Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Merchandising! Merchandising! - Noknor Action Figure

Noknor, the Scourge of Evil

Mint in Box Action Figure

As a child of the 80’s/90’s, I am part of the 1st generation of the fanboy/fangirl culture, those fans who obsess over their favorite pop culture franchises. As such, in my slightly younger days I spent more time and money than I by all rights should have in buying collectibles, mostly toys, from my favorite movie and comic book franchises. It was only natural I suppose that I would eventually begin to dream of The Quest Saga line of toys and collectibles. I ultimately got tired of waiting and set out to build them for myself, really for my own amusement than anything else. Little did I know that custom-made merchandise would turn out to be a viable marketing strategy for the Indie Writer.
This is actually the first action figure I ever made, indeed the very first merchandise I ever made for The Quest Saga. I really don’t remember when I made it, but I do know that it was no earlier than 2007 and no later than 2008; I did a Barnes & Noble book signing in December 2008 and I had this on display sans the box. The box came later, around early to mid 2009, again because I did a book signing in Las Vegas in November 09 and I had Noknor displayed in his box. I enjoyed this so much that I have been doing little custom merchandise projects ever since.

You know what, before we get into how I made it, a little background on the character. Noknor, the Scourge of Evil is the main villain in The Quest Saga series. He is an evil warlock, a sadistic and cruel megalomaniac bent on world domination. He is extremely powerful, both magickally and physically, with a demonic appearance that includes green skin, fangs, and glowing red eyes; it is said that he was once normal, even handsome, but that he sold his humanity to the devil for greater magickal powers. I’ve often described him as a warlock serial killer conqueror, a DNA combination of Genghis Khan, Hannibal Lector, Dracula, and Darth Vader if you will.
As I said, this was my first ever attempt at constructing a custom-made figure and I learned a lot in doing it. I’m not very artistically inclined in a visual sense (I’m gifted in other ways). My drawing is passable but I do not carve or mold very well at all. I particularly have trouble with the human form, especially faces. Thus, for any of my action figures, I use a core figure: I go to the toy store and buy a preexisting action figure to mutilate. I need to find a figure that is close enough to my vision of my character. Where better to start than with wrestling figures? They’re big, articulated, and generally don’t wear clothes. For this Noknor figure, I went to the WWF/WWE aisle and chose the Big Red Machine Kane (ironic, ne? not my intent). Kane is (was?) one of the bigger guys on the WWE roster, he’s bald, and he has a mean scowl. Perfect!
I don’t have any before pictures of the original figure or many of the process itself. I guess I didn’t think about it back then and now I regret it. The Kane figure was shirtless, but he had pants albeit with red barbwire decals. He also had a forehead like a mountain gorilla, so I used a razor to shave his brow down slightly. I painted his body green; it took at least three coats if I recall. I used a very small brush to paint his eyes bright red and also to paint his fingernails black. I also painted his pants black to cover the red barbwire.
I had to give him a robe, but unfortunately I’m not much of a tailor so cloth was out. Instead, I went with clay. I didn’t want to use an oven-bake clay like Sculpey, so I was very lucky to find an air-drying polymer clay called Makin’s Clay. I love this stuff and highly recommend it because it’s easier to work with and I can mold it directly onto the figure without the risk of melting said figure in the damn oven. I rolled out the Makin’s Clay and trimmed it to the dimensions needed before slapping it on Kane. I let it dry for a day and then painted it black. I then molded clay around the arms for the sleeves, waited and painted. I tried to leave space between the joints to allow for movement (you can see green peeking out at the elbows and shoulders) but I’m afraid it lost a lot of articulation; I learned from this and corrected the problem in later figures.

