I can’t fix this for you and I can’t tell you what you want to hear.

Chavisory's Notebook

This is to anyone who has ever, ever said to me “You could rule the world if you really wanted to!” who voted for or in any way enabled what happened this week.

I am pretty sure that this statement has never meant anything but a combination of “I have no actual clue either how the political world works, or who you really are,” and “I just want you to fix everything for me without me having to take seriously a single thing you say.”

And I am tired of your excuses and I am tired of you not taking responsibility for your world, and no, I cannot help you now.

Likewise, I never want to be told, ever again, “But you’re the smartest person I know!” or “You’re the most articulate person I know!” by anyone who is not prepared to listen to anything I have to say…

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Why Teaching to the Test is Educational Malpractice

As a prospective teacher I ran into this too many times to count.


thumbnail_screen-shot-2016-11-03-at-12-20-50-pmMalpractice is defined as “careless, wrong, or illegal actions by someone (such as a doctor) who is performing a professional duty.”

In some fields it can get you arrested. In most it’s at least frowned upon.
In education, however, it’s encouraged.

In fact, as a teacher, you can be singled out, written up or even fired for refusing to engage in malpractice. You are bullied, cajoled and threatened into going along with practices that have been debunked by decades of research and innumerable case studies.

Take the all-too-common practice of teaching to the test.

Not only do students and teachers hate it, but the practice has been shown to actually harm student learning. Yet it is the number one prescription handed down from administrators and policymakers to bring up failing scores on high stakes standardized tests.

Never mind that those same test scores have likewise been proven to be…

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“Do-Over”: Part Five, Miscellany

At this point you’ve seen the birth of an idea, the basic setting (an Earth-like world), the characters, and some things about how the plot works. This post is a list of bullet points as I summarize some concepts useful to understanding the story. If part of the story was explained in previous essays it will not be covered here.

  • You can trust the science in Do-Over. If you catch me in an error please let me know, but it’s likely from an oversimplification by JD trying to explain something complicated to a person who has no experience with the concept.
  • Ajadi weaponless combat is kung-fu with minor variations. JD’s style is Jeet Kune Do, the style of Bruce Lee.
  • Swordsmanship is medieval English-style. I debated using samurai style with the katana but decided against it because a) I know more about English sword fighting than using the katana or fencing, and b) I know more about how to build an English-style longsword than any other.
  • Domesticated food and livestock are a cross between East Asian and European styles. Lamb, goat cheese, and grape leaves come from Greek cuisine, rice is grown as it is in Japan, etc. I didn’t get too complicated here, but the first time JD uses a wok Mya has never seen one before. Another fun circumstance is the first time a trading caravan brings in two new vegetables: tomatoes and potatoes. JD goes into an ecstatic state as they were among his favorite foods on Earth.
  • Wine is the staple drink with a meal and in inns. It is considered unusual for anyone over the age of 12 to abstain from wine; one of the connections between JD and Mya is that neither drinks alcohol.
  • The land of Ajad is a hybrid of European and Japanese (about 70/30) feudal times.
  • Lukanah’s home country, Jonaheim, is based on Scandinavia when the Vikings ruled.
  • The antagonist of Last Man Standing, Alden, is loosely based on Alexander the Great; his men are a mix of Alexander’s men, the Mongol hordes of Genghis Khan, and the Norman invaders of 1066.
  • One and One Make One is primarily about JD’s internal struggles, therefore JD serves as his own antagonist. The few villains each have a particular and limited purpose; most don’t even have names.
  • Names are a key point in any story. I use the following naming conventions.
    • Ajadi names are always two syllables. Female names end in short vowels “a” or “u” (“ah” or “oo”); male names end in long vowels “e” or “o” (“ee” or “oh”). There are no last names, although a profession may be used. Children’s names resemble that of the parents (mom Mira, daughter Mya, granddaughter Mora).
    • Jonaheim names are based on German names. For example, Lukanah derives from the German Ludkhannah, “graceful battle maiden,” and Johanah’s name means “shield maiden.”
    • Names of the invaders in Last Man Standing are the Anglo-Saxon equivalent of Greek or Mongolian names. For example, Alden is one English equivalent of Alexander. Why Alden and not Alexander, a perfectly fine English name? Two syllables read faster, and take up less room, than four. It’s a comic, not a prose work, and such things make a difference.
  • The calendar (yes, I have a calendar) is a pure lunar calendar. The year is 364 days divided into 13 months of 28 days each. That makes counting days, and knowing the day of the week, far easier (Sundays are always the 7th, 14th, 21st, or 28th of the month). Time is very important when your characters have to walk everywhere and the province is 180 kilometers (over 100 miles) top to bottom.
  • Speaking of distance and location, the province of Ajad is the northern half of Italy, bounded by mountains to the north and ocean on the other three sides. Main villages correspond to Italian cities; here’s a list, counter-clockwise from the south.
    • Port City, on the southern tip of Ajad, is the equivalent of Terni. In real life Terni is inland; I’ve chopped off the lower part of the boot and made “Terni” a coastal village.
    • Central Village is Florence.
    • The “final battleground” is just north of Bologna.
    • Eastern Village is Venice.
    • Ruko’s mine, the resting place of the Red Dragon, is half-way between Padua and Verona.
    • North Pass Village is Milan.
    • West Village is Genoa.
    • Herndo’s hut is situated roughly where Pistoia would be.

