Announcing a Serial Fiction Release: Diary of an Aspiring Alchemist

Diary of an Aspiring Alchemist
Cover Art by Meredith Gerber

Though I write a lot, I don’t always take time for myself. My stories. The ones I have to write, but don’t know if they’ll sell or not. This year, I made a pledge: I was going to write those stories, because while I don’t know if anyone will read them I also don’t want to wait. I can’t afford to. Not now, not anymore. Not even with insane (and I do have them!) deadlines and responsibilities.

Back in July, I started a journey to tell the story of William Sand. William is a key figure in my modern fantasy novel; he’s a supporting character whose motivation is caused by preceding events. This journal is the story of how William Sand was saved, stumbled, and then fell. This background is hinted at in the novel; his story and connection to the other characters isn’t crucial to the plot, however. I felt it’d be better to separate that narrative out, rather than bog down the novel with these details.

Here’s the rub: Diary of an Aspiring Alchemist is also my first, untouched draft, written in dribs and drabs, and posted for you to read.

I know this story. It’s a tale that I don’t want to write, but it’s been driving me mad. Don’t write it, the story matters only to me, causing me no shortage of frustration. Do write it? See what happens. I also know this is a difficult and challenging story to sell or be marketable, because William Sand is not a hero. Or, at least, I don’t see him that way.

Diary of an Aspiring Alchemist is written as an epistolary, and the entries take place in real time. They were either written shortly before posting or the night before; I made one edit to fix a placeholder for a character’s name. Other than that, this is all William. Raw. Alone. Found. Then very, very lost.

I hope you enjoy Diary of an Aspiring Alchemist. It is the kernel, the seed of what’s to come in a world I’ve wandered in for some time.

MANW Check-In Week 43: Setting Boundaries for Self-Care

Make Art Not War October Challenge Badge

Continuing the theme of SELF-CARE today! This post is all about something important I want to discuss, because I feel that the expectations we perceive and deal with on a day-to-day basis shapes how we take care of ourselves. First, let’s review where I’m at for my pledge!

My Original Make Art Not War 2017 Challenge pledge:

  • I pledge to devote one hour a day to my original art.
  • If I don’t feel motivated, I pledge to write down the reasons why I wanted to take this challenge for fifteen minutes or one-to-three pages whichever comes first.
  • I pledge to mark down on the calendar whenever I complete a day’s efforts.
  • As the challenge creator, I pledge to create a weekly accountability post every Wednesday beginning on January 9th. Comments will be open. Hashtag #makeartnotwar2017 #manw2017
  • I pledge to check into social media twice a week for personal use, and once a month with my local community of artists and writers.

Here’s my current status:

  • October has been pretty wild for me; it’s been a jam-packed month, for sure. Think James and the Giant Peach. Only, Monica and the Enormous Pumpkin. I have made more progress on my Sekrit ProjektTM though, so my obligations this month have been fulfilled. Huzzah!
  • No issue with motivation. It’s been the exact opposite. DO THE THING! DO ALL THE THINGS!
  • You know, logging my time? That hasn’t been working for me. I want to explore that further in a future post.
  • As the challenge creator, I pledge to create a weekly accountability post every Wednesday beginning on January 9th. Comments will be open. Hashtag #makeartnotwar2017 #manw2017 You’re looking at another post, right now! Hee.
  • I’m good re: social media. I don’t look at it unless it’s outside of work hours, and I uninstalled the platforms from my phone. I tried a few times to figure out what I needed to do with it, and right now this is better for my overall well-being.

I am enjoying the Fall season, in part thanks to the Pokemon Go Halloween Event. It’s helped me get a baseline of steps in, and though I am behind ramping that up to the next level? I really can’t complain, because I’m paying attention to what I need to.

On to the topic for today’s uh… lengthy post!

Relationships and Setting Personal Boundaries

Okay, when I talked about the importance of saying “No” for self-care, I brought up social pressures stemming from our interactions online. I want to explore this further and shed some light on a few nuances you may be struggling with. I’m going to start with the world I know: public personas.

