Winter’s Moons: the Characters

One of the things I loved about writing Winter’s Moons was the chance to get to know the main characters who are very different, but in such complementary ways. Cassidy Nolan (the young werewolf Alpha sister of a genetically-engineered supersoldier) has plenty of leadership qualities, but no experience. She’s also got a hefty case of impostor syndrome, one that keep her from bonding completely with her pack, for fear that they might figure out exactly how out of her depth she really is.

On the other side of things, Snow has been a werewolf for a long time. She has absolutely no leadership skills, but she has a deep knowledge of werewolf traditions and how healthy packs are supposed to function. At first, Snow judges Cassidy for slipping up in all sorts of ways, but as she comes to know the Alpha more closely, she realizes that Cassidy is doing the best she can. Sure, she’s failing a lot, but not so much that the situation is irretrievably broken. Best of all, Cassidy keeps trying. In Snow, Cassidy finds someone to talk to without fear of judgment. She comes to lean on the lone wolf’s perspective, and a bond begins to form.

Developing the characters for this story was easy in some ways. Cassidy came ready-made from Five Moons Rising. However, she made some choices there that some of readers found difficult to stomach. After all, it looked a lot like she turned her back on the sister who went through hell to keep her alive. Getting inside Cassidy’s head and reacquainting myself with her motives and her understanding of the world was a little challenging after so long away from the events of that first book. However, once I realized that Cassidy’s big problem was having impostor syndrome (and also being right about it), she got a lot easier to wrap my arms around.

It took some time to find Snow’s voice. I knew going into the story that I wanted the other main character to be a lone wolf. I also knew that I wanted her to be submissive. I had some ideas about submission versus dominance, and how the former is often equated to weakness. Snow is submissive, but she’s not a pushover. Her lack of dominance has led her to develop strategies that have nothing to do with brute force. She thrives on passing beneath notice, and on redirection. All of those were things I was prepared to deal with. It was a surprise to discover that Snow was asexual, specifically a homoromantic asexual who is pretty sex-averse. However, it made complete sense. Her inability to find a home in the sexually-charged atmosphere of most werewolf packs was bound to make her uncomfortable, and as someone who is on the submissive side of things, she wasn’t inclined to try to carve out a space for herself. When the space she did have got too tight, she simply moved on to the next one. Once I realized those things, Snow really revealed herself to me, and she’s become one of my favorite characters to write.

There is a romantic subplot to this story. This was my first time writing an ace character, and I made sure to run the story past a handful of ace sensitivity readers. Hopefully I’ve done their advice justice. I believe sex and romance are two different things, and it was incredibly rewarding to explore tender moments through this different lens.

This duo has become one of my favorites, and I’m so looking forward to readers getting to know Cassidy and Snow the way I have.

Winter’s Moons can still be preordered, and will be out from Bella Books on December 20th.

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Winter’s Moons: Why a Sidequel

The latest installment in the Five Moons Rising series takes a bit of a jog to the side. I’d originally envisioned the series as a pretty typical trilogy/quadrilogy. Then I needed to figure out what happened in Chicago during the six months that Malice and Ruri spent trapped in the land of the fae.

As I started outlining the events that were to have happened back in town in preparation for starting the sequel to Hunter’s Descent, I realized that I was doing a lot of work. For me, the most fun part of writing is in the planning stages. There’s so much potential. Everything is wide open and narrative choices on the page haven’t closed any doors in the story. There was a lot that needed to happen while Malice and Ruri were out of town, I decided to write a novella that would outline what was going on with Cassidy.

Things didn’t go as planned. First, a brand new character showed up. Snow was really interesting to me, and brought a point of view I hadn’t played with before (more about her in an upcoming post). I decided that I needed to see some of the story through her eyes also. Before I knew it, this little novella had taken on a life of its own, and Winter’s Moons became a full novel. In a twist which should surprise no one who knows me, there was so much story to tell that I had to break it up into two books. (Don’t worry, I’ve already finished the first draft to the sequel, so it won’t be years and years before the next one comes out.)

Once the length of the story I had to tell became apparent, I needed to switch some things up. I went back and did my best to make sure the Winter’s Moons could be read independently of the other books in Five Moons Rising (the series). Cassidy’s story may have started in the first book of the series, but she was very much a secondary character there. Since this is her and Snow’s story, I wanted to make sure that their two books would complete their own narrative, separate from, but related to what I started thinking of as the other half of the series. (I made a diagram to explain the series structure to my publisher. Why can’t I do simple projects?)

As far as where it stands in the series, even though it stands alone, it can definitely be read as a sequel to Five Moons Rising (the novel), and/or Hunter’s Descent. Both books will flesh out the world, but the plot sits well on its own.

I’m excited for readers to encounter this new branch of the series and to get to know Cassidy better, and to meet Snow. More to come while I break down character choices in upcoming posts.

Winter’s Moons can still be preordered, and will be out from Bella Books on December 20th.

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Breaking Out: So Where is Sussburg, Anyway?

