D&D Fun

Hey all. Just wanted to let you know that DMsGuild finally let me upload all the files last week, so I got a couple of things to share. Both are pay what you want, so you could get them for free or you could toss a bit of change my way.

First up is the Fighter’s character sheet I made. I love the fighter class and it’s what I’ve been playing this year, so I decided to make my own character sheet, organized how I feel it should be organized. It’s very clean and I’ve been very happy with it. I built it and slowly tweaked it over a couple of weeks of play until I got it tailored to what it is now. For the time being, it’s only really useful for Eldritch Knights and Battlemasters. Champions don’t really have enough going on to warrant a reference sheet and I haven’t figured out a good design for the Purple Dragon Knight archetype from the SCAG book.

Second up is my own take on the Monster Hunter archetype for Fighters from the Gothic Heroes Unearthed Arcana article from last year. In all the feedback I found, the UA Hunter was deemed underwhelming and most people didn’t like that it was like a weaker Battlemaster, making use of superiority dice. I wanted to go at it to be more robust and unique, with a few features as shoutouts to the UA. No superiority dice and I’m definitely happy with strong it feels while still looking pretty balanced. I also included a version of my Fighter sheet with it. Very proud of how it all turned out.

Two Year Anniversary

It’s been two years since I released A Demon in the Desert.

Two years, man. It’s wild. Now I’ve got the third book drafted and I’ll be starting the fourth soon as well, with a Kickstarter for book 3 happening in October. I’ve learned a lot in the span of two years. I want to thank everyone who’s helped me and made this possible. Everyone who’s backed me, everyone who’s reviewed me, sent encouraging words, everyone who’s taught me craft and business. You’ve all been amazing. Who knows where things will be by year five!

Let’s Talk About Healthcare

Before you run away screaming cause I’m posting something political (and I don’t think it’ll be the last time), this particular piece of our ongoing crisis in America is especially relevant to me at the moment, though it should be especially relevant to everyone who is currently alive. Fair warning, this is mostly a downer topic and I will be mentioning suicide and rape.

In September, I had a tooth removed after it cracked in half. The dentist informed me the one next to it would need to come out as well and that I would need a bridge. It’s now May and the gum is starting to erode. If it stays unchecked, the other tooth will likely continue on until it cracks as well, and all my teeth start drifting. I really can’t afford to pay any of that right now. And I have no one to help me.

My partner has needed their tonsils out for a literal decade. And their wisdom teeth are finally coming in. I’ve seen those tonsils and let me tell you, they look like a fucking Bloodborne boss. They look like Amygdala heads (or the tonsil stone, alternately, which just looks like a tiny head).

Connect this to the events this week, where the House voted on their Trumpcare bill and the threat it presents to millions of people, and we are clearly in need of real healthcare reform. The US is the only fully industrialized nation without universal healthcare. Yes, we have Medicaid and Medicare but those require age and specific economic hoops, they are not universal. On top of the severely private healthcare system, vision, dental, and mental health tend to be disconnected or (prior to the ACA) way more expensive to use. That presents a wealth of issues all its own.

I wear glasses. I cannot function well without them. Before my tooth cracked, I hadn’t been to a dentist since 2008. Not that it really mattered. I haven’t had insurance since I aged out of parental coverage at 26. I haven’t been able to afford it and if I’d bought a plan from the Marketplace, I’d have been paying for something I couldn’t afford to use either, without vision or dental included to boot. Which, sure, is a major flaw in the system. That’s one reason people have decried the ACA and one reason Republicans have championed getting rid of it: rising costs and unaffordable plans. Except that’s a little disingenuous on their parts, isn’t it? Especially given the provision in the Trumpcare bill to exempt Congress from the provisions.

Straight up, I lean way farther left than the Democratic party, so I’ve never really been in support of the party (or a two party system for that matter), but it’s been well documented that the ACA was basically the plan Mitt Romney implemented in Massachusetts and the Republican party fought Obama every step of the way on any of it. And look where this shit has gotten us. GoFundMe (and crowdfunding in general) is basically the defacto way to fund major medical expenses now. I see at least one fundraiser daily between Twitter, Tumblr, and Facebook, and I just started one to fund my previously mentioned issues AND help me repair or replace my failing car (And I am, quite frankly, pretty damn desperate).

