Authors and Characters: A Symbiotic Relationship

My Delilah Bard character cosplay from A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab. I love dressing up as literary characters.

While I was in the spirit of the holidays, I sat down recently and decided to watch The Man Who Invented Christmas with my mother while she was visiting with me. Dan Stevens is irresistibly amazing in it, as you might expect if you follow him at all, but what you might find surprising, or at least I did, was the introspective glance it had in the mind of a writer.

In the movie, Charles Dickens struggles with finding his characters. As I watched the vision of Scrooge appear and start talking, Dickens asked his character questions to help define him more. And my mouth dropped to the floor and I nudged my mother, “This is so true.” The constant interruptions while in a mid-stream of creativity; the name collecting; the environmental influences… all made sense to me.

Creating characters is a strange business, honestly. And writing is solitary, but it’s not. It makes sense to us that we spend time with other people, even if they are the ones in our heads that are informing us about themselves and the adventure they want to take.

It Starts With A Name

In this movie, Dickens states it all starts with a name; once the character has a name, the character comes to him.

I recently was in a class on developing characters, and throughout the class a theme developed for me about emotional connection. There needs to be a reason to care. I think a lot of that starts with a name too. The right name can say so much about your book. Sometimes a character comes with a name and then demonstrates why they have that name.

In this class, I focused on a character named Browneyes. This is a character I created in my series, but felt she had more to say. She came with her name. It was a nickname that I gave my little girl. I loved her brown eyes. I thought it was cool and unusual. I was at the time also in Imagination Training my good friend and fellow writer Michael Jensen was developing (more to come). In this training, he asked me to invite a character to the safe space in my mind and ask questions. This was an amazing experience for my imagination to just play with. One of the questions I asked her was how she got her name. I was not prepared for this answer. I had always assumed it was a nickname, but not until that experience did I understand it. And when I understood why, her story started to come into place. It was Browneyes’ name, or the name she was hiding behind, that told me her story.

I adore names and always have. I collect them much like Dickens did, or JK Rowling for that fact. The right name can set things in motion.

My character in the book Vampire-ish is named Oliver Brixby. What does that say to a reader? Bookishly nerdy? Unpopular? Insecure? A bit lost and hopeless? Springy? (I know, why is that?) I needed him to have the right name in order for the own story to come together. Both names were ones I had collected. Oliver was a name I had always liked but never used (since it didn’t fit any of my girls).

Atticus Finch. Sirius Black. Bilbo Baggins. Sherlock Holmes. A name is a badge that says a lot about a character.

When I first was signed on with my first publisher, they asked me to change the name of a few of my characters. This was hard for me. The character Taren was originally called Ry. I changed it because it was too close to Reynolds. I understand the change but was not familiar with Taren as a character until the later books, because I hadn’t written Taren before, I had written Ry. My perspective of his ideals changed as well. Ry to me was much more selfish and dark. Taren felt more accepting to change. If I would have kept him as Ry, would he have had the same story arch? I’ll never know.

AND ONE MORE THING . . . In authoring, I am Candace – a princessy name that means “Glowing Queen.” It’s my birth name and I think it’s pretty cool. I always have liked it. It’s not crazy popular and it’s sweet sounding. I like the way it’s spelled, and when I meet another Candace, we are immediately in the exclusive Candace Club. I was never called Candace growing up. I went by Candy. Okay. Right? Candy gives you a very different idea of a person. Candy is a name no one takes seriously. This is a sweet, bubbly sounding name, someone that likes to have fun (maybe too much fun), a people person, a drag queen, a hairdresser with expressive eyes and stunning lashes and gorgeous nails. And I won’t lie, the name Candy suits me in specific ways, but not in authoring. To my family and friends, PLEASE call me Candy, but as a professional, I can’t use this name because of how it’s represented.

I’ve always felt that naming someone is one of the most important things you do as an author. Sometimes it comes easy. I know when a great name crosses my path, a story almost immediately comes to my mind just in the name alone. Spend some time on the name you pick for your character and understand why they have that name, why they identify with it. Just like your name means something to you, give your characters the same chance to tell what it means to them.

