Mind of the Beast

An Uncharted Path from Dixie Cup Baby to Novelist

A friend in high school once called me “the exception to the rule” because I tend to travel the uncharted path or walk it sideways. 

Maybe it’s because I was born with a cleft palate and drank from a Dixie cup instead of a bottle. Usually newborns are fed with a lamb’s nipple, but my mouth was too small and I almost starved to death.

I had a cleft palate, not a cleft lip. Put your tongue at the top of your mouth. That’s how I put my tongue in my nose. According to the CDC, 1 in 1,700 babies are born with a cleft palate. 

Not all cleft palates are able to be repaired. I was fortunate though. 

In my case, the doctors took bone from my hip and built my palate. My hip bone (well, part of it) is connected to my jaw bone. It looks normal, albeit it’s narrower than most palates. The only time I notice it is when it becomes tender when I have a bad cold.

As you can see, I had to live creatively from birth to survive. I still do.

This paradigm has helped me throughout my life, especially when I started the publishing company Middark Press to “self- publish” Demon Dance. Usually self-publishing a book requires you to write a book. In my case, it was an anniversary present for my husband, Brian. 

The Vacation that Changed Everything

My husband, Brian is the design director and voice over director at Steel Wool Studios. He started his career at Interplay back in 1994 with his first video game, Fallout. He also wrote and designed Ozaria, a game that teaches middle school students how to code in Python and JavaScript. His latest game, Five Nights at Freddy’s: Security Breach, came out last December. 

But the game industry is volatile. Interplay, Midway, and THQ were multimillion dollar companies that had been around for decades. They all went out of business.

It was January 2013. We were visiting friends and family in Southern California when Brian got an email from Disney letting him know they were extending his vacation while they determined the future of Junction Point Studios.

Over the next few days, 3 of our friends who didn’t know each other said to Brian, “I’m worried about your job. Don’t put your eggs in the game industry basket. Why don’t you self publish your book, Demon Dance?”

Demon Dance was an urban fantasy Brian had been shopping around. He wrote it when we lived in Bellevue, Washington. One day as he passed by the Fremont Troll in Seattle back in 2004, he thought, “What if supernatural creatures’ reality was based on popular belief?”

There are people in your life that when they give advice, you pay attention. When three of them say pretty much the same thing and don’t know each other, you start planning.

On the flight back home, Brian looked over to me and said, “Do you think we got hit over the head by God?” 

“Yep. I think we should do it.”

By the time we landed in Austin, Texas, Brian was worried about how long it would take him to get another job if Disney closed the studio.

I was worried too, but I’ve never been one to let obstacles prevent me from doing what I think was right. Sometimes the best things in life come from traveling in uncharted territory. As soon as I weighed the risks of self publishing Demon Dance against the rewards, I knew it was a no brainer.

So, once we got our bags unpacked, I put my arms around Brian and said, “Our anniversary is at the end of the month. I’m publishing Demon Dance for you. Happy anniversary!”

The Birth of Middark Press

I’m grateful for three unique inventions. The Dixie cup, Print on Demand, and the Kindle were true game-changers for me. The Dixie cup saved my life. Print on demand and the Kindle gave me the opportunity to venture into the uncharted territory of self-publishing. 

I could hire editors to make sure the story, word usage and grammar were correct and a cover artist to make it stand out on a shelf. Amazon would print them out on demand and distribute the print version and ebook for me.

Before I hired editors and cover artists, I studied every best-selling urban fantasy book I could find, both Print and ebook. I deconstructed everything from the cover of the book to what font they used to the tone of the author bio and how they wrote their book description.

I look at other self-published authors as allies instead of competitors, seeing what they did successfully and sharing my experience.  Alliance of Independent Authors help self-published authors publish their books and have a great Facebook group for members to help each other.

I edited Demon Dance until I thought it was done, and then I hired editors. Reedsy.com has the same editors, cover artists, and other help as the traditional publishers do. You can hold yourself to the same standards as the big publishers for much less than you think.

On April 22, 2013 Middark Press published the paperback version of Demon Dance on Amazon. Six months later, we launched the Kindle version.. 

The Making of Mind of the Beast

Months later, while I was editing the next book in the series, Mind of the Beast, I discovered a major story hole. It was going to need a rewrite, but Brian had just started working at Xaviant as their lead story designer and didn’t have the time. 

With Brian’s long hours we asked ourselves a question most sane couples wouldn’t dare. Was it possible to write together without killing each other? Growing up in an environment where babies are fed with Dixie cups to keep them alive, I was just crazy enough to find out. 

Writing with Brian was the best decision I ever made. We discovered new things about each other, Brian’s great at plot development and descriptive scenes while I enjoy dialog and action scenes. 

Brian and I have done everything together since 1990. There is hardly anything either of us has done without the other supporting them or partnering. I’ve been brainstorming problems about game design and writing with Brian since 1994 and he’ll read this essay. 

For the next week, we came up with a new story for Mind of the Beast that kept 80% of Brian’s original draft. 

I managed to write in Brian’s voice. It was easier than I thought it would be. As I wrote, I pretended I was playing Brian as a character in a roleplaying game for the narrator and then changed characters to the character I wrote for.

Brian and I have our own characters. One of mine is a RPG playing vampire named Felix who works in the morgue and recently stopped drinking blood from heroin addicts. He’s neurotic but loyal. There’s not much he won’t do for a friend.

I became a published author on August 14, 2014. It just goes to show, when you travel down an uncharted path, you never know how things will turn out. 

Because, who would have thought that my cleft palate would help me start a publishing business, and finally, become a published author. 

What would you become if only you would take the uncharted path?

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