The US has dozens of examples for how to implement socialized healthcare on a national level, with Canada and the UK being the closest. And, surprise, given that insurance works by keeping a pool of money, it’s cheaper and more efficient to spread that pool out as far as you can. Of course, this would also require we close a lot of tax loopholes and fix how we do taxes (which is a whole other conversation in itself, especially when you look at small business owners like myself). Oh and also not give ridiculous tax breaks to people who absolutely do not need them.

Universal, comprehensive healthcare would solve so many problems for so many people it’s kind of fucking ridiculous. Being an author, I know a crap ton of authors, and you know what we all have in common? Barely being able to afford anything and/or several mental health issues. It is straight up exhausting worrying about health and finances all the time and it is immensely disruptive to the creative process. Regardless of that process though, there are millions of people worrying about whether or not they just should just kill themselves before they bankrupt their families. There are millions of sexual assault survivors worrying they’re going to lose healthcare for reporting their assault. And sure, Trumpcare doesn’t outright list sexual assault as a Pre-Existing Condition™, but it does allow insurers to give patients a big blast of “Fuck you” and that’s not any better.

And I’ll be real here, too, with the health stuff and my car dying like this, and having the financial situation I have right now, suicide has been floating around my mind. It’s really fucking hard for it not to. I’m mentally ill, with depression, anxiety, and ADHD. That is the perfect cocktail for this line of thinking. Chances are, if you haven’t had these thoughts a little, you know someone who has.

We desperately need to implore our elected officials to full support universal, comprehensive healthcare. Vision, dental, mental and physical health as well as prescriptions. God, prescriptions alone would do wonders for people, myself included but we need all of it. And for anyone who wants to bemoan Canada and its mythical “wait times,” you don’t wait for emergency care and you just pay for parking. I’ve heard in-depth discussions about Canadian healthcare because I know Canadians. Krista Ball has talked very openly on twitter (and in private) about her health escapades over the past two years, which included a breast reduction surgery that was fucking covered.

We need a change. Everyone deserves healthcare, yes, even Paul Ryan’s poor-people hating ass. Even the eldritch abomination that is Steven Bannon (even if he probably is a demon in a very poor disguise). Everyone deserves healthcare. Fucking everyone, period, no exceptions. We need help. We need our health. We have to fight for them both cause the people who are supposed to be our representatives are doing a fucking piss poor job.

If you made it this far, and you’re not part of the choir, do some research, think hard on this issue. It’s not about handouts or welfare queens, it’s just basic compassion and respect for life. Making America “Great Again” is gonna require some heavy changes. This is one of them.

I sincerely wish you, to combine references, long days, pleasant nights, and a long, prosperous life. Stay weird, be kind.

Looking Back and Going Forward

The Hell year that has been 2016 is coming to its end and 2017 looms ominously in the wings. With that in mind, I thought I might give a bit of retrospection on the year and think about what’s to come in the new year.

Personally, the year started off in a harsh note. I don’t exactly make it a secret that my family life is less than stellar, even if I don’t post much about it here on the Dot Com. Not a lot of that has changed. In a lot of ways it feels like it’s much worse. My partner and I are trying to move back to Tulsa and in with her mom. It’s not going very quickly due to a host of factors. So, if you want to help, buy my books, leave reviews, and spread the word about Grimluk.

Professionally, though, I think I’ve had a pretty great year. And a busy one up until October. February saw the Kickstarter campaign for Demon Haunted, which ultimately failed, topping out at $1600 of my $2000 goal. Which was cool. I backtracked and switched over to Indiegogo, making use of their flexible funding option for March. Thanks to some flexibility on Tim Marquitz’s part as my editor, the $900 I managed did the job. Even the self-publishing world benefits from good contacts. And hey, Tim‘s an author, too, and having a rough time with some health stuff, you should go buy a few of his books.

