The Sights and Sounds of NaNoWriMo

The countdown to NaNoWriMo is picking up speed. Okay, so that’s a physical impossibility, but with only 12 days left, it does feel like the time I have left to get ready is dwindling more than I’d like.

While NaNo is so often seen as scary, panic-inducing mania, it’s good to remember the fun of the event. Today, I thought I’d share some of my favorite things about NaNo that don’t specifically relate to the writing itself.

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Fair warning: all of these involve the same over-excited, over-active Asian guy. It’s not that there aren’t other great NaNo-related songs or comics out there, but these are some of my favorites (for good reason).

NaNoToons: A webcomic about a group of characters who participate in NaNoWriMo. The comic runs daily throughout the month of November. Some years it starts partway through October so the story can ramp up before NaNo starts. I’ve seen no indication as to whether that will happen this year or not, but until it does start, you can catch up on the NaNoToons from previous years.

During November, you can check in every day to see the continuing adventures of the group as they eat their weight in chips, pass out early at the yearly overnight event, and write their way through November.

NaNo songs: There are a plethora of songs about NaNoWriMo on YouTube. One only need search for “nanowrimo songs” to find plenty of fun tunes. My favorites are in this playlist, or this site.

Songs about NaNo are great for hyping yourself up for the day’s writing or for playing over the next few weeks during your prep time.

NaNoMusical: Yes, it’s a musical about NaNoWriMo. And it’s one of my favorite things of all time. It’s a 6-part web series made by WE Tangent, with music by Debs & Errol. From the site itself: “NanoMusical follows Dale, a legend who has surpassed the 50,000 word count every year, and his three friends as they navigate their way through the exciting and often tumultuous month of November…with music.”

The musical came out in 2012, one episode per week from the days before NaNo started until the week after. I personally think that was the best way to watch it–spread throughout the event. However, as with binge watching on Netflix, it’s fully accessible now and can be watched all in a row. Still, if you watch the first episode and like it, you can use the following episodes as rewards for finishing certain milestones in your writing.

Do you have favorite NaNo-related songs or other fan creations like these? Are you already anxiously awaiting the start of this year’s NaNoToons? Is there a bit too much Errol in this post? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.

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My NaNoWriMo

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I am going to do something a little different with this post than I normally do. Not that talking about my writing is all that different, but I’ve never done so to this extent. As I prepare for NaNoWriMo and do my best to help others prepare, I have been purposely vague on my own history. I try not to spend too much time talking about my own writing, because that’s not the point of these NaNo prep posts.

I do post daily about the writing work I’ve done for the day, because this blog was originally intended to keep myself accountable. I’ve since expanded it into a place to share writing tips, but I still post at the end of every day in which writing work of some kind happened, to check in. However, they’re usually short posts with not much detail (or a bit of detail with no context).

Today, I am going to share my personal NaNo history. If you don’t really care about my personal NaNo history, I won’t be offended if you simply don’t read on. (I probably won’t even know.)

nanowinner07I first heard about NaNoWriMo on a forum for Ragnarok Online fanfiction. The moderator mentioned it, and I ran to go check it out. I decided immediately to join, even though it was already October. At the time, I had written a good amount of fanfiction for the aforementioned game, and was stalled on the 5th (and last) in a series of novella-length stories. I also had a brand new fic I wanted to work on, but needed to finish the other first. NaNoWriMo gave me a brand new motivation to push past the blocks. I was so excited, I didn’t even want to wait until November. So I started on October 21st and wrote for 30 days. I finished the book I’d been stuck on in short order and spent most of the month writing “Outcast.”

There was no region near me, so I was stuck in the “Indiana: Elsewhere” category, and most of the people were from way north or south of me. There was no real hope for much social interaction, but that didn’t bother me. I’m pretty terrified of people anyway.

I ended the month with 50,288 words, and though “Outcast” wasn’t finished, I did finish it within the next year. It’s still one of my favorite stories ever, and I can’t wait until it gets its turn at being re-set in the world of Pithea.

“Outcast” is a story about sin and redemption, losing everything to gain much more, and the nature of true friendship. More information about the story can be found here.

I skipped 2008. Though I agonized over my decision all month (or at least the first few weeks, until I decided it would be too late to start anyway), I’m pretty sure this was the point when I was starting to transition away from writing fanfiction, but couldn’t really move on from those stories.

nano_09_blk_participant_100x100_1.png In 2009, though, I was raring to go again. I had worked for several months on building a world in which I could set my fanfics–original, but still accommodating the stories I’d already written. With that new world in mind, I wrote “Pursuit of Magic.”

I’m pretty sure I was still in the Indiana: Elsewhere region, though I think I may have been a little involved in the region of a town not far from me too.

I wrote 22 words over the goal, finishing one day early. This time, I did actually write the end of the story. However, I had a lot of gaps in the last third of the story. A lot of areas that I hadn’t fleshed out and didn’t want to slow down to decide what should happen. Still, I had a final scene that I really loved, so that was something.

In 2010 and 2011, a combination of not having much inspiration in the fiction area and having a young child, while also homeschooling an older one, gave me enough reason to sit NaNo out. I wish now that I’d at least tried those years, as well as 2008. I didn’t really know back then how to generate ideas, so without any readily available, I truly didn’t think I could do NaNo.

2012-participantFollowing on the heels of two years off, 2012 was a rough one. The world I had started creating back in 2009 hadn’t worked out, and I’d officially decided that my fanfictions–the characters, plots, and future ideas–needed to be laid to rest. It was difficult, but I did have an idea for a new story. It wasn’t much of an idea, but I went with it. I don’t even remember if I had an outline, but I know the plot I had in mind didn’t extend very far. And during the month, I kept playing with the setting and changing things.

Fort Wayne, a city near me, had gotten its own region in (I think) 2010, so I had a region closer to home to join. I considered going to some events, but in the end, I was still too shy. I did join in on discussions on my region’s forum though.

It was messy, but I ended the month with 51,288 words, crossing the finish line on the 27th. I had barely any semblance of a story, and certainly not a full novel. I haven’t touched that story since then, as I’m quite sure I was forcing the idea anyway. If anything good came of that month’s writing, it was the understanding that I really need to plan more before November.

