An Experiment in Immersive Storytelling
Behind the Scenes:
My Spouse & Partner in Crime

I'm about to dispel a myth that many people believe but don't often think about. The director of your favorite film didn't do everything all by themselves. Your favorite actor? Same thing. They didn't do it all by themselves either. No matter who your favorite person is involved in your favorite movie, that movie in the form you love probably wouldn't exist without the whole cast and crew working on it. And that's not all; there are artists, marketing and distribution people, a whole host of people who work together to pull it all off. When was the last time you read the full credits for a film? Have you ever?

You know those TV shows, films, and even books that tell you a writer banged out a new great novel over a weekend of booze and sex with strangers? And then remembering their agent demanded a book from them? So, they go on a coke bender Sunday night and henpeck at the typewriter, but when the sunrises on Monday morning, you get the dramatic sequence of them typing 'THE END' and then falling to the floor in exhaustion. Ever seen those? I have. A lot of them.

When was the last time you read the acknowledgments for a book? 

Regardless of what popular media tries to tell you, your favorite film director or actor isn't solely responsible for your favorite film, and your favorite writer doesn't produce the works you love all on their own (Especially in one weekend at a cabin.) I mean, logistically, how would that work?

Writers have editors, beta readers, critique partners, books about writing, draft after draft of their manuscript to send to anyone willing to read it, etc. All of the people along the way who help a writer in their journey impact the work. It's an essential part of writing, just like a costume designer is an essential part of the team for a period piece film.

For Absolution, I had my spouse Tae. She was absolutely critical in making all of it happen. You'll get more about her specific editing and prop-making later, but for now, here's a brief bio of Tae and a quick walkthrough of how my life partner in crime helps me in my creative endeavors.

Tae wearing a black outfit and hat. The hat says DADDY in bubble gum pink letters.
Tae Hernandez.
You may recognize her photo from the very end of the Absolution story.
Black and white photo of Tae.
A simple black and white photo of Tae.

Tae doesn't hang out on social media or anywhere you're likely to stumble across her. She is kind-hearted and has the soul of an artist.

You're kind if you shovel your neighbor's car out from under a pile of snow, stop to help a stranger change a tire, or pause to give an obviously lost person some directions—even if you're not the type of person to bother saying "Bless you," when someone else sneezes.

— Read more about kind vs. nice on Lifehacker

Tae's art interests are as broad and varied as her skill in cooking, nutrition, or herbalism, and since you don't know a thing about her because she's not on social media, I'll tell you she's an expert in all those things.

A bunch of whole spices in a skillet.
You know what that is? I don't either, not really. I do know that it's a spice blend Tae made for an incredible meal.
Three tacos.
Gratuitous food porn #1: lemongrass edamame tacos that Tae made.
Banana bread topped with walnuts, chocolate sauce, and raspberry jam.
Gratuitous food porn #2: banana sundae bread that Tae made. It's like banana bread and an ice cream sundae, except way better than either one of those things alone.

I probably have hundreds of photos of foods she's made. Like I said, she's an expert, and I'm lucky enough to be able to take breaks from work to eat whatever she puts in front of me, then ask what the hell delicious creation it was that I just ate.

Tae with purple hair and big hoop earrings.
Sometimes she sports a mohawk; sometimes a deathhawk.
Tae with purple hair sweeping over to one side.
She has more ink than you and way more than me.

We've been together for decades and found a common interest early on in creating. Creating what? Anything, everything. We have complementary skill sets and use that to our advantage. Because of this, I could let my creative juices flow freely while writing for Absolution, knowing that Tae would step in and help make the idea a reality.

Freshly sculpted wolf effigy.
Tae made this, knowing it was going to be smashed as part of the story. She actually built in a weak point so that when Zarina hit it with a rock, it broke in the exact pattern necessary to easily mount inside of a display case. Now, that's thinking ahead.
Clay wolf effigy inside of a glass cloche.
Tae handcrafted this wolf effigy from clay, paint, and other things you'll find out about later. After Zarina smashed it to break the curse at the end of the story, Tae created this memento cloche jar for Zarina to keep.

What you're about to see here is a random sampling of Tae, the person, which you won't find anywhere else. This should serve as an illustration of how I was able to confidently write whatever the hell I wanted for Absolution and know, without the shadow of a doubt, that Tae could turn my ideas for props into reality. Everything you see, Tae has given me permission to share. She doesn't put these up anywhere. These are all for herself, sometimes for us, and occasionally she'll create something as a present for a friend.

