Life, Love, and Dragon Age

Today is the unofficial Dragon Age Day in the community! Though I’ve made some posts and tweets about how it’s impacted me, it’s also been a long time since I blogged, so how better to get back into the swing of it, than to blog about how a little video game completely changed my life?

The year: 2011. My cousin had loaned me Mass Effect, and I was really enjoying it. I got (and sunk a huge chunk of time into) Mass Effect 2, and was really loving the writing, the story, characters, and music. That year I had a great study hall duty: in my classroom, last period of the day. It ended up being a bunch of gamer kids, and one day I mentioned I was really into Mass Effect. One student said, “Oh, if you like that, you’d like Dragon Age. Want to borrow my copy?”

Of course I said yes.

My initial impressions were that it was a Medieval Mass Effect, and I wasn’t initially sold. It was enjoyable enough… so I kept playing. And played some more. Other than my students, no one else I knew was into the game, so I took to the internet. Dragon Age began to dominate my thoughts. I started wanting to write–

–This was the biggest thing. I’d finished my MFA a couple years before this, and since finishing that degree, aside from a NaNoWriMo, I was feeling kind of burnt out on writing. I just felt like I didn’t know what to write. Before my MFA I’d been really into fanfiction. The Dragon Age world was worming into me in a way a fantasy world hadn’t since Tolkien. I loved the characters and the world. The dialogue. The voice acting. The story. The fact that my Warden could essentially be who I wanted her to be…

This was one of the first ways Dragon Age changed my life. I started writing again. I felt like I had stories to tell, a feeling I hadn’t had in years.

Of course, finding a community of other DA fans was the other major impact. I joined a Facebook group, fans of the character of Alistair. Through that, I met many people I am still connected to today, and am pleased and privileged to call friends. I also met my best friend (I’ll call her Luna). Luna and I clicked; we messaged each other and found out we only lived an hour apart! After several months of chatting, she invited me to her home to join a D&D campaign. I’d never played D&D before, but I also was looking for a new social outlet, and gamers were my people. I accepted.

I cannot fully express my gratitude to Luna, even now, for trusting me enough to invite me into her home, to meet her family (including her then-toddler daughter) and friends. Dragon Age introduced me to my best friend, and that started another snowball of life-changing events.

I kept attending D&D at Luna’s. It was the highlight of my week! And then Luna invited me to their annual Christmas party, which was our D&D group, and their extended friends group. It was December 18th, 2011. I always remember that date, because that was when I met my husband.

I’d gotten out of an abusive relationship three and a half years prior to all of this, and had pretty much sworn off dating. I was happy with my cats, my games, my D&D, my Dragon Age. But I chatted with future-husband at the party (and thought he was pretty cute). He and I found each other online that night and spent the next week chatting. And… we just didn’t stop chatting. We started hanging out more in early 2012; I’d spend time with him before D&D at Luna’s. Sometimes he joined in as an NPC. By March 2012 we were officially dating. By July 2012 we were engaged. By July 2013 we were married… and now I lived about a mile away from Luna!

In that time Luna and I started going to PAX East (husband came too). We started learning more about cosplay. We played Dragon Age 2, and were there when Dragon Age 3 (which became DA: Inquisition) was announced at PAX East 2012. She and I have pictures of us with the developers and writers. We’ve gotten signatures.

When Inquisition came out in 2014, things changed again. The characters, story, and world of Inquisition swept me into the thrill of Thedas once again, and the sheer amount of writing and DA crafting that came as a result still boggles my mind. I cosplayed for PAX East 2015. I bawled my eyes out when Trespasser came out. That was the year I also had my son, and the following year for PAX East, I dressed him up as a nug. It was hard to get time in to play the game between work and momming; but always worth it when I could.

The writing continued, and I’ve made more friends through DA fanfiction. Through that community I’ve joined others who are writing and publishing and in 2018 my friend (who goes by Schattenriss on AO3, so I’ll just refer to him as such here–he’s a FANTASTIC writer btw) and I made a pact: we would take our talents and each write a book in 2018. And we did! And 2019 we were writing the drafts of the sequels! While neither of us are published (yet) we’ve been making strides toward that. Just this year I submitted to an open call for submissions, and got a request for the full manuscript. It was the most validating experience in my writing life thus far.

