Bob Moyer began recreational writing to entertain his then-three-year-old granddaughter, with Fast Food, the story of a hapless spider who was slower than his prey. From there, he honed his talents on wit and whimsy, which has led him to pen The Wizard Was Odd—a reimagining of the L. Frank Baum classic, from Toto’s perspective. This trilogy, with maps by Christian Stiehl and illustrations by Ruslan Vigovsky, is nearly complete and a Kickstarter campaign to finance publication is slated to begin this summer. Bob sat down with us this month to give us an overview of his project and what it’s taken to get him to this point.
IM: Let’s start with your background. Tell us a bit about who you are, where you’re from, and what it was like for you growing up.
BM: I was born on a mountaintop in St. Petersburg, Florida. Well, not quite a mountaintop—it was more like a mound… Mound Park Hospital, to be exact. Growing up was different in St. Petersburg. For the longest time, that decrepit little town was known for its old people and green benches. When I grew up, benches and old folk were everywhere. If you didn’t take care, you would constantly be tripping over one or the other. Then, when I was a teenager, I witnessed the “great divide”. The construction of interstate I-275 split the sleepy little town of St. Petersburg into east and west, causing misgivings and significant animosity between folks split by the interstate. The separation died an early death once both sides realized that they could access the interstate without having to make a U-turn. Other than that, my earlier years were uneventful.
IM: What sparked your interest in writing? Have you had taken any formal training or creative writing classes?
BM: Like most kids, I took a creative writing course, when offered as part of the curriculum. Though I enjoyed writing poetry, I never took the time to do well with it. As an adult, I have considerable experience in technical writing relating to my livelihood. My wife Janet and I have an adult babysitting service (we manage condominiums and home owner associations). So, my writing has been industry-specific to the statutes, trials, and tribulations of communal living.
That changed in in the year 2010. I had my first grandchild, joined the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), and made a terrible mess with words for the first two or three years. Finally, when Madeline was three or so, I completed a story, found an illustrator, and printed off my first picture book, called Fast Food. Fast Food is about a spider whose food (his neighbors) is faster than he. When I shared it with my granddaughter, her understanding of the plot had nothing to do with my story. She had no idea that the spider was out to eat his neighbors; instead, she looked at me sadly and said, “The poor spider. No one wants to be his friend.” That was when I knew my brain was not a “picture book brain,” and I moved on to an older audience.
My interest in creative writing started about five years ago when I was reading a good deal of Dr. Seuss to my granddaughter. At the time I had two dogs and seven cats. Their behavior was foolish and their interaction with my granddaughter was captivating. From the meager recesses of my mind, there erupted a Seussian volcano of great magnitude.
IM: Which authors would you say inspired you the most?
BM: The authors that inspired me the most… Dr. Seuss, for sure. His clever use of rhyme and simplicity of meter was remarkable. Mark Twain’s sense of humor and wit, definitely. Otherwise, I am a fantasy freak. I started with Poe, stalled out at Lovecraft, Blackwood, Hodgson, and a number of other pulp fiction writers… My parents were collectors of pulp. Bram Stoker and Mary Shelley top my list of classical authors. Semi-modern: Jack London (Sea Wolf). Modern favorites are Stephen King, Ray Bradbury, Dean Koontz, Isaac Asimov (for his Foundation series), and Frank Herbert (for his Dune series).
IM: Have you published any other works before Wizard was Odd?
Other than self-publishing Fast Food for my grandchildren, I haven’t published anything else. When I first began recreational writing in 2010, I strived to be a Seussian Clone. Rhyme came easily, but my meter was terrible. While I spent a good year trying to master meter, it became apparent in my discussions with publishers, and literary agents, that NO ONE had any interest in another Dr. Seuss. In fact, mentioning his name was the literary kiss of death.
Unable to master metering and able to blame my attention deficit on ADHD, I moved about on wit and whimsy. My favorite chapter books that survived the scrutiny of my critique group are: Monocle Man, Boy, and the Insidious Grandfather Clock; The Calamitous Attitude of Kat Katitude; Lump of Dog; and Every Creature Needs a Teacher. I also started a mythological novel called The Wonders of Everything, but I set this project aside when I became captivated by The Wizard Was Odd. So, in summary, the wellsprings my interests and subject matter flow from are foolishness or fantasy, and often, they are inseparable.