The best part about 2012 was that on the main NaNo website, there was a link to NaNoToons, a daily webcomic that runs during November (sometimes starting partway through October). And the day before November started, the guy who made the webcomic posted a link to the first episode of a musical he and some others had made about NaNoWriMo. By the end of the month, I was hooked on Debs & Errol and involved in a whole new world of geekiness, and the rest is history.

2013 NaNo Participant FB ProfileIn 2013, NaNoWriMo took on a new excitement for me. I had hit on a new idea for a story world that would work for my fanfictions. Instead of trying to simply alter the game world they’d been created in to make it original, yet similar, I realized it would be better to build a new world from the ground up. I started with one basic element around which I, along with my husband, have crafted the world that I use now. I spent a lot of the year figuring out how things would work, and how to fix problems in my existing stories to make the basic plots still work in the vastly different world.

From my fanfiction days, I had a core group of 5 stories (the series I mentioned back during the 2007 section). Most of the other plans I had, and many of the characters, stemmed from that series. So it was the first thing that needed to be converted to this new world. Originally, I really thought I’d just be able to go through and edit it to fit and to be one novel instead of 5 shorter stories.

Somewhere along the way, I realized how ridiculous that notion was. Not only was there too much that needed changing, but I had grown so much as a writer in the 6ish years since I’d written them. It was much smarter to rewrite completely. So I picked out what I wanted to keep and started plotting a new story. I boiled five 20k-30k word stories into one story in 4 parts. And then I proceeded to have the best November I’d had so far, writing what has since been titled “Pithea.”

I went to my first local event in 2013–the kickoff party. My husband went with me, and I got to meet some of the other Wrimos from my area. I kept thinking I’d get to a write-in, but it’s hard to get out alone with kids and a husband who works full time. Going to the kickoff was a huge step for me anyway.

I hit 50k words on Nov 14 that year, and ended the month with 90,228 words total. I chalked the amazing numbers up to having a lot planned for the story. I’d been working with these characters for almost 10 years, after all, and the story itself was a rewrite. The story wasn’t finished, but I wrote the rest over the next few months. In February 2014, I finished my first ever novel draft.

“Pithea” is the story of two teenagers who find their places in life while growing up in a world filled with Power and Madness. More information about the story can be found here.

2014-Participant-Facebook-ProfileThis brings us to last year. I went into November with a well-developed outline. I was writing a story that runs somewhat parallel to “Pithea,” with some characters and even a few scenes that coincide. I planned out 2014’s novel earlier in the year, while revising “Pithea,” so I knew for sure what the characters were up to when they showed up in “Pithea.”

Also, my 2014 novel was a rewrite of my 2009 novel. However, it was set in a different world from the one I’d tried to craft in 2009. Some basic mechanics were different enough that a lot of the plot had to be gutted and rebuilt. So though it’s a rewrite of very broad plot points, it was a vastly different story. Even the final scene from 2009 ended up needing rewritten, thus losing the big moment that I’d loved. By the end of the month, I had a finished draft of “Pursuit of Power.”

There was so much different about last year. I went to the kick-off party again, with my whole family. I joined a Skype group with other people from my region, where we proceeded to have word wars most of the month (my first word wars). I blogged about my progress every day, which was kind of fun–recapping the day’s story progress and how I’d fit the writing time into my day.

I broke my single-day word count record (which was probably in the area of 6000) with 10,516 words on the 15th. I also tried a challenge set forth on the forums to write 3k in 1 hour. I wrote a little over 3000, but I didn’t enjoy the experience. I crossed the 50k mark on November 12. At the end of the month, I weighed in with 107,234 words. 2014 is the first year I ever finished NaNo with a completed manuscript. Unlike its predecessor, “Pursuit of Power” was truly finished, without huge gaps of story that I’d have to fill in later.

“Pursuit of Power” follows Alexander Surett, who is messing with forces he doesn’t understand in an attempt to find the truth behind his father’s death. More information about the story can be found here.

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I always say I learn something new every year during NaNoWriMo. Some of it is about what to do, some about what not do to. I’m looking forward to seeing what I’ll learn this year, though I suspect a lot of that is already happening right now, with the series of blog posts I’ve been making about preparing for NaNo, and my own work to that effect.

There’s no reason to think that the virtual strangers who stop by my blog care to read so much about my past experiences with NaNoWriMo. I’ll be honest–part of me wonders if typing all of this wasn’t just a subconscious attempt at an ego boost (plus it was a lot of fun to reminisce about those years). Maybe it will provide some insight, excitement, or simply entertainment for someone though.

What is your history with NaNoWriMo? Do you love it or hate it? Feel free to share your own thoughts on the matter.

Toronto Trip Days 3 & 4, Escaping the Room and the Country

This is day 3 of my family’s trip to Canada to attend the farewell concert of Debs and Errol, a geek band from Toronto. For day 1, click here.

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Errol had informed us weeks in advance that while we were in town, we were welcome to attend their church. So Sunday morning, we planned to do exactly that. We woke up with enough time to get ready and go out for breakfast. We made sure to know what time to be back, so we could follow the others to the church. We got back from breakfast with what we thought was enough time, but there was a note on the door saying they had left and containing a simple map to the church. We headed there and found a place to park.

I was expecting a huge, fancy church. I can’t explain exactly why, but it might just be my automatic impression of any church I don’t know. It was a much smaller and more modest church than I’d expected. There were even fewer people in the congregation than our church has, and it’s a small church. When we got there, though, we didn’t see Errol’s family or the Laymans, who we knew were also going to the Elumirs’ house to follow Keren to church. Errol was there, having arrived early, because he was supposed to sing with the worship team that morning. There was some question about how that would work, though, as he had lost his voice by the end of the concert the night before.

Our family found an empty pew and sat down. Not too long later, Keren appeared next to us, saying she was glad we’d found the place. Apparently, when we stopped by the house and found the note, they had still been inside, but were about to leave. Which made us feel a little better, knowing we hadn’t been as late coming back from breakfast as we’d thought.

