23 May 2020

Roundtable Roundup: April and May 2020

Hello friends! As you may already know, I'm an editor and contributor over at Speculative Chic, a genre webzine that celebrates science fiction, fantasy, and horror -- and our angle is "Ladies Speculating on Speculative Things."

Every month I herd stories and opinions from our contributors on a specially chosen topic, and assemble it into the Roundtable column. Here's our next Roundtable Roundup, covering the last months of spring before the column takes a breather and heads over to our FB page.

April 2020 - The Spec that Satisfies

[...] Last month we brought on the tissues and tears as we covered the saddest moments in speculative fiction…and as a counter to that post, I asked our contributors this month to give People feel happiness differently, and sometimes moments that bring us joy aren’t the typical Happily Ever After…so the key here is that the scenes we’ve chosen satisfy, and from that satisfaction, we feel happiness. This is our speculative comfort food. Please join us at our table, and dig in!
For this post I talk about special, satisfying moments in The Dark Knight, Avengers: Endgame, and Lord of the Rings: Return of the King. For all the feel-goodness of the genre, read more here.

 May 2020 - New Discoveries

It’s been hard to not make things about coronavirus and COVID-19 lately, but this is our new normal — one of continuous change. Maybe you’re struggling with a lot of free time on your hands due to quarantine. Maybe you’re inundated with bad news and have been seeking a pick-me-up outside of your usual creature comforts. Everyone is experiencing the impact of the virus differently, but one thing’s for sure…this has also been a time where people have been seeking out new things, all for the sake of trying something different. On that note, our editor-in-chic Shara White tapped into the zeitgeist by asking our contributors, “What have you discovered during coronavirus/quarantine that you wouldn’t have otherwise?”

For this entry I dive into the world of manwha (Korean comics) and venture outside my wheelhouse by reading copious amounts of romantic fantasy. I talk about two series available via Tappytoon: The Villian's Savior and A Tender Heart; both of which feature heroines who are magically transported into the worlds of novels to saved doomed characters. Read more here.

17 May 2020

#52writing cards: Prompts from Shaun Levin's Writing Maps - no. 9

A version of this prompt appears on the The Voice and Point of View Writing Map illustrated by Sarah Edmonds.

Some writers and their works I fell in love with:
  • Juliet Marillier - Daughter of the Forest (1999)
  • Cecelia Dart-Thornton - The Ill-Made Mute (2001)
  • Ursula Le Guin - A Wizard of Earthsea (1968)
  • Cecelia Dart-Thornton - The Ill-Made Mute (2001)
  • N. K. Jemisin - The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms (2010)

Of course I like much, much more than that (and yes, even newer works!), but whenever there's a request for favorites, these are my old reliables, because each author wrote a book that changed my life during my formative years that made me go, "I want to be a writer." 

I read all of these books while I was in school, back when I still had the attention span and clear frame of mind to read multiple works at once (for work and for leisure).

I read Juliet Marillier's Daughter of the Forest during my freshman year of college in 2001 and it was the book that made me want to write novels(I had only written plays and short stories at this time). I loved the historical fantasy retelling of the Six Swans fairytale, and it also turned me on to romantic elements in fiction. The love story between Sorcha and Red, and the image of him watching her with the wind blowing through her hair just lasted with me for what would be, oh, nineteen years now?  I loved the book so much I found Marillier's email address and sent her a couple sentences telling her how much I adored it. To my delight she responded back and somewhere in my house in America, I have printed out and saved this email exchange. 

I need to go back and reread this book again -- I'm sure it's held up over the years, and it would be like revisiting an old friend. 

Within the same year or so, during the summer when I was back in Mansfield from college in Columbus, I picked up The Ill-Made Mute from the local library. I grabbed it because of its original US cover design, the drawing of a cloaked figure journeying through the forest. 

This book taught me about language in narrative (literally it was the first fiction book where as an adult I had to use the dictionary to look some of the words!), but the most memorable images of the book came from the Unseelie Wights in the forest, particularly the Each-uisge  (water horse) that popped up out of the water to look at the characters rowing down the river before dropping down below again. The special metal ore in the book that allowed for ships to fly in the clouds also created some beautiful images I couldn't get out of my head. The descriptions of the book were so vivid, and I wanted to figure out how to do that with my own writing. 

