State of the Author

This one is a fairly atypical article. Actually, I’m not sure if there even is such a thing as a “typical” article for this site, but this one is kind of a departure by virtue of not really being about FAB. I’m not sure what I’d actually call it. It’s going to be sort of a hybrid explanation for the content gap/a personal journal entry. I wanted to explain what prompted the lack of content from February to April, and after that, l just ramble a bit about my relationship with writing in general. In that respect, it has some connection this this article about my hesitation to do a close textual reading of FAB’s lore. If that’s not interesting to you, then you can definitely skip this one, there’s no secret FAB content in here -This is Freyja content. If that sounds like something you want to stick around for, feel free to join me as we dive down the rabbit hole.

What Happened

So, yeah, I kind of fell off the map there for a bit. Some of the people I talk to more regularly have quietly asked about my lack of content, and other inquiries have come in second hand via friends in the community relaying discussions of my sudden disappearance. Out of the gate, I want to note that my lack of content shouldn’t be read as a lack of interest in the game. While I still have some outstanding concerns about where everything is headed (as you can see in other parts of the Mega Update), the lack of content has mostly been due to a lack of time. I still talk to people about FAB pretty much every single day.

When I started the site, I was actually on a leave of absence from work. That meant that I had a lot of time on my hands, and I funneled it disproportionately into pumping out FAB content. I knew at the time that I wouldn’t be able to match that pace long term, but my hope was that I’d be able to keep up a two-articles-a-week pace. Over time, this has obviously not been the case, and there are a handful of reasons that all funnel into the same overall cause: I’ve got too many things to do and not enough time to do them all. What are they? Well, the three main things pulling my attention away from FAB in no particular order are: work, game design, and other writing.

Stupid Adult Responsibilities

One of the biggest changes is simply that my day job has gotten much busier in the past few months. When I started FAB with Freyja, my job-job was not particularly demanding, and didn’t occupy much thought outside of the time I was actively working, and even then, things were kind of slow. However, my workload has ramped up, and the past couple months been rather busy. As a result, not only do I have less time on my hands, but my work days tend to end with me carrying more of a cognitive load than before. It takes time to decompress after work, which wasn’t always the case. I find that I’ve got days where, by the time work is over and I’ve made dinner, I’m kind of just wiped out and end up not being super productive in my free time. Whether this is the new normal or not is hard to say. I got promoted a few weeks ago, but the way my company treats promotions is that you’re pretty much expected to be doing the work of the role you’re being promoted to prior to getting said promotion. Given that, I don’t know if my role change will really have a huge immediate impact on my workload, but as I figure out what the hell I’m doing with my career, I suppose I’ll have to start taking on the additional responsibilities for whatever role comes next. In short, I really have no clue if things will remain busy for me, or if they’ll quiet down over the coming months.

Having Flashbacks

Beyond my day job, I also got back into game design by way of a friend who was starting a worker-owned design co-operative. I used to do game design stuff as a sort of hybrid hobby/side gig back at the tail end of graduate school. At the time, money was super tight (which is a cute way of saying my wife and I were broke). This meant that I really couldn’t commission any art assets for the designs I’d done, so there wasn’t really anything to do with them. Eventually, I kind of accepted my lack of ability to do anything with my designs, and I drifted away from doing original design work because it felt like I was wasting my time. I wasn’t entirely out of the game design space at this point though; I spent some time doing commission work on other people’s games –primarily uncredited writing on RPGs, but I also got some commissioned design work in the mix (most stuff is under NDA and/or in various states of development limbo, but some of it will hopefully release at some point). Eventually, I kind of moved away from that as well. Knowing that I wasn’t realistically going to be able to design and publish anything of my own kind of killed my enthusiasm for the work in general since the end goal had always been to get my stuff out

Then we skip forward to the autumn of 2020, a friend was starting a board-game design co-op with some of her other friends. Apparently, at some point, my wife had mentioned to her that I used to design games. And thus, I was invited to join up. It was sort of out of the blue, but I realized that a co-op was probably a good way to get back into it since I could collaborate on projects and wouldn’t have to handle every single element of the process. Having someone with way more legal knowledge who could be on top of filings, contracts, and such, is amazing compared to trying to be responsible for both the design end and figuring out all the other elements that go into production. Candidly, I’m also just a lot more well-off financially these days than I was 8-9 years ago, and costs, like paying up front for art, aren’t the barriers they once were. It’s also just a lot easier to design in a group. Even if you’re tackling most the actual mechanical design of a project solo, having a group of people to bounce ideas off, grind out tests with, and held with things like getting a functional version of your game onto a digital platform to facilitate testing is hugely advantageous over working in isolation.