Slam Books

There are so many guides, character sheets, books, websites, card games. . . on getting to know your character. But I don’t think you really know your character until you put them in a situation where they need to act.

“It begins with a character, usually, and once he stands up on his feet and begins to move, all I can do is trot along behind him with a paper and pencil trying to keep up long enough to put down what he says and does.”

– William Faulkner.

In middle school we had these things called Slam Books. Does anyone know what I’m talking about? A Slam Book was a regular ruled notebook where the person who owns it writes a question on the top of the page and then numbers it all the way down. Then they give it to a friend, the friend selects a number to be, and then answer the question on each page. I would most likely try and write the funniest answers, because at the time my job was to be the funniest person in the room – not the class clown, oh no, just the wittiest, funniest person in the room. (I kinda still try to do that. It was my way of getting over my insecurities.) I look at my GETTING TO KNOW YOU stage as what would they write in a Slam Book. (Post on Slam Books here.)

The characters in my novels feel like people I knew in high school, so it’s only logical to me that they would write in my Slam Book (even though that’s more of a junior high thing). I know them well enough, I never forget their names, we shared experiences. As I start to move through the story with them, I find that they become their own people and that I’m no longer seeking to create them, but more they are telling more about them. It’s a nature friendship like any friendship.

I asked a few different author friends about how a character comes to them. A similar response came from them that they don’t get a huge character talking and dictating how to write the story, like Scrooge did in the movie, but more getting to know them as they go.

Alyson Grauer, author of On the Isle of Sound and Wonder stated, “They aren’t super vocal, but they have opinions. The form kind of is like feelings first or textures or colors… I always put myself in their shoes? I guess it comes from acting. But they start as like a feeling or a combination of feelings, and then once I figure out what they look like and how they move and how they talk and all that, then they can talk to me. But mostly, it’s just they have opinions on things. They don’t like have full conversations with me.”

Ben Ireland, author of the Billy Blacksmith books stated this about characters, “It’s more like sculpting. I know what i’m going to do, but the details reveal themselves as I work.”

Jodi L. Milner, author of Stonebearer’s Betrayal, said when I asked about character sheets, “I find more often than not, if I have to fill out a character worksheet, half the stuff I put on there doesn’t feel right later. What helps me more than anything is to find two existing characters I love and mash them together to create something I can use. It really helps with the voice and mannerisms.”

So many of us have our own way of getting to know our characters, but the best way I feel, is to be with them, spend time with them and see what they will do when put under pressure, when they have to make a decision, and why they would choose it.

Characters Have a Mind of Their Own

I remember having a conversation with a new mother. This was several years ago before I had kids of my own. She was complaining about how hard of a time she was having with her toddler and his behavior. I’ll never forget her saying, “It’s like he has a mind of his own.” Really? Like they exist outside of your body? And have their own pulse and lungs and opinions? I still laugh at this statement.

Characters also exist without the writer. It has to. A writer’s job is to send it out in the world to be shared. These characters need to become real in the mind of the reader. When creating characters they often become so real that I miss them when they aren’t around.

When I was writing my first book Vivatera, the idea was only a stand-alone idea. But during the creative process, I found that I really liked my characters and wanted them to succeed. I became carried away with sending them on adventures, so much so that I turned it into a series, with continuing stories beyond the series, just because of how much I want to explore who they become. My second book, Conjectrix, had an overarching concept, but three separate stories. And all I did in this book was put them in a situation and see how they would react: let’s put them in a den of dragons; or let’s meet Katia’s father; or look I put a bunch of mountain trolls right here . . . whatcha gonna do now? Every chapter was me exploring my characters and how they think and react and communicate with others. And I have to say, it’s my favorite book I’ve written because I had the best time getting to know them.

I liked how Dickens was depicted as having conversations with his characters as real people. I remember reading Harry Potter and knowing these characters so well. I also remember having the briefest sadness that there wasn’t an actual Hogwarts and I couldn’t go see my friends there. I think this is a shared problem and why we now have two theme parks dedicated to him.

