Me — August ’19 Monthly Update

July really started off rough, but towards the end of it things have started to look better. I’ve noticed something strange about my moods, lately. According to my happiness tracker, the toughest weeks—the ones where I’ve been depressed and unmotivated—have pretty consistent scores, only having a rough deviation of 1. It looks like a generally state, if a little curvy line. The weeks that I generally feel better fluctuate a lot more, with ups and downs that look like a seismograph, where the worst days are about the normal level for my depressed states. Strange to think that if I’m happy, every other day will still be as bad as a normally depressing day, I’ll just have better good days.

Anyways, onto the updates. As always, the Monthly Update Topic Order™: blog, writing plans, work, school, D&D, video games, reading/listening, and other things.

With my last semester of college starting up in a couple weeks, I’m going to cut Saturdays off the weekly schedule and only post once a week on Tuesday. I expect to be pretty busy, being either at work or at school 60 hours a week (with free weekends, fortunately). More on that in a bit, but I think it’s time to back down on the blog now that my plate is full again.

I’ve been writing a lot recently! Work on the full length Lisa Stenton play has resumed, and the first draft of the first act is 100% done! I plan to start plucking away at the second act next week. I’m also chugging away at the collection of short stories for my passion project (which we hope to unveil in the next few months!), and the backlog is growing! I’m super excited to show everyone what we’ve been working on. Lastly, progress on the second short story anthology is going slow, as it’s not very high on my priority list, but it is going, and I’m collecting edits for the manuscript now.

Work has been fine. The last month was a slow one, as the summer always is in my line of work, but August is already promising to be very busy, with a ton of huge jobs coming in. I’m not sure how to feel about that, because on one hand, the boss is happy with the revenue, but on the other, the stress of deadlines and upkeep will be much higher.

As for school, I’m excited to say that, assuming all goes well, this will definitely be my last semester of college. I tried to get one of my AA’s last semester, but they said I was missing a class I definitely was not missing, which was irritating. Hopefully, that’s all sorted out, and I’ll have two AA’s and more than a couple certificates to boot. Plus, I plan on performing in my first full length play. I figure I’ve played every other part in the theatre world—writer, director, costumer, stage designer, tech crew, etc., that I might as well finish as an actor again, where my interest in theatre all started.

D&D. Buckle your pants. The Aleor campaign began with the Night of Fire, December 31st 2018 (or, Safepass 30, 427, if you’re Aloran). 7 months and 28 sessions later, my reign of terror awesomeness is over. The Knights of Fire (yes, that’s what they named the guild) have traveled hundreds of miles, fought a god’s familiar, deterred a rising evil, and restored a lost people. I’m going to take a break from DMing as this chapter closes, and my brother (one of the current players,) will continue where I left off as we explore what comes next. I’m very excited to play as a PC again, as I haven’t done that in quite a few months and frankly, I need a break! The last few sessions were really a blast though, and I’ve discovered that I’m already nostalgic for the Octopath Traveler soundtrack, as that is what I used as background for the majority of their adventures. I feel like I can start chronicling the campaign now, and I’d better do it soon before my notes and my memory are harder and harder to line up!

Nothing interesting to say about video games. Still mostly playing Heroes of the Storm and MTG Arena, but I also recently picked up Sunless Skies, which is a story-driven adventure game full of eldritch horror. It’s a sequel to Sunless Seas, and it is everything a sequel should be: all the features the last game had plus a bunch of quality of life changes and new mechanics! I love it, but it’s not one of those games you can sit down and play for twenty minutes, so it’s hard to find the time to enjoy it.

In the meantime, I’ve been doing a reread (re-listen, rather) of The Dresden Files, because Jim Butcher just finished Peace Talks (no release date yet), and I want to remind myself of all the things that have happened and where we’re at because it’s probably been over four years since I read Skin Game, and it’s a lot to catch up on. I just finished Book 2: Fool Moon last night, and I’m starting to think I should pace myself if I don’t want to finish way too fast.

I actually have nothing else to say! I mean, that’s still quite a bit, but I’m excited for all the new things happening in August, and the next few months should be really busy. Can’t wait.

 

Me — April ’19 Update

I feel as though I have some big decisions down the line. I’m not necessarily going through a lot at the moment, and my life isn’t particularly stressful, but my path is nearing a precipice, or perhaps a simple fork. The thing is, the choice that I make in the nearing future is going to impact the rest of my life.