The Swuenedras Amulet (the faery talisman that gives Noknor unlimited magick power) is also of Makin’s Clay, molded to form two rattlesnakes and painted gold with red and black accents. The red gem is a girl’s notebook bedazzle sticker superglued.The cape is real cloth. I first attempt to sew it but when that failed miserably I went to the hot glue gun. I got some scrap red velvet, hot glued black fabric onto it and attached it around Noknor’s neck with gold lace held by a superglue/hot glue combo.
In the The Quest Saga, Book I: The Roots of Evil, Noknor conquers the Kingdom of Kuberica by killing King Edward. He then proceeds to give himself a crown made from the skull and bones of the late King Edward. For the action figure, I chopped up a miniature skeleton that was part of a $1 Store Halloween decoration and superglued them to a Makin’s Clay cap I molded and painted red. The crown, Swuenedras Amulet, and cape are all removable.
Finally, Noknor’s staff which he uses as a walking stick and to fight with, using the sickle blade for hand-to-hand combat and the diamond to shoot out magickal energy blasts. I’m not overly fond of this staff and later attempts would turn out much better. The proportions are wrong, especially between the massive blade and skinny shaft. I painted a wooden dowel brown, skinny because it’s what fit in Noknor’s hand. The blades are Makin’s Clay, painted, and the Volar Stone, the crystal at the tip, is a plastic diamond used for making jewelry. It may not look great, but at least it keeps the figure from falling over.
And that is Noknor, the Scourge of Evil in all of his 9 inch action figure glory. As for how the box came to be, I’ll explain that in the next post.
By the way, as of late I've had a devil of a time finding Makin's Clay in stores. Hobby Lobby used to carry it and while they still have the tools offered by the Makin company, they no longer carry the polymer clay, at least around these parts. I have found this cool online dealer called Polymer Clay Express that carries a wide selection. Click here to check out their wares. For what it's worth, although a variety of colors are available, I always go with natural or white and paint it.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The Indie Writer's Toolbox - Music - Feist


Being an Indie Writer, I have found that it helps me to appreciate the other creative independent genres: Indie music, film, art. I’m not saying that you can’t appreciate it if you’re not an independent artist yourself, but much like certain other things (war, for instance), I’m not sure that you can fully understand unless you’ve been there yourself; video games don’t count. I am particularly drawn to indie music and I love discovering new artists even if they’ve been around for years because they are still new to me. There’s something romantic in thinking that the artist you are listening to is sharing your struggle, doing what they do more for their love of the art than money. And when that indie artist catches a break and makes it big, it’s nice to think that it is possible for anyone, even me. I am always on the lookout for new music, particularly music that I can throw into my Indie Writer’s Toolbox.
Feist is a wonderful indie musician out of Canada. You may have heard of her already and I’m quite certain that you’ve heard her music even if you didn’t know it. She’s been around for a while with her first solo album Monarch dropping in 1999. I am unfamiliar with this album, being more familiar with her follow-ups Let It Die (2001) and The Reminder (2007). Sometime in 2007 or 2008 her song 1234 (from The Reminder) was featured in an iPod nano commercial and this was when her popularity really began to take off, as is my understanding. This is where I discovered her. I recall seeing the commercial and while I did not have any feelings one way or the other about the iPod (a position I still hold to this day concerning all Apple products), I absolutely fell in love with the song. It was poppy but not annoying with a fun, happy beat that was tranquil and easy going. The lyrics didn’t make a whole lot of sense but were powerful nonetheless and could be interpreted in a number of ways. Most importantly, however, it was a blast to sing along to but could equally be enjoyed as background music.
That is the best thing about Feist’s music. Each song is different, with elements of pop, jazz, and folk in different tempos, very slow to very fast. Interestingly enough, although each song is vastly different, each one blends perfectly into the other, creating a rising/falling cascade of sound not unlike sea waves crashing onto the beach. I rarely listen to an album all the way through from the first song to the last, but I thoroughly enjoying listening to both The Reminder and Let It Die all the way through. Her music is great to listen to in the car, have playing during a party or while you’re alone reading a book. It's definitely what I would call coffee house style, an excellent muse for writing. The jazzy elements also make her sound great to drink to: pour a glass of scotch, sit in a comfortable chair under a full moon, pop on The Reminder, and just enjoy the nothing around you.
I especially enjoy having Feist on while I write, for all the reason I mentioned above. Her music places a good mood in the air, and she is great for writing a range of scenes such as love, humorous, or just general slices of life. Not so much for drama, horror, or action, though.
If you haven’t heard of Feist, I highly recommend that you immediately put her into your Indie Writer’s Toolbox.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