Most of the story in Breaking Out (my new wlw ice hockey romance coming from Bella Books in less than a month) takes place in the town of Sussburg, Pennsylvania. Don’t bother looking for it, it doesn’t exist. I created it out of nothing for the purpose of the story. I also invented Windsor County, the central Pennsylvania county for which Sussburg is the seat of local government.

I decided to set the story in an imaginary place for a few reasons. First, I usually write spec-fic. I’ve created whole worlds, so I didn’t anticipate I would have too many difficulties in inventing one small town. I was both right and wrong on that one.

Second, using a real town would have meant a whole lot of research. You’d think researching a smaller area would be easier than a larger one, but that’s not actually the case. In order to be true to an existing place, you have to get the details just so, and there are so many fewer details for a town of 2,000 people than there would be for a place like New York or London, so each one is so much more important to get right. Not to mention, that while small towns may look similar to outsiders, each has a different feel that can be difficult to nail down.

Finally, I wanted to make a place that was free of some of the more troubling aspects of real life. Most small towns and rural places aren’t known for their progressive natures. I’m sure there are exceptions, but I wanted a place where I could be free to dismiss homophobia, at least for the most part. My main characters are both queer, KJ visibly so. No one in town has a problem with her about that.

I’ve made notes about the town; it’s a place that’s come alive in my head. There is much more to it than we see in Breaking Out. There, we see the ice rink (of course), the elementary school where Adrienne works, and the downtown bar where KJ works. We also see KJ’s house and Adrienne’s apartment. I’d love to get the chance to explore other places. Who knows, maybe I’ll get the chance.

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From Spec-fic to Sports Romance

How on earth did I end up writing contemporary romance? Breaking Out is a sports (ice hockey) romance, so there’s still a lot of action that goes on, but it’s mostly contained to the ice. The other action that happens is more of the romantic variety. And of course, it’s lesfic. So it’s not that different, I guess?

After finishing writing Hunter’s Descent, I tried to work on its sequel, but that wasn’t working. After a few aborted starts, I decided to switch gears. It was November, so I thought it might be fun to try something completely different for NaNoWriMo. (That’s National Novel Writing Month for those of you not up on your acronyms.) I figured I’d take a month and 50,000 words to explore this idea that had occasionally been kicking around my head. If it didn’t go anywhere, I’d only have lost a month to that plot bunny.

It turns out that little notion had some legs to it. By the end of November 2019, I was halfway through the story of Adrienne and KJ, two women living in a small town in central Pennsylvania who used ice hockey as a way to take the edge of the difficulties of their lives. (Don’t bother looking up Sussburg, PA, the seat of Windsor County. I made it all up for this story.)

There was definitely a learning curve. I had to do a lot more revising of this manuscript after finishing the first draft than I normally do. It turns out that romances are hard to write! Who knew? It’s not that I’m a stranger to romance. So far, all my novels have romantic subplots, so I figured I’d be able to pick that up pretty easily. I was only partially right. Instead of working the romance in around the edges of the main plot, now the romance was the main plot and everything else was secondary to it.

There were some scenes that had to be retooled. Some things that had happened to get the romance wheels turning needed to be worked in more organically so there wasn’t a big flashing “plot point” sign in the middle of the scene. My beta readers were invaluable for this work, and I owe them a great deal. A lot of the pacing issues would have been a lot harder to clean up on my own. Apparently, I’d spent too much time writing about the hockey. I now have a Google doc full of removed hockey scenes, but I can always repurpose them if I decide to revisit Sussburg and the women’s rec hockey scene there.

This was the first time I decided to find someone to do sensitivity reading for me. One of my mains, Adrienne, is Black. As I am not, I knew it would be important to get another set of eyes on the manuscript to correct any stereotypes, mischaracterizations, biases, and just plain ignorance that might have crept in. The incomparable KD Williamson agreed to look over my manuscript, and was incredibly helpful.

At the end of the process, I had a book that I’m excited about, and that still makes me teary-eyed in certain places even after reading it so many times I’ve lost count. It’s almost ready to get into the reader’s hands, and I can’t wait to see if they love it as much as I do.

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Breaking Out Sneak Peek

My latest novel drops in February, 2021. Breaking Out is the story of Adrienne Pierce and KJ Stennes, two women who really rub each other the wrong way when Adrienne joins the local women’s rec hockey team in Sussburg, PA. Each are dealing with recent major life events that have taken a toll on the emotionally and forced themselves to confront who they are. They deal with these changes through ice hockey and growing feelings for each other. But are they right for each other, and how do they know when they don’t even know themselves anymore?

Breaking Out is a low-angst wlw contemporary hockey romance.

Read below for the first chapter of Breaking Out, from Bella Books February 11, 2021.

“You’re pregnant?”

Shit! KJ Stennes forced a wide smile onto her face, then bent over her skate and yanked hard at the laces. “That’s great!” she growled at the floor. Crap! This is the last thing we need!

The rest of the women in the cramped room echoed her words, though with more sincerity than KJ was feeling.

“So when do you stop playing?” KJ transferred her attention to the laces on her other skate. “Don’t people play until like five, six months?”