Characters should exist beyond the words we write. Just imagine all the shenanigans your characters do when they are not appearing in your book. As part of my writing exercises, I like to do journal entries as part of my research. I like thinking of stories that happen with my characters. And not that this research will show on the page, but it strengthens my voice in telling about them. It makes them more real understanding what they would do or what they have been through. I have had one thing come up in the third book in my series that I wrote in a journal entry for the first. I’m very glad I did that, because it became important later on when I needed that information.

Quirks and Cuteness

My daughter is an artist and is always drawing characters she wants to develop into stories; each one has a little bit of a background and a quirk, like hair sticking up or covering one eye. In drawing them, these characters become real people to her. She is definitely my daughter finding the adorable quirk in everything, but I feel very powerless when drawing characters I imagine.

Cute and quirky Greyson

I highlight her art because of the quirk and cuteness of it. The best characters are ones that have a bit of flavor to them. Characters that look like oatmeal, will taste like oatmeal. Without some flavor, the audience will all have a bit of bland in their mouths.

Some of my favorites characters are those that are not perfect and that have a relatable quality to them. Within the first few pages of Percy Jackson, we already know that he’s not a normal kid. He has ADHD, doesn’t pay attention, isn’t good in school – so relatable to Percy’s audience. not just personality-wise, but physically and mentally too. Those details are important.

I have a friend named “Big Al.” He’s a voracious reader and a rather big guy, like the larger than life type, super jolly and wears his heart on his sleeve. He read my series and liked it, and asked for recommendations. At this time I had just finished editing the second in the Billy Blacksmith series. Billy is a big kid, uncomfortable in his own skin, bullied, but always trying to do the right thing. I told Big Al about it and he gave the first book a try. He LOVED it. He identified with the character of Billy, the trials, the struggles of being young and awkward, the WHOLE thing. He quickly grabbed the next one and hounded me before the third came out. Suddenly, this character wasn’t just a character, but a friend, someone that he identified with. These kind of characters can be life-defining. I think a lot of readers search for these type of characters that through their quirks and imperfections, make them perfect for us to love.

I highlight Delilah Bard from A Darker Shade of Magic. V. E. Schwab really makes her characters likable, relatable, yet complicated. Delilah is not perfect. She is a thief and will always be a thief. She’s dark and mysterious and only looks out for herself. I can’t trust her, but that makes me like her more. She doesn’t turn into someone unexpected; she doesn’t suddenly grow a heart of gold like Darth Vader and throw the Emperor down a shaft in the Death Star. She is the love interest, but not lovable. She will not be the character that takes the bullet – that’s Kell’s job. Delilah stays true to herself the entire series.

And that is not easy. After building a friendship with these characters, one wants them to be in a Happily Ever After. But you know truth of your characters. Not all of them would choose that. Each should have likes and dislikes, but most of all, they should have personality. Make them quirky, imperfect, relatable. Those make up our favorite characters.

Letting Them Go

My job as an author is created believable characters and set them off on an adventure. My characters really do steer the boat. They live so deeply in my head that I know what they need to do when it’s time to act. But once the adventure is over, the characters need to go out on a new, different adventure, one that isn’t hooked to me and my mind, but one that is hooked to yours . They now need to tell their story to readers. Their journey is far from over, even after I type THE END.

If you find those characters that speak to you, much like my friend Big Al did, those character will stay with you forever. They are friends that you are always friends with. It feels like they go away, but you can always revisit them and share them with others. I love it when I share books with others. It’s an introduction to a friend, and hopefully those whom I share it with become their friends too. This journey can be slow, but every encounter with a new fan is someone knew my characters just met. It’s magical and transcending to get a review or message from a fan. My characters are doing their job, inviting these other people to a world and adventure I created for them. It’s wonderful and surreal.

Cover Reveal: Fresh Re-Imagining of Shakespeare’s The Tempest

On the Isle of Sound and Wonder is a driven, fantastical, lyrical retelling of William Shakespeare’s The Tempest set in a world just adjacent of our own.

People have been wondering what my “SUPER SECRET” project has been lately, and I’m proud to tell you all about it!

Five or so years ago, Alyson Grauer (Aly) came and stayed with me and my family. This was a fortuitous meeting for both of us, and it felt strange that two people could be so similar yet live thousands of miles apart. This was close to the same time her book On the Isle of Sound and Wonder would be released.

