A Peek Behind the Curtain


Writers get asked a lot of questions about their process, with questions like “How do you come up with the names of your characters?”  (Answer:  We look at names all the time from the perspective of what strikes an emotional chord) or “How many words do you write a day?” (Answer: Lots more when I’m under deadline) and “How do you come up with your ideas?” (Answer: Sweat and fervent prayer) but today I got a question about our artistic process for Black Jack, and I thought that was a much more interesting question, since I could answer with pictures.

At one point in the story, Jack Swift comes across the kekubi for the first time.  One of them rips off its own head and hammers it into a crossroads post.  Nice and grisly.   We thought it would make a good piece of motion art for the book.  It started (as all these things do) with my awesome drawing.

9-AEat your heart out Michelangelo.  I’m pretty sure there are 4th graders who could do better. (By the way, if you want to send in your art of favorite moments in Black Jack, please send them to us; they can’t possibly be worse than mine.)   If you look closely, you can see my little notes about the art, the scene, the symbols on the sign, and the animation.  So I send my stick figure off to Turner Mohan.  He comes back with this:

head on stick 2This is a quickie sketch to make sure he’s got it right.  (He actually delivered a completely different alt. sketch for this one, and you can find it in the SWAG section of the Black Jack menu.)  He’s made good decisions like getting closer to the subject, eliminating the feet of the corpse, and focusing on the eyes, which will be the primary animation.  I say “way better than mine, dude,” and he delivers his final pencil:

Head on a Stick 001Awesome.  So then Ryan Wing and I go to work.  We layer the pencils over the Black Jack parchment texture, tatter the edges, give it some aging, pepper in a little vignetting and set the eyesockets on fire.  And zoom in a little more to focus on the green fire.

c-itunes-banner-cleanAfter this, we separate the foreground from the background, spin the circular hash-lines to provide a sense of queasiness, animate the green fire and let the hair start blowing in the wind.  Pepper in some creepy sound effects, and we’re ready for drama.  And that’s how we built all 24 pieces of major motion art for the app.

If you want to see the whole thing in action (it’s much better when it happens while you’re reading; a special effect without a story is a pretty boring thing) you can see it in Chapter 9: Madrigal Verde of Black Jack: A Moving Novel on your iPad.


Click here for Black Jack: A Moving Novel on your iPad:


Passion Counts

Once upon a time, in the thrilling days of yesteryear, there was a thing called the Big Wheel.  It wasn’t like other tricycles.  Oh no.  It had…wait for it…a BIG WHEEL.


The definition of awesome.

It was different from other tricycles.  It was better.  It had all three  primary colors (ALL of them!)  It weighed about an eighth of a pound so you could drag it anywhere.  The wheels made cool sounds like a grown-up car.  It had the finest braking system in the world: your feet.


Check out that seating.  O, yeah.

But most importantly of all, the Big Wheel was built to take whatever punishment an eight-year-old kid could think to inflict on it.

 “Tell Mom I want Spaghetti-Os for dinneeeeeerrr!”

The point is that once Danny-Down-The-Street got one, it was Game Over for any other trike.  Three-wheeled Schwinns and Huffys littered the streets of our neighborhood as kids abandoned them in the gutters.  We loved our Big Wheels, we absolutely loved them.  Nothing else would do.  It gave us a sense of adventure and wonder at what could happen next.

85 Sweet Big Wheel JumpFly, kid.  Fly.

That’s the kind of passion and enthusiasm I am hearing from you guys about Black Jack.  The readers that have read all 20 chapters are wildly enthusiastic.   One reader commented that she read the entire novel in a single sitting.  Some of you have read it twice already, despite the fact that is hasn’t been out a month.  You are saying very, very nice things to me (and thank you!), but more importantly, those of you who love the app really love it.  You’ve found something that makes you wonder what could happen next.


It’s hard to find something that you love as much as a Big Wheel (or whatever your Big Wheel was) and it’s a rare thing to find something that makes us genuinely passionate.  That kind of wild-eyed enthusiasm and excitement is something we all carry happily in our hearts.


Sometimes for the rest of our lives.


Thanks for sharing Black Jack: A Moving Novel with your friends.  Research has shown that people who share the app are more likely to win a Monkey Island (yes, an island made of monkeys), and are 97% more attractive to the opposite sex.  Get on it.

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Click here to get Black Jack FREE for your iPad.

Writers, Readers & iPad’s New Frontier

Traditional books are going through an epic transformation at the moment unlike anything we have seen since the Gutenberg printing press or the Linotype.  The advent of popular digital books has seen the removal of the middle-man (publishing houses) between the writer and the consumer, and it is throwing the traditional publishing business into a tailspin.

Image“But vampire bondage books were selling so well!”

Independent authors are celebrating the demise of traditional publishing with a fervor usually reserved for a moon landing or the final episode of Breaking Bad.  To many, it’s Ding-Dong the Witch is Dead, and now I can finally publish my epic masterpiece.


“Now all the world can look upon my Star Wars-Chipmunk erotica and weep with delight!”

Here’s a word to the wise, independent writers:  be very careful what you wish for.  Publishing houses reject books for a reason, and it’s not just because they don’t love your Beards-by-Patrick-Rothfuss makeover.

Image “…but it’s stabby from so many angles!”

There are damn few people that can tell a good story, and fewer still who can do it over 300 pages.  Every time I got turned down by a publisher, it made me look inward and discover something about my story that could be better.  It made me better.  The magic is always in the re-write.

Image(And there is magic inside…there always is.)

A unique kind of transformation happens through rejection.  It forces you to sharpen your skills, cut the fat and remember your job as a storyteller.  J.K Rowling, Louis L’Amour, C.S. Lewis, Stephanie Meyers were all rejected multiple times.  The initial rejection for H.G. Wells War of the Worlds read: An endless nightmare. I think the verdict would be ‘Oh don’t read that horrid book,” and William Golding’s The Lord of the Flies received this awesome bullet to the head: “An absurd and uninteresting fantasy which was rubbish and dull.”


15 million copies of rubbish.  C’mere Piggy.

It’s easy to say “keep trying and you will succeed,” but that’s a Disney Saturday Morning feel-good maxim and I don’t think it’s true.  The point is that getting kicked in the teeth is an imperative test of one’s character.  You get stronger with every rejection.

ImageAnd if you’re smart about it…so does your art.



Thank you for reading.  You can receive the first chapter of Black Jack: A Moving Novel free for your iPad by clicking here.