Lysa Chen has the world’s coolest job title and some great pot roast tips

This interview was originally published in the January 26, 2018 issue of The Slant. Want Asian American news, media and culture delivered to your inbox every Friday morning? Subscribe today!

In 6 Questions, we ask awesome Asian Americans the same 6 questions every week, and give them the chance to ask another one.

This week, we interviewed Lysa Chen, a writer and floral designer based in New Jersey, best known for her writing in Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition, including credits for Adventurers League, Wizards of the Coast and the Role Initiative. Lysa is also a Dungeon Masters Guild Adept and serves as the Associate Community Manager of the D&D Adventurers League organized play system.

We caught up with Lysa over Skype.

1. What did your parents want you to be?

Lysa Chen: So probably the earliest thing they wanted me to be was maybe an engineer of some sort — in computer engineering. Then I think they gave up on that and really wanted me to go into some sort of Wall Street job. Basically they always wanted me to be some version of really really successful that has been demonstrated to them.

Andrew Hsieh: Yeah, that’s really interesting — the only reason we ask this question is because it’s such a stereotypical Asian American thing, right, that we’re doctors or engineers? But it’s interesting because I think that’s the first time we’ve gotten Wall Street so far.

LC: Oh, really? Yeah, for Wall Street — my dad was in banking and I studied economics at Duke University, and pretty much everyone in my department has gone on to Wall Street. It’s not for me, though.

AH: So along those same lines …

2. What gets you excited to create your work?

LC: Well, I do a lot of Dungeons & Dragons writing. And I very recently became a community manager for Adventurers League [the ongoing official campaign of Dungeons & Dragons].

And I’d say honestly, the D&D community online and my local community are probably what get me the most excited. I’ve made so many friends and seen the game make such a difference in people’s lives that it’s a lot more than a game to me. It’s something really, really meaningful. And getting to create for that is one of the most joyful things I’ve ever experienced.

And then I guess I’m excited to work on particular projects and to create so many things in pop culture or fantasy or sci-fi, like movies and television or books. You read [other books] and they’re so entertaining and inspiring, they make you want to create at that same level.

3. What do you do when you hit a creative block?

LC: So I’m a writer, so writer’s block is real. I will outline whatever I’m writing, over and over again — I write an obscene amount of outlines, even if I know I’m just rewriting the same thing. My notebook looks like that of a crazy person in that way.

If I tell myself it’s just an outline, it feels a lot safer to put down an idea on paper, without it having to feel perfect. And I find that by doing that, by the end my last outline is basically my piece that needs a little bit more formatting. Although usually along the way, I realize that I’m actually writing — and I start writing and formatting so I don’t have to go back, since that’s a pain.

AH: So you do a lot of D&D writing — is that adventures [prewritten story modules for players to use]? What does that look like?

LC: I write full adventures — from the concept and the idea to all the NPCs [non-player characters] and personalities that people meet, or different rules for different traps or challenges. I might predict what someone will do in character to help give the DM [Dungeon Master, a facilitator of a Dungeons & Dragons game] some rules on how they can accomplish that.

Sometimes I write some different encounters that might just be a short interaction with monsters. Or some trap or challenge which I’ve collaborated with on with some of the Guild Adepts [officially featured Dungeons & Dragons creators] that I’m a part of.

4. What’s something you’ve been really into lately?

LC: I guess it’s not related to my writing or any of my creative endeavors at all, but I’m currently obsessed with how to cook the perfect pot roast. I’ve been working from home a lot — I transitioned from being a full-time florist to a freelance florist, so I could spend a lot more time on my writing.

So I’ve become super domestic, and I’ve discovered the wonders of the one-pot meal. I’ve learned all about deglazing pans with wine and the competitive student in me has been doing a lot of studies about that. I’m trying different things, trying to come up with the perfect pot roast hypothesis to test before I make the next one.

AH: Is there a particular recipe you use?

LC: So I guess I don’t really cook by recipes — I just cook by feel and my sense of smell. But I’ve been reading a lot of tips, like using more than one liquid. Like not just using beef stock — using beef stock and wine will develop a more complex flavor. I’m also learning from my early experiments that I think I wanna put the vegetables in later, because when you put them in the beginning, all the flavor leaks into the sauce. Which is great, but then your vegetables get really mushy.

I have a lot of tips about this one particular meal if people want to ask about that.

AH: I think we need to give you a column that’s just about D&D and pot roast.

LC: (laughs) D&D and pot roast?

AH: Yeah, like here’s how to play D&D, and here’s the meal you serve when you invite them over.

LC: Yeah, it’s really good especially as we’re going into the weekend — it’s the perfect lazy Sunday meal, ’cause it’s gotta cook for at least 3 hours, but you can make like a giant batch and eat leftovers for dinner, which is perfect.