Jamie laughed. “I’m not surprised that’s the first thing you’d ask. This is my last game. My doctor said it’s probably okay to play until twelve weeks or so, but with my family history…” She shrugged.

“At least we have today.” KJ pulled her socks down over the tops of her skates and scooted forward off the bench. She rummaged around in her hockey bag, looking for her shin guards. They came out covered in black flakes that she absentmindedly brushed off. It was time to get a new bag. She’d get around to that one day; after all, the waterproof lining had only been flaking off since last season.

Jamie draped an arm around her shoulder when she sat back down. “Look, I know you’re probably freaking out right now, but it’ll be okay.”

“I’m not freaking out. I’m happy for you, I really am!” And she was. The whole team knew Jamie and Joe had been trying to get pregnant for a few years, but without any luck. KJ knew how badly her best friend wanted a child. “This is everything you’ve wanted.”

If only they’d waited another year. This would have been their year to win the league championship. The first few Bolts practices had been…well, electric. Their group had been together for seven years now, each season bringing them closer. Sure, there had been some of the turnover that was to be expected on any team, especially a rec team comprised of women who were college-age through grandmothers, but the last two had been remarkably stable. They all knew how everyone played. There was no need to think about where Jean might be. KJ knew once she’d corralled the puck behind the net that Jean would be busting her ass up the boards. If she couldn’t hit her with the breakout pass, Connie or Rebecca would be curling up the center, ready to go.

The Bolts only had four women on defense. There were three forward lines each with three women, but they hadn’t felt the need to run three lines on D. Jamie had been her defensive partner the whole time, and now KJ was being asked to give her up with only one game to go.

KJ’s shoulders slumped. “We only have four D. What are we going to do about that?”

“I’ve got it covered,” Jamie said. “She’s great. Played defense in high school. You won’t have to deal with an out-of-place center, I promise.”

“You sure?” KJ glanced around the crowded room. The cinderblock walls had seen better days. Light blue paint had flaked in places to reveal bright green below it and maroon below that. The Sussburg Ice Arena was her second home; there were times she felt like it had saved her life. Windsor County boasted exactly one ice rink, and she was fortunate it was in her hometown. There weren’t many in this part of Central Pennsylvania. At least she didn’t have to make the drive down to Harrisburg to get her hockey fix. It was what kept her centered, and it was now in danger of falling apart around her, just when she thought things might be getting a bit better.

Her teammates had gone back to strapping on their pads or were chatting quietly enough that they couldn’t be heard over the music playing on Rebecca’s iPhone. Jamie’s announcement seemed to have cast a bit of a pall over their normally raucous pre-game preparations.

KJ loved the women on her team dearly, even the ones who drove her up the wall. Any of them would do their best if moved back on defense, but it wouldn’t be the same. The centers were the most logical choice. There would be no disruption to the wing pairs, and on paper at least, centers played defense and offense. Unfortunately all the Bolts’ centers were far more offensive-minded than defensive-minded. Part of that was her and Jamie’s fault. They were so solid on D that the centers rarely had to drop back to help out for long.

“I’m sure,” Jamie said. “Trust me. I wouldn’t line you up with someone who couldn’t play. Now will you stop looking like we’re at a funeral?”

“Okay, you got me. I’m happy for you, but I wish you could have waited until after playoffs.”

Jamie squeezed her shoulder. “There’s more to life than playoffs.”

“I know.” KJ kept her voice soft. There was no reason for the others to hear her being crappy about Jamie’s big news.

“No, you don’t.” Jamie gentled her tone to match KJ’s. “But you will.” She shook KJ playfully. “Now get your gear on so we can stomp all over those Yetis.”

KJ stretched her lips into an approximation of a grin. “They won’t know what hit them.”


The other team had come to play. KJ plunked her butt on the bench and gulped down a cool stream of water from the waiting bottle. It soothed her throat, made raw from hauling ass up and down the rink.

“Those Yetis are running our asses off,” Jamie yelled around her mouth guard.

“Are they?” KJ made a show of stretching nonchalantly. “I hadn’t noticed.”

Jamie swatted her with the back of her glove. “Sure you did. How many times did you have to bail me out? Two?”

“Three, but I’m not counting.”

“Very funny.”

“You’re pinching in a little on the blue line,” KJ said. “Don’t go after that puck unless you know you can get it.”

“I always think I can.”

“No thinking.” KJ rapped her glove-covered knuckle on the top of Jamie’s helmet. “If you have to think, it’s too late.”

Even through her face shield, Jamie’s eye roll was as plain as day. “Sure thing, Yoda. Not all of us came out of the womb with skates on.”

“I don’t think my mom would have liked that.” Though it might be one explanation for why she’d left KJ behind after divorcing her dad. KJ shook her head. Now was not the time to focus on her childhood drama.

“Probably not.” Jamie took one last swig from her own water bottle. “Krissy and Cam are coming.”

KJ popped up and waited by the boards as the other defensive pair came skating to the bench as hard as they could. The second period was the worst for substituting in players, especially for the defense. They were so far from their bench. The shift hadn’t been long, but everyone learned the hard way that in the second period, you switched out when you had the opportunity. A four-minute shift was murder on the legs, not to mention the lungs.

