2010 – 2019: My Journey Through the Last Decade

As 2019 draws to a close, like most people, I can’t help but look back at the past decade and evaluate my journey through it. Did I end the decade in a better position than I started? Did I make good decisions? Did I make the most of it?

2010

I began the decade in a somewhat tumultuous state. Game Crazy, the company I’d been working at for fourteen years, had filed chapter 7 and was going away forever. Game Crazy was more than just a job. My co-workers and colleagues were like family. I’d put everything I had into the company, and I was good at my job. I had the respect of my peers, and a solid reputation throughout the games industry.

Not all of my Game Crazy memories are happy ones—the last year or so was particularly difficult, feeling powerless as I watched something I loved dissolve right before my eyes—but I’m so grateful to have been a part of it. Game Crazy was special, and that experience will never be replicated. I miss it more than I’ll ever be able to describe.

My last day of employment was in June of 2010, which kicked off a rather challenging couple of years. My area of expertise was so specific, and I struggled to find work in my area. I’d considered relocation, but didn’t want to leave my family and friends behind.

I used my newfound free time to explore a budding interest in writing. I took a blog series I’d started about a missing girl and the mysterious circumstances surrounding her disappearance, and turned it into a full novel titled Noble, which I self-published in October. It was poorly written, but the core idea was solid. More on that later.

2011

An alarming change in my mental health followed. Unemployment had me frustrated and feeling bad about myself. It was getting harder to pay the bills, and my girlfriend was putting herself in debt trying to bail me out. The more time I spent out of work, the more my frustration turned to anger. The anger intensified, evolving into levels of rage I’d never experienced before in my life, and it was terrifying. I knew it was time to take back control before I lost it completely.

I was upside down on my house, so I made the only decision I could at the time: I gave it back to the bank. Not a proud moment in my life, but necessary. My girlfriend bought us a new home and we moved to Oregon City, Oregon, a charming little town southeast of Portland, to start a new chapter in our lives.

Taking back control of my life involved more than just improving my mental health. I needed to make changes toward my physical health as well. I’d battled obesity from an early age, and had reached a weight of 325 lbs. The heaviest I’d ever been. After injuring my knee simply getting out of a chair, I’d had enough, and took immediate action. With a change of diet and exercise, I lost 128 lbs over the next two years.

In August, I released my second book, The Jumper, about a troubled ghost haunting a youth community center in Chicago.

2012

I caught a break in early 2012 and finally landed a job managing a video game store in Canby, Oregon. I was grateful to have a paycheck again, but the work definitely had a strong “been there, done that” vibe. It was also a massive lateral move that left me feeling empty and unfulfilled most days.

I began work on my third book, Bloodlines, a sequel to Noble. Shortly after its release in April, I followed it up with Strangers, an anthology chronicling the bizarre experiences of several travelers. Most of these stories were inspired by real-life events I witnessed while traveling across the country several times a year.

A few months into the new job, I’d already had enough, but had nothing else to fall back on, and unemployment was absolutely not an option. I decided to throw a “Hail Mary” and reached out to an old friend in the video game industry: Laura Miele at Electronic Arts.

It had been my dream to work at BioWare from the moment I booted up Stars Wars: Knights of the Old Republic nine years prior, but there had never been an opportunity for me. However, EA’s acquisition of BioWare a few years earlier created additional opportunities, and I contacted Laura to see if I’d be a good fit for any of them.

I can’t say enough positive things about Laura. Despite the negative things you hear about EA, Laura is one of the good ones busting her ass to make the company a better place. She responded to my inquiry quickly and connected me with EA’s marketing lead for BioWare. We emailed back and forth a few weeks before setting a meeting at E3 to discuss a community management position.

The entire interview process took around two months, but in July, I was officially offered a one-year contract, and they allowed me to work remotely from home. My first assignment was to prep the community for the upcoming Mass Effect 3: Extended Cut DLC. To say that I joined EA during a shitstorm of community outrage and backlash would be the queen mother of all understatements, but I didn’t care. I had achieved my dream of working for BioWare, and nothing could’ve spoiled that for me.

In November, as Obama re-election coverage and Mayan calendar hysteria dominated the news cycle, we sadly said goodbye to my sweet Aunt Billie. Even now as I write this, I can recall the sound of her infectious laughter.

2013

Life at EA was going well. Things were slow at BioWare, so I was shuffled around and put in charge of the Army of Two: Devil’s Cartel community. I even briefly worked on Dead Space 3. Once those games had shipped, and we’d gotten through the last of Mass Effect 3’s DLC, I moved onto Dragon Age: Inquisition full time.

In September, during a marketing summit in Edmonton, I contacted Johnny Pleasant, the manager of Hammock, one of my all-time favorite bands. I wanted to use my digital marketing skills to pitch in and help improve their social media presence. Johnny welcomed me to the team, and within a matter of days, I was knee deep into an Oblivion Hymns launch strategy.

My time at EA was running out, and they had a decision to make by the end of October. They could either bring me on permanently, or let my contract expire and part ways. Luckily, they opted to keep me, and I became an official “blue badge” employee.

The job offer came with a substantial pay raise, but also a stipulation: that I relocate to Edmonton, Alberta, Canada and work out of the BioWare studio. I agreed, submitted all my paperwork to the Canadian government, and waited for an answer.

Also, in October, I married the love of my life, Jennie. We’d been together since 2008 and hadn’t been financially secure enough to tie the knot. But thanks to a stable job at EA, and some extra contract work for Warner Bros., we finally had the money for the wedding and honeymoon she deserved, and it was perfect.

Speaking of honeymoons, we spent ours eating our way through Port Townsend, a beautiful Victorian seaport on the Olympic Peninsula. More on that later.