Why Italy? Its geology and geography work for The Dragon Core. Other lands are through the North Pass, a fictional Grand Canyon through the great mountain range which otherwise cuts Ajad off from the rest of the continent.

To make the story distances less of a problem for walking, actual distances are halved for the book. For example, it’s about 210 kilometers from Terni to Florence; in Do-Over, the distance from Port City to Central Village is 100 kilometers (still a 5-day journey on foot).

That’s pretty much it without spoilers. For the rest of the story you’ll have to watch it unfold on its own. I may have a script, but I’m finding as I write, and then rough-sketch, each page the characters take on lives of their own (even the setting does so!) and things won’t be as cut-and-dried as I originally planned. But then that’s part of the fun.

I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoy writing and drawing it.


“Do-Over”: Part Four, Supporting Characters

Historically, primitive societies are male-dominated; I want my primary female characters to be strong females, not stay-at-home moms, and the net result gives me several usable plot conflicts. In The Dragon Core we meet a strong woman character, Lukanah, who comes from a relatively female-dominated society; in One and One Make One JD and Mya visit her and we learn more about her society.

In many stories, the villains are evil because they are evil. That’s not much of a motivation. In Rumiko Takahashi’s InuYasha the main villain, Naraku, becomes evil when he is badly injured and being cared for by the priestess Kikyo. He falls in love with her but is unable to speak or move. He gives himself up to demons to heal him so he may profess his love. Once he is possessed he learns she loves InuYasha and becomes jealous. His motivation becomes the desire for revenge on Kikyo and InuYasha. By the time Kagome arrives, Naraku is just an evil, cruel, and power-hungry demon; any other motivation has been lost.

In Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court Hank Morgan is the only character; everyone else is meant to reflect something of Hank’s personality. Hank is therefore both hero and villain. Remember, Twain wrote “Yankee” as satire, and each aspect of Hank’s personality reflects some aspect of society Twain satirizes.

I like the concept of the antagonist having real motivations; that is, from the villain’s point of view he or she is the real hero and the audience’s hero is the villain. This gives the antagonist some depth, some realistic motivations: they are only trying to do what they think is best.

In The Dragon Core this is a situation that’s not clear-cut for a long time. Ruko begins as JD’s friend, only slowly turning into a villain. Without giving away plot points I can’t explain how this happens.

Here are my characters in rough order of appearance. In some cases I’ve paired people because they are paired characters in Do-Over. Minor, one-shot, or rarely-seen characters are not listed even though a couple of them have names.

