Category Archives: characters

Grandma Frozenfield


In order to understand this story, you have to have a little bit of background first… a solid sense of context, in order to avoid anyone feeling that I might be ridiculing someone in an unfair or unloving way.  So here’s a bit of context.  I was a teacher for 31 years.  I was considered a good teacher, in fact, a master teacher by something like 28 different principals and assistant principals, while only 3 felt like I was an incompetent mess, and two of those were eventually fired themselves.  I only got fired once.  So it can be safely assumed I know what incompetence in teaching is and can reliably identify it in others.  Further, incompetence in teaching does not make you a bad person.  Far too many people who believe they could be a good teacher have traits that would torpedo their own boat if they actually set sail on the sea of education.  So, even though Grandma Frozenfield was a horrible teacher, she was actually a very nice and caring person, and makes a wonderful character for stories that lovingly make fun of bad teaching.  And I should remind you, I don’t use real names when talking about people from my past so that their privacy is not violated by whatever my artist’s eye might reveal about them.  The portrait I added to this post does not even look like her.

Grandma Frozenfield was a mid-year emergency hire who filled the position of 8th grade math teacher during my first year of teaching.   She was already sixty-eight years old when she came to Cotulla, Texas, and she had five years of previous teaching experience in schools up north.  How she survived five years in schools more competently run than Texas schools in the 80’s, I will never be able to figure out.  She was able to hang on in our school for several years only because we were desperately strapped for warm bodies to teach Math classes in Texas junior high schools.  Only idiots and coaches ever took on the job willingly.

Grandma Frozenfield had seventeen dogs and ninety-nine cats at home.  That right there tells you something about which stereotype she easily fits into.  But she was also a woman of great mystery.  Her father had been a famous college professor in Minnesota.  She had inherited a number of very valuable books from him, and kept them in random boxes stacked in dusty corners of the old run-down house she bought in town.  She was actually quite bright, and though she would have spells of foggy thinking and confusion, she could capably discuss mathematics and physics and other sciences with me.  She had a daughter who showed up during her third year of teaching at our school, and the daughter had a cute little son of about seven years old.  Neither she nor her daughter had ever been married.  In fact, rumor had it the daughter was telling people she was adopted.  And her daughter and grandson disappeared from her life about four years after they started living with Grandma.

But the old lady was a spectacularly bad teacher.  As bright as she was, she could never talk to kids or relate to kids in ways that kids could understand.  She seemed to sincerely hate kids, calling them bad names in the classroom and telling them in detail how they would one day die in prison (a prediction that unfortunately came true for a couple of them).  She would come into the teacher’s workroom after class plastered with spitballs on her back and in her hair.

A couple of the sweeter and more pro-active girls in her classes tried to protect her a bit from vandals and explained lessons to others in class to mitigate the chaos a bit.

She did not engage with students.  Other than a few of the sweeter girls, she did not talk to them about anything but math.  They didn’t understand her, and so they didn’t like her.  She did not know how to monitor a classroom, so the infidels were on a rampage all the time in her room.  It would definitely have felt like being in Hell to be her, teaching in that classroom.  Why she ever wanted to be a teacher, she never said.  I know it was in her family history.  I know she was a caring, lovely individual.  But when she died of throat cancer at 77 it was a lonely and sad thing.  She had been forced to teach until two years before the end because of medical bills.  She was never happy as a teacher that I observed.  But she never missed a day without good reason, either.  Good people don’t necessarily make good teachers.  But she taught me things far beyond the 8th grade math she tried and failed to teach to students.  I don’t think of her often.  But I do think of her.  She and her 17 dogs and 99 cats are all gone now.  But not forgotten.

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Filed under autobiography, characters, education, humor, Paffooney, pen and ink paffoonies, strange and wonderful ideas about life, teaching, Texas

Homely People


I prefer to write about, think about, and draw pictures of homely people. But don’t mistake me.  I am not talking about ugly people.    Our President, the giant blood sausage with a bird’s nest on top that we have put in charge of making us all feel sick to our stomachs every day, demonstrates what ugly means.  Ugly is not just weird and interesting to look at, it is also repellent behavior that makes physical flaws take a back seat… no, a rumble seat in the trailer behind by comparison.