The Quest Saga Reboot - Bookcover Reboot

Here is a first look at the new cover for The Quest Saga Reboot. This isn't meant to be the final (although The Quest Saga wasn't supposed to be the final title either, know...). This is merely concept art illustrating the direction I want the reboot cover to go. I always liked the original cover, mostly due to its simplicity, but I've also always felt that it would benefit from some sort of artwork. I'm attempting to highlight the merging of the east and west fantasy genres within the story of The Quest Saga, the unicorn representing the traditional western Dungeons & Dragons fantasy while the Chinese dragon represents the mysticism and kungfu action of Chinese fantasy. The ruby heart is a nod to Hua Li's Dragon Heart talisman that becomes a major plot point throughout the series, but it is also meant to represent the love and unity of family and one of my favorite idioms "Love conquers all."

The background and pictures were purchased from a couple of clipart galleries while the font is Hightower Text. Through a lot of research, I managed to figure out the font of the original cover was Hightower, one I've always liked. I like this very much, but I wish I could figure out how to make the text more golden and shimmering.

All in all, not bad if I do say so myself, especially for being made in MSPaint. One day I'll upgrade to a better art program.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

The Indie Writer's Toolbox

An Indie Writer is indeed a craftsman, the story the craft. As with any craft, you cannot adequately create your story without the proper tools. Every writer knows the basics: pen & paper, computer, dictionary, thesaurus, blah blah blah. Yes, those are essential tools such that you wouldn’t be a writer without them but instead an oral storyteller or perhaps a dreamer. However, it’s important not to forget about muse-feeding tools. I’m speaking, of course, of tools like music, food & drink, artwork, setting, and basically anything that might be used to spark your imagination and open your writer frame of mind. Maybe not all writers use all of these tools, but every writer uses something to stimulate their story. The Indie Writer sits in front of a keyboard and monitor all day, it’s only natural that you might need some refreshment to keep you going. Using the same food and drink while writing tends to install a sort of bond between your tongue and your mind. You feel comforted, you feel like writing when you have that special coffee or tea or wine or whatever. While not all Indie Writers listen to music (some might find it distracting), I would venture to say that a great majority do listen to some sort of music. Just like the proper musical score vastly improves a movie, so the proper music can initiate a spark in creativity by plucking that cord in your soul.
In these Indie Writer’s Toolbox posts I will introduce and describe to you my favorite special tools that help me get the writing job done. I hope that you will share yours as well as I am forever expanding my toolbox and love to try new things; please feel free to share in the comments or email me.
Enjoy and eat, drink, and be a merry Indie Writer.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Merchandising and the Indie Writer

"Merchandising! Merchandising! Where the real money is made!"
So saith one of the greatest minds of our time.

Marketing is an extremely crucial part of being an indie writer. After all, who’s going to want to read your story if no one knows it even exists? Whether you self publish or go the POD route, you’re going to have to get out there and sell, sell, sell! However, for those of us who happen to be the socially/social media awkward types, marketing can be one of the most difficult aspects of independent writing and often goes overlooked. Fortunately, there is one marketing technique that I have found that is fun and exciting and actually has many benefits to the indie writer beyond selling books. I’m talking, of course, about merchandising!
Now, when I talk about merchandising, I don't mean mass-marketing licensing or anything like that. I’m talking more along the lines of arts & craft-style projects that you can make at home.
Things like toys:


prop replicas:
heck, even candy!
Really anything at all! If you can think of it, you can slap your book onto it. Not only is your merchandise fun for you, but it will be fun for fans as well and help generate interest in your book. Having some merchandise available to show-off at your next book signing is a great way to attract attention. Certainly anyone passing by is more inclined to take a second look at your table if there’s something physical to attract them. It will also greatly assist in explaining what your book is about. If you have something that physically represents the characters (ie. toys, or perhaps a poster) you can point to the representation every time you mention said character. The physical representation will help the listener to follow along (their mind won’t have to work so hard to recall who you’re talking about) and it will stick with them longer, making them think more about your book and ultimately increase your chances of making a sell. It works great with promotions as well. At your book signing or marketing event you can organize a drawing with the winner claiming your merchandise. Hell, maybe you can even sell it off (don’t forget to sign it!).
Merchandising also helps you, the indie writer, with your writing. Having that physical representation can help you to feel that much closer to your story and your characters. Hit a wall of writer’s block? Work on a merchandising project. It will give you a break from the pen without taking your mind off of the story entirely. It’s also a very fun way to get excited about writing again. It’s all too easy to get burnt out with your writing, but a merchandising project will give you something to focus on while simultaneously heightening your excitement with your writing. It will also give you a sense of accomplishment that will give you the confidence to write your story.
In these “Merchandising! Merchandising!” articles I will be detailing my own merchandising projects, how I made them, why I made them, and what sort of success I’ve had with them. I hope you enjoy!

Friday, December 4, 2015

Personal Demons

When one hears the term “personal demons” the first (and perhaps only) thought goes to the “glamorous” addictions: drug, alcohol, gambling, and perhaps even sex. However, one’s personal demon(s) need not be so excessively life destroying. In fact, we all have personal demons, at least one but more likely several. First, let’s take a look at what a personal demon is (and for the sake of brevity {read: laziness} I’ll just refer to it as PD from here on out). A PD is quite basically a bad habit. However, while a bad habit is really any sort of negative behavior pattern (biting one’s nails, hair twirling, smoking, etc.), a PD is a bad habit that is detrimental to achieving one’s desired goals. In this post I’ll focus more on a writer’s experience since that’s what I am, but honestly this applies to anyone’s dreams, from passing a class to making it onto an Olympics team.
A PD keeps us from achieving our goals and, if we let them get out of hand, ultimately fulfilling our dreams. As said before, you have the major addiction PDs: drugs, alcohol, gambling, and sex. However, procrastination is also a major PD for writers and is one that is often overlooked. It’s very easy for a writer to say “Meh! I don’t feel like writing today. I’ll do it tomorrow.” “I don’t have any good ideas right now.” “I can write any time.” “I’ll wake up early/stay up late and write then.” All of this starts out small, but before you know it you’ve gone weeks without writing a single word or, worse, you’ll find that you’ve given up on writing entirely.
Procrastination is indeed a PD, but it can also be a symptom of other PDs. Say, for instance, that you’re addicted to a new TV show or a video game. Perhaps you’re addicted to a particular website or blog and spend all your time reading that instead of writing. Whatever the case, watching that show or playing that game will not help you finish that manuscript; it will prevent it. And yet, it is so difficult to tear yourself away. Even though you love writing, even more than the PD itself, writing goes on the back burner and eventually that burner burns out and grows cold. You probably even realize your PD, and yet still find it all too easy to procrastinate. You tell yourself “This is the last one, then I’m going right back to writing.” “I’ll start seriously writing tomorrow, fer realsies.”
These simpler PDs are perhaps even more detrimental than the major addictions, as far as writing and other goals go. At least with drugs and alcohol you can (and very much should) get treatment and help in overcoming the addiction. However, what can you do when your PD is procrastination? Especially when you may not even realize that your procrastination, your TV show, your video game, or whatever is even a PD to begin with.
I struggle with my own personal demons that keep me from writing every day, I won’t say what they are here because, you know, personal and all. I’ve yet to fully overcome them myself, but I’m starting to and I am proud of the progress I’ve made. What I have discovered is a few simple steps to help me. The first step, as with any addiction, is recognizing that you have a PD and figuring out what it is. The next step is to push through it, force yourself to come to grips with it and overcome it. Now, when I say overcome it, I don’t necessarily mean give it up completely. The PD in and of itself isn’t necessarily bad, it just becomes so when it overrides your goals. Watching a TV show isn’t bad, but always watching it instead of writing is bad. Internet porn isn’t bad (well, depends what it is, I guess), but if all you do is look at it when you should be working on your manuscript, that is bad. Drugs, alcohol, and gambling goes without saying as those threaten not only your writing but your life as well, so please, please, please if you struggle with these PDs, get help.
I used to tell myself “Well, I don’t want to force myself to write! Then what I write won’t be any good!” I would convince myself that my PD was actually helping me be a better writer because it was helping me to expand my mind and organize my thoughts to write better quality material. I would trick myself into thinking that not writing was better than writing junk. I’ve come to find out, however, that writing whether it’s good or bad, at least I’m writing something and that something might and most likely will turn into something great.
So, what can you do about your PD? How can you overcome it? Force yourself to push through it. Make a concentrated effort to write more and spend less time on your PD. Another trick is organization (something I struggle desperately with myself). Set aside time so that your writing and your PD can coexist and eventually the PD will turn back into a fun, and quite necessary, break from writing. You have to stick with your schedule, though. It is incredibly easy to come up with an organizational plan, believe me I know. It’s a whole other thing to stick with that plan and an even whole other more insanely difficult monster to stick with it for an extended period of time. If you’re not careful, the next thing you know your PD is back and stronger than ever.
Outlets are necessary for a writer to keep from getting burned out on writing or going insane. Just be careful as those outlets could easily outpace your writing and turn into a personal demon. Always remember what you love to do, what your goals are, and what your dreams are. Never let anything stand in that why of that.
And if you do have a serious addiction, help is out there. Please find it.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