  • JD. Enough said about him already.
  • Mya, the daughter of JD’s adoptive village head man, a smart, strong-willed, capable woman of 17. She has turned down politically-motivated and other proposals of marriage because she wants to be treated as more than a cook and mother. Mya is literate, a rarity in the society and even more rare for a woman.
  • Kebo and Mira, Mya’s parents. Kebo is the head of Central Village and nominal head of Ajad Province, the last refuge of a once-large empire. Mira is the same type of person as Mya but has given in somewhat to the male-dominated society. She wants more for Mya than she has.
  • Fight Masters Loobe (weaponless combat) and Jobo (swordsmanship). Loobe is very similar to Mr Miyagi in “The Karate Kid”; Jobo is loosely based on R. Lee Ermey’s Sergeant character.
  • Farm Master Kobe, in charge of farming and livestock. He’s loosely based on Daniel Whitney’s Larry the Cable Guy character.
  • Ruko, a miner, at first one of JD’s friends. Over time he becomes the villain, although it’s not his fault.
  • Howroo and Yowl, wolf demons. Howroo is an alternate love interest for JD but is betrothed to another wolf demon; she’s a relative teenager while Yowl is the sober, more mature older brother who tries to keep Howroo on the right (wolf demon) path.
  • Edo and Kaba, demon hunters. Although they have their own growth curve, they serve to mirror JD’s personality and internal conflicts. Rather than have JD tell us directly we learn about his internal struggles by watching how he interacts with this couple. Both are orphans and have been together since Edo was eleven years old. Both are 18 in the beginning, but Kaba is older and turns 19 before the end of The Dragon Core.
  • Herndo the Lore Master. The first Herndo invented writing. He and each subsequent Herndo take on an apprentice who, when the current lore master retires or dies, takes over the name and position. His purpose, of course, is explaining the lore of the land.
  • Lukahah, a warrior from another country. For those familiar with manga conventions she is visually “fan service”, an attractive person who wears revealing clothes. As a character she is a dominant personality, well-versed in combat and weapons use. She comes from a society that’s female-dominated; she disdains most men as less competent than she is.
  • Johanah, Lukanah’s niece. Like Mya she is a bit of a misfit in her own culture. Compared to Ajadi women Johanah is a strong personality somewhat similar to Mya; in her own culture she is considered weak because she is not a fighter. Johanah appears mid-way through One and One Make One.
  • Alden, the antagonist of Last Man Standing. He’s a cross between Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan.
  • Other important characters, such as certain town folk and the other head men of villages, appear when necessary for story purposes. These characters will have names and a backstory which may or may not be presented. I haven’t listed them because doing so gives away vital plot points.

And of course, there’s the main villain of The Dragon Core: the Red Dragon. Above I wrote “an interesting villain is a hero from their own world view and the story’s hero is their villain.” In The Dragon Core we discover the legend of the Red Dragon eating the creations of the other dragons. He does this to stay alive as his Core energy slowly fades. Much like humans need to eat or starve, the Red Dragon has to eat Core energy to avoid starvation. And, much like humans, if that means some far lesser creatures must die, so be it. He tells JD,

We dragons created the universe, therefore we created you, therefore I am above you. Just as you are above a worm I am above your kind. You would not hesitate to kill a worm to survive…

It’s the same argument we might make to a head of lettuce before making it into a salad.

By the way, if that sounds like the Marvel Comics character Galactus you’d be right (another case of borrowing a concept). The Red Dragon is not modeled after Galactus, but his logic is the same as Galactus’. From the Red Dragon’s point of view, destroying relatively insignificant life forms so that he may continue to exist is regrettable but necessary for his own survival.

The next essay, the last in the series, describes some background and details of the story not covered elsewhere.


“Do-Over”: Part Three, Setting

A summary of what has gone before.

  1. Do-Over is a story about a man from modern times cast into a primitive past. The man, JD, is a competent man with an autism-like disorder. In the beginning of the story his “true” age is 67 but his physical age is somewhere around 18-20.
  2. The inspiration for the story come from two widely-recognized sources: Rumiko Takahashi’s InuYasha and Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (“Yankee”).
  3. Part of Do-Over is deliberately educational.

I’ve established JD in a new universe. How does he know? Suppose you were transported to another universe where the plants and animals were similar enough that you couldn’t tell the difference and the people are humans and speak your language. How would you know you were in a different universe?

The first thing I’d do is look up at the night sky. There’s a reference we can use, and it doesn’t take an astronomer to see it. Is there a moon? Does it look different? What about the stars? We have many familiar constellations: the Dippers Big and Little, Orion, Sagittarius, and in the south the Southern Cross and Hercules. And then there are planets.

For you, then, looking up at the night sky will tell you something’s different. JD’s a scientist and, with his background, would certainly notice small differences you might not. However, to make this point to those readers who don’t look up at night I need more than “I can’t find Arcturus.” In our universe, in a dark rural area with a clear sky, you can see about 2,000 – 3,000 stars on any given night. What could be more obvious than removing 90% of those stars? JD’s night sky has only about 200 stars visible, even with no light pollution and a clear sky.

To reinforce this idea, all of the stars JD sees are very dim and he makes note of that. But there’s another reason for having very few stars beyond the simple “I’m in a different universe”: a plot point. I’ll discuss that in Part Four: Characters and Part Five: Miscellany.

In various parts of the text JD makes an off-hand remark about some scientific concept and tries to teach that concept to his audience (and you, the reader). Sometimes he just explains what it means in a sentence or three. In this way my story has educational aspects but they do not interfere with the story; you can skip them and they don’t affect the story (except when they need to, of course).