At the far end, women’s voices raised in excitement. The Yetis had the puck and knew the Bolts’ defense was changing.

“Come on, Krissy!” KJ hollered. The broad swing of her arm did nothing to get the changing defensewoman to the bench, but she felt like she was helping.

Krissy’s head went down, and her arms swung as she pushed herself forward as fast as she could go. The other team’s center had the puck and was streaking out of her zone, already nearly to the center line. KJ waited another half second for Krissy to get close enough so she could jump the boards without incurring a penalty for too many players on the ice.

As soon as Krissy was within ten feet, KJ planted one hand on top of the boards and vaulted onto the ice. She was moving before she landed. The center had a couple of strides on her. KJ bit her lower lip and grinned as she pushed off, her blades biting deep. The sound that accompanied that first push sent a chill down her spine. There was nothing better than a footrace.

“One on!” came the call from further down the ice as one of the center’s teammates alerted her to KJ’s presence.

The warning wouldn’t be enough.

She shot forward, all thoughts evaporating from her mind but one: take away the other player’s easy path to the net.

She was low, her skate blades digging into the ice with a forceful crunch at each step. The center had to hear her, but she didn’t look back. That was too bad; it would have slowed her down a fraction, possibly enough for KJ to bust past her. She dragged a breath deep into her lungs and lunged forward, drawing abreast of the center at the top of the faceoff circle. Now the woman risked a glance her way. That was all KJ needed. She flicked her wrist almost negligently, sending her stick over to collide with the other woman’s. She leaned forward, giving the Yeti nowhere to go but the trajectory KJ had picked, one that curved away from the net and her goalie.

Vaughn had squared up, presenting a wall of pads and light blue athletic material to their opponent. Their hand was raised, the glove ready should the Yeti try to get a shot off. She still might attempt it, but not while she was struggling to regain control of the puck. The Yeti jabbed KJ in the side, but her elbow glanced harmlessly off KJ’s chest pad.
Taking advantage of the woman’s distraction from stickhandling, KJ slid her other hand down the shaft of her stick, then lifted up the Yeti’s stick. The puck squirted out and away from them. KJ swiveled her hips and dug her skate blades into the ice, stopping on a dime as the Yeti kept skating forward for a moment before she realized the puck was gone. By the time she was turned around and heading for the puck again, KJ had swooped in and nabbed it, sending it toward the far boards where Michelle waited. It landed against her teammate’s stick with a satisfying “thwap,” and just like that, the flow of the game reversed.

She coasted past the net while she kept her eye on the action at the other end of the ice. Jamie was in the neutral zone on her way to the blue line.

“Nice work,” Vaughn said. They reached their stick to tap KJ’s shin guards.

“No extra charge,” KJ yelled back. The mouth guard probably swallowed half of the words, but Vaughn nodded anyway.

The Yeti center who had tried to make good on her breakaway was heading to the bench. She was definitely going to need to freshen her legs up after that little bit of excitement. KJ firmed her grip on her stick. Hopefully, she’d have another crack at her.
Her own legs had a bit of a pleasant burn to them in the thigh. She didn’t need a break just yet; she’d only been on the ice about fifteen seconds. She skated up to the other team’s zone to take her position opposite Jamie.

She kept a sharp eye on the action as the puck was passed around among the Bolts forwards, from center to wing and back to center. The Yeti defense was starting to drag, their reactions becoming less crisp. KJ bided her time up at the line. The play wasn’t coming her way quite yet. Across the way, Jamie was displaying similar patience but was also tormenting the Yeti left wing who was trying to cover her. Jamie kept sidling in front of her and the Yeti would respond by trying to move forward. KJ grinned. Jamie loved to screw with the other teams’ forwards. Maybe that was why they made such a good pair.

The puck popped out from behind the net and up the boards. The forward on KJ couldn’t take it any longer. She darted down to try to corral the loose puck, but Connie beat her to it.

“Open!” KJ thundered from the top of the faceoff circle. She raised her stick, telegraphing the slapshot she was about to take from the perfect pass Connie sent her way. A defender threw her body between KJ and the net. The goalie went down to her knees to stop the shot she knew was coming.

KJ angled her body and sent the puck along to Jamie, who was no longer covered as the opposing forward dashed to get to the center of the ice.

“Yes!” she yelled as Jamie caught her pass, then swiveled to the net and let fly.
It was a perfect shot, skimming barely inside the right post above the goalie’s hastily stuck out mitt.

The ref whistled, pointing at the back of the net, indicating the goal was good. KJ didn’t need the confirmation. Elation bubbled in her chest as she skated across the ice to grab Jamie up in a celebratory hug.

“Nice shot!” she crowed, squeezing her partner tightly around the rib cage.

“Nicer pass!” Jamie said. “It’s good to go out on a bang.”

KJ squeezed her again, then ducked out as the rest of her teammates skated up to pound her partner on the shoulders and helmet.