Right now, the primary push of the co-op is to get our first game into crowdfunding at some point this year. It’s been in development for a while now and has done quite a few tours of Protospiels and game jams, where it’s evolved a lot. The most recent round of Protospiel feedback seems to affirm our sense of where the game is in its development cycle: we’re rounding the corner. At this stage, most of the feedback we’re getting is around very fiddly issues (like should a value be a 3 instead of a 4 in a particular instance) as opposed to big picture stuff. (I’ll probably make a post about the game on this blog once we covert the version into a public module so that people can give it a try, if they’re interested). It’s been a fun, if chaotic, experience, and I think we’ve taken a lot of logistics lessons that will help us develop games that don’t have a clear-cut lead designer more efficiently in the future. I don’t want to count my chickens before they’ve hatched, but I think we’ll be able to successfully fund it based on responses we’ve got from other developers and the connections we’ve built in the community/which some of us brought to the table at the outset (the co-op is a mix of new and experienced designers).

For me personally, if that game gets thought crowdfunding, I’m going to be ramping up work on one of my old designs. The game in question was mostly finished a decade ago. It’s a small box 1v1 game that was already tested pretty extensively back when I didn’t have cash for art. There’s one card left that some of my co-op compatriots have flagged as being unsure about. I think it has a necessary role in the game, but I want to do more testing to either commit to it as is or make a change. After that, it just needs art assets and a box mock up to be ready to make a jump to the funding stage. I’ve got the money to pay for art and will be OK to recoup my initial costs if it funds or to eat the loss if it flops. So, once we know the fate of the bigger game, I’ll decide if I’m pulling the trigger. Then I’ll set about hiring artists from the list of potentials I’ve built. I’d love to see it get to a crowdfunding platform in Q4 2022 or Q1 2023, but we’ll see how things go.

At any rate, the consequence of this is that I’ve had to balance design time with the other commitments, but that actually worked fairly well until the beginning of this year when I suddenly found myself without enough time to do either. My co-designers have kept things chugging along while my contributions have been smaller as of late. But after this big article drop, I’m planning to try to double down on that project again and do what I can to help push us towards the funding step. I want to do that without having another long “no FAB with Freyja” gap, but I think, realistically, a piece every week or two at most is probably what that will look like.

Oh yeah, there was that one other thing taking up my time: my other writing. This is going to be a much longer section, and we’re sort of going to have to go back to the beginning to contextualize it all.

Origin Story

I wasn’t kidding when I said “the beginning,” I’m going to start by talking about my childhood and moving forward from there (this set-up is going somewhere. It’s just going to be a bit ponderous and naval-gazing, but I warned you that this was a blog entry and not a FAB article at the outset, so you signed on for this).

Growing up, I assumed that everyone wanted to tell stories. My mom instilled a love of books in all of her kids at a young age and used to read to us regularly –I think my first post on this site talked about how most of my nerdy interests can trace their roots to her reading stuff like Dragonriders of Pern and The Hobbit to me at age 4-5, and then giving me her old, well-loved copies of The Lord of the Rings and Dune in elementary school. My grandma also played a big part in this. She showed me many of the early movies that managed to put their stamp on my brain, even if I was probably too young for them on paper (I don’t know if you should show a 7 year old Alien, but I probably wouldn’t be the person I am now if I didn’t have get early exposure to media that was challenging). Although, like my mom, my grandma also read to us, what I remember more from my many days growing up at her house are the stories she just made up on the sport or told collaboratively with us.  