As with any work of fiction, the world can either be a part of the plot or not – but if it isn’t it should not interfere with the plot. I decided to make this an Earth-like world, and world-building is the quintessential exercise in playing with ideas.

  • There are no large herbivores, the largest being goats and sheep. This is plausible. North America had only one large herbivore, the bison, for almost 8,000 years between The Great Overkill (extinction of mammoths and giant sloths) and when Europeans brought cattle (Columbus) and horses (Spaniards). I introduce horses to the story in One and One Make One because I need them there; I don’t need them before that.
  • There are no large carnivores, the largest being wolves.
  • There are no dogs or cats. I introduce dogs in One and One Make One as a plot point.
  • This is a male-dominated society; women are for cooking, cleaning, and child-rearing. My main female, Mya, rebels against that in several ways, and JD supports her (my way of arguing against the concept of male domination). There are other strong female characters (see Part Four).

That’s enough for now; there are other things but I’ll let you discover them for yourself. That’s part of the fun, right?

Back in Part One, when I introduced JD I remarked, “he’ll need some survival skills or he’ll die before the story gets moving.” Like JD, you will have to wait and discover those skills over time. However, one of them is critical, and a lot of fun to think about: how does JD communicate in his new universe?

In both InuYasha and “Yankee” the main characters speak the language of their new location: Kagome because she’s still in Japan and Hank because he’s in England. Leaving aside for the moment that Arthur’s English would be incomprehensible to modern English speakers, and even Chaucer’s English is difficult, the language barrier is a common problem in any story placing the hero in a strange land. Usually authors get around this problem in one of three ways.

  1. Use the character’s own language in some unexplained way.
  2. Magic or technology: a translator pendant, a spell, something.
  3. Language lessons.

Language lessons are tedious for the reader. Holding up objects and naming them is boring enough, not to mention potentially confusing. Pointing to oneself and saying “Homer!” could be construed as “My name is Homer” or “I am a Homer,” an intelligent being or a member of the Home society. Authors wanting realism include these exchanges but cover them quickly.

“She proceeded to call out the organs of the legger which corresponded to hers. Thus, the preparations for the meal passed swiftly… she had exchanged at least forty words with him. After an hour he remembered twenty.” – My Sister’s Brother, Philip Jose Farmer.

Do-Over covers JD’s life in some detail, so while I could handle it that way I don’t want to; I want JD to be able to communicate right off the bat. The world in Do-Over is neither magical nor technological so I can’t use those methods, and I want JD in another universe so English is out. What am I left with?

When JD is between universes he receives a set of four gifts from the people who brought him here. I call those beings The Ancients (all right, so I was a little lazy there). We’ve seen one gift: he’s young again. You and JD learn of the second gift, the gift of tongues, early on: JD by accident, you by virtue of the reader’s perspective.

Consider the ramifications of such a gift. JD thinks, speaks, and hears English, but the gift of tongues translates his English into any other language and, in reverse, translates that language into English so he can understand it. Only he has this gift, others do not share it, and it does not extend beyond him. Suppose JD starts in Italy, communicating in Italian, and people follow him as he travels through France, Basque country, and Spain. When he arrives in Barcelona and addresses his followers, what do they hear? All four languages at once? If so, that would be a miracle (magic). It also has no plot value in Do-Over. I don’t want to completely give up on foreign language issues; there are some ideas I can use.

Let’s revisit the example. In Barcelona, when JD speaks to the Italians everyone there hears Italian. To speak in Spanish he has to focus on the Spanish people – and then everyone hears him speaking Spanish. Why is this a useful plot point? If everyone hears JD speaking their own language at the same time he looks like a miracle worker. If, instead, they hear him speaking the language of the people he’s talking to, he’s seen as a normal human being who happens to know the language. There’s another advantage: when JD’s alone (or when he doesn’t know there’s anyone around) he speaks English. I don’t use that too often, but when I do it’s to make things interesting.

This brings up another point: writing. In both InuYasha and “Yankee” the written language is the same as the spoken one. JD writes in English; the language of his new world is a combination of logographic and alphabetic images that isn’t English. In Do-Over, a sign has a picture of something (e.g., the sign for poison or danger) and we understand what that means. The advantage that gives me is the ability to draw signs with one or two relatively simple pictures without having to invent an alphabet or language. On those rare occasions when I need an alphabetic view I’m using a runic-like alphabet, mostly because it’s easy to draw.

