08 August 2020

I Broke Through the Hundred-Page Barrier!

Photo by Floris Andréa on Unsplash
Once upon a time, I wrote a book that was my graduate thesis at Seton Hill University. It was my first book ever, completed in 2013. And for a long time, I worked on that book to clean it up for submissions for agent representation. Then after a couple years of trying to tweak it and simultaneously work on its sequel, I stopped when I realized the book was problematic. I had to throw the whole thing out and start again, but I couldn't figure out how to do that from the bottom up. 

So I finally started working on something new, except it wasn't completely unfamiliar to me. Years ago I wanted to produce  my own comic; a love letter to fairy tales. Then I got to drawing and realized how difficult it was to produce something like that up to my own high standards...but I really liked the story idea, so I decided to switch it from being a comic series to a novel. That's how Son of the Siren came into existence. 

I changed names completely but the bare-bones concept remained intact -- about a half-human, half-siren Prince who uses his voice to save his father, but the magic of the siren song backfires horribly, changing his siblings into wild animals, and him having to go on a quest to save them.  I knew I wanted to combine elements of fairy tales such as The Seven Swans, Donkeyskin, Sleeping Beauty, The Little Mermaid, and other stories. 

In seven years, I had not treated myself to writing anything new. And in seven years, I had not written more than some cursory notes and maybe at most twenty pages of prose. 

In 2019, something in me changed. I don't know what...but it's the first time I've had this much momentum with a project in ages, and the first time since graduate school I've written over one hundred pages of a new book. Two days ago I blasted through 100 pages and will keep going. What makes this even more miraculous is that somehow I've managed to do this through a long-lasting, major depressive episode.  

I'm so relieved and happy, I could cry...but I gotta stop here and work on the book. 

I just thought I'd share this momentous occasion with you all, though, just because. 😘

01 August 2020

#52writing cards: Prompts from Shaun Levin's Writing Maps - no. 11

A version of this prompt appears on the Writing the Love Writing Map illustrated by Işık Bayraktar.

I. Kikuchi Gorge

Kikuchi Gorge is part of the Aso Kuju National Park in Kumamoto prefecture, and it's about 20 minutes from where I live. It's known for its beautiful blue rivers and waterfalls, but the forest is full of different types of trees. The only kind I know to recognize are the sugi, or cedar trees. 

The cedar trees at Kikuchi Gorge. (c) Kristina Elyse Butke. 

I don't have the capability of describing the scents of the forest properly. Cedar has a distinctive smell, wet, woody, and maybe almost sweet. The forest smelt mossy and damp...there's a rich, earthy scent to it equally indescribable on my part. 

I did not bring a journal with me when I went on this trip. I put one foot in front of the other to focus on reaching my destination, which included quite a few different waterfalls.  If I were to have stopped to write, however, I would remark upon the moss that covered the rocks and trees; the cold air that came off the river; the mist rising from the water as it rushed down the rocks; and the hikers lugging their tripods and giant cameras with great zoom lens that ruined the atmosphere of forest bathing.

II. Welcome to the Natural World

My mother told me a story of when I was growing up. I'm from Queens originally, and the rest of my family is in Ohio. When we would make the trip to visit our grandparents and other relatives, Ohio would be our gateway to nature. Through stories from my childhood, I'd heard that as tiny children growing up, we were afraid of the wind when it blew through the grasses. Ohio was our first true encounter with nature versus the concrete jungle that is New York City. 

Once I moved to Ohio at age five, suddenly nature was everywhere. My grandparents took us many places to explore it: Gorman Nature Center, Malabar Farm, Mohican State Park...and my mother enrolled us kids in summer camp, so every season we were out in the forests and fields.

November in Yakushima. (c) Kristina Elyse Butke
III. The Seasons

Most of the time, when I think of exploring nature, it tends to be during the summer months, so almost every memory I have is when the woods are at their most verdant green, and the temperature is a bit too much for me to handle. This is probably because summer was the only period where I ever had free time growing up, thanks to school being on break. 

But since coming to Japan, which prides itself on its four seasons, I've done more hiking in autumn -- probably because I find the Kyushu heat so unbearable! 

Japan is a lush, green country all year round, even when the leaves are off the trees (and even flowers bloom in winter, something I'm not used to seeing). 

Imagine my surprise when I chose November to visit the famed Yakushima Island  only to find most of the forest and its mosses were a bright, vivid green, with hardly any leaves turning. The picture at right was the only photograph I took that shows some variance in the color of the leaves. Deep in the forest interior, everything is bright and brilliant even amid the dark, misty atmosphere that pervades the wood. 

I have been in the forests of Japan in every season but winter. Where I live, the snow is scarce, so having snow-dusted trees is a bit of a far-reaching goal, but something I truly would love to see before my time here in Japan is at an end. 

IV.  The Animals

Since Yakushima has my all-time favorite forests, I can't forget about my first time seeing monkeys in the wild. 

A monkey in Yakusugi Land. (c) Kristina Elyse Butke

A lone monkey on Yakushima.
 (c) Kristina Elyse Butke
The photo above is the first monkey I saw on Yakushima. I was walking along the covered path, maybe only about twenty minutes into my journey, when I heard a loud thud right in front of me that startled me so much I froze in place. The monkey just two feet away from me. The animal was much larger than I expected it to be, and it moseyed (really!) across the wooden platform and climbed up the tree. It didn't even seem to care that I was there. 

I saw many more monkeys in the woods at Yakusugi Land (like a family with babies!) and also along the road on the island, just hanging out. 

They also make the cutest little squeaking noise when they cry out -- I heard one calling out to the family group as it climbed a vine running across a river. 

Seeing monkeys in the wild -- and seeing them in a place that's not meant to represent a jungle -- proved to be a memorable experience and one of my many favorite parts of my journey to the forests of Yakushima.