Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Merchandising! Merchandising! – Nancy Viccon 9in scale Action Figure

Nancy Viccon 9in scale Action Figure

Nancy Viccon is one of the main characters in The Quest Saga. She is the younger sister of Kain Viccon, the Grand General of the Army of the Kingdom of Arcainia. Nancy is fourteen years old and Arcainian/Chinese; her father Richard Viccon was Arcainian and her mother Hua Fang was Chinese, making Nancy and Kain half-siblings and Nancy and Hua Li blood cousins. Nancy is an adorable, fun teeny-bopper kind of gal, her cuteness balanced by the fact that she is a skilled and highly proficient fighter (how and where she honed these warrior skills at such a young age is something you'll have to find out about in The Quest Saga). As I said, she is one of if not my favorite character.

As for her action figure, I crafted this 9” scale at the same time that I did the Kain Viccon one. When I say the same time, I mean the exact same time as I went back and forth between them as I worked on both. Thus, the processes are more or less the same. Like Kain, I had wanted to make a Nancy toy for a long, long time but holding me back was the lack of a suitable core figure (a preexisting toy used as the basis for my figure). As I stated in my previous post, finding a core figure for Kain was difficult but as least I knew what I was looking for: a Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson WWE figure. For Nancy, I was completely at a loss; not sure if you know this or not but there’s not exactly an overabundance of teenaged Asian girl action figures out there, much less teenage Chinese girl action figures. Making a Nancy Viccon action figure indeed seemed to be a nigh impossible feat.

One day I was shopping at Toys ‘R’ Us; I think it might have been the same trip that yielded my Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson figure that I used for Kain Viccon. While browsing about in search of anything that might be useful to me, I stumbled upon the action figures for the Star Trek movie, J.J Abrams 1st edition. Low and behold, a Uhura figure:

I had found my Nancy core figure.

Now Uhura was played by the incredibly lovely Zoe Saldana who is neither Chinese nor a teenager; although born in Jersey, her family is originally from the Dominican Republic and she’s a year younger than me (thanks Wikipedia!). Funny thing about her toy, though: I’m not sure why, perhaps it’s the scaling down and loss of details or whatever, or something about the sculpting, but this toy actually looks preeeetty close to how I’ve envisioned Nancy. I’m not the only one, either! Everyone I’ve polled has asked roughly the same question: Where’d you find the Chinese girl doll? So, while there’s no chance Zoe Saldana could play Nancy in the film (that honor would go to Chai Wei if I ever get that winning powerball ticket), her non-Neytiri figure certainly can. Perhaps because the Star Trek line is a smaller scale, maybe 6” or 8” scale, her height is completely in scale with the Kain, Noknor, and Li figures. Funny how these things work out sometimes.

Okee, so I have this Zoe Saldana Star Trek toy. How do I turn her into Nancy Viccon? The toy was dressed in a rubber Starfleet skirt and matching shirt, although the sleeves are molded plastic. I took the skirt off because Nancy wears pants in battle and found that Uhura wears Starfleet issued panties. How do I know her underwear is official? Because there were a bunch of Star Trek emblems raised up all over it. I knew it would show up on the finished product, so prior to painting her legs and underwear blue to act as pants, I had to file down the Star Trek emblems. You read that right: I spent the better part of an afternoon rubbing Zoe Saldana’s butt with sandpaper until it was smooth. Yeah, that’s not creepy or anything.
I thought I would save some work and clay and simply paint her rubber blouse, but unfortunately I quickly found that the painted just flaked right off as soon as it dried; you can kind of see what I mean in the picture. I cut the shirt off and discovered she was wearing a sports bra, but luckily no raised Star Trek emblems this time. Hmmmm, sports bra and panties? Playmates must have anticipated the creepiness of Zoe Saldana fans (I wonder if her Gamora figures have the same problem). Even though I knew the sports bra wouldn’t be visible under Nancy’s armor, I painted it blue anyway.
Just like Kain’s armor, I molded Nancy’s breastplate (chainmail and a thin steel plate sandwiched between heavy leather) from air-dry polymer clay, Makin’s Clay. I rolled out a flat sheet, cut out the vague shape, and then molded it around Nancy’s torso and trimmed the excess.
I painted it the same cobalt blue as her pants (and Kain’s shirt and pants) to give it a dry, dusty look. Like her brother, I gave her the crest of the Kingdom of Arcainia on her chest: a white star with an eagle battling a rattlesnake atop a cactus (in case you forgot or didn’t read it, here’s Kain’s action figure description which goes into more detail about that). I gave her a turquoise scrunchie by just painting the black band keeping Uhura’s black hair in a ponytail and gave her a manicure with turquoise paint for a little extra pizzazz.
Nancy has a few accessories, though not as many as Kain; no real reason other than she simply doesn't carry as much crap around as her brother does.
Her belt is leather cut to shape and glued on. I gave her a Makin’s Clay backpack with the same button clasp as Kain’s to allow it to easily snap on and off. She has a blowpipe (blowgun), basically clay rolled into a snake and painted silver. The backpack has a small eyehook where you can put the blowpipe for storage, although in the book Nancy carries it on her belt. She can hold the blowpipe in her hand, although with limited articulation in the arms, you can’t place it to her lips. Her Rajima steel sword is completely made from Makin’s Clay, blade, hilt, and handle all formed, painted, and held together with superglue. A thick needle runs hilt to blade tip for support.
I particularly like her silver faery shield; in the book, Nancy is given this magick shield by faeries and it is completely indestructible and will move on its own to protect her. I cut a circular piece of dried Makin’s Clay and then wrapped it with aluminum foil shiny side out to give it a silver mirror surface that I don’t think photographs well but really does look cool. I lined the edge with more clay, added a pewter faery and roses that were designed for charm bracelets, and covered it all in silver paint. Fun fact: I originally had painted the edge, faery, and roses gold. Shortly after, I checked in the book (my own book that I had written, mind you) and realized that there was no gold on the shield; it was supposed to be completely silver. Woopsie-doodle! That little FU cost me some time as I had to tear the shield apart and start completely from scratch. Luckily, I was able to save and repaint the faery and roses.