IM: Your current project is drawn from L. Frank Baum’s Wizard of Oz. What was/is it about the source material that attracted you?
BM: The origin of this fantasy The Wizard Was Odd is also odd. It was on a Friday, at the end of a long day, and an even longer week. My wife Janet and I, we’re driving to dinner, chilling out. I heard her sigh, and turned to find her loving eyes locked on mine. I said the only thing that came to mind. “So, Toto, how is Dorothy?” I can’t remember the answer, but it was here that the concept, The Wizard of Oz from Toto’s perspective found fertile soil.
IM: Would you say that you’re more influenced by the films, the original novel, or by one or more of the many adaptations/transformations?
I reckon that the source of inspiration for this series stems from the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz. I was also influenced by my younger sister, Laura as this film was her favorite “of all time”.
As my series progressed, I read all of Frank Baum’s fourteen Oz books, but have no experience with the countless number of adaptations. Recently, I was curious to find if there were other Wizard novels from Toto’s point of view. I did find one, but but have not taken the time to review it.
IM: How have you spun the classic story? Can you give us an elevator pitch?
BM: Elevator Pitch: A couple of days in Oz equal a year in Kansas where Uncle Henry is dying. If the Wizard will provide the cure, will Dorothy find her way home… and in time to make a difference? Alongside Toto, you will ride in the front seat of a thrilling and emotional roller coaster throughout the magical Land of Oz… and beyond. This Wizard of Oz takeoff is a multidimensional plot-twister as told from Toto’s perspective that includes an updated original cast and a host of other wondrous, quirky social misfits. With many surprises along the way, this complex and intriguing parody has as much tongue-in-cheek humor as it does original content, adventure, mystery, fantasy, and romance.
IM: Tell us a bit about how you portray Toto. How does he perceive his life in Kansas and his experiences in Oz?
BM: Toto is a little bucktooth terrier who hides his inferiority complex with a preposterous attitude. In the first chapter, (WizardWasOdd.com) while being carried aloft by the tornado, William, a milk cow, seeks refuge in Toto’s and Dorothy’s cabin. Toto is quick to set down the rules:
“Three points you need to remember, William, and we will all get along fine.” With an authority that I did not feel, I continued. “First, I am in charge. If I say jump over the moon, you do it. Second, please shut the door, it is windy out there. Third, I am in charge of all of the milk that Dorothy squeezes out of you, and fourth, if you have any questions refer to point number one.”
Truth be told…Toto carries the terrible burden of responsibility for Dorothy’s safety while trying to deal with the realities of the physical limitations of his smaller size. When he is not wearing his “protector” shoes, he strives to be the adult in their relationship.
IM: You’ve broken down the story into a trilogy. What are you dealing with in each part of the narrative?
BM: The first book takes place in Eastern Oz and follows the yellow brick road from the Land of the Munchkins to the Emerald City. There are distinct deviations in plot, geography, and topography, but basically, Toto’s Eastern Oz is similar to the original Oz of L. Frank Baum.
I have included the map for the setting of the second book, Trail of Tears, which takes place in Western Oz. Except as a point of reference, Western Oz did not exist in Baum’s Oz series and, except for an adaptation of those Lying Flying Monkeys, all else is about the setting, plot, and characters are unique. Western Oz is fraught with mystery and danger. It encompasses Lovecraft’s Necronomicon in the Mountains of Madness, the spiritual vampires in the Valley of Vegans, the firewalkers of the No-Name Gorge, and the mysteries of the Dreadful Wilds. Book Two will stretch the reader’s imagination and its dark side will stress their emotions. A new chapter is posted each week at oziian.com or WizardWasOdd.com.
In the third book, unknown forces split the comrades. The settings take place in both Western Oz and the Dow’nunder—which I can’t describe any better than this elderly munchkin….
“East of us, far, but still in the Land of the Munchkins,” said one, “is the Dow’nunder.”
“The Dow’nunder,” Dorothy said with a twist of her head. “You mean a gorge?’
“Nay,” the Munchkin shook his head. “There the Maker lifted the skin of the world. Like a shaved peel that rests upon its apple, the everyday world remains atop that peel and continues on as always. The land beneath the skin o’ the world follows the curve of the earth past the burgs of Twi Night, Gloam, and Darksville. Further east, is Shadowland. The whole of this, m’dear, is the Dow’nunder.”