The beautiful book was released in 2014 to tumultuous applause, but with the passing of time has been slowly quieted by the ever drowning sea of books. This little book was all but forgotten until a small conversation this summer planted the seeds of a much bigger adventure.

After some simmering on the idea, Aly messaged me and said she was all in; she wanted her book to get new breath. We worked on it secretly trying to iron out details, giving smallish hints of the rumbles going on. When I spontaneously hopped on a plane to Florida to help her attack some of the critical steps in finalizing everything, I think people started to suspect something was up. Finally, we are in a place to share what we’ve been working on.

Several may recall that I received my publishing rights in January of this year, re-releasing my books under my own indie press. This experience taught me a lot, I mean A LOT, and helped me gain confidence that I can do about anything and ignited my desire to help others with all the things I had learned. On the Isle of Sound and Wonder is Shadesilk’s first adventure in Indie press from an author.

With the independent spirit in mind, I wanted Aly to retain as much integrity with her book as possible. Shadesilk was used as a guiding hand and a launch pad for this magical book to reach a new audience, and hopefully rebuild confidence and renew the beauty it once had.

I thought I would send Aly some questions to help you know more about her and this incredible book. Here are her heartfelt answers.

How do you feel about relaunching your book? 
I am so excited to bring this book back in a new way. On the one hand, it doesn’t feel like it was that long ago that it was first published, but on the other, so much has changed since then, and there were things I had taken for granted in my manuscript that I really, really wanted to change. I didn’t do a complete rewrite and overhaul of the novel, but I made some well-needed adjustments and I am so pleased with how it fit together. I can’t wait to share this stronger, updated version with the world.

What does this story mean to you? 
In many ways, Sound and Wonder was a surprise to me. I had the idea during National Novel Writing Month 2013 to do a rewrite or retelling of William Shakespeare’s The Tempest, and I kind of just let my imagination run wild with it. Then, in reworking and revising it for publication, I learned so many things about how complicated and challenging I had made it for myself in retrospect. I had never written anything like it: large cast, complex backstories, vengeance and dark magic and a lot of hard emotions woven throughout. Oh wait. Actually. The first long-form work I had ever drafted in high school was a historical fiction pirate story with a large cast, complex backstories, and vengeance charged with difficult emotions. No magic in that one, just a lot of cruel twists of fate. I’ve never realized this parallel before! 

What are some changes we can see in this version?
No spoilers, but there was a specific moment late in the story cut from the original version by editors that has been rightfully restored.
Also, what was I thinking, writing a 25 page prologue that was a flashback-within-a-flashback??? I’ve restructured the opening chapters more sensibly and smoothed out the distribution of flashbacks across the board. 

How has your writing changed over the years?
In the NaNoWriMo community people refer to ‘pantsers’ and ‘plotters’ – that is to say, people who write by the seat of their pants, and people who plot until they can’t anymore and then they start writing. For my whole life I was a pantser, and a lot of Sound and Wonder’s original drafts were pantsed, to a degree. But the thing I forgot was that I wasn’t truly pantsing — I was using Shakspeare’s dramatic structure from The Tempest to guide me. So I was pantsing-with-a-plot? It’s a mess in my head. 
Since the original release of this book, I have read much more widely in fantasy, science fiction, and speculative fiction, and done a lot more research on how other successful authors hone their crafts. I read a lot of Brandon Sanderson, too, which changed the way I viewed epic fantasy.

Oh, and I married a plotter. So I became one too, much to my chagrin. 

What projects are you most excited by?
I like stories that have high emotional value, stories that connect with people and move them – whether it’s drama or comedy, romance or mystery. I love a sense of wonder and whimsy – magic that isn’t quite what you think it is, or unusual, silly twists on traditional archetypes or tropes. I see things in cinematic scale, and sometimes I have a hard time giving myself permission to zoom in or zoom out to find the right balance for a story, but I love when the action, the feeling, and the characters all join together.

You can find Aly’s book for Pre-Order at the Shadesilk Webstore here! And follow all the @dreamstobecome media on Twitter and Instagram!

Let’s Be Authors: Impostor Syndrome and the Curse of Viking Blood

My pink jacket vs my pink legs. Just a few hours after the burn.

