What’s Going On?

Did you sing it in your head, too?

So I didn’t wake up this morning and go outside; I took some deep breaths, but didn’t get real high… but I thought I’d just take some time to say what’s going on in these parts!

Between COVID-19 and the the hard work that’s been going on for Black Lives Matter, there’s a lot that’s going on in the world. Our state has mostly opened up; life is starting to look simultaneously the same but very different. I’ve been spending more time educating myself on racism, listening to and reading Black voices, and looking at what I can and should be doing in myself and in my community to promote equality and squash racism.

I’ve been teaching two classes on top of my full-time day job; one of them is creative writing, and I’ve taken a very different approach to how it had previously been taught. It’s been really eye-opening and my students have impressed me with how eager they are to push outside of their comfort zone and learn to trust themselves and the process. I’m teaching it again come summer term, so I’m working on updating the class to be taught in 10 weeks, rather than 12.

Sneakthief is now with my beta team! I’m hoping just one more pass before I send it to my editor at SKOLION. I should be diving into edits on Turncoat, but that’s stalled a bit–which is fine! I’m kind of picking away at another Dragon Age fic that I started a while back, and my GreedFall fic needs updating and finishing; I’m about 2/3 through that one.

I commissioned a render of Nicholas!

Nicholas Alcyon – 3d render by Verfallen-02

And with that, I’ve learned about artbreeder.com, where you can merge images to create portraits! By combining many features, you can create portraits… and I have created my whole cast. Oops. I’m thinking of starting to post the images and short character bios in the Ungifted section of the site!

I’m enrolled in Mark Dawson’s Ads for Authors course, and am hoping to up my promotion game and improve my platform starting this summer. I mean, I know it’s summer as of today, but yeah. I want to finish up my work with my classes, organize myself a bit better, and then figure out my aims and what’s realistic for me.

I know newsletters are a good way to do things; if I were to do a newsletter, what might people like to see? I’m thinking just once a month, and providing content that my audience might enjoy. Drop a comment to let me know what sounds good!

Finally, I got a simple Kindle e-reader; Smol Human gets the Fire, and now I have a device just for reading–it’s great since I get easily distracted. I finished Yolandie Horak’s A Study of Ash and Smoke, and was blown away by how GOOD it is. You can read my Goodreads review here.

So that’s what’s going on in my corner of the world… what’s been occupying your time?

Blog of the Plague Year

3/18/2020

When I used to teach Journal of the Plague Year by Daniel Defoe, I’d include a rousing game of Pandemic (the old version) after we read it. The class would choose a disease type, symptoms, and then sit on the edge of their seats watching for it to take hold in the world. We’d watch the planes stop, watch the ships aimlessly move around due to closed ports, and groan when we didn’t manage to get Madagascar infected.

I didn’t think I’d ever live in Pandemic. I know the disease type; I know the symptoms. And now I watch as it takes hold. I hear news of closing borders (looking at you, US and Canada, and don’t think I forgot how The Handmaid’s Tale started). Orders to shelter in place, to social distance, to close businesses. We just got the remote work order last night.

I’m down to my last two antidepressant pills and it says I need doctor’s authorization to refill it. When we talk about pandemics and plagues and the zombie apocalypse we don’t really consider what it would be like to be off meds. Everyone would be raiding Walgreens for the antibiotics and stuff to treat infections in a zombie-infested world. I’d be digging for the Lexapro.

I’m trying to set up something to work on basics with Smol Human until his Google Classroom is up and running, and to maintain a sense of routine. It’s only day 2 of being off his routine, but I think it’s going to get harder for him (and for us). We’re fortunate to have a village, but he’s still a handful and needs to get out his energy. Today we ran around in circles. He asked me, “Want to run around in circles?” so that’s what we did. We also spent over an hour drawing houses with windows. He kept asking for house numbers that aren’t part of his usuals (ours, his grandparents’, our friends, etc), and I’m wondering if these are the house numbers he sees when the school bus brings him to his special needs program.

I took today as a vacation day, thinking perhaps we’d still be opened, so I’ll start remote work tomorrow. At least my parents will have the Smol Human for a couple days, so that should make it easier for me to come up with a routine and make a space for myself to work at home.

There’s plenty I can do around here; I’m not worried about that! It’s just making myself do it, and balancing Smol Human’s needs. Once I settle into something, I think we’ll be alright. It’s just the beginning. We’re all trying to figure it out.