But before we get into that, the Monthly Update Topic Order™: blog, writing plans, video games, reading/listening, school, D&D, and other things.

Once again I feel as though the blog is in a good spot. Twice a week is a great pace for somebody whose writer’s block has become mentally crippling. No changes on the horizon.

On that front, I’ve been sort of working on a story for the passion project I’ve been collaborating with, and even that has proven to be an insurmountable slope. So far, in 10 days, I’ve written two different beginnings, each roughly 400 words long, and the story is simply supposed to showcase a piece of worldbuilding, nothing even largely important or exciting, really. I did recently write nearly 8,000 words in a month (not staggering by any means, but with a mental block as powerful as mine’s become, I was pretty proud of it.) I was able to do that because I was given very strict time limits to adhere to when I wrote each scene, and was held accountable for it. As it turns out though, I cannot self-impose similar time limits on my own projects, because I know that there won’t be any consequences if I fail. I know there’s a workaround in my head somewhere, I just don’t know what it is yet.

As far as gaming goes I’ve been playing a lot of World of Warcraft lately, but almost purely as a time sink as I mindlessly kill monsters, because…

I’ve once again picked up The Dresden Files. This is my second time going through the series, as Jim Butcher is nearing the end of Peace Talks and I’m optimistic that we will (finally) get a release date in the coming months.

I’ll hold off on the school topic because it ties into decisions.

D&D has been going quite well. Buckle your seat belts. The Knights of Fire (the party in my Aleor campaign officially has a name!) has just left the city of Craydon to venture into ancient Elven ruins for… reasons. I make no promises, but I intend to start posting a campaign diary of all that’s happened very soon. Perhaps even starting Saturday.

The other campaign I’m a part of (as a player, not a DM) just ended, and my character was the only one that died in the final boss encounter. The poor orc mystic only ever wanted to be a tree, sleeping on dirt and meditating as often as possible, and only in death did he get his wish, having helped save the world! I will note that this is basically the first ever campaign I’ve been a part of that we played start to finish consistently, even coming to a natural end. It wasn’t until our DM gave us the epilogue and one of the player characters visited Ki’s grave that I got a little sentimental. That campaign was very much a “silly over rules”, and neither our characters nor the plot had any depth, and I didn’t really like the mystic class, and we’re planning on starting a new campaign soon, and I might be more excited than I’ve ever been for my new character, and yet, I can’t help but feel a little sad that the story of Ki and his friends is over, doomed to fade into obscurity as new campaigns and new characters take to the stage.

*Pause for dramatic effect*

So, other things. At risk of getting too personal, I’ve grown to actively dislike my living situation. Specifically, I have never once in my life had my own room, and therefore have never really known a true sense of privacy or ownership of my own space. Most often this is fine. The brother I share a room with has the same interests as me and now that we aren’t kids anymore we get along great. The problem is that our lifestyles are very different and not conducive to sharing a space. Added onto that is the fact that I do not like living in Southern California, primarily because of the living cost and lack of weather. As such, I’ve been seriously considering and making tentative, mental plans to move north, to Oregon or Washington. My trip to Portland felt in a lot of ways like I had found a home, and I’m desperate to go back.

However. There is an increasing likelihood that I’m going to be staying in SoCal for a bit longer. I have to take an extra semester of school, as I’ve previously established, and that alone sets me back a year. What’s more, my job may “require” me to step up my hours, as we’re going to be short handed soon and since I like working there, I’m more than happy to give them a hand and return to working full-time. In addition to that, there is a possibility I might be teaching improv more seriously next school year, and I have confidence that the passion project I’ve been working on will have legs to stand on by the end of the year. All of these are heavy incentives to stay, and I like the prospect of pretty much all of those things.

And yet, if I do stay here, part of me feels like I’m delaying a transition to a new life I would be much happier living. New friends, new job, new everything. Scary, yes, but I’m not really one to let something like that get in the way. My problem is that I know I need to move in order to preserve my sanity. Moving within the area I live might solve some problems, but the larger issues of living in Southern California would remain and would delay what I believe to be an inevitable migration northwards.

I feel as though I can’t win, because choosing one means losing out on a lot of things the other option yields. The nice thing about this situation is that both options are promising, and I’m not picking the lesser of two evils, and in addition to that, this choice is only presenting itself now, and I won’t be required to make any life changing decisions for a few months at least.

Until next time!