Impostor Syndrome can be defined as a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success. For many people I know this has to do with writing and success. I have felt it to a degree. It might be possible that all authors (excluding Stephen King, Jim Butcher, and Orson Scott Card) have felt it before. My impostor-ness comes from pretending to be someone I’m not.

I have Viking blood, if you didn’t know. My heritage is very Scandinavian. Norse, Danish, Swedish, all the fairness and DNA markings of a people that don’t see the sun very often. My mother has the English and Welsh to balance some things, but if anyone knows me, they can attest that I look much like my Scandinavian-heritaged, honey-blonde father.

I’m not stating that I’m not human, but truly, that I am more human than I wish to be. Being an author is a weird gig. At first, before I was published, the world was huge and dreams were big, and anything seemed possible. Being published was the ultimate goal, and when I signed that contract, I mean – I remember the moment I did it and where I was and EVERYTHING, I knew it would change my life and I was ready for it.

…or at least I felt as ready as I could be at the moment. The words we write are very personal in nature. Even when describing a mountainous scene with a dreamsicle sunset, the words can become very intimate and personal to how you feel about it. To become an author you expose those words publicly for others to judge either privately or publicly, or even VERY publicly if they strongly dislike it. Craft wordplay is art in a very pure form. So people will love what you do, but others (more than you wish) will not like what you do. And this is when doubt seeps in.

So, nice rambling Candie, but what does that have to do with your Viking blood?

Good question, You.

I often call my skin “transparent” since it is so white it’s pink. I don’t tan. I don’t freckle either. I pink and then fade back to transparent. Those who have this kind of skin totally know what I’m talking about. I have several friends with natural melanin and I find myself often envious that they don’t know what a sunburn feels like.

For some reason buried deep within my psyche, I have hated being fair and taught myself that beauty is tan and dark and exotic. I don’t know if it was Mattel and the Malibu Barbie tan that reinforced this or my own fear of the sun.

I’ve always been attracted to darker skin. I married a darker-skinned, honey tanned man. I’ve found many times mesmerized by the bravery of a browned bikini body without tan lines, so much so that I don’t like going swimming, fearing the burn and being made fun of or stared at because of my fairness. I have fought with my fair skin my whole life and I have lost.

So when I say I don’t feel comfortable in my own skin, I mean that literally.

Last year I planned to take a trip to Portugal and Spain. I decided to go tanning before I left. I hadn’t been tanning before. I had no idea what to do. The girl at the counter advised me that I shouldn’t stay in for more that five minutes because of how fair I was. I went in, stripped, put these bug-like things in my eyes and had no idea the direction I should lay. I couldn’t figure out the dial, but was too embarrassed to ask for help because of my lack of clothing. Once I adjusted things and lay there under strange heat, I found out that I was, indeed, laying the wrong way, but was locked in until the 4 minutes was over.

I expected to get some color, but was informed that that was just the first one and it wouldn’t do much. This was after my humiliating experience. I still thought that it might be enough to help prevent me from a really bad burn. I was very, very wrong.

DISCLAIMER: THOSE WITH A SENSITIVITY TO PAIN AND HURT AND BURNS OF ANY KIND SHOULD NOT LOOK AT THIS NEXT PICTURE.

On day four of a two-week trip, we went to Lagos in the southern part of Portugal. I had already received a sunburn on my neck and arms, but nothing I couldn’t handle. I put on the sunscreen that I had, which was from Portugal and not for white non-melanin skin. They all had bronzers in them, if that makes sense. PLUS, everything was in Portuguese, so I had no idea what was really in it to begin with.

The Sun Rash

On the beach day, I put on sunscreen. I DID! I was not prepared for the reflection of the water, nor the expiration time of the water resistance. And even though we only were there a few hours, because I could feel we needed to leave and I needed to find some aloe vera, I still got severely burned. A petite Portuguese baker in the grocery store couldn’t believe the state of my legs and quickly rambled out in her beautiful language what I should do and what I needed. And I bless her every time I think about my burn, even though I couldn’t understand a word she was saying to me. There was a lot of pointing and startled looks.

