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.


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 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.


Guest Post: Tony Healey – Let’s Help Tilly

At the beginning of this year I released a charity anthology, featuring the work of 16 fantastic writers and the artwork of the legendary Bruce Pennington, with all proceeds to go to The Cystic Fibrosis Trust (we’ve not hit enough for a donation yet – but we’re getting there).

The original inspiration for that collection of stories – and for doing something to raise funds for CF in the first place – is a little girl called Tilly.

She has a chance to win a free holiday with her Mummy and Daddy next year, but she needs your help. It’s very easy and will only take 2 minutes of your time.

Step 1. Click this link

Step 2. LIKE the Haven Facebook page (you can always UN-LIKE it later).


Step 3. Hit the VOTE button.


That’s it!

Of course, if you wanted to be super-duper cool you could also share the above link and get your friends to vote too. In fact, here’s the link again in case you want to do that.

I’d like to see Tilly reach 1,000 votes and take first place. I’ll also be promoting this via my Official Facebook Page, too.

Thanks for your help and support. Let’s win this brave little girl a holiday.

Ask a Writer Blog Series: Writer’s Block

Got a question for the panel? Tweet it to me or click “leave a reply.”

This week: How do you deal with writer’s block?

David K. Hulegaard, author of the Noble series, Strangers

Always know where you’re headed before you even write the first word. If you think through your story carefully, and create a detailed outline to follow, then writer’s block should never become an issue. That said, if you ever do find yourself struggling to make progress, put down your project and start writing something else. Anything else. It doesn’t matter. Exercise your brain. Keep your mind stimulated and your creative juices flowing. After some time away, you should be able to jump right back into your primary project with a fresh perspective and new ideas.

Bernard Schaffer, author of the Superbia, Guns of Seneca 6, and Grendel Unit series

Writer’s block is a waste of time for serious authors who should be focusing on growing their body of work. It’s meaningless self-gratification. It’s a distraction that should be avoided like bushes of poison ivy. It’s emptier than a classroom of students interested in exploring the underlying depths to Michael Bay movies. To be perfectly blunt: it am dumb.

Wait, you said writer’s block? I was talking about blogging.

I don’t believe in either one.

Tony Healey, author of the Far From Home and Fallen Crown series

Writer’s block is an excuse. A way of saying, “I can’t be bothered,” and making it look like you have a head cold. Everyone who believes in such a mystery flu has their own remedy: “Go for long walks!” “Give yourself time out!” or “Here Are My Top Ten Tips for Beating Dreaded Writer’s Block!”

There is no such thing. If you’ve run out of gas, you’re burned out . . . it’s not writers block. You’re just bloody tired. Have a rest. Don’t do any writing for a few weeks. Watch some TV. Writer’s block is not to be confused with “I’ve run out of ideas”. To be frank, if the latter applies to you, then you have no business writing in the first place.

Everyone is a veritable fountain of ideas, of creativity. Nobody dries up. Even if you find yourself playing with the same motifs, the same themes, the same character archetypes . . . it’s all jazz. That’s what writing is: pulling stuff out of thin air, laying it down on paper, getting it to a point where you’re happy with it, and moving on to the next best thing. You don’t say “I’ve got Writer’s Block”, you say “I’m tired”.

You rest, then you come back and give it your all. And probably you’ll get tired again. That’s the nature of the beast, my friend. That’s the result of putting so much of your heart into making the smoothest jazz ever heard. And thank the maker you did.

William Vitka, author of the Hroza Connection and The Bartender series

Writer’s block is utter crap. It’s the literary equivalent of self-diagnosing yourself with Asperger syndrome to explain your shitty, anti-social behavior. If you are stricken with a case of ‘I can’t write,’ then write something anyway. Chances are, you’ll fall into the flow again. It’s almost like muscle memory. Don’t over-think it.