In 2004 when I studied in Wales I took a Science Fictions course at Trinity College in Carmarthen (now a branch campus of Trinity St. David) and that's when I read Ursula K. Le Guin for the first time. We were assigned to read The Dispossessed, and while I can barely remember that novel, I do remember liking Le Guin's prose enough that I wanted to check out her other work. When my professor said she wrote fantasy, I went to the local library and checked out The Earthsea Quartet; then before I left Wales I bought my own copy of the book after reading A Wizard of Earthsea. Then I got to reread it one more time during graduate school for my fantasy Readings in the Genre course!

What particularly stood out to me from Earthsea was the concept of shadow and light, and how Ged's sin continued to chase after him throughout the book. This book is very much features psychological struggles.

I also loved the introduction of the concept of True Names, which is actually ancient and a part of real-life societies and religions, but to see it here fleshed out as magic really stuck out to me.

Another key point about Earthsea is that Le Guin's lead is an actual brown, "copper-colored" man, and the world she created features all sorts of shades of skin. This was a huge departure for me with what I'd read up until that point, because white fantasy is everywhere all over this genre (but that has been changing for a while now, and will continue to do so).

This is one of the most formative books for me when it comes to building magic systems and turning character conflict inward.

In 2010 or 2011 I read N.K. Jemisin's The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms as an assignment for my fantasy Readings in the Genre class at Seton Hill University. I had never heard of Jemisin or this book before, and after some health problems that threatened my ability to concentrate (and continue to do so), I vowed to stop reading epic fantasy because it was too much work for me, and I was tired of the genre tropes and disappointed by a lot of what I was reading. So, I hate to admit it, but I never would have picked up this book because its very title screamed "epic fantasy" to me.

Thank goodness for Seton Hill making me read this because this book changed the genre for me. It was unlike any fantasy I had ever read. Jemisin's worldbuilding and the story of gods in chains really stood out to me. It all seemed so effortless and memorable, particularly with the gods Nahadoth and Sieh. The heroine Yeine was also a character I had never encountered before -- just a really cool lead who was complex and rang so true to me.

This was also a fantasy that had flat-out sexy times. Yeine and Nahadoth, oh my god. The description in that scene blew me away. What is it like to taste a god, by the way? It's something indescribable, and yet Jemisin did it so well.

A particularly memorable line of dialogue that might seem like nothing to you is a simple exchange between Nahadoth and Yeine. When they run into each other, Nahadoth says a rather innocent, "It's been a while," and Yeine points out to the reader that she had just seen him. There's so much information packed in this exchange, basically reinforcing the fact that even though Nahadoth is chained, he is still a god, and experiences time and form differently.

I also enjoyed the image of Sieh playing with his toy balls -- aka actual freaking planets.

This book is cool and haunting AF and changed my life forever.


Ok, I confess -- picking a writer I love and copying their work out by hand everyday for a week -- I didn't do this for the simple fact that of all the books I listed above, I sold them. 😭 I had purchased copies of all of them in Japan as comfort food, just in case I got homesick.

Our charity and social organization in Kumamoto, KumAJET, regularly sells English books whose proceeds go to the local orphanage, and they seek donations for quality books. My books are all new and in great condition, and I figured that a) I had copies of them back in America and b) at some point I need to return home and purge my library in Japan or else blow hundreds of dollars in shipping ... so I donated all of these old favorites.

As a compromise, I found quotes online excerpting A Wizard of Earthsea, and wrote those out by hand:

I don't really want to absorb an author's style into my own -- a voice is what makes a writer distinctive and unique, and I want to have my own voice. But the way details are revealed, and the focus on characterization, psychology, imagery, and worldbuilding in all of these books -- that type of emulation I can get behind wholeheartedly.

12 May 2020

#52writing cards: Prompts from Shaun Levin's Writing Maps - no. 8

A version of this prompt appears on the Write by the Sea Writing Map illustrated by Fathima Kathrada.
The beaches I've been to worldwide.
As much as I love the sea, I've only been to a few beaches ... lots of coastlines and walking along shores, certainly, but I don't count it as going to a beach unless I'm directly on the sand and dipping my toes in the water.

I can only go by what I can remember, but I'm pretty sure my very first beach ever was Long Beach in New York City, since I'm originally from New York (Queens). That means at a very, very young age I got to swim in the Atlantic Ocean. There was even a time when we'd visit my godparents in Connecticut and they'd take us out on the houseboat on the water, and we'd go swimming there, too...but I don't remember where that was, so it's not on the map.

When we moved to Ohio when I was five, there was no longer the access to the sea, so the next best thing was Lake Erie or the local reservoirs close to the area I grew up in.

The beaches in Ohio and New York.