As a child, it was easy to assume that everyone had this sort of experience. My younger siblings both have similar interests in writing, and growing up, a lot of my friends were also storytellers in some capacity, whether it was creative writing, fanfiction, comics, concept albums, or even just our roleplaying campaigns. My early interest in film also filtered in. My friends and I took the opportunities we could to make video projects for school. I have fond memories of attempting all the special effects I could manage with a cheap handheld camera and no editing software – it was early late 90’s/early 2000’s, and digital wasn’t a thing for us in the middle of nowhere with our 28.8k internet connection, so my editing resources were mostly limited to a couple VCRs and the camcorder itself. Still, despite my love for these creative endeavors, they were never the sorts of things I seriously considered as part of a potential career.

When I was born, my family was pretty solidly lower-middle class. We weren’t poor; I never had to worry about whether I was going to have food or not, but throughout my early school years, most of my clothing was either hand-me-downs from friends of the family or things my mom made (though, I should note that she is an excellent seamstress and made both some cool kids clothes and some truly epic Halloween costumes – I still feel pretty strongly that my Pink Power Ranger costume from first grade was way better than any of the store bought ones other kids had). Still, money was definitely tight, and I knew it. Two things that characterized growing up with my dad were that he always talked about money and he always had a hustle. So, by the time I was a teenager, he’d moved through a bunch of different jobs before starting his own mortgage company and doing quite well. A few years later, when I was graduating high school, he was selling said company to a significantly larger bank and moving into a role there before scaling back his hours over the next few years and retiring while I in undergrad.

This meant that I went from assuming college was going to be a thing I took out a bunch of loans to attend to a thing my parents were able to pay for out of pocket (better lucky than good). I was the first person in my dad’s side of the family to go to college, and the second after my mom on her side, so I didn’t really have a lot of guidance beyond “go to college” (which seemed like better generic advice in that era than it does today). Given my background, I was very aware of money and my future need to make it, but this was still pre-2008, and the idea that you could do something that you didn’t hate that would also give you a middle class lifestyle was still a thing that most college-bound millennials believed. So, what was I going to do with my life? Though I had several friends who went to art school, I never even considered pursuing film because my mental conception at the time was that weird girls from the middle of nowhere don’t make movies – that was a thing that famous, rich people or people with connections to them did. Similarly, being a writer was not the sort of job you just got by going to school for it. Sure, you could take courses in writing, but you either had talent and you made it, or you didn’t. These just weren’t “real” jobs in my mind because I’d never met anyone who did anything remotely like them.

With those options left unconsidered, I was unsure on what I was actually going to study. I liked English a lot, but I also liked science well enough, and that was more lucrative. At the time, I was really taken with nuclear engineering and had some vague, nebulous idea of trying to get into fusion research down the road. Despite going to a rural school that was generally underfunded and not at all impressive institutionally, I did have a handful of really spectacular teachers who went above and beyond. One taught a class on “Nuclear Concepts and Relativity” that was 50% science course 50% history course, and he’d developed a relationship with Penn State, so our class got to visit their research reactor and do some other cool stuff with them. So, that sort of a career seemed possible to me.

On paper, I had options. I’ve always been a good test taker, and my SAT scores were pretty high, so suddenly I had a bunch of materials from pretty good schools showing up in the mail. With that general thought of doing a “science thing” teachers who knew more than I did pointed towards the MIT and Caltech materials as things I should be paying attention to. As an East Coast resident, MIT was more familiar to me in that I had heard of it and know it existed prior to getting materials mailed to me (unlike Caltech, which helps to show how rural my childhood was). So, I went to some MIT recruitment sessions that I had been invited to and it was all obviously very impressive. The Cambridge area seemed super cool, and I could see it being a really good experience, but the money my parents had sat aside would only cover about half of the cost because MIT bases tuition on family income, and this was they year my father sold his business (so, the most money my parents ever earned in a single year was the one they’d be basing my tuition on). If I wanted to go there, I’d need to take on a bunch of debt after all.