Ask a Writer Blog Series: Editors

I receive a ton of great questions from aspiring authors on Twitter. In fact, they’re such good questions that trying to answer them within 140 characters can prove challenging. So, I decided to start a new blog series where I can respond to these questions more in-depth.

Of course, there are many different types of writers, and there are no one-size-fits-all answers. With that in mind, I’ve invited a group of my peers to join me and share their valuable insights and experiences as well. Let’s get started.

Got a question for the panel? Tweet it to me!

This week: What are the characteristics of a good editor?

David K. Hulegaard, author of the Noble series, Strangers

I’ve been blessed to work with both good and bad editors. I say “blessed” because it’s important to know the difference between a highly-skilled editor and an overpaid grammar-Nazi.

A good editor is someone that you can always trust to have your best interest in mind (Hi, Jessica!). Any editor can correct your grammatical errors and typos, but only a skilled editor can help you identify plot holes, inconsistencies in character behavior, and also challenge you to think about your work from a reader’s perspective.

The best editors recognize your areas of improvement and coach you through it. Whether a gentle touch or tough love approach works best for you is entirely a matter of preference. I prefer working with people that aren’t assholes, but your threshold may vary.

A bad editor is someone that tears apart your work for the sole purpose of placating their ego (usually compensating for their own shortcomings as a writer). They won’t try to help you understand your mistakes or identify your areas of improvement. They pretty much just shit on you and make snarky comments at your expense. A bad editor can’t offer you anything more than a general editing pass because that’s all they’re capable of.

What’s important to remember is that for a good editor to do their job effectively, you must be willing to listen, and you must be willing to sacrifice your word babies if necessary. Choose your hills to die on carefully, because a good editor is usually right. The key is trust.

Bernard Schaffer, author of the Superbia, Guns of Seneca 6, and Grendel Unit series

Absolute cruelty in the face of poor performance. Delight in victory. Thorough steadfastness for the duration of the project. A guiding eye. An overall view. Knowing when to make a stand. Knowing when to let the author make theirs.

Tony Healey, author of the Far From Home and Fallen Crown series

They catch all the stuff you miss. All the little grammar things you probably don’t even think about when you’re composing your latest masterpiece. They tighten your writing, rein it in, ensure it’s clear and easy to read. A good editor doesn’t just stick to a style sheet, but bends according to each author’s voice. To the needs of the project, taken on its own terms.

A good editor is there to give you advice, to offer an encouraging word, to bite your head off when you keep making the same mistake over and over and over again. They give your their best because it’s their name going on the book, too. They’re helping you shape it into something that will hold a reader’s attention. They have your best interests at heart even if it seems like they’re getting on your case from time to time.

A good editor – no, a really good editor – like the lady I use, Laurie Laliberte, is all of the above and more. And that’s when she’s telling me: “Each time you abuse a semi-colon a kitten dies.”

Because it’s all about the work. None of it’s personal.

“Man up, put on your big boy pants and fucking own your writing or I’m increasing your rates!” she said to me one day.

Well, the rates have stayed the same. And I’ve sold thousands of books. So I guess that’s a really good editor for you.

William Vitka, author of the Hroza Connection and The Bartender series

A good editor gives a damn about the story as well as the writing. Yes, they sure as hell will catch the mistakes you missed — and bludgeon any adverbs or semicolons to death with a log — but they should also help guide you. They should make sure your tale doesn’t run off the rails. Or, at least, do their best to. Much of that is up to the writer. A shitty story is still a shitty story, even if it has perfect grammar.

A Sneak Peek at my Next Project

As part of my 2014 Birthday Charity Drive, I’m offering reward tiers as my way of thanking contributors for their generosity. If you’ve looked them over, you might have noticed that some tiers offer the opportunity to name characters and locations in my next book.

Um, that’s great and all, Dave, but what is your next book?

Great question! I don’t normally talk about my books this far out, but in this case, I thought it was only fair for you to know a little bit more about your potential investment. In the interest of protecting my intellectual property, I’m only going to provide a vague overview, but I promise to continue updating as progress is made on the book.