This is at least second degree. I got a sun rash, sun sickness, and had to constantly be on ibuprofen the rest of the trip. I couldn’t wear anything on my legs, yet couldn’t have the sun touch it. I had to constantly put aloe vera on it, even though it was so hard to find aloe vera there. We finally found some in Gibraltar because it’s owned by the pasty Brits who understand sunburns. I grew water blisters under my skin and after a while, my skin started sluffing off. THAT’S RIGHT! No tanning bed would have prepared my skin for this anyway.

So, why are you pointing this out??

I’m getting to it.

I can’t fake tan. I can’t real tan. I can’t prevent the sun from wanting to kill me anytime we come in contact. So why do I do it?

Because I love the sun.

I love the sun so much. I love feeling the warm glow of morning, the way it colors the sky and wakes up everything. I love letting it heat up my dark shirts. I love the energy the sun feeds me. Seeing the sun makes me happy. I love sunflowers and I love so much the color yellow. After a long day of being in a basement with no windows, the sun greets me, reminding me that it’s okay, everything is fine – I’m here in a steady state, reliable and constant.

In Everstar, the capstone in my trilogy, the sun plays a huge part. The Atmos stone was the first to be stolen, causing chaotic storms over the capital city of Southwick and casting shadows over the world of Parbraven. The little bit of sun that shines on my heroes supplies hope when they feel everything is lost. It’s incredibly powerful.

Writing (more authoring for me) is much like the sun. It is hope and happiness and incredible warmth, and sometimes tries to kill me. I can prepare with all the sunscreen I want when sending out a book into the world, but it still doesn’t work 100% of the time.

I recently had my first book up on the review site Netgalley and was surprised by how many people didn’t get it. It gave me a real taste of what the world was saying about my work. Regardless of the accolades Vivatera had received (Novel of the Year being one of them), I started to feel like I disappointed my readers.

And then the doubt starts . . . and those voices are very hard to silence.

A few weeks ago was Salt Lake’s FanX, and I had prepared to do amazing again this year, but sadly, no one was buying. And it was hard to not feel like a failure in those moments, even the ones that you can’t control.

So as much as I hate my skin and sometimes doubt my talent, I have to remember that I have Viking blood. In some ancestral website, it has my line going all the way back to Odin. Strength is IN my blood – LITERALLY! But we all have the strength to follow dreams. Grabbing onto those wispy little dreams isn’t easy, holding onto them is harder. I have friends that have completely given up on being an author because they got burned to a crisp by the sun of doubt. And I feel so bad for them; to give up on the dream they had and feel the sting of failure on their skin hurts my soul. I ache just thinking about it.

Even though I get burned every once in a while, I have to think of it as a good burn, reminding me how human I am, and also how lucky I am to live my dream. I am not an impostor but a believer – ready to defend my talents and the people who stand with me.

And underneath the skin is the heartbeat of it all, the loyal fans that find me at every con, that search me out at signings, that are impressed by the content I’m still creating, and are glad I haven’t given up. Impostor Syndrome happens, but when the cheerleaders surround you, it’s hard to hear the voices of doubt.

So to everyone PLEASE DON’T FORGET SUNSCREEN!

And if you have a dream, chase it. Believe in it. Seek out your blood and find the strength in it. Don’t regret not trying. You were created to do amazing things regardless of what the voices of doubt say.

Fight on, little Viking Queen.

GEN CON – The Con That Doesn’t Sleep

I didn’t know what I had said yes to when my author friend, Christine Nielson, asked me to come to Gen Con. She had been going for a few years and I knew she always had a good time, so I said yes without thinking.

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#gencon19 Boothmates!

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I had done very little research on what this con really was, I just figured it was comparable to any comic con I had participated in. I mean, it’s a con, right? I was warned it was a gaming con, so I thought video games. I put some serious thought into how to make this con special. What I didn’t realize was that this con was already special.

Gen Con, in my own words, is a gamer’s pilgrimage to Mecca.