2014

2014 saw the end of How I Met Your Mother, probably my favorite TV show of all time. When I first discovered the show back in 2007, Ted Mosby and I had a lot in common. I related to his character deeply because we were going through near identical journeys at the same time.

The thing about HIMYM is that it’s not entirely a show carried by Ted’s quest for true love. The rest of the gang feels like your friends, too, and you become as invested in their lives as Ted’s. Can anyone get through the loss of Marshall’s father with dry eyes?

Even though I was ultimately disappointed with the ending, there’s no denying the impact the show has had on my life. It was a massive feat in character development and storytelling. Thanks to Hulu, I’m able to watch the series any time I want, and you know what? I still discover new things each time I go through it.

But more significant than a TV show ending its run, I’ll always remember 2014 as the year I conquered my fear of flying. Up to that point, I’d taken every long trip imaginable by either bus or train. After so many years, though, I couldn’t endure the wear and tear on my body anymore. It wasn’t easy, but I managed to get myself on a plane to San Francisco. A month later, I got on a plane to Boston. And after that, routine trips to Edmonton and Los Angeles followed. To be clear, I’m still absolutely terrified of flying and hope I never have to do it again, but at least I can say that I did it.

In May, I released New World Order, completing the Noble trilogy. I don’t know that it was the best book in the series, but I’m very proud of the ending. While writing the book, I was so excited to get to the last chapter and finally put the ending to paper that had been in my head for months.

2014 ended with one last trip to Edmonton for the launch of Dragon Age: Inquisition. I spent two cold-as-balls weeks with the dev team, serving as the line of communication between them and the community. We squashed a lot of post-launch bugs thanks to the awesome fans helping us out!

2015

By 2015, my life had made a complete 180, and things were good again after what felt like an eternity of struggle. Jennie and I both had good jobs with sufficient pay and were comfortable. Not wealthy, just comfortable. It was nice not stressing about how we were going to pay the bills each month.

Unfortunately, after more than a year of waiting, I received word back from Canada that my application for residency had been denied. I was heartbroken. I loved working in digital communications, but what I wanted more than anything was to become a writer at BioWare, and the only path was through Edmonton. My options were to either relocate to the Redwood Shores office, or continue working from home, knowing my career would suffer.

In the end, I chose to stay at home, and accepted that I had climbed as far as I was going to at EA. It wasn’t terrible, though. Since I was working from home, “home” could be wherever I wanted it to be… just not in Canada. So, my wife and I decided on that lovely Victorian seaport we’d honeymooned at in 2013. Our home sold within a week of listing, and then the pressure was on to pack up our lives and head to Port Townsend.

Before Port Townsend, however, there was one last thing to do. We went to San Jose for Wrestlemania 31! As lifelong WWE fans, this was a special moment for us. Neither of us had ever been to a major event like that, and you certainly can’t get any more major than Wrestlemania. The whole weekend was so much fun, and temporarily relieved the stress about our upcoming move.

The rest of 2015 consisted of settling into our new home, our new town, and absorbing the surrounding beauty. The Pacific Northwest, if nothing else, is consistently gorgeous.

2016

The year started off on a good note, as I released my next novel, Planet of Ice, the second installment in bestselling author Tony Healey’s Broken Stars series. Much to my dismay, the rest of the year wouldn’t be as kind.

Things were falling apart at EA. The company had undergone its third re-org in less than two years and with it came a significant rise in idiocy at the top. All the great work we’d done to separate ourselves from the “evil empire” that fans remembered was completely unraveled.

Suddenly, I had yet another new boss, this one about as useless as anyone I’ve ever worked for in my life. She consistently no-showed meetings, blamed me for incomplete tasks outside my scope, and she didn’t know the first fucking thing about our games. Granted, you don’t have to in order to work in the games industry, but it helps. She had no passion for our games. She wasn’t invested. EA was just another stopover to pad her resume. Last I heard, she’d already moved on after only two years.

I couldn’t ignore the simple truth any longer. My job wasn’t fun anymore. The last re-org had placed all the wrong people in charge, and no one seemed to know who did what anymore. My boss’s boss then gave me an ultimatum that he wanted me to start spending two weeks in Edmonton per month because it was important for me to be with the team.

I was happy to spend more time in Edmonton because it was indeed important for me to work directly with the devs, but two weeks per month? Half of my year spent away from my family? Who the hell would ask that of their employees?

In hindsight, he probably never expected me to agree to it. It was most likely an attempt to phase me out, and it worked. I decided to invest in myself and focus on my writing. I put in my two weeks notice in mid-October, and my last official day was on Halloween.

Despite everything, I was still gutted by leaving. It took me nine long years to get to BioWare, and after only four and half, it was over, taking my dreams of ever writing Mass Effect stories with it.

2017

I spent the first quarter of the year writing, taking my poorly written Noble trilogy and working with a professional editor to salvage them. This process wasn’t simply a re-edit, however. It was a complete rewrite from the ground up. I’d come a long way as a writer in seven years, and I was determined to give these books a new lease on life.

Icarus came first in January, followed by The Invisible War shortly thereafter, and finally The Reckoning in September. I’m beyond proud of how these books turned out, but I’d be lying if I said they made up for the EA paycheck I’d lost.

My wife had opened her own clothing boutique in town and was doing quite well. To help ends meet, I got a part time job as a projectionist for a classy, upscale movie theater. We weren’t as comfortable as before, but were getting by, and continued to love being in our little town.

The trouble was, the town was booming and attracting the attention of wealthy retirees from across the country. Tourism had always been the lifeblood of this town, which was great, but now people were buying vacation homes to “summer,” and leaving them empty the rest of the year.