I had a question to answer: where do I go now after wrapping up the Noble trilogy? I’ve dabbled in the past. I’ve laid some groundwork in the present. What about the future? The future feels like a ripe sandbox for my imagination to play in, and I’ve got more than a few ideas that would fit well within that setting.

What do you see when you think of the future? Flying cars? Colonization of the galaxy? All disease cured? The ability to stream your brain onto the Internet? These are all tantalizing possibilities, but what if the future isn’t as grandiose as we imagine it to be? What if other than basic upgrades to make our everyday lives more efficient, the future isn’t all that much different than it is today?

At least, not yet…

My next book focuses on a point in time where a major technological discovery is about to happen. Secret government labs have developed some groundbreaking new tech, and the FBI has already committed a new division to utilizing it. However, the tech is limited, and scientists anticipate decades before they can unlock its full potential. But what if somebody with dangerous motives already has?

Now, let’s meet the protagonist. The story focuses on Rachel Ibanez, head of the FBI’s secret new division.

“Know this, sweet Rachel: your story once had a different ending. That man pushed you, you fell, and you died here on these rocks. I’m rewriting your story because I am investing in your future. Don’t disappoint me.”

A mysterious stranger saved Rachel from certain death as a young girl, only to vanish after these cryptic words. Those close to Rachel listened to her story, but blamed severe psychological trauma and shock for her “hallucinations.” A period of anger and depression followed as she struggled with the worth of her existence. Rachel felt so isolated at times that she often wished her savior had just let her fall to her death. Why was she saved? How was she saved? For what purpose?

Rachel’s strength allowed her to overcome her fear and eventually face her attacker. Once she felt the satisfaction of putting a sadistic criminal behind bars, she set out on a path that eventually led her to the FBI, where we meet her in the book many years later.

As an experienced federal agent, Rachel’s track record on high profile cases made her the overwhelming choice to lead the FBI’s new division. Despite the reputation Rachel has garnered for her years of dedicated service, there are many within the FBI that don’t respect the work of her team. She has quite a rivalry going with other top agents, which only fuels her motivation to be the best of the best.

Ready for a change…

I love Science-Fiction—I read a lot of it—but something that has been bugging me is the absence of prominent female characters within the genre. Don’t get me wrong, there are some great Sci-Fi authors out there doing exactly that, but we’ve got some serious catching up to do. So, rather than lament and simply long to meet more FemShep-caliber characters, I decided that it was time for me to start creating them instead.

I hope that you have enjoyed this sneak peek at my next project. I am very excited for the world to meet Rachel Ibanez, and I am thrilled with how the story is coming along. Although I don’t anticipate my book publishing until 2015, I will update my blog with more information over the months ahead.

Thank you for reading,

~ D

2014 Birthday Charity Drive

I have a confession to make: As much as I love celebrating other people’s birthdays, I’m far less interested in my own. I appreciate the thought behind birthday gifts, but I really don’t need anything. In the end, stuff is just stuff, and I already have plenty of stuff.

A couple of years ago, I decided to use my birthday as an opportunity to give something back to the universe. Instead of asking for personal gifts, I encouraged my friends and family—you—to donate to charity. It worked! Last year we raised nearly $1,000 for the Bradley Angle Women and Children’s Shelter.

Giving to charity has rejuvenated me in ways I never imagined. I used to dread my birthday, but now I am excited when it comes around because I know that together we can pitch in and do some good!

Although you will rarely hear me make political statements in a public forum, there are causes very near and dear to my heart, and it is an honor to support them in some way. I am very excited to announce that my annual birthday drive this year will be in partnership with FREE 2 LUV, a non-profit organization located in Seattle, Washington. FREE 2 LUV promotes anti-bullying and youth empowerment through a celebration of individuality and equality.

I’m going to try something a little different. Even though I’m proud of the $1,000 we raised last year, I want to do even better this year, and that will be my goal over the next thirty days.