You may ask why JD is able to hear and speak the language but not write it. Obviously speech and literacy are two different skills. But, more important for the story, I need some reason to have Mya hang out with JD: she’s teaching him to read and write. Remember, I want Mya to be a strong character who makes her own decisions, not one who swoons over “tall, dark, and handsome.” Some women in the village do; JD considers them shallow and isn’t interested in them. Mya is different: she’ll take her time deciding if a person is a good partner for her.

Finally there is some humor inherent in JD learning to read and write. Consider this example from the book, a letter of apology.

I do not anger, I afraid for you. No excuse shout. I beg forgive.

After several months he’s still writing like a kid.

But enough of that. Part Four, Supporting Characters, discusses characters from allies to villains and everything in between.


“Do-Over”: Part Two, Character Creation

A summary of Part One follows.

  1. The inspiration for the story come from two widely-recognized sources: Rumiko Takahashi’s InuYasha and Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (“Yankee”).
  2. I want to explore many aspects of this type of story not explored in either work.
  3. Do-Over is a story about a man from modern times cast into a primitive (for him) past.
  4. That man is a 67-year-old physicist in the mold of Robert Heinlein’s “competent man” but not a Marty Stu; he’s a realistic character.
  5. A 67-year-old man may be too old for a love interest.

Regarding Number 4, both InuYasha and “Yankee” have primary characters that are close to Marty Stus. Hank is youngish for a lead engineer “with 2000 people under him”; InuYasha always learns a new attack just when he needs one (many Japanese manga have a deus ex machina aspect). But both have their weaknesses. That is the type of character I’m shooting for: someone who is a capable but believable, a hero who doesn’t always win. Conflict and struggle are interesting, and if Hank solves every problem or InuYasha beats every enemy on the first attempt they would be boring leads. At some point you have to worry if the hero will succeed or you yawn and put the book down.

Regarding Number 5, it is certainly possible to write an old person as a romantic lead; it’s been done, and done well, by several authors. Some of these older characters end up with a much younger person. But I want something a little more believable than the May-December romance. Thus comes one of the ideas I wanted to play with.

Some of you may have, at one time or another, thought to yourself, “What if I could start over, go back to high school (or whatever), with my current wisdom intact?” If you haven’t, try now. What would you do differently? What would you keep the same? Would you change your career direction? Your hobbies? Did you give up something you wished you still did? Would you make the same friends? Different friends? Different romances? What would you do over? (That was Maxwell’s Silver Hammer I just whacked you with; sorry.)

What am I getting at? I can address both questions by making my protagonist “de-age” when he gets transported to the past. He retains his memories, wisdom, and experience, but now that he’s physically young his romantic possibilities are much wider.

To offset that he discovers a large portion of what he thought was “wisdom” turns out to be a combination of factors ranging from hormonal changes to a general withdrawal from society as he aged. Immediately before being transported to the past JD, my protagonist, has no friends and no family other than his son and estranged daughter. He’s left with a stubborn and unwanted attachment to life that keeps him going. He goes on, existing rather than living, and although he might not want to die he clearly doesn’t want to live either.

And that becomes a point of growth for the character. He’s made young again (age 18-20) and given a chance, of a sort, to relive his life – and finds out he’s still the same person he’s always been. Experience and wisdom alone aren’t enough; he’s making the same mistakes he made when he was actually younger, and the only way to grow up is to, well, grow up.

But what if “growing up” isn’t enough of an option? Wait, don’t walk away. In InuYasha, one of the main conflicts is InuYasha’s inability to see that Kagome cares for him, even when it’s crystal clear to everyone else. The supporting characters frequently refer to InuYasha as “dense”. There are people who are like InuYasha, in a way: they can’t read social cues. People with ADHD or ASD (autism spectrum disorders) are often like that, albeit for differing reasons.

I find this an educational opportunity. Instead of characterizing JD as “dense” I let him show us what it’s like not to understand what typical people see. A typical person might get nervous when building a new relationship, be it a new friend or a potential romantic partner. Someone with ASD finds building relationships terrifying and/or confusing. What’s it like to think there’s a second, incomprehensible dialog going on when people talk to each other? What’s it like to hear words literally and completely miss a subtext everyone else apparently understands without effort? What does it feel like to have someone become angry over what, to you, is an innocent comment? I experience all of those situations frequently and I’m letting JD tell that story for me.