As result, housing became limited and prices went up. Rental prices went up. Restaurant prices went up. Our rent was $875 a month when we moved to Port Townsend in 2015, and by the end of 2017, it was $1,400. We couldn’t afford to be there anymore, and our landlord was less than empathetic.

We knew the end was coming, and had to start thinking seriously about what to do next.

2018

Our lease expired in March, and with nowhere else to go in Port Townsend, we moved to Vancouver, WA to stay with my parents while we got back on our feet. If you’ve never had the luxury of living with your parents in your 40s, I don’t recommend it. But we do what we must in order to survive.

Sharing a small ranch-style home with my parents was difficult, but on the plus side, I got to see them every day. While living in Port Townsend, we saw them maybe 3-4 times a year, and this arrangement allowed us to make up for lost time, which turned out to be a blessing in disguise. More on that later.

Finding a job proved to be more challenging than I’d expected. It took nearly five months of searching and interviewing until I landed at Nautilus as a chat support agent. It was fine at first, but it became apparent early on that I was punching well below my weight class. I made the best of it—even got promoted after three months—but it wasn’t a long-term fit. Especially not with Nautilus’ extreme mis-management and financial woes.

Much of 2018 is a blur because we were so miserable. We missed Port Townsend. We missed having jobs that we cared about. We missed our independence. I never wanted to return to Vancouver and there we were. Completely stuck with no signs of unsticking.

2019

Neither of us could take it anymore, so we kept our eyes peeled for a way back to Port Townsend, and in February, it came. A mortgage loan officer needed an assistant to come in and run her marketing and manage her customer database. The pay was decent, by Port Townsend standards, and as far as jobs in the area were concerned, it was a good one. I took a chance and sent in my resume.

The phone interview wasn’t great, but it earned me a face-to-face interview. She offered me the job over beers, and Jennie and I were so excited! We were given a chance to come back to the place we never wanted to leave and hit unpause on our lives.

Two weeks later, my mom got sick. At first, the doctors thought it was pneumonia, but further tests revealed significant damage to her pulmonary system. She’d apparently suffered a heart attack at some point without even knowing. While the most immediate threat to her health, it wasn’t even the worst of it. Her kidneys were failing, and the latest scan had revealed an aggressive cancer growing inside her. She was on borrowed time.

The doctors scheduled a triple bypass on the day Jennie and I were set to move. Mom made it through surgery, but a couple of days later, the doctors discovered that the valve they’d replaced was contaminated, and scheduled another procedure to swap it out.

The surgery failed, and the doctors gave us ten minutes to decide Mom’s fate. They could open her back up and try to correct the procedure, or we could simply let her go peacefully in her sleep. They didn’t give her good odds at surviving another open-heart procedure, and even if she did, it was going to require extensive rehabilitation. She’d have lived out her last days in a nursing home, which she was terrified of.

So, we decided to let her go. It wasn’t fair, but it was the kindest option. My mother passed away on April 10th, 2019 at the age of 69, and she took so much love and light with her. Love and light that I haven’t been able to fill.

Since her death, life has continued to deliver one swift kick to the face after another. I’m sad most of the time. Miserable at my job. My latest novel has been rejected by nearly 100 agents. We’re being swallowed up by the constantly rising cost of living. And I genuinely don’t know what the future holds. I’m trying to be optimistic, but it’s hard in the face of continuous struggle.

2020

The last decade had extremely high highs and devastatingly low lows. It peaked in 2015 and cascaded downhill from there. But did I end the decade in a better position than I started? I’m employed. I’m happily married. I’m living in the most beautiful place I’ve ever been. I’m playing my guitar again.

It’s hard to dispute that I made a lot of progress over the last ten years. It’s also hard to dispute that I struggled more than 50% of the decade. But I’m trying to not let that overshadow the amazing milestones I reached, and the times of joy I experienced.

So, what does the future hold? Perhaps a move to the east coast. Perhaps a career change. Perhaps a string of luck. Whatever the answer, I know it’s going to involve much change, and I’m ready.

~ David

First Birthday Without Mom

In retrospect, I probably should’ve taken the day off. I wasn’t sure how it was going to hit me, only that it was going to hit me. How could it not? For the first forty-two years of my life, I’d wake up every August 20th to a phone call from Mom singing “Happy Birthday” to me. This year I didn’t. Next year I won’t either. This is just how it’s going to be from here on out, and it fucking sucks.

After losing a parent, one of the first things you start thinking about in your grief are the holidays and special occasions that they’re going to miss. The first family get together. The first bit of exciting news you can’t wait to tell them. The first Halloween. The first Thanksgiving. The first Christmas. Their next birthday. And of course, your next birthday. Each one feels different than the rest, but no matter what, they all hurt.

I can’t remember exactly when, but after a certain point, my birthday ceased to feel important to me. Getting older wasn’t fun anymore. I’d traded in my He-Man action figures and baseball card collection for annual doctor visits and the joy of living from paycheck to paycheck. I didn’t want to celebrate my birthday anymore. It didn’t mean anything to me. This drove my mom nuts. She’d get so excited about my birthday, and I’d Eeyore all over it. “Well, it still means something to me!” she’d say.

No matter how much I resisted, Mom refused to let me ignore my birthday. “I don’t understand what happened. You used to love your birthday,” she’d say. This was true. As a kid, Mom went out of her way to make my birthday feel special. My birthday parties had a template: invite the neighborhood kids, rent a movie, organize games, and the coup de grâce was always her cake.

One year she made a Cookie Monster-shaped cake, which my uncle insisted for years turned his poop blue. One year she made a Pac-Man cake, which remains my all-time favorite. Somewhere in the family archives exists a photo, but for now, you’ll have to use your imagination. It was a peanut butter-frosted sheet cake. Pac-Man was a cookie, and she drew the ghosts and game board by hand with different colored frosting.

