How I Spent My Winter Vacation

the rewrite chronicles public domain blog michael allan leonard

I know the last time we met under this particular banner I said the next installment of The reWrite Chronicles was going to be about the topic of procrastination . . .

. . . which I’m going to put off for a little while.

That declaration was mostly due to procrastination being a major personal flaw of mine, one of the hurdles I thought I’d have to stumble over several times in order to get my personal ‘revolution’ underway.  So it seemed, at the time, like a completely logical next step.

As it turns out, in the past month and a half or so, procrastination has gotten stabbed directly in the face with six-inch razor sharp Adamantium claws and left for dead.

Oh sure, when *I* do this at a restaurant, my girlfriend rolls her eyes and it takes forever for the waitress to refill my coffee.  Hugh does it, everyone laughs and it's all over the Interwebs.

Oh sure, when *I* do this at a restaurant, my girlfriend rolls her eyes and it takes forever for the waitress to refill my coffee. Hugh does it, everyone laughs and it’s all over the Interwebs.

I used to be the best I was at what I did . . . which was to put off doing anything particularly and consistently constructive when it came to getting my writing career on track and underway.

Joking (and Wolverine references) aside, I’ve turned a serious corner in the past few weeks.  Not to brag, but in the past few weeks, I’ve managed to not only pull myself up by my bootstraps, but launch myself a good ten or twenty feet in the air in the process.

We’ll have to see if I can stick the landing without cracking my skull wide open, but the prospect looks good for at least a 1.5, if not a three point, touchdown.

Immediately after declaring my little revolution and putting ‘el Presidente’ in charge (see the inaugural posts in this column), I took a week’s worth of paid vacation time from my non-writing day job.

Note: I work retail management and I won’t elaborate on that further, due to a rather ill-defined social media policy my employer has in place, where basically they don’t want you making allusions in the public eye that – *gasp* – it is actually not the happiest place on Earth to work at times.

Meanwhile, they encourage you to sign up for all sorts of corporate missives posted on your wall, e-mailed and tweeted directly at you.

I actually don’t mind the job that much — I’ve had much worse, and to be fair, there are some nice perks to balance out some of the headaches — but in the interest of not getting ‘Facebook Fired’ for anything I might say here, it will be henceforth known in this context as simply ‘The Job’.

Although to be fair, it’s not really rules or policies that sometimes make it seem like The Soul Devouring Seventh Circle of Retail Hell.  It’s the people on the other side of the counter.

Yes, you *are* going to have to drink that coffee hot.  Have a nice day.

Yes, you *are* going to have to drink that coffee hot. Have a nice day.

Now, most people, I think, consider a paid vacation as a reward.  A way to shuck the usual day-to-day grind and related responsibilities.  To travel, perhaps, or simply stay at home and take it easy, basking in the glow that they put in enough hours to earn an extended break.

Not just a day off, but a whole succession of them, in a row, during which is it perfectly acceptable to not answer the phone because one of your idiot colleagues had an ingrown toenail and has a written doctor’s excuse to stay off their feet and not come in for a day or two, and because of a lack of staffing acumen (and a pretty lousy turnover rate that keeps the place perpetually short-staffed), there is absolutely no one else available to come in and cover.

Just throwing that off the top of my head as a possible worst case scenario.

Not that that’s ever happened to me, personally, or anything.

It’s something of a personal tradition for me to take a week’s worth of vacation in January to simply celebrate the fact that I survived yet another holiday season working retail.

Normally during my little winter respite, I attempt to keep the walls of my home between me and as much of humanity as, well, humanly possible, and just do nothing for a good week or so and get PAID for it.

If you’ve ever had to deal with the public while behind a sales counter, or otherwise serving or waiting on them between Black Friday and New Year’s Eve, I’m sure you’ll understand the burning desire to be THIS guy for a couple of days.

Leave me alone for a little while, or suffer the wrath of my +1 squirrels.

Leave me alone for a little while, or suffer the wrath of my +1 squirrels.

It’s almost like winning the Powerball.  No responsibilities and still making money.

(As long as I don’t do something crazy like open the mailbox to find a bill inside, or glance at my checkbook and unsuspend the disbelief, anyway.)

Sleep in, catch up on some extra reading, maybe play some videogames.  Just do whatever the mood strikes and not feel the least bit guilty for a complete lack of productivity.

This year, I opted for a little role-playing, and not of the Final Fantasy, Skyrim, or d20 variety.