When we look at our relationships, we can categorize how we know and maintain friendships based on our interactions. Simplistically, think “work”, “home”, “school”, etc. Now, add in a layer of social media/online persona. What happens, first, is that we receive new information about people we already know. That accountant you’ve been friends with for years turns out to be an Internet troll. That receptionist you’ve just met is an active community organizer. We also, however, form opinions of people we don’t know very well if at all. Our interactions online are affected by how we use the tools; no one person uses them in the same way twice. Nor, as I’ve come to learn, do people treat and view friendships they’ve made online the same way as they do in person. For one person, friending someone on Facebook means you’re friends no matter what. For another, that “friendship” represents a connection online that could, if it needs to be, severed with no consequences.

To say I’m a complicated person with a dynamic personality is an understatement. I’m incredibly self-conscious of the fact that I can walk into a room and change the mood, so I’m always seeking ways to actively manage my personality so I don’t dominate a crowd. That, unfortunately, doesn’t always happen; when people know me, know who I am, we’re cool. When they don’t, the reactions are mixed–especially living in the Midwest. Now, translate all of this to an online space. All you have are my words. You don’t see the wild hand gestures, the mood shifts as I switch from one project to another, the times I retreat to plot and think about my work. What you do read, however, are updates about me and my work, the occasional awful joke, some social commentary, and my blog posts. That’s a shade of who I am. It’s the highlights reel I maintain to connect with readers, but also to offer some authencity as well. If I say something, I do mean it. If I ask a question, however, it’s not to be educated or talked down to. It’s because I feel I will never stop learning; to understand a complex issue, sometimes I need to get different perspectives on it. So for me, the tools are sometimes limited because I feel the manner of exchange doesn’t always facilitate what I get out of face-to-face conversations.

That’s just me. Now, think about yourself. How you use the tools. How your relationships function. Multiply that by millions. Pretty mind-boggling, eh? The point I’m trying to make here, is that sometimes feelings of exhaustion can originate from an unlikely source. It could be you’re performing too much emotional labor to figure this shit out. Or, you’re frustrated because you’re trying to have a really important discussion but the popular tool you’re using has its limits. If any of this sounds familiar to you, consider setting some boundaries to give yourself a break. I recognize that a time limit may not be the answer for you. Maybe the problem has more to do with who you’re interacting with than how. Yes, setting boundaries can be complicated, because you’re opting to act based on a feeling tied to your personal situation. My suggestion here, however, is that if you are struggling? Maybe it is time to make a change.

Power Dynamics and Boundaries

Part of the reason why it’s so hard to set boundaries, is because often that requires putting distance between someone or something. Often, that means extricating yourself to either be alone or make better use of your time. It sucks, it can be nerve-wracking, and it feels terrible because setting boundaries — if you don’t already have them in place — is a form of saying “No.” Boundaries are often based on power dynamics, too. Abusers don’t care about boundaries; that is how they maintain the upper hand in a relationship. Sometimes, victims mimic an abuser’s behavior because they haven’t learned what healthy boundaries are. Only, the victim doesn’t realize they are in danger of becoming the abuser. They cross boundaries, because it gives them that sense of personal power they need. Having quite a bit of experience in this arena, I do want to gently point out one thing: setting boundaries is an act of self-care because it’s for you, your health, your safety. Putting yourself in harm’s way to avoid letting the bullies win is not a sign that you’ve failed and they won. If you need to walk away, walk away. Heal. Live.

While abuse and harassment are two examples of the need for boundaries, there are other forms of crossing or manipulating boundaries that greatly depend on the strength of your relationship with the other person. Those have more to do with how you’re perceived on a personal level. A successful individual might present one “face” to their audience, then snicker or even sabotage you behind your back. Your boss might be your best friend, but how much do you want to disclose to them? In a world where judgments are rampant, based on what we post and how we engage, there are plusses and minuses to having a profile. As long as you’re okay with what you reveal, then that’s really all that matters. There will be consequences regardless of what you post, if you post to begin with, and how frequently you update your profiles. Social media has offered passive data points for others to judge you and use that information how they see fit–even if you don’t use the tools. Our online usage has become so integral to how others perceive us, it’s almost like wearing a second skin.