Mom loved being a mom, probably more than anything else in the world, and her family was her most prized possession. She only ever wanted us to be happy, and if devoting hours of her day to a Pac-Man cake could put a smile on my face, she’d do it without a second thought. That’s just who she was.

One year she took me to see the live-action Masters of the Universe movie, just me and her, even though she had no idea what was happening. To be fair, I didn’t either. Something about “not Orko” hiding a magic Casio keyboard from bad guys, and Courtney Cox and her boyfriend using it to start a sweet synth band?

Even though my recollection of the movie itself is hazy at best, what I remember clear as day is the ending. He-Man defeats Skeletor, and as the triumphant music dies down, Dolph Lundgren turns toward the camera and declares, “Victowy” in his thick accent. My mom laughed so hard. She said He-Man had seemed so tough up until that point. It tickled her so much that it became a running joke between her and I. For decades, we’d randomly say “Victowy” to each other for no reason whatsoever, and it never failed to get a laugh.

So, today I sit in front of my keyboard, now forty-three years old, sipping an iced coffee and hating my birthday as usual, but this time, wishing with all my heart that Mom was still here to sing to me.

Mom, I just want to say, from the bottom of my heart… victowy.

Mark Duplass is My Spirit Animal

What can I say about 2016 that hasn’t already been said? It was a difficult year filled with countless hurdles, heartbreaking losses, and growing uneasiness about the future. Yes, 2016 felt like a never-ending downward spiral, however, it also turned out to be a breakthrough year for me on my journey of self-discovery.

In 2016 I saw a wonderful film called Blue Jay, written by Mark Duplass (side note: I’ve discovered over the last several years that Mark Duplass is in fact my spirit animal, and our iPods are soul mates). The movie is a nostalgic, gut-wrenching tale of two former high school sweethearts reconnecting twenty-four years later, and reflecting on their past.

Although I found the film deeply moving and poignant, it was actually something Duplass said about his inspiration to write it that resonated with me even more. He was about to turn forty-years-old, and took stock of his life, wondering if it had turned out the way he’d imagined in his youth.

“I lead the complex life of a 39-year-old husband, dad, runner of businesses. But once, I was just a 15-year-old who would stay up all night crafting a journal entry about my feelings. I was melodramatic and romantic, and I didn’t edit myself. But I suddenly woke up feeling like that person had died, and I didn’t know how to get that person back.”

These words stuck with me long after the film because I realized that’s what was happening to me. I, too, was turning forty-years-old, and an unexplained melancholy writhed in my gut. On the surface, I had no reason to complain, but I couldn’t shake the nagging feeling that I’d strayed too far from my path in life—that I’d somehow disappointed my younger self.

So, I followed Mark’s lead and took inventory of my life, and the results were surprising. Although I had much to be thankful for, what I lacked was passion, something I once had in excess. But at forty-years-old, most of my time was allocated to a job that grew more soul-crushing by the day, which drove a wedge between me and my passion.

After much introspection, I arrived at a simple conclusion: My passion is to create, and long have I neglected it. But no more. I made the decision to do something about it, starting with saying goodbye to my soul-crushing job in October.

In the two months that have since past, I’ve devoted more time and resources into feeding my passion. I feel wonderful, and exercising my creativity again has greatly improved my overall mood. While there are many things about 2016 that I can’t change, I enter 2017, hopeful, and continuing to focus on the things that I can. That path begins with the release of my new novel Icarus on January 27th.

I wish you all a very Happy New Year, and encourage you to explore your passions deeper than ever. Let’s make 2017 a brighter year together.

God Fodder: Celebrating the Album that Helped Me Overcome Bullying

One of my all-time favorite albums turned twenty-five this year: Ned’s Atomic Dustbin’s “God Fodder.” This album has meant a great deal to me, and helped me through a rough period in my life. In honor of its 25th anniversary, I thought I’d share my story of how this album empowered me, and altered my course in life.

GodFodder

Middle school was a difficult time for me. I was a decent enough student and had an exemplary attendance record, but I didn’t fit in where I wanted to be in the social hierarchy. I wanted to be one of the “cool kids,” and reap the benefits of being popular: lots of friends; stylish clothes; a dab of Drakkar Noir behind the ears; and something fun going on every weekend.

Alas, it was not to be. I was an overweight, nerdy kid, and had already been labeled a loser by the upper echelon. That didn’t stop me from trying, however. I wore the hottest brands from head to toe, thinking that once the cool kids saw me in familiar clothes they’d welcome me into the fold with open arms.

Instead, they mocked me and told me I wasn’t cool enough to be wearing that stuff. On a good day, they’d make pen marks on my shirts when my back was turned. On a bad day, they’d spit loogies or throw leftover food.

This treatment continued all through middle school, and when high school rolled around, I saw it as an opportunity to wipe the slate clean and try again. Unfortunately, most of those same kids came with me to the new school. So, I upped the ante. I stayed current with the latest trends, hair styles, TV shows, and music, but none of it had any effect on my social status.

The bullying only intensified. The cool kids called me names, hurled insults, and slammed me into lockers. One guy even placed tacks on my chair when I got up to hand in a homework assignment. My parents went to the principal and complained—so uncool—and I was forced to turn in my bloody underwear as “evidence.” Needless to say, my path to become cool had reached its end.

Every day began and ended in tears after that. I couldn’t deal with those mean kids anymore. I thought the bullying was the worst of it, then came the panic attacks. Getting out of bed each morning was a struggle. At first I missed a few days of school here and there. Then I missed a few days every week. In 1991, severe anxiety eventually forced me to drop out of school all together at only 14 years old.