So what does JD “have”? Consider Sheldon Cooper of The Big Bang Theory. The writers deny Sheldon has any disorder; Jim Parsons (the actor playing him) uses various aspects from across the ASD spectrum to portray Sheldon. I’m treating JD in the same way: he has nothing specific, and that’s deliberate. My hope is that people reading Do-Over will see something in JD they find in themselves and get the feeling “Hey, he gets it!” – while at the same time not making JD a parodic or comedic character like Sheldon Cooper. Can I do that? I don’t know for sure; I think I have, but you’ll have to wait until it comes out to decide.

Now I have a lead character thrown into the past and given a chance for a do-over. In Part One I wrote how InuYasha and “Yankee” transport their protagonist to their own past, and writing that way requires only a good history text. Further, the character is aware it’s their own past; that means if their memory is good enough (and they read the same text) they can use that knowledge to their own advantage. InuYasha ignores the question; in “Yankee” Hank uses it to advance his own status. I want to use this situation as a plot point but not something JD can use to his advantage. Conflict is interesting, and if JD can say “I remember this happening” and act accordingly two “bad” things happen. The first, of course, is a Marty Stu situation: the protagonist knows everything and therefore there is no (or only weak) conflict. The second has a more interesting solution.

In “Yankee” Hank does not change his own history; none of the technology he introduced to Arthur remains. In InuYasha one thing changes, but it has no effect on Kagome’s future. However, you and I both know changes in past events will have ramifications to future events; the effects may be small but there will be effects. To avoid that there are two choices: future events cannot be changed (time inertia) or my protagonist is not only in another time but another place, a place where the future he knows does not exist. There’s my next modification to the general concept: the protagonist is sent to another universe.

That’s not new either; Terry Brooks’ Landover series and Stephen Donaldson’s The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant both transport their protagonists to another universe, as do C. S. Lewis’ Narnia books. (The late Robert Asprin’s Myth series takes that concept to extremes; his protagonist travels to hundreds of different universes.) There is a lot of this type of literature around and I don’t want to duplicate it. But the idea is useful for something else: education. More on that in Part Three, Setting.


“Do-Over”: Part One, Genesis of an Idea

The germ of the idea for Do-Over came while watching Rumiko Takahashi’s InuYasha with my son. InuYasha is an anime (from Takahashi’s manga) telling the story of Kagome, a 15-year-old Japanese girl magically transported 500 years into her past, feudal Japan. Large portions of the story focus on the relationship Kagome forms with the titular character, a half-human dog demon.

While watching this anime a couple of things struck me. First, Kagome can move relatively freely between modern times and the past. Most stories like this have the protagonist sent back in time at the beginning and returned to their own time at the end. In many, the protagonist is unable to return to their own time and is forced to adapt to a different culture. The structure of InuYasha allows Kagome, in the end, to decide whether she wants to stay with InuYasha or return to her own time. That, plus the story’s setting in Kagome’s own past, frees the author to more-or-less ignore cultural and technological changes and focus on the plot. It also allows the audience to connect with Kagome’s experiences, whether by seeing her in her modern setting or the historical past they’re all familiar with.

Second, while Kagome undergoes quite a bit of personal growth, the other characters do not. Many plot points center around relationship growth rather than personal growth. For example, InuYasha is little different in the end than he was in the beginning of the story. There is certainly nothing wrong with that, and Takahashi handles it very well, but it is different from what we’re taught in “story class”: interesting characters must show personal growth.

I’m going to leave both of these concepts for now, but I’ll come back to them later because they’re central to my approach to Do-Over.

One of the first connections I made outside InuYasha with “going back to the past” is Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. (Going forward I’ll refer to Twain’s work as “Yankee” for obvious reasons.) In “Yankee” the protagonist Hank Morgan meets King Arthur in 7th-century Britain after getting hit in the head by a crowbar. He industrializes medieval England with modern technology (Gatling guns, electricity etc.). In the end, Hank returns to the present via Merlin’s sleep spell. The story implies Hank had only dreamed his adventures as part of the injuries suffered in the beginning of the story.

The primary difference in intent between InuYasha and “Yankee” is key. “Yankee” is at once a satire on the nobility’s control over citizens and a longing to return to more innocent times. InuYasha is a simple, albeit enjoyable, fairy tale with little social commentary outside of the complex relationships people can have. Twain, being the genius he was, wrote a story that can be read as he intended or as a fairy tale. That is, it is possible to enjoy “Yankee” in the same way one can enjoy InuYasha: pure entertainment.

