The Hero's Quest

For a dear friend, for Christmas.

The hero had a name, once. He quickly forgot it.

He woke in a field, head and heart and lungs heavy with the scent of flowers, of every kind of flower that grows in full sun. Petals pursed like lips to greet him, their whispered welcome bidding him tread softly. And so he took off his boots, savored one last tinkling of the bells threaded through the laces before he dropped them on the ground. He had loved that sound, once.

He quickly forgot it.

From the field into a wood he wandered and there the beasts spoke to him.

“A hero must have a quest,” said a buck, horns swinging with every word. “What is yours?”

“I don’t know,” the hero answered.

“A hero must seek knowledge,” murmured a hare, back paws pounding. “Where will you look?”

“I’m not sure,” the hero answered.

“A hero must be certain in all things,” a falcon cried, wings slicing the air as it alighted on a branch above. “How will you proceed?”

The hero didn’t say anything this time but studied his surroundings: the forest path beaten beneath his bare feet, the moss-furred trees, the little mushrooms that sprouted at their bases, red and white caps like heads nodding. He tried to remember how’d he come to be there, what he’d meant to do, but his mind felt only hours old. There was the field, the flowers. The smell of earth and the sound of bells.

And then there was something else, something hidden and nearly forgotten. There was a face and a pair of sparkling eyes beneath pitch-dark brows. There was a laugh like a bell but deeper, the kind of joy that stakes itself in the ground, a ward against sadness.

“I am going to find the princess,” the hero said, because every quest has a princess, he thought. She must belong to this one.

The buck and the hare and the falcon all inclined their heads toward him, and then as one looked down the forest path. They did not need to tell him the way would be hard. It was a quest. All ways are hard.

In the forest the hero encountered goblins and kobolds and trolls and orcs and spiders as large as three men. With the buck’s aid, he drew a sword from a boulder to slay them.

In the valley beyond he met with tricksters and thieves and liars and great temptation. With the help of the hare, he outsmarted them.

In the mountains at last he fought wights and ghosts and the shadows of all the things he feared the most. The falcon flew to him and cried courage from every peak, until at last the hero fell to his knees before the gates of a shimmering palace. The stones that made up its walls seemed in one light to be made of silver, another of gold or diamonds. The hero, weary from his trials, could only bow his sorry head when a pair of soft-booted feet approached. Gloved hands took his elbows and drew him up.

“I am glad you are here,” the princess said, eyes merry, teeth flashing. “I’ve been so bored and you look like you have a story to tell.”

The hero looked at the princess. He knew her and he didn’t know her. Her voice was familiar but her hair wasn’t right. If he closed his eyes he imagined the giddy shake of her head stirred feathers, not curls.

“I do,” the hero replied. “I do have a story.”

“Then come in and tell me,” said the princess, still smiling, still a little wrong. “We have plenty of time.”

The hero had a concept of time, once, of the brevity of his life and the rich joys he’d filled it with. He wanted to tell the princess of fires and songs and sweetness on the tongue. But this was a forgetting that had taken time. This forgetting was a quest.

So with their feet on cobbles radiant as pearls, her attentions and the thrill he felt with her hand in his, he forgot.

He forgot completely.

I Love Monsters

There was a werewolf used in some promotion when I was kid in the mid-eighties. I don’t know what he was for, only that there was a towering and rather terrifying cardboard stand-up at the grocery we visited. He loomed over my younger brother and I, hawking fear and maybe Dr. Pepper. I was both fascinated and repulsed, my whimsy and my good sense warring for control of my response to this menacing figure.

My parents didn’t help.

They told my brother and I we had to behave or the werewolf would visit us on Halloween night. I’m sure now that they were joking in the same way that my husband and I chuckle over things with our girls before we remember that sarcasm isn’t something they’ve quite figured out yet. Our oldest daughter has taken to repeating something I tell her when her dad says something particularly terrible:

“You’re not telling the truth.”

But for my brother and I, my parents were providing us with intelligence on how to avoid a potential encounter with that cardboard monster’s real-life counterpart. And I remember being scared, but also deadly curious.


In the same way that I would later be enchanted with High Spirits, with the skeletal transformation of The Grateful Dead, Are You Afraid of the Dark? and with tearing my way through every Goosebumps book I could get my hands on, this werewolf was irresistible. I loved the feeling of being scared, and even as a six-year-old there was something weirdly attractive about scary things. I remember admiring my reflection in the rear window of my dad’s Z28, my brother and I laying in the back in our Halloween costumes after trick or treating at a local mall. I was painted up as a witch, my green face looking back at me with the moon beyond it like something out of a fiction.

I know I’m supposed to be scared, and of the truly monstrous, I am. But those aren’t usually the sorts of ghouls that haunt the stories I like. I’ll always cower a little before those creatures that sometimes surprise me with a hidden intelligence or human-like flaws, who do so without giving up any of their weirdness – but I won’t be able to walk away.