I considered giving her more, but like I said there’s not a whole lot to give her. One day I’d like to make a Barbie style toy with different outfits she can wear as described in the book. All in all, I’ve very proud of my work. I really feel like Nancy’s toy came out very well, capturing the heart of the Quest Saga toyline. Like the Kain Viccon and Noknor figures, this Nancy is detailed, articulated, comes with a bunch of neat-o accessories, and is totally playable.
How fitting that my 13th post on my 39th birthday would be for my favorite character.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Are you a real writer? Use this handy-dandy checklist to find out

Let’s face it, anyone can write a book. Just like anyone can learn how to play guitar but it doesn’t automatically make you a rock star. Being a writer is as much a state of being as it is actually, you know, writing. After a close, careful study of some of literature’s greatest minds, I’ve compiled a checklist to see if you have what it takes call yourself a writer:

You drink coffee +10

You smoke +5

You drink +5

You drink a lot +10

You’re drunk right now +75 if it's Scotch, -200 if it's chardonnay 

You’ve done drugs +5

Those drugs are cocaine and/or heroin +10

Those drugs are anything other than cocaine and/or heroin -75

You own a gun +5 for each, extra +25 if you’ve taken a selfie with it

You’ve died young +5

You’ve died old +5

You’ve committed suicide +10

You’ve been married/divorced multiple times +10 for each marriage/divorce

You’re married to someone much younger than yourself +10

You’re married to someone much older than yourself +10

You married/slept with a family member (2nd cousin and higher) +45

You’ve had a homosexual experience +20 for each one

You’ve had extramarital affairs +10 for each one (prostitutes & celebrities x2)

You’re a minority -100

You’re a minority, but your penname sounds white +101

Your friends and family label you as quirky +10

Your friends and family label you as eccentric +100

Your friends and family label you as batshit insane +150,000

You’ve been in the military +10

You’ve been in a war +25

You’ve been in a mental hospital +50

You’ve lived in a different country for any amount of time +15

You write while sitting in a coffee house +10

That coffee house is Starbucks -5

That Starbucks is located in a Barnes and Noble +1

You've ever told the Starbucks barista that you’re this close to finishing your novel -150

You’re secretly bitter towards your peers +25

You’re blatantly bitter towards your peers +125

You’ve won awards for your writing +5 for each, -5 for each you’ve given yourself

Your unappreciated genius is too great for stupid awards +105

You have accused another writer/Hollywood of stealing your idea +15

You have a website +1

That website looks like it was designed in 2003 by a 5 year old +51

You’ve lived in poverty at some point +15

Your family has more money than God +15

You’ve personally squandered your family’s fortune and now live in poverty +35

You own a dog +10

You own a cat +15

That dog/cat is named after a character in a book you’ve never actually read -35

That dog/cat is named after a literary great whose works you don’t actually own -135

Your name is Stephen King +375 (x25 if it actually is)

You've actually written something longer than three pages +100

_____Your score

_____Your real score

_____Knock it off! You’re not Stephen King! He sure as hell wouldn’t be wasting his time with this crap! Do it again and be serious about it this time

Finished? Congratulations! Here are the results:

You know, if you were a real writer, you would have gotten three sentences into this drivel, scoffed, and then went back to playing solitaire for three hours straight all the while yelling at anyone that knocks on your door that they are “ruining your writing process”

Get your own exclusive preview copy of The Quest Saga, Book I: The Roots of Evil!