Jamie was leaving. She’d managed to forget that for a few shifts

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Accessorize!!: Borderlands 3 Pistol Nerf Mod, Part 4

The last time I was able to work on the pistol, I left it here. Some progress was made, and it’s starting to look less like a Nerf gun, but it’s not exactly Borderlands material yet. IMG_1544

One of the things (actually it’s many things) that makes Borderlands weapons so much fun are the endless variation in accessories that can be added to each weapon. Even when they don’t make sense. For example, the version of the Raptor that I’m making sports a barrel extension of some sort (is it a suppressor? an extended barrel? who can tell???) AND an itty-bitty bayonet. Those don’t play well together practically, but they look cool as hell, so I’m doing both.

Aside from the itty-bitty-bayonet I made a few sessions back, I hadn’t gotten to any of the fun bits, so I was excited to get started. I had a few things to tackle:

  1. Add a mounting point for the bayonet
  2. Make the little charging handle for the back
  3. Figure out how to make the suppressor/muzzle extender
  4. Make the foregrip

That’s a lot, but fortunately I had a full day in the shop.

IMG_1549I decided to start by modifying the back of the pistol. I’d left it pretty boring, which is definitely antithetical to the Borderlands look. Now the Raptor pistol is very squared off in the back, but this Nerf pistol is all sorts of round. I stuck with the rounded look, but decided to add the lip that is seen on the Dahl pistol. There’s also a little round divot taken out of the back. You can’t see it well in this crappy photo, but it’s there. I was able to make that using one of the stone grinding bits on my Dremel. I wasn’t especially pleased with the little bits attaching the round lip to the grip. They were all sorts of gappy, and only became more so when I hit them with the heat gun. I’ll be revisiting those when it comes time to prep for paint.

From there, I took a quick twenty minutes to add the attachment point for the bayonet. That ended up being a piece of 3mm craft foam that I drilled out to insert a magnet. I drill out the corresponding half of the bayonet and superglued another magnet in there and moved on with my life.

Attachment point

Easy-peasy right? Well, actually the magnets were too strong and I ended up pulling the one out of the bayonet pretty quickly. I wouldn’t figure that out for a few hours, and would end up fixing that little error another day. *sigh*

Charging handleFrom there, it was back to dealing with the pistol’s butt (heh-heh). Since I had the detailing on the back end figured out, it was time to add the charging handle. This is one of those fiddly bits that I usually leave to the end of a build. There’s something about them being so small that ends up looking wrong if it’s even the slightest bit off. It’s not that any of it was particularly difficult, but it needs to be symmetrical, and without much room for error. I count it as a great deal of personal growth that I decided to tackle it at this point in the build instead of waiting to the last possible moment.

So like I was saying, this wasn’t a difficult piece to build. I used some 4mm EVA foam and transferred my pattern onto it using a silver Sharpie. I cut it out, then beveled and shaped the various pieces, first by gingerly cutting the with a sharp knife, then by smoothing everything over with a fine sanding drum in my Dremel. The carved in the grooves on the inside of the handle with the edge of that drum. The circles were made by scoring the surface of the foam, then hitting it with the heat gun. I took my time and planned out my cuts and was able to do it in one go without having to redo. Once again, the picture isn’t great, but in real life, that handle is pretty dang close to symmetrical.

After that, it was a simple matter of affixing it to the gun, which I did with some contact cement. I’m a little concerned about how I’m going to make that transition look seamless, but that’s for future me to figure out when I’m prepping everything for paint. (Sorry future Lise!)

CoresFrom one fiddly bit to the next… I was excited by my progress, so I dived right in to working on the suppressor-ma-jig. After a fair amount of thought on how to deal with all the cutouts in the design, I decided to make a solid core, and then do the cutouts on a piece of 3mm foam, which I would wrap around the core. Using my handy template, I sandwiched a few layers of  EVA foam together, then rounded the long edges. And then I made another one. The wrapping technique seemed tricky enough that I wanted another core in case I screwed up the first one. It’s always easier to make two of something at once, then to make another one later, so I just went with it this time.

IMG_1566I found the center and measured the craft foam to the circumference on the piece. (Do you call it a circumference with it’s not a circle?) From there, I used the template to plan out the various cutouts. In the picture, you’ll see that I marked the corners on the 3mm foam. and used that to line up the cutouts. From there, I did some clean up, then I slathered the two pieces in contact cement and smushed them together. My first attempt was all right, but I didn’t line it up very well. I thanked myself for making a second core, added the cutouts to another piece of 3mm foam, and wrapped it again. The second attempt was so much better than the first!! After that, I glued a beveled circular piece into the end for the barrel opening, then I hogged out a circular piece to slip it over the Nerf gun’s barrel. That will eventually be glued in place. Finally, I did some cleanup and called that one done.

foregripBy this point, it was starting to get toward the end of the day. I was also being eaten alive by mosquitoes, which is a definite downside to having a garage workshop in the South. However, I was on a roll, so I pressed on. I really wanted to get some progress done on the foregrip. Once again, I started with the template. I had two slightly different sizes of foregrip to work with. The smaller was more to scale with the Dahl weapon in the game, but the larger was of a scale that would actually fit my hand. I ended up going with the larger one.

