Aftermath… “Fog and Roses”/”Curses and Blessings” 2010/2011.

Late 2010.  Still recovering from the stroke, and the heart procedure, and growing more and more concerned.  I had never gone that long without something, no matter how stupid, wandering across my mind.   Sure, I’d never bother to give the dumb ones keyboard time, but they usually still showed up… snippets of previous works too small to settle down, things never to see the light of day… but I had nothing.   I was desperate.  I wanted to hear something, anything, yes, even another fanfiction, to let me know my brain could still manage to come up with the stories I’d always taken for granted.

And life was apparently determined to laugh at me.  It was during this time that I received the first notification… that “Remember When”  had placed well enough in the contest I’d put it in to guarantee its publication in the contest’s anthology.  I’d found a paying home for it.  It was followed by the first cautious emails from an e-publisher interested in “Fall of the Old Guard”.  So, I had someone finally interested in one of my full length novels, and I couldn’t write anymore.   I was both thrilled to death and embittered, I still felt like I was so close, and now there was another hurdle in my way.

But I had a neurologist telling me that my computer gaming habit was ‘therapeutic”, and some lovely coworkers who had given me a gift card to “Buy that computer game you keep talking about.  We don’t know which one, so we figured we’d just let you pick it up.”  They were referring to the latest World of Warcraft expansion:  Cataclysm.   I decided to immerse myself in gaming, and started Cataclysm with a brand new character.   I had a fairly strong reputation as a good player on my server, but was in no condition to deal with that.   I could play, but my focus was off and I didn’t think I was up to the level of play I had once enjoyed.   A new character, on the opposite faction (World of Warcraft characters have a societal allegiance, they pick ‘sides’, Horde versus Alliance.)  of my other, would ensure I was left alone for quite awhile.   After all, who would want to recruit a shiny new Worgen mage?

I chose a male character, because the females looked funny, and started.   The starting story line was compelling, and I was really enjoying myself, when the unexpected happened.   That shiny new Worgen mage began to talk to me.

Banastre was an aberration in two ways:  One, he was male.   Usually my stories start with a strong connection to the female main protagonist, her other half comes later when I know her better.   And two, he was an active character of mine.  The best of my fanfiction works had main characters I never played… Clarimonde has never been a game character of mine, and Besseth was played for a couple of days after I was done with “Servant of the One True King”.

But at that point, I didn’t care.  I had a story…one I could write.  And write it I did.  Banastre’s first segment, “Fog and Roses”, was not my longest and most complex fanfiction ever, (It came in at a respectable 40k words) but his voice was there and it was almost as true as Clair’s had been earlier.  And just as they’d always done before, it flowed right into the second part “Curses and Blessings” (31k).

I was writing again.   Sure, it was another fanfiction, but I was willing to take what I was given then.  My brain was not irretrievably lost, I still had the hallway, this time inhabited by a Byronesque werewolf and his irascible girlfriend.   It was all good, where the fanfics lead, the originals follow.

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“Servant of the One True King”/”Chiaroscuro” 2010

So there I was, firmly telling myself that I was done with fanfiction.   I had finished Clarimonde’s trilogy, and I was pleased with it.   It was time to get back on track, back to my own original fiction, and time to continue chasing the dream.  Except, well, yes, I had a character in mind.   Dark, moody, angsty, depressing, and quite firmly yet another fanfiction.  I tried to hold her at bay, but she wasn’t having any of that.   So I brought her up to a friend/best reader, imagining that some of the phrases I used to describe her would get me a firm “Oh, no, I don’t want to read that.”

What I got instead was a firm “Oh, yes, I’d love to read that!”

So, a little uncertainly, I began the story of one Besseth Southcross.  While World of Warcraft is rated to pass for a teenaged audience, the back story line placed for it in Warcraft III is more than a little dark.   The game is a light, bright, cartoony world based firmly on a truly heart wrenching story, and Bess was bound and determined to live in that darkness.   Again, it was easy to let her grab my hand and tell her story.

“Servant of the One True King” was another six week writing marathon, 51k words.   And this time, I had been smart.  By killing Besseth at the end, I had guaranteed the lack of a sequel.   I had squashed this one, and had only put six weeks into it.   My fan based was pleased, I was smirking, and all was good.  Back to those original fictions…

Or not.

“Doesn’t anybody stay dead anymore?”  (Prince Arthas Menethil, Warcraft III, human scenario.)

Nope.   Besseth didn’t stay dead.   The answer to her resurrection was there, the secondary characters I had surrounded her with yelled obnoxiously at my blatant murder of her, and conspired to bring her back.   Again, back to the keyboard, this time with “Chiaroscuro”, the sequel.   At a relatively short 36k words, it still took me six weeks to complete.  I ended it with an epilogue that, while not promising a third part, at least would flow into another part.  However, that third part has not bothered to stir itself, and (although I back away from saying it) Besseth’s story may just be done.

