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It’s funny, the things that set us off. Make us angry. Incense and offend us.

(Note: The following is not even remotely politically correct. In fact, in a way, it’s a furious response to rampant and out of control political correctness.)

For many years, I played various tabletop RPGs; from my earliest experiences with TSR’s Dungeons and Dragons (thank you, cousin Seth!) through my years-long infatuation with Palladium Games’ Rifts setting, through a brief encounter with White Wolf/Black Dog’s World of Darkness and H.O.L. settings, several ferociously furious encounters with the Shadowrun games, many second string and offshoot games that lots of gamers never even heard of (Gamma World, Ghostbusters International, Arcanum), and finally into the twilight of my gaming career as I’ve been increasingly unable to find good local gaming groups…online MMORPGs.

(A pale comparison there…I’ve never played an MMO that lived up to the potential of tabletop games…but I’ve made some good friends while playing them. And in the end, that’s all that matters.)

I’ve picked up copies of second and third-party game expansions (the Book of Vile Darkness was particularly disturbing), and read some pretty spectacularly weird fan-written game expansions for many of these settings. Some of a very mature nature, if you take my meaning. And while I never found a way to work them into an actual game (thank goodness), they provided me with amusing reading and I never found any of them particularly off-putting.

Throughout all of this – and to this day in MMOs – I have always preferred to play female characters. The best explanation I can offer as to why is that I have enjoyed the challenge of playing against type and trying to get into the head of a female character. You’ll find that in my writing, as well…with only one or two exceptions, my protagonists are female (and many of my antagonists).

I don’t do it because I feel any particular need to provide the literary community with “female characters who are strong in spite of being female” (I don’t remember who said that to me, but it kind of defines in a single sentence everything that’s wrong with that line of thought). I do it because I enjoy playing and writing female characters. Like I said…it adds to the challenge. Not because it’s hard to write a strong female character – it isn’t – but because I’m not female. It broadens the horizons, if you will.

All that out of the way…I have never in all my years of gaming sat at a table or joined an online group who found it in any way weird or offensive that I was a man playing female characters. Nobody ever said “You can’t do that” or questioned my motives for doing so. I’ve had a few people question my sanity…but not specifically for that reason (and I’ve questioned my sanity myself on a few occasions…so it’s fair).

So I find it spectacularly offensive that the most recent edition of Dungeons & Dragons felt it necessary to include rules for playing other genders in games, and felt it necessary to include the following paragraph in a core rule book:

“You don’t need to be confined to binary notions of sex and gender. The elf god Corellon Larethian is often seen as androgynous or hermaphroditic, for example, and some elves in the multiverse are made in Corellon’s image. You could also play a female character who presents herself as a man, a man who feels trapped in a female body, or a bearded female dwarf who hates being mistaken for a male. Likewise, your character’s sexual orientation is for you to decide.”

I’m sorry…Is that really necessary? Are there so many game masters out there who find such a thing offensive that it became vital for rules on such things to be included? Is there some reason why doing so should give your character benefits or penalties above and beyond “Human,” “Elf” or “Dwarf” racially-speaking?

I simply do not understand why this has become an issue. Like I said, I’ve never met a gamer who felt that such a choice had a major impact on playing the game, beyond how the player chose to play their character during role-playing moments. And, I thank goodness for this, I’ve never had the misfortune to rub elbows with someone who found such things offensive.

So yes…I’m kind of irritated that ‘gender issues’ have become so prevalent in modern society. You can feel you’re a girl trapped in a guy’s body, or a girl who identifies more strongly with being male, or whatever you want. It’s none of my business. I do not care. It doesn’t affect my life in any way, shape, form or manner. It doesn’t lessen me in any way, and it doesn’t lessen you in any way.

We are what we are, no matter what that is…as long as what you are isn’t hurting other people, why should I object? If you’re expecting me to…well, sorry to disappoint you. I do not care. I’m not going to make fun of you, tell you to go away, or even feel uncomfortable around you. I’m comfortable with myself…if you’re not comfortable with yourself, that’s your problem, not mine.

You thinking that you need to make it my business offends me more than anything else. So please…stop rubbing my nose in it.

Ask Alys – 6/15/14

Mandy asks: What do you like to do in your spare time? It seems that you are on cases, learning or training a lot. In the last book, you went on a few dates with Ben…but other than that, what interests you that isn’t in a way related to your work?

Alys: I’m studying to be a professional wizard. That has a tendency to eat up time like you wouldn’t believe. The end result is not having much spare time for hobbies.