I began homeschooling in the evenings, which left me with a lot of free time during the day. I spent the vast majority of it watching TV. I remember flipping channels one morning and a bright and colorful video on MTV caught my attention.

The lead singer looked like Mike Patton from Faith No More, so I listened because I didn’t recognize the song. Its melodic groove and crunchy guitars were super-catchy, much different than what I’d come to expect from Faith No More. I was hooked. I got lost in the music, tapping my foot and bobbing my head to the beat.

Much to my surprise, when the song ended it hadn’t been Faith No More at all. It was an MTV “Buzz Clip” from an English band called Ned’s Atomic Dustbin. The song: Grey Cell Green.

I’d been saving my allowance for a new Super Nintendo game, but Ned’s Atomic Dustbin became priority number one. I bought their album “God Fodder” and played it nonstop for weeks. They quickly became my favorite band. We didn’t have the internet back then, so to find out more about them, I bought countless issues of Spin, Rolling Stone, NME, and Melody Maker.

Not only did my love for the band deepen through feature articles and interviews, but the magazines also helped me discover more great music I’d have otherwise been unexposed to. By the end of 1991, my musical tastes had completely transformed. I’d gone from Guns N’ Roses and Bell Biv DeVoe to new favorites including The Wonderstuff, Teenage Fanclub, Lush, Swervedriver, Catherine Wheel, Smashing Pumpkins, and of course, Nirvana.

What I didn’t realize at the time was that my musical preferences weren’t the only thing changing. I was maturing and finding myself. The “alternative scene” was about more than music. It was about rejecting the societal norms and celebrating individuality. Suddenly being popular and cool didn’t matter to me because it was all subjective. Who was anyone to tell me I wasn’t cool?

I returned to school in the fall of 1992 with newfound confidence. The overweight kid with coiffed hair and Body Glove t-shirts now had long, braided hair, concert tees, and ripped jeans. I didn’t worry about fitting in anymore. I’d become something far better than popular: me.

Dave
Me (right) in ’93

Although I’ve lost a great deal of weight since then, I’m proud to say that inside this 39-year-old body is that same 15-year-old kid… and Ned’s Atomic Dustbin is still in there, too.

IMG_2373
Me in 2016

Happy Anniversary, “God Fodder,” and my sincerest thanks to Jonn, Rat, Mat, Alex, and Dan for creating incredible music, and helping a lost kid find himself.

My Favorite Book of 2015

While I spent the bulk of my free time last year writing and wasn’t able to consume as many new books as I would’ve liked, selecting my favorite read of 2015 proved to be a no-brainer: Past Dark by Tony Healey.

Past Dark by Tony Healey

I’ve enjoyed Tony’s fine work for the last several years, and it’s been an absolute pleasure to watch him develop and mature as a storyteller. He continues to raise the bar every year, and in 2015 he produced some incredible work, including my pick for best read, Past Dark.

Compared to much of Tony Healey’s other work, Past Dark is a slow burn. It begins as a sentimental, yet bittersweet voyage back to the summer of 1995, a time Chris Peterson spent with his best friends, Ant & Kay. Chris recalls the innocence of youth: Building go-karts, going to carnivals, dealing with bullies, a first kiss… and then something far darker. Yes, once you’ve settled in, Healey flips the script, and you’ll love it!

20 years later, tragedy draws Chris back to the town he grew up in, and old wounds are ripped open. Although Chris had escaped from a turbulent period in his childhood, returning to the scene of where it all began brings back the pain and terrifying memories.

Past Dark is masterfully told, and calls to mind the work of Stephen King. I highly recommend this book to anyone that enjoys traditional horror.

Get your copy on Amazon here.

Tell me your favorite books of 2015 in the comments!

Sci-Fi & Ambient Music: Like Peanut Butter & Jelly

NGC_4414_(NASA-med)Today, I want to talk to you about the importance of soundtracks. We use music to accompany a variety of tasks, such as exercise, housework, or to help us sleep. Something about music makes even the most mundane activities tolerable, and I say this as someone who has mowed an acre lot… with a push mower.

I love music, and I’m not talking about high school romance type of love. I’m talking about full-on, put a ring on its finger level of dedication. Think about a memory from your past—any memory at all. Can you still remember the song that played when it happened? If not, is there a song that reminds you of that time in your life? If you answered “yes” to either of those questions, then you *get* how amazing music can be.

Music is also a powerful mood enhancer, and some writers use that to their advantage to get into a particular mindset for their work-in-progress. I have peers who listen to loud, aggressive rock to inspire their dystopian playground, and I have peers who listen to classical music to maintain a calm state for their romance novel. Would it surprise you to know that I listen to ambient music when I write?

I know what you’re thinking: how on Earth could beautiful, ambient music inspire the crazy stuff that springs forth from my imagination, right? I don’t know how to explain the connection, but ambient music has always been a key ingredient in my storytelling recipe. The layers of sound swirl around my eardrums, and paint the scenes for me to write.

Whether I’m writing sci-fi, horror, or something in-between, there is always Hammock playing in the background. Pitchfork once referred to the Nashville duo as “Intensely visual music,” and I don’t think I could’ve said it any better myself. Their music jumps out of the speaker, and pours into the worlds I’m creating.

And I’m not alone. Hammock recently released two sci-fi inspired music videos in promotion of Oblivion Hymns (Deluxe Edition). Through these videos, watch as an immersive, gut-wrenching story unfolds without a single lyric or caption. Those emotions you’re feeling? That’s what fuels me as I create. Enjoy!

