caticonslite_bm_altHow to Write


What you are about to read is writing advice I fed Ben Humeniuk this week, and he encouraged me to post this where you could read it, too. Am I qualified to dole out writing advice? Probably not. But here we go:

To start with, there are plenty of great storytelling resources available. Here are a few that have caught my attention:
The Shape of the Stories We Tell
The Grand Argument story mind
Pixar’s story rules
Save the Cat by Blake Snyder
Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

All of these storytelling theories – plus your own observations from stories you’ve been reading – are great tools for the editing process or to move you forward when you’re stuck, but I’m a big believer in simply letting the story happen. If you focus on the theories too much, you’ll wind up with stale, cookie-cutter stories, and there are already too many of those.

“I write poems to find things out, not to communicate some previously ossified conclusion.” – Scott Cairns

This is a major element of the storytelling process (for me, anyway). I don’t figure out what I want to teach the reader and then construct a parable or fable to get the message across… on the contrary, if I’ve had an epiphany or learned a lesson, often it doesn’t completely gel in my mind until I cement it in a story. That’s the impetus of the creative process: the nebulous things I encounter in life – doubts, hopes, fears, anything I don’t understand – those are only wispy notions in my head until I put them into the context of a character and a place. It’s only then that the piece of truth resonates in me, and that’s when I grow not from something I READ but from something I WROTE. I’m not really sure how this works, but it’s the driving force for why I want to tell stories: I’m not creating something amazing for someone else to read, IT is creating ME and the reader both. That’s called communion, and it’s good.

So search out story theories and writing tools but go to lengths to keep those tools out of your way when you brainstorm and first-draft things out.

1) Draw from your own experiences – what are you trying to figure out? What’s bubbling in your brain that you need to ladle onto paper? What fascinates and interests you?

2) Imagineer, free-associate, brainstorm. Ask yourself, “What if?” and “Why not?”

3) Jot the ideas down first if you need to, but take time out to mull them over and mentally distill them into story moments that you want to live in. Find specific times and places to do this – a few good ones are during a walk/jog, driving your normal commute, and lying in bed at night.

4) Once the ideas have started to gel, first-draft them. Write out of sequence, letting the scenes that are most important to you come first. Draw on what enthusiasm you have to embrace your new story as it comes together, and if you run out of drive, go read your favorite book or watch your favorite film or play your favorite video game. Living in someone else’s ficitonal world for an hour lets you return to your own with a fresh sense of wonder.

So that’s my approach – now let’s hear your thoughts. What did I miss?

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caticonslite_bm_altHigh Fives!


Just for fun, here’s my top five of everything for 2012!


caticonslite_bm_altLiterary Inception


[Some thoughts on storytelling]

I shut the back cover of ‘The Dragon’s Tooth’ and stared up at the ceiling. I had just spent 483 pages with these characters, and now it was time to say goodbye. Already I missed them. I was feeling something familiar – something I call “The Harry Potter feeling.”

I need to get the next book. Not because of a cliffhanger or unresolved plot – I just need to re-enter this world.

Turning that last page was like being locked out of Hogwarts. It was like having Aslan send me back to earth through a door in the air. Can I just stay in Narnia, please? It feels like home here.

Of course, Harry Potter had seven books to get me hooked – N. D. Wilson had captured my imagination in less than one. Why did I already miss Ashtown so much?

The answer finally came to me. My eyes narrowed and I growled out:

My friends and family know that every conversation I’m involved in will inexorably turn to either Star Wars, LOST, or Inception. If any statement or topic of conversation reminds me of the Christopher Nolan film, I lower my head, narrow my eyes, and say dramatically:

The dream worlds constructed in the movie are populated by stand-ins that are really projections of the dreamer’s subconscious. I’m pretty sure that’s what happens when I read a good book.

I’m pretty sure N. D. Wilson didn’t write “The Dragon’s Tooth.”

Wilson only wrote the words. I took his description of Ashtown and built it piece by piece with my imagination.

I took his description of events and interpreted the impact of those events.

And I took his description of Cyrus Smith and filled in the gaps. I played the role of Cyrus, and Antigone, and everyone else, including the villains. The book came alive for me because I was helping build the world that was written on those pages.