On the other hand, I loved English, and if I went to a good state school, the money that was set aside would cover it all. On that path, I assumed I’d get BA in English, get my teaching certificate, and then just do that until I retired. At the time, I wasn’t even really aware of what graduate school was, but teaching seems like an intuitive thing I could do. I’d get to talk about books as part of my job, and someone is always hiring teachers, so it seemed pretty safe as a choice. Ultimately, influenced by the pervasive pre-2008 “just go to college (for whatever) and you’ll be fine” ethos, I decided on the option where I wasn’t on the hook for the bills –you cannot believe how grateful I am to 18 year old me for just holding onto the bird in the hand vs going to one of the most expensive schools in the world with no real plan beyond “science” and “that school is good”.

Alright, let’s have a quick aside, why not? (Yeah, this is already long, but remember, blog entry, not an article). This isn’t really important to the “Freyja” story, but recounting all of that really brought to mind how many people I know who took the paths from my aborted plans. One of my oldest friends did go to school for nuclear engineering at Penn State, and from there he went to work in the National Nuclear Security Administration. He’s moved far enough up there, that he’s in the white house semi-regularly and has worked with the past couple Secretaries of Energy. I’m charmed that one of us took that path, and I’m proud of him for moving from our nowhere town to such a notable position. Another friend’s younger brother did end up going to MIT, where he into engineering. I gather he’s now doing very fancy, very lucrative, aerospace stuff. And my little sister did go on to be an English teacher. She’s since quit and now owns a screen printing shop and a promoting business with her partner. And then, in my own weird twist of fate, my wife and I moved to Cambridge a few years ago after leaving academia. It turns out younger me was right, and it’s pretty cool here (stupidly expensive, but cool). It’s just bizarre to watch people you know make the choices you didn’t, and they you get a glimpse of what it might have been like. Life is weird.

But, back to my story. In college, I did a double major in English Literature (mostly clustered around the periods between 1500-1900) and History. I also got a certificate in Renaissance and Medieval Studies, which was a sort of separate cross-disciplinary thing, and, during the second half of my time there, I worked part-time as a tutor at the university’s writing center. Next, I went to a PhD program for Writing Studies (this is kind of a broad area, but includes things like rhetoric and multimodal composition) with a graduate minor in Gender and Women’s Studies. Along the way, I got my Masters in English. I finished all of my PhD coursework and passed my qualifying exams, but then I left prior to finishing my dissertation due to a combination of factors that are a bit long to rehash here. But for the people not familiar with academia, it essentially means that I did all the work for PhD, but then I didn’t write the very long paper one writes to cap things off. I say all of that to contextualize my FAB writing. While it occasionally gets a little experimental or weird (usually when it’s late at night and I’m intoxicated), I would say that the articles I write here are mostly informed by essay writing and/or media analysis. This is the type of writing that I’ve done professionally for a good chunk of my adult life. Unfortunately, as I’m sure is the case for many other people writing non-fiction, the writing I’d most like to actually be doing is creative writing. Specifically, what I really want to do, and have more or less always wanted to do, is write books. It’s kind of an awkward thing to put out there because I rarely talk about it with people beyond close friends and family.

I’ve invested a lot of myself into stories. Writing a book that people actually read is probably the thing I most want to do. And that frankly makes the whole concept kind of terrifying. Not the writing itself, the putting it out there in front of other people in an attempt to get it published part. I generally characterize my relationship with my writing as “I hate almost everything I write about 5 minutes after I finish it.” That’s not just fiction, that’s how I feel about my writing on this site too. I am notorious for throwing away writing or sticking it in an “Archive” folder and never looking at it again (or, I would be, if people knew how much I did it). This relationship with what I write doesn’t really hurt me that much for FAB with Freyja. I usually write an article after work across a day or two, and then I post it before I can decide I hate it. Articles only really get archived when they linger for too long. If I stop halfway through something and it sits for a couple weeks, I’ll decide the first part is trash and just toss it in the archive.