Part 1: In the Middle of This Nowhere

Part 2: My Mind Was a Fog… My Heart Became a Bomb

A Day in the Life of a Community Manager

One of the questions I’m commonly asked is “What does a community manager do?” More often than not, this is followed by “Don’t you basically just hang out on Facebook and Twitter all day?” Although I’m sure the role differs from company to company, being a community manager at EA is sort of like being an air traffic controller. Massive amounts of communication flow through the community manager, and a key part of our job is to ensure we deliver those messages on time and without flaw.

Of course that’s only one facet of the job. While coordinating messages across various teams is a crucial part of the process, we also have many other tasks and responsibilities to attend to. So, for those interested in a future of community management, I’m lifting the veil and offering an inside peek into my world. Below you will find documentation of a day in my life on the job.

tl;dr – No, we don’t just basically hang out on Facebook and Twitter all day.

 

November 4, 2014

Hour 1: 7:00am – 8:00am

  • Check email: 71 new messages overnight. Our business is global, which means the other side of the world is working while those of us in North America sleep. I log all my action items on a “To Do” list. Notepads are your friend in this line of work.
  • Review daily reports: Waiting in my inbox every morning is a report that recaps the past 24 hours on our social media channels. This is where fan feedback really comes into play. Who is talking about us? What are they saying? Are there any topics that need to be escalated to the broader team?
  • Review performance metrics: I look at yesterday’s content on our social media channels and take note of their performance. How many people did it reach? Did people seem to like the posts? Did they share the content? Can our team learn anything from this to create even cooler content in the future?
  • Prep YouTube video: It’s a bit busier morning than usual because we have a new video going up at 9am. At this point, I perform the final checks to ensure that the video is ready to go live on time for both social media and the website.
  • Submit a blog to International team: As community manager, I am sometimes asked to write blogs for various outlets across the globe. For today’s video release, I’ve written a short article for Sony’s European PlayStation blog. I use this time to review final edits, give it one last read, and then pass along to our European team.
  • Check-in with mods: A team of diligent and friendly folks help us moderate our social channels to ensure that two-way communication is always available to our fans. Some of them work overseas to cover the channels during North American off hours, so I check-in during the shift change and exchange updates.

Hour 2: 8:00am – 9:00am

  • Submit a new blog to Editing: I’ve just received approval on a proposed blog I’ve written, so now I submit it to the extremely talented Editing team for a final coat of polish. Remember this, writers: Hug your editors. They bring your best qualities forward and prevent your worst from ever seeing the light of day.
  • Review upcoming merchandise calendar: New items are added to the BioWare store each week, and during the holiday season especially, it’s more important than ever to maintain an accurate snapshot of what’s coming and when to communicate it. This week is extremely active because Friday is N7 Day, and we’re debuting new products every day until then!
  • Send a personal tweet: Since we’re releasing a new video, I like to tweet my followers on Twitter to give them a heads up. Because it’s my personal account, I can speak more casually, and do things like give spoiler warnings. I enjoy being able to interact with our community by exchanging memes, or just listening all about Cullen. 🙂
  • Check-in with graphic designer: While reviewing our weekly content schedule, I create a list of custom assets needed for our social channels. This work is done by an amazing designer named Christie. Why is she so amazing, you ask? Because I am a terrible art director, and yet she still manages to create stellar pieces of work!

Hour 3: 9:00am – 10:00am

  • Set video live: With all preparations complete, the time has come to set the video live on YouTube, and get the word out across our social channels. Right on schedule! Following that, I add the video to our ever-growing DAI playlist.
  • Check fan messages: Now that the video is live, I have some free time to check all of our private messages on Facebook and Twitter. If you’ve ever wondered who replies to those, hello! Pleased to meet you. Remember, when you send feedback, keep in mind that it does get read by a real person that wants to listen, so as best you can, please be nice. We have feelings, too. 🙂

Hour 4: 10:00am – 11:00am

  • Content review meeting – This is where team leads assemble and review the plan for the upcoming week together. Did we capture everything? Is everyone clear on the plan? Are there any new opportunities for our teams to explore together? The call wrapped ahead of schedule, so we took a few minutes to review the latest #AlexAtTarget memes. You know, for research purposes, of course. 🙂 Side note: Turns out that whole #AlexAtTarget thing was a viral marketing campaign. Who knew?
  • Review new screenshots – Our marketing team supplied a fresh batch of screens to use. I sift through them and look for ways to incorporate them into our social media content plan. What is the best way to use these? What kind of story can we tell with them? Which ones should be added to the website?
  • Test new video file – Today we’re trying something new: adding custom DAI videos to Instagram. In particular, we’ve created a short clip showing off the Sword & Shield of the Dragon from the Flames of the Inquisition arsenal pack. The first attempt needs some additional optimization, which I communicate back to the video team and await an updated version.
  • Finalize blog – The Editing team has returned the blog I submitted earlier this morning. Through tracked changes, I quickly review the recommended edits and update the text. As usual, the Editing team has worked their magic and made it better.

Hour 5: 11:00am – 12:00pm

  • Instagram update – A new version of the Instagram test video has been received from the video team. Nailed it! I post it to Instagram and keep an eye on the reaction of our community.
  • UGC review – BioWare fans create some of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen. No joke. We’re always on the lookout for things that we think our broader community would be interested in seeing as well. Today we came across an Inquisition rap song. Pretty amazing quality, even if rap music is not your thing.

Hour 6: 12:00pm – 1:00pm

  • Lunch – Even during a busy time such as a title launch, it’s important to always take your breaks. Sitting in front of your computer all day is not healthy, and I’ve got bills from my massage therapist to prove it. Eating a sandwich while continuing to work is not good enough. The work will still be there when you get back. Stand up, stretch, go eat lunch, and relax for an hour. That’s what it’s there for.