Transported to another world. Like John Carter, my body lies on earth, while my spirit travels to new worlds. It occurs to me that Ashtown isn’t the only land I’ve visited… in my day I’ve been quite the adventurer.

I’ve trekked Treasure Island and sailed to the Green Hollows and journeyed to the Lonely Mountain.

I’ve been to Baker Street and braved the ghost cicles and hunted the Snark.

I’ve been Navin Hayes and Wedge Antilles and… Cyrus Smith.

Storytelling is teamwork: you write the story, I’ll populate it. Together, we can build something true.

This is important to me, because in 2013 I’m going to draw a book. I have a story, a cast of characters, and a deadline. But after reading “The Dragon’s Tooth,” I’ve decided what I want more than anything else is…

I’m going to be paying attention to how I write and draw my comic – how the characters are portrayed, how the pieces of the story are revealed, how the panels lead your eye through the page. Because I’m just the storyteller, and I can only take you so far.

I want to make a book that you can live in.


caticonslite_bm_altMy Calling!



caticonslite_bm_altWhat Is Hutchmoot?


I have a post written out, a long, thoughtful, painful post with no comics at all. It’s all about the deepest ways God broke through my heart during Hutchmoot.

I am glad I wrote it, and I have no qualms about sharing my experiences, but I’m troubled when I think about sharing that post. Maybe it seems that in this instance, the things happening between me and God need to stay between me and God. Or maybe the timing just isn’t right, and I need more time to wrestle with this experience before sharing it.

So the post remains safely tucked away.

Instead, let me change pace from the honest to the silly. Let me answer the question I promised to delve into last week: what exactly IS Hutchmoot?

The long answer is, Hutchmoot is a gathering of Christ-followers who believe in the redemptive power of storytelling and the arts.

The short answer is, Hutchmoot is a bunch of nerds.

True story.

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caticonslite_bm_altHutchmoot Recap


In the homey hills of suburbean Nashville is a little brick church building. This past weekend, over 180 people stuffed inside for Hutchmoot.

Hutchmoot started as a physical gathering of the folks in The Rabbit Room, an online intersection of faith and culture… but more on what Hutchmoot actually is next week. See, so many people asked me to take notes for them at Hutchmoot that I’m going to present my reaction in multiple parts.

This week, I’m posting a recap for those who weren’t able to make it to Nashville; next Thursday I’ll get a little deeper into the ways the weekend impacted me. I hope y’all are following The Rabbit Room too, because they’re going to be posting recaps and podcasts over the next few weeks.

So without further ado, let me tell you about some of the people I met at Hutchmoot:


One of my first encounters was Pete Peterson, author of two of my favorite books. Pete is the man in charge of organizing Hutchmoot, and he stood by the door welcoming people in a manner that for all the world reminded me of…


Songwriting and literature are a big deal at Hutchmoot, but the visual arts are vastly underrepresented, and that’s a cryin’ shame. If you’re a visual artist, I’d love to see you at Hutchmoot next year – we gots to represent, yo!

The one artist-in-residence was the amazing Justin Gerard. Justin is a fantastic illustrator of book covers, has contributed concept art to some of my favorite films, and apparently had some interesting encounters with the incomparable Chris Sanders. Watching Justin color his Arabian-flavored book poster and attending his ‘Illustrating Wonder’ panel made me feel almost as though I was learning the ways of the Force.


“I draw comics.”

No matter who I was talking to, as soon as I said that, people were immediately interested – everyone had something to say about comics. Unfortunately, Ben, Sherri, and myself were the only people I met who are involved in comics. I thought of us as the Harry, Ron and Hermione of Hutchmoot.

Alas the lack of cartoonists at Hutchmoot! …but that’s a topic for a later blog post.


Evie Coates led a crack team of kitchen operatives to keep everyone fed. That’s right, food was provided at Hutchmoot, and it was the kind of mouth-watering culinary combinations they talk about in Ratatouille. I’m not even going to describe it to you, man. You just had to be there.

Okay, I am going to describe it. My status quo is simple, tasty food that satisfies. This went beyond that. We’re talking about art on a plate. If Rembrandt or Chagall had pursued your taste buds instead of your eyeballs… well, think about that, won’t you?