The first thing I did was snag a largish foam dowel from my foam stash. It wasn’t going to be quite big enough, but after I wrapped it with 4mm EVA foam, it was the thickness I was looking for. I wrapped a piece of 2mm foam around the bottom, then beveled it in to match the curve in the template. After that, I cut out and refined the bottom piece. That took a fair amount of trial and error. I’d only blueprinted out the side view, so I had to check my photographic references to get the shape really figured out. I was pretty happy with how that eventually turned out, but it took a minute. The shape is very complex. Once that was the way I wanted it, I used contact cement to glue the pommel piece to the longer handle part.

detailAfter that, I needed to tackle the detailing along the side of the foregrip. This was going to be a bit challenging, given that the blueprint I’ve been working from is two-dimensional, while I had a three-dimensional, mostly cylindrical shape to work with. I started by cutting out the appropriate piece and mocking it up on the detailless foregrip I’d just finished. From there, I could see where I’d need to extend the piece to wrap around, so I mirrored the template piece onto some paper and extended the top part. Then I cut that one out and fiddled a bit to get everything lined up properly. Once I’d gotten it to my satisfaction, I taped the two sides together, smoothed out the joins in the middle, then transferred the whole design to some craft foam. I cut that out, then glued it to the handle using contact cement. Finally, I had to do some cleanup on the sides to maintain the tapered shapes on the pommel piece.

And with that, I came to a finish for the day. I couldn’t help but pull together what I’d finished to see how it looked, and it was definitely starting to get that Borderlands feel to it. There’s a lot going on with this gun, and still more pieces to come.

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Finally, Progress You Can See: Borderlands 3 Pistol Nerf Mod, Part 3

The last time I was able to work on the pistol, I ended up here:


Since then, I’m pleased to say I’ve made what feels like some real progress! I’m not able to work on it as much as I’d like to, but a few hours here and there does eventually start to add up.

The first tasks I decided to tackle were to take care of some of the holes that are in the pistol, either by design, or because I modified something. (Or because this belonged to my son beforehand, and he lost some pieces, like the base of the grip. That’s okay, I wanted to change the shape of that anyway.)


I covered over and beveled the back of the pistol to disguise the hole I made when I cut the charging handle for the nerf gun out of there. (Goodbye functional nerf pistol! And hello, whatever this is!) The shape is only loosely based on the Borderlands gun. I may dress it up a bit later to get it closer, but for now, the ugly hole is gone.

So back to the grip… Originally, it looked like this:


My original thought had been to somehow incorporate that weird little nub that used to hold on the end of the battery compartment, but after trying to wrap my head around how I was going to clear that, I decided simply to lop off the offending piece. A short while later, and with the help of my trusty hacksaw, I had something that was going to be a lot easier to deal with.


It wasn’t completely flat, but that gave me something *much* easier to work with. I also roughed out some additions on the grip. I wanted to get those done before finished the base of the grip.

After checking my reference photos about 5,000 times, I got some tracing paper to get to work on making a template. It took some doing. Even with the paper, the shape of the pistol is very complicated, but after some fiddling, and lots of drawing and cutting, and redrawing and recutting, I had something I could work with.IMG_1541

I traced my pattern onto some 2mm craft foam, then used contact cement to adhere the pieces to the grip. I smoothed out my seams with my rotary tool and the fine sanding drum bit. I’ll need to go back and do some sealing to hide the last of my sins, but overall, it ended up looking pretty good.

While waiting for contact cement to dry, I started on the grip’s base. It’s bit and chunky in the game, and I really wanted to bring that over. I glued a couple of 10mm pieces of EVA foam together and used my bench sander to get the wedge shape. Then I roughed out the shape using a knife before refining it using the rotary tool. I needed a spaced at the bottom, not only to fill in the space I made when I cut the nub off the grip, but also to get a little closer to matching the shape in the game.


And of course, I needed to add some detailing in! The strapping and “rivets” are in the original design. The line on the bottom of the grip is also. That I made by scoring the foam, then hitting it with a heat gun to open up the lines. It’s a super simple technique, but one I love to see. It works so well!!

The last thing to do was glue the grip pieces together, then head in for dinner.


As far as accomplishments go, it wasn’t a huge day, but it was fantastic to finally be building things on to the pistol. The shape of the gun is starting to take come through, and I couldn’t be more excited for the next accessories!

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Prep, Prep, and More Prep: Borderlands 3 Nerf Mod Pistol, Part 2

This is the boring part, at least it is for me. I’m always one who wants to get to the meat of a task. Prep and cleanup are the worst bits of it, but I’ve (finally) learned that they’re as important to a process as the doing is. Now if only there was a way to go back in time and tell that to my younger art student self…

So it doesn’t look like I’ve gotten very far. I started from here:


And I’ve gotten here:


I know, it doesn’t look like a lot, but that is probably somewhere around ten hours or so of work. Keep in mind, I’m working full time, doing edits on my current manuscript, DMing a twice-monthly DnD game, while also trying to be a good wife and step-mom. The progress isn’t going as quickly as I’d like, but it’s coming.