People flock to the center of the US, being seductively called by the river sirens, for the chance to play games, and ONLY games, for four continuous days. There was no celebrity draws, no movie releases, no photo ops (besides the cosplay girls- shielded from view might I add), only gamers EVERYWHERE. Rows and rows of tables and chairs cluttered with games: new ones, kickstarters, card games, board games, RPGs, dice games, you name it. JUST GAMES! There were tournaments happening in C Hall (a room the size of the room where they hid the arc of the covenant) for Magic the Gathering and Pokemon and who even knows what?! I was flabbergasted.

Being an author there felt rather special, but also really out-of-place. This con was not about books, but the celebration of creativity. And that’s what made the con special to me. Everyone I spoke to was so genuinely themselves.

This con let you be you without judgment. I tweeted snippets of what I saw and experienced (find on Twitter @cjtwrites). Many gamers are introverted, yet here they felt comfortable being with other introverts. The con sold out with a reported 70,000 attending (Indy Star Link). I was impressed.

Card stacking metropolis

And even though the Exhibition Hall closed at six, the con didn’t stop . . . at all. The arcade and retro console rooms didn’t close until midnight. The tourneys ran through the night. Hotel lobbies and even the Indiana Convention Center was continually packed with gamers playing until the morning.

So….. my brother happens to be one of the best players in the world at Pac-Man and Donkey Kong. He would kill it here.

As much as I love playing games, I’m not a gamer, not anymore. There are some things that I unintentionally gave up when I dedicated my time to being an author, and unfortunately, games was one of them. Here though, I got a chance to forget about story building and remember the seeds that started my epic journey. I started playing Dungeons and Dragons when I was fourteen, playing with my older brother and his high school friends. This was a huge foundation for my character development, world building, and my imagination.

I just won Gen Con . . . I even blushed.

But honestly, I didn’t feel complete until I found the retro video game console room and completely flipped out when I saw the ColecoVision. I made a serious impression on the guys running the room. (Nick and Kyle – I’m looking at you!) Here I found my nerd and my people, and spent hours playing Coleco, NES, the PS2, and Sega Dreamcast, because sadly, their Genesis didn’t have a cord. Here is where I found my Gen Con heart.

It was good for me to get away from my bubble and experience a con away from those I know; to meet people I would never have met before; and have the freedom of being nerdy without reservation. It was rejuvenating to my soul and healthy for me to remember my roots, and that fun and refreshing it is to just play games.

The Parable of the Yellow Door

Still drying

My house has a strange history, and when we decided to buy the eye sore of the neighborhood, we also became something of legend. It was never meant to be my dream house, in fact, I made it very open that I hated split entry homes, feeling they were the worst idea any architect ever had. Seriously. So, when we bought our first home, it was not ever meant to be our forever home.

If you know me as a writer (and frankly, as a person too), you will know that I personify everything. EVERYTHING. Everything has a character. Everything has feelings or emotions. Everything cares. And the character of this house was a sad one from the beginning.

Back when this house came around, I was a young mom with a spirited toddler. We were living in a small duplex owned by a friend of ours, whose parents lived on the other side. The place was small, always smelled of garlic and was in a less than desirable location. But it kept us out of the rain and safe while we tried to figure out what to do next.

I actively searched for a house outside of this area, daydreaming of a beautiful suburban life, far from the reality of my own unconventional upbringing. At this time my soul was restless to understand a direction, because seriously, I didn’t have one. I wanted to write, had always wanted to write, but everything I had written to that point was complete and utter garbage. Writing was a pipe dream that I couldn’t pursue. Being a young mother, I wanted a house where we could make roots, where my family could grow and be safe. I wanted the things I didn’t have as a kid. I had grown up as one of the weirdos in the neighborhood, and for some reason, I was trying to run away from it. I didn’t want that for my daughter. I was anxious for furniture that was not college hand me downs and the freedom to put holes in my walls. Like Colin Hay sings, I was waiting for my real life to begin.

I dreamed bigger than we could afford. And I hated it.

So, after a few hard financial downfalls and realizations, I stopped looking for my dream home and stopped dreaming of a world which I didn’t belong.

When I stumbled upon my house, it was lovingly called “the Graffiti House” by the neighbors. The place had been abandoned for years. The siding was tagged with some gang name from the area. There was a big, blue dumpster parked in the driveway where flippers had tried to do something with the empty house, but then ran out of money as well. No one had been in the place for quite a while. The little For Sale sign was just a small, orange flag stuck into the ground. This house was in the small neighborhood where my brother lived, and also where my husband grew up. I knew the area. Why had I never seen this place before?