Public Profiles and Expectations

Keep in mind that relationships don’t stay the same, either. They also change as your profile/digital footprint increases or decreases, because other people change their expectations and assumptions about who you are and what you can do for them. Most people operate out of self-interest and that word carries a lot of baggage. (Yes, even altruistic people want something, even if it’s not directly related to their well-being.) Say you’re an actor and one of your friends gets a gig on a popular television show. Do you treat them differently because your friend is recognized in public? Do you expect that person to show you around and network? Now, flip that around. Say you aren’t an actor at all, but your friend is now in the public eye. How do your interactions with that person change?

Public profiles will shift how others view you; these opinions depend on a number of factors. How that person feels about fame. What that person wants (and doesn’t). If that person can be genuinely happy for others. If that person feels you deserve your fame. On and on and on. I am not the expert on this in particular, because I’ve been dealing with this myself. There is an expectation, for example, that if you’re in the public eye you should be more gracious or the “image” of what that person believes you to be. I’ll give you an example. Sometimes, I get frustrated by how people treat my name. My surname is attached to my identity, it is a reflection of my work, and it’s something that’s tied to several years of publications. So, if you’re going to say it out loud on a podcast or panel, I feel it’s important to pronounce it correctly. I can’t tell you how many times people have screwed it up, laughed about it, and expected me to say: “That’s okay, it happens all the time.” Only, deep down I know it’s not okay, and it’s the reason why I added a pronunciation guide on my About page. But if it happens again? I’ll be gracious. I feel I have to be.

On a complex level, relationship dynamics can frequently shift depending upon other people’s perceptions of what you’re doing and who you “are”. Judgements, especially in the entertainment industry, are rampant. If my career is “hot”. (Or, if it’s perceived to be “not”.) If I’m writing in an original world or media/tie-in, then games, fiction, or non-fiction. This is all very confusing to me, because I can go from one convention/industry and be treated well to another where I’m forgettable and left to fend for myself. Plus, after being in multiple aspects of entertainment both on the trade and creative side, I know this to be true: one day your career could be up? The other it could plummet. There will always be someone famouser (and less popular) than me. Always.

Relationships can be even more of a clusterf*ck, sometimes, because I’m a full-time writer. I need to write, otherwise I don’t have a job. With no job, I don’t generate new readers/players and I don’t make money. With no fans or money, I don’t pay my bills. So for me, where my focus has to be, is on getting words down and out the door. I love every word, mind you, and it’s where I channel my passion and creativity. That, however, doesn’t impact relationships. It’s the perception of who I am and what I’m working on that does, and I’m still figuring out what that means in terms of my boundaries.

I covered a lot in today’s post and gave you some insight into my personal life, because I wanted to reassure you that saying “it’s complicated” and “I’m still figuring this out” is totally normal. Again: your mileage will vary. I’m here to say, however, that while relationships do require work from both parties, you don’t always have to be the one doing the heavy lifting, nor do you have to be on the receiving end of harmful words or behavior. If you need permission to set boundaries, I give you that. Sometimes, you need a little space to see how your connections with other people are actually working. Then, from there, you can make better decisions for your emotional health and physical well-being, regardless of fame or identity. In the end, that’s all that matters.

Mood: I want to play Final Fantasy. I’m writing a gazillion words instead.
Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Umm…. Three.
Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: Walking. It’s FINALLY Fall!
In My Ears: Final Fantasy XIII Soundtrack
Game Last Played: Pokémon Go – Halloween Event!
Book Last Read: Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai
Movie/TV Show Last Viewed: Once Upon a Time
Latest Artistic Project: Make Art Not War Challenge eBook now available!
Latest Releases: Over the Edge for Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition, Dagger of Spiragos for Scarred Lands.
Current State of Projects: Read my latest project update. New project update coming when I get time.

Self-Care and Saying “No”

Make Art Not War October 2017

This month’s theme has been SELF-CARE! Today, I want to talk about the word “No.” I feel it’s a powerful word, and it’s one that we feel guilty about using sometimes. A “No” feels negative, because it seems as if we can’t do everything we want to do, be every place at once, and maintain relationships with everyone we want to.

I’ve come to learn the hard way that this is exacerbated by social media, because many friends/peers/family members use the tools in different ways to supplement relationships by sharing really important updates or thoughts about current events. This becomes challenging in a 24-hour news cycle on a normal day, because the likelihood of something else happening is great. What’s more, I’ve seen and been subjected to assumptions that if someone posts a Very Important UpdateTM, both the responses and the lack therein are tracked. I’ve mentioned this before, but a grossly oversimplification of this is the fact the tools operate a lot like a slot machine. You have to “play” (e.g. post) to get a reaction in the form of shares, signal boots, comments, or likes.