The summer was spent busting my ass on editing and finishing up the map of Ornesea and a few other image products for Grimluk, especially for the Indiegogo backers. In August, I managed to get a basic plot down for Grimluk 3 and started it. Unfortunately, by the time October rolled around, I was exhausted, so it’s sitting around 15,000 words and waiting on me to get back to it. But, ya know, hey, that’s an accomplishment in and of itself.

October also saw my first Orctober and it turned out pretty damn well and was pretty popular. I’ve also been selling pretty well. October saw me make $50 in sales, which is a definite milestone and one I’m stoked about. November and December have been great as well. December especially when compared to last year when I only sold one book for Christmas.

So, what’s in store for 2017? Well, first up, hopefully the move will get done and out of the way as quickly as possible but that’s not looking hopeful. So, beyond that, I give more hope to my mental health issues calming back down and letting me get back to work. I won’t be ready to crowdfund Grimluk 3 by Spring unless I get a sudden round of supercharging. So the plan is to work hard to finish the first draft of 3, start work on book 4, and run a campaign in October and tie it into Orctober and then shoot for another October release in 2018. I’m batting around the idea of doing a massive campaign for books 3 AND 4, but I’ll probably wait and run the campaign for book 4 in October 2018 as well.

Beyond that, we’ll see what else happens. I’m also debating getting some issues with Audible worked out so I can potentially do audiobooks as well. Depending on when I get moved, I might also attempt to start working on a comic with a buddy of mine, though that will depend on several other factors as well. I’ve also contemplated starting a Patreon again for short stories, mostly for a certain side character of Grimluk’s. I’ve also considered doing heavy metal album reviews. I’d consider trying to do Twitch streams but I don’t currently have the hardware to do that.

So, that’s all the news and forecasts I have to offer. I figure I can do some more posts here or there like my Why Orcs post. Was pretty amazed at how popular that turned out. I hope you had a good year, my friends and I hope 2017 meets you better than 2016 did. Remember:

Be excellent to each other!

What’s Wrong With Me

This blog post is something I feel rather compelled to post right now. There are things happening in my life that it’s helping me process. It’s also going to include some sensitive topics, like health issues, mental and physical, and mentions of abuse and suicidal ideation.

A certain portion of who I am and how I operate can be summed up in the following:

“These are exactly the kinds of thoughts that Jeffrey wrote in his journal again and again.  ‘What’s wrong with me?  What’s wrong with me?  There must be something terribly wrong with me that I’m unable to find joy in the world of work.’ Always he wrote, ‘What’s wrong with me, what’s wrong with me, what’s wrong with me?’ And of course all his friends were forever saying to him, ‘What’s wrong with you, what’s wrong with you, what’s wrong with you that you can’t get with this wonderful program?’ Perhaps you understand for the first time now that my role here is to bring you this tremendous news, that there’s nothing wrong here with YOU. You are not what’s wrong.  And I think there was an element of this understanding in your sobs: ‘My God, it isn’t me!'” – excerpt from My Ishmael by Daniel Quinn.

My wonderful partner, Nici, bought me a copy of this for xmas one year. I read it finally last year. She said, while reading it for class, that I reminded her of the titular Ishmael. Some things in the book were boring cause I knew them already (a basic history and biology lesson) but the stuff like the excerpt really hit home. Read the full excerpt for a clearer picture. But this is a thing that crops up monthly, if not weekly. Especially when my stepdad explodes.

Some history. I have been privileged to never have worried significantly or very long about food, shelter, and clothing. Privileged to have not had to work a job since I was 18 to support myself. The last 15 years of my life have been trying and in some instances, very fucked up. My family’s been through a lot and lost a lot. I won’t go into details because it’s not an easy story to tell or hear. Suffice to say though, it has not been a healthy experience.

And a huge part of the past 10 of those 15 years has been my stepdad. He and my mom have been married for 11 years, married in August of 2004. Within the first six weeks, he exploded in the car with my mom, beating on the dashboard. He did not tell his daughters (five at the time, four now, more on that later) that they’d gotten married until Thanksgiving, which was also the first time we all met. By the end of December, he’d decided that he couldn’t stay with mom. That he had to go back to his true family.