I am talking about the ordinary people back home.  The ones that may be sitting by your own fireplace on a cold day trying to warm their hands after throwing snowballs outside.  And, of course, that snowball that hit Maggie Doozman in the side of the face and knocked her glasses off, made you laugh for an instant, until you realized she was crying, and Kirk Longhatter didn’t even apologize for throwing so hard, so you went over and picked her glasses up for her and handed them to her, and she smiled at you through the tears.  That is the kind of homely I mean.

Pesch Street

There is a lot that is beautiful in homely people. Sure, maybe not a classically beautiful Elizabeth Taylor face or a Gregory Peck lantern jaw.  Maybe not even a shapely behind or a graceful step when walking across the street.  But ordinary beauty.  Kindness.  Humility.  Determination in the face of long odds.  Good-natured jokery.  A touch of childish silliness.  A moon face that actually shines when a smile lights it up.  That is beauty that can be found in homely people.

You’ve probably figured out by now that this post is just an excuse to show off some goofy old off-kilter portraits I did.  But that doesn’t change the fact.  I do love homely people.

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Filed under artwork, autobiography, cartoons, characters, commentary, compassion, humor, insight, Iowa, Paffooney, strange and wonderful ideas about life

Teachers in Space

This is another in my continuing series of Saturday night D&D posts, though it was written on Saturday morning and contains no Dungeons and Dragons information whatsoever.


The Space Bear was a travelling space ship/school.

You see, in the early 1980’s, I got in trouble with Baptists for playing Dungeons and Dragons with kids from school because… well, demons and dragons are evil, right?  Apparently even the imaginary ones in games and illustrations. So I turned my attention to science fiction games.  Traveller was my rule system, and all science fiction was my campaign.  And then in 1986 Ronald Reagan and NASA decided to blow up the first teacher in space aboard the Challenger shuttle mission.  So, my Traveller game became less about “explore and conquer” and more about “teachers in space”.

gaijin1234aGed Aero was the player character of one of my favorite kids.  He was a psionic shape-changer who could transform into other animals, space creatures, and alien beings.  He became so powerful that he naturally inherited the job of leader of the Psionics Institute, a criminal teachers’ union that taught psionic skills to psionically talented kids. It was a criminal organization because the semi-fascist government of the Third Imperium had made psionics illegal.  He gathered students and taught them to use their powers for good.  The students were all non-player characters to start with, but as new kids from school wanted to play the game too, and player characters were needed, the students of Ged’s psionics dojo became player characters.

Junior Aero, a former student and the adopted son of Ged’s deceased brother Hamfast, grew up and became a player character himself. He taught psionics, being a telepath who could talk to computers and robots that were self-aware.  His wife, Sarah Smith Aero, also became a teacher.  She and Junior had twins, a boy and a girl, both genetically Nebulons, and both destined to be students aboard the Space Bear.


Of course, you may have noticed a K’ung Fu sort of thing going on in the illustrations I am showing you.  That was because one time as Ged was in dinosaur form and fighting with a ninja swordmaster, he won the fight by eating the ninja.  His shape-changing power then absorbed all the muscle memories and martial arts training of the ninja he ate.  So, his students would not only become psionic masters of mind manipulations, but ninja warriors as well.


So, whether they liked it or not, my Traveller players had to learn to teach their skills to others, lead students through complex adventures and problem=solving situations, and basically do themselves a lot of the same things they saw me doing in school all as part of a role-playing game.  You see, that was one of the main dangers of playing role-playing games on Saturdays with that kooky English teacher in South Texas. The danger was, you might actually have to learn something.  Although, most of them probably didn’t realize that that was precisely what they were doing.  They thought we were just playing games, or junk like that.

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Filed under characters, Dungeons and Dragons, education, high school, humor, imagination, kids, Paffooney, science fiction, teaching

Time Travellers

In role playing games I was always willing to go where no other game master has gone before.  Such was the case with the role-playing game Traveller and the matter of time travel.  No rules existed in the rule book to cover time travel.  But I didn’t let that stop me. I made them up as we went along.


I got a boost when one of my players wanted to create a character based on Dr.Who.   The British series played on Friday nights on PBS in the 1980’s.  But that particular player, though very creative, was not a precisely cerebral type of kid.  He spelled it “W-H-O-E”.  So, forever after, we referred to the character as Doctor Hooey.


