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I kinda felt like a superhero today. I didn't actually do anything, so I'm not sure why I felt that way. (Yesterday, I felt bad because I had to tell someone her dog couldn't be on the beach. Never in a million years would I want to do law enforcement. It breaks my heart to bear bad news.)

But today, I donned the uniform, becoming my alter ego, Ranger Vickie, and then I had the distinct privilege of taking an active part in three people's happiness.

I had no takers for my morning tour, so I stood near the museum entrance and greeted people who passed by, answered questions, and provided small talk (oddly, Ranger Vickie is good at small talk, the kryptonite of non-ranger me). As I was preparing to return to the office to continue work on a project, an older lady sat on the bench. I greeted her, and we talked. More accurately, she talked. She told me about her day, the long walk, the beach, disrespectful beachgoers, her home in Phoebus, how she likes the museum exhibits, her arthritis, everything she's read in the news... She talked. I listened. For 15 minutes, I was a set of ears under a campaign hat. So, I did nothing, but she was happy, I think. I left only after she went into the museum and I bid her a nice day.

I lost a good chunk of time after that trying to make friends with my work computer, which refuses to acknowledge me as its master. After an hour and a half, the IT specialist concluded that laptop has to make a trip to meet him in person (in Philly).

With only a short time left, I headed out for my beach patrol. I met a lady in the picnic area near the beach. She had some questions about picnicking. Then she pointed out two of the picnic tables badly broken and splintering and said something should be done about them. I agreed, wrote a reminder on the notepad I carry in my pocket, and took photos with my phone. I told her I would notify my supervisor and see that it's handled. As I walked on, I got on the Google Share drive and added the tables to the agenda for tomorrow's meeting. Again, I did essentially nothing at this encounter (something will get done about it, though), but I had the feeling that her visit was better because a ranger was there.

The final incident brightened my entire week and the details falling in place were somewhat unlikely. Continuing along the boardwalk, I saw a swimsuit-clad women searching through beach grasses. It seemed odd. Non-ranger me would mind her business, but Ranger Vickie asked if she was looking for something. She lost her car key. It had fallen off the keychain without her notice, likely when she arrived two hours ago. My heart sank. She seemed so lost and disheartened. She hadn't gone far from her car and had checked and rechecked every blade of grass, every grain of sand. My inner voice was feeling the loss, how hopeless, but Ranger Vickie said, "Another set of eyes might help. We'll retrace your steps together." I climbed over the barrier to the beach (my knee not at all complaining thanks to the hinged brace I bought). We looked together. I guess we probably both knew we wouldn't find it, but I figured in her place, I'd be happy someone cared.

While looking with her (and going past the time I planned to be out on the boardwalk), a man came over to talk to me. He was the assistant director of the YMCA (I hadn't noticed we were close to one of the buildings). He had a message to pass along to my boss, the superintendent, so I took the message down in my notebook. He then asked what we were doing and helped us look. He decided to check inside the building in case someone had found them and turned them in. A few minutes later, he returned, key fob in hand. Happiness and relief overcame the lady, and she gave me a hug. I had done nothing. But she was happy. I was happy. I had offered help when I knew it was useless, and I was glad for it. Even if it hadn't turned out as it did.

Today was a good day. Today, my uniform brought joy.

  • Drinking: coke
It's that time of year again -- when I feel the crushing fear of uncertain futures, hoping to hear from potential employers for the next summer season. A changed administration brings greater uncertainty. No telling if continuing in park service is even in the cards. I had been envisioning advancing toward a permanent NPS ranger career. But this seasonal stuff takes a toll on the nerves, and permanent positions might become nearly non-existent (as they were in state parks). I've had some small (but greatly appreciated) access to healthcare for two years. Now, uncertainty returns. 
I added a dog (my first ever) to my little one-person family, so he depends on me finding income and stability too. I don't know how much longer I can handle seasonal work. Stability, insurance, certainty... seem like unattainable dreams. 
Expanding my job hunt. Putting together contingency plans. Once again submitting applications to places I gave up on after years of being ignored (my resume is more robust now; I try to rebuild hope and confidence that was torn down long ago). By early spring, I hope to know if I'll don the campaign hat for another season or if it will be shelved. I've been a park ranger for 8 years (state then NPS). It fit me well, but perhaps it was just a chapter in my life. Time will tell.
(Political comments will be deleted. I'm stressed and don't have the patience for that crap.)
  • Drinking: coke

I'll be celebrating the 10th anniversary of Used Books on February 23, 2017. Currently brainstorming ideas for how to celebrate because two months during holidays isn't much time at all.

I was considering a Q&A (for me or characters) or taking on a fan script of a couple pages, but that requires reader/follower/fan participation, and I can't see that happening. ;^_^

I could make a new cast picture and slap it on some merch for fun. That would take the most time and effort on my end. I'd also need to figure out which characters to include (or to make multiple pictures featuring different sets).

My other thought was to showcase the guest art I've received over the years. It's pretty heavily weighted on the early years (a "golden age" at DrunkDuck), though. However, it would give me flexibility for reader/fan participation if anyone actually wants to contribute to anniversary celebration.

Any thoughts?

  • Drinking: water
From  The Narrative OC MEME 2I. Choose up to five (5) of your favorite original story characters that will embark in this role-play. If you don't have five (5) then leave them blank (or create a character on the spot!) Be sure to give a little description of them:
II. Asleep, Character Two  or Character Four  are dreaming of their most pleasant childhood memory. What is it about?
III. However, Character Five continues to toss and turn, haunted by their childhood nightmare! What scared them as a child?
IV. Character Two finds a diary with Character Four name on it. They eagerly read a random page to themselves. What does the entry say?
V. Character Three is severely poisoned and is slowly dying. Explain how it happened and if they survive.
VI. A gang of bullies are picking on Character Four. Character Two or Character Five come to their aid but they both get beat up. Why is that?
VII. A character of your choice is just learning how

I. Choose up to five (5) of your favorite original story characters that will embark in this role-play. If you don't have five (5) then leave them blank (or create a character on the spot!) Be sure to give a little description of them:
1. Seiko

2. Kaida

3. Tristan

4. Yuki

5. Mike

II. Asleep, Character Two  or Character Four  are dreaming of their most pleasant childhood memory. What is it about?

Kaida would be dreaming about learning to shoot with her dad. Yuki would dream about playing in the backyard with Brad.

