the Author

Answering a question asked on Twitter, because the answer was longer than I intended.

Posted in writing.

I’m answering a ques­tion that was asked on twitter that prob­ably won’t be of general interest, but, well. It’s a ques­tion about the dedi­ca­tion of Cast in Decep­tion.

Over on Twitter:


Hey, a few years ago a few of my friends and I turned up in the special thanks section of your novel “Cast in Decep­tion*”. We were really excited about the shout out but I’m wondering, why did we turn up there exactly?

The answer is a tiny bit circuitous — which is to say, this won’t seem like an answer until closer to the end.



My house­hold is basi­cally a geek house­hold — a house full of people who drift from one end of the over-focused spec­trum to the other (can walk into moving cars against a red light because they are *thinking* and every­thing else is autopilot). The so-called “normal” anchor (for a value of normal which passes muster in our house) is my spouse.

I have two sons. When the oldest was a toddler, he would sit in my lap and play Doom. Or rather, he would make me clear the level — he hated the noise the demons made — and then happily explore the 3D envi­ron­ment when every­thing in it wasn’t trying to kill him.

My younger son drifted toward computer games as well — but he had no interest in Diablo or other RPGs. 

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Said Younger Son is the editor to this post. Hi!]

My husband intro­duced both to youtube, in part because of a series of youtube videos: “Will it blend?” in which someone with a super powerful blender shoved things into it and emptied the remains — if the blender survived. (One of these things was an iPhone.)

He also inad­ver­tently intro­duced them to XKCD and Order of the Stick. (I digress. I do that a lot.) 

This lead — of course it did — to the wider envi­rons of the internet — to various bulletin boards, the rest of youtube, etc. 



This is going to sound like a digres­sion. 

I was published before I had kids. My first novel came out in 1991. 

My chil­dren there­fore grew up around a writer. They grew up listening to frus­tra­tion and struggle and anxiety, all elements of acts of sustained creation (imho). They knew that books — at least mine — were not written overnight, and that it was *work*. It wasn’t tradi­tional 9 – 5 work, but it was what I did. 

Writing is not for everyone. But I think, on some level, that I want everyone to be a *creator* of some­thing. Not because we’re somehow exalted exis­tences (and frankly, my advice is always to have a Real Job first, because I *like* having a roof over my family’s head) but because there’s a kind of deep joy in parts of it.

I don’t think that people who do create but don’t attempt to make a living at it are foolish or wasting time. 

I think it’s impor­tant, however, to find some­thing you love doing, and … do it. 

This is not like loving choco­late. If you love choco­late, you eat it. You do not go and pick the cocoa beans and milk the cows and what­ever it is that’s required to *make* choco­late. You buy it, you eat it. 

There is *nothing* wrong with this, btw. It’s my attempt to make a distinc­tion between the use of the word ‘love’.

I love writing. I wrote even as a child. But writing *for other people* requires an addi­tional skill-set. Regard­less, there are times when it is anything but fun, and large clumps of hair are being pulled out. So my use of “love” here is: that thing that brings you enough joy you will wade through the unavoid­able tedium and anxiety in order to do it.

Love of some­thing is internal. I could not somehow light that internal fire for someone else. If my kids enjoyed things, they pursued them. I didn’t tell them what they should enjoy or why. It was enough to watch and listen. 

I’m sure you can see where this is heading.



Both of my sons played Doom. Interest in Doom took them to Doom-on-the-internet. They then started to play doom online in private servers, which lead them to a small but active commu­nity of Doom gamers. 

This lead to dinner stories of Doom games and the people they knew only by Doom monikers (i.e. every single person they played with, many of whom were not North Amer­ican). Some of those names came up fairly early, and some came up frequently. The kids were not, by this point, toddlers; it was not required that I know every single aspect of their lives.

At some point in the murky period between then and now, they found Doom wads and mods, and servers that played combi­na­tions of the ones they liked. Stories of Doom and its many wads became a consis­tent dinner conver­sa­tion. I still have distinct memo­ries of stories about people I have never met. 

One day Older Son said to Younger son: why don’t we combine this wad with this other mod? I think people would really like it!”

[Editor’s Note: Neither mod was actu­ally a .wad file, both were .pk3 files]

And Younger Son said, “Sure.”

This caused a whole new range of stories and obser­va­tions because of course there was obser­va­tion — of the commu­nity, of the map and mod creators, etc.

(I would love, some day, to find some trace of Ijon that is current on-line, because Ijon stories were incred­ibly popular and lead to me reading a lot of forum threads, among other things.)

This combi­na­tion of WAD [again, tech­ni­cally pk3] and mod was not simple, and neither of the two were program­mers yet. But they threw them­selves into what seemed, at a remove, to involve a *lot* of tedium and a bit of fun. (Espe­cially the multi­player-only bugs and the endless, endless debugging.)

They had their own pseu­do­nyms, they were part of this commu­nity. I was not.

But over the course of time, they learned a lot about people and commu­ni­ties that were entirely virtual. My Younger Son, who avoids talk about anything emotional, ever, sat down for a very long debate with someone that … no one else felt up to debating. I asked him why he’d done this the next day, and he said that someone had to do it.

This shocked me, but in a good way.



Because of a charity auction, I had a dedi­ca­tion that I’d set aside for the auction; various things happened and the dedi­ca­tion wasn’t wanted. So, I went to the sons, and said, I would like to dedi­cate a book to these total strangers who have, nonethe­less, become some­what familiar over the years.