I am very excited to announce that I have available for FREE download an exclusive sneak-peek preview copy of The Quest Saga, Book I: The Roots of Evil! Click here to be whisked away to my webpage where you can get your download.

This exclusive free preview is not the entire manuscript. It covers about the first 140 pages of the book and includes three of the nine parts (Prologue, Part I: The Beginning, Part II: Li's Tale). It is free to download and sharing is very much encouraged! If you know a friend or family member that may also be interested in taking a look by all means please shoot them a copy.

The formats are .ePub and .pdf. .ePub is compatible with most ebook readers (B&N Nook, iPad & iPhone, Android devices, etc). .ePub is NOT (to my understanding) compatible with Amazon's Kindle; apparently they have to be special. I haven't figured out Kindle's format yet but I am working on it. The .pdf format may be compatible with Kindle (according to Wikipedia, so you know...) and it is also for those who want a copy on their computer or laptop.

If you'd like to comment, you can do so here, email me, or connect with me on Facebook and/or LinkedIn. Thanks for your support!

Monday, January 18, 2016

Merchandising! Merchandising! - Kain Viccon 9inch scale Action Figure

Kain Viccon, 9 inch scale Action Figure

This action figure is one of my favorites, this one and the Nancy Viccon 9” scale figure (coming soon!). I really feel like this action figure captures the essence of The Quest Saga and what I really want out of the toy line. It’s detailed, looks like the character I see in my head, it’s articulated with a lot of playability, and it has a ton of accessories. I can totally see myself at ten years old getting really excited to get this toy on my birthday or Christmas and making it one of my top tier toys come playtime. To be perfectly honest, I’d probably play with it now as the grown-ass man-child that I am if it were professionally made and thus wouldn’t fall to pieces if I looked at it the wrong way.
This is actually the second Kain Viccon figure I made; I also made one in a 4” scale, but I wanted to talk about this one first because it’s waaaaaaaay cooler. As I stated in my post about my 9” scale Noknor, the Scourge of Evil action figure, I am not an artist or sculptor and so I must rely on core figures (an existing toy that I mutilate in order to customize my toy). Anyone who’s been to my website as of late knows that if I ever do get The Quest Saga movie off the ground, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is my first and only pick so far to play the role of Kain Viccon and has been so for quite some time. Now, I had wanted to make a Kain toy long before this one and finding a suitable core figure is what was really holding it back; The Rock had been out of the WWF/WWE for quite some time (he’s back now, as is my understanding) and so they had more or less stopped making his action figures. I was able to find a couple of older figures on Ebay and Amazon’s version of Ebay, but nowhere near prices that I could possibly justify spending on my shoestring budget. As luck would have it, I finally found this one at Target (and later another one at Toys ‘R’ Us).
This “The Rock” action figure is from Mattel’s WWE Defining Moments line, reasonably priced (at the time) in the $15- $20 range (I just did a search and found it available, as of press time, from an Amazon dealer for…$250! CRAP IN A HAT!!!). This The Rock figure was perfect for me with its high detail and articulation. Extremely high resell value aside, this wrestling figure is actually pretty cool. It comes with a microphone, a stylish pair of sunglasses, a real cloth shirt and pants, and a faux leather jacket. I certainly don't feel it's $250 cool, but neat for any wrestle fan nonetheless.
Alright, getting into the actual construction of my Kain Viccon 9inch scale action figure. As I didn’t need the clothes he came with for this particular project, I stripped The Rock down to his wrasslin’ Speedo and got to work…hmmmm, if you arrived at this post due to a…shall we say, questionable Google search, all I have to say is: Howdy! Here’s a picture!
First, I painted his Speedo and legs blue to act as pants; I use acrylic paint because it’s easy to clean with water.
I then gave him an armored breastplate of air-dry polymer clay (the same Makin’s Clay brand discussed in the Noknor action figure post). Basically, I flattened the clay out with a roller, cut it to vague shape, and then molded it onto The Rock’s (hereafter referred to as Kain as I believe this was the true point of transition) torso. A little trimming and it was ready to let dry overnight.
Kinda looks like he’s wearing a white-beater shirt, ne? Just needs a cigarette and a beer.