The service was a nice one. Logan and I both enjoyed the full band they had, and that one of the priests (we assumed it was a priest, but we’re not very knowledgeable about the Anglican church), in his full robes, was playing guitar in that band. When the kids in the congregation left for their own places, both of our kids were awkward and unsure about going. Keren took them both to their respective areas, so they could be with kids their own age.

After church was over, we gathered the kids and made plans to go for pho. I had mentioned that I’d like to do that while we were in town, because it’s something of a D&E universe running theme. Errol rode with us to direct us to the restaurant, while the Laymans drove behind us. Both ‘Manda and Debs joined us at the restaurant. Lena insisted on sitting by both of them, though that’s not how it worked out at first. Partway through the meal, though, as people finished eating, there was some moving of seats. Debs came to sit with Lena for a bit then. Similar to how Lena had been attached to ‘Manda already, she just loved Debs too. And Debs thought Lena was super cute too (more than once there was talk of eating Lena up).

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Hat courtesy of Brian Layman.

After lunch, those of us who had no prior commitments or need for a nap decided to stay in the area and walk around some–see more of the city. The Laymans, Debs, and our family started out toward a park Debs said had a nice view.

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There was a really nice sledding hill at the park, prompting Brian to lay down and have his kids push him down the hill. I don’t think it worked as well as he’d hoped.

After getting back to our vehicles, my family went back to Errol’s house. We relaxed there for a short time before it was time to head out again. We had plans to do an escape room. If you do not know what that is, it’s understandable. It’s basically a real-life adventure game with clues and puzzles to solve, in order to escape a room, within a time limit. I’m not sure how long ago he started doing them, but from the first time Errol talked about doing escape rooms, my husband Logan and I have been really intrigued by the idea. There aren’t many around here; the closest is maybe 3 hours away. So as soon as we started talking about visiting Toronto, where there are apparently dozens of escape rooms, we hoped we’d have a chance to go to one. Our biggest concern was that we have a 4-year-old who couldn’t come, and visiting another country wasn’t the best scenario for finding a babysitter. Fortunately, Keren was willing to watch her, and our 12-year-old who we could have brought, but thought it would be easier on our daughter if her brother was staying with her. In the end, it wouldn’t have mattered, as she was comfortable enough there to stay without any convincing.

Errol and ‘Manda (who has also done her fair share of escape rooms) planned for us to all go to LockQuest. So Keren drove us to the nearest subway station, and we made our way to our destination. LockQuest was above another business (I think a butcher shop), so we went up some narrow stairs and through a door. Inside was another group of room-escapers. We were at least fifteen minutes early. Fortunately, they were done and left as we came in. We were offered seats after hanging our coats on hooks throughout the entry room. We were to be joined by 4 of the 6 Laymans (they planned to drop their younger kids at the Elumirs’ house too) and by Debs, so we were waiting on them. While we waited, the two guys who run LockQuest gave us each small puzzles to solve, the type where you have to move metal pieces around to get a certain piece off, or others like it. We played with those for a while, some of us doing better with them than others. Also, Errol and ‘Manda introduced themselves and told them how many escape rooms they’ve each done. The guys in charge were very impressed.

Debs arrived first, and she was joined by a friend of hers named Dana. Then the Laymans came–all 6 of them. They’d run out of time to drop off the younger kids, so they brought them along. The kids were, I believe, in the 10-13-year-old range, so they weren’t so young that they couldn’t join in. Once everyone was there, it was time to get ready. The guys in charge went through the rules and a general idea of what we were to do and what we could expect. I’ll share the info about the room from the site itself, so I don’t give too much away:

You have one hour. He has all night.

From the moment you entered that apartment, something seemed off.  Now, you and the other book club members are locked inside, left with a sinister promise from your unhinged host that he’ll “be back in an hour.”

Can you sift through the pulp fiction novels, cryptic clues, and articles left behind by last week’s murdered members, to find the front door key and escape?

In Escape the Book Club Killer, you will be locked in a real apartment with up to eleven other players. You and your team must work together to communicate, exchange clues, and discover the secret to opening the front door.

Your challenge is to escape in one hour or less, before the Book Club Killer strikes again.  Pulsing with pulp and packed with puzzling props, Escape the Book Club Killer is a group experience you won’t soon forget!

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Yay, escape room comic!

 

They asked us to go around the room and share a skill we had that would be helpful if we were ever trapped in the apartment of a real serial killer. There were some normal answers and at least one absurd (“I can eat copious amounts of rice!” -Errol). My answer was that I’m so bad in high-stress situations, I’d probably just pass out, and he’d think I was already dead and leave me alone. After several reminders to go to the bathroom before we went in, it was time to start!

I’ll have to avoid details for the escape room, of course, but I will just say that it was insane, intense, a little chaotic, and tons of fun! There were definitely times that I felt I wasn’t really contributing much, and a few areas where I feel like I was a part of solving something. Given the opportunity, I would definitely do another one. As I understand it, not all of the escape rooms are done as well as LockQuest’s, but that makes it all the more awesome that our first experience was with them.

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And yes, we did escape, with maybe 5-6 minutes to spare!

Once we had escaped, we sat down in the entry room again, and talked for a while with the owners. They shared some past stories with us, and some of the characters they use to give hints. They talked about their “Overkeyer” system, which allows someone who has already done the room to bring people who haven’t back. Then the one who’s done the room can sit in the entry room and watch their friends try to solve the room via cameras, for free. If I lived in the area, I would be all over that. We talked for quite a while, which I assume was only possible because we were the last booking of the day. Then we left and got ready to head back to Errol’s house. Aware that it would probably be the last time we’d see the Laymans and Deb, I started to say goodbye to Debs. She said she (along with her friend Dana) was going back to Errol’s with us. So I instead said goodbye to the Laymans. I was then informed that they were all going back to Errol’s house for a birthday party for the Laymans’ eldest. Apparently it had been discussed, possibly even around me, and I had been oblivious.