The Kapellbrücke

About a week before my husband and I got engaged, we were walking at dusk in St. Peter, in Germany, in the Black Forest. A cover band was playing Creedence Clearwater Revival at a lakeside festival, and I remember thinking how strange it was to hear pitch-perfect Southern rock interspersed with audience banter in German.

I remember stopping my then-boyfriend, holding his hands, his arms, his waist, and looking into his eyes.

“This is the time,” I said, and we both knew what time I meant. I was ready to be married, to be planning to be married. We’d been together for six years. It was July and his brother had gotten engaged the previous Christmas to his longtime girlfriend. I’d cried, happy for them and maddened for myself. I’d told him that it seemed like everyone knew what they wanted except for him.

He didn’t propose beside that lake. He waited, because he’d been waiting that entire three-week sojourn in Germany following my graduation, an engagement ring secreted away in a contact lens case in his backpack. He had a plan, because my husband always has a plan.

When we first began dating, we talked about Germany a lot. He’d spent a year there after high school, living with a host family and working in a hotel as part of an international program. I’d never been out of the country but it was something I’d always dreamed of doing. We spent a lot of time in coffee houses, where he was particularly fond of telling me stories about adventures he and his friend, another fella named Michael, would go on. Once they went to Lucerne, Switzerland, and drank hot chocolate in a café before a picturesque window with a view of the snow-capped Alps. I heard the story so many times I felt like I’d been there myself, for want of having been there myself.

So naturally, when we planned our trip to Germany, we aimed to pass through Lucerne and fly out of Geneva. We spent a day walking all over the old town walls and along the river with that very same friend, who now lived in Lucerne, crossing the medieval Chapel Bridge twice. The second time over the bridge he stopped us partway through. He didn’t get down on one knee, but what he did do was flash me a terrified grin and work his way through a series of sentiments that led to his asking me to marry him and me immediately bursting into ugly tears, shocked, and burying my head in his shoulder, ruining the photograph he’d asked his friend to take. I said yes, of course.


We were married a little over a year later, and nine years ago exactly, today.

He told me later that the reason we’d walked all over Lucerne that day was because he was trying to find that café because he wanted to propose there, to have our own memory to talk of in that place where he had such a fond memory of his own. It’s the sort of thing that’s so like him: surprisingly, endearingly sentimental, even whimsical, for a man who often claims he isn’t, a man that I’ve loved for so long for knowing his own heart - even when I’m arguing that maybe he doesn’t.


Here is a thing I am glad of: that it wasn’t the time, by that lake. That there was a time already ahead of us, just waiting.

Here is a thing I hope: we have a whole lot more.

I Dream of Dragon Con - Again

It’s that time of year when, despite the looming insanity of the holidays, I’m still near enough to my Dragon Con high to start thinking about what I’ll cosplay next year and fooling myself into thinking I’ll start sewing before February. And, despite the fact that I had more costumes than I could even wear this past year, I’m plotting three new ones.

My bestie had such a stellar time participating in the elf choir and the lantern procession this year that I’ve got to join her. After briefly flirting with the idea of cosplaying Merrill from Dragon Age II, I’ve decided I need to return to my roots. Or, more accurately, my first real fandom, and make use of the Lord of the Rings-themed sewing patterns that have been languishing uncut in my collection for more than ten years. While her velvet gowns are breathtaking, I’ve decided that Arwen’s grey riding dress from the flight to Rivendell is where it’s at – bonus, I get a sword.

Arwen Chase.jpg

If you’re still sore about her taking over this scene from Glorfindel, come at me. Of the many things I appreciate about the film series is the agency Peter Jackson gave Tolkien’s female characters, especially Arwen and Galadriel.

Scarlet Witch.jpg

I missed my excellent MCU pals at the parade this year, and while I’ve typically marched as Peggy Carter, I’m ready to change it up in 2019. I’d like to do Scarlet Witch, and I definitely want my hands to glow with some potent energies. I’ll probably model my cosplay based on some earlier iterations of her costume, unless her look in the as-yet-untitled Infinity Wars sequel is too good to pass up and/or not beyond my skill level.


And finally, inspired by an adorable cosplay I saw at the Cincinnati Comic Expo this past weekend, I’d like to cosplay Sophie from the end of Howl’s Moving Castle. I also plan to make a glowing Calcifer to float in my hands, likely using similar construction to however I’ll get Wanda’s hands to glow. Double the opportunity to play with LEDs, naturally.

We’ll see if all of these happen. It occurs to me that I’m now planning on every single cosplay next year including a wig - and I really, really, really hate wigs. Maybe I’m just not wearing them correctly?

Or maybe I have an overly sensitive head.