[Begin Segue.] I’ve said this before as well, but I feel that we have outgrown the tools because of the way they are being used. So many of us, myself included, utilize our identities on these platforms for various reasons. I am a writer so my name is attached to my work. I can’t change my social media profile names or manipulate the system, because that directly impacts how readers, publishers, etc. find me on those tools. But, getting verified is a sticky widget and subjective. Despite having been a guest at two overseas conventions thus far, a Wikipedia page, etc. Mind you, I don’t like trotting out my credentials, but there is a gender bias. And, after comparing notes with others, I’ve found that to be the case for many white women and women of color I know. Here’s what would solve ALL of our problems with verification and bots: verify anyone who uses their real identity. Then, anyone who doesn’t is possibly fake and suspect. Bam! Done. [End Segue.]

Some people, myself included, are more susceptible to getting sucked in than others. It happens, because there’s a lot of emotion wrapped up in social media. For me, as a writer, words matter. So reading people’s updates, I get a sense of how they’re feeling and what they’re up to. When life is great? I enjoy that exchange. When it’s not? It’s terrifying. At the same time, there are extremely powerful conversations happening that I often miss or catch the tail end of. I instituted a “No Social Media” policy during work hours, and that’s worked so well for my productivity and crushing deadlines I’m going to keep it in place for the time being. But doing that? Taking that step? That’s saying “No.” That feels uncomfortable, especially because of how much interaction happens online due to how many people I know in other cities/states/countries. “No, I can’t right now.” is the best thing for me to do, however. It’s an act of self-care.

“No” can be as simple as: “No, I’m not going to write for free anymore.” Or goal-oriented: “No, I’m not going to watch TV for 20 hours a week. I need to figure out a better way to spend my time.” Or for self-preservation: “No, I’m not going to deal with that toxic person any longer.” Sometimes, you can’t say “No”. That sucks. It happens. And, in many ways, that ability comes from the specifics of your situation. You can’t always say: “No, I’m not going to work as much.” if your financial outlook doesn’t allow it. You might say, instead: “No, I’m not going to stay in this job forever.” And then make a plan to find a new job, knowing it might take a while.

I think of the word “No” visually sometimes, too. For every affirmation or “Yes” you commit to, your proverbial well keeps filling up and up and up, until it’s overflowing. The only way to get the water back down to manageable levels, is to take a “Yes” away. Sometimes, that’s what a “No” does. It removes something you don’t need, so you can replace it with something you do. In my case, for example, I knew my manuscripts required a lot of focus, so I decided to say “No” to social media until I met those deadlines and wrangled them. It also means, however, that the time I spend around friends and family will be more valuable, because I’ll be hearing what folks are up to for the first time.

Your mileage will vary, of course. My point here is simply this: you aren’t selfish for saying “No.” Sometimes, that’s exactly what you need to do, in order to grow.

Mood: Yeah, it’s been a week. A BUSY WEEK!
Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Two. I “think” I have it under control?
Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: Walking, walking, housework.
In My Ears: Mind-numbing coffee house music oldies.
Game Last Played: Pokémon Go – Halloween Event!
Book Last Read: Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai
Movie/TV Show Last Viewed: Assassin’s Creed Um…
Latest Artistic Project: Make Art Not War Challenge eBook now available!
Latest Releases: Over the Edge for Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition, Dagger of Spiragos for Scarred Lands.
Current State of Projects: Read my latest project update. New project update coming when I get time.

New Podcast Episode! Originality No 12: Writing is Time Travel

Originality Podcast

Hello! I am pleased to announce that I’m on a podcast called Originality, hosted by K. Tempest Bradford and Aleen Simms. What is Originality?

“The most common question creative people get asked is, “Where do you get your ideas?” That’s what Originality is all about: exploring the wheres, hows, and whys of creative genius with K Tempest Bradford, Aleen Simms, and a diverse assortment of guests from a variety of fields.”

I guest star on Episode 12: Writing is Time Travel, and talk about RPGs–and so much more! Join us, and check out this nifty little podcast!