Back at the house, the smell of chili greeted us the moment we walked into the door. Keren had made supper and kept it warm for us, as she knew we wouldn’t have supper before then. So we all crowded into the kitchen and ate. Then the brownies and ice cream came out, and more than a dozen people were around the table, whether standing or sitting, talking and laughing and just having a great time.

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Yes, it was a lot like this.

Brian had picked up on calling Lena “Leeloo.” They even went back and forth for a while (and more than once) where Lena would say she was a girl, and Brian would ask what he was, and she’d say he was a dad, maybe, or something like that. I suppose I shouldn’t include it, since I can’t remember it very well, but it was so much fun hearing her try to explain why she was Lena and he wasn’t. Lena and Debs sat on the floor in a corner of the kitchen for a while talking. I didn’t hear much of what they talked about, but I know I heard some singing (including Debs singing Errol’s part in the “Happy Emo Fun Sad Song”).

Debs was the first to leave, and Lena didn’t take it very well. They talked a bit more in the foyer before Debs actually left. Logan and I went down to the basement to check out ‘Manda’s apartment. Then we went back to the living room and talked with the Laymans for a bit longer before it was time for them to leave.

We went to bed sad that we had to leave, and yet looking forward to being home (but really, way more of the former, especially since the Laymans were staying another day). We woke up early enough the next morning to catch Errol and ‘Manda before they had to leave for work, and then we packed up our things and headed out. We took a detour over to Niagra Falls on our way home, and pulled in around 11 pm.

It was an exhausting weekend (especially for me, as I spent so much of it being anxious and awkward), but so very much fun. Logan is already planning our next trip to Toronto.

Toronto Trip Day 2, Main Event

This is day 2 of my family’s trip to Canada to attend the farewell concert of Debs and Errol, a geek band from Toronto. For day 1, click here.

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So as I mentioned in my previous post, my family was staying in Errol’s guest room. It was a very generous offer, since we basically invaded their house for two full days. The room wasn’t big, but there was a bed for two, and a mattress on the floor large enough for the kids to sleep on. The door didn’t open all the way, because the mattress blocked it, but we fit comfortably inside.

The first morning there wasn’t the most pleasant it could have been though. Around 6:30 am, I woke up with a terrible headache. It might have been because of the overly warm room, though really, I don’t need a reason to wake up with a headache. It happens often. I knew it would be important to take some medicine, so I sat up. My movement was apparently enough to wake up everyone else in the room. Maybe being in an unfamiliar setting had them all sleeping more lightly than usually. Or maybe it was just the excitement of being where we were.

After I’d taken medicine, I lay back down to sleep and told the kids to do the same. When I woke up again a few hours later, I realized they hadn’t gone back to sleep at all. They’d been awake the whole time and playing on their mattress. Fortunately, they’d been pretty quiet, allowing my husband, Logan, and I to get more sleep.

We all got dressed and went downstairs. No one else was awake, or at least no one else was downstairs yet. It was only a few minutes before the rest of the house came alive. Logan had been talking about the four of us going out for breakfast. We were still discussing where, and looking at nearby restaurants online, when Errol’s wife, Keren, informed us that she was making enough breakfast for everyone, because she wasn’t sure who’d be eating there.

Logan still considered going out, but the more people started filling the kitchen, including ‘Manda from the basement apartment, and the more aromas from breakfast began wafting through the house, he wavered on his decision. In the end, we stayed and had breakfast with the Elumirs. The food was great (my family went nuts over the pancakes) and it was fun just talking with everyone too.

Errol’s sister, Lizette, called at one point, and he put her on speaker phone. The phone was then propped up on a carton in the center of the table and Errol and ‘Manda tried to talk to her amongst the din of breakfast. Lizette is pretty well-known amongst D&E fans as well, having been in Errol’s band-related webcomic in some form numerous times. It was pretty cool to talk to her, even if just a few words.

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This is the form Lizette took in the D&E webcomic. A text message.

After breakfast, Logan and I were asked what we wanted to do that afternoon. If we had made plans or if we had anything specific we’d like to see or do. A few ideas were thrown around—the aquarium, museum, library (apparently Toronto’s library is worth a visit?), science centre. The natives filled us in on how some of these activities were located downtown, providing more difficult driving and parking situations. Keren quickly went to the local library branch, because she said on Saturday mornings they gave out tickets to local attractions. She thought it would be too late, but it was nearby and worth a try. They were indeed out of tickets, but we appreciated her taking the time to check.

We decided to go to the Ontario Science Centre, as it would hopefully provide sufficient entertainment for the range of ages of our kids, and wasn’t downtown. ‘Manda had offered to be our guide for the afternoon, and Keren asked if we minded having their eldest daughter Ekko along. She did have to drive Ekko over to the centre though, as we only had enough room in our car for ‘Manda.

We parked some distance away so we didn’t have to pay for parking, and then walked. Along the way, we saw a business called Lena’s Nails, which we had to point out to my daughter. And speaking of my daughter, she had attached herself to ‘Manda even more by this point, insisting she walk with ‘Manda along the sidewalk as we went.

At the Science Centre, there was so much to see, and many hands-on activities, that we spent longer there than we maybe should have. We were in the kids’ area for much of the time, which fortunately had some things that were interesting enough that the adults weren’t too bored. While we were in that kids’ area, ‘Manda got a text that some other people were on their way to join us.

Let me stop here to introduce the Laymans. They are a family from Ohio who have been fans of D&E for longer than I have. Brian has done webhosting for them for years now. In October, Logan and I went over to Ohio to meet Debs and Errol when they were at a filk festival. The Laymans were there too, so we got to meet them as well. There are six of them—Brian, Denise, and four children. It added to the excitement of the event being able to meet them too. And they had made the trip up to Toronto for the final concert too.

The Laymans had driven in that morning and found out we were at the Science Centre, so they decided to join us. Once we met up with them, we found our group difficult to get moving and keep moving. We moved on to the next room, which was another kids’ area, and after spending some time there, it took several attempts to gather everyone up so we could move on.