Good old Hooey was always getting the group into impossible situations that took a great deal of thinking to get out of again. He had a penchant for crashing time machines.  And when he got the destination right, he would get the time wrong on the year, century, or millennia.  And when he got the time right, well, what do you know?  He got the place wrong.  The players never seemed to realize that I was taking them to planned adventures no matter what the dice rolls supposedly said.

Many such adventures would encounter weird and wild characters who would inevitably also become time travelers, whether fellow travelers for the sake of goodness and light, or as recurring villains.


For example, Brech was a student space ninja traveling through space and time with the teacher characters among the players.  And by time traveling, they ran afoul of the Revenant, a time-traveling cyborg assassin who stalked the players for accusations of serious “time crimes”.  The cyborg turned out to be young Brech’s future self.  Which proved lucky.  Brech was able to establish a psychic link with his future self just as the cyborg was about to execute everybody, and Brech thereby turned a deadly enemy into an ally.

We tended to adapt movie characters who were time travelers into important NPC’s, and they did not all come from the Dr. Who show.  The characters shown above were Doc Brown from Back to the Future and Professor H. G. Wells.


When I stole characters from Dr. Who, like I did with Lady Romana here, I tended to adapt them totally to my own game universe.  Romana was nothing like her TV counterpart.  In fact, only the name was the same.

We soon had so many time-traveling characters in their different time machines that we had to organize it all.  This we did by founding the organization known as the Time Knights of Gallegos.

And we needed a leader to coordinate the various initiatives through time and space.  For this we chose a specific NPC, the boy super genius, Ryan Beowulf.  He was a charming super-brained perpetual ten-year-old who worked with his own future self, the thousand-year-old Time King Beowulf.


Traveller, it seemed,  was never more fun than when we were free to go rock and rolling through both space and time.  We had some harrowing adventures and even made use of my own vast storehouse of useless historical knowledge that can wow ’em in the moment and make them wonder why they needed to know about that upon further reflection.  Time traveling, like fez’s and bow ties, is cool.

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Filed under characters, Dungeons and Dragons, imagination, Paffooney, science fiction

Making Characters for Traveller


When I started playing the role-playing game Traveller with a group of middle school students, one of the first challenges to overcome was the creation of original characters and interesting new stories.  You can only play for so long with characters named Solo, Skywalker, and Vader.  Then, you must get creative.

What I am going to show you today are a passel of characters so creative, lame, and craptastic, that you will probably forever after have pity on those poor kids who chose to play the game with me.


Harry Scipio Strontium 90 was a space detective.  He and his assistant, the dwarf Quark, were necessary to the game because player characters had a tendency to kill people, aliens, and destroy planets, routinely misusing the biggest and baddest weapons in the equipment handbook.  He relentlessly pursued player characters and villains across space and time.


The Geomancer was a deep space explorer who mysteriously never took off his space suit.  He bailed characters out of trouble when they invariably got marooned on airless asteroids, lost in dead space with no fuel for the starship, or imprisoned by cannibal plant people on an unexplored world.  In the end, it turned out that his mysterious space suit was actually empty, containing only gas and radiation, and possibly an alien spirit-entity.


Mantis was actually a player character.    The son of the high school science teacher was one of my most dedicated game players.  He decided that he had to have an evil player character.  He said to me, “Mr. B, we will make him secretly evil so that he does things that take the party into danger and betray them without their knowing.  It will be fun as they try to figure out how to save themselves.”  Now, Mantis was an alien super-scientist who had a very big head and small body, so he removed his own head and connected it to a large robotic body.  He stood imposingly taller than all the other characters at eight and a half feet tall.  His evil plots were initially rather lame and easily defeated.  It didn’t take the players long to figure out that he was working against them, and he spent a considerable amount of time as a detached living head on the starship’s auxiliary control panel.  He went through various penances and punishments, ultimately avoiding being flushed into space through the space toilet.


Susano initially started out as Mantis’ evil experiment.  He was an enhanced clone with super powers and wings.  He was super charming and likeable, but supposed to further Mantis’ evil agenda.  They began to plot the take-over of entire planets like Djinnistan and Vilis.  But the longer the game went on, the more he became a son to Mantis, and the more he influenced his scientist father to use his abilities for good.  They would eventually help a band of rogues create a New Star League out of the ashes of the Third Imperium.  Teacher’s kids are often the biggest pains in a classroom, but that tends to be because they know all the teacher tricks already and are invariably more creative than the average classroom clown.  The last I heard from Mantis’ creator, he was an electrical engineer in Austin, Texas, and probably busy secretly planning to take over the world.  Though hopefully he didn’t remove his own head as a first step.