Or, for that matter, anything that involved a costume.

badexample

I decided to spend the majority of my ‘vacay’ doing creatively oriented stuff.  Since I was technically getting paid for my time, this meant that I could pretend, for one week, that I had achieved my goal of making a living from writing.

The self-motivated psychological trickery was awesome, and just what the doctor (or, in this case, interior dictator) ordered.

I did spend a good deal of time plotting things out for Public Domain, including several hours’ worth of sorting through old public domain comics online for material to use here on site, and I happened to trip over a certain old forgotten character that I immediately fell in love with and sat down to brainstorm with ideas to revamp it as a pitch for an all-new modern comic.

(Stick around these parts and you’ll hear more about that in the near future.  BTW, the follow button is right up there on the left.  Just sayin’.)

My biggest accomplishment, however, was finally getting the website for the DoorMan webcomic my creative partner, artist extraordinaire James ‘Doodle’ Lyle, and I have been planning for months, up . . . if not entirely functional.

dmonline

Last summer, Doodle and I had reconnected after several years apart (because I decided to essentially go into self-exile and gave up the ghost with the idea of being a writer for longer than I’d care to admit) and one of our first orders of business was to find a way to rescue our character of DoorMan, which had been published in the 1990s by both Cult Press and Caliber Comics, from the annals of obscurity.

After much discussion, we decided the best way to draw an audience was to use a webcomic model, where we would post the some hundred-and-fifty plus pages from the five issues we did online for anyone to read for free, then find a way to monetize the venture, most likely from sales of merchandise and a for-profit print and digital collected edition / graphic novel of some sort, or perhaps try our hand at a Kickstarter to finance said venture.

(This may sound slightly crazy, the digital equivalent of who’s gonna buy the cow when the pixellated milk is out there floating in cyberspace for free, but it is a pretty standard business model for webcomics.)

The one hitch was that neither of us really had any webmastering experience, which is kind of crucial for having a, you know, WEBcomic.

We debated whether to try to bring someone in handle the duties, but after I opened my wallet and found nothing but a good sized handful of ATM and credit card receipts, I promptly decided that I’d need to learn how to set up and maintain a website.

(Aside from ‘being broke’, this motivation is also known as ‘disintermediation’, a fancy five-dollar word I picked up from a highly-recommended how-to book published by Image Comics called How to Make Webcomics, a jam by cartoonists Brad Guigar, Dave Kellett, Scott Kurtz, and Kris Straub.

howtomakewebcomics

In a nutshell, disintermediation means keeping as many hands out of your coffers as possible by doing as much of the work needed to get coins in said coffers yourself.  Also an essential tactic when you have no coins in the coffers to begin with.)

That sounds logical, and all well and good . . .

. . .  if not for the fact that I am far from a tech expert.  I can set up e-mail accounts and surf the web, but get much more advanced than that and my inner Luddite begins to wail.

(Also keep in mind that I had just, a few months prior, gotten on Facebook, so I am definitely behind the technological curve, despite having, at one point, actually done paid writing for a trio of gaming websites — I merely e-mailed the text of my pieces to my bosses, who handled the rest from there.  The closest I got to actually doing anything hands-on with the sites was being a forum moderator to prune back some of the trolls that had roosted there.)

Luckily, WordPress provided a solution, the ability to self-host a website with very little programming knowledge required.  Once copy of WordPress for Dummies later, and I was sold on the idea that I could somehow pull this off.

(Reality and I sometimes have a very tenuous, friends-with-benefits sort of relationship, where we hook up, have some fun, and then I wander back into my own little bubble, with no-strings-attached.)

The very blog you’re reading right now was essentially started as nothing more than a practice run for our DoorMan website, as I thought it might be a really good idea to familiarize myself with WordPress in a low-pressure environment.  And blogging seemed like it would be kinda fun . . .

I ended up spending several months familiarizing myself here on Public Domain, but I knew that I was going to have to get to work on DoorMan (hmm, I guess maybe we’ve got some procrastination in this piece after all).

A few months prior, not long after Doodle and I had decided upon the webcomic format for DoorMan, I had a brief e-mail communication with author / artist D.J. Coffman, whose webcomic Hero By Night was very successful (and who happened to also be in the relative neighborhood, being from the general Pittsburgh area).

D.J. has a great FAQ posted on how, step-by-step, to set up a WordPress self-hosted webcomics site using Dreamhost as an ISP, whom he highly recommended, and after doing some research on my own, I found that Dreamhost did indeed look pretty good as a place to hang our digital hats.