A green plastic T-Rex toy behind another toy that's been painted to look like a very realistic undead dinosaur.
She can turn a toy T-Rex into an undead nightmare with just a paintbrush. What else could I have asked for?
My cat Cap'n Hammy Pants getting belly scratches from Tae.
Cat whispering. She's got that.
Unpainted beholder.
Tae can turn this...
Fully painted beholder complete with blood teeth.
Into this.
Purple and green tentacle from Maniac Mansion.
Or a bit of polymer clay to create one huge hit of nostalgia. If you don't know what this is, you're missing out. Go look up Maniac Mansion. I might write about it sometime.
A pumpkin carved to look like a cat. It has plush feet and a tail, and as wire whiskers.
"Nekobocha" pumpkin carving.
Cat pumpkin lit up at night with my cat Cap'n Hammy Pants sniffing it.
Cap'n Hammy Pants approved, of course.
Kawaii art of three pumpkins stacked on each other. Moon in background. Bats flying around.
Original kawaii watercolor art.
Kawaii art of a cat flying in a bowl across the moon. A chicken house is flying below.
Another original kawaii watercolor piece. This is "Kitty Yaga."
A horned woodland troll creature mounted on a plaque.
The forest spirit Leshy from Slavic folklore. This relief was just a flat grey when she got it. She has another one of Nosferatu that is painted but not mounted yet.
A disgusting putrid undead fetus miniature.
This was for a boss in a D&D campaign. It was 3d printed and came solid white. Tae painted it. We've dubbed it, "Blobby Hill."

Blobby Hill is the atropal in the final boss battle of Tomb of Annihilation. Tae and I also created a 3d boss battle map for the final showdown of that campaign I was running.

Speaking of videos, did you see my short video El Psy Kongroo? That's not a real book in it. I do all of these short videos from concept to finish in one night. I didn't have the book I wanted, so Tae made one for me.

Tae cutting cardboard pieces.
No one had any idea the book in that video was fake.

She contributes to a lot those short videos, and on any random evening we might be playing with knives and falling to the floor for sound effects, recording overlapping voices after freezing in the cold at a playground, or even turning our closet into a temporary haunted doll habitat. Sometimes, she even steps up my Christmas game with her attention to detail.

A black and silver sword and shield mounted on the wall.
She's also a whiz with cosplay props. That's a full size sword and shield made of craft foam and paint.
Rusty colored baby face with metal nails in its eye and mouth sewn shut.
Some of her other art has caused people to gape at our walls in amazed horror, like this piece. We always end up with very well behaved house guests.

In Absolution, I needed some journal papers to look quite old. Tae not only aged them, but she also wrote the originals in fountain pen.

Original papers for Giovanni's journal. They look very new.
Giovanni's journal. Looks new.

I've had people ask me how I pulled off Absolution so quickly. The answer is simple: I had help.

Tae aging the journal pages.
Tae aging the journal pages with tea and coffee, as well as a good pummeling.
A page from Giovanni's journal. It looks very old.
Tae's handiwork made a big difference.
Two plush penguins, one with a witch hat. A third plush is a witch woodland creature.
She also sews and makes plushies (and her own clothing sometimes.)
Swamp witch photo.
She also dabbles in photography and photo editing. Her and a few friends created some photos back in high school for a creative writing project about domestic abuse. Their work was so convincing it resulted in concerned phone calls and nearly some fistfights. All in the art. It was just photos and make-up.
Tae in red wolf ears and red makeup.
And costuming, as you might have guessed. We created zombie costumes once and even made our own theatrical skin pieces so we could peel plague parts off and fling them at people. For the ripe zombie smell, she burned parts of our costumes then buried them outside for a while.
Tae with black swirling eyes and mouth.
This one was inspired by the mandrake scene from the Flying Witch anime/manga.
Tae side profile. She has a slight teased deathhawk and giant hoop pentagram earrings.
Tae gets lost in music when she's creating something.

And now you should see why I was so secure in thinking I could pull off the idea of Absolution in such a short time frame. I wasn't alone, and I knew that Tae would happily stand up to the challenge of anything I threw her way. Like I said before, we share a common interest in creating things—anything, everything—and a love of manipulating perception and reality.

Whenever you see my name on something, I guarantee Tae touched it somehow, and it's better for it. You should see some of the stuff I bang out on the keyboard before she looks at it. Actually, on second thought, don't. Your eyes might bleed.