III. However, Character Five continues to toss and turn, haunted by their childhood nightmare! What scared them as a child?

Everything? He got bounced around in the foster system and probably was most afraid of getting sent back to a group home.

IV. Character Two finds a diary with Character Four name on it. They eagerly read a random page to themselves. What does the entry say? 

"... I hate to disappoint my parents, but it's getting hard to keep a job. They'd disapprove of "shacking up" even if it was completely innocent. I don't think there's anything *morally* wrong with sharing rent with someone you aren't related or married to. I'm afraid Dad would disagree. Never mind that he has never gotten along with Brad, which is weird. Maybe it's because Brad takes nothing seriously. Dad says he's lazy and unskilled, but he could definitely beat my dad in a karate match. He can take me every time..."

V. Character Three is severely poisoned and is slowly dying. Explain how it happened and if they survive.

The most likely cause would be his electricity got cut off and he ate spoiled food. He'd probably lay in bed and do nothing until his friends got concerned about not seeing him in a while. Then they'd check in and force him to go to the hospital.

VI. A gang of bullies are picking on Character FourCharacter Two or Character Five come to their aid but they both get beat up. Why is that?

Ahahaha. Of course they would. Anyone who can beat up Yuki can beat up anyone. Although Kaida would have to either be unarmed (very unlikely) or psyched out (like it was someone who intimidates her -- Raidon or Valentine) or someone she wouldn't want to hurt. If it's Mike, then it's a no-brainer. Mike gets beat up.

VII. A character of your choice is just learning how to control their powers/gifts.

Tristan, I guess. He's got plenty of talents but is amazingly clumsy with them.He has some pretty brilliant moments at times.

VIII. In an alternate universe, there exists an opposite version of Character OneCharacter Three, and Character Five. Pick one and explain their looks and personality.

Opposite Seiko is tall and glamorous. She dresses sexy and is super mean to everyone she meets. 

IX. Character Three tries to make Character Four their apprentice. They soon discover that teaching them ends with failure. Why is that? 

Yuki could never be a cat burglar. The neon pink body suit would give her away every time.

X. In a cave or woods, Character Two or Character Five are passing the time by training. Give detail on their skills.

I'll say Kaida because I can't picture Mike training for anything. Kaida's only skill is shooting, so she's have targets placed and be practicing with different firearms.

XI. All of the Characters decide to either sit at the beach or take a long drive in a jeep. Does this little trip go smoothly? Give details.

Five people in a jeep? Uh, no. Let's go to the beach. Kaida wears long sleeves and pants and a big sunhat. She sits under a shade umbrella and reads. She gets annoyed if anyone tries to talk to her. Tristan surfs a little (one of the random hobbies he picked up in his youth) and then walks the beach looking for shells or tide pools with Seiko. Yuki flirts with lifeguards and swims some. Mike would not go near the water. He might sit with Kaida for a while until she gets annoyed by her lack of solitude and then take a walk. Unfortunately, since he is Mike, he'd likely run into some emergency situation or a crime-in-progress on his walk. He'd probably be able to help out but would definitely end up limping back and declaring it's time to go home.

XII. Character Two is finally dead and is sent to either heaven or hell. Where do they end up? Why?

Probably hell unless her brother convinces her to return to a faith. 

XIII. Character Five decides to make breakfast for Character One. What did they make? Is Character One satisfied?

Mike makes Pop Tarts. It's the only thing he has on hand. But he tried to plate and present them nicely, so Seiko would genuinely appreciate the effort.

XIV. Character Three and Character Four  decide to become bandits and rob people as they head into the forest. They happen to rob Character One. Do they succeed?

No. But it's a really funny scene. I can picture Yuki in her pink bandit mask and accidentally tripping Tristan. He might recover and seem intimidating for a moment, but if he actually scared anyone, he would feel really bad and apologize profusely.

XV. All of the Characters have fallen into the past and are now children once again. They are playing hide-and-go-seek. What child is doing the seeking? Where are the children hiding? Why can't they find the last child?

Mike is seeking because he lost the draw. He feels very uncomfortable about being alone and is on the verge of tears the entire time. Yuki is the worst hider because she's giggling and keeps changing spots. She ends up accidentally giving the others away. Seiko is hardest to find because she's small and pretty good at climbing trees.

XVI. In an alternate universe, Character One happens to be the servant of  A character of your choice. What must they do?

I pictured Seiko as Yuki's personal butler, and that image turned all Batman on me with Yuki in a big house where she is Super Yuki by night and really sucks at the secret identity since her costume says "Yuki" on it. Seiko does all the usual butler things like answering her pink phone, managing finances, laundering her pink tights, etc.

XVII. Its almost valentines days, A random character gives a gift to A character of your choice. What did they give them? Are they grateful?

Uh, maybe Mike would give a Valentine's gift to Kaida. He has a strange respect (formerly/partially fear?) for her and wouldn't want her to feel left out. He'd probably give her a bottle of wine (or harder liquor) and a new book.

XVIII. Before we go, all of your characters want to take a moment to give you (their creator) some "light" criticism on the stories that feature them. 
Seiko admits that she's the opposite of tall but doesn't think she's the *opposite* of glamorous. She also starts to wonder whether opposite Seiko would be male and then wonders if the opposite of female is actually genderless and then starts to wonder if there is an "opposite" of human and if opposite-Seiko would be made of anti-matter...

Kaida disagrees with the entire premise of scenario XII because she believes in neither heaven nor hell. She's 99% sure when she dies, she will end up as detritus. She objects to the phrase "Kaida's only skill" but when asked to name another skill, she says "sarcasm."
Tristan is a little upset that I don't think he could be a bandit, but he totally couldn't be a bandit. He didn't know I was aware that he could surf, since it hasn't happened in the canon yet. He also says he wouldn't eat spoiled food but doesn't know anyone who would poison him. 
Yuki approves of the pinkness of all of her scenarios. She believes Super Yuki is the hero this city both needs and wants. She's not sure cities 'deserve' things.
Mike is grumbling about how mean I am to him all the time and of course he'd get hurt in all his scenarios. He would definitely get Kaida hard liquor for Valentine's Day and hope to share it with her.
  • Drinking: water

My writing is strongly character-driven. I love well-developed characters with all their nuances and details that make them feel real. I love writing new characters. I love imagining the lives of minor characters and even extras. Sometimes, I find myself remembering old writing tips I read 20+ years ago about how to present characters in fiction and what lends itself to the character as a whole.