The thing is, you can’t really do that with a novel. They tend to take a lot longer to write, at least the good ones usually do. And then, everyone I know who has done the “submit to publishers/try to get a literary agent” thing has characterized it as a grueling process that’s usually going to have a lot of rejection involved. I hear that, and I wonder if I’m too fragile for it. I don’t think I would characterize myself as “fragile” in any other context, but I think it’s correct here. I don’t know how many rejections I could take before I just burnt out. Getting to that stage and being told, “no, this isn’t good,” for months on end, before eventually throwing in the towel, might break me. I know there’s that old “you just gotta’ get back on the horse” sentiment, but I feel like it’s ill-suited to tasks that take a really long time. If you spend months (or, more likely, years) of your life on something and then fail at it, how many more times are you going to make a go at it?

This isn’t to say that I don’t write. I just don’t share what I write, or I don’t finish it. I’ve got a graveyard of abandoned manuscripts and fragments going back to high school. What happens is I start to write, and then, over time, I decide the text isn’t good enough. I’ll either try to rehab it, or toss it and start a new one. But usually, over time, I decide that a project isn’t going to be it. The one I’m actually willing to roll the dice on. In a bunch of cases over the years, that’s been the decidedly correct call. I’ve still got like 50k words of a novel I started in my teens that I haven’t touched since I was like 20. It’s never going to become anything, which is totally fine, it was a first attempt at a novel that I started when I was literally a child. I got to a point where I knew I could do better by just starting a new book; I’d grown, my interests had changed, and the story had become less interesting to me as time went on. That one wasn’t going to be it. But it helps to keep it around, I’m impressed that younger me started something that ambitious when I was 16 and stuck with it for that long. I’m still embarrassed when I see what my writing used to look like (And, honestly, I’m kind of distressed when I read actually published works that don’t feel much better). But yeah, I’ve been writing and will continue to write. I just don’t know that I can ever make it a thing I do as a job. The dream that I could do it if I really went for it has been around for so long that it feels like a load-bearing element of my structure as a human. If I were to learn that I actually couldn’t do it, I might end up as rubble.

I feel like I’ve known this about myself for a very long time, and I’ve worked diligently to shield my dreams from danger. In college I chose to study English Literature over Creative Writing because the former would just be picking the subject I was going to teach, whereas the latter seemed a whole lot like trying to be a novelist. When I decided to go to grad school, I distanced myself even further from fiction by moving into writing studies, where my focus shifted from analyzing texts to looking at rhetorical elements of multimodal compositions and through a different set of theoretical frameworks than the ones I’d been using in literary analysis. I’d moved myself far enough away that the daydream was safe. Of course,

The Point

So, why am I talking about all this again? Well, as I (very unfairly) continue to get older, I becoming increasingly aware that, at some point I’m probably going to die. Like it’s totally messed up, but, my dudes, I think that if I don’t attempt to do it at some point while I’m alive, I will never write a book that people read. With that in mind, I’ve been thinking more about what I should be doing about my writing beyond just repeating the cycle of “start writing a thing, decide it’s bad, archive it, start a new thing.” What I’ve come up with is that I need to have some sort of consistent goal for output that means I will at least finish a full novel before I give up on it. If I get to that point, then future me can figure out if she’s going to try to publish it or just archive it. But I will at least have completed a book that I was happy with, even if only briefly. To that end, I set myself a 3,000 word a week quota. That should kick out a bit over 150k words in a year. Obviously sections are going to come and go, revisions will happen, etc. but, if I can keep that pace, I feel like it’s exceedingly likely that I’ll have a complete draft of a novel in a year or two. That’s not to say that I’m aiming for a 300k word novel; that sounds dreadful. But I’ve learned that I’m more productive when move between a couple things rather than trying to force myself when I get stuck on one, which usually leads to producing nothing.

Currently I have two texts that are my primary focus (Yes, I’m going to tell you about these now, because, once again, blog entry –you really are free to quit at any time). One is a novella that I have no intent to ever publish because it’s for a very specific audience of like ten people. Way back at the beginning of my life story, I said that most of my childhood friends had storytelling inclinations. Well, I’m still friends with most of them more than 20 years later, and we continue to share creative proclivities. 4-5 years ago, a group of us were hanging out in the woods at a one of their families’ cabins, and I’m talking to two of my friends. One was the nuclear engineer from earlier, so we’ll call him T, and the other we’ll call D. Anyway, they had recently finished a death/thrash metal album because D decided he wanted to learn to play guitar and growl, and T was like “sure, why not.”