Following D.J.’s FAQ, setting up the site, www.doormanonline.net, only took a couple hours and was far less painless that I ever dreamed.

Not that I didn’t run into a snag.

The template that I decided to go with, Comic Easel, was almost perfect (and as you can see, not all that far removed from the Neo-Sapien theme I’ve adopted here on PD), except for the fact that Doodle, having worked on webcomics himself before, had sussed out the perfect dimensions for the art, which allowed it to be displayed and very readable without clicking on the image to expand or enlarge it . . .

. . . and that size is just slightly too large to use with Comic Easel.  Shrinking it to fit within the center column didn’t work, as it distorted the dialogue and made it difficult to read.

No worries, though, all it would take was a bit of tweaking with CSS to resize that center column to the proper dimensions, and we’re in business.

Confidence was high.  So far I hadn’t run into a single problem, so this would be NO sweat whatsoever.

Now, of course, I have no idea what CSS is beyond skimming over a couple of FAQs Google led me to, but the one caveat that was repeated over and over again was to make sure you made a backup copy of the original, unaltered CSS text file in case you screw something up and need to put it back to its initial state.

Open Notepad, cut and paste, save.  Boom, done.

So . . . guess who completely ignored that, went in, started changing numbers, essentially breaking the page, and then found himself completely unable to put them back to the starting point?

nottoosmart

That would also be the same idiot who ended up having to delete all the WP files from the Dreamhost servers and then reinstall them by scratch, which took about three times as long to get the site up in the first place, all avoidable if he’d have taken fifteen seconds to do what he’d been told.

Lesson learned.  And as often the case with me, the hard and painful way.

I have since gotten myself a couple of books on CSS, so I’m learning, albeit at a slower pace than I’d like, but I probably should know what I’m doing in a more detailed sense.

It’s pretty likely that this won’t be the only time going forward that I’ll need CSS skills, because I’m pretty attracted to the idea of disintermediation, of being able to produce and distribute my own work, if I can’t find someone to do it for me and pay me for the privilege.

I can’t afford to pay someone each time I want to head online to showcase, promote, or distribute my efforts, and to be honest, I kind of like being that hands-on with it, even if there is a huge amount of things to absorb and learn in the process.

The DoorMan webcomic is just the opening salvo in a war to gain my freedom from retail.  I may not shock and awe, but that won’t be from lack of trying.

Aside from the slight Misadventures With CSS, the ‘working vacation’ was a huge success and a completely worthwhile experiment.  I have to admit I was so into just figuring things out and plain engaging in several forms of creativity that I almost forgot to sleep, so by the time I did have to hang up my full-time creator hat and go back to being a wage slave, I was pretty physically and mentally exhausted.

But I was also content and fulfilled in a way that I hadn’t been in years, maybe more than a decade.  I might have been a little bleary-eyed when I got back into my ‘regular’ routine, but now that I’ve had a pseudo-taste of what it would be like to earn a paycheck with creativity, that’s it for me, I’m not ever going back to just ‘working for a living’.

It’s only work, after all, if you’re not doing something you love to do.

In the month-plus since formally declaring my little ‘revolution’, I have begun to put together a strategy based heavily on self-publishing, via Amazon’s CreateSpace print-on-demand and distribution service.

(Working all these details out is partly why I’ve slowed down to a crawl posting here on Public Domain, and have had to scrap or at least push back some of the plans I had to expand content slightly here.  There’s regrettably only so many hours in the day — I hope to get things back up to a better pace shortly, though.)

I’m not quite ready to reveal all my plans just yet (I’m still working on legally nailing down a company name, and Doodle has graciously been designing a logo for my venture, and I’ve just seen the final design less than twenty-four hours ago . . . I’m dying to show it off but I’ll wait until it gets into a final, finished version — I have to say that it wouldn’t scream ‘by nerds, for nerds’ louder if I embedded one of those greeting card sound chips to go off when you open one on of the covers it appears on ), but this isn’t a tentative toe-in-the-water sort of thing.

It’s more a without-abandon cannonball into the depths, a full-on 100% publishing venture with several projects that I hope to have available for purchase on dead tree and download by the end of 2014.  One graphic novel, three prose novels — including my take on the zombie apocalypse — and one sort of experimental format that is half comic book and half prose novella.