The time came when we had to leave, though, and it took some help to calm Lena down. She had such a blast at that place. ‘Manda contacted Keren so she could come pick up Ekko, and then after Ekko was off, we walked back to the car. We stopped for a quick lunch on the way back to the Elumirs’ house. We went by the house and saw a spot right outside was open. Logan wanted to go around the block to park from the right direction though. We joked that someone would probably take it during that time, and sure enough, right when we pulled onto the street, someone was parking there. It was the Laymans! They had come to get their t-shirts—Logan had designed a t-shirt with the D&E banner on the front and “Farewell Concert,” the date, and “We’ll miss you!” on the back, and we’d offered to add anyone else who wanted one into the batch we were ordering.

We had to get ready to leave quickly, as the trip to the venue for the concert was about an hour away, via public transportation. They were unable to buy the required pass for our family nearby, so we couldn’t take the bus to the subway station; we had to walk maybe fifteen minutes. Logan and I were frustrated and a little embarrassed we hadn’t had much chance to get our money changed over yet, so ‘Manda kindly bought our day pass. Then it was time for an first-time experience for my whole family.

We rode on the subway, and while it caused a little anxiety for me, it was not nearly as overwhelming as I had expected. Still, it was a nice new experience. Lena insisted on sitting with ‘Manda and often asked if it was time to get off yet. She wanted to know what was going on the whole time. After the subway, we took a streetcar, which was interesting too.

On the streetcar, we came across two other people who were going to the concert too. They were sitting right in front of Logan and me. ‘Manda knew them, so it’s not like we were stalking other D&E fans or something. After they talked to her some, I introduced myself and Logan, and they did likewise–the Kesslers. I did know who they were, and I whispered to Logan that they do that podcast he knows about (it’s called Geekually Yoked). I didn’t mention that I was pretty sure he was the man behind “Ask Lovecraft,” partly because I wasn’t 100% sure (more like 90%) and partly because I wasn’t sure if Logan knew what that was (and yes, I was right about Leeman Kessler being “Ask Lovecraft”). I haven’t even mentioned that to him still to this day. Maybe he’ll learn about it for the first time upon reading this post. (Hi, honey!)

We had to walk a few more blocks from the streetcar, but then we found our destination: the ROUND venue. We went up a narrow stairway and into the dark room that would hold the concert. It was already crowded. I know both Keren and ‘Manda would have liked to have been there a bit earlier, but everything took longer having out-of-towners to take care of. There were many times over the weekend I felt like we were inconveniencing them. They were very generous with their time, space, food, and forgiveness.

Back on topic, I couldn’t see much when we got there, because my glasses fogged up. I was told that the Laymans had some space reserved in a back corner and that Brian was waving to us. Let me just stop right here to say how awesome it was that they’d saved extra space with us in mind. It really helped a lot that we didn’t have to find a place for all four of us, when it was already pretty crowded, and I was feeling so out-of-sorts by the entire adventure of just getting there.

We dropped off our coats and stuff on the table. Our twelve-year-old son, Brenden, wanted to stay at the table by the entrance with Ekko, who was selling items made out of perler beads. We told him it was fine, as long as he came to the table when the music started. He would have liked to stay there during the whole concert, I know, but we wanted him near us.

I took some time before the concert started to seek out a couple of people who I wanted to introduce myself to. People I knew online but had never met in person. Kari Maaren, who is a musician and would be performing that night as well, I know mostly because of two webcomics she does. West of Bathurst was one she did for seven years, though I didn’t read it until it had ended. She did a Kickstarter campaign last year to fund the printing of the comic in a massive book. I pitched in on that campaign. As this trip was approaching, she mentioned that they were almost done with the book. I mentioned a few times that if it was done when I came, maybe I could get my copy, instead of having it shipped. It wasn’t done, but that’s okay. I met Kari and later told her (probably not for the first time) how I’d read the whole thing in a week or so, how I was excited about the book, and how I was looking forward to the second read-through of the comic, but I was waiting until I had the book in my hands. I kind of gushed a little.

The other main person I sought out to say hi to was Ja-Mez. Those of you who are into the D&E universe at all probably know who that is. For those who don’t, he used to do a podcast with Errol and ‘Manda, and was in charge of livestreaming the concert that night. He was sitting near the front with a computer in front of him, and looked like he was pretty busy. I didn’t want to risk not having a chance later, though, so I stepped over and told him I didn’t want to take much of his time, but that I wanted to introduce myself. Then I left him alone.

Shortly before the concert was going to start, I took a quick trip to the bathroom. While washing my hands, someone said, “Nice shirt! I was going to get one of those, but I didn’t order it in time.” It was Debbie Ohi! I had met her at the filk festival in Ohio, asking her to sign a copy of her Naked! book for me, otherwise I would have probably gone and introduced myself to her that night too. Still, when I got back to the table, I asked Logan if it was weird that I was all excited that I had just been in the bathroom at the same time as Debbie Ohi and Kari Maaren (she’d gone in while I was in there too).

So then the concert started. There were several bands there to play before D&E went on, and it was lots of fun. Kraken Not Stirred did a fun Dr. Seuss-oriented song called “Oh the Places I’ve Been.” Logan really liked “I Don’t Need You (I’ve Got Netflix)” by Rock/Paper/Cynic. Copy Red Leader has a great song in “Crossing the Streams.” We’d seen that one live before, as they were at the filk festival we went to; we also bought their CD at that event. Kari Maaren was next, and we got to be part of her next album! They set up microphones to record the audience and we yelled “CanLit!” at the appropriate times in her song. That was awesome! The last warm-up band was Nerds With Guitars. I’ve heard of them a lot but hadn’t listened to any of their music. I really loved their sound, and Logan and I both thoroughly enjoyed a song of theirs called “Hero.”

There was an intermission as they set up for Debs and Errol. Brenden went back over to join Ekko selling her wares during that time. Logan went to get us some water from the bar. Then the show started.