But I wouldn’t have gotten to that point if I hadn’t started writing DA fanfiction, and found such a great community of writers. I wouldn’t have gotten there if I hadn’t met Luna, if I hadn’t taken a student up on his generous offer to let his geeky English teacher borrow a game. I literally would not be in the life I have now if I hadn’t played Dragon Age, and honestly, it’s one of the best things that’s ever happened to me–because from that, so many other amazing things have come.

Thank you BioWare, and the hundreds of people who have worked on all aspects of the Dragon Age franchise. For the tie-in materials that make the world bigger and deeper and more real. Thank you Luna for your friendship and love and support. To my husband and the Smol Human, for being my family. To Schattenriss, to Nerine, to Tallulah, for their encouragement, for pushing me to go beyond Thedas.

A popular line in Dragon Age: Origins is “Funny how the blight brings people together.” It is funny, but it’s also wonderful, and I will always be grateful for it.

Of Doubt and Fanfiction

Time gets away from me sometimes. I feel like I blinked and it was the end of September, and now we’re finishing the first week of October! I did an Instagram post a little earlier about some goals for October. I spent September alternating between being super creative and super stressed/struggling with my mental health, and it’s taken a toll. I think the biggest thing I’m experiencing right now is doubt.

Just a heads up, what follows is some self-pity; it’s a lot of what’s going through my mind lately, and I just feel like I needed to put words to it to understand it a bit better. (Spoiler–by the end, I did!)

Sneakthief is kind of in limbo right now, and I’m trying to remain optimistic that no news is good news. I’ve been in a holding pattern with it since the beginning of August, and am just being patient. But every so often doubt creeps in and I think, “This book is terrible.” or “I should have fixed XYZ before sending it anywhere.” And begin to think maybe I should just scrap the whole Ungifted series altogether.

Because the Turncoat rewrite has stalled yet again. There was a point earlier in September where I made some major headway and it was almost a state of mania to get it written and worked on. Nearly all of what I was writing in the rewrite was brand new material vs. cutting/pasting/smoothing. Creating new stuff felt good. But now that I’m past that point and at a standstill again, trying to figure out how to get around this latest block, I’m wondering what the point is.

Recently, I picked up GreedFall, a new IP from Spiders and Focus Interactive. It looked good, and now that I’m playing it, I have an energy and excitement for a game/fandom I haven’t had in a loooong time. I still love Dragon Age. Dragon Age will be a part of me forever (and I’m dying for the next game!) and I’m still very much into the lore and the world. But this has woken me up creatively again. The world is new and different, the characters pretty good (I’m absolutely Forever a Naut and total #VascoTrash), and the plot makes some pretty uncomfortable statements about human nature, greed, colonialism, and the like. And most notably, for me anyway…

I’m writing fanfiction of it.

I started writing fanfiction years ago, when I got out of college and had nowhere to place my fandom love. I joined fanfiction.net in 2003. I took a hiatus from fanfiction when I started grad school, mostly because I didn’t have the time. But after grad school, when I did have the time to be creative again and write for fun again, I tried to make myself write original stuff. I did some lackluster submissions of my MFA thesis novel, but my heart wasn’t into it. And in 2011, I discovered Dragon Age.

It made me want to write again.

Dragon Age has been one of the best things to happen to me personally and creatively. I’ve written hundreds of thousands of words of Dragon Age fanfic, and through that, have moved into my original work with Ungifted, and feel a passion for original writing again, something that was lacking when I was trying to do something more with my thesis after graduating.

But I’ve also been focused on Ungifted and its various parts almost nonstop since January 2018. Having new fanfiction to write, in a new world with a new story and new characters to get to know, is exciting. I love the feeling of updating and getting feedback. It makes me giddy, it makes me grin. I feel a little more fulfilled writing-wise. It does make me doubt my original work, and make me wonder if I should just stick with fic.

Then again, maybe I just need a break, doing something completely different and without any pressure, to recharge and then get back to it. I’m really close to the end of Turncoat. Finishing that rewrite is one of my October goals, along with outlining the next book, Scapegoat; and continuing work on Tempest, my spur of the moment GreedFall fic. I want to finish the game, and promptly replay it. I want to read a book or two, and get recharged.

Maybe that’s what I need. Along with considering why I’m writing. Often I’ve maintained that I write because I love to, so if I’m losing that focus, I need to regain it.

Doubt can be a bad thing, because it can hold you back. But I think in this case, what started out as a bad thing is actually good, because it’s making me reevaluate and renew my commitment to my creativity.