Hour 7: 1:00pm – 2:00pm

  • Odds and ends – Many of my co-workers have taken a later lunch today, so it’s relatively quiet right now. I use this time to review works-in-progress, and complete my portion before passing along to the next person.

Hour 8: 2:00pm – 3:00pm

  • N7 Day meetingDragon Age: Inquisition may be coming, but we’ve still got N7 Day to prepare for before it gets here. The community team reviews the agenda for this year’s N7 Day festivities, and makes sure we’re all aligned on the same page.
  • BioWare Austin meeting – Every two weeks, I meet with my counterparts at BioWare Austin to catch up, review upcoming plans, and talk shop. Eric, Courtney, and Tait are all awesome folks!
  • Revisit direct messages – With all my meetings over for the day, I have some time to go back and check new messages from our social media channels. We receive over a hundred per day, so it’s important to check them as frequently as possible.

Hour 9: 3:00pm – 4:00pm

  • Revise drafts of works-in-progress – Projects I’m working on have been sent back to me with suggested revisions. That’s one of the best parts about working as a team: everyone lends their talents to ensure that each project is representing the best quality we’re capable of.
  • Award prizes for giveaways – We do a lot of contests and giveaways on our social channels, and each week I award prizes to the latest batch of winners. If that includes you, congratulations!

Hour 10: 4:00pm – 5:00pm

  • Catching up – As the workday draws to a close, I use the last bit of daylight to catch up on any new business that has come up throughout the day. This typically includes smaller tasks such as sending screenshots to partners, answering emails, confirming details on upcoming initiatives, and general preparation for the next 24 hours.

So, there you have it. Just a typical Tuesday in the world of community management. I hope you’ve found it educational. 🙂 Got questions for me? Leave them in the comments or hit me up on Twitter.

Mentors & Goodbyes: A Thank You Letter to Jessica Merizan

Most of you probably don’t know me. I am the community manager at BioWare for Mass Effect and Dragon Age, but I am not a public-facing figure. Although 99% of my job is done behind the scenes, there’s a good chance that you see my work several times a week. I don’t often step out from behind my desk, but on this occasion, I felt it was warranted.

As you may have heard by now, Jessica Merizan has left BioWare after serving as its community manager for the past three years. That would be sad enough in its own right, but it cuts a bit deeper for me personally. Having worked with Jess every day of my two-plus years with the company, I’m losing more than a co-worker and teammate. I’m also losing a mentor.

Jess_and_Dave

Let’s talk about mentors, shall we? In a perfect world, we’d all have a plethora of them to pick and choose from, but that’s not the reality we live in. We probably all work–or have at some point worked–with intelligent, caring people. Leaders that we’d follow into battle. However, that doesn’t necessarily equate to a suitable mentor by itself.

In addition to those characteristics, a mentor is imbued with vision, patience, and most importantly, a desire to invest in your future. A good mentor nurtures your development without ever losing sight of their own. A great mentor is a perfect cocktail of all these things, and assumes the role without even being asked. That’s what Jess was for me: a damn great mentor.

When I first came to BioWare in 2012, it was intimidating to say the least. Mass Effect 3 had just released, and well, we already know how that story goes. Needless to say, folks were busy. Despite the tumultuous time, Jess took me under her wing from day one and continued to do so every day that followed.

No matter what, Jess always made herself available. Bad day at work? Jess was there to listen. Troubles in my personal life? Jess was there to listen. Generate ideas so crazy that Mike Laidlaw’s face was sure to melt? Jess was there to listen… and to prevent Mike’s face from melting. Are you starting to sense a theme here? 🙂

Jess

Jess has shown me more support than I could ever repay to her. If I’m being completely honest, she’s shown me more support than anyone I’ve ever worked with, and that’s saying a lot. I hope that in some small way, I made her time at BioWare a little easier by being on her team. At the very least, I hope I brightened her day every so often by simply being the goofy, dumb ass that I am.

I would love to thank Jess for everything she’s done for me, but words don’t really seem to cover the debt. She has gone above and beyond to help facilitate my career development, and she did it all selflessly. We were never in competition with each other for anything. We were a team. We were two, like-minded and creative people that wanted to be a part of something amazing. We both shared a genuine passion to entertain, celebrate with our fans (we’re huge fans, too!), and support the hard work of our incredibly gifted studio. We certainly gave it our best shot.

So, if you take anything with you from this blog post, please let it be this:

  • Find your mentor
  • Listen to them
  • Learn and evolve
  • Pay it forward

If you’ve already got a mentor, give ‘em a nice big hug and thank them (I love you Karin Weekes & Ann Lemay!). Remind them how much you appreciate their efforts. Someday, become that mentor to someone else, and help cultivate the next rising star in your world. Together, let’s all keep perpetuating awesome.

I love you, Jess. Whatever I accomplish during my career at BioWare will be largely attributed to you and your guidance as a mentor. I will miss you more than you know.

Jess_and_Dave2

Are Our Attention Spans Dwindling?

I’m going to ask a potentially volatile question, but I’m looking for a sincere answer: are we still compelled by a good mystery, or has the post-Internet world of instant gratification robbed us of our attention span?

Allow me to explain.

the-leftovers-premiere-hbo

This past Sunday marked the debut of The Leftovers, a new HBO series based on the book by Tom Perrotta. The promos were solid, and anything Damon Lindelof touches automatically grabs my interest, so I tuned in with high expectations.

Overall, it was a decent pilot, but it had some nagging production issues that removed me from the immersion. Still, it was captivating enough for me to stick with.

