Before I came home from my first tour of combat in Iraq, the chaplain counseled us to have no expectations when we get back. He explained that just as we might have expectations of our family members—children running to our arms, wives (I was in an all-male reconnaissance unit) eager to show their husbands how much they missed them, finally getting to spend some quality alone time and picking up where we left off—our families have expectations as well—they want to show us how much they love us, maybe with a surprise party (probably not the greatest idea for a returning combat veteran), or an extended family and friends gathering, etc. But there’s one key thing that none of us had thought about, that one thing that made us all say “Aaaaaaaaah…” and nod as comprehension seeped into our minds—we’d been gone for a year, and they’d learned to live with our absence; we had to reintroduce ourselves to each other. Then the chaplain, seeing the grief in our wartorn faces, said something that has had a profound impact on my life:
“No expectations, no frustrations.”
And so, with the same no expectations attitude, I walked into Starbucks (Borders had closed, a true loss to humanity) and met with Lisa.
And I failed.
I couldn’t help but think that she’d have that motherly look of concern that said, “I need to tell you something you don’t want to hear, but I’m going to it with a sweet voice and kind smile”. She was going to tell me that I was good, just not good enough, and that maybe I should think of writing as more of a hobby.
“You are so talented,” she said, after I sat. “You really have a natural gift. You really do.”
“But you need some work,” she replied with a disarming smile.
She was right, of course. Up until that point, I’d mostly written D&D campaigns and philosophical essays. My experience with fantasy resided in reading.
There is a learning curve with any new craft, and I knew that I was still at the bottom of that curve. I also knew that it was only a matter of time before I found the groove and started to make my way out of it. Lisa and I had decided that we would get one chapter to a finished product, so I could see the editorial process and learn from it. You can find the finished product here: Age of Darkness
If you’ve never played D&D, you really haven’t lived. In the game, you create a character, and that character performs tasks, completes missions, and hacks/burns/stabs opponents to gain experience. With enough experience, your character gains in level and becomes more powerful.
After that meeting with Lisa, I felt like I’d gained a level.