So, quite a few beers later, T and I are talking, and I have no idea how it got started, but we decided that space metal (ex. Arjen Anthony Lucassen’s Star One) was extremely nerdy but also kind of rad. So what we should clearly do is collaborate on a concept album where I write a novella and do the album’s lyrics and T does instrumentation and musical composition, and then we pull in an ensemble cast of vocalists from or other friends. The pitch was something like “Warhammer 40k by way of Terry Pratchett” in that it was grim dark in a very self-aware and comical way. The characters would just be riffs on our group of friends and it was just a big layering of two plus decades of in-jokes filtered through the lens of that setting. The audience would be us, the novella would be totally unpublishable and the album would mainly be circulated amongst our friend group. Maybe if someone got ambitious, they’d toss it on YouTube, be we wouldn’t promote it or anything.

I imagine that, to most people, this seems like kind of a lot for an elaborate joke with your friends. You’re probably right, but I don’t know what to tell you we’re just a group of people with a really poor collective sense of what scope is reasonable. When I was in grad school, they all started home brewing together, and by the time I moved back to the East Coast and joined them a few years later for brew days, we were up to 40 gallon batches and attending beer festivals as the only non-commercial brewers present. D (from the death/trash project mentioned above) is in the final stages of building a house. Not like he paid someone and got a house. He built almost the entire thing from scratch –he went to college for an art degree and now does IT as his job; this is just a side thing he decided to do. It’s a nice house too. Certainly nicer than the first house I bought by a large margin.

So yeah, that concept album. After sobering up and being like “OK that was funny, let’s move on” it sort of became this background thing in my brain, and I started working on it. At first, I’d work on it when I had given up on being productive on my other writing but felt like I should still be writing something. To this day, the file is still named “Drunken Diversion”. But a weird thing happened with that, since I was emphatically never going to publish it, and everyone I actually wanted to read it almost certainly would, it wasn’t that stressful to write. And in the past year or so, it’s gotten to the point where it’s now starting to push up against the “novella” size (39k words at the moment). I’ve got a few more chapters to do -they’re already outlined. I realized that, if I actually put part of my focus onto that, then I could get it done this year. I think I could probably even have it fully revised and finished in time to pass out when we’re all home to see our families for the holidays. It’s become this sort of incremental step for me.

So, that was a very long story to tell for a novella that no one here, aside from me, will ever read. But that one matter because it acts as sort of the low bar to clear. I write a thing that doesn’t have to be a “full” book, it’s unpublishable because it’s 20 years of in-jokes, and most of the people who will read it were reading the much worse writing that I was producing when I was 12 (back when hadn’t yet built up the self-doubt and neuroses I have today that lead me not to share my writing). It’s safe. I feel like I’ll get it done, and it will be satisfying, and I think it will make my friends laugh, and that will be worth it. It’ll get to be one more piece of lore around the over the top things we’ve done.

Beyond that, I’ve got a bunch of various fragments and outlines for other books that sort of get sporadically worked on when that’s what my brain decides I’m working on for a given day. But, as much as possible, I try to focus on the main two. Oh yeah, I forgot about the big scary part of this all: the actual novel I’m trying to finish. That’s the one I started at the beginning of the year (it’s currently chilling at 18k words and another 10k in outlines, notes, and fragments). The goal, as I said, is to have that done by the end of 2023, which seems plausible still. So what’s it about? Well, it’s a novel.

Wait? Did you think I was going to talk about that one in any sort of detail? Are you outside of your mind? Were you not paying attention earlier? No? OK, that’s fair, it was a long ramble. I’m not going to talk about it because that seems emotionally dangerous. Right now I’m just working on the “complete a book” stage. I’ll deal with the “showing it to other humans” problem later. Baby steps; baby steps.

Anyway, that’s what I’ve been up to.

*Header Image – Prism by Livia Prima

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