In Ohio near my hometown, that meant Charles Mill Lake and Clear Fork Reservoir, although between the two we actually swam at Charles Mill and I think only walked around the Clear Fork area. I've never been swimming in Lake Erie, but did a lot of goofing off in the sand and dipping my feet and legs in, but most of all riding on boats.

I never swam in Wales (Tenby and Swansea) or in Japan (Ashikita, Karatsu, Kabe Island, and Izumo) -- I just rolled my pant legs up and walked on in.

The thing about being a girl, and being a woman, too, is that you learn to hate your body. When you're a child, you don't notice so much -- your body is chubby and a bit on the androgynous side just like all the other kids -- but once you hit puberty, men didn't seem to care how old I was. I remember being twelve, fourteen, seventeen...and stared at and getting lewd gestures. You see, by the time I was thirteen I pretty much hit my adult height, give or take an inch or half (I'm 5'10), but the thing was, even though my body was changing I was still a freaking child and that should have been very obvious.

When I had an athletic dancer's body, I hated wearing a bathing suit because I hated other people seeing me. And when I had a curvy body, then later a fat body, I hated wearing a bathing suit because I hated seeing myself.

The last time I swam at a proper beach was age 18. The last time I swam in a pool was age 22. At the time of writing this I'll be turning 37 in July.

That's a long time to be hating yourself.


The place where I hit the most seaside towns had to be the UK. It's helpful when you're just a giant island! I lived a semester abroad in Wales - so about five months - and got to do a lot of travelling as part of the exchange program, so that meant a giant tour of Wales's famous historical and culturally significant places, and that's how I got to visit places like Swansea, Tenby, and Aberystwyth.

The beaches in Wales. 

 I'll always remember my sister and I walking around the Mumbles at Swansea and checking out Oystermouth castle, and I remember when one of my friends from high school visited me and I took her out to roughly the same area in Swansea. We rolled up our pants, stuck our feet in the sea, and sang "Part of Your World" from The Little Mermaid because we were giant dorks.

Aberystwyth's sea was a brief experience because the ocean out there is fierce and wild, and has taken many lives and swept people away. I didn't technically walk into the sea because I took that warning very seriously. But I got to the edge of the lookout as far as I could and got splashed when the water hit the rocks; and I did walk along the sand next to the pier, so that visit counts to me. Aberystwyth on the whole looks like it's from another time -- it's an old college town and the seaside, with its resorts and pubs, give off a warm, cozy feeling.

Out of all the seaside towns I've been to, though, Tenby is my favorite. I've written about Tenby before here and here. It even inspired the city of Mariner in my graduate thesis novel, The Name and the Key. There's a medieval stone wall that still runs around the city; there are nearby islands like St. Catherine's, which you can see right from the beach (technically within walking distance, though the water covers the way); you can catch a small boat to Caldey Island, home of a Cistercian monastery; and there's plenty of quaint shops, pubs, and pastel-painted buildings along the quay.


When it comes to remote islands, Japan is the place to be. But even so, islands that seem remote aren't exactly empty, because they're home to the kami, and you can almost always see a torii gate somewhere, as islands are venerated in Shinto.

One of my favorite prefectures to visit in Kyushu is Saga, and its city of Karatsu. While Karatsu Castle and Yuri on Ice! are probably two of its most famed contributions, I love it for Nijinomatsubara Pine Forest, which was built along the sea as a natural defensive wall and home to 1 million black Japanese pines. I also love the beaches there, of course -- the water is a brilliant turquoise and home to some of the warmest water I've had the pleasure of stepping into.
The beaches in Japan.

My absolute favorite place in Karatsu has to be Kabe Island. Just before you reach Kabe Island, there's a walkway under the bridge where you can find Bentenjima - a tiny, remote island named for the kami Benzaiten, the goddess of things that flow - and it's one of the places I feel is truly a "power spot," as my fellow Japanese like to call sacred spaces.

If you continue along the bridge and actually cross to Kabe Island, you can reach another beautiful shrine -- Tashima (sometimes spelled Tajima) Shrine, home of one of the Sayohime myths and the giant stone she turned into waiting for her loved one's return across the sea.

Whenever I mention these places to others, no one seems to know about them. They feel all the more special to me because I find them just randomly exploring them on my own.

There is another Bentenjima along the beach in Izumo that's a pretty popular tourist spot for photographs...I don't know how they managed to build a torii up on this vertical rock...but because it's often quite crowded, I don't get the "power spot" vibe so much. Nonetheless I still said "hello" to Benzaiten in Izumo anyway. She's a patron goddess of the arts and creativity, so I'd like to be on good terms with her, considering I'm a writer and all -- I need my words to flow!