I had brought my camera, but we forgot the second battery. Taking lots of video tends to drain the battery, so I wasn’t sure how long it would last. The best part of seeing D&E live is that no show is the same. There’s a lot of talking to the audience or to each other that is definitely spontaneous. They have some banter built into some of the songs, but even that doesn’t often come out the same as it’s planned. I have all of the videos on YouTube, so I won’t embed them here individually. I took videos from beginning to end, stopping now and then when I thought it wouldn’t be as worth taking. The original plan was to not record some of the songs that don’t change a lot from one performance to the next, focusing instead on the talking in between and the songs that varied a lot. I wish I could have recorded the whole thing. As I mentioned, the concert was livestreamed, and that video is still available to watch. The audio quality isn’t great, but at least it’s all there (including the opening bands). Here are the relevant links:

Playlist of my videos from the concert

Livestream of the whole concert

D&E on Bandcamp – The studio versions of their songs are all on this site, if anyone wants to check them out.

There are some things I want to specifically mention from the concert. At one point, Errol mentioned Lena, but he said, “What’s that little girl’s name again?”

She didn’t miss a beat, yelling, “Lena!” back. He “Leeloo” a few times, and she kept yelling it back. That interaction can be found here (queued up for convenience): https://youtu.be/oUEvCI7LVWc?t=56s

He did that one or two more times throughout the concert, and by the last time, half the audience was yelling, “Lena!” back at him along with her.

For two of the songs, “Tie After Tie” and “Undead Crawler,” members from some of the other bands went onto the stage to play and in some cases sing with them. “Undead Crawler” is one of my absolute favorites, so it’s worth checking out. Debs totally nailed “Make It So,” a parody of Frozen’s “Let It Go.” Another favorite is the “Happy Emo Fun Sad Song,” which is a live-only song that perfectly illustrates their unique personalities. (Wow, suddenly I’m getting emotional about them being broken up again.)

When they had one song left, Debs took a moment to express her feelings about this final concert, about how many people came out for it, and about how awesome their fans are. There may have been some tears, and not just from Debs. Then they ended on the song that was normally the one they opened with, “Geek Love Song.” It’s definitely a classic.

Of course, the crowd couldn’t let it stop there, as the standing ovation turned into a chant for “one more song!” They obliged with “Double Rainbow/More Than That.” And then it was over.

Afterwards, we wanted to make sure to talk to Debs and give her a hug, not knowing if we’d see her anymore that weekend. Plans for the next day were still a little nebulous. We made our way to the front of the venue, stopping along the way to talk to Alex James of Nerds With Guitars. He was impressed that we’d come as far as we had for the concert, and also said he was really glad people were willing to do that, because Debs and Errol were worth it. (We obviously agree.)

Also while we were on our way to the front, Ja-Mez came to me and apologized for what he felt was an abrupt conversation before the concert when I approached him to introduce myself. I can see how he felt he’d done me a disservice, but I could tell he was busy, so it hadn’t bothered me. Still, he was very kind to try to make amends for what he felt was a bad meet. I then asked him about the podcast, as I didn’t recall ever hearing a reason for why they had stopped, or an explanation on whether or not they planned to pick it back up again someday. If I remember correctly, he said it could still happen, but his schedule was busy, so that was why it was on hiatus.

After that, we became part of the crowd and waited for our turn to talk to Debs. It actually took a long while for us to have a chance, because so many people wanted to meet them, talk to them, get their autographs in the webcomic book they were selling that night, etc. We were sort of in an unstructured line, but it often seemed to shift to our detriment. The only thing about the situation that was really very bad was that Lena got so bored just waiting around. Well, that and I was paranoid that everyone that could help us get back to Errol’s house would leave and we’d have to find our own way.

Fortunately, we got our chance, gave Debs hugs, and said we didn’t know if we’d see her again. She said if there were any plans for the next day, she wanted to be kept in the loop. There had been some talk of doing an escape room the next day, and I was excited that she might be involved in that too.

It was getting late, and someone from the venue informed Logan that we couldn’t be there with Lena anymore. We were ready to leave anyway, so we met up with ‘Manda and a friend of hers who was going back to the house too, and left for the streetcar. ‘Manda was excited that the streetcar was a new one. We stood on the junction between the two segments, which moved under our feet a lot as the car turned. I very nearly fell into the accordion bellows behind me on the first turn.

‘Manda had informed us that if we were quick enough, we could make an earlier bus, but if we weren’t, we’d have to wait a while for the next (20-30 minutes). When we got off the streetcar, we had to go down some stairs to the subway station. Lena isn’t terribly fast on stairs, and we’d gotten behind some other people anyway. I didn’t think to pick her up until we were on the stairs, and by then, it probably would have been too late. The train was at the station when we were going down the stairs, but left before we got there. ‘Manda was worried we’d miss the bus after that, but fortunately the next train was only a few minutes later. When we got off the train, we ran up more than one escalator, with me carrying Lena this time, to make the bus. We ended up having a few minutes to spare, which was nice.

Back at the house, my family had a few snacks, as we hadn’t had a proper supper, and then went to bed. While we were eating, Keren left saying Errol had asked her to come get him at the bus station. He’d missed the bus and didn’t want to wait for the next one. He wasn’t doing too well after the concert. He’d already been sick for over a week, lost his voice by the end of the concert, and was just tired. I don’t blame him. He puts out a lot of energy on a regular basis, but especially while performing.

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Farewell, Debs & Errol!

So the main event of the weekend was over, but we still had a full day in Toronto and lots to do. That will be the subject for another post though. I will just close by saying that Debs and Errol will definitely be missed. They entertained a lot of people, and will continue to do so. If anyone reading this does not know about them, or hasn’t listened to their music before, I strongly suggest you do so. The band may be over, but their music won’t be going anywhere.

Toronto Trip Day 1, Arrival

On March 7, Debs and Errol, a geek band from Toronto, had their farewell concert. Being huge fans, my family decided to take a trip up to Toronto for the weekend, so we could not only attend the concert, but also meet several people from the area that we only knew from the internet. It’s been over two weeks since my family made that trip from Indiana to Toronto. I wanted to write this blog post shortly after we returned home, but I didn’t. With how long it’s been, I realized that it was time to either do it or give it up completely. The entire trip was such an adventure, and I really wanted to get my thoughts out there for anyone who is interested to read. So here goes.