For the first five years, he did this every three to six months. He was also a major contributing factor to an outcome of the hell we were going through when he came into the picture. At some point, it finally came out that his youngest daughter wasn’t his. His second youngest got herself knocked up, married, cheated on, divorced, pregnant again, and remarried to her ex. The oldest, I shit you not, got her ex husband and father of two of her children, into drug dealing to support her shopping habits and then got full into drugs herself, taking thousands of dollars from us and him. Mom ambushed her with a drug test late last year and she tested positive for SEVEN different substances. And all five of them were shitty to us for a long time.

Now, for me, I’ve always struggled with depression and self-loathing and bits of anxiety but I’ve never been expensive or dramatic like that. You’d swear I was though. Around age 19, when his presence really started setting in, I began to feel a sense of panic and a need to escape. At 20/21, I wanted to run off to Vancouver. Chicago the next year. When I started writing this, I was trying to conjure up ways to make living out of my van with Nici bearable. Each year, my depression got a little worse because of everything going on and because I couldn’t figure out what to do with myself, with my life. For most of my time in college, I was too fucked up to be there. I nearly flunked out all together one year.

Because, on top of mental illness, I’m functionally broken in the way of the world at large. In western, and specifically American, culture at large. Capitalist/ruling class stuff, basically. Ishmael calls this Taker culture. I am naturally a sensitive, curious person. I was, and still am, drawn to the arts and sciences. And I’ve always put a high value on being “a good friend.” A certain type of emotional labor rather than physical or customer service stuff. I would happily live on a mincome and not worry about kickstarter funding and book sales so much. I’m good with money. I can budget tightly and then I could create and do my friend thing. I’m definitely NOT wired to be capable of retail work. I’ve done it. I’m bad at it.  Smile, the customer is always right, you can never have a bad day or be sick, how can I help you, yes sir, no sir, do you have a rewards membership. The best job I ever had was repairing computers for a little shop in the town I lived in. I sat in a back room running tests on hardware and software, running anti-virus, or doing fresh installs. I rarely had to do much with customers.

It should be noted, of course, that other people do customer service jobs and some even enjoy them. Bless those people. We need them. And bless the people who do it for survival even if it’s hard on them and the people who just don’t mind cause it lets them do other things. I’m not a “people person” in that regard. I’ve always been the type to listen and counsel. And to make stuff. I’ve always wanted to just make stuff.

Incidentally, being a Smart and Talented Kid™ meant I ended up hating school. By 7th grade, I had started getting bored. You start getting repeat classes and lessons. From 7th grade to your sophomore year of college, you just repeat things over and over. High schoolers can now get college credit for gen ed stuff but when I was coming up, that wasn’t a thing. And most of it is still just busy work. I don’t like busy work. That weird “look busy” thing in a lot of jobs always rubbed me wrong. As Bill Hicks said, “why don’t you pretend I’m working.”

Hating busy work also meant I hated college. I loved tech school though. College is, supposedly, designed to a) prepare you for a career and b) help you be well-rounded. In my experience it does neither. It attempts to destroy your well-being and make you pay for the privilege. Tech school got me right the fuck to what I was there to do. Easy choice.

But yeah, making stuff. I liked making people laugh when I was really young (one of the few things I’ve kept my whole life). I liked drawing. I was good at it. I wanted to be an inventor and an artist and a scientist. Then a wrestler and an artist. Then a musician. Then a filmmaker. Then a writer. Then back to a filmmaker, with sound engineering mixed in (which I received training for in a tech program). Then back to a writer. I like talking to people and I like helping people and I like connecting with people and entertaining them.

But these things are worthless and irrelevant unless they can make you lots of money. And sometimes they can and do, if you’re very lucky and hit the right notes at the right time. A lot of us, the so-called Millennials, grew up hearing that we could be anything we wanted. We just had to study hard and get into a good college and, by the way, if you don’t do this, you’ll get stuck flipping burgers or cleaning toilets, and you don’t want THAT do you? Only failures do those jobs. And behind all of this, a very long war. There are kids alive whose whole existence has been with the background radiation of war and propaganda.