Jodie’s loss of innocence in The Yearling is the story of the great fall all over again, the tragedy of the garden of eden repeated in our lives as we leave childhood innocence behind for new secrets we can never unlearn.

Andrew Peterson’s new album, Light for the Lost Boy, is a remarkably and painfully honest look into that tragedy. The songs confront the fall, mourn it, and ultimately find resolution in early light of morning.

Light for the Lost Boy is a beautiful work, combining Andrew’s powerful songwriting with outstanding sound production by Ben Shive and Cason Cooley. Hutchmoot gave us the album release concert, complete with supporting band Caleb (who also played a great opening set).


Phil Vischer’s keynote address reiterated the story in his book ‘Me, Myself and Bob,’ but it was told in a different way that brought out profound new sides of the story. I highly recommend reading the book, but I also hope the Rabbit Room posts a recording of the talk – not just because of the spiritual and creative insights, but also because it was really really funny.


Songwriter Andrew Osenga has finally done what we’ve all wanted to do, but were afraid to try: he put on a spacesuit, sat in a spaceship he built in his backyard, and wrote an entire album’s worth of songs.

Osenga’s songwriting has always been great, but this project, I think, got all of us giddy with excitement – not only because of the geeky fun inherent in all spaceship-themed activities, but also because Andrew Osenga’s songs just keep getting better and better!

So imagine our delight when the unannounced surprised event Saturday night turned out to be a play-through of Leonard the Lonely Astronaut – complete with Osenga in his spacesuit and the stage decked out in spaceship panels.

Leonard rocked my face off.

These are a few of the moments and events that stood out this weekend, but the real highlight was the fellowship I found with my fellow Hutchmooters. In his opening address, the proprieter made two things clear:

First, that although the staff had an agenda for the weekend, God had a specific agenda for each person present. We were encouraged to follow God’s personalized agenda and not sacrifice His plans by trying to be at every scheduled activity.

Second, that the leaders of Hutchmoot had as much to learn from the attendees as the attendees had to learn from them. In other words, this was not a leaders-training-followers situation. This was God’s children encouraging one another, challenging one another, and eating delicious food together. Seriously, that was by far the best antipasto salad I’ve ever tasted.

I met so many great people this weekend, and that above all else is what I value about the experience. I dialogued with brothas and sistas in Christ, and they ministered to me mightily. I only hope I did the same for them.


Two final things: first, don’t forget I’ll be posting more Hutchmoot thoughts next Thursday, and stay tuned to the blog or twitterbook, because I’ll be following that up with more thoughts about the need for comics in the kingdom.

Second, I met some fantastic artists this weekend – be sure to take a look at their work online – [Justin] [Rebecca] [Ben] [Sherri]


caticonslite_bm_altThe Key to Creativity


On my desk right now are two half-finished paintings, a page of penciled (but not inked) comics, and three notebooks, each half-filled with a story I’m working on. Directly behind me is an out-of-tune, creaky box of a piano that will make music as soon as I finish this post. I used to think I liked to draw, but that’s not the whole story. What I’m in love with is the creative process in general.

God has been nurturing this drive in me like never before. Over the last month or two, I’ve been so thoroughly inspired that I want to share some of that inspiration with you. If you’re a creative person (and you are, whether you believe it or not), I highly recommend you read up:

The Shape of the Stories We Tell is a fantastic read on creative theology by Pete Peterson that applies theoretically AND practically at the same time. Seriously, take a few minutes and read this post. It resonated with me in huge ways.

Page Five, and Page Five, and Page Five… and Glen Keane! is a post by Sarah Mesinga about a talk she attended by Glen Keane, artist extraordinaire and one of my heroes. It’s full of practical knowledge that she picked up from the talk. After you read the post, browse Sarah’s website for some gorgeous art and clever comics!

I’m currently reading ‘Bird by Bird‘ by Anne Lamott, but it’s slow going, and here’s why. I can’t read this book for more than a few pages without thinking, “I have to put this book down because I have to write NOW!” Whether you’re journaling, typing up a novel, or somewhere in between, this book will motivate you to write, and prompt great new ideas you’ve never considered before!