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We left on Friday around noon, with two kids aged 4 and 12. We had a laptop for entertainment for the kids because we knew it was going to be a long drive. Google maps put it at seven hours. The first part of the trip was uneventful as went through Michigan to get to the border. The border crossing was much more exciting. We were told that their policy was to search anyone who had never been to Canada or had not been there in 10 years (my husband, Logan, and I had been there when we were teens, so more than 10 years ago). So they had us pull over, and they searched her car. We were in a parking lot that was covered but not fully enclosed.

We stood in front of the car while they searched it, and did our best to stay warm. The parking garage-type structure created a wind tunnel, and it was cold. I hadn’t grabbed my gloves or scarf when getting out of the car, because I was a little flustered. Fortunately the kids at least were bundled up. Even still, my daughter, the four-year-old, grew colder and colder, and I did my best to keep her warm. We were worried they would unpack most of our tightly packed trunk and we’d have to fix it before we could leave, but they either didn’t pull much out, or fixed it themselves. After they searched the car, they let us get back in to warm up while they performed some other checks on our ID, but said we would probably have to get back out again and maybe even go inside. Fortunately, they quickly said the check had been done, and we were free to go. So we were on our way into Canada.

I’m not much of a traveler overall and haven’t been out of the US since the times I went to Canada as a teen, so this was all an interesting experience. Somehow even though the road was not unusual in itself, just knowing we were in another country made me feel more anxious. I should mention I am a painfully shy introvert who is not good with new experiences in general. I tend to get anxious easily. When Logan and I travel somewhere I’m not very used to, he almost always has to do the bulk of the driving, because I can’t handle it very well. It’s not fair to him, but he knows it’s easier than trying to have me drive, especially in big cities. He had told me before we left that there would be a long stretch once we were in Canada that he would probably ask me to drive for. Once we are in Canada, thinking of this upcoming drive maybe very nervous. He has issues staying awake when he’s driving for a long time, whether he’s tired or not. So I knew it would be important for me to be able to help when he needed it. Somehow though, perhaps because it was another country and he was more interested, he had no trouble staying awake on this drive.

When we first entered Canada we noticed the gas prices. One of the first prices we saw was 102.9. In America of course we’re used to something like $2.33 on the signs. My first reaction to the sign I saw in Canada was to say, “Wait, is that $102 per gallon?” Of course I didn’t really think it would be that high, but I also did not immediately think it’s meant 102 cents. And Logan quickly pointed out to me that it would be by the liter, not by the gallon. I did not do the math to figure out how much gas was in our terms, but if I had, I probably would have forgotten as well that it would be Canadian dollars, not American dollars. Another thing of note on our drive to Toronto were the numerous warning signs along the road, which made us chuckle. Signs warning drivers not to follow too closely, because it will kill you; not to speed, because it will kill you; not to get too tired while you’re driving, because it will kill you. Every one of these warning signs said “Doing this kills. Don’t do this.”

After several hours of driving, we made it to Toronto. Coming into Toronto was a new experience for us as well. We’re from a state without many big cities, and this was bigger than our biggest city. We have both been to Washington DC, Chicago, other larger cities, but not often. We were like small-town hicks out of water. The road we were on was up off of the ground already and still the buildings towered over us on both sides as we drove through downtown Toronto. It was very imposing and a little overwhelming. Logan was driving around unfamiliar turns and turnoffs with people speeding by him.. We both remarked that when he went around curves he felt like he should slow down but if he did, he would be slowing down traffic. It was a unique experience.

The place we were going was in a residential area, so we left downtown behind us. Traffic thinned out and we felt like we could breathe a little. It was not difficult to find out if you’re going to, however we cannot find anywhere to park quickly. We actually went around the block a few times trying to figure out where to park. You see every other parking spot on the street was taken up by a giant pound of snow. We did finally see someone pull out of a spot and went around the block again so we could lineup to take that one. It was down the street a bit from where we were going, but at least we had landed.

Then we walked to the house, and everything got real. We had been invited to stay at the house of one of the members of the band–Errol. Logan and I had met him before, when they were in Ohio last October, but the kids hadn’t. His older daughter answered the door and let us inside. We quickly realized that Debs and Errol were inside practicing. He had mentioned that they’d be practicing for the concert that night, but I didn’t realize it’d be right there in the living room, or that they’d be doing it when we got there. Errol’s daughter Ekko showed us to the room we’d be staying in, and we proceeded to go down the street and start bringing in our stuff. It took us a few trips, and we kept telling the kids to be quiet going by the room where they were practicing. We didn’t want to disturb them.

After we were unloaded, Logan and I were a little uncertain about what we should do. The kids were much less so. Errol had already introduced himself to them, and they stood in the doorway watching the practice. Debs and Errol assured us that we weren’t disturbing them, and said we were welcome to come in and sit or whatever we wanted to do. In fact, Errol and his wife (who came home a little later) assured us that we were welcome to make ourselves at home the whole weekend. So we went in and watched the practice, chatted between songs a bit, and eased into the whole situation. I am always awkward and uncomfortable as a guest in someone’s home, much more so if I’m an overnight guest. I just don’t know etiquette and proper ways to behave and such, from either side, because I am not a very social person. Add to that that these two were basically celebrities to us, and it was a very tense situation for me. I did relax eventually though. Also during that time, ‘Manda, who lives in an apartment in Errol’s basement, came in. She is one I hadn’t met, but knew online and was also a fan of. She does some creative activities with Errol as well, the most notable of which (for me) is the NaNoMusical. I made sure to get off the couch and give her a proper greeting when she came in.

The practice was loads of fun, just being able to be there and be part of it. I even took some video with my Kindle Fire. Our daughter found a toy house in the room and occupied herself with that most of the time. In fact, it was difficult to pull her away from it when it was time to go to bed late into the evening. And speaking of our daughter, one of the best things about the weekend involved her. Her name is Lena, but when Errol first met her, he said her name back as “Leeloo.” She corrected him, but the nickname had stuck. For the rest of the weekend, he’d call her “Leeloo,” and she’d promptly respond “Lena!” The next day, we were all in Errol’s daily webcomic.