So on top of all that, I’ve heard how I’m lazy, spoiled, emasculated (an insult aimed more at my mother than me and said by a lot of family), incapable, and basically worthless. And it’s taken its toll. And even knowing all of this and knowing myself, I am STILL, at 30 years old, from the last decade of my life, asking what is wrong with me, why can’t I do it right, why am I so broken, why can’t I just not be this way. Why can’t I be a Real Person.

I feel like 2015 was a good year for me and for Nici. She graduated at the end of 2014, we got moved, she started recovering (college wrecked her, see my claim above), I was working on A Demon in the Desert, coming along well. She started getting tutoring jobs, I finished and released the book, and on top of my original 26 backers, sold close to 60 books by the end of the year. I wrote the first draft of Demon Haunted in 4 months. Both of us were getting healthier mentally too. Sure, I also got diagnosed with diabetes but I set about restructuring my diet to control THAT without medication. A good year. We had a plan and we were moving forward.

But it was not Enough. Due to circumstances that would still be happening even if we WERE independent, another explosion happened from stepdad (this after one in the spring where mom had to beat it into his head that I was actually obligated to finish my book, that people had paid me money for it). It wrecked a lot of that progress with mental health. It also made Nici and me even more sensitive to, well, existing near him. We’re afraid. And he simultaneously says that I need to be a Real Man™ while blatantly saying I’m clearly incapable. During this last explosion, which involved a “family discussion,” he even admitted he had no faith in me and felt sorry for Nici. (side note: Nici has her own history of family abuse and trauma) He also claims that my books are evil because of demons and that he’ll have to stand before God and be held accountable for that.

This conflict, being a Real Person/Real Man/Financially Independent, is really the only thing left that still makes me wish I was dead. Depression is easier to fight now. Diabetes is manageable. My body sucks but I make it work the best I can. I hate hurting all the time but banging out tasty words makes it worth it. But that voice, “What’s wrong with me? I’ll never be a real person”? That still makes death sound preferable. And the anxiety of whether he’s going to blow up is draining. As of this week, it’s also been stated that out health issues (my mom’s extensive issues included) are “just excuses” for not working.

And sleep disorders, which Nici and I both have (delayed sleep phase and sleep apnea respectively), are just us staying up all night to play games. The bits that are vaguely true feed the voice. I know I need to be more active but my knees are shit and fat bodies can have issues with mobility. And fatigue in general is its own battle. So the voice says, “what the fuck is wrong with you, you entitled piece of shit? You’re so goddamn privileged and you just take it for granted.”

You might be saying, “well, Ashe, it doesn’t sound like you do anything though.” I do though. I handle the bills, the groceries, some of the cleaning and cooking, and I’m always available to run errands. He borrows my car whenever he wants. I’m a personal assistant and, quite frankly, a part-time therapist for my mom and Nici. When I have money, I contribute how I can. Nici’s contributed as well, including a chunk of her financial aid in her last semester and plenty of rounds of emergency groceries. I try to help how I’m able.

But the voice persists.

And I don’t think I can ever get rid of that voice without being able to fully support me and Nici (or her supporting us or us supporting us). Because there’s no other cure in our culture. We live in a world where most of us are drowning in student loan debt and if we have degrees, we’re probably not even using them. Unemployment is sharp. Healthcare is non-existent. Poverty is rampant. Everyone seems to be mentally ill in some form or another. Shit’s all fucked up. We’re all fucked up. The game is rigged and broken and the rules keep changing.

But maybe he’s right and I just make excuses. I can’t tell anymore. I am passed the ability to be objective about myself. I know I have…restrictions with jobs. And we live in a college town. There is nothing here for someone like me. I’m honestly leaving a lot out here too, from the family discussion farce and larger events as well.

I look at the world though and it’s hard to have hope. It’s hard to see a future. It’s especially hard to make your own way. And I’m a white, hetero, cis man. If my family had money and I was perfectly healthy, and life was a game, this would be Easiest Mode. There wouldn’t be an issue here. I cannot imagine how much harder the game is for everyone else.