In both InuYasha and “Yankee”, we have a context the authors’ audiences can easily connect to. InuYasha handles feudal Japan accurately and the audience is familiar with the subject. Although “Yankee” is full of anachronistic references to Arthurian legends, such as plate armor and the Holy Grail (both not a part of the English traditions until the 12th century), Twain did so deliberately. For his setting, he used Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur, well after the historical Arthur but more familiar to Twain’s audience. Both Twain and Takahashi built a world their readers would understand without having to look them up – which in turn lets the reader get more involved in the story rather than the setting.

I love to play with ideas. The idea of traveling back in time, bringing modern knowledge to a primitive society, is full of possibilities. In both stories a lot of those possibilities are not explored; both Kagome and Hank exist in their own past and they are aware of it. From an author’s perspective, all that requires is a good history text and some knowledge of the culture of the desired time period. That’s plenty to use as a story setting – it clearly works in both stories – but I wanted to do some exploring.

Step One was picking a protagonist. It’s a lot easier for me, a trained scientist, to relate to an adult male engineer than to a 15-year-old high school girl. For various reasons I wanted my protagonist to be a person called “the competent man”. Here’s Robert Heinlein’s explanation, as described in Heinlein’s novel Time Enough for Love by the main character Lazarus Long.

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.

But there’s a catch (two, really) in using a competent man. The first catch is obvious: is this Superman? A better comparison is Batman. Consider DC Comics’ Justice League of America. Batman is a member equal to Superman, Wonder Woman, and all manner of superbeings despite having no superpowers. There are lesser examples in the real world, so this is not an unreasonable concept.

The second catch is less obvious. How does a person become like this? In Heinlein’s novel, Lazarus Long is over 2,000 years old, giving him plenty of time to learn things. If I made my protagonist a young man he becomes a Marty Stu. If you haven’t heard that name before, or of Mary Sue, the definition is “a young or low-rank person who saves the day through unrealistic abilities.” The term comes from fan fiction; for more on this concept see the Wikipedia article on Mary Sue.

I dislike writing fan fiction; I don’t like playing in someone else’s universe unless I’m invited. Therefore I have to address both catches to writing a competent man. Making my protagonist an aged scientist not only solves the first catch, it opens a lot of possibilities for plot actions.

To solve the second catch, I remove some of the competent man’s capabilities and add one pertinent fact: the main character is more anti-hero than hero, fundamentally flawed in a particular way. I have to leave him with some good qualities and skills, of course, or he won’t be an interesting character – and he’ll need some survival skills or he’ll die before the story gets moving.

So I made my protagonist a 67-year-old scientist, a parent to two grown children, and someone who practices a form of kung fu and tai chi to remain physically fit. That gives him time to adjust to the society plus the intelligence and interest in oddball knowledge to know at least something about many different fields. It does, however, leave a small problem.

As I mentioned above, one of the reasons I enjoyed InuYasha is the focus on interpersonal relationships. “Yankee” explores that as well with the relationship Hank develops with Demoiselle Alisande a la Carteloise, whom he calls “Sandy”. But it’s not easy to make a 67-year-old man a romantic interest and, as mentioned above, using a younger protagonist runs a risk of creating a Marty Stu character.

To learn how I solved that problem see Do-Over: Part 2, Character Creation.


The status of my OEL manga project “Do-Over”

I know some of you have been wondering about the progress I’m making. I am behind on posting art work, mostly because I want to show progress and I’ve hit a plateau I can’t get off. Instead of posting artwork I thought I’d fill you in on the writing end of it.

The OEL manga project has evolved considerably, including a name change, since I started it. This is the first in a series of six blog posts about developing the Do-Over project. I used two criteria for deciding how long to make each post and how many I’d need.

  • Subject matter. Part One is about where I got the idea, Part Two is about developing the story’s main character, Part Three is about developing the setting, and so on.
  • Post length. Science says around 1,600 words, approximately 7 minutes of reading, so that’s my upper limit. This post is around 1,000 words, a rough lower limit.

Neither are hard limits, of course, but if I put the whole thing in one blog post I’ll lose my audience (all six of you).

First, an overview of the project. The original concept was just The Dragon Core; that’s how I built the website and named the story. Over time I decided there were a lot of potential points of interest to the story, my main character’s personality, and his adjustments to a new world and culture. I also wanted to play with different genres. Finally, although The Dragon Core ends satisfactorily there is plenty of room for a sequel or two. I decided on three books.

  1. The Dragon Core, a sword-and-sorcery fantasy story. A scientist named JD is transported to a new universe and does battle with both a legendary dragon and his own internal issues. He finds the dragon an easier conflict to resolve.
  2. One and One Make One, a slice-of-life story. There is sadness and joy, humor and tragedy, in this book. The title comes from a song by The Who, Bargain.
  3. Last Man Standing, difficult to characterize but closest to “the man who couldn’t be kept down.” Ben-Hur is an example of that type of story.

