Make Good Art

Yesterday I posted an update to get more donations. I even included MATH! This marks one of the few times outside of gaming that I’ve used math since school. But I digress…

For those of you not on the cusp of geekdom, Neil Gaiman did a commencement speech for the University of the Arts a while back. It does pertain in part to what I’m going to say, so I’ll embed it. Really though it can be summed up in the title of the blog. Simply put, make good art.

Go ahead, watch it. It is an entertaining speech. We’ll wait…

Told you, right?

Here’s where the two differing elements I described above converge. I was looking to make up the difference of what the pledge drive needed to hit goal. Taking top spot in the list would be a bonus. I figured this might be possible based on percentages, but time was going to be crucial. In one night a small group of friends increased my pledge page by a bunch. Hell, I even got my sister to donate and she hasn’t even finished the book I suggested to her close to three years ago. And I even got the author to smack talk her for not finishing it! These people, as well as all of you who either donated or spread the word around (or did both)… all of you… you collectively make it so I can make good art.

Since this is me we’re talking about, keep in mind that “good art” means any art at all. A while ago an online friend started her campaign to publish and make it on Oprah’s book club. She wanted to sit on her couch. I knew that wasn’t me. I was the popcorn film of the literary world, the summer flick that people would enjoy but wouldn’t win any awards. You all let me do this. Hopefully I won’t turn out to be a Michael Bay movie. At least not Transformers. I’ll take a Bad Boys no matter what anyone says.

A handful of years ago I was left with a gap in my schedule. For the first time in decades there was no gaming company that wanted me as convention help, judge, content writer or any such thing. I didn’t have four to five cons to make spanning across the country. I was free. For a person like me, only having to work a 40 hour a week job is free – trust me. So after two decades of putting off what I had always intended to do once free of high school, I was writing. Without knowing it I had made a conscious decision to make good art.

There is a subtle beauty to that. If my art is a zombie novel starring a country western singer who moonlights as a monster hunter, then that is my art. Even if someone on the Internet doesn’t agree.

Quite a few of my friends may not like the playlist I have for the book. One protagonist (Dukes) has a playlist that is obviously country western in theme. Write what you know? Hell, I needed help even putting that one together. (Thanks again, Dukes.) But that is the good art. I can totally appreciate Hank Jr. even if he isn’t in my normal playlist. And yes, I did buy every song in my playlist.

My wife decorates cakes and cupcakes. She also does stained glass. My mother does jewelry, as do a number of my friends. (Hey Synde!) They all make good art. My father organizes a hell of a festival. He does it for Festa Italia as well as several other ethnic festivals around Madison. He also makes our Sister City Program with Mantova, Italy happen with some other guys from the club. That is his good art. Trust me, running a smooth festival is an art form.

Hopefully everyone who asked to be inserted into this story, either in name or in form, will appreciate the art. I hope I served your pledge well. But I think there are two real highlights here. Only the first being that the charity did break through its goal. And this does make me happy. More than this though, is that a friend of mine who lives a life much busier than mine has picked up his writing again.

Twice a week or so he is stepping out to a coffee shop for lunch. He’s calling it a Zombie Joe Lunch. These lunches are garnering him 400 words or so for the 30+ minutes he is writing. Will he make a 50,000 word novel in a month that way? Nope. Is he making good art? Totally. If my insanity spreads to even just one other person, thus making me the literary Patient Zero (no headshots, please), then I am a happy man.

That said, I have another batch of words to finish and a novel to verify through the Camp NaNoWriMo web site. Then I have to look at piecing my scenes together, fitting it into a cohesive story and editing it into something readable. Not to mention I have to make cover art and figure out the formatting. Who’s idea was this again? Oh, right. Damn.

I think for my sister’s “care package” I’ll get her copy of Mark of the Demon signed by Diana Rowland in New Orleans. Hell, maybe by every author there that wants to snark something at her. I may make good art, but that doesn’t prevent me from being a right bastard too. 😉

Toughest Scene in the Book

If you’ve read my other blogs on the subject, you know that my camping trip didn’t help out my word count at all. Hell, each day of towing literally killed it. But this wasn’t my only challenge. In fact, it wasn’t even my strongest one. I know you’re all dying from anticipation. Read ahead, but keep in mind that I love a good challenge.

So my wife’s friend from college donated into the charity for the story. She did so to the point of wanting the character to live at the end. Wounded was okay, but she had to live. She also sent me a character description. The name is taken from hers, but is not her name. Challenge came when I read the description. A nomadic, Nordic woman who was a unicorn herder (but only if someone paid to have rabid unicorns be the monsters). If not a unicorn herder, then some other form of herder.

Let’s address them one at a time, and then I’ll reveal the final character after giving you the bits.


Seriously, we have migratory workers in this country, but the closest thing we have to nomads are retired people who go from place to place in their RVs taking odd jobs when they need a little extra cash. And yes, I do have a pair of friends who do this. (Hi Leslie and Bill!) So I had to address having a nomad in present day Wisconsin. Present day Wisconsin with monsters, but still.