The final book promises the reader edge-of-the-seat suspense, surprise, wit, and tongue-in-cheek humor. It also ties up loose ends and innuendos raised in the earlier books that nag, tease, and beg for answers.
IM: How did you hook up with Christian Stiehl and Ruslan Vigovsky?
BM: In the fall of 2014, I needed a cartographer to help design my map of Western Oz. I checked out the Cartographer’s Guild, found a particular map style that I liked, reached out to its creator, Christian Stiehl, and we worked out an arrangement. Christian is a very talented graphic designer/artist and I can’t say enough about his patience, professionalism, and dedication. He spent many more hours than he bargained for and I couldn’t have found a better artist for this assignment. If you are ever able to experience the map in its full megapixel size, the detail will blow you away.
At the same time, I sought out an artist for my book covers. I created a challenge on Guru.com and several artists provided their “vision” of the first book cover, The Wizard Was Odd. I selected the draft created by Ruslan Vigovsky. Over the next couple of month’s we firmed up the final cover. Ruslan has worked with me ever since. I plan on portraying sixteen full-color character scenes for the series. To date, we have completed three, and are finalizing the second book cover of the trilogy, Trail of Tears. I commend Ruslan and Christian for their patience and guidance. Not having an artistic bone in my body, I communicated with descriptions and images when possible. The basis of the project began with what I thought I wanted… until they created it. More often than not, it took multiple mock-ups for me to see what I did not want before we got to the end result!
BM: Since my series is not yet available, I have nothing to market. My goal for the immediate future is to raise public awareness through Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest, before I launch the series with Kickstarter in summer 2016.
IM: What advice would you give to someone planning to self-publish a graphic novel?
BM: I wrote a series that no conventional publisher wanted, leaving me with self-publishing as my only option. However, there are a staggering number of self-published books screaming for attention. Self-promotion and extensive marketing are required to compete. Extensive marketing requires considerable $$$. This is my plan…. Take a look; you can follow along. It may send you running or give you some insight—in what not to do!
I began writing the series in 2012 and completed books one and two in 2014. During those years, I submitted a number of critiques, pitched the book to publishers, agents, and pretty much anyone that would listen. Folks shivered and shuddered. No one would touch the series! Those in the “know” believe the topic has been used, abused, and if the public has not had enough of The Wizard of Oz, the trade surely has.
So…what is one to do? Self-publish of course. No problem, right? …Because there are sooooo many DIY publishers. However, the challenge lies not in the publishing. The challenge is to avoid being crushed and buried under a mountainous heap of millions and… millions of other self-published novels.
I have never been lucky, so leaving the book’s likelihood of success in the hands of fate seemed foolish. So… in addition to self-publishing, I had to figure out a strategy for self-marketing and publicizing. It didn’t take me too many minutes to learn that self-marketing is a lot more complicated and EXPENSIVE than self-publishing. Armed with this disappointing knowledge, I set my sights on devising a marketing plan and, in time, I came up with a good one. A good one costs money… lots of money. After more research, I believed I could raise the necessary capital through Kickstarter crowd funding.
Ones success in funding through Kickstarter is a process that requires a personal investment of time, some money, and lots of energy. With Kickstarter, patrons contribute financial support in exchange for “rewards”. The rewards I intend to offer on the lower end are color posters, e-books, and paperbacks. Contributors on the high end will be offered rewards of limited edition art and limited editions of The Wizard Was Odd series.
Offering limited edition art and books was a choice I made because, in my estimation, marketing the trilogy effectively requires at least $40,000. The only way I can expect that kind of support from my patrons is to offer them items and keepsakes of value in exchange for their faith and support.
IM: What’s next on your horizon?
BM: In closing, I also intend to reach out to Spanish-speaking patrons by translating portions of Kickstarter and I have already had some snafus with that. In any event, I expect to launch my Kickstarter campaign no later than June of 2016.
IM: Finally, how can folks keep up with you and your work?
BM: You can follow along by checking out my two blogs. A Brick at a Time is a sharing of what I am going through with publishing, self-publishing, social media, Kickstarter – a diary of sorts. Scene and Character Development is a sharing of the conversations as well as drafts and development – the creation of scene, character, and cover art. Also:
IM: Thanks so much!