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This is Errol’s version of our arrival. It’s actually pretty accurate.

I’m going to stop this post at the end of Friday. It will be far too long if I write about the whole weekend, so I’ll continue in another post. Before I leave, though, I’d like to share 2 of the videos I took of the practice.

The song in this one is one of my favorites (though I realized recently that I have maybe too many that I consider favorites), “BSG.” At the end of the song, Errol decides to hold out the last note for a while, which is not how the song normally knows. I’d say it’s a good look at his personality when he’s not performing, but the truth is, he’s the same in person as he is when he’s performing as he is in his comic as he is anywhere else. It’s still fun though.

This second video shows the point where Errol first realizes I’m taking video. The interesting thing is that he actually seemed self-conscious after that, which is not a trait often seen in him. The song is another of my favorites. Also, he did hit the camera on my Kindle dead on.

I Wish My Life Was a Musical

This comic accurately reflects the first time my husband and I met Debs and Errol (we’re the two on the left in the first panel). If you don’t know who they are, allow me to introduce you to a wonderful world filled with narwhals, AT-ATs, beautiful music, fun lyrics, and playful banter. They are a geek band that has been together since 2011, though I only heard about them near the end of 2012.

I was brought into the D&E universe first by Errol and Manda, who is Errol’s partner in a production company they called WE Tangent. They wrote, produced, and starred in a musical for NaNoWriMo. (If you know anything about NaNoWriMo and haven’t watched this yet, do it NOW.) Then they had a streamathon on YouTube to promote the crowd-funding campaign to record the songs from the musical more professionally. I spent the entire 7 hours watching and interacting in chat with these people, and would get a little rush every time they addressed my comments from chat. (I feel this is a good time to mention that I am not just an introvert, but a painfully shy and socially awkward introvert. Online it’s not as bad, but I still often keep quiet unless I start to feel more comfortable.)

The first times I went to the Debs and Errol website, where Errol posted near-daily webcomics for years, I was too overwhelmed to stay long. After November (and NaNoWriMo) was over, and the musical had long-since ended, and I had exhausted all of the videos I could find online of Errol and/or Debs singing about NaNo, not to mention Errol irritating people, I decided to tackle that website. I started at the beginning and was introduced to the band more firmly.

I don’t remember exactly when or how I first interacted with Debs, but what I do remember is that she treated me as if I were already a friend. And that has been my experience with Debs & Errol as a whole. They treat me like a friend. I daresay they consider all of their fans friends. They have gained some decent recognition, and of course sought wider exposure when they could, but one of the biggest benefits (in my opinion) of never becoming too big is that they could still interact with their fans. In fact, in early 2013, my husband asked them if they would record themselves singing happy birthday to me. Errol took it a step further and they ended up rewriting lyrics from one of the songs from the NaNoMusical into the following birthday song for me!

Deb and Errol both live in Canada, while I live in the US, so for a while, I had to pass on their concerts, which were usually in Canada. One on the east coast of the US was still too far for me. But then they announced they were going to be in Ohio. I’m from Indiana, so that’s only one state over. My husband and I quickly hatched a plan to drive to Ohio and see them. The above comic was from that trip, in October 2014. It was only one afternoon, but we got to meet them, have breakfast with them, and see them in concert. I can’t even tell you how hilarious they are in concert. I’d seen some videos on YouTube, but frankly, I couldn’t always understand what was being said. Seeing them in person was better than I could have imagined. My husband and I discussed someday visiting Toronto, where they live, to see them again and maybe meet some others from the D&E universe who live in that area.

About 3 weeks ago, though, Debs & Errol announced that the band was breaking up. Even in this unpleasant news, I still found myself overwhelmed by the way they made me feel like a friend. I don’t want to sound conceited in saying this, but being included in their list of those they wanted to share the news with personally, before they announced it on social media, was more touching than I can say.

Along with the break-up announcement came the news of a farewell concert. Though I can’t say why they set the date for over a month later, it was perfect for us. My husband and I immediately set to work on figuring out what we would have to do to be able to travel the 7 hours to Toronto to be there for the farewell concert. And as soon as I mentioned it to Errol, he suggested that we could perhaps stay in his guest room. So we applied for passport cards, which just came in the mail yesterday, and now we’re ready to start making plans for that weekend. I am both delighted and anxious about this forthcoming trip. I won’t list the people I’m looking forward to meeting in Toronto, in case I leave anyone off, or add anyone who I won’t have a chance to meet. I know there are others from the States making the trip too, some coming from farther away than we are. It will be a whirlwind of a weekend, I’m sure, and I only hope I can handle it all. (Did I mention how shy and socially awkward I am?)

I took my time preparing this post for several reasons. I wasn’t sure if I should make one at all, as this blog is very obscure, and it might turn out to be a pointless endeavor. Several other people have made much more poignant and eloquent posts about this, and some of them even took words out of my own mouth (seriously, if I repeated anyone, I’m sorry). And I just wasn’t sure how to say what I wanted to say.

The odd thing is that, while writing this, it’s the first time I’ve experienced any strong emotions about the band breaking up. Don’t get me wrong–I love Debs & Errol and will miss them as a band like crazy. However, I haven’t been a fan as long as some, and haven’t been as engrossed a fan as others. I’m not quite geeky enough to appreciate all of their works, and I’m not outgoing enough to insert myself into their world more than I have (which, again, just makes it more incredible that we were invited to stay at Errol’s family’s house). I am also not the most sentimental person. Yet somehow, I find myself crying when I think about Debs gently breaking the news to me at 11:30 on a Wednesday night, or about how weepy and emotional that concert is going to be for everyone there.

I only hope that I can continue to be friends with both Debs and Errol, despite only being connected by the internet. At least then it wouldn’t so much like saying goodbye.

 

These are the posts others have made about this topic, in case anyone’s curious:

http://mandawhitney.com/2015/01/15/my-neighbour-errol-farewell/
http://www.popmythology.com/the-12-best-debs-and-errol-songs/
https://meliwazhere.wordpress.com/2015/01/21/one-week-later-farewell-debs-and-errol/