In an effort to make that happen, I’m sweetening the pot by offering donation tier bonuses. That’s right, not only do you get to feel better about helping a worthy cause, but you also get something in return!

Check out my birthday charity drive video below for more information, and bless your kind little hearts for even considering a donation. You have my eternal gratitude.

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.


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.


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.

Let’s Go to the Hop!

My good friend Tony Healey recently invited me to participate in a blog hop. He explained to me that it was not just a chance to talk about my work, but also an opportunity to keep the chain going by nominating two other authors of my choosing. Sounds like fun to me!

The rules of this blog hop were simple: answer four writer-ly questions, and then introduce the two writers that I’d chosen. I’m excited because I’ve selected two really good ones that I think you’re going to enjoy. So, be sure to hop on over to their blogs when you’re all done here (sorry, “Dad jokes” are in my nature).

Blog Hop Q & A

What am I working on right now?

I am in the final editing stages on Noble: New World Order. It’s been a labor of love for the past two years, and I couldn’t be more anxious to get this book into the hands of readers. In my down time, I’ve begun preliminary work on a couple of upcoming projects, including a brand new series, a “strange” sequel, and a Noble spin-off series.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I don’t strive to be different, I strive to be authentic. I am committed to my vision, and I won’t be deterred because what I’m writing is not en vogue at the moment. I am laser-focused on creating rich stories and characters that I am interested in, and that I am proud to put my name on. My work can be gritty and uncomfortable at times, while sappy and romantic at others. I believe in delivering the human experience (or non-human; I write Sci-Fi, after all), and I hope that my dedication to this process bleeds from the pages.

Why do I write what I do?

I am inspired by stories that challenge my imagination and allow me to think bigger than the world we know. At the time I began writing Noble, I was really into the TV show Lost, the video game BioShock, and my love of the paranormal. All of that culminated into one of the craziest dreams I’ve ever had, and when I woke up, I immediately grabbed my notepad and started scribbling down ideas. This may sound a bit cliché, but I truly believe I was born to tell stories. No other profession in my life has felt as rewarding as this.

How does my writing process work?

Every story begins with a single kernel. I catalog all of my ideas, and when it’s time to start a new project, there’s always one that’s fighting a little harder than the rest to get out. From that single kernel, I start clustering/brainstorming on ways to make that idea bigger. I then move on to thinking about characters: who they are, what their motivations might be, and their relationships to other characters.

From there it’s a matter of connecting those characters with plot ideas. Once I’ve determined a “critical path” for the story, I brainstorm ideas that will allow the storytelling to branch out a little bit and create a deeper connection to the world. Then things get technical: chapter summaries, character bios, establishing the rules of the world I’m building, etc. The final stage is to actually put words on paper, and with a little luck, I’ll have a draft ready within a few months.

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, children of all ages…

Without further ado, allow me to introduce my very dear friends Miellyn Fitzwater Barrows and Hilary Heskett Shapiro. These ladies are freakin’ amazing writers, and I am so lucky to have them in my network. They’ve helped me more times than I can count, and their feedback played a huge part in shaping the final draft of Noble: New World Order.

Miellyn Fitzwater Barrows

photo 1

Writer and producer Miellyn Fitzwater Barrows has provided creative content to more than a dozen national television networks including National Geographic, Discovery, TLC, Travel, and HGTV. She is the creator and series producer for Tin Man Games videogame gamebook series Strange Loves and writer/producer for Strange Loves 1: Vampire Boyfriends. Also a published author, her work has appeared in Random House and Smart Pop Books anthologies, the UK Telegraph newspaper, and across the web. Her first novel is now available at


Hilary Heskett Shapiro

imageA marketing consultant for clients including BioWare, Electronic Arts (EA), Hewlett-Packard (HP), and Princess Cruises who has been published in three NYT bestselling editions of CHICKEN SOUP FOR THE SOUL.




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.


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!