Dreaming for Hope and Destinations

Make Art Not War Challenge October 2017

This month’s theme for my Make Art Not War Challenge is SELF-CARE, and today I want to talk about the importance of having dreams. First, some background.

If you’ve been following my blog, you know that I tend to err on the practical side. I often use key markers to focus on the work, because the emotional aspects of the job can derail my productivity–and they have. Beyond dealing with rejection, when you work freelance there are a number of things that can and will go wrong. Sometimes, despite all your planning, the cardboard house you’ve built falls apart–and now you’ve got more work to do, because you’re busy picking up the pieces.

Here’s what I’ve learned: though not everything will go your way, it’s healthy to recognize and mitigate that to a point. But, it’s also important to have dreams that you pin your hopes on. Otherwise, you’ll be sitting around waiting for the proverbial shoe to drop, wondering when something else is going to happen. As my friend Meredith would say: “Trust”. We can, and do, learn by our experiences, but I’ve found we also condition ourselves and add a thin (or thick) veneer of expectations that color our views.

Yes, it’s true, there are systemic issues that impact your chances of success; any industry filled with people will have them. At the same time, I’ve found that your personal mindset can influence what happens next. If you work on a project, for example, convinced you’ll be rejected or fired, then you’re in danger of sabotaging yourself. Even if you do so subconsciously, keep in mind that most people are very, very smart. While it’s true they may not vocalize their feelings, they make judgements just as much as you do. That said, I do feel we should be helping each other, but the entertainment industry is extremely competitive and often based on what you’ve done as opposed to your potential. Still, I believe you’ve got to find a way to say “Yes!” to yourself, and let that feeling, that emotion pass through everything you do. Success, in other words, often breeds more success. Only, that “overnight success” story you hear about? It’s not uncommon for that moment to be the culmination of ten or twenty years of hard work. Sometimes, all you need is a chance.

Doing the work is the only means of moving forward as an artist. I’ve said it a thousand times, and I’ll say it again: you can network all you want, but if you can’t produce it doesn’t matter who you’re friends with. Even so, luck and timing are uncontrollable. You can help yourself mitigate all the bad stuff, and position yourself for good things to happen by doing one thing: dream.

Creative Challenge: Dream a Little Dream

Dreaming is an act of self-care, because without hope–or a reason to write, paint, draw, etc.–we don’t have anything to look forward to. We don’t have something positive to offset the bad. You need that emotion, even when your situation feels dire, because it can serve as fuel for your inspiration and future self.

[That said, if you’re already dreaming about what you want to do? Don’t forget you can get stuck in the dream, and never write. That’s partly why people are wary of those who talk about writing and business plans and social media followers and such. There’s so many who simply talk and don’t write.]

So that’s my challenge to you today: DREAM. What good things would you like to happen in your career? What do you really want? Describe them. Write them down in a letter to your future self, or scribble a list on a sticky note. Put a reminder everywhere you need to see it, or tape it to your monitor. It can be big, small, modest, or bold–but be specific. It’s your dream. What do you want? Get that vision clear in your mind, and you’d be surprised how your focus will shift in a good way.

If you’re lost or stuck, please know that it does take a lot of energy to steer your proverbial boat if you feel you’re headed in the wrong direction. Dreams are a tool that can help you, because they allow you to choose where you want to go. How you’ll get there, if you’ll ever reach your destination… That’s all part of the journey.

Your journey. Your dreams.

Good luck!

Mood: It’s Monday. Engage cyber-meeting mode.
Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Uh, enough I was up super late.
Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: Walking, walking, sitting.
In My Ears: P!nk’s new album Beautiful Trauma
Game Last Played: Pokémon Go
Book Last Read: Loads for work. Loads. LOADS MORE. MOAR.
Movie/TV Show Last Viewed: The Magnificent Seven YUS!
Latest Artistic Project: Make Art Not War Challenge eBook now available!
Latest Releases: Over the Edge for Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition, Dagger of Spiragos for Scarred Lands.
Current State of Projects: Read my latest project update. New project update coming when I get time.

Next Posts

Looking for Monica’s books and games that are still in print? Visit Monica Valentinelli on Amazon’s Author Central or a bookstore near you.


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