I can give you a sneak peak of two of the projects, with art by James E. Lyle.  These are covers to two of the books I have planned as part of the initial offerings: Masterpieces, and Dreamgirl.  Art is © 2013 James E. Lyle (actually, Dreamgirl was a character Doodle and I came up with fourteen years ago, so that one has been a long time coming . . .)

masterpiececvrprf1

dreamgirl

There’s a lot of work in the weeks and months ahead, and that’s a gross understatement. This is without a doubt the biggest undertaking I’ve ever made, and will test every last bit of my resolve, creativity, and skill . . . not to mention patience, organization, and time-management.  This isn’t just writing but starting an actual business and wearing multiple hats stacked one upon the other.

Of course, the alternative is just work The Job and shut up.

So that’s my options: get to doing what you love and all the crazy hours and effort it’s going to take to make this a reality, or shut your face and stand behind that cash register without complaining.

dante

I’ve intentionally put myself in a pressure-cooker situation because . . . well, I sort of thrive in that.  Having very specific plans in place doesn’t let me waver, give me time to second-guess or doubt myself.

As plans proceed, schedules will come together and there’s just no time to freak out, procrastinate, or have a meltdown.

(Well, okay, I can always pencil those in, and I’m sure it’ll happen.)

I also see this as a way of atoning myself for spending years doing nothing constructive with my life.  I’ve been blessed with some modicum of talent, I suppose, but my real gift is a muse that just doesn’t stop throwing ideas at me.  I’ve never had to struggle with coming up with something interesting to play with, and by giving her the cold shoulder for a long time I feel I owe it to her to really grab the ball and play an absolute smashmouth game over the next year-plus.

Before I draw this one to a close, though, I want to thank everyone for their support thus far.  As I said, Public Domain started really as a practice run for the DoorMan webcomic, but as the views and follows and comments and likes started to come in it really rekindled a fire in my belly that had all but died down to barely glowing embers.  When the first trio of installments went up in this column in late January, I was at just over 2000 views, and now roughly six weeks later — half of which have been very slow weeks with only one post a week — PD now sits at over 3K, and that’s arbitrarily throwing out a day where I had over 100 views but only a dozen visitors.

Which means to me either there’s a handful of uber-fans out there who read every post since the beginning, or Skynet and its automated bots took a particular interest in me that day.

illbeback

Everyone likes to get a pat on the head and cookie for their efforts, but this process over the past six months here has just pushed me in ways that I probably would’ve struggled to get to this point for a much longer time without.

This ridiculously ambitious venture may fail, and fail epic, but it’ll be one for the ages, either way.  I’ll be chronicling the whole process here in The reWrite Chronicles, so hopefully it will serve as an inspiration . . . or a cautionary tale.

As that cosplay pic above says: either be a good example or a horrible warning.

Now, if I can just convince Father Time to give me a couple more hours in a day . . .

public domain blog  the rewrite chronicles writing self-help

*Sigh*.  Luckily I already have a partner for my business that will be available to pitch in and help out 24/7/ 365.

public domain blog  the rewrite chronicles writing self-help

— mal

Thanks for stopping by Public Domain!  And good for you, reading all the way to the end, even the tiny fine print.

To both reward your obsessiveness, as well as celebrate my new venture and say thanks, I’m going to run a little contest.

While we’re not yet live with the DoorMan website, *every* Public Domain reader who hops over to DoorMan Online (click the graphic below) and registers with the site (the link is on the left hand side) between today, March 13th, and April 1st, 2013, will receive a free extended PDF sneak preview of DoorMan via e-mail.

In addition, I will pick five people randomly from that pool, and you’ll get a special prize pack which includes a handmade Dreamgirl t-shirt among whatever other ephemera I can dig up and / or think of.  Cost of postage be damned: the contest is open to everyone, no matter where in the world you reside.

And one of those five will be entered into a later drawing (along with other contests we’ll have along the way) to get one of a handful of ‘lifetime subscriptions’ to this new venture: a personalized, signed copy of EVERY book I end up releasing under this imprint, for as long as it’s up and running.  You folks have been an amazing inspiration and motivation, and the least I can do is try to find ways to reward the patronage and early adopters.

So, get a-clickin’ on the teaser image below.  I will be sending out the DoorMan PDFs sometime in April, and will contact the five prize package winners to get your t-shirt size and mailing info around the same time, and hopefully have those out by the end of April as well.

doorman michael allan leonard james lyle public domain blog webcomic www.doormanonline.net

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