As I recall, the tools used to show the nature of a character include the following:

~Physical description

~Their actions

~Their speech (how and what they say)

~How others interact with them

~How others view/describe them


It’s all pretty intuitive and basic, but it helps me to remember to show these things with any new character. In the medium of comics or graphic novels, I actually expand on that. I am a fan of anime, and I notice a fascination with cars and vehicles. It seems like in the manga/anime medium, cars are used as an extension of a character. How a character drives and what kind of car they have is part of the whole characterization. The same is true of their power or weapon. In other words, objects associated with a character become a symbol of the character and part of their personality. Expanding on what I vaguely recall learning about character development in school, I add

~Vehicle (or mode of travel)



~Pets (and/or how they interact with animals)

~Weapon/tool of choice

~Significant jewelry or charm



When working with an artistic medium, it helps to have these objects as “character amplifiers.” Working together, the designs can help provide a visual expression for intangible personality traits. A character who presents himself one way might belie a hidden “true” nature through the things he likes or surrounds himself with -- or the objects might simply confirm what we already perceive from other details.


Examples from my own work:

~Yuki’s pink motorcycle emblazoned with her name pretty much exemplifies her character. Her weapon of choice is martial arts.

~Kaida’s multiple concealed weapons, formless wardrobe, and sunglasses show her fear. Her love of books, cats, and antiques shows her desire for a quiet life.

~Seiko’s hobbies of chess and violin show her cultured upbringing. She refuses to carry a weapon, even pepper spray.

~Raidon’s dog is extremely loyal and obedient, an analogue of his “subordinates” proof of his leadership and the blurred line between affection and ownership.

  • Drinking: water
Hibernation is over, and it's time to be employed again! I love Petersburg and miss it dearly, but there's only lower pay grade positions and a short season available. I was so torn by that and stressing so much over my 2016 job prospects.
Anyway, today I was offered a position at Assateague Island, and I accepted. It sounds like good solid education and interpretation, a long season starting early, and a good pay grade. I'll finally be able to get back to my biology/ecology roots. My education and career have never completely synced up, but I have enjoyed learning about the Civil War in the meantime. 
  • Drinking: water
I had a vivid dream last night. It was kinda action-y, just a lot of strong emotion, which sticks out in dreams. Here it is:

It was set in a big building. Lots of rooms and corridors. There were just as many corridors and paths outside, ike a complex garden and parking area. Inside, there were some adults, but I was a school-age individual (middle or high school), and most of the rest of us were. The adults were armed, like military weapons. Some of the kids were too. And some were armed with handguns and more personal defense weapons or even hunting rifles. It may have been a quarter or a third, most were unarmed like me. It didn't seem like anything bad was happening, but some of the adults suddenly got nervous, and started moving us to other rooms. We weren't really being herded. We could go where we wanted, but most listened to the adults or the other kids who were listening to them. They were our teachers or older students, friends, and we all knew they wanted to protect us, but I started exploring the building on my own. Maybe halfway through the dream, I started becoming scared of these people. I was afraid of their nervousness. Then I heard a shot outside. Then one inside near where I was. I froze and showed my hands, and a few other kids near me did too. We were told there were enemies outside, that they were trying to get in, and some had gotten in.

I found myself desperately wanting to get away from the adults and the armed kids inside, to find a place in the building that was safer. I managed to sneak away from them. (They were trying to take stock of everyone, to make sure they were safe and maybe weed out who was an intruder.) I made my way downstairs to a place with glass doors and a lot of windows. I wanted to see outside. I did so from behind a desk. Outside, I saw kids and teachers, as armed as we were and looking just as nervous. They were the same as us, the same ages, mixed genders and races. I recognized them as kids from other classrooms, other teachers, but the same school. Because the school had separate classrooms, they were not students my classmates would know, but I knew them from extracurricular things, and from the bus stop. Suddenly, somehow, I knew exactly what was happening, every single detail (in a way that happens only in dreams), and I had to talk to them. 

Many started firing when they saw my movement inside. I cried out not to shoot, that I was unarmed. I also knew the armed people inside would have heard it and started responding. They stopped for a moment and I came out. They still had weapons raised, and I was terrified. Not that they were the enemy but that they were scared people with guns, same as the ones inside. I said, "You know me. I'm the weird girl with the rats." They asked if I was okay and if the bad guys had hurt me. I told them there weren't any bad guys in the building, just scared people with guns who thought there were bad guys OUTSIDE.

In the dream, just as I started waking, I expositioned the hell out of the situation. Someone, some unseen person or maybe just luck and circumstances, had divided the school based on arbitrary demographics. Inside, we were told or made to believe there were enemies outside, that they wanted inside and they wanted to kill us. We were told they had a few hostages (in case we should happen to recognize someone or meet a nice outsider and talk to him) but that we needed to protect our group inside. The people outside were told the same thing about us. Whoever initiated the sick game was not present (of course he/she wouldn't place himself in the middle of a potential firefight). Neither the adults nor the kids knew what was going on. 

That concludes this entry into the dream journal aka "what my brain does when left to its own devices." :P
  • Drinking: water
A few days ago, my webcomic site stopped working after a WordPress update. A friend talked me through getting it fixed (and made back-ups for me), and since I was working on it anyway, I decided to go a little beyond and add/change a few things.
For anyone who saw my old site, it is similar, but let me go through the changes: 
  • The music player was moved to the top of the site.
  • There are social media icons to the left of the blog entries now with multiple share/like/subscribe options.
  • There is a dropdown list of pages under the comic, so you can easily jump to any page.
  • I uploaded ALL of my old black and white archives. Because incorporating them into the blog format would be a nightmare, I set up a little archive section with simple slideshows.
  • I tagged characters and locations on EVERY (color) page. It took five hours. These tags are also incorporated into the character bios, so you can click a name and view all the pages containing that character. (I hope it helps when a character appears that you need to remember the arcs for.)
  • Page links are easier and more intuitive now, using the page number or image name. (The old links still work too!)