March, 2009. “Falling”.

Most of the time, I think I’m a pretty even keeled person.  (Ignore my husband’s gales of laughter with that.)  I’m a pretty classic geek/gamer/writer introvert, but I’m usually a pretty happy geek/gamer/writer introvert.   March, however, is an entirely different set of circumstances altogether.

First off, I have seasonal depression, and live in Wisconsin.  By March, it seems like our Wisconsin winters are never ending.   The attempts to get as much sunlight and vitamins as possible have failed, and I’m in a funk.   I usually don’t write, and my gaming suffers.

And March brings my birthday.  That in itself is not the issue, I’m not one of those women constantly hung up on how old I’m getting.  March, however, does bring an anniversary (on my birthday) that I still, after all these years, have trouble with.  As I noted earlier, my mother was a very important part of my life.  She was the glue that held my family together.  The force that was always there.  The indulgent one who gave me books and supported my nebulous dreams of becoming an author.

Not long after I’d gotten married and moved out, it became obvious that my mother was ill.  By 1997, it was obvious that we were dealing with a terminal illness, and I made the emergency trip home in January, expecting the worst.   But my mother came out of her coma.  Regained consciousness, and was moved to hospice.   Unable to stay, I returned to Wisconsin.   By February, she had rallied enough to go home and, except for depression, seemed to be doing well.

It was late morning, my birthday, when I received the call.  All my father had to say was my name, and I knew.  My 56 year old mother was gone, died in her sleep, at home just as she’d wanted.

This all makes the perfect storm for me to melt into a furious blue fit by the beginning of March, and 2009 was a bad one.   The winter had been especially long and dismal.   And there was a story suddenly there to fit it.   It ran against the whole ‘Never writing fanfiction again, damnit!’ agreement I had made with myself, but hey, it was just a short one, and I needed to express what was going on in my head.

That created “Falling”, the least fanfic of all my fanfics.   It’s also (ironically given that it is the very least canon driven of them all) my perpetual entry in Blizzard’s annual fanfiction contest.  I know it’s not going to win, but I write Wow fanfics, and I’m going to enter!  (Word limits have kept the others from being my submission.   Falling is the only short story I have that fits.)

It’s dark.  It’s depressing.   And now that it’s a few years old, it’s also very amusing from a strictly mechanical point of view.   “Falling” lacks so much concrete description that readers aren’t actually told what the main character is.    It has led to some interesting discussions, and I’m amazed how readers can take a perfect lack of description (The main is described as she by pronoun use, and is mentioned to have black hair.  That’s it.) and fill in their own blanks.   Although I know exactly what she is, I’m always amazed to hear others put forth a rousing (and wrong) argument for why they think she’s what they think she is.   I realized three quarters of the way through that she had no name, no description, and I kept going with it.   I think it’s an interesting effort, with all the descriptions limited to the main character’s surroundings and feelings.   Another exercise, another experiment.  And I really hadn’t broken my promise to myself about those fanfics, at just 3,600 words, it wasn’t really a fanfic.  Just a little story to help purge my emotions.

Clarimonde: swimming in the deep end of fanfiction, autumn 2008.

By the middle of 2008, I was writing again in a big way.   I had just completed “Fall of the Old Guard”, which soothed any worries that I had after the death of Ardath’s story.  Yes, I could still finish them.   That had just been an aberration, a hiccup.   I was becoming more and more of a regular on the game website that I had posted “Stand of the Exiles” on, giving and getting input from other writers, when the moderators of that website hinted broadly that they would like something, anything, from me based on the newly announced upcoming World of Warcraft expansion Wrath of the Lich King.

For those unaware of how this works, big MMOs like Wow get new content about once every year, like a sequel to an ongoing story line released.  November 2008 would bring Wow a new chapter, one dripping in story lore, and this website was looking for fanfiction to keep the hype fresh until the launch.   I was hesitant, still licking my wounds from my last attempt at fanfiction.  Also, fanfiction felt like a dead end to me, no chance at a sale, but it was unusual to have someone asking me to write anything that I sat down and plunked out a very short scene with the absolutely brilliant title of “Character creation concept: WotLK”.  Catchy, huh?

It was one of my biggest mistakes and greatest gifts ever.  Not that page and a half of barely paying attention that I whipped out and placed up for them…but that it truly was a character creation concept, the barest outline for something that I was going to prize greatly.