That is only a small sampling of the characters we created for Traveller, but at more than 500 words already, I need to be saving the rest for another day.



Filed under characters, Dungeons and Dragons, heroes, Paffooney, science fiction, villains

Dilsey Murphy in Living Color

Dilsey Murphy

I finished the art project.  Here is Dilsey Murphy as she looked in 1990 while wearing her dad’s old Carl Eller Minnesota Vikings jersey from the 70’s.  I wasn’t sure I could finish it this quickly, but the colored pencils blaze with speed when you are coloring someone you love.

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Filed under artwork, characters, kids, Paffooney

A Girl Called Dilsey

Mary Murphy's Children

Mary Murphy, mother of Dilsey and Little Sean… among others.

If you have never written multiple novels about the same set of characters, you will not have inside knowledge of the process I am going to talk about in this goofy blog post.  Because you don’t fully understand what I am talking about, you are welcome to call me an obsessive-compulsive fool.  I am definitely a fool, but I prefer to believe the obsessive-compulsive part is off base.

I fell in love with Dilsey Murphy.

“You’re kidding!” you say with a disbelieving smile.  “You fell in love with a fictional character from one of your stupid hometown fantasies?  Nonsense!  Not only is she not real, she’s just a supporting character.”

I think that might be the one thing I love most about Dilsey.  She’s never the one demanding to be on center stage.  She’s a shy, sweet-natured girl from a big family who does the best she can to avoid being the ant under her brothers’ magnifying glass.  And yet, when she is called upon for empathy, or a little bit of sister wisdom, she mines the gold from King Solomon’s mine.


A new picture of Dilsey Murphy wearing her father’s old Carl Eller T-shirt.

You may not know this if you are not a writer of fiction, but a lot of the character-building process consists of compiling the character’s personal facts, personal history, and back story, developing an in-depth storehouse of details that may, in fact, never get used in any book, short story, or other writing.  In order to create a character that feels real to the reader, an author must know the character far more intimately than the reader will ever be made privy to.

Dilsey is a member of the Murphy family who live in Norwall, Iowa.  Her parents are Warren Murphy and Mary Murphy.  Her father was a member of the infamous Murphy Boys, all of them brothers, that played brutal linebacker defense for the Belle City Broncos high school football team in the 1960’s.  Mary Murphy is famous for being a small woman with a very large personality.  The family is Catholic and of Irish heritage, determined to avoid church and yet hoping to get into heaven.  They ar e also devout Minnesota Vikings football fans.

Dilsey’s older brother is Danny Murphy, a skinny, goofy kid that grows up into a reliable problem solver and mature young man.  Danny eventually falls in love with Carla Bates, the sister of Blueberry Bates, Mike Murphy’s girlfriend.  Danny and Carla marry in 1992.

Dilsey is the second oldest, born in 1977, so she is a young teen in most of the stories she appears in.

Mike Murphy is her younger brother, a member of the Norwall Pirates, a kids’ gang and 4-H softball team.  Mike is a year younger than Dilsey. His girlfriend, Blueberry Bates, has a terrible secret, one that makes Mary Murphy turn resolutely against her even though she previously loved her.  Mike and Dilsey refuse to abandon Blueberry even when Mike is forbidden to see her any longer.

Tim Kellogg is Mike’s best friend.  Dilsey believes him to be a jerk and a hopeless goon. And yet, even though Dilsey hates him and is a year older than Tim, he is the only boy she dreams about naked.  They eventually go on dates in high school and it is rumored that they will be married in 2000, though my hometown stories never progress beyond the 20th Century.

Dilsey is based on my unmarried sister and my daughter, though she really isn’t very much like either one in the long run.

Okay, so I know I haven’t sufficiently explained why I am so much in love with Dilsey Murphy.  I, of course, take that as a challenge.  I will write more stories.  You will fall in love with her too.

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Filed under artwork, characters, goofy thoughts, humor, NOVEL WRITING, Paffooney