If you're curious about my webcomic but haven't read any of it yet, I hope these tools can help you out. I know the 1260-some pages are intimidating. (My site also has categorized character bios, and sectional summaries.)
  • Drinking: water

2015 accomplishments:

I got my first GS 05 job in a park where I wanted to work. I bred and raised the best generation of pet rats, mostly rexes, and I adopted out over half of them. I was certified in CPR. I traveled out of the country and spoke a *little* Spanish. I went to my first (and probably last) bar and nightclub where I had small conversations with strangers. I went to my first concert. I didn't have to go to the doctor (had horrific flu, but I managed).

2016 goals:

Health Goals: Maintain weight at a level for my clothes to fit and to sleep properly. Also, manage my knee pain.

Career Goals: Realistically, I'd like a GS 05 seasonal position in VA. My lofty goal is a permanent 05 - 09 position in the northeast. Or a permanent position in a private museum or zoo.

Creative Goals: Finish and print my third full-color graphic novel (it's so close to completion).

Breeding/husbandry Goals: A higher percentage of rats living 30+ months. Continue development of the "stocky" form. No skittishness or aggression in my rodent clan.

Social goals: Go out to a social event. Talk to someone you don't know who isn't a coworker. Make a friend. You can do it, Vickie! I believe in you!

  • Drinking: water
I will probably delete this due to my horrible aversion to upsetting people, but I need to get some thoughts out through blog therapy.

I will preface this again by letting you know I am a Christian. It is hard to claim the label these days since many of the people whose philosophies I disagree with most also identify themselves as such in a much louder way. As much as labels are terrible and apply a slew of assumptions (I'm sure greatly suffered by my gun supporter liberal friends and my civil rights activist conservative friends), I'll tell you I am a liberal and a scientist as well.
Anyway, a thought has been making itself more prevalent in my mind the last few days and insisting I get it out in words. That thought is that we in the Judeo-Islamic-Christian faith(s?) are worshiping different gods. It is odd to write that since I have always thought otherwise, but it is not what it seems. These different gods are not defined by religious lines. No, this line is drawn within each faith. It occurs to me that the fundamentalists, the haters, the "God hates fags" and "Death to infidels" worship their god. A god of wrath and hatred. A god who will not tolerate anyone not of faith and hates his own creation. These are the people who will kill in God's name -- whichever name they call him -- and want a world ruled by morality police under the religious laws of their interpretation. It seems to me, this is the same god, this god of labels who wants bloody and fear and is pitting his followers against his followers because he is fueled by war. I wonder if this war-fueled god may reside in the underworld, because the God I have placed my faith in is not this god. The God I believe in, known to me by God and others by other names, is the one who instructed us to love each other, to be charitable, and to forgive. This God loves all of His creation, all of us flawed but loved, and asks us to do the same. I feel that people who identify this God by other names are more my kin than those who call themselves Christians under their god of war. And I believe all people of any faith, beliefs, disbeliefs, and at any point of religious journey are my brothers and sisters. I wish all of you peace (regardless of what you wish for me).

That's really all I have to say. My heart aches for this world and all the people in it. May you find peace and love and respite from sadness, anger, fear, and pain.
  • Drinking: water

I am really bad at cover art. I am brainstorming. The problem with one person brainstorming is that you get hung up on an idea and start thinking only on that one line, so a much better idea never surfaces. Anyway, I'm open to suggestions! Please help me find other angles!

My next book will be printed following this arc. It will contain chapters 100 - 114(ish), encompassing these arcs: 
~Brandon's death
~Mike accused of murder
~Valentine's intro
~Campus bomber
~Diaries/Ski resort*

The last arc takes up over half of the book. The title is "Meltdown"

These are my previous book covers:
Used Books Execution Cover by usedbooks UB Campaign Cover by usedbooks The Masquerade Cover Art by usedbooks

I'm not sure what I want for this one, though. I think I can do better than "plain cover with some characters on it." (If I do that, I still need to decide which characters.)

Anyway, please tell me any images that come to your mind when visualizing this book cover.

  • Drinking: water
Just for fun, I figured I'd share some of what ends on the proverbial cutting room floor. I lose some decent dialogue for the sake of flow/pacing sometimes. Here's some script: 


A: Any ideas?

M: Call someone to unlock the lodge and let us in.

A: I tried already. I can’t get through. I think the ice broke the lines or something.

M: What about cell phones?

M: You haven’t spent much time in the mountains, have you?

C: You two are hopeless.

A: Caroline? Have you been following us?

M: What do you know about this?

C: That you need all the help you can get.

A: Come on, Mike, we’re losing time.

C: And you don’t have a plan.

A: You don’t even know –

C: Those creeps took Seiko at gunpoint and are ransoming her in exchange for the diaries Carter wrote, which are probably tied to his former employment under some kind of gangster considering he left them to Kaida in his will, and she clearly has a whole army of skeletons in her closet. And they’ve given you until sunrise to get them, probably to prevent you from being able to summon help in this storm or it might have something to do with Kaida not being around.

(M & A mouth hanging open.)

C: I’m not an idiot, you know. Thank God ONE of us isn’t. Do you have a plan?

A: Of course. I mean, we can—

C: And what about after you get the books?

M: We trade them for Seiko!

C: Oh? Just like that? You think they’ll honor that deal? For Seiko’s sake, I’ll aid you in steering this trainwreck.

A: Caroline, this is dangerous, we can’t let you get involved in this.

C: That’s sweet. But I wasn’t suggesting me doing any actual legwork. Just lending a few functional brain cells.

M: We still haven’t heard your plan.

C: Step one is to enlist help.

A: They said –

C: No cops? Tell no one? Of course they did. They don’t want to get arrested. But they also want the books, and we need help to get them. I think the next door neighbor is some kind of cat burglar. She can help.

M: Cat burglar? Ashley’s not – At least, I don’t think—

C: No. You don’t.


That became these:
UB Page 1210 by usedbooks  UB Page 1211 by usedbooks


(Conrad answers door.)

Conrad: What are you doing here? It could be dangerous.

Mike: Tell us about it. Your friends across the lake kidnapped Seiko.

Ashley: What? Why?? We have to go save her!

Mike: They weren’t after you at all. They want some old books.

Caroline: Our family chef used to work for a mob boss or something. They want his journals.

Conrad: Any reason not to give the books to them?

Alex: Ricky left them in the lodge. It’s locked.

Caroline: We figured since you looked like shady people, you could help us break in.

Ashley (grabbing coat): Absolutely. Piece of cake.