Me, not one for rules, snooped around and looked in the windows. The backyard was overgrown and wild, with an already mature Black Walnut tree dominating the middle of the yard. My sister-in-law and I found a way in through a window and discovered that the place was completely gutted. Graffiti illustrated the past gangs and squatters that might have needed a place to hide. The configuration of the split was odd too. They had the kitchen (though completely stripped) in the front of the house where a living room would be in others. Why would you do that? A huge cut out of the wall opened the space to the entry, which was another bizarre thing to do. And in the basement, there was an unknown blood stain of considerable size splattered on the concrete floor (which, when we put carpet down, we drew a chalk outline just to freak out whomever would replace it next).

Immediately, the house had a character, mystery, and an unnamed charm I didn’t expect. I wasn’t nervous about its history and wasn’t worried about it being haunted. It felt quaint, yet sad. It had a deep story and needed help. I told my husband about it and we investigated.

Why on earth would I buy an abandoned house full of graffiti and who knows what? This didn’t seem like the safe environment that I wanted. This wasn’t in the suburban utopia I had envisioned, in fact, it was close to loud freeways, ran right along the airstrip, and later the commuter train. This was city life, something my wild and free spirit wrestled with. But, I like the rejects, I identified with it. I liked this house’s story. I gravitated to it.

In the coming weeks, we looked at it (legally) and decided to move forward. We had contractors finish the inside, moving the kitchen to the back of the house (where it belongs), but still keeping the strange opening to the entry. They left a few unfinished rooms for us in the basement, which now occupies a recording studio and TV room. This was 14 years ago.

Our house has been good to us, but I’ve always felt embarrassed about living in it. It was never my forever house. It’s a Split Entry – how could I love that? The house called to a sympathetic heart that likes ruined things and asked for it to be loved, to feel the joy that one feels when building a life together and raising kids.

A good month or two ago, I was outside looking at it. The facia had ripped off in the wind and needing replacing. This is when I truly looked at my little vessel and saw how sad it was. The graffiti that I had tried so hard to scrub off was still very visible. There were still tag marks from gangs on the brick. And it made me so sad that I didn’t love it as I should.

In a free Saturday decision, while waiting for my girls to finish piano lessons, I went and bought paint and brushes and started a project that I thought would take me an hour (when it actually took me weeks). I painted my brown brick white. I then fixed the graffiti on the siding. I couldn’t spend a lot of money fixing everything I wanted, but I could do these little things.

And though I couldn’t exchange the door for something else, the thought came to me to paint it. It had always been white, very ordinary white. The kind that shows all the scuff marks and fingerprints. With the white brick making everything so clean looking, a white door just seemed so boring.

But painting a door is more than just painting a door. It is a statement about who lives behind it, about a way of life, about a history and culture, about everything the house protects inside. My life now behind the door had changed so drastically from when I first walked through it. The directionless person entering didn’t have the confidence that she has now. This house watched me grow into an author, role-model, wife and mother, and has seen all sides of me. I just couldn’t repaint the door white. It was an injustice to the personality and character this place had become to me. We rescued this place and have cared for it as if we built it.

So, I painted it yellow – Hawaiian Pineapple Yellow to be precise. It is now a landmark on our street. “Yes, that’s us. We live in the house with the yellow door.” It took courage to paint it yellow. It wasn’t just paint. I couldn’t look at it as just paint. Did I have enough courage to live with a yellow door? As I pulled in my driveway today, forgetting how different my house looks, I smiled. Look how happy my house is? It’s always smiling. It makes other people smile. It has courage to show what it is on the inside to others on the outside.

In ways, the yellow door has taught me to be more of who I am. Being an author has made me grow so much as a person, building confidence in things I never imagined I could. I think, in many internal ways, I needed a yellow door. When authoring I need to project a likability and persona that can be exhausting, but I return again and again to be me, true me behind this little vessel that continues to rescue me, and cuddle me, and shelter me from it all.

I love my house with the yellow door.