I wasn’t looking to write fanfiction.  I was looking to be a serious author, and fanfiction wasn’t the way to go.   Blizzard (the company that owns World of Warcraft) already had a stable of authors writing for their world, they weren’t looking for me.  But Clair didn’t listen. If the other books had started with a meeting in the hallways in my mind, Clair was more like a timid knock (the original concept piece) at a door, but when that door was cracked open, it revealed a 300lb mugger armed with a .50 cal rifle.   She was going to be there, and if I wanted to hear anything else ever again, I was going to have to hear her out.

She also came at me as a first person point of view, and her story told itself.   It flowed, picking up speed, bound and determined to head in its own direction.   It was one of the easiest things I’ve ever written, and it appeared on the fanfiction sites under the much more palatable title “The Last Days of Grace”.    I loved the story so much that I was willing to accept the vitriol that came with publishing it on the usual sites.   “The Last Days of Grace” came in at approximately 43k words, which was long for a fanfic, but I was willing to attempt to end it there… I had reached the end of where game lore supported, to go on would be stepping away from that, and that would be opening myself up to a whole lot of hate.    I had mucked with a beloved canon character, but I had committed no grave sins…yet.

But Clair wasn’t impressed with her own ending.   She was still the 300 lb mugger in the hallway, unwilling to let go.   And, while yes, I was taking flak from the requisite number of haters out there, I was hearing much more positive than I was getting negative.   Again, I was getting support, feedback, comments.  People were reading this, and they wanted to discuss it.   I had fans, and they wanted more.

Emboldened with that, I sat down and let Clair surge to the front again, beginning the second part “Criminals and Sinners.”   It came in at 45k words, wrote itself as easily as its predecessor, Clair’s voice as clear as a bell.   I mucked with beloved Wow canon even more, but I had come to a conclusion… If you don’t like it, don’t read it.   I was involved in a relationship with a character I’d never had before, I was going with it until she didn’t talk to me anymore, and I had enough people wanting more to drown out the negative reviews.   I was writing like I never had before, just for the joy of it.

Again, I paused, posted it, and waited for the dust to settle.  And again, it didn’t.  Clair was less of a mugger, and more of a beloved task not quite completed.   The third part settled in and headed firmly away from the canon story line, but that was where they meant to go. I finished “Forget to Remember” just right before the expansion launch, 32k words.

120k words in right around three months.  I had outdone myself, and it had been easy.  And I was done with fanfiction.  I swore to myself that Clair’s trilogy would be my World of Warcraft fiction swansong.   I didn’t think I could do better, I felt purged, cleansed and free.   Except, like after every large endeavor, I also felt empty.  The hallways were silent, and I was alone.  That was fine, though, I had an expansion to play…

“Stand of the Exiles” or… The best of communities, the worst of communities.

2007.  A pretty harsh year.   While selling “A Mother’s Gift” and “The Banner Project” had seemed to be the light at the end of the tunnel, reality was that two short stories do not a career make.   I had been a stay at home mother for a long time, but finances were becoming desperate.  I’d had a few temporary and seasonal jobs, but we’d reached the point where we just weren’t making it, and something had to give.  That ‘something’ were my internet and World of Warcraft accounts.  I was stuck at home, trying to find a job, and completely cut off from the world.

Sad and addicted, I immersed myself back in the game world by writing what I considered to be ‘derivative fiction based on Warcraft’.  I didn’t realize it then, but the rest of the world calls this fanfiction, and it has a rather bad reputation.    When we got ahead enough again, I got my internet and my Wow back, and, in passing, mentioned that I had written this and would anybody in my Wow group want to read it?   The answer was those damned crickets again, and I got what I know now was a brush off… no, not a single one of my Wow friends was willing to take a file from my computer…maybe I should find a hosting site, and after I did that, they might take a look at it.   Okay, fine, I grasped computer savvy security, so I typed in “warcraft fiction” and posted “Stand of the Exiles” on the first site that popped up.   I made note of the url, and then promptly…went away.   I had no clue just how large, complex, and…well…vocal… a community I had just opened myself up to.  My friends ignored “Stand” but the community I had just let have access to it did not.  There was a sudden flurry of comments.  Input.   People had read it, absorbed it in great detail, and now wanted to discuss it with me.   I  had just found my writing community, in the oddest of places.   They were going to teach me a lot, some of which I didn’t want to know, a lot I never bothered to implement, and they were going to get me through trouble I didn’t even see coming.