The fix? Her family were all nomadic Norwegians with her parents being the first to travel to America. She grew up going from ranch to ranch helping others raise animals until her father passed away. Once all of her family was gone she purchased a ranch of her own to raise horses. In other words, the first in a family of nomads to settle down. The ranch is just north of Madison.

Unicorn Herder

So nobody asked for rabid unicorns. Apparently nobody enjoyed that scene from Cabin in the Woods like I did. (And thank you for not making me write killer unicorns.) So that left out her being a unicorn herder. It also freed me from having to explain why there was a unicorn farm north of Madison, Wisconsin.

The fix, as you can read above, was to make her a horse breeder. Most of the horses she has aren’t “champions” but each called out to her in some way. While she’s settled down, she is still using that nomadic gut instinct in her decisions.

Why is she in the book?

Yeah, so I have a Nordic nomad who settled down in the area. She’s breeding horses. But what does this have to do with the spreading of Bath Salt Zombies in the state? I could stage an attack there, but she has to live. And let’s face it, if one of them bites you it’s just as fatal as the Romero zombies. Faster acting, too.

My solution was to use the character. The herd of horses she’s breeding are special. In times of need they are imbued with a bit of the power of the lost Norse gods. They fly. They also bond with heroes. In the case of this character, she becomes a Chooser of the Dead. Sort of like a Valkyrie, but instead of choosing fallen heroes for Valhalla, she simply chooses who the dead are. She will also have the ability to put the dead to ground again. This should minimize the chance of me getting her mauled and infected. It also helps me to deal with a bit of a corner I wrote myself into. (To explain it would mean spoiling parts of the story.)

So what’s the problem?

I know, it sounds pretty solid, right? Sounds like I know what I’m doing? The problem is that I didn’t have an opening or scene in mind to introduce this character other than *POOF* “I’m here!” (For the record, I’m not a fan of the *POOF* Gambit.)

The real issue was that this scene was dragging down my speed. I wasn’t really into it and I wasn’t getting a voice. And, as she was a sponsored character, I couldn’t just write her out of the story. I stuttered three starts at the scene. This morning was my last attempt.

What pulled me through it.

The playlist. You know, Dukes playlist from yesterday? I wasn’t picturing her as a country western fan specifically, but the themes of the songs gave me some insight to what she was thinking. And although she has no real vocal religion in the scene, “I Can’t Pray” gave me her voice, a catalyst and a motivation. It also started to make me feel bad for my character. And when you write in public, its best not to get yourself choked up over your writing.

Trust me, I’m not a fan of the wonderful white fitted jackets that help you give yourself a big hug.


For those keeping score, the scene is written and the character will have an outcome integral to the story. She is a settled down nomad with a penchant for training horses – a Horse Whisperer if you will. As she enters the story, the land and power of the Norse pantheon will be reaching out to her, binding her to a horse and naming her the Chooser of the Dead. She will ride her flying horse into battle against the undead. Now I can’t fully promise she lives, which may give you a bit of stress as you read about her in the book. Although the lady did pay for her to live, so in all purposes, consider her to be like a third protagonist that is only in a small section of the book.

This is one of a couple sponsored bits that took a larger role in the big picture than I initially anticipated, but I am really happy with the outcome.

Scoresheet for Dukes Playlist

  • I Can’t Pray – backdrop for protagonist, parallel for valkyrie side character, came damn close to getting me an observation appointment at the local hospital, made my wife cry at least once
  • A Man Comes Around – inspired a duel of wits between Big Badâ„¢ and Dukes, fleshed out my valkyrie, gave me a backdrop for the danger in the story
  • This Cowboy’s Hat – gave me an accessory to focus on with Dukes, gave me an aspect to his guitar case I hadn’t planned on, had a single line that altered the character’s destiny (not necessarily in this book)
  • A Country Boy Can Survive – gave a bit of country personality to Dukes tenacity in the story
  • You’ve Got To Stand For Something – was the starting theme of my story, but went to really loosely stringing it all together now
  • The Lord Knew Me First – give a parallel between Dukes and the detective, added a bit of snark to the character to temper the country charm
  • Down in Flames – this will totally be the theme song to the final act of the story, I can totally see it
  • number of times this playlist saved my ass: too many to count

Duke’s Playlist

I know, I’ve been talking about it for a while. At this point, I’ve been knocked far enough in the dirt that taking a break to complete the playlist and post it wasn’t going to hurt me much. I’m still working on a way to link it so that you can go to iTunes and purchase it. Not as point-and-click as I thought it would be. Although you can go to iTunes and pick up Down in Flames by Ben Dukes. Of the seven songs on the playlist, three of them come from that album and they helped me to shape the story while waiting for playlist suggestions. Well that and the Johnny Cash song, since I knew that one would be there.

I’ll list them all individually, but once I have the direct link to the playlist, I’ll link it through the playlist title below. At least two of the artists have passed, but I’m sure Ben would appreciate anyone taking to his music.

