Bob and the Black Knight – Coming Soon!

Those of you who’ve been following Bob and Jeeves’ adventures for awhile have undoubtedly been asking the same questions over and over as you toss and turn to sleep each night:

“When is the third book coming out?”

“Why hasn’t Joe released the third book yet?”

“Will he ever get to work on the third book? I need it like I need my insulin.”

“What does he do all day? Lie in bed eating expensive chocolates while watching The Land Before Time on repeat? Watching it again won’t un-kill Littlefoot’s mom!”

Well, after much trial and tribulation, I’m glad to announce that Bob and the Black Knight will be available in the next few weeks.

In this adventure, Bob and Jeeves travel to jolly old England in search of King Arthur’s ancient sword, Excalibur. After an encounter with the mythical Lady of the Lake, they camp in the forest. In the dead of night, Bob is awoken by the armored ghost of the Black Knight. The ancient specter tells the young adventurer he can find Excalibur by traveling to the Black Knight’s castle.

Bob and his llama must face long-dead warriors brought to life, gnomes, cockatrices, axe-wielding rodents, break-dancing, and a sinister octogenarian sorceress if they’re to have any hope of recovering Excalibur.

The book is already written; I just need to finish the art. If you’d like to get a sense of the art process, check out this post.

Since I’d like to give readers more to enjoy this time, Black Knight will be significantly longer than Cyber-Llama or Pop-Up Book of Destiny. There’s more action, more humor, and more witty, llama quips.

Writing Bob and the Black Knight also required quite a bit of research. Since it’s based on the King Arthur legends, I read a lot of summarized versions of the Arthur stories with an emphasis on the story of Excalibur and the Black Knight. I took most of my information from The Story of King Arthur and his Knights by Howard Pyle.  The research was worth the delay in book production; reading a book written in 1903 takes a little while.

So, in the coming weeks, be prepared to mount thy steeds and unsheathe thy weapons. Tis time to ride into the third Cyber-Llama book!

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Review of “My Buddy Knows…Letters!” by Keith Wheeler

Living through the ups and downs of life, I always try to view things from other people’s perspectives. And while performing this psychological practice, I always come to one inescapable conclusion: it must be really weird to be four years old.

Think about it. Four-year-olds can walk and run, but their legs are still a little chubby and infant-like. They usually speak like grown human beings, but sometimes end up sounding like a drunk Cookie Monster on helium. And, though they’re new to life, they suddenly have expectations thrust upon them.

When you’re four or five years old, you have three jobs:

  1. Learn your letters
  2. Learn your numbers
  3. Don’t poop your pants

Assuming you find it within yourself to count to ten and become a true deacon of the diapers, all that’s left is to learn your alphabet. Master that and you can lord it over all the other five-year-olds forever.

Keith Wheeler’s “My Buddy Knows…Letters!” is a fantastic way to teach kids the alphabet. The book makes letters fun while still pounding that sweet, sweet learning into kids’ heads like a jackhammer of knowledge.

It starts with a simple phrase: “This is my buddy, Josh! Josh knows a lot about…letters!” Josh looks like a nice guy, even though he could really use some self-tanning lotion and maybe a fashion consultant. Regardless, he’s a welcoming figure that kids will gravitate toward.

Readers are then shown a picture of an object and, on the next page, told which letter it begins with (“My buddy knows that apple starts with A”, “My buddy knows that ball starts with B”, “My buddy knows that colonoscopy starts with C”, etc.)

But unlike other alphabet books, this one has a unique twist: it shows kids a picture of the object, and then tells them which letter the word starts with. A toddler reading this book with their parents will think “oh, that’s an apple.” just before the book tells them “Apple starts with A.”

At that moment, the wires in that kids’ head will connect and the electricity will start flowing. Pretend there’s a motionless hamster wheel in the middle of your child’s brain. Reading this book is like putting a steroid-infused hamster in the middle of that wheel and letting that rodent fly.

“My Buddy Knows…Letters!” by Keith Wheeler will alleviate some of the enormous stress your four year old endures between episodes of “Mr. Rogers Neighborhood” by breaking down letters in a way they can wrap their heads around. Keep an eye out for “My Buddy Knows…Numbers!”, too. I expect it to revolutionize my world in a similar way.

Bob and the Pop-Up Book of Destiny Now Available

Kill the fattened calf! Sound the horns of celebration! Run into the streets, put on your finest top hat, coat your naked body in dijon mustard, and sing hallelujah!

Bob and the Pop-Up Book of Destiny is finally available on Amazon Createspace, Kindle, and Lulu!

In this, their second adventure, Bob Halibut and his cybernetic llama butler, Jeeves, travel to Mexico, where they use Hamadi’s map to explore an ancient Aztec ruin. Deep in the dark, stanky temple, they discover the Pop-Up Book of Destiny, an artifact of unimaginable power.

And after they encounter a vengeful conquistador, Bob and Jeeves battle long-dead forces to save Mexico City from destruction and despotic rule.

But the story is only part of the fun this time: each chapter now includes a picture of one of the characters or scenarios described in the book.

I’ve also added illustrations to the original Bob and the Cyber-Llama. You’ll have fortnights of fun gazing in awe at my glorious artistry, your personal hygiene slowly deteriorating as you fail to tear yourself away from its breathtaking beauty.