Me — Committing to Writing

I’ve been writing since I was 12 years old. Not trying to brag, as I don’t think that it’s even all that impressive, but at this point it’s nearing half my life. I’ve written loads of things, listened to podcasts on how to write, read books and blogs on how to write, and I’ve been attending a writer’s group for roughly three years as well. Throughout a lot of my journey, one specific post stands out: Jim Butcher’s last Livejournal post about writing.

I’d recommend reading the whole post, there’s a lot of gold in there, but out of everything, these words have been in the back of my head for years.

In fact, the vast majority of aspiring authors (somewhere over 99 percent) self-terminate their dream. They quit. Think about this for a minute, because it’s important:

THEY KILL THEIR OWN DREAM.

And a lot of you who read this are going to do it too. Doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. It’s just human nature. It takes a lot of motivation to make yourself keep going when it feels like no one wants to read your stuff, no one will ever want to read your stuff, and you’ve wasted your time creating all this stuff. That feeling of hopelessness is part of the process. Practically everyone gets it at one time or another. Most can’t handle it.

But here’s the secret:

YOU ARE THE ONLY ONE IN THE WORLD WHO CAN KILL YOUR DREAM. *NO ONE* can make you quit. *NO ONE* can take your dream away.

And for me, 2018 was pretty much the year of failure for me. I started a very ambitious project—12 Lisa Stenton novellas, one a month, with the intent of publishing them as one book around this time. Well, I wrote one good one, one bad one, and got halfway through the third before I ran into that roadblock the Lisa Stenton universe still has. (The huge question of “How does the supernatural work really?“)

A few months after that I stopped writing short stories altogether. I did a few neat things, but I’ll leave it at that. As you probably know I even stopped writing the blog for the last months of the year. The only writing I was doing at that time was short scenes of plays for school.

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking recently, with Jim Butcher’s words rattling my brain. Am I doubting myself because it’s natural for a writer or because writing isn’t my path? I genuinely don’t know. I think, as a creative person, I have some good ideas.

But I have never enjoyed sitting down and writing. It’s always a chore. A chore I can feel accomplished for doing when I’m done, but it’s more of a necessity out of needing to put the ideas in my head onto paper than a love for the craft.

That said, what I do love is those ideas. I never get tired of playing around in a world and coming up with cool ideas, whether it’s the infinite, soundless tunnel of the Passway or the enormous interplanetary structure of the Spear Gate system. I love squishing inklings of ideas and molding them into sculptures of “Whoa, that’s cool”. I recently joined a collaborative project with some friends that have a lot of that, and after every meeting I’m left driving home with a stupid grin on my face because of all the cool new pictures and scenes that are now floating in my head.

I have never enjoyed the act of writing. It’s very difficult for me to envision myself as an author a decade from now. But a developmental editor, or somebody who does the story writing for a game or some such… Well, I don’t know what that job would entail, but I think I could sit in meetings doing brainstorming for 8 hours a day.

Review — Brief Cases

Finally, a new Dresden book! …kind of. I think that I started reading The Dresden Files about five years ago, around the time Cold Days came out. By the time I was just about caught up, Skin Game was published. Up until that point, the books were being churned out practically once a year, and well, that was three years ago now. I picked the wrong time to get caught up!

Thankfully, a new short story anthology was released, and boy was it nice to get some more Dresden. I recently started listening to audiobooks at work, an with me working full time, I’m getting through them pretty fast. So I am simultaneously ecstatic and depressed that I’ve already finished.

But before I get started let me add a qualifier. The thing that sucks about this review is that it’s more pointless than most reviews. The people that know Dresden will buy it automatically and love it, because it’s the Dresden we all know and love, but the people that don’t know Dresden shouldn’t get it, because like his other short story anthology, there are lots of time skips and even more spoilers. (The last two short stories take place after Skin Game). So instead of me framing it into the vein of “is this worth reading”, I’ll speak plainly in terms of what I liked and didn’t like. That said, this review is not spoiler free. I won’t be discussing many spoilers by virtue of the fact that my opinions tend to paint broad strokes, but I don’t see much point in writing a review that’s half spoiler-free and half not. So let’s jump in.


