Being severely injured and left paralyzed following a car accident in 2003 did nothing to damage the brilliant and creative mind, nor the attitude for perseverance of Dustin Murrell, a 2001 graduate of Nevada High School.


March 8, Murrell, 34, who lives in Des Moines, shared about the stories and books he’s created — many with characters fashioned after his family members — with students and classmates of his two nieces and nephew at Central Elementary School in Nevada.


Murrell said the kids he spoke to, who were in fourth and second grade, were awesome and encouraging about the work he’s doing.


“They really seemed to like the characters, and had a lot of questions about the chapter books I’m working on,” Murrell said. He said the kids shared things with him that they are working on as well.


For starters, Murrell said he showed the kids what he’s learned so far about the process of writing a book … “everything from coming up with an idea for a story to having a book in your hand,” he said.


And he talked to them about creativity. “Being creative is not everybody’s strong suit,” he told the kids. But, he reminded kids that being creative is as simple as taking what you know and giving it a tweak. “I like to take something that is real, and make it a little better,” he explained.


He spoke a lot last week about his book, “Mega Chomp to the Rescue,” for which he gained his character and inspiration from his niece Madison, who is in prechool. The soon-to-be-published book seemed to connect well with students, and it has overlapping characters and the same shared universe of “Cowgirl Ninja,” which was his first comic book project — developed and created with his niece Abby, now a second-grader, in mind.


“Abby loves horses. She was being particularly stealthy one evening, and I jokingly called her a cowgirl ninja. She liked the idea so much that, having no real understanding of how much effort it would require on my part, I told her I would create a comic book about a cowgirl ninja named Abby.”


As he started crafting the backstory for Cowgirl Ninja, his nephew Caleb, now a fourth-grader, wanted his own character too. So Dustin worked with Caleb to create “One Man Crew,” a world-famous soccer player with a bionic leg and a black belt in taekwondo.


“I’ve come up with a lot of characters, but I wanted to focus on Cowgirl Ninja and Mega Chomp to begin with,” he said. The books, he said, are telling the same story, but from different characters’ perspectives, with different illustrators and for different kids’ age groups.


Developing stories and books is a lot of work, but being able to brainstorm zany ideas every day, collaborate with amazing artists from around the world and see ideas come to life, is what makes it a truly rewarding occupation for Murrell. “The look on Abby’s face the first time I handed her a poster of Cowgirl Ninja, or the look on Madison’s face the first time she held a copy of the Mega Chomp book, those are amazing moments,” he said.


When Murrell’s out speaking to kids — and he’s spoke to students at other schools, too — he said there are always questions about him being in a wheelchair, and he doesn’t mind those questions at all. He can utilize that aspect of his life as another teachable moment.


“My being paralyzed is my own fault. If I had been responsible and had been wearing my seatbelt, I wouldn’t be in a wheelchair today. It’s that simple,” he tells kids. It was 2003 and Murrell was driving with four other guys to a concert in Denver, Colo. He lost control of the car and was thrown through the windshield because he wasn’t wearing a seatbelt. He said if it wasn’t for his friend Caleb, a high school senior who had taken some classes for pre-med and who helped him right away, he may not have lived.


“I hope seeing someone in real life who suffered the consequences (of not wearing a seatbelt) makes it clear to them that wearing (it) isn’t just some annoying thing adults make them do for no good reason,” he said.


After speaking with kids at another school about writing and about the accident, Murrell said he loved that one student, as he was saying good-bye, said, “Don’t forget to wear your seatbelt again.”


“So at least I know they heard the message,” Murrell said.


Murrell shared with the Central kids that even though he finished college, where after studying philosophy, religion and a few other areas, he finally settled on a bachelor’s of liberal studies degree, “I never really felt like I achieved everything I wanted out of college,” he admitted.


And he’s tried various things in the work world too, including work at a call center for a major bank and some other jobs that took him out of state for a time, but ultimately, all those “jobs” left him unfulfilled.


Writing is what “fills” him, and wanting to stay out on his own, Murrell said; he pays the bills by doing some quality assurance work online for an insurance company and by freelancing as an online journalist. And he makes time for the creative story-writing he loves most.


