There is a certain joy to solving your problems with mindless whacking with a sword.  And yet, the story is helped when the sword-whackers begin to develop personalities.

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Crazy Mervin, for example, began life as a whackable monster that could easily have been murdered by the Player Characters in passing while they were battling the evil shape-changing Emerald Claw leader, Brother Garrow.

But Gandy befriended him and turned him from the evil side by feeding him and sparing him when it really counted.  He became a massively powerful ax-whacker for good because Gandy got on his good side.  And stupid creatures like Mervin possess simple loyalties.  He helped the players escape the Dark Continent of Xendrick with their lives and is now relied upon heavily to help with combat.  He was one of the leaders of the charge on the gate when the Players conquered the enthralled Castle Evernight.

Dru 1

Not every NPC is a whackable monster, however.  In the early stages of the campaign the Players needed a magic-user who could read magic writing, use detection spells and shielding spells and magic missiles, and eventually lob fireballs on the bigger problems… like dragons.

Druaelia was the wizard I chose to give the group of heroes to fulfill these magical tasks.  Every D & D campaign requires wizarding somewhere along the way.  And Dru was a complex character from the start.  Her fire spells often went awry.  When Fate used a magic flaming crossbow bolt to sink a ship he was defending, killing the good guys right along with the bad guys, it was with a magic crossbow bolt crafted by Druaelia.  Her fire spells went nuclear-bad more than once.  She had to learn along the way that her magical abilities tended more towards ice and snow than fire.  She learned to become a powerful wielder of cold powers.  And while she was comfortable in a bikini-like dress that drove the boys wild because she grew to love the cold, she didn’t particularly like the attentions of men and male creatures that went along with that.  More than one random bandit or bad guy learned the hard way not leer at Dru.  There are just certain parts of the anatomy you really don’t want frozen.

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The Player Characters will need all sorts of help along the way, through travels and adventures and dangerous situations.  They will meet and need to make use of many different people and creatures.  And as Dungeon Master I try hard to make the stories lean more towards solving the problems of the story with means other than mere whacking with swords.   Sometimes that need for help from others can even lead you into more trouble.

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But as I am now nearing the 800 word mark on a 500 word essay, I  will have to draw it all to a close.  There is a lot more to say about NPC’s from our game.  They are all me and probably are proof of impending insanity.  But maybe I will tell you about that the next time we sit down together at the D & D table.

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Made-Up People

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I often get criticized for talking to people who are basically invisible, probably imaginary, and definitely not real people, no matter what else they may be.

The unfinished cover picture is from the novel The Bicycle-Wheel Genius which I finished the final rewrite and edit for and then published in 2018.  All of the characters in that book are fictional.    Even though some of them strongly resemble the real people who inspired me to create them, they are fictional people doing fictional and sometimes impossible things.  And yet, they are all people who I have lived with as walking, talking, fictional people for many years.  Most of those people have been talking to me since the 1970’s.  I know some of them far better than any of the real people who are a part of my life.

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These, of course, are only a few of my imaginary friends.  Some I spend time with a lot.  Some I haven’t seen or heard from in quite a while.  And I do know they are not real people.  Mandy is a cartoon panda bear, and Anneliese is a living gingerbread cookie.  I do understand I made these people up in my stupid little head.

But it seems to me that the people in the world around us are really no less imaginary, ephemeral, and unreal.  Look at the recently replaced Presidentumb of the Disunited States.  He is an evil cartoon James Bond villain if there ever was one.

Animated cast of OUR CARTOON PRESIDENT. Photo: Courtesy of SHOWTIME

Animated cast of OUR CARTOON PRESIDENT. Photo: Courtesy of SHOWTIME

People in the real world create an imaginary person in their own stupid little heads, and pretend real hard that that imaginary person is really them in real life.  And of course, nobody sees anybody else in the same way that they see themselves.  Everybody thinks they are a somebody who is different from anybody else who thinks they are a somebody too, and really they are telling themselves, and each other, lies about who somebody really is, and it is all very confusing, and if you can follow this sentence, you must be a far better reader than I am a writer, because none of it really makes sense to me.  I think everybody is imaginary in some sense of the word.

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So, if you happen to see me talking to a big white rabbit-man who used to be a pet white rabbit, but got changed into a rabbit-man through futuristic genetic science and metal carrots, don’t panic and call the police.  I am just talking to another fictional character from a book I finished writing.  And why are you looking inside my head, anyway?  There’s an awful lot of personal stuff going on in there.  Of course, you only see that because I wrote about it in this essay.  So it is not an invasion of privacy.  It is just me writing down stuff I probably should keep in my own stupid little head.  My bad.

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More Art Day Role Play

Again I go back to artwork done for Saturday role-playing games, a thing which I started doing in 1981. It filled my life for a time. And it also taught me to be a teacher. After all, the DM (Dungeon Master, or Game Master) has to be a story-teller and a master explainer… just like a school teacher.