Conrad: I forbid it! You can’t go out there! Gibson—

Ashley: Isn’t after me. You heard them. There’s no reason they’d be suspicious of me.

Conrad: I can’t let you get involved in this, Ashley.

Ashley (pulls him aside): Please let me help. I owe her.


Conrad: Okay. Here’s what we’ll do. The older gentleman knows me – or knew me, so I can’t help you. I have to… stay dead, you see. I will go to your cabin under a pretense to guard your family.

Conrad: Ashley will help with your break-in and return immediately.

Caroline: Could she help set up the exchange? I have a plan, but it needs mechanical skills and these boys don’t have ‘em.

Conrad: As long as she’s safe with me before you contact the kidnappers.

Alex: And Caroline stays with you in the cabin.

Ashley (collecting soot beside her lockpick kit): Tell me the details of your plan before we set out.

Caroline: Fine. I’ll draw a diagram. Can I have a gun?

Conrad: Cute. She’s cute. Reminds me of my own.


Which became this:
UB Page 1212 by usedbooks UB Page 1213 by usedbooks


G: I don’t trust either of those greenhorns as far as I can throw them.

S: I won’t run away.

G: It’s them I don’t trust. Cass wants to shoot something. She’ll say you ran.

S: Oh.

G: You keep holding your side. Do you have asthma or something?

S: Cracked rib. I was in a house fire.

G: Is that how you hurt your neck? The bruises.

S: That was from a… robbery. At work.

G: Shit. And I noticed that piece out of your ear. That’s an old injury. Are you in the CIA or something?

S: A spy? I look like a spy?

G: Spies aren’t supposed to look like spies.

S: I’m an adjunct professor and part-time store clerk.

G: Yeah right.

G: Your name’s Toriumi, right?

S: Yeah. Why?

G: Do you know a Mickey Toriumi?

S: The name’s not familiar.

G: Oh? You resemble her.

S: Wait. Do you mean Misaki? She was my mother.

G: Ah. That explains a few things.

S: You knew my mother?

G: I came across her a few times. Bright lady. Damn fine shot.

S: Did she work for the crime syndicate?

G: Against.

S: That’s why she was killed.

G: Not the best legacy, is it? You haven’t been nosing around making… uh…

S: Enemies?

G: No friends. That’s what got Mickey.

S: Making friends? That’s ridiculous.

G: That’s how I see it.


To this: 
UB Page 1222 by usedbooks  UB Page 1223 by usedbooks  UB Page 1224 by usedbooks


M: Val, there’s been a development.

V: Excellent. What have you got for me?

M: It looks like Yuki is heading for a ranger station. I need someone to distract her.

V: Distract?

M: As in NOT hurt her – too much. We can’t have her expired. It’s a… political thing.

V: Ouch. So, you think every girl who meets me ends up dead?

M: That’s not a belief. It’s an empirical fact.

V: Maybe, but I pride myself in keeping people alive. My personal record is three days.

M: If I let you… play, you promise not to get carried away? No permanent damage?

V: That’s a tall order.

M: How about no marks where they’ll show?

V: I’ll try. If she puts up a fight, I’ll have to defend myself, of course.

M: Naturally. But save your energy for an acceptable target.

V: Maybe I’ll stick around after the mission to pick up a ski bunny. All work and no play…


And this: 
UB Page 1226 by usedbooks

Fact -- None of my pages follow my scripts precisely. Also, I have anywhere between 1 and 8 versions of any given script. I add things, remove things, and reorder things constantly. I also change lines to fit characters better in the final drafts. I just thought you might get a kick out of some of the process. (Caroline and Val both talk too much, and it's very difficult to abridge them.)

  • Drinking: water
Would anyone be interested in fan art trade? 
I'm looking for art practice not in comic page format, and drawing my own characters, I get lazy and can't grow much from. Plus, I really miss fan art trades. I used to do much more of it (and my art got better much quicker thanks to that). 
If anyone is interested in trading fan art/writing/whatever, please let me know. I'd like to take on maybe one picture/project a week (not that there needs to be deadlines), so I'm up for three or four. I'm willing to venture out of comfort zones in poses, characters, settings (with understanding that I'm not a great artist, but I'll put my heart into it). I need the challenge.
P.S. My art is not good enough to do commissions. As much as I need money, I wouldn't feel right drawing for it. I'm open to trades. I'll be drawing full color for my own practice, but I'll trade for sketches, writing, an ad spot, review, whatever you think it's worth.

1. Sunukee (Mabel) - complete -  Art Trade Mabel by usedbooks
2. xXxPsychomonsterxXx (Ace) - complete -  Fanart Ace by usedbooks
3. dueeast (Allison) - complete -  Art Trade SCG Allison by usedbooks 

EDIT: Didn't take long to fill four slots. I'll open up again after I finish these. (There will be a pace, since I work 40 hours a week and have a regularly updating comic.)
  • Drinking: water
I'm a park guide at a National Battlefield, so I get to talk to lots of folks from all different parts of the country with all different ideologies and views of history. It's a great job, and I love learning people's stories. I love looking up information on people's ancestors and opening their eyes to big picture stuff. I also love being able to honor and share the stories of the dead, the personalities involved on all sides and their struggles. That said, I have a small rant.

I repeat the mantra, "The visitor is sovereign." It doesn't mean he is right; it means he is self-guided and entitled to whatever thoughts and opinions he brings with him. If you are wrong, I will inform you. I will not correct you or argue with you. I will only provide the information I have. I have no stake in your life or your cause. My job is to tell the story -- the whole story, representing every person who was involved fairly and honestly. You are free to ignore all the sides that you don't like, but I'll be telling them to you anyway.

As a postscript, yes, soldiers fight for their families, for patriotism, for duty, for the experience, for many many things. But the reason for war is money. The reasons for war are not glorious. It is wealthy people staking the lives of their poor neighbors on a competition to secure their economies. I may not tell you this directly if you came to my programs because I know you are honoring fallen ancestors, who were fighting and dying for their personal reasons. I can respect and admire that even knowing that they were ultimately victims of people in power playing economics chess games.
  • Drinking: water

Character creation and development is probably my favorite hobby.  Most of my long-running projects have been character-centered and driven and quickly grew into worlds I delighted in populating.  Once, I wanted to make a whodunit murder mystery series, but I got too attached to my minor characters to actually have victims.  This is the odd nature of my brain.