Like Bob and the Cyber-Llama, Bob and the Pop-Up Book of Destiny is a great read for kids, adults, and fifth-dimensional koalas alike. Buy it now or regret it for the rest of your days.

Cover Design: Part 2

In a post about two weeks ago, I described the complex, spiritual, mind-blowing, existential process of designing the cover for Bob and the Pop-Up Book of Destiny. I explained how I first take about an hour out of my busy schedule of writing “Andy Griffith Show” fanfiction to draw the initial cover in pencil:

After this, I scan the picture into the computer and trace the pencil lines like so:

Then comes the color. Over the past year or so, I’ve developed a pretty efficient process for coloring pictures. I use the magic wand on the black outline layer to select enclosed areas. I then use the modify tool to expand the selected area and fill it with color using the fill tool. I do have to zoom in and do a little additional coloring, as the magic wand tool isn’t perfect, but it’s a lot more efficient than using the brush to color an entire area.

At this point, I don’t need to use the original image anymore; the whole thing is a recreation of the original pencil drawing.

After this, I do the shading. Shading is like the crunchy exterior of a Klondike bar. It doesn’t seem flashy at first, but makes the whole experience much, much more enjoyable. Shading mimics the light source hitting the characters, which makes the image much more realistic (as realistic as a cartoon llama can be, anyway.)

I take a darker version of an object’s color and use it to color the side of the object opposite the light source. For this cover, the characters are in a dark temple with light streaming from the pop-up book. I think the shading turned out pretty well:

The final step is to form a text box with the book’s title and add a mask to the layer containing the color and shading of Jeeves’ body in order to make him look furry. To do this, I link the color layers of Jeeves’ body and add a new one containing a giant patch of fur.

Then, I turn down the opacity of the fur layer to make it see-through. The final result looks something like this:

And voila! A cover that would make Michelangelo pee his pants with envy! Now that the front cover is done, I just need to work on the rear cover and the spine (which take much less time) and upload the book to Amazon. And then I just wait for my Pulitzer.

Adverbs: Falsest of Friends

Joining a writing or editing group can be an incredible experience. If you surround yourself with the right group of people, you gain invaluable feedback and improve your pieces of writing in a way you just can’t accomplish your own. It’s a productive, fulfilling experience.

If you surround yourself with the right group of people.

Eventually, you’ll find yourself in a writing group full of people terrified of offering the slightest criticism who assume that if they suggest even minor edits to your writing, you’ll start bawling like the precious, little lilac you are and spend the rest of your life locked in your basement wearing a stained wife-beater, shoving pistachio ice cream in your cakehole, and watching Smurfs reruns while blubbering “Why, oh why, did she not approve of the way I use semicolons?!”

The best piece of advice I’ve ever received from a writing group is this: adverbs are not your friends.

For those who don’t remember third grade English (or School House Rock), adverbs are words that can be used to describe other parts of speech. They’re not like adjectives, which can only be used to describe nouns (words like large, stinky, boisterous, and sticky.) Adverbs can be used to describe adjectives and verbs as well (words like slowly, very, deftly, or suddenly are adverbs.)

If you write adventure fiction, you’ll find yourself describing a lot of vibrant combat scenes and daring escapes. While writing such a scene, the temptation to use adverbs eats away at your undercarriage like a starving, hyperactive poodle.

I find myself using phrases like “he ducked under the table quickly” or “deftly, he drew his pistol.” The problem is that all those adverbs make the scene move pretty slowly. Which is not what you want in an action scene.

The adverbs also keep me from using more creative language. Instead of “he ducked under the table quickly,” I can say “he darted under the table.” Instead of “deftly, he drew his pistol,” I can say “he whipped out his pistol.”

Adverbs are the disgusting, garbage-scented cretins of the grammar world.  They should be shunned, shot, dragged through the streets, and hung up in town square as an example to other figures of speech.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go and cry into a pillow. Agnes from my new writing group suggested I stop using serial commas.

Cover Design

As the rapturous day of Bob and the Pop-Up Book of Destiny‘s glorious release draws ever-closer, I thought I’d give you some insight into one of the more…artistic sides of my writing process: cover design.

Until the release of the next book, I’ll be giving you a step-by-step tour of the cover design process. You’ll get to see the cover as it develops; and your brain will swell with joy as the images dance before your eyes like a thousand tiny elves. Who are hyped up on caffeine.

I’ve always enjoyed drawing cartoons and comics (check out my comic series here), and have been transferring my drawings to the digital world over the past few years. Now I use Photoshop, but believe it or not, I used to rely on Microsoft Paint to produce digital art. Both the Classystrugeon logo and the image of Jeeves on the Bob and the Cyber-Llama cover were done in Paint.

After experimenting with a few different techniques, I’ve finally nailed down a process. First, I draw the image on a white piece of paper and scan it into the computer. So the first version of Pop-Up Book of Destiny‘s cover looked like this:

After the image is scanned, I use the brush tool to trace most of the pencil lines. Not only does this give everything the standard black outline seen in most cartoons and comics, it also allows me to enclose certain areas, which makes coloring much easier.

I also use the selection and movement tools during this step to resize or move certain parts of the image. For example, in the image above, I thought Jeeves’ neck looked a little too short. I moved it straight up and used the Photoshop brush to draw the area in-between.

There are two more steps to designing the cover: basic coloring and shading/detail. I’ll be sure to let you in on the process as the cover comes along!