A Dungeons and Dragons picture from 1981.
A Shaitan Rider, a villain from 1982.
The Giant Sorcerer’s Hand, a monster from the 2011 family game.
A heroine-ally and her pet werewolf.
The father of mys son’s player character was found at the end of an adventure. He is apparently me with fewer legs.
An enemy necromancer
Two versions of the same weretiger
This unused non-player character would become a novel character in 2019.
Some characters are borrowed directly from TV
Some characters are kept around as potential instant player characters.
A Talislantan librarian from 1992

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Role-Playing Game Art

Here I am back to doing D&D and Traveller on Saturdays. All of the art in this post was once used in conjunction with RPGs played with former students, and my own kids. I was always the game master in the past, and I used drawings and illustrations to help the imaginary adventures come to life.

Zoran-Viktor was a Mirin Ice Wizard from the Talislanta D&D campaign. The player of this character was Victor, a gifted dancer and actor from the school’s theater department.
The Lawgiver was a powerful Non-Player Character in both D&D and Talislanta. The character design came from a metal figure I painted myself.
Zoric was a Talislantan Thaumaturge, the player character of a weird kid who told x-rated jokes better than any other high-school boy I ever met.

Harun the Charmer was only ever used as a player-character once. The boy whose character it was provided the face I modeled it after. He was an absolutely arresting boy that had such a winning personality that people fell in love with him almost instantly.

He spent way more time helping another teacher grade papers than he did playing Talislanta games with goofy old Mr. B.

And I promise, only one of the facts presented here about Harun is a lie, in attempt to protect this young gentleman’s identity. We unfortunately lost him back in the 1990’s.

Crane the Sorcerer was an NPC trapped inside his own crystal ball by his own
evil familiar well before my kids met him in the D&D adventure.
Viktor, the Snow Wizard of Ice Keep, was the father of Zoran Viktor. Victor loved playing Talislanta.
Swordpoint Castle

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A Simple Matter of Character (Part 2)

Some characters need to have their story told for reasons that are buried deep in the author’s personal history and damaged psyche. For me, Torrie Brownfield, the Baby Werewolf, was that kind of character.

The book, The Baby Werewolf, is a different kind of horror story. The central question of the book is this, “Am I a monster? And do I know why or why not?” And Torrie has to answer that question because he was born with a rare genetic disorder called hypertrichosis. It is the “werewolf-hair disease” where hair growth happens in unusual places on the body and in Torrie’s case, everywhere but the palms of his hands and the soles of his feet. He is a perfectly normal boy who really only looks like a monster. But how you look can have a profound impact on how people treat you.

And the character of the boy who looks like a werewolf and thinks he is a monster is based entirely on me. Unlike Valerie Clarke whose origins I can pinpoint, I have to honestly admit the way Torrie thinks and feels and acts are all based solely on me and me alone.

You see, when I was a boy of ten I went through a horrible traumatic experience that threw my whole life into darkness. And I kept it secret from everybody. In fact, for a few years, I kept it a secret even from myself.

It is not that I really didn’t remember I had been sexually assaulted by an older boy. The nightmares and remembered pain were a constant even when I couldn’t admit to myself what had happened. I defended myself from it all by burying the knowledge deep, and worrying about things that only sexual-assault victims worried about. I embarrassed myself twice in seventh grade by wetting my pants in class, all because I couldn’t go into the boys’ bathroom at school. Whenever I would have sexual urges of any kind, I would lie down or sit on the heating grate at home, burning scars into my lower back and the back of my lower legs. I fretted about how to fight monsters. And I knew from the movies that if a vampire bit you, you could become a vampire. And if a werewolf bit you, you could become a werewolf. So, if a sexual predator bites you, do you not become a…??

In all honesty I probably became a teacher at least in part to protect other kids from the same kind of thing that happened to me. And I had to write this book to tell the story of how not to be a monster.

The true monster in this monster-movie tale is actually Torrie’s uncle, the person who actually psychologically abuses him. And the villain proves himself to be a sexual deviant, trying to create kiddie porn in his photography studio.

I suppose I just spoiled the whole whodunnit part of the book. But the murder mystery was never the point of the novel. The message of this novel is that no child is ever a monster unless he actually chooses to become one.

And that is the kind of character Torrie Brownfield is. The autobiographical kind. The kind that brings the author’s worst fears about himself to light, and tries to answer the question with… “No, I am not a monster.”

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Portraits of Norwall Kids

An illustration for the WIP,The Boy… Forever

Today’s Art-Day Saturday post is about the pictures I have drawn to establish in my mind the characters that make up the fictional world of Norwall, Iowa. Specifically, the kids in my YA novels.

Milt Morgan, wizard of the Norwall Pirates

I do manage character development and detailed descriptions by creating early on a picture of what the character looks like for me.

Sherry Cobble, nudist, twin sister of Shelly, also a nudist
Mike Murphy and his girlfriend, Blueberry Bates
Edward-Andrew Campbell
Brent Clarke, first leader of the Norwall Pirates
Dilsey Murphy, everybody’s big sister
Torrie Brownfield, the Baby Werewolf
Grandma Gretel Stein, Todd Niland, Sherry Cobble, Sandy Wickham
Francois Martin, the Sad Clown who Sings
Anita Jones, the girlfriend of Superchicken
Valerie Clarke, the most beautiful girl ever born in Norwall

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