There are many kinds of fiction and many ways to make characters.  So, before I get into what I mean about “relatable,” I want to address what other types of characters fuel the worlds of fiction.


Stereotypes and archetypes: These can be fun especially in spoofs and farces (even moreso in satire) as well as a short story that has a point to make about human nature. The diabolical villain, a redneck, a religious zealot, a sassy teenager, whatever.  They have their purpose.


The Oddity/Character Study: A completely unrelatable character who is so far from what we think of as the norm, we like to get inside his weird unrelatable mind. People like Monk and Dexter or to get more classical, Sherlock Holmes and Long John Silver. These characters often are the “star” but most typically have a relatable secondary character to put them in context.


The Guy/Girl You Want to Be:  These are the characters who are too good to be real. In honesty, they are not relatable. They are better than you are. But they exist and audiences follow them because they wish they could be that.  These characters dominate action movies (early James Bond movies, for example) and older comic books. There is some movement away from these types of characters. Writers seem to be making half-assed attempts at adding relatability to their super-protagonists, but they often fail by just tacking on a character “fault” and calling it a day.


That brings us to the relatable character. This is the person you can understand, someone you might know in real life. I could have said “realistic” character, but I think there are real people who fall out of that category.  (In fact, I have made characters based on real people that I had to change to make believable.)  The best way to explain it is through Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic works.  Sherlock Holmes, as Doyle wrote him, was not a relatable character.  The audience could be awed and curious about him, but there was no empathy there.  He was presented as someone outside the norm, whose brain did not work like ours.  This creates a gap between reader and story.  Holmes cannot present his own story, so it’s filtered through the relatable character, Watson. The audience can relate to Watson and therefore can care about him.


Here are a few guidelines for creating “realistic” or relatable characters (btw, you can also consider this a guide to writing female characters, because for some reason, the thought that females are human escapes many writers of all genders…): 


    1.       Throw away character-creation worksheets. – People are not lists of traits and statistics. General demographics are fine (age, gender, race, sexual orientation, etc.), but the long form stuff will not add up to realistic, and you’ll find that many questions are irrelevant depending on the character.

    2.       Do not think in terms of their role in your story. – Don’t create “love interest for Bob” or “Anna’s rival” or “main villain.”  Those are not people.  Create Jenny, Gus, and Dr. Nestor.  They might serve a purpose in your story, but that is not their own identity.

    3.       Do not think in terms of bad guys and good guys. – Sub-guideline to above.  Your people are people.  Most people aren’t setting out to be the hero and even fewer are going through life figuring out how to evil.

    4.       Relatable people have a sense of humor. – You want to outrage an audience? Kill off the comedy relief.  Comedy makes people relatable. Inappropriate comedy can make a character dislikable, but it also makes them real.  Comedy in bad taste that a character then feels bad about will also make him real. Use comedy. (And remember, women have senses of humor too.)

    5.       Relatable people are fallible. – Sometimes people trip. Sometimes plans fail. Sometimes you sneeze at the wrong time or fasten your bra wrong. It happens. Let your characters mess up now and then.

    6.       Relatable people are smart in some respects and stupid in others. – In other words, everyone you know knows something you don’t.  There might be a dim bulb in your cast, but if that person has a good singing voice or is a walking library of astronomy trivia, readers will connect more with her.  Likewise, your story’s over-educated super genius might know nothing about car repair or fashion. (Or maybe they are brilliant at physics and fashion but suck at history – unless it’s the history of fashion.)

    7.       Relatable people are emotional. – The most prudish person might accidentally laugh at an inappropriate joke.  The sweetest and most patient person in the world is going to get angry at some point.  Everyone wakes up some mornings and has a hate-everything day, and the hardest heart can be truly touched.

    8.       Relatable people are the center of their own worlds. – This is something to remember for your supporting cast and minor characters if you want the world to be “real.” If every single discussion between all characters is related to your main hero or villain, that’s not realistic. Humans have egos. Maybe there’s a global catastrophe going on, but Jonny Minorguy still has a broken windshield from that stupid shootout he was just too close to. He’s not going to be conversing with everyone about the secret identity of Madame Awesome or her relationships or how the invading aliens are somehow as strong as she is. He’s got a car to fix and a wife at home and a deadline at work.

    9.       Relatable people have connections and stories before your story starts. – No man is an island, as they say.  The orphaned protagonist with no friends?  How convenient! How lazy! How boring!  Protagonist living with his mom in a Star Trek trivia duel with a guy at work and living near a girl he used to go out with but was dumped because her cat didn’t like him? Much better. Don’t start your story or any character on a blank slate. It’s not realistic, not relatable, and really quite boring and lazy. Every good story starts in the middle or end of another story.

    10.   Everymans are not relatable. – You can overdo it with the vanilla. Some writers are so afraid of Mary Sues, Tropes, and over-the-tops that they deliberately try to make the most average every man for a protagonist. He’s an everyman, so the audience must connect to him, right? No. There are no average people in the world. All people are unique, quirky, brilliant, fallible, lovable, and loathable. Don’t make a character who doesn’t react to situations, has nothing amazing about him nor anything particularly dislikable. That person cannot exist, and if he does, why should we care about him? Why would we cheer for him? Why would we remember him?


I hope this gives some food for thought for anyone struggling with character creation, especially when working on supporting and secondary characters (or female characters, minorities, or whoever you think needs special rules – because they don’t).

  • Watching: Bob's Burgers
  • Eating: Take-out
  • Drinking: water
Dream narrative time... Because unconscous minds are creative too. :P

Last night I had the strangest, vivid imagery, X-files type dream. I want to write it out before it fades from memory. Starting out in the dream, my sis and I were living in rented town houses on the same block in a city. Our parents were coming to visit. I get up to go visit (my cat is also in the house), and find the stairs under a few inches of water. There's a foot of standing water on the first floor. My thought is, "Flooded again. Every time it rains." (I don't know why.) I start considering moving out. 