It was only after the clay was firmly dried in place that I realized that I had allowed my impatience to screw me over again as I had forgotten to give Kain a shirt under the breastplate. I had planned to paint his torso and arms the same color as his pants (in the book the uniform of an Arcainian knight is described as dark blue heavy leather pants and shirt). No biggie, I just painted the arm, neckline and any other part of the torso that was exposed; any paint that spilled over onto the breastplate would be covered up with a later paint application. For Kain’s shirt and pants I used a regular matte paint, cobalt blue; when dry it has a grainy, leathery look. For anything that was supposed to be steel (breastplate, shield, etc.) I used a dark blue gloss paint that has a shiny, metallic look when dry.

For Kain’s shoulder guards, arm guards, and shin/knee guards I rolled out a large flat piece of clay and let it dry. Then sketched out the desired pieces and traced them onto the clay before cutting them out with a scalpel. I painted each piece (everything takes at least three coats) the same glossy dark blue as the breastplate and added some flourishes with glossy pewter grey; I used the glossy pewter for the steel toes of his boots, also. Once everything was dry and ready, I simply super-glued them all in place. The super-glue I use is a control gel.
This one! It’s much easier to work with than the liquid variety since it doesn’t run all over the place like water. I highly recommend it for projects like this.

Woo-hoo! Accessories time! Everyone knows that the best toys come with a lot of little toys to complete the figure (translation: the more crap a toy comes with the better it seems. Remember back to when you were a kid and getting a lot of shitty things was always better than one awesome thing).
We’ll start with the shield, simply cut out from a sheet of dry clay. I painted it glossy blue with glossy pewter edging. I emblazed it with the crest of the Kingdom of Arcainia (also found on Kain’s breastplate): a brown eagle fighting a rattlesnake atop a cactus. I lifted this right off the flag of Mexico as yet another (not so) subtle nod to my own Mexican heritage and the possibility that Arcainia may or may not be an alternate universe Aztec empire where they actually managed to get out of the Stone Age like the rest of the world. The white star comes from one of the original flags of the Republic of Texas/current flag of the City of Houston.
Kain’s removable helmet is described as being in the shape of an eagle’s head (see possible Aztec connection reference not two sentences ago). I got a bald eagle PVC statue thingie from Michaels hobby and craft store (although these PVC things can be found everywhere). You know, there is something to be said about one’s subconscious patriotism because I’ve destroyed a lot of toys in my day (some for art, others for fun), but this was the first time I actually felt bad as I looked at that decapitated eagle head. Three or four coats of glossy dark blue paint, glossy pewter touches, and some polymer clay to even out the back and sides and my conscience was good to go.
Originally, I had planned to make all of Kain’s weapons as described in the book: dagger, broadsword, bow & arrows, etc. I never did for time and patience reasons, but I did make the Elemental Sword and the Glok. The Elemental Sword is a magickal faery sword given to Kain by the Ladys of the Elements to fight the evil warlock Noknor. It’s described as having a crystal blade, silver hilt, and golden handle and it can do all sorts of fun stuff like throw fireballs, turn enemies to stone, call up a windstorm, basically anything having to do with the four elements: Earth, Air, Fire, and Water. For the blade, I cut it out from the plastic blister that the WWE Rock figure came in. The hilt was handcrafted from polymer clay and painted silver. For the handle, I used The Rock’s microphone since it was tailor-made to fit in the figure’s hand, painting it gold. A little control-gel super-glue holds it all together. In the book, a dwarf gives Kain a weapon he calls a glok, essentially a flintlock gun. The dwarf word “glok” first meant thunder but came to mean any loud, explosive sound; it is also a very colorful explicative, a dwarven F-bomb if you will. I actually used a scale model gun for it, a MG34 (the German machinegun of choice during WWI and WWII until it was superseded by the MG42). I used the butt of the MG34 for the glok’s butt and the MG34’s bolt for the glok barrel. Polymer clay filled out the stock and the MG34 leaf-sight became the glok’s firing mechanism. The glok does fit perfectly in Kain’s hand, although the limited articulation makes it awkward to point. Still, awesome fun.
Kain’s belt is real leather cut to size, painted black, and super-glued in place. His cloak is just a scrap of denim painted the right shade of blue; the paint made it pretty stiff. There is a button clasp on the cloak and on the figure’s back to facilitate the removable aspect of the cloak. Kain’s backpack was entirely molded with polymer clay and the same button snap-clasp makes it removable from Kain’s back. The backpack and glok again share the snap-clasp feature so that the glok can pop on and off for storage (the weight of the glok does cause the backpack to list slightly to the right, but meh!).
And that is how I made my 9" scale Grand General Viccon action figure from