I can't easily find connections between these places because they all seem so vastly different from each other. The beaches in America feel...touristy and "normal" in that there doesn't seem to be anything special that stands out to me. The beaches in Wales are places where it feels like you can touch history; meanwhile the beaches in Japan are places where myth becomes tangible.
Photo by Matt Hardy on Unsplash

The only common strain I see with all of them is that I have only been to beaches in the countries or states I've lived in. I don't seem to seek out beaches for their own sake; if they happen to be nearby or there's something quite famous about them, then I'll stop by if it's convenient. However, I've always enjoyed myself immensely every time, so I do think I'm a child of the sea in a way. It calms me. I love the sound and the smell, and I could stay there forever.

09 May 2020

The Purple Prince Project: Voltron Legendary Defender, S1-S3

Greetings, star stuff! As you may know, I'm an editor and contributor over at Speculative Chic, and every year contributors do a Resolution Project where they commit to some sort of goal related to books, games, movies, TV, etc.

Given my penchant for white-haired, purple-skinned animated elf men, the editor-in-chief and I have this sort of running gag where my project is unofficially called The Purple Prince Project. This is because I'm rewatching and reviewing Voltron: Legendary Defender with Prince Lotor, and The Dragon Prince, which has Runaan.

First up is Voltron: Legendary Defender, as this is a completed series. Check out my spoiler-filled, detailed reviews of seasons 1-3 by clicking on the images...and beware of spoilers in the descriptions below!
"'DreamWorks’ Voltron Legendary Defender reimagines one of the most popular fan-favorite shows of all time in this all-new, comedic, action-packed series. Five unsuspecting teenagers, transported from Earth into the middle of a sprawling intergalactic war, become pilots for five robotic lions in the battle to protect the universe from evil. Only through the true power of teamwork can they unite to form the mighty warrior known as Voltron, who was first formed 10,000 years ago.'" 
"Fresh off of Season One’s cliffhangerwe’re flying headfirst into an immediate, dangerous situation: the Paladins of Voltron have been separated; the wormhole they used to flee the Galra has collapsed. We open the season right up with each stranded Paladin and their attempts to reunite with each other and survive their strange and possibly deadly new surroundings. This is the immediate problem that must be solved; but as the season continues, there are new threats, new conflicts, and new worlds. With that juicy setup, how’d the rest of Season Two do?"
"The very last images Season Two left us with were Shiro’s empty Black Lion, Zarkon unconscious and near death, and Haggar calling for Prince Lotor — a triple-threat of impactful moments that here on out change the game for our heroes. With so many questions unanswered at the end of Season Two, does Season Three satisfy?"

07 May 2020

Writers #Ask, the Sequel

Original photo by Hannah Olinger on Unsplash

Tumblr is a compendium of fun writing #asks, and today's comes from The Republic of Letters. Some of these I've answered before, but many questions are new, and my goal for this ask is to answer these questions without rambling, as I often do! Let's keep these answers short and sweet, and thanks for reading!


Is there a specific drink you like to have when you’re writing?

I switch between the ever-so-healthy water and the poison known as soda, and unfortunately soda tends to win out because of the caffeine and sugar. Booooooooo.

What time of day do you think is the best to write?

Between 6pm and 10pm.

Where do you write best?

At my writing desk!

Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash
Do you do word sprints? If so, for how long do you do them, and what’s your average word count?

I don't participate in word sprints because I don't like that kind of pressure.

Do you write when you travel? If so, where is the farthest away from home that you’ve written?

I don't write when I travel because I can't concentrate on writing -- not when there's so much exploring to do!

Do you share your work before it’s finished?

Yes; primarily the opening chapters because they are so difficult for me.

Which character that you’ve written is most like yourself?

Years ago it was Emma from Melancholia. From fiction, Laney from The Name and the Key.

Which character is your favorite to write? Why?

Andresh from The Name and the Key because he's a charming, sexy boy with a penchant for dark magic.

How long is your current work in progress (words or pages)? 

According to Pacemaker I'm at 16,936 words; according to Microsoft Word I'm at 53 pages.

Do you have a specific philosophy that you go by when you write?

Don't fight your process and try not to compare yourself to other people (particularly using other writers to gauge your own success). 

What were your favorite books as a child?

All of these are series: Choose Your Own Adventure, Goosebumps, Fear Street, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, our old World Book Encyclopedia set, and the Step Into Reading book series with titles on Tutankhamen, Pompeii, and others. 

From Amazon

Do you read while writing, or try to split it up?