Anyway, other details of the dream are blurry, but I end up in a huge crowded Mexican restaurant. There's a long table full of acquantences and friends, mostly people I know from the internet. Beside me is a guy who is apparently my best friend (but who exists only in dreemspace, no real life analog -- in this dream, he looked like my OC Tristan, tall and lean, but sometimes appears short or my height). Sadly, the next incident faded already from my mind. It had to do with a crime or slight or insult. I think a man accused another of a murder or something. The police took the accused guy, questioned him, and released him. Meanwhile, the restaurant owner came and apologized for not taking our order in a timely manner and brought the table trays of appetizers -- shrimp and seafood, which I passed on because I don't eat it. He spoke to one of my vegetarian friends about something additional.

That's when creepy stuff started happening. The accused but released guy was working in the kitchen. He smirked at his accuser and went back to work. Shortly after, he turned up dead. I didn't see the body. By other horrified patrons, he was flattened as if by a steam roller. Two other deaths followed while other dream events played out (mostly me trying to decide on something to order from a massive menu that offered samples). The dead men hadn't been touched but one fell apparently strangled and another caught fire.

I eventually gave up on the menu. Someone mentioned a buffet, but I wasn't hungry. I wanted to leave to do laundry, and my dream-friend stayed by my side. In the crowd (it was like a night club crowd) as we were leaving, I noticed a dark expression on the face of the accuser from earlier. I knew he was the serial killer. He had been near the men who died. Another man in the crowd said something about a dog. Then a giant black dog brushed past me. I anticipated an attack, but the dog was calm and stood where he was. The man who made the remark turned pale and fell to the floor.

Then the man I somehow knew was the killer glared into the crowd and said something religious-y and full of crazy. 90% of the people fell to their knees. At first I thought it was a praise or submission but I realized by their faces that their bodies were not in their control. They were being forced down somehow. I asked my friend why we weren't affected. He didn't know. When I looked for the man again, he wasn't around. My friend and I left. Dream-friend was gone after I left the restaurant, so I walked to my flooded house alone to do my laundry.


Post-dream Thoughts:

1. The people at my table were wonderfully diverse, friends from Europe, Australia, and the Americas. I wasn't part of their conversations, but I was happy they were there.

2. Inside the restaurant was active and crowded and colorful. Outside was completely empty, quiet, and raining. Dream friend vanished outside the restaurant. I was alone outside. I believe there must've been a Narnia/Wonderland/Spirited Away thing going on, but upon reflection, I do not know which space represented "the real world" and which was "brain space."

3. Whatever else happens in my dreams, I am always preoccupied with a mundane task like buying a lightbulb, feeding my cat, or doing laundry.

4. Someone poisoned the shrimp.
As a rule, I don't debate on the internet. There are too many humans who trade all reason or empathy for pride when they are behind a keyboard, as if the rest of the world are NPCs. 

However, there is something I would like to get off my chest. I have developed a nagging pet peeve, an aversion, to some repeated phrasing used by numerous vocal and passionate individuals (mostly politicians ans people quoting/supporting them). These are things like "homosexuality is a choice, because you can choose your actions" or "love the sinner, hate the sin." 

I'm sorry, but no. I won't argue that you choose your actions. If you can get yourself aroused somehow, you can have sex with anyone (or choose not to). But sexual orientation is not with whom you have sex. It's to whom you are attracted. An example: I am a virgin. Does that mean I have no sexual orientation? Am I confused or searching for my sexuality? No, I'm not. I know the type of people I'm attracted to. I have never been attracted to women, not once. I know that, despite having never had any intimate moments whatsoever, I am heterosexual. It's not something I choose. It's not even an action or behavior. It's in my chemistry. It's what I am, not what I do. If I ever kissed a woman, it wouldn't change that. (And it would be really awkward, such is kissing someone you aren't attracted to -- of any gender.)

So to say "love the sinner, hate the sin" is an insult, and a logical impossibility. Sexual orientation is part of one's identity whether or not they are in a relationship. That's like saying, "I love you despite your height." Or "I love you except for your sinful haircolor." "I love you even though you're Asian. It's okay. Just don't do Asian things." 

It doesn't get any better if you accept them as long as they are celibate or single. Why is anyone so obsessive about other people's sex lives? Love and consensual sex between/among adults hurts no one and, frankly is not a big deal. Neither is who is marrying whom unless you have some personal love triangle going on or a stake in the inheritance. Legal marriage isn't even about sex. It's a business contract, affecting benefits and medical/legal issues. It's not a sex lisence. 

Sorry again for the rant. I don't know why it irks me so much.

Lately, I have been reading American slave narratives at work (I work at a Civil War battlefield). I find them fascinating, at times horrifying. It’s like reading dystopian future sci-fi – except in the past and not fiction. They also are an interesting study of human nature, how people behave when they take power over other lives or have their lives controlled by another person.  While I was gaining some of this understanding for work, I realized I was also taking mental notes for my writing.


Some years ago, I worked in a different civil war park, and I was also reading slave narratives, right around the time I was working on polishing and deepening a character in my graphic novel named Raidon.  He and the other “crime bosses” in my story have the same mentality as slave owners. At the time, I was looking only at character traits, but I can see more comparisons side-by-side.  I can see now that his “muscle” Meredith is a nearly perfect analog to an overseer, with her boss staying a step apart – to maintain (an appearance of?) compassion and fairness.  And in the personalities of the formerly enslaved, I find myself inspired by their differing experiences, opinions, and the choices made once given freedom.  This has become incredibly useful for character dynamics and development in my story, which focuses on a crime organization with a defined hierarchy, a group of crime bosses and those who work under them (voluntarily or not). Some characters I am finding particularly inspired by the history of American slavery:


Raidon: A seemingly compassionate leader, who makes a show of distaste for the nature of their organization and has carried on an affair with one of his subordinates (which was consensual but one-sided, her being much younger and feeling dependent of his protection).

Meredith: The trainer and direct supervisor of Raidon’s employees, a hard and sadistic sort of woman.

Celes: In her brief backstory, she explains that her father sold her to the crime organization to pay off debts.

Misaki: She infiltrated and helped people escape/defect from the crime syndicate and start new lives.


Those are the most obvious anyway. They existed before I started my research, but of course, I was aware of at least the broad strokes of that part of our country’s history.  The more I started thinking about it, the more parallels I found.


Don’t misunderstand me. I am not that well-researched or academic.  The similarities were accidental and perhaps just because human nature is universal.  My characters are mostly based on fictional characters, books and movies and anime series. It is especially easy to create new protagonists. I find most people in life ARE protagonists, so I just think of them as interesting people I’d like to talk to or characters I got a kick out of in a story.