I’ll start with what I didn’t like just to get over it. The first is that a lot of these stories have sexual contexts I don’t much care for. I mean, I’m not surprised, that’s always been a Dresden thing. But after taking a break from the series and reading so many other things, I’ve noticed how just how much Jim Butcher tends to describe women based on how insanely hot they are, and how naked they tend to get because “the world of vampires and the fey are very sexual realms”. Logical, sure, but I think it would be fair for me to say that the story could redistribute the sex into more polarizing zones. Take it out where it isn’t necessary and emphasize it where it is rather than just putting a little bit pretty much everywhere. (Side note: I am willing to concede that maybe I’m just being dramatic and prude, but at the same time I don’t think the Dresden series would lose much of anything if there was less sex-but-not-actual-sex, you know?)

My second critique is even more whiny than the first: I didn’t really get to see anything I wanted to see. None of my favorite characters, and nothing awesome really happening. Now, obviously he can’t write about important people doing important things in a short story collection—you can’t force your entire reader-base to buy something that’s supposed to be a side adventure—but still. I wanted to see more stuff that had… meaning. “Zoo Day” is probably the best example of this, and it was definitely my favorite story. We see a potentially bad news character introduced, but it was done in a way that doesn’t take away from the main plot when they inevitably return. I also wasn’t a fan of the same plot structure of “retelling a story” used in two of the twelve stories here, though Butcher isn’t much to blame, because a lot of these stories were written at various times over the years and put together, not written for this book.

But the stories in and of themselves are great. I loved everything about the Bigfoot stories, especially the fact that they all dealt with different issues while (unconsciously) foreshadowing future ones. “Zoo Day” is a masterpiece, too. A long scene told in three different perspectives dealing with three different conflicts is great, and Mouse being the narrator to a story was a lot of fun. Top notch.

I love where the series is going, especially considering the scope and the perspective strength of some of the characters, but it’s also nice to take a break and see characters deal with more mundane issues—it puts the huge ones in the main series in a better perspective.

But also I’m mad that Butcher introduced the Lovecraftian mythos in a single short story and we’re probably not going to see much else from the Old Gods for a long time, if at all.

Me — “Who is your Mary Sue?”

You probably hear all the time about how budding writers fall into the trap of writing a Mary Sue as the main character of their story, or at least some prevalent character. If you haven’t heard that, maybe you’re accidentally doing it.

For those of you that don’t know, a Mary Sue is basically a character that is perfect in every way. They have no flaws to speak of, they’re super attractive, smart, talented, you know, everything.  They follow the “Rule of Cool” to its extreme, forgetting realism and ending up with a boring character. Good characters have flaws they have to face, after all, so a character without flaws is generally pretty boring.

But it got me thinking: We must all have a Mary Sue floating around in our head somewhere, right? Even if we’re cognizant of the fact that we can’t put an amazing being of perfection in our story and retain a compelling tale, we still like to fantasize about those perfect characters, right? (I actually don’t know if everyone does this, but I certainly do, so bear with me.)

I then came up with a thought experiment for myself. If I could make a character, or even several characters, without worrying about anything, what characters would I make? If I didn’t have to worry about making the characters too powerful, too cliche, too edgy, too anything, what would those characters look like?

Well, stay tuned for that, because I’m still working on their abilities and personalities. As you could probably expect from an epic fantasy writer such as myself, they’re all fantasy-based people with demi-god level power. Something interesting that I’ve noticed, though, is that I’m instinctively considering backstory and flaws. It’s difficult to curb that instinct, because giving somebody the title “The Corrupted Flame” implies backstory, but I am intentionally avoiding giving them flaws and backstories unless that is part of the “Mary Sue” I attach to them. It defeats the whole point to give characters flaws to make them more well-rounded, because the whole exercise is imagining these people in their most awesome form.

I’m struggling a bit because I have about 4 different archetypes of “Mary Sue”, but they come in slightly different species. One of them is the archetypal paladin, white armor with gold accents, harnessing the power of the Light to strike down his foes and defend his realm. Another is a vengeful angel sent down to incur the wrath of her god. These Mary Sues, I’ve found, are actually the same character, just different flavors.

It’s a strange balance to strike—imagining the identities of these characters without thinking too hard about it. After all, it should be intuitive. What is the coolest thing you can imagine?

And then, I realized something. What if fantasy book series are just about your protagonist’s journey to earning their “Mary Sue” status? I mean, think about how powerful characters like Rand Al’Thor from The Wheel of Time, Tavi from Codex Alera, or Kaladin from The Stormlight Archive get the more you read. If a character arc is about overcoming their flaws, they are, by necessity, becoming more perfect. So I bet you could pretty easily begin a book series with the end “Mary Sue” in mind, making the perfect hero, and then working backwards and imagining how your protagonist gets from Point A to Point Z.