It’s probably that.

Dragon Con is for Dancing Andorians

This past year was my fifth Dragon Con, and absolutely the best one yet. At the very least, it’s the first year whose awesomeness warrants calling out my top five moments.


After seeing a post on Facebook about a Romulan winning the Miss Star Trek Universe Pageant in a previous year, I wondered if I hadn’t been wrong to avoid the pageant given I’d assumed it was, basically, pageantry. And it was. But it was nerdy pageantry, which means it’s amazing. This year one of the contestants was the daughter of the black slime that killed Tasha Yar and they crowned an Andorian whose talent was doing the Vote for Pedro dance from Napoleon Dynamite. I will never miss this again.

I went to Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog: The Musical, Live & Onstage for the first time, and was just absolutely delighted with the energy and enthusiasm from the cast and from the audience. I guess this was the first time they’ve actually performed, rather than just sung along, and I’d go see it again in a heartbeat.


I have marched in the Dragon Con Parade every year and there’s such an outpouring of love and good vibes that I can’t miss it – even when it means getting up really early after dancing much too late. This year I marched as Miss Frizzle from The Magic School Bus, which meant there were a lot of smiling faces approximately my age shouting about field trips and also the cutest kids ever holding out their hands for high fives. Best moment was when I encountered a tiny Miss Frizzle and nearly cried, she was so cute and I missed my own girls so much.

Parties at Dragon Con are, at least for me, hit or miss. But this year I joined friends at the Yule Ball and had an absolute blast. The music was the perfect blend of cheesy and dancey and the crowd was full of witches and wizards. What’s not to love?


When I learned that Mira Furlan was going to be at the con this year, I knew I had to make an effort to get to one of her panels – and I managed through sheer luck and stubbornness to end up in the front of the Babylon 5: 25th Anniversary Media Panel, close enough to appreciate all of Furlan’s and Walter Koenig’s shared smiles. Hearing them talk about what it was like on set and how Furlan’s experiences with war informed Delenn’s character was just so special. The show has always felt deeply political to me, and when Furlan talked about “empathy and compassion” being what we’re missing most in our current social climate, and how these things aren’t feminine but belong to “all of us,” just. It was very, very cool and affirming.


Honorable mentions include getting to oh-so-briefly meet Travis McElroy and have his arm around my shoulder for a friend’s shared photo-op, and the Pawnee Goddess meet-up on Thursday evening. Treat yo’ self.

Also, Naomi Novik gave a reading of a work in progress and spoke about what it was like to write original fiction and fanfiction and, just, she’s perfect. She talked about how when she's writing the most, she's writing both, and that she'll take whatever comes out of the spigot. She's not going to shut it off because it's not what she's supposed to be working on. 


I wish I could just nap for six weeks or so and then do it all over again, but alas, we have to wait a whole year. Did you go? What was your best or favorite moment?

Slight Air and Purging Fire

I burned a story in a five-gallon bucket when I was 15.

I haven't thought about it in years, but a friend was talking with me about Eighth Grade and, apparently, it features a scene where the protagonist burns a box of her "hopes and dreams." I both really want to see this movie and really feel that I may, like my friend, cringe my way through the entire thing.

Because, that resonates.

When I was 15, I sneaked out of my house after dark with one of my mom's lighters, clutching eighty or so handwritten pages. I borrowed a bucket from my dad's work truck. I walked far enough away from our trailer that I wouldn't be seen and sat in our overgrown garden, haphazardly lighting the pages and dropping them into the bucket. I remember that I cried, or maybe forced myself to cry because it would be a more dramatic memory that way.

The next day I walked into the woods behind our trailer and found a good spot to bury the ashes and the pages that hadn't burned up entirely. I didn't dig too deep, but I still couldn't find the spot again when I went looking a few weeks later, convinced I'd made a huge mistake.


Years later when all of the feelings associated with why I'd burned the story had faded, I found a part of it that I had typed up to share with my best friend, probably in one of the many time capsules she and I created during a few impressionable summers. I rescued it. I treasured it.

I think I have it still.

Fellowship and Sisterhood

When I think about movies that have made an impact on me, there are plenty that I have loved. I watch them over and over again whether I’m feeling blue or otherwise; I recommend them madly to friends. But when I think about the word “impact,” the choice is pretty obvious.

I saw Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in the theater when it came out and was so hyped, but it was the trailer for a soon-to-be-released film that would eclipse my Hogwarts fervor for years to come: The Fellowship of the Ring.

I’d never read Tolkien, though I’d seen the 1977 The Hobbit a number of times as a child and recalled being mostly creeped out, though also not unreasonably delighted. But 2001 was well before the time when one could count upon a slew of nerd-centric films over the course of the year, so I was naturally into anything that promised elves on the big screen.

And how it delivered.