5. When did you feel successful?

LC: I have a complicated relationship with success. And I don’t know if it’s true, but I feel like a lot of other Chinese Americans might identify with it. At least in my household, there was a really high bar — my parents are really smart and successful in their own way. They came to the States for graduate school, and in my household, success was just the expectation. Like you get straight A’s so you can be praised for 5 minutes. And then you have to start doing your homework so you can get straight A’s for your next report card.

So I’ve had lots of little moments of success. Like after college, I got my first job and moved out and became financially independent. I maybe patted myself on the back for a day before I moved onto my next goal.

I’d say recently — I used to work a corporate marketing job, and I did it for 5 years. And I decided I wasn’t happy, so I left. And for people who’ve done that — I imagine they also feel that it’s really terrifying, and might think they made a mistake. So when I realized that there were other things that I could do, that I could be successful in writing — that was always my dream — and that people were really receptive to that, that I was bringing happiness into other people’s lives, I felt a lot of success.

AH: That’s awesome, because I also work in corporate marketing, and I just had a really long day. So I was thinking, “what if I just didn’t do marketing?” And now you’re telling me you did corporate marketing for 5 years, but then you quit, and now you’re bringing happiness into other people’s lives. And I’m like, “hmmm, maybe I need to start writing D&D adventures.”

LC: Do it! More D&D for everybody!

AH: (laughs) I’ll tell my boss on Monday.

LC: Your mileage may vary.

6. If you were a dog, what breed would you be?

LC: Well, if I were a dog, I would want to be a pug. ’cause they are super-duper cute and small and make funny faces. And I’m just gonna say sometimes I do that, so I could be a pug, you don’t know!

But if I were a cat, I would be a black cat. Because you’re always a little bit of an outcast, but there are certain groups of people who really, really love you.

AH: There’s almost a lot of unpack there.

LC: So many layers.

BONUS QUESTION from singer-songwriter Jae Jin: What’s one story from the past 17 days where someone encouraged or inspired you?

LC: Now I’m like, “did that happen 18 days ago?” I feel like there’s been so many things. I’m gonna look at my planner now.

I mean — really the past few weeks for me, I’ve had a lot of people reach out to say they’ve seen various talks I’ve done about my transition from marketing into D&D. And how that’s filled them with a lot of hope and inspiration — that even if they don’t leave their full-time jobs like I did, ’cause that’s a really big leap, that they can throw themselves into their hobbies and their passions and make a difference in the community.

I think my having done that resonates with people a lot, ’cause I’ve only been playing D&D for about two years. 5e [5th Edition, the latest version of D&D, published in 2014] was my first edition. And all in the course of just last year, I was invited to write for Adventurer’s League. I was invited to join the Guild Adepts. A few other secret projects I can’t talk about. And I was tapped to become an administrator for Adventurers League.

And so that’s been amazing. And it just really makes my day when people reach out to let me know that my story and life has meant something to them. Because I mean, who doesn’t want to hear that?

AH: Can you break down what an administrator for Adventurers League does?

LC: So we share a lot of different responsibilities. There are six of us, and till my recent hiring it’s always been the same six people. So I guess my experience as an admin is a little different from the rest of them, since they were there since day one. But they all manage the community and certain questions on Facebook or Twitter. We talk about anything from upcoming storylines to when we need to make rulings about hardcover books and the actual 5e rules, versus what needs to be an Adventurers League rule, to make sure there’s an even playing ground for everyone.

As a community manager, some of my projects right now — I’ve been thinking of new and interesting ways to engage the community. So even though I officially started in January, my first project was in December. I helped create a Midwinter Festival, which was my first time doing a holiday. I was really inspired by MMO festivals and the way they gather community through that. So I did that, and I put together a holiday calendar for the year.

And kind of similar to the chat we’re doing right now, I’m starting to do interviews with different members of the community. DMs, players, organizers, facilitators. And my hope is to just facilitate discussions between everybody and get individual tips that are helpful to everybody.

Lots of different things. So many things.

AH: What do you want to ask the next guest?

LC: What D&D class would you be? Like, who do you think reflects who you are as a person?

AH: Awesome. Hey, that was super fun. Thanks so much, and we should definitely do that pot roast and D&D feature.

LC: If you try making a pot roast and it goes really well, I wanna know so I know what you did.

AH: (laughs) Okay!

LC: And if it goes really badly, let me know and I will help troubleshoot your pot roast.

Lysa Chen is a writer, florist and all-around creative. You can find and purchase her work for Dungeons & Dragons at Dungeon Masters Guild or listen to Lysa talk about how she got started in D&D on the Dragon Talk podcast. Finally, read more about Lysa at her website and tell her all about your D&D and pot roast adventures.