Hours later, I found myself still thinking about my concerns. Was I just being pretentious or did the elements that annoyed me bother anyone else? Although I rarely ever read user reviews online, with my curiosity piqued, I decided to comb through the IMDB message boards for other opinions. What I found there was a whole other conversation happening that I hadn’t expected.

** MINOR PLOT SPOILERS FOLLOW **

Let’s start with what we learned from the first episode: two percent of the world’s population mysteriously vanished. Three years later, the “leftovers” are still in mourning, but attempting to move on with their lives. Science and religion debate while in search of an explanation. Some type of cult—referred to as the “GRs,”—have taken a vow of silence and smoke profusely in protest of a small town’s remembrance of those gone missing. Meanwhile, at an undisclosed location, a man named Wayne with seemingly mystical abilities warns that “the grace period is over,” and that chaos is coming.

Sounds pretty damn intriguing, right? Well, not everyone was impressed.

“…the plot had many holes and a bad storyline.”

“There’s too many questions and zero answers.”

“It left too many questions out there, basic questions, without rewarding me for having hung in there for the last hour.”

I wondered if perhaps some people thought The Leftovers was supposed to be a movie instead of a series. If a 90-minute movie leaves you with unanswered questions, that’s a problem, but a pilot’s job is to intrigue and keep you coming back for more. Surely they weren’t expecting all the mystery of a ten episode season to be solved in the pilot… right?

Much to my surprise, this negative criticism continued page after page. Reviewers expressed varying levels of animosity and frustration in their posts, but the underlying message was crystal clear: “I don’t like unanswered questions.”

What is it that causes this type of reaction? I guess it goes back to my original question at the beginning of this post: are we still compelled by a good mystery, or has the post-Internet world of instant gratification robbed us of our attention span?

I suppose the answer lies somewhere in the middle. While the reaction of the post-Internet generation can be explained by having never experienced a world without immediate answers available at their fingertips, what about us older folks?

This is where procedural television has significantly impacted viewer behavior. Not only can shows like Law & Order and CSI tell a good mystery, they can wrap it all up in less than 45-minutes. These stories are intended to be fun and digestible in small portions, and send the viewer to bed happy.

A similar feat cannot be accomplished with shows such as Lost or Fringe, which have complex storylines that take significant periods of time to unfold. However, if not paced properly, the viewership will gradually dissipate over time until all you’re left with are diehard fans. That’s when things get even harder for a storyteller.

Without a grand finale deemed worthy of the years of investment fans have put into the show, not only do you set yourself up for palpable outrage dismissing your work, but you also decrease the desire of viewers to invest in a “long game” story format ever again. And that, my friends, is sad, because there are some amazing stories that will never get told.

So, am I defending The Leftovers? Not entirely. While I do believe the story is interesting enough to deserve my attention, it suffers from other problems that will be difficult to overlook if it doesn’t improve.

“I dig fantasy and sci-fi and have no problem giving a show a few episodes to get going, but there is just nothing about the characters that makes me want to invest in their stories.”

“… there wasn’t really any character to latch onto and say ‘I like this person’.”

The complaint about a lack of interesting characters is fair and valid. I didn’t find a single one that I connected with or that I’m anxious to see again. I’m willing to give it more time to develop, of course, but to me the most intriguing character was Wayne, a guy that supposedly doesn’t appear again until the season finale. That’s a problem.

10 Songs to Inspire Your Creativity

When I write, I need to be in a distraction-free zone. While that probably sounds like a no-brainer, you’d be amazed at the type of challenges I encounter when I sit down to write. Whether it’s my precious Welsh terrier’s urge to go outside every fifteen minutes (only when daddy is writing, mind you), or the neighbor’s children holding “screaming” contests on their trampoline, my brain is under constant attack from outside stimulation.

So, where can a writer turn during times of interruption and rising hostility?

The hills are alive…

When I need some quality, uninterrupted writing time, I turn to music. Music selection boils down entirely to a matter of personal preference, but for me, I find that louder, more aggressive music distracts me instead of inspires.

However, there is no wrong answer. Use whatever works best for your situation. Musical inspiration can come from any number of sources. For example, my friend and fellow author Bernard Schaffer created a playlist of Morrissey songs to fuel his creativity while writing Whitechapel: The Final Stand of Sherlock Holmes.

Enter Hammock…

When I write, I need something calming and melodic that I can get lost in. Most of my books have been written while the pleasing sounds of Hammock poured through my speakers. Hammock is pure ear candy, and quite easily the most beautiful music I have ever heard.

Hammock’s music penetrates deep into my soul and brings forth a new layer of creativity in me. It’s like seeing the world through shades of vibrant color and passing seasons all at the same time. While these may seem like lofty claims, the proof is in the very first Hammock song you hear.

hammock

The Playlist…

While you could start literally anywhere within Hammock’s expansive catalog of music and find pure bliss, here are ten of my all-time favorites that repeat often throughout my creative process (in no particular order):

  1. In the Middle of this Nowhere (from Oblivion Hymns)
  2. The More You Drink From the Well, the Higher the Waters Will Rise (from EPs, Singles and Remixes)
  3. Tape Recorder (from Departure Songs)
  4. The House Where We Grew Up (from Raising Your Voice… Trying to Stop an Echo)
  5. My Mind was a Fog… My Heart Became a Bomb (from Oblivion Hymns)
  6. Tristia (from Chasing After Shadows… Living with the Ghosts)
  7. Maybe They Will Sing for us Tomorrow (from Maybe They Will Sing for us Tomorrow)
  8. Dark Beyond the Blue (from Longest Year)
  9. North (from EPs, Singles and Remixes)
  10. Blankets of Night (from Kenotic)

The next time you find yourself stuck and in need of a creative boost, I strongly recommend you give Hammock a try. Their music has made a world of difference for me!

Happy writing!