And they thought this sounded like a good idea. 

I have never inter­acted directly with any of you, but I am grateful that you are all out there doing your own things.

6 Responses to Answering a question asked on Twitter, because the answer was longer than I intended.

  1. NixLee says:

    Nothing moves me like kind­ness. I think acknowl­edge­ment of strangers for what­ever contri­bu­tion they make to this beau­tiful world is worthy of a “Lord Diarmat approved” bow. Thanks you for your thought­ful­ness, and thanks also to your kids, who are contributing with creative­ness along their own jour­neys. It bene­fits all of us.

  2. Tchula says:

    Ah, good ol’ Doom. Loved that game. The recent one is really fun, too, although at times it gives me motion sick­ness with its fast paced FPS move­ment. Talia tried to play it, but she said it made her too sick (must run in the family, ahaha). She’s more of an RPG Skyrim/Diable/Okami kinda girl.

    In recent years, I’ve gotten more into Dark Souls-style action games, but fantasy RPGs are still my first loves. I play on PS4 mostly, so sadly I don’t get to expe­ri­ence much with mods, short of watching YouTu­bers play them. (I’m almost embar­rassed to say how much time I spend doing exactly this, mostly with Souls game mods, heh heh…)

    Not being very techie myself, I can only imagine how much time and effort goes into modding these games. I’d love to build a gaming PC one of these days – maybe when I retire, haha – and play a whole bunch of ’em. My little Mac-mini just can’t handle it.

    In the mean­time, I’ll enjoy watching others play them, and I’ll stick to my own creative hobby of dabbling in fan fiction. Writing for money on a dead­line is way too hard for me. I’m keeping my day job with its regular hours because I like sleeping too much, hahaha! But I surely appre­ciate those writers and program­mers and modders, who struggle through the words and the code and the long nights for love of the novel or the game, or even just the crafting itself. Kudos to you all, I say! More stuff for me to enjoy!

  3. michelle says:

    @Tchula: I know a lot of profes­sional writers who dabble in fan fiction. Also, I know people who knit, paint, draw, illus­trate, compose. 

    My sons were highly amused when a Cana­dian composer came to talk to their school music class/band — because one, at least, was very similar in his creative anxiety to … their mother.

    Like, he was so stressed out because *this time* it was truly awful and *this time* everyone would finally under­stand that he’s *no good at this*. He wouldn’t even let his wife hear his early compo­si­tion drafts because he was the primary bread­winner in the house — and she didn’t need the terrible stress of wondering how they were going to keep a roof over their heads. Both my kids laughed because they’ve seen it all before — just not about composing music.

    Some people have a sense that if they create some­thing and it’s not perfect, it means they were somehow not meant to create. So they stop trying.

    Whereas my two have seen me write, revise, and live under that cloud of anxiety and gloom. I don’t have a great poker face. So they expect on some level that doubt is the shadow; it doesn’t matter whether or not they like shadows because they can’t really get rid of them.

    I’m still mulling over how to differ­en­tiate between joy and happi­ness, because they’re not synony­mous to me.

    But – I think I’m more like Talia in gaming preferences.

  4. Joyce Ronquillo says:

    I love that your son was allowed to explore the world of Doom without concern for the things trying to kill him and Mom was his protector. My son and I do a complex dance around games. He was allowed Marathon in the 90s while I was doing other things but could hear the inter­ac­tions to sure he was okay (he was 9 or 10). He helped me when I got lost in Myst (I am spatially challenged). 

    Later he intro­duced me to RPGs, Morrowind specif­i­cally, because he was trying to work out a story for a game he wanted to design and we would Skpe about his plot. I would make sugges­tions and he would say it won’t work. I would say it works in book­world (I don’t write but I read…a lot) so he made me play Morrowind so I would know the differ­ence. I was hooked. I gave him Skyrim for Christmas, he gave me Diablo III for my birthday. 

    The world has turned. My husband has passed on and my son is back home with me but it is still our various creative endeavors, nerdy inter­ests and geeky enthu­si­asms that knit us together.

  5. Tchula says:

    @Joyce, I love that you and your son gift each other video games! My 75-year-old father plays Border­lands 2 & 3, The Outer­worlds, Fallout 3, and No Man’s Sky and I love that we can talk about games together, even if I don’t love the post-apoc­a­lyptic world settings he likes, and he doesn’t like “games with dragons” like I like. lol

  6. Peter Moore says:

    Michelle, I am in total agree­ment with you that creativity is not foolish or wasting time if you don’t make money at it. I am a very creative person; I’m an avid photog­ra­pher, I play multiple instru­ments, I was a profes­sional chef, and a profes­sional studio musi­cian. Those two careers taught me that for me, trying to make money out of my creativity doesn’t work for me. The anxiety and frus­tra­tion levels were too high, and to be frank, most creative jobs pay poorly. So I worked at a “real job” and did my creativity when I could. I still shot photos, played music and cooked good meals, I just didn’t do them to pay the rent or purchase the food­stuffs I played with. Now that I’m retired I can prac­tice my creativity more completely, though I must admit that I don’t play music as much as I used to. I try to go out with my camera several times a week, and I make myself at least one nice meal at least once a week. I won’t say that creativity brings me joy, but I will say that if I’m not creating I don’t have a lot of happi­ness in my life. Thanks for this post, it’s made me think a bit more deeply about my creativity.

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