“I try to spend time every day working on at least one of my books, whether that be writing, editing, brainstorming or reviewing artwork,” he said. “The writing I do as a journalist, even when it’s something as simple as a television recap or a sports summary, keeps my brain in ‘writer-mode.’”


His goals with his books, he said, is to have the first five Mega Chomp children’s books completed by the end of this year. “I’d also like to have the first four issues of the Cowgirl Ninja comic series completed, as well as three other issues from related comics. I’d like to publish the first Cowgirl Ninja chapter book, finish writing the first One Man Crew chapter book, and get a serious start on my Hippie Wraak young adult novel,” he said.


Murrell plans to have a table at Des Moines Wizard World, which is coming up at the Iowa Events Center in Des Moines, May 19-21. If, from that event, there seems to be interest in what he’s doing, he said it would be great to test the waters for his creations in other markets like St. Louis, Chicago, Kansas City or Minneapolis.


As far as long-term goals are concerned, Murrell said, “The sky is the limit.”


He continued, “Of course, the first milestone goal would be to have enough success that Mega Ninja Publishing is the only job I have to work. But until there is a Mega Ninja Empire that includes books and comics and movies and theme parks, then there’s always something more to achieve.”


More from Dustin Murrell:


He likes commenting on Nevada teachers who have made a difference in his life:


“Miss Brendeland had a way of making learning fun. It was in her second grade classroom that it first clicked for me: I can write stories. Mrs. Ludwig was also a big influence on me in high school, and I’ve gone to her several times since graduating to get her help or advice on things I’m writing, including some of the Mega Ninja Publishing books.


“The authors that Mr. Sullivan forced us to read in fifth grade — Ayn Rand, George Orwell, Conrad Richter — really influenced me as well. I honestly didn’t understand those books at all in fifth grade, but I knew that there was something worth understanding. I’ve gone back to read ‘Anthem’ and ‘Animal Farm’ several times over the years, and they challenge me and force me to rethink things every time I read them, even if I don’t agree with them 100 percent. A legitimate goal I have for my young adult novel is that it would be the kind of book Mr. Sullivan would have forced me to read in fifth grade.”


He likes using places and people from his life as creative resources and inspiration for his books:


“I’ve been able to incorporate a lot of things I love into the stories, and the city of Nevada is no exception. The very first panel in the first issue of Cowgirl Ninja is a sign that reads, ‘Pokryte Sniegiem: 26th best small village in Poland.’ By the end of the second issue, Cowgirl Ninja’s grandpa, a veterinarian named ‘Dr. Merle,’ (Dustin’s father) relocates to Nevada, Iowa. Eventually, he opens Nevada Veterinary Clinic, which is really just a front for the superheroes’ secret headquarters. When Mega Chomp develops the power to travel to other universes, the only way she can transport is by using a special telephone booth inside of an arcade called Time Out, where most of the characters have become friends with a character named ‘Lance Hardwire,’ based on Lance Harding (NHS Class of 2000) who actually helps run things there. Mega Chomp’s parents, Monte and Tammy Pullock, are based on my sister and brother-in-law, NHS Class of 1992 and 1990.”


He comments on future plans and events:


“I’m trying to finalize all of the details now, but I believe we’re going to have an event on Saturday, April 29, at Time Out to celebrate the release of the book, ‘Mega Chomp to the Rescue.’ My friend has been writing music that will come along with the eBook version of ‘Mega Chomp to the Rescue,’ and he’ll be performing some of those songs.”


Updates for Mega Ninja Publishing can be found at facebook.com/cowgirlninja.


A preview of the Mega Chomp book can be seen and heard in this Youtube video at www.youtube.com/watch?v=cJCEy-dsoro.


If anyone has any interest in pre-ordering Mega Chomp to the Rescue, they can visit MegaChompBook.com and it will automatically take them to the page to pre-order.


A preview of the music Campbell wrote for the book can be seen at www.youtube.com/watch?v=VzMGD9swEqk.