Surprise!

So, I’ve been pretty quiet on here for the past two years – this new forever-at-home situation changed things up for everyone. For me, even though I adore my family, it meant that we were all together, all the time. Even now, two years later, my husband still comes down four or five times during work hours to chat and my girls will still set up camp on my floor to just hang out with me while they play on their tablets and I work. I love that we’re all close. Three floors to this house, and my family chooses to be within ten feet of me more often than not. <3 Great feels.

Terrible for productivity, haha.

However, I haven’t stopped creating. I just… changed what I was doing. I changed my medium. I started doing something more interactive, something my entire family has completely bought into. And, more than them – 4,500+ strangers on the internet have bought into it too.

Let me take a step back. I’ve always had dolls for as long as I can remember. I had my own baby doll that Santa gave me when I was small (Jenny – I still have her), then I had Barbies and similar fashion dolls. My brother and I used to play out epic stories with them, dinosaurs, Lego men, Littlest Petshops, GI Joe, and whatever else fit. We had stories going on for days at a time, left them where they were to go do what we had to (dinner, sleep, school), and pick right back up the next day.

My grandmother also gave me a few porcelain dolls over time, and I even played with those (you’re not supposed to, but oh well). We had fun with whatever we had. Most kids did. My mother always instilled a sentiment of, ‘take care of your things, they cannot be easily replaced,’ so years later, I still have almost all of these beloved toys and dolls, the ones that didn’t go to my brothers.

I guess you could say I never really lost my love of toys and dolls. Small little characters and cute things always gave me the happy feels. I had keychains throughout middle and high school, and when I was in college, I started making plushies – stuffed animals. I realized that if I couldn’t find the things I wanted, maybe I could make them. For years I made quite a few plushies. Some I kept, but I mostly sold or gave them away (plushies can add up fast).

Then, Monster High happened. My friend and I started collecting these – tentatively at first. They were so cool – fashion dolls based on monsters, horror icons, fantasy creatures, and completely wild concepts. These were things we wished we’d had when we were little, and now we had adult jobs and incomes. Eventually, that line died out, but my hobby as a doll collector was solidified. I ordered a doll in 2019 from Culture Japan, a company I’d been aware of for a while, and my hobby completely shifted.

This doll was Kira, my first ball-joint doll (bjd). She was a Smart Doll Serenity, of the doll variety with a soft vinyl shell that sits on top of a plastic skeleton. They are super poseable, completely customizable, and are beautiful to look at. Honestly, I wanted a boy version, but they were unavailable at the time. A month later, the boys became available again, and you could say things truly changed once he showed up.

I not only was having fun playing with these dolls, but also sewing and creating for them (they are 1/3 size, so pretty large – things for them are still miniature, but easy to make them look as realistic as their full-size counterparts). As soon as the boy, Damien, showed up I started making them interact and so started my doll stories.

In a world where everything was stressful, you didn’t know if you were going to go into the office again next month, or if they’d keep eternally pushing out the ‘return-to-work’ plan, you didn’t know if you’d be able to dodge the big C-word as you darted into the grocery store for essentials or searched for toilet paper in empty aisles, or if your family members were safe as they had to navigate the same dangers you were, focusing on anything large like a book was hard.

However, posing dolls, taking photos, and captioning them like comics with word bubbles and callouts – that was palatable. 10-picture limits thanks to Instagram made it so I had to tell stories with minimal images and text. I could manipulate the dolls to portray emotions and actions I usually had to rely on prose for. The dialogue had to carry the entire personality for the characters I was representing. It was fun! It was work, like all writing is, but it was fun! I got to create, customize, and dress the tiny actors and make them come to life.

They really did come to life too – not only was I having fun telling small stories, but my family was getting into it too. I would often find dolls posed in new positions when I came back to them. My husband would make them do silly things or pick on each other, my oldest daughter would fix whatever he did and give them objects and small plushies, and my youngest would turn everyone’s hands so she could give them small treats like plastic cupcakes and cookies to hold. They all know the dolls’ personalities because of the characters I developed for them, and they have favorites. The girls love helping me pick out new outfits to put them in. I’ve found them making stories and creating characters with their own Wellie Wishers, Barbies, Ever After High, and Rainbow High dolls.

They aren’t the only ones that enjoyed this little bit of fun in the middle of a world full of stress. I just created and told stories, posting them on Instagram, and somehow I managed to gather a large following of people that seemed to just enjoy the smiles. There are dozens of photographers that take beautiful photos of dolls, clothes and pattern makers, prop and accessory makers, doll makers, and then others that just love the dolls. However, even though people seem to generally have a preferred doll line or style, I found that people of all kinds and preferences followed me. For years I was confused why I was getting so many followers from all over the world because I was not the best crafter, photographer, or sewist, but now I realize it’s because I was telling stories. My true strength.

This week I gathered up all of the stories I told on Instagram in the past three years and put them in one place here on my website, and it amazed me just how many I told. No wonder people were entertained for so long!

This also made me feel better about my lack of book progress for the past few years. I got The Hunt published in 2019, but things have been such a struggle since. I didn’t feel like I’d stagnated, but I couldn’t see the book progress. I was being silly: I was still writing, I just wasn’t writing the same way I had before quarantine happened.

I was also silly to hide this. I had two different public personas for the past three years. EM Johnson, who wrote three books and had two more in the pipe, nearly ready to publish, and then Eliz, who was telling an entirely different story in an entirely different medium.

Why was I keeping these two parts separate? Because one was playing? I have no idea. Writing is playing. Writing is also work. But, at times the doll stories were work too. You don’t always feel like going through all the effort of setting dolls up, taking photos, captioning each photo, and then posting it all online. It takes time and hard work.

At the end of it, I look back at the doll stories and I’m proud of them, and I want to share them with you all. I haven’t been hibernating the past few years, I’ve just been creating and writing how I’m able to. Things feel like they are starting to settle into a new normal, and this new normal will include both of these outlets; novels and photo stories.

The Shield is ready for its final edit and formatting for print. The Streets is nearly done with its first draft. I’ve started The System. Division 53 is still alive and will have some movement and developments this year, hopefully soon. And I’ll keep up my creative exercises with my dolls.

To check out the doll stories, you can follow my account on Instagram, @division53_dolls – or you can go to the Doll Stories link on the left-hand menu of this website and see the whole archive, in chronological order from the very first story I made when Damien came home.

And if dolls aren’t your thing, don’t worry, the books are still coming! I have plans for the whole series, and I won’t dial it in.

Thanks for sticking around,
-EM

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