Antagonists are much harder, and in my time developing them, I’ve discovered I need to do research – not into fictitious villains but into real life. Somehow, fiction doesn’t work for developing an antagonist. I can’t figure out why, but I have stumbled over every single major protagonist.  This is only a very recent epiphany to me that this is the way I have to research.  It worked for Raidon those years ago, when I found him paralleling a “slave master.”  Sometime later, I was blocked in developing the serial killer Valentine. I had the facts and how he fit into the story, but I couldn’t get into his head. (I was just a tiny bit afraid to, but mostly I couldn’t wrap my mind around it.)  I read up on real life serial killers, and then I found those lovely MRAs ranting creepily all over the place, and Val suddenly came to life.

I have another antagonist soon upcoming who is inspired by pirates from the 17th/18th centuries.  I didn’t have to go searching for his inspiration. He’s a charismatic, happy, greedy, life of the party.
 EDIT: I nearly forgot, in addition to slave narratives, my workplace has the journal of a plantation owner, which is mostly a business log, making it all the more surreal. You can read some of it here:…

My ongoing graphic novel Used Books is a character-driven story. I would venture to say that it is actually a relationship/friendship-driven story.  It was inspired by my roommates, who had been friends since childhood, and our household dynamic in our rented three story home.  I’ve had few friends in my life, but all my friends have been close ones, people I would trust with any secret and anything dear to me. Reflecting on the friends I’ve made and on the bonds between those around me, I have always been fascinated by what links people. The members of our household had little in common. I met “the girls” through my sister. They would come to our apartment for D&D every week, while I hid in my room. It must have been nearly a year before I ever actually saw them. In any case, we got along, so to save money and boost our standard of living, we mutually decided to rent a house.  A few years later, after my sister moved out, I drew character sketches that later became Used Books.


The primary type of relationship in UB is friendship, but there is also a heavy dose of familial ties. In truth, I have a wonderful family, and my closest and longest friendships have been my family. My friends are welcomed into my family as honorary members, sometimes closer to us than blood relatives. For that reason, I am greatly saddened by families that are not close, that fight, or are broken by death, divorce, or other circumstances. I have always admired my mother’s strength for being such a wonderful positive person despite being a child of divorce and then losing her mother at a young age.


I view romance as an extension of friendship.  It is something I have no personal experience with myself. (Not sure if it counts as a relationship if the other person doesn’t know about it. :P ) However, I am a sucker for a background love story that is true and organic and rooted in friendship.  I also realized that to write a long series, it wasn’t realistic to have no relationships at all. I didn’t put deliberate effort into those bonds. I simply didn’t hinder them from developing. In any case, I abhor any story that puts up barriers just to drive romantic tension beyond feasibility. No story should be in season five with readers/viewers still thinking, “Omg, are they going to kiss??” It’s terribly silly. Besides, even though I technically haven’t engaged in kissing or similar activities myself, it shouldn’t be such a dramatic big ass deal the way fiction writers make it. It’s just part of adulthood and human experience. Romance in UB has that tone. It exists. It’s not a giant deal except on the personal level for the more shy characters (who are met with eye rolling and sarcasm, as they should be).


Some of the notable (or my favorite) friendships in UB:

 Fudo- Toyo: Work friends and roommates elevated by tough times to a “bromance.”

 Toyo-Celes: Casual friendship w/benefits.

 Kaida-Fudo: Apparently in love despite stubbornness and near-constant arguing.

 Fudo-Mike: Formed from guilt, turned paternal.

 Yuki-Brad: Lifelong friends, confused by adulthood romantic feelings.

 Dirk-Yuki: Father-daughter relationship; Yuki thrives on impressing and living up to standards.

 Tara-Brad: Work friends and occasional drinking buddies.

 Tristan-Seiko: Steadily escalated friendship bond to a low-key romance.

 Tristan-Mike: Neighbors, a friendship born from shared social standing and survival.

 Mike-Alex: Snarky argumentative rivals, a fraternal bond.

 Mike-Mina: This relationship was formed from a trivial crush/attraction, which grew as Mina helped boost Mike's esteem.

 Conrad-Tristan: Awe and respect turned to a level friendship, the result of a role model becoming a fallible human.

 Tristan-Sean: Thief-partners and emotional support over the loss of Kylie.

 Sean-Kylie: Inseparable twin siblings.

 Kaida-Violet: Stubborn, jealous, competitive twins.

 Raidon-Tim: Raidon found a willing listener, and Tim found someone who doesn’t treat him like a dumb thug.

 Raidon-Eric: Eric just likes the guy and he’s charismatic enough that Raidon can’t refuse it.

 Eric-Seiko: Many similarities in upbringing and personality, but attempts to form a relationship don’t work. It’s a casual, friendly acquaintanceship.

 Eric-Violet: Local celebrities that are fans of each other.

 Raidon-Misaki: Just allusions so far.

 Meredith-Valentine: I haven’t figured it out yet, but they get a kick out of each other.

When I create a new character, the dynamics of their relationships to other characters are key.  When a character dies or leaves, the lose is felt for all the bonds.

For those who don't know me, I am a seasonal employee in a field where it takes a lot of seasons before you can get longer term work. After getting my Master's degree, I struggled with unemployment for a few years until the director of a museum where I volunteered got me a lead on a position in a state park and gave the park manager a reference for me. Since then, I worked in state parks for four summers and then, after a full eight years of rejections, got a job in a national park a couple years ago. I spend winters using up my meager savings while living with my parents and feeling generally useless while I furiously flll out applications for all kinds of jobs.
Spring is once again upon us, and this year, I was offered a position in a national park close to home AND at a higher pay grade. Close as it is, I still need to relocate. I refuse to leave my cat and pet rats behind, so I decided to forgo government housing in favor of finding an RV park nearby. I found the park, reserved a pad, and will start the process of moving soon.
I will have to set up internet after I arrive, so next week, my webcomic updates will be on hold until I have that all worked out. Once I start my job, I will likely be updating once a week instead of twice a week. (40 hour work weeks half the year still beat 20 hour swing shifts year round, imo.) If I go internet-silent for a while, you know why. :) 

(I'll be working at Petersburg National Battlefield. If you enjoy history, maybe I'll see you around. The siege in Petersburg occurred in the final months of the American Civil War, so the sesquicentennial is basically right now.)