This project will take something like 7-10 years to complete, depending primarily on how fast I can learn to draw well enough to justify the effort I put into the story, and then the time needed to do the illustrations. The script for The Dragon Core is complete except for two chapters (17 and 26); those two chapters have complete notes but the dialog hasn’t been written. During NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) in November I’ll finish (or nearly finish) One and One Make One. I’ll finish the script for Last Man Standing in 2017.

This novel must be written as a graphic novel; it’s how it’s developed in my mind. I can’t explain why, it’s just a feeling about story flow and how I want to express the story’s content. I have learned a lot about drawing in the last six months but still can’t draw believable people in action; that will take practice and lots of it. I had originally intended to begin The Dragon Core in July of 2016; that’s not going to happen, obviously, and it’s going to be a struggle to make January of 2017.

I am capable of drawing simple people. For example, I could begin the story using characters of the quality used by artists like Gary Larson, Charles Shultz, Scott Adams, and Bil Keane, to name a few – but those artists are humorists and I’d like this story to be taken seriously. That includes quality backgrounds, reasonably accurate characterizations of people and animals, and so on. I’m not there yet; I’m figuring that will take a year or two. When I look forward that seems like a long time and I admit to getting discouraged at times. When I get there, though, it won’t seem as bad.

I borrow heavily from many sources; not for story lines per se (there are only 7 or 8 plots anyway) but for inspiration and ideas to make my own. Sources range from anime and manga (InuYasha, Dragonball, Clannad), American works (A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, Life Among the Savages), and classic literature (Lord of the Rings, Ben-Hur, The Chronicles of Narnia). If you’re familiar with those works you’ll see ghosts and shadows of them in various places in the project – and I think that’s part of the fun. There are even places I’ll reference Monty Python, Spongebob, or other modern cultural phenomena, albeit in a very oblique manner.

(There are places in the story where I’d like JD, the main character, to quote Monty Python or Spongebob, or sing songs from our own culture. I can’t have him do that without paying royalties, so even though it would be something any of us would do (recall memories of what we grew up with) the best I can do is make oblique references and hope people get it. In one place in The Dragon Core I have to reference a modern song (JD sings it as a major plot point); when I do that I won’t quote the song but will mention its name in the comment section of the page so you can play your own copy of the song while reading the page.)

Of course, you may wonder about the wisdom of “borrowing”. For that I refer you to this piece by John Cleese of Monty Python’s Flying Circus and Fawlty Towers.

You Should – No, You Must – Steal Your Way to Success

That is what I’m trying to do. Besides being unethical, rewriting an old classic is full of hubris. I’m not a better satirist than Mark Twain; Rumiko Takahashi (the author of InuYasha) is a very good story teller; and let’s not even go down the road of comparing myself to Tolkein or Lewis. But all of my inspirations are quality story tellers; emulating their style (without stealing their prose) and combining it into my own style is both doable and an homage to all of them.

It’s up to you, my readers, to tell me how I’m doing. When this project gets off the ground and I begin to publish it I’m really looking forward to all feedback. It can only help me grow as both a writer and an artist. Thanks for reading; the story continues in the next blog entry, “Do-Over”: Part One, Genesis of an Idea.



Saving For Posterity.

Over the years I’ve done a lot of things. For the most part, I haven’t saved anything I’ve created – snapshots, pictures, writing … almost nothing. The one exception is computer code, because it’s portable and you never know when you’ll need it again. But for any other creative endeavor I’ve always felt my memory was enough.

Now that I’m drawing I’ve decided to save everything. I don’t like to waste paper, so I scan it and save it as a picture or a PDF file. Why am I saving everything now? So I can gauge my progress. Not so much how long it took, but whether I make any progress at all.

This change in approach is part of a new attitude I’m trying to develop. I want to remain positive and committed to creating comics, and to do that I have to both write (which I’m already fairly good at) and draw, which I may have been good at once (I honestly don’t know!), but not in at least 30 years. My idea is that keeping even the firstborn drawings will remind me, later, how far I’ve come, how much improvement I’ve made. In turn, during times when I think “I suck at this” (and those times will be frequent, believe me), I’ll be able to pull out my beginner work and see just how far I’ve progressed.

So you, too, can join my journey. Here’s my first attempt at perspective drawing.

First attempts at perspective

And here’s some natural history pictures.

Sketches, 2016-08-21