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Merchandising! Merchandising! -Noknor Action Figure - The Box

Noknor, the Scourge of Evil

Mint in Box, Part II

When I first set about making my first action figure (9” Noknor, the Scourge of Evil from The Quest Saga, Book I: The Roots of Evil) I didn’t really intend it to go much further than the figure itself. I had a lot of fun making Noknor and I had a bunch of ideas for other figures like Kain and Nancy, but at that point I really wasn’t thinking along the lines of marketing. I was just making the toys for my own personal amusement. Well, I got to thinking about it and eventually thought that it indeed would be a good marketing strategy (or at least a fun one if nothing else), an icebreaker of sorts to get people more interested in the book. What really got me thinking about the box/card wasn’t marketing, however. No, it was because I figured it would be a good idea to have something to keep the toy in to protect it. These custom figures are pretty fragile, after all. That idea eventually evolved into making a mock box to look like something you might find on store shelves at Toys ‘R’ Us (sorry, I don’t have the Russian text for the backward R).
Like the figure itself, I needed a preexisting box to mutilate for my needs. I began looking around at what I had (I have a HUGE collection of toys and other assorted collectable junk). I needed a box big enough for the figure and something I didn’t mind messing up. I finally settled on a box from the action figure line of American McGee’s Alice video game.
The Alice box was perfect. It was the right size, the blister was large and really showed off the contents within, and I had a bunch of them lying around. Alice in Wonderland is one of my obsessions and AM’s Alice was right up my alley what with the spookiness and wonderful weirdness of it all. When the figures were released I bought several, all Alice in different variations (Goth Alice, Extra Bloody Alice, and so forth). What I’m basically saying is that I had a lot of Alice figures and didn’t mind sacrificing one for my project. Actually, I sacrificed two, screwing up royally on one but you know, meh!
One thing I learned right away was that I had to give the box several primer coats of white to cover the Alice box art (it showed through even the darkest colored paint). I outlined the edges in metallic gold paint to give it some pizzazz and looking at it now it looks sloppy; I wish I had used an edger to even the lines or gone with gold sticker decals but I was excited and impatient. I chose the blue color because it’s the color of the first book’s cover and the official color of the Kingdom of Arcainia (I would go on to use this shade of blue for Kain and Nancy’s outfits).

The box art are all stickers made in a combination of MSPaint and PrintShop; I made them on computer then printed them out on a large mailing label sheet. When I originally designed the box, all the stickers were a lot smaller. No real reason, I just didn’t give it any thought. My brother Mike suggested that I make the stickers as large as possible so that they would cover up as much empty space as possible. It was great advice as the bigger stickers really went a long way in helping them to stand out and make the box pop as a whole, so major props to my bro Mike on that one.
The front features sticker of the Quest Saga emblem and one with the figure’s name. The inside backing (the black and blood red stones) was also made in PrintShop and holds Noknor’s staff with twist ties.
One side of the box lists the accessories that come with the figure as is common on toy boxes of this nature:

While the other side lists an “Also Available” sticker, again common on toys of this nature:
At the time I made this box, I had no other figures made or even in production and so this was more or less just a way of making the box more realistic. As of press time of this post, all of the “Also Available” figures have now been constructed with the exception of Uni, Nancy’s unicorn.
The back of the box gives a brief bio of Noknor. I really like how this one came out, especially Noknor’s face peeking out of the darkness; this was done in the ol’ MSPaint/PrintShop combo. The back also features a description of The Quest Saga, Book I: The Roots of Evil. It’s lifted right off the back cover of the book.
The bottom of the box is typically where you find all the legal mumbo-jumbo. I decided to incorporate a few of my own in-jokes, most notably the “Made in Arcainia” sticker.
For the UPC barcode, I just grabbed one at random and have absolutely no recollection where it came from (possibly the Alice figure), so if you scan it I have no idea what will happen. The numbers and letters all have a specific hidden meaning that should be pretty simple to decipher.

So far this is the only box I have made for any of my figures. I’m planning on doing others, for my own amusement and for the marketing aspect. In that regard, it works great. I’ve had this one displayed at a few book signings I’ve done and I always get a lot of compliments, my favorite being where someone can find it. Sorry, but this is a one of a kind. Noknor not for any price.
For now.