But…here I am. I’ve had confirmations from others but the voice persists. I’m proud to say that this is the first time I’ve had a voice screaming in opposition to the other though. To KEEP FIGHTING. To KEEP WRITING. But it’s still hard. But I’m not alone. Everyone I know deals with this in some way or another. And there’s some comfort knowing I’m not alone. That you’re not alone. That we’re not alone. I try to keep hoping.

“Remember…hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.”

2015 – A Review

Given how much has happened in my life this year, I figured a retrospective was in order. The year ends tonight and next year is already shaping up to be eventful in some usual and some new ways.

My year started off rocky. After getting moved, January was almost entirely me fighting off depression and feeling like a giant fraud of a writer. I was pushing on A Demon in the Desert as much as I could. February was rough too but had more progress. Stan Nichols liked my facebook page too. That was surreal. Sometimes I still think about asking if he’ll read it and offer some public thoughts.

March saw my work increase a lot and I tried off some promotion, posting snippets each week for kickstarter backers and others alike. I’d also attempted to start a Patreon (that ultimately I shut down as I wasn’t comfortable continuing it and by then, I’d managed to get one person interested). It helped me keep my writing schedule consistent but that’s about it. I’ve also apparently been working on map stuff for almost a year, off and on. I started the original map while I was running the kickstarter last year, I think and ended up scrapping it and starting over this summer. March also saw me get diagnosed with diabetes.

That diagnosis took a lot of focus and after experimenting with medication and stabbing myself several times a week, I shunned the meds in favor of overhauling my eating habits. I’m still having issues with that in some ways but I managed to go from an A1C of 13 down to 7.4 just from reducing or eliminating a lot of shit from my diet. Namely not sucking down regular sodas all day.

I used the Camp Nano from April to help get work done on A Demon in the Desert and had some folks read through sections and give me notes. By the time the end of May rolled around, I had declared myself DONE and then learned that releasing a book can be a pretty quick process. I meant to release the paperback on June 1st but instead, released it on May 28th. Either way, I got everything set up, ordered a box, sent everyone their digital copies, signed everything, boxed it up, and got it all shipped out. Then I started selling.

My first month has been my best month, followed by October. June saw me sell 18 copies total, I think. October was 14 or 15. July taught me an important lesson: never have 99c sales when you only have one book. Not a smart business decision. I spent most of the summer and part of the fall learning about making business decisions. And I’ve had some helpful tips from other writers. In particular, Krista D. Ball has been a huge help and became a fast new friend. In May, I’d also finally made use of the guest post Ed Erdelac offered me over on his blog and in July, I was r/Fantasy’s Writer of the Day. Both turned out pretty good.

Then I turned 30 this year. The first half of the year was filled with adjusting to a new location, family stuff, health stuff, finishing and then releasing a book, and hitting the big Three Oh. Not bad.

After finishing the book, I took a little break and then banged out “From Tusk Til Dawn.” Submitted it to a couple of magazines but got rejections on it and decided to toss it up on Patreon. Still pretty happy about that story. That was all in July and after that, towards the end of the month, I started Grimluk 2.

Between July 23rd and October 23rd, I wrote 30,000 words. Which was a big goddamn deal. It took me about a year to get to 40,000 on the first book. Amazingly, November saw me prove that I really can do this seriously as I used Nanowrimo to keep writing and wrote nearly 37,000 words, finishing the first draft on the 26th with a little over 67,000 words. I’ve gotten a little work done on the second draft now and I can say with 100% confidence that book 2 is gonna knock people’s socks off. It’s bigger and better. Hell, I even took something a reviewer said about the plot of the first one and made it a point in the second one.

Now here I am, December 31st, reflecting on everything. December’s been difficult. Yes, I’ve had a year of very hard work and I’m proud of that but I’ve spent a year pretty isolated too. Nici and I don’t really do a whole lot and Auburn’s a college town so making friends has been, well, not really possible. The holidays are hard too, for both of us.

I really want to hope that 2016 will be a lot better in those regards. I hope that the kickstarter for Grimluk 2 will succeed. I hope it does at least as well as the first one. I hope that maybe I can attend a convention. I hope that I can finish Grimluk 2 and then bang out the first draft for the third book.

I hope you meet your own goals next year. I hope you succeed and grow. I hope you have a good 2016.

-Ashe