“Stand of the Exiles” is not a great effort.   I’m not going to get out a soapbox here and call it anything other than what it is.   It’s one of my worst attempts, and really reflects the nadir it was written in.  It has deserved a whole lot of the derision it gathered, and ironically, the less than stellar responses it received really gave me a thick skin and a better grasp of where I was stylistically and mechanically.   It’s really only notable as an introduction to the loud community I am proud to be a member of.   There’s a lot of downside to the fanfiction community, don’t get me wrong.  I was used to the very strictly moderated sites like critter.org where commentary on the level of “Wow.  This SUCKS!!!!!” was never tolerated.   I was used to a very civil and well behaved community, and fanfiction is most certainly not a very civil and well behaved group.   They have rules…(most of which I ignore as unnecessary) and their own way of doing things.   There was a whole lot of “What have I done to myself?!?” at the beginning of my relationship with them.    But there are a lot of savvy readers in the community, and if you have any universe you can write in, and want fast input, I promise you’ll get it.   It won’t all be polite, but you’re assured of having people actually read it.   (Side note:  Certain authors do not like their worlds covered, while others graciously support fan efforts.  There really is only one place to go with this… http://www.fanfiction.net  and they have an extensive list of ‘don’t write’ worlds up.)

Welcome to the World of Warcraft, or how roleplaying made me a better writer.

Seriously.  I’ll explain it here, and more in later blog posts.  Right now I’m trying to catch up to where I am sitting currently, which means I have some ground to cover.

I came into this world with a pretty solid geek foundation.  My father is a genius of the incomprehensible and mathematical kind.   I grew up knowing he fixed airplanes (in fact, he was an avionics chief on the F-111 and F-16 jets.)  As a complete mathematical imbecile, I just took his word for most of it, especially when he tried to help me with my math homework.   What my Dad did grasp, and did his best to instill in me, was that computers were the wave of the future.   I had the first Atari of anyone I knew.  And yes, we had the first PC of any one I knew as well.   I played games on both, but was honestly more interested in horses than computers.

My mother’s interests were much more concrete to me.   An amazing equestrienne, she taught me to ride and handle horses.  (This comes in handy in so many books, I am still stunned that I use this knowledge in my writing on a nearly daily basis.)  But her real gift was the authors she, without thought, introduced me to.   Heinlein.  McCaffery. Lovecraft.   When I was in fourth grade, she bought me a book for my birthday… “Dreamsnake”  by Vonda McIntyre.   This was an extremely high quality piece of work, it won both the Nebula and Hugo awards that year, and I left it on my desk as I went out to recess.  My teacher picked it up, skimmed it, promptly confiscated it, and called my mother to report that I was reading ‘lewd trash’.   An hour later, I had the book back in my hands, and my teacher pointedly ignored it.

So, when I met my full bore geek husband, I had the underpinnings that he could build a real geek upon.  He and his friends taught me tabletop roleplaying, the most common being Dungeons and Dragons, and a good run of the strategic board game Battletech.  I was stepping into waters inhabited by an unbalanced proportion of younger males, but that didn’t really slow me down.   I could play as well as any young male, and it was good.

Eventually I became comfortable enough to start game mastering, and realized that starting a game is just like starting a book.  I made a world.  I made a history for it.  I filled it with a few people, and I waited for other voices to come and help it come alive.   As it grew, it became more and more obvious that the storylines popping up had the seeds to become more than games, they could become novels, and setting them down with my best friend was truly a collaborative work.

What I wasn’t, however, was a computer gamer.   I married one.  I spawned two.  My best friend/collaborator was one, but it eluded me.   And the husband and friend tried, gently, to work the ‘make Melissa a gamer’ magic that they had managed earlier.  I watched them, but was turned off by the limited and linear game play.  (So, I just go where the game makes me?   Where’s the fun in that?) The lack of character customization.   (Er… I don’t want to play a muscle bound shirtless guy, just not feeling that, sorry.)  The strobe lighting (migraine!) and endless rat mazes to seek and shoot just more bad guys/aliens.   I tried a couple, and gave up within fifteen minutes.  I didn’t have the twitch response time, and I just really wasn’t interested in pixelated death and destruction.

The massively multiplayer online roleplaying game World of Warcraft was still pretty new when my younger son begged for it.   We got it, and paid for an account, and let him go play it.   My best friend asked me to give it a try, he felt it had what I was looking for, and my husband agreed.  I finally sat down in December of 2005 and tried, yet again, to be a computer gamer, with the odd advice “Play one of the cows, Melissa.   You’ll see.”  ringing in my ears.

Cows?  Yes, actually the game did offer me the chance to play a large, anthromorphic, female and customizable cow (Don’t laugh.  Female was a big selling point, games at that point were just beginning to realize that not everybody wanted to be that shirtless muscle bound male avatar) .   I painstakingly created cow, named cow Damaris, and well, the other (coughimportantcough) stuff about her creation I just breezed over because I wasn’t going to play this for long.

And, in a word, I was hooked.   I had found an outlet for the same well of escapism that caused me to write in the first place.   It was a movie, but a movie I was living.   And it had people.   Company.  Unfortunately… they weren’t going to help my writing….