To this day I still get a chill when I hear Galadriel’s voice over the pitch-black opening title, and not just because the movie itself was a wonder. Because of Peter Jackson’s interpretation of Tolkien’s Middle-earth, I forged my first online identity and found friends in other cities and across the globe who are close to my heart even today.


Before social media, we were just social: we navigated impossible-to-follow AIM chats where everyone personalized their font and the color of their text, and we commented on every single blog entry on our platform of choice, Diaryland. We called ourselves the LOTR Sisters and we were online friends when online friends were still something parents didn’t necessarily know about. We were teenage girls from Ohio and Illinois and Texas and Louisiana and Arizona, we were from Malaysia and Singapore and Canada. We aspired to be a whole lot of things but mostly we just nerded out with each other, writing blogs and poorly photoshopping Tolkien-themed holiday cards. We tried to grow up without giving too much of our love of wonder away.

Today we are from even more places. We are engineers and librarians and photographers and actresses and writers and designers and creators and social workers and mothers and managers and educators. As I’ve gotten older I’ve come to revel in the power of the internet to connect like-minded folks, and feel pretty lucky that I got to experience that from a relatively young age – before it was a relatively common thing. Every time one of these gals shares something about her life, whether it’s a new baby or a new book, I smile, remembering how we came to know each other and how likely we are, still, to rise to the defense of our favorite elf or hobbit.  

Word Drops

When I think about my formative years, I think about crippling shyness, bad hair, worse poetry. What I couldn’t say out loud – which was a lot – I wrote and wrote and wrote. And I remember, too, making the conscious decision as a senior in high school that it was my writing that would define me. I claimed it when, in what seemed like the boldest of moves in my 18-year-old brain, I wrote and delivered a speech at our baccalaureate. And a big part of the reason why I owned my voice was because of my creative writing teacher, Ms. Calder.

She was a free spirit who wore fluid, printed tops and glass beads, who shared slide photographs of her trips to Egypt and Greece on the classroom’s overhead projector. She oversaw the regular publication of a collection of student writing, Word Drops in Literary Puddles, but mostly, she entrusted the bulk of the work to her most eager and interested students. And in my eleventh and twelfth grade years, that was me and one of my best friends.

Everyone in her writing classes had their work featured and it was our job to select from their submissions, to solicit a cover illustration and to design and layout each publication. There was a considerable amount of drama when someone turned in the lyrics to a Barenaked Ladies song, claiming it as their own, and when the just-right accompanying piece of clip art could not be found for my latest poem about heartbreak. Weren’t they all about heartbreak?

But Ms. Calder didn’t judge us as I fear I’d judge my melodramatic teenage self. She was patient, encouraging and had a wry, appreciative wit that I sometimes think was wasted on high school students. She regularly pressed us to submit our writing to a regional publication for student writers and celebrated with the class every time someone’s poem or short piece was selected for publication. When I graduated, she bought me a beautiful pen and a photo album. I still have the photo album but I’ve lost the note she’d tucked inside. I wish I could remember what it said.

Ms. Calder passed in 2013. I just learned that this morning, before I sat down to write this, to remember her and the ways she trusted me – taught me to trust myself.

She treated everyone like a writer before any of us were worth reading. It was a gift.

And so was she.

The Other Side

I feel like the next time I attend a conference or similar, I should put some sort of warning on my table. Something like, 'Painfully Awkward' or 'May Hug Without Warning.' I definitely hugged some readers and friends, new and old, at this year's Ohioana Book Festival. Thank you for humoring me, strangers.

But, I got to hang and chat with some incredible writers and book enthusiasts, and extol on the virtues of unapologetically messy first drafts while speaking on a panel with some fine fantasy authors. The questions were so smart and I feel like every time I have the chance to participate in something like this, I learn more about the craft of writing, and from just about everybody in the room.

It's strange, to sit on the other side of the table. I still remember attending a book festival and approaching from the aisle, eager to talk about books and writing and dreaming big about the publishing industry. I still do this every time I meet an author, honestly. And whether it's because I'll always be a reader first or because I've got a severe case of impostor syndrome or I'm just irrepressibly awkward, I don't know.

But once, many years ago when I came up to her after hearing her on a panel at Books by the Banks, Laura Bickle asked me about what I was writing and gave me her email address, later introduced me to a bunch of her friends writing in Columbus. And just a few weeks ago, we shared a table and gushed about books and it was the best. I still feel like the same person, still aspiring, always.

There was a young woman who stopped by our table at one point, asking about drafts and writing, and I answered her questions as best as I could. She came back a few minutes later and told me about what she's working on and said people have told her it's been done; she asked me, did I think she should keep writing it?

I said heck yes she should.

I told her, you have to write the story that you want to write. Everything's been done before, but it hasn't been done by you.

I wish now that I'd hugged her, too.