The Social (Media) Awkward Writer

Many if not most fiction writers tend to be somewhat socially awkward, I’m sure many if not most of you will agree with that assessment. Not sure why that is, perhaps there’s some correlation with creativity or intelligence. I’m also not sure as to whether fiction writers write because we are socially awkward or we are socially awkward because we write. Writing is indeed an escape from reality more so than any other hobby or outlet, I would be so bold as to say even more so than composing music or even visual arts such as painting. After all, if a picture is worth a thousand words then it would stand to reason that pictures are limited to a thousand words. Writing, however, has no limitations other than imagination. Writing is akin to dreaming because in writing anything and indeed everything is truly possible. There are no beginnings, no endings, and certainly no restrictions. Writing is limitless.

It is that very limitlessness that provides a perfect escape from reality that might lead to one withdrawing from society and developing awkwardness. I have been writing for as long as I have been able to pick up a pencil and I know this because I still have the cover page to the first story I ever wrote penciled way back when I was in kindergarten. Writing that story became my escape from reality. In my story, I was not a scrawny nerd but a powerful hero capable of slaying the dragon and winning the heart of the princess (yes, this was kindergarten). In my story, my bullies did not lord over me and push me around, they were cowards and weaklings. The more I wrote, the more I escaped into this other world created by me without limitations. I wrote to escape, that is true. But did I write to escape because I was socially awkward or did I become more socially awkward because I chose to escape through my writing?

All that to say, I am socially awkward and if you are reading this I highly doubt I need to explain further on that. Now, one would think that the internet would be perfect for the socially awkward. There are no faces, no real names and even if there are, they are miles away (thousands in some cases) and can be turned off with the flick of a switch. There really isn’t much to be awkward about and in fact many people thrive in the environment the internet provides (whether these folks are socially awkward to begin with or the internet is making them so is another thing entirely).

I do not thrive. I’m not sure if I am an isolated case or not among fiction writers, but I do not like social media. I suffer from the same problems communicating on social networks as I do in person. I wonder whether or not anyone will care about my post, I wonder if someone will think my post is stupid. I worry that I may be an annoying pest if I connect with someone. I worry that my request to be friends will be met with rejection. So, no, I do not thrive on social media.