So how did I get to my after picture?

Much of that ten hours was spent on sanding. I decided that I wanted to not only get rid of all the Nerf logos and messaging, but also the weird bits of texture. I kept a little bit of it, but most of that went. I bent myself to my task armed with big files, medium files, needle files, and many grits of sanding blocks and paper. I’d thought I could just sand away what I didn’t want with my Dremel, but I quickly learned that it was doing a better job of melting the plastic than it was removing it, so I had to apply myself manually.

That was…time-consuming. Also mind-numbing. And gave me some interesting blisters. I knocked back the major stuff, then took the pistol apart to get access to certain areas.


I took the photo mostly so I’d be able to put the whole thing back together.

I’d had the idea that I would trim down the trigger, but after seeing how it went together, I decided not to mess with the structural integrity of that mechanism too much. I did fill in the weird holes in the plastic with Bondo (more sanding). I then clipped off the dart priming mechanism, and pulled apart all the orange pieces so I could prep them for paint.

And did that include more sanding? Of course it did! Apparently Nerf plastic doesn’t take paint well, so everything needs to be sanded to prepare the surface for priming. In my after photo, you’ll notice most of the orange bits are now black. The currently remaining orange plastic is going to be covered up as part of the mod.

While the paint dried, I sanded the body of the gun, working my way through progressively finer grits of sand paper, mostly to get rid of the worst of the file marks. It doesn’t sound like much on paper, but it took a LONG time.

After all of that prep, I decided I wanted to actually make something, dammit! So I started on the little bayonet. And I was so excited that I forgot to take process photos.


You can see in the photo how it’s constructed. I have a piece of plastic (Sintra) in the middle for some structure. The bulk of the construction is EVA/craft foam. I built it using blueprints I created using Inkscape (yes, more prep).


Most of my builds start with the blueprint before I ever step foot in the shop. This one is a little different because I could start with physically prepping the gun, and I only have to create the blueprint for each piece, and not the whole thing. The bayonet was an even better place to start as I really only needed one side.

Basically, I printed out the blueprint, then used is as a template to cut out foam, which I glued to the plastic base of the bayonet. I then beveled it to create the blade and insane cutouts. Stabilizing those edges with crazy glue after the fact was hugely helpful in stabilizing the pretty fragile edges. That part of the build was only a couple of hours. Now the bayonet lives in a large coffee tin so my cat with the appetite for EVA foam doesn’t chew large holes into it. Once it’s painted, he won’t be interested, but until then, all foam items have to be locked up. One day I’ll post a picture of my foam protection measures.

At that point, it was back to prepping the pistol. Everything was sanded down to where I wanted it, so I put it all back together. Everything still fit, and it went together perfectly on the second try. I gave a quick mental thank you to past me for thinking to take that picture, and screwed everything down. Then I mixed up a small bit of Apoxie Sculpt and plugged the screw holes.IMG_1526

The holes aren’t quite flush, which I did on purpose. This is where I left it for the day, as the Apoxie Sculpt takes three hours to completely harden. However, I still need to Bondo those holes and the seams, then sand (yay!) it all back down. After that, it’s make some modifications to the gun to fix the hole in the back where I removed the priming thingamajig, build a new cap at the bottom of the grip, and fill the dart storage holes at the front (not visible in this photo). Then it’s build more pieces!!!

I’m reasonably pleased with my progress, I just wish there wasn’t so much boring crap to get through before the fun part begins. I also wish I’d remembered to take those progress pics. More next time, I promise!

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Something new: Borderlands 3 Nerf Pistol Mod, Part 1

Everyone knows there’s a lot going on right now. Like, a lot. What everyone might not know is that I deal with a little thing called Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Current events are making the eternal negotiation between my brain and limbic system a little…interesting.

On the one hand, this feels like the event my brain has been training for. I spend so much of my time waiting for the other show to drop, and now that it FINALLY has, those nights of lying awake while my brain spins up countless doomsday scenarios suddenly seems worth it. We started doing what we could weeks before the stay-at-home order came out. So that’s a bonus!

The downside is that we’ve been in this for long enough that my brain has started working on new scenarios. It’s not like it doesn’t have fertile ground for this. My brain is a pro at worrying, about asking what-ifs ad nauseam, it’s part of what makes me a decent writer. It’s also getting hard to sleep at night.

When the proverbial shit first hit the fan, I had problems engaging with my creative brain. I was in a place where my creative works had naturally hit a slow point. My latest book was out to beta readers, and comments were only starting to trickle in. I’d finished my most recent prop project, and none of the ideas I’d had lined up to do next were really tickling my fancy. One idea had been to work on rehabbing my Elder Scrolls IMG_1046Skyrim cosplay to enter into the local con this summer, but that was sounding less and less likely.