Finally, here’s a resource you can read here. I had a blast reading through 1,000 Ideas by 100 Manga Artists when I saw it at my local library. Luckily, I had my notebook handy to jot down my favorite ideas. I recommend giving the book a read, but here is a list of the parts that affected me:

  • “Be open-minded and observe consciously”
  • “I take a walk every day. The walking gives me a lot of ideas.”
  • “The quick route to success is to do creative activities steadily every day.”
  • “Take in as much of the world around you, don’t be a hermit. We are influences by everything we see, hear, do, especially the people we meet. Each person you meet will color your life and in small ways change you. Make these connections. Most importantly, share your work with others and seek out your peers. Take risks and challenge yourself.”
  • “Polarize! … finding a niche for yourself is unavoidable if you don’t want to sink into the mainstream.”
  • “I try strongly to send happiness to the people who see my works.”
  • “An interesting image will always pose more questions than it presents answers.”
  • “Be fearless. Never let your insecurities stop you from drawing.”
  • “High-energy places inspire me! I love urban cities, shops, clubs, and cafés because they get me thinking about the stories and styles of all the people who are there.”
  • “Dealing with setbacks is a far more valuable learning curve than simply powering ahead with ambition.”
  • “I do my research everytime and everywhere.”
  • “You should not be totally content with yourself and your life. No friction, no creation!”
  • “Art is like playing an RPG. If you avoid doing things you find difficult, or cheat on them by just copying from other artists, it’s like skipping the random monster encounters you have to fight; it denies you valuable experience and skills.”
  • “Have a strong individuality and be consistent.”
  • “In books, choose the most impressive subject in the story and re-create it in pictures.”
  • “I’ve become less obsessed with the little details and more focused on the final emotional reaction.”
  • “Be willing to change and be open to new influences and direction. The alternative is stagnation.”
  • “…drawing people in a variety of shapes and sizes, the beauty of the real rather than one fixed ideal.”
  • “Exploring places where I am a complete stranger is a great opportunity to get an unexpected inspiration.”
  • “Have… a set work schedule, starting the same time every day and not stopping until the particular piece you are working on is done.”

So what are your thoughts on the ideas? I’d love to hear what inspires you to creativity!

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caticonslite_bm_altInfluence Map


This internet meme has made the circuit on Deviantart, and although I never really got into Deviantart, I couldn’t resist whipping up one of my own. I resisted the temptation to spoon in all my favorite creative sources and instead stuck to the few artists that have had the greatest influence on my drawing.

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As of today, Kelly Light’s ripple blog has raised over $6,000 for wildlife rescue from the gulf oil spill! The blog is an art exchange built on $10 donations to the non-profits working in the gulf, and in addition to supporting a good cause, the project has produced some beautiful art! I received the two cards I ordered this week, and they’re flippin’ awesome!

The first card is a sketch of a scottish landscape by Japanese painter Andrea Kobayashi. ( I’m pretty sure I’ll be ordering from Andrea’s etsy store in the future – I’m fascinated by her technique.

I framed it with the envelope it came in, because I thought it was the coolest thing in the world to receive a letter from Japan!

My second selection was a pair of penguins rendered by children’s book author and illustrator Nicola Killen (, who has a new book coming out this year. I love the sweeping, borderless colors in this card!

Nicola paired the print with a very nice (and fun) thank you card:

If you haven’t yet, be sure to browse through ripple and be amazed by the creativity of artists on a mission!

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caticonslite_bm_altBand Names!

If you have spent any measure of time with me at all, you know that one of my strongest (and unmarketable) talents is spotting band names in everyday conversation. Here are a few that I was lucky enough to jot down before I forgot them:
Pudding Seminar
Fist of Redemption
Cake of Mourning
Death Puzzle
Columbian Vivacity
Amish Vacation
Plantiff T
I was reminded of this recently because it seems there’s a game passing around the internet that goes like this:

1 – Go to Wikipedia and hit “random” and the first article you get is the name of your band.
2 – Go to “Random Quotations”. The last four or five words of the very last quote of the page will be the title of your new album.
3 – Go to Flickr and click on “Explore the Last Seven Days”. The third picture, no matter what it is, will be your album cover.

4 – Use Photoshop to combine the elements into your album cover.
Here’s what I came up with:

So… what’s your album cover look like?