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.

I Took a Break

Time can have a funny way of getting away from you. I feel like I blinked and two weeks went by and suddenly it’s September, and I wonder where the last of August went.

I have depression and anxiety disorder, and sometimes I wonder if there’s some ADD there as well, though it may be my other disorders mimicking similar symptoms. That can be part of where time goes. Another part is work; I love my job, and we’re at a point in the term where things are picking up to get ready for fall term.

Looking back at the last two weeks of August in retrospect I can plot out how things have gone since my last blog. So this is what’s been happening…

  1. I read a book. On the recommendation of a good friend, I read Witchmark by C.L. Polk. PLEASE READ IT. It blew my mind with how intricate the world was, and how fantastically plotted and paced it was. I loved the characters and just how when I thought I figured it out, there was yet another turn. It wasn’t a long book, just over 300 pages or so, but as a result it packed even more of a punch, because everything in those 300 pages counted. This leads to the next thing.
  2. I’ve been in a rewrite of Turncoat while waiting for Sneakthief to do some sneaking. I’ve been slogging through, having some trouble figuring out what needs to stay or go, and what needs to change completely and after reading Witchmark, something unlocked in my mind and I’ve been writing furiously. I have probably close to 10,000 words of brand new material that really makes the book so much better than any of the other drafts and I’ve been writing every day. Except yesterday, but more on that later.
  3. Last week I had a persistent anxiety attack that just wouldn’t go away. I’ve had anxiety/depression (officially diagnosed) for the last 15 years. I’m medicated, I do well with the medication, and with being able to trace my triggers. This week I just couldn’t. I had to do some serious soul searching to figure out what was up.

I figured out that I’d been avoiding building my fall course shell for my class starting later this month. I’d been putting off some other things so I just sucked it up and got them done. And I felt way better! Also, Smol Human had his initial referral for special ed in our town. He was diagnosed with Autism earlier this spring, and is still in preschool, so we have time to get his services in order before he enters public school next year (side note thank all deities that I have a background in education, because even this is still kind of overwhelming, so I can’t imagine what it would be like if I didn’t know what I already do).

In the midst of all that I’d been channeling the anxious energy into the Turncoat rewrite. And then yesterday I didn’t write. I’d caught up on my other projects. Smol’s meeting went very well. I’d been going almost nonstop, with the story waking me up at night and getting me up early. I’d thought I’d spend some time yesterday writing. Instead?

It was beautiful. Smol and I went to the park and then walked around it for over an hour. We went to play at a play place in town. Then I went shopping with my sister-in-law, and we had a big dinner all together. Then I hung out watching some Good Omens (yes I’m behind, I’m getting caught up!). But I didn’t write. I thought about the story; it’s impossible not to. But I enjoyed a lovely day with my Smol and my family, and I took a much needed break from everything that had been building.

Last month at Readercon I went to a panel titled “Periods of Not Writing”. It was good to hear published writers discuss when they knew they needed breaks, and that it’s important to take breaks. PAX East this past spring also had a panel about avoiding burnout in creative professions. Where I can get super focused on my pursuits, it’s important to remember that not only can I take breaks, but I should.

So yesterday I did, and today is looking like a break day as well as I’m vising at my parents’ with the Smol. Maybe I’ll get some writing in later, maybe I won’t, and I’m not going to feel badly about either one. I’m giving myself permission to rest, to take a break, to relax and recharge so I don’t get caught in an anxiety loop again. Turncoat will get written, and Scapegoat after that. I’m committed to this, and taking a breaks to regroup is just another part of the process.

I guess the bottom line is be kind to yourself. Recognize when you need to pull back, when you need to push ahead, when you need support. Be reasonable and be realistic. Don’t settle, but don’t burn out, either. I took a break. And I’m glad I did.

Readercon Recap

Back in 2011, I was two years out of grad school and finally starting to feel like writing again. I was in a new recertification cycle for teaching license, and looking for professional development opportunities. I had recently discovered Dragon Age, and was looking for chances to expand my social circle. I had time to read for pleasure again.

I was ready for Readercon.

Readercon bills itself as The Conference on Imaginative Literature, and it does exactly that. While it has “con” in its name, most seasoned con-goers might initially feel underwhelmed: no cosplay, no sprawling dealer floor with an artists’ alley, no gaming, and very little media. The focus is entirely on the written word, and it’s the content that makes Readercon shine.

I’ve been attending nearly every year since 2011; I didn’t attend in 2016, as I’d just changed jobs, or 2017, but I started going again last year, and I’m so glad I did. Even though I don’t have to keep up with recert hours anymore, I still get a lot from this convention as a writer, reader, and lover of the written word.

This year I wasn’t over-scheduled for panel attendance, as not as much jumped out at me. But as a busy toddler mom, having some time away was refreshing, and it gave me time to work on my rewrites and focus more than I’d be able to otherwise. The first panel I attended on Friday was about writing and mentorship programs, and how to choose a good one to meet your goals. One piece of information that was handy was hearing that, if your main goal is to teach writing, then an MFA program will be worthwhile; but if your goal is just to improve your writing, a workshop setting may meet your needs better. It was good advice, and affirming–I finished my MFA ten years ago, and while it was great to help me improve my writing, getting that terminal degree so I could increase my chances for further academic work was a big motivation for me to do the program.

Saturday I enjoyed a panel on heist stories, and appreciated the emphasis placed on the competence of the characters involved in the heist; I also appreciated the understanding that the characters should be flawed, and while they could be heroes or antiheroes, a heist story can be complex. One thing that stuck with me was something along the lines of, if we’re making the characters completely sympathetic and likable, they we’re just “moving the goalposts for heroism.” Where I’m working on a series that includes a series of heists, I found this panel interesting and useful.

The other panel I attended and found useful was titled “Periods of Not Writing”. I needed to be at that one and hear that. The panelists discussed the times they struggled with not writing, and the guilt that can accompany that. It was helpful to hear about the hints and rituals they have to get out of that and keep writing, but also things like giving yourself permission to not write; and forgiving yourself when you don’t write. It’s easy to feel guilty when I could be writing, but I’m not. Then again I have a family and a job, and I have other interests. I like to read as well; I like to game. I’ve gleaned a lot of inspiration from games, and have used games like Thief and Dishonored to really get into the sneak mechanics. Sometimes I’ve felt guilty about gaming rather than writing, even if the gaming is, as a good friend says, “For Science”. The nice thing about the panel, however, was that it did focus on forgiveness and giving yourself leeway; but also not to use it as an excuse. The balance was important to note, and I think this was the panel I took the most from this year.

Sunday was the final day, and I attended a discussion on ‘middle book syndrome’, which was alright, but not very earth-shattering for me or my needs (even though I’m working on my middle two books), and another “From Seed to Story”. It was helpful to hear published authors who’ve been in the genre for years discuss their rejection experience, and discuss the importance of persistence, while also giving some helpful insights about length, pacing, and plot for (mostly) short stories.

I left Readercon feeling creatively energized (and getting some good sleep probably helped a lot there!) and having broken through a tough point in my Turncoat rewrite that will help give me some momentum to keep going. I even submitted a panel idea for next year! It was nice to get home to husband and the Smol Human, as well as my cats, and I feel like I’m going to have some good energy to create moving forward.

I already registered for next year!