But now that my brain had found some new ruts to churn in, I decided it was time to get back up on that creative horse I’d been letting flop around the pasture with no particular direction. First thing to get going was the novel. That does have a deadline, after all. It’s a generous one, but not enough that I’d be doing myself any favors by letting it get too far away from me. On the plus side, my editing passes have been fruitful, not only because I got some great feedback from my betas (with a couple more to come, hopefully), but because I gave myself a whole chunk of time before coming back to the story. That always helps me figure out the holes in the manuscript.

That only scratches one of my creative itches, however. It’s time to get a new prop project going. For that, I’ve decided to do something completely different, not only in the prop, but also with this very blog post. I’m going to document my progress, and add write-ups here. I have no idea if anyone else is going to be interested in that process, but I’m doing it anyway!

I’m also breaking out of the Fallout/Elder Scrolls box I’d put myself in thus far. That’s right, I’m finally doing a prop outside Bethesda’s IP! I have a whole new style to learn, so that’s exciting! I enjoy a new challenge, and this is definitely going to deliver it. I’m also going to be modding a pre-existing item, which is something I’ve never done before.

So what I’m doing is transforming this lowly busted Nerf pistol I inherited from my son:


into this Borderlands 3 Dahl Raptor pistol with all sorts of bells and whistles:


I’ve never done any modding before. On the plus side, it no longer fires so I don’t need to worry about maintaining that action. On the down side, I’m going to be doing a lot of prep to get the pistol to a point where it’s ready for modification and paint. I foresee a lot of sanding in my future!

I’m looking forward to making some new things, and hopefully giving my brain something to grind on that it can actually control. We’ll see how the write-ups go. The build is going to be worked on as I have the time for it, which you’d think I’d have a lot of right now, but my wife has ideas for projects…

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Hunter’s Descent

IMG_1296It’s almost here!!!!!!! I’ve gotten my massive stack of author copies. I’m getting ready to swing into giveaway mode. The excitement is starting to take hold.

What’s this all about, you ask? It’s been almost two years, but the sequel to Five Moons Rising is out in right around two weeks.  Hunter’s Descent was a challenge to write. That should be a redundant statement. I mean, every book is its own challenge. Descent was merely challenging in a new way.

This is the first sequel that I didn’t write right after the preceding book. The On Deception’s Edge trilogy was written back to back to back. The first book of the series, Depths of Blue, is the first novel I ever wrote. In fact, when I started writing it, I thought the whole trilogy was going to be one book. It didn’t take long before I figured out that it was much too long and I was going to have to chop what I thought was one book into three parts. Since I’d never published anything before, I had the leisure of writing through all three books in one go. Then I polished the crap out of Depths and submitted it for publication with Bella Books. While it was being considered, I was able to start working through the drafts of Heights of Green and Vortex of Crimson.

Things are different now. Hunter’s Descent is my sixth novel. (WHAT!?) I wrote a steampunk novel between it and Five Moons Rising. Demon in the Machine was very different in tone and feel than Five Moons was. That was on purpose. I loved writing Demon, it’s probably the easiest story I’ve done so far, and it scratched a creative itch I was feeling at the time, but Malice and Ruri’s story was still playing out in my head.

Once I finished up with Demon, I knew I wanted to get back to them. I’d left their story on a positive, if uncertain note, and I knew there was more ground to tread there. Getting back into their heads was a bit of a challenge, however. Malice was the hardest to get a handle on. I started her story back when I was going through a lot of upheaval in my life. I was frustrated and angry, and her character lent itself to a lot of what I was going through at the time. I’m not in that place anymore, and I’m glad for it. I’ve moved on, but Malice has waaaay more issues than I did. Her anger is still there under the surface, ready to boil over. I was able to get back in touch with her, but it took me probably halfway through the first draft to do so.

Ruri has always been an enigma to me. She is way more even-keeled and laid back than I can ever hope to be. I really enjoy that about her character, and it’s fun to explore sides of a personality that I simply don’t have. This time around, I had an easier time wrapping my brain around Ruri’s motivations. She’s laid-back, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t get frustrated. The situation I put them in, and where Malice currently is in her own head put Ruri in a bit of a pickle. Yes, even solid-as-a-rock Ruri can still lose her shit when it’s justified.

I did get there, and I’m very pleased with how the story turned out and the interplay between the main characters. Hopefully, you will all be pleased as well!!

Hunter’s Descent

While investigating the deaths of multiple students at a boot-camp style institution, Malice and Ruri become trapped in the mysterious Kingdom of Flower and Bone–a netherworld filled with both magical and malignant beings. But which is which? Even ancient forces aren’t immune to petty squabbles. Will the pair make it out alive?

Mary Alice Nolan, code-named “Malice,” is a Hunter: genetically modified and rigorously trained to track and kill supranormals (“supras”) such as werewolves, vampires, and demons. Seeking revenge after her sister is malevolently “turned” into a werewolf, the last thing the hot-tempered Malice expected was to develop deep desires for one of her sworn enemies.

Ruri Samson is a magnificent golden-eyed wolven without a pack. Smart, sensitive and loyal, she considers Malice her mate. Ruri would sacrifice her own life to protect her—and this time she just may have to.

Hunter’s Descent is the sequel to Five Moons Rising.

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