Since my parents will have him for a couple of nights, husband and I are going to watch Zombieland and Shaun of the Dead. He hasn’t seen either. No time like the present to expose him!

So, not very much substance, and a lot of jumbled thoughts again; but when he was researching for Plague Year, Defoe read the letters and accounts of survivors from the 1665 plague that hit London. Those informed him as he saw a potential outbreak looming in the early 1700s. Ideally this won’t last a year. But regardless of how long it lasts, this is history happening, so keeping a record of how we handled it (beyond the memes, of course) is good.

I don’t know that I’ll write this stuff every day, especially as the days begin to blend and the new normal becomes just plain normal. But for now, this is what’s going on. How are you handling things?

New Year, Who Dis?

New Year? That happened quickly!

I could start off by making a corny joke about having 2020 vision. I could list my goals and resolutions. I could apologize profusely for not having updated since… November-ish? Definitely since last year. I could wish I had some champagne right now. Or I could just write.

I think my supervisor put it best when she said, during my annual evaluation, that I’d had a tough year. It didn’t impact my work at all–contrary to that, my performance at work is great. I love my job and the work I do and the people I work with. But that doesn’t mean that 2019 was actually kind of tough in a lot of ways. I guess this is where that corny 2020 pun comes in?

The last couple of years have been a whirlwind. Or several different whirlwinds; one picks me up, sets me down reeling, and another comes along as I’m trying to recalibrate. In early 2018, Sneakthief took over my life, and quickly became an idea for a series. The story woke me up at night. I dreamed of my characters. I wrote whenever I could. I finished a draft and started the next draft of the next book. 2019 started off with major revisions to Sneakthief while its sequel, Turncoat, percolated. But 2019 also kicked off with a pretty horrible strep strain that went through our house; husband and I were both horribly sick. I remember vividly because I left work early after getting the diagnosis at urgent care, and realized, when I got home, that my note cards had fallen out of my bag and were likely in the parking lot, and husband went out to find them for me. The short story is, he did, and he saved the Sneakthief revision.

But it just sort of kept going from there. We were finally able to get our Smol Human’s autism formally diagnosed, and then started the journey to get him services. It wasn’t that I had to fight for it–I just had trouble knowing where to start and how to go about things. But once we did, it was helpful. Of course it’s not quite that simple, because then other things kept coming up, but Smol Human is getting his services and therapies and he is thriving. He also had adenoids out, which is a huge help as well!

Between that, I’ve been working; teaching online on the side; rebuilding a creative writing class; and yes, writing. Sneakthief is sneaking about and a large part of my anxiety has been a result of that, but I know what I can and can’t control so I’m trying not to worry. I also completely overhauled and rewrote Turncoat, and it’s a much more cohesive novel. I think realizing what was wrong with it, structurally, and committing to basically rewriting it, was really helpful and I really feel good about the draft. I finished it at 11:11pm on 12/31/19. My goal was to finish the draft by the end of the year. I did it with 39 minutes to spare (and the final clocked in at 111,111 words!)

I’m still revising it, but feel pretty content. And I’ve started work on draft one of Scapegoat, the third book! I’m happy with where it’s going and feeling good. Something about getting through Turncoat and resolving it in a way that feels structurally sound makes editing it feel more realistic.

Do I have goals for 2020? Sure! But I’m also trying to be realistic about my bandwidth and responsibilities. I have books I want to read, but I haven’t set a number. I think writing-wise my biggest would be to really polish up Turncoat, and finish the first working draft of Scapegoat. I think overall, continue to drink lots of coffee and maintain my sanity and not stretch myself too thin. Lately I’ve felt like 4-way stretch Lycra pulled between two too-far-apart seams (seams–oh yeah, I’ve been sewing more, too). I have to figure out what is work, what feels like work and should be fun, and what is fun and feels like fun.

And I want to blog more. I have a lot of things I’d like to write about, but they’re piling into a backlog where I feel like I have to start chipping away at it, so just writing this has been cathartic and helpful. It’s a blog post. It’s not a review of a game or a movie or a book; it’s not an analysis of writing and characters and such. But it’s a post, it’s on a blog, and that’ll do just fine for now.

2020: Yes, I have vision and goals, but I need to just be fine for now.

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.