This is not good for a writer in the year 2015. Social awkwardness wasn’t good for a writer back in 1985 considering that in order to be successful and sell books you must sell yourself just as much as the book you wrote. In 2015, the internet has become such an integral part of life that it really does feel like society would crumble if the internet was lost overnight. Social media is a fact of life and it is imperative that writers utilize it in order to get our stories out there into the world. As a socially awkward writer who finds himself a social network awkward writer this is not an easy task. This also explains why I started my blog in 2007 and have had all of twelve posts, the last of which was dated 2011 (from 2012 to 2015 I was living in China which blocks out the likes of Blogspot and Facebook, but that’s not really an excuse as I could have found a way around it if I had so wanted). I had always known and understood that the internet was a valuable tool for a writer, but accepting that took a lot of work and is only a recent accomplishment. So although my experience with social media goes all the way back to MySpace and Friendster and my Facebook account is easily eight or nine years old while this blog is definitely 8 years old, I suppose you could say that I’m new at all of this internet mumbo-jumbo.

It’s exciting for me and a bit scary. Even as I write this I can feel those awkward stirrings in my chest and I can only hope that this attempt to conquer the internet enough to utilize it to my advantage doesn’t fizzle out as it has the last dozen or so times. I think I have a better method to cope this time around. By keeping social media focused on my writing and stories and less on my personal self perhaps I can slip through the awkward net. After all, I love talking about my books while I despise talking about myself. Another tool I’m trying out is apathy. It sounds negative but hear me out. Part of the reason for my social awkwardness is perhaps because of my concern of what people will think. “Should I make this post? What if no one likes it, or even worse what if no one even notices?” By not caring or at least doing my best to convince myself that I don’t care, perhaps I’ll be more likely to make posts and reach out to others to spread the word about my books. If this person or that person doesn’t like it, thinks it’s stupid or doesn’t care one way or the other, meh! Is this a good idea? Meh! What if it backfires on me and turns me into an insufferable ass? Meh! The third thing that I hope will get me to crawl out of my awkward shell will be simple resilience. Whenever I start to get those awkward trembles in my heart I’ll do my best to just power through them. Will any of this work for me? Meh! Has it worked for you? Do you as a fellow socially awkward writer have any further advice? Believe you me, I am all ears.

So, if you notice a lull between posts or it takes me a while to respond to your comment or email or you find that you must make the first move and friend me, just know that I will forever be a socially and social media awkward writer.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

My life as an Indie Writer - What is an Indie Writer?

What is an Indie Writer?
An independent writer, or quite simply an Indie Writer, is a writer that is published but not with a traditional publishing house be it big, moderate or even minuscule. An Indie Writer is a writer that takes their stories and publishes them on their own. Perhaps they publish their work on their own website, maybe on a blog very similar to this one or elsewhere on the web. Maybe they have the skills to produce their own ebook, or maybe they produce their own physical paper copies either through a Print-on-demand type of company or the old fashioned office copier. However the Indie Writer chooses their own method to publish their work, the key point is “their own.” Some might call this self-publishing, but I feel indie sounds so much sexier. Besides, that is exactly what we are: independent. Just like the indie film maker, the indie musician, or any indie artist, Indie Writers ply our craft ourselves by the sweat of our brows. We all have a story that is so dear to our hearts that we want to share it with the world. Our story may be one that changes lives or it might just be a silly little thing to entertain, but either way the story is our very reason for being. We put more energy than we can spare into it. We risk our very sanity for it. Through things like our own marketing, promotion, and our efforts to see our work in print, electronic and/or physical, our story sucks our money up like a vampire but we gladly feed it our very soul. Writing is our blessing and it is our curse. Some days we love our writing and some days we hate it. Sometimes we even just want to say screw it all and give it up forever, but we never do. As Indie Writers we are indeed writers. Writing is what we were born to do and writing is what we shall continue to do until the day we die. We couldn’t, wouldn’t want it any other way.

That is what an Indie Writer is.