Under the Hood – Duke’s Playlist

  • When The Man Comes Around – Johnny Cash
  • The Lord Knew Me First – Ben Dukes
  • You’ve Got To Stand For Something – Aaron Tippin
  • I Can’t Pray – Ben Dukes
  • A Southern Boy Can Survive – Hank Williams Jr.
  • Down in Flames – Ben Dukes
  • This Cowboy’s Hat – Chris Ledoux

Note: I may have screwed up the order as I was doing this from memory. If so, I’ll correct it.

I’ll leave you with a little teaser for the detective’s playlist. Enjoy…

Back in the Land of WiFi

I’m not even being trite. The further up you get in Door County the less connected you are. I spent a whole week with nary a G to speak of. Verizon is a great service, but even they have their limits. Our friend’s kid took out his flip phone at one point and proudly claimed, “I have 3Gs.” I just looked at him and said, “Prove it. Do something with them.” 😉

Honestly I could have traveled about 5-10 minutes south of Fish Harbor to a coffee shop that offered WiFi for my iPad (still no 3G-4G there), but the point was to get away. Also the closer one in Ephraim reminded me of The Victory more. It was also a cash only place. A little less Brooklyn, but still eccentric. Leroy’s Coffee Cafe, and I’m guessing Leroy is an ex-surfer or ex-skateboarder. Between that place and The Good Egg, Ephraim is an excellent vacation spot. Really, most of Door County is.

My writing highlight of Door County (aside from some kick ass scenes that make the book harder to finish but the story better) came from day three of showing up at the coffee shop at 7am to write until 9-10 in the morning. A long line had formed so I set up my stuff and started getting ready to write. When the line was gone I walked up and ordered my coffee. The barista was fixing it and asked if I was writing a book. My gut reaction was to say, “No, I just really like coffee.” Then I remembered she was fixing my drink.

Another highlight that came back to bite me in the ass was when I was told that television signals were able to be picked up in the park. This was awesome for me as Ben Dukes was making his debut on the Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson. If you remember back earlier this month, I blogged about how his bit on the show as a worker was my inspiration for my protagonist in my Camp NaNoWriMo story. So we cranked up the antenna and did a channel scan. Sure enough we had a CBS channel. Unfortunately it was fuzzy at best and storms Wednesday night knocked it out entirely. On the upside, I had the DVR set, so I caught the show on Sunday when we got home. Also, the clip is already up on his YouTube channel.

For the record, Down in Flames is one of my favorite songs from his album. Also, the playlist for Dukes will be coming out shortly. The one for my other protagonist is only about half done.

Now on our way to Chippewa Falls (Lake Wissota specifically) we passed through Cadot. My wife texted this to my sister (who had already been camping there with her husband and our cousins for a day) and she requested we bring her some Country AND Western. (Country Fest was going on in Cadot this past weekend.) I told her to text her back with “done” but I don’t think she did.

You guessed it. As we were driving to the boat launch so my wife could scope out photo opportunities, I advanced through the iPod to play the Johnny Cash song that made the playlist (When the Man Comes Around) and Down in Flames. Also, as we were leaving the Leinenkugel Brewery on the way back to the campsite, the first song on the shuffle was When Do We Start Drinking, also by Ben Dukes. My sister may never make a smart ass request of me again. Oh who am I kidding? I know damn well she will.

So this morning I sat back in my usual spot. The Victory. I busted out as many words as I could in the hour and a half I had. About a thousand. Well under my normal amount. But it was my first day back. Also there were multiple people pacing up and down across the tables. Multiple. All of them. Stalking like a caged friggin’ tigers. As I was writing about the Big Badâ„¢ in the story… you guessed it… stalking up and down like a tiger. Seriously, it was freaking me out. But I digress.

I was back in the Land of Connectivity. The Nirvana of WiFi. And what did I do? I sequestered myself into a WiFi Wasteland to write. On the upside, I am coming up on 40k total. So that means, charity story update time.


  • I’m nearing 40k.
  • The story will likely top out at 53-56k with the scenes left to write.
  • Editing, revising and writing between the scenes might get me 60-65k. For my genre that is a bit light, but it is still novel length.
  • I have a couple more people to write into the story.
  • The ending is solid in my mind. (Although I haven’t written it yet.)
  • Dukes is fleshing out well. He’s becoming the young Obi-Wan to my detective’s Qui-Gon.
  • I met my revised goal of $300 raised, but I’d like to give the top spot a run for their money. (I’m currently second.)
  • To offer incentives, until the end of this week I will continue to give the care package to any donors. The person donating the most I’ll send the playlist for Dukes to them. Or just Ben Duke’s album, since half of it is in the playlist.
  • As always, anyone who donates $5 or more will get a copy of the ebook.

So, get to work people. Tell your friends, tell your neighbors. Tell anyone and everyone. If enough of your friends, family and neighbors sign up, I’ll send you a care package too!

To donate, click on the Camp NaNoWriMo tab above, the Sponsored Camper stamp to the right, or simply go to