Athena: Or sleep, sometimes.

Alys: Too true. That said…the best thing about studying to be a wizard is how spectacularly multidisciplinary a field it is. Since I began my apprenticeship with Jonathan Tremane, I’ve studied – in addition to the Art of spellcasting – an incredibly wide variety of subjects, including psychology and sociology, comparative religion and mythology, chemistry, physics, woodworking and metalsmithing, law and history.

Jonathan assures me that if I decided to sit for exams at Oxford or Cambridge, I could get degrees in at least half of those. Frankly, I don’t doubt it…while my peers were in grammar school, I was already studying college-level material.

Unfortunately, that means that the worst thing about studying to be a wizard is that everything you do is eventually related to your work in some way or another. Whether you mean it to be, want it to be, or not. For example: I’ve been playing the Celtic Flute (a wooden flute with a lovely, rich sound) since I was a little girl. At first, I did it because I thought that learning an instrument of some sort would help me be accepted by the other kids. I stuck with it because I enjoy the discipline of it, and because it’s very relaxing to let myself go in the music.

I’m not professionally good, but I get by without making people wince.

Imagine my surprise when I learned that some species of supernatural predators can be calmed and lulled into sleep through the proper application of music. I have no doubt that sooner or later, playing the flute will come in handy in my work. In the meantime, it’s a lovely hobby.

What else? I read voraciously (obviously), and I have a fondness for Breton poetry (the works of T.S. Elliot and Robert Browning are amongst my favorites) and mysteries. Conan Doyle is a special favorite.

I also love going to the theater, be it for concerts, musicals or plays. And I’ve been known to go to the occasional film, though I find the tendency of movie theater owners to turn up the sound to deafening levels rather annoying.

Athena and Ben have been conspiring recently to get me out of the house as often as possible, and not just for work. But we lead busy, active lives, and our schedules don’t always mesh. Fortunately, I love what I’m doing…and as the saying goes, if you love what you’re doing, it doesn’t feel like work.

I’m not even all that popular or well-known yet, and I’ve already had a few people ask me the question all authors dread…”Where do you get your ideas?”

I could steal a joke from an author (I wish I could remember who) that I read years ago and claim that I get my ideas from a P.O. Box in Schenectady, NY. “Only $19.95 will get you a dozen top-quality ideas that you can use to produce your very own stories! Checks, Money Orders and Paypal accepted, no credit cards.”

If only it were that easy. :-D

I could talk about how my ideas are drawn from experiences in real life. The plot ideas are drawn from news items and things I read online, the characters from people I’ve met, and so on. But since I’m writing urban fantasy, that’s a little bit of a cop-out. Sure, the plot of Alys helping track a kidnapper (for example) and the details of the kidnapping could have been drawn from something that I read about which really happened…but magic certainly wasn’t used to find them, and there weren’t real monsters involved.

Okay, there probably were…but human monsters, not supernatural ones. You know what I mean.

I could talk about my inspirations: The different authors I love to read, the TV shows, movies and anime I’ve consumed over the years. All of them helped shape my imagination, and I have no doubt that some of my ideas come from there.

The truth of the matter is, I don’t precisely know where my ideas come from. My subconscious is a minefield, and I never know what sort of mine I’m going to step on when I go poking through it. Sometimes it’s not even that clear cut. There have been times when I’ve woken up in the middle of the night with an idea that I absolutely have to get out of my head and onto paper. That’s why I kept a pad and pen by my bed for years, until my iPad took their place (thank you, Apple).

Sometimes, the next morning, I don’t even remember waking up and writing the idea down. A lot of the time they’re fragments, disjointed bits of imagery or pieces of a scene. Quite often, they have no bearing on whatever my current project is.

Fortunately, I’m a long-time fan of Stephen King, and remembered him saying (I believe it was in the forward to The Gunslinger, or possibly in Danse Macabre or On Writing) that the first line of The Gunslinger was written twenty years before the rest of the book. As I recall the story – I should have gone hunting for it before writing this – he pinned the scrap of paper it was written on to his bulletin board and swore that something would someday come out of it. That scrap of paper, the story went, travelled with him from home to home over the years, until one day the rest of the story started to take shape.

I have two bulletin boards today; one is a physical one, covered with pieces of paper with little scraps of ideas, some as small as a single sentence, some several pages long; the other is a digital one, stored in a Scrivener file and backed up religiously.

So…where do my ideas come from? The deepest, darkest corners of my mind. I don’t always understand them, I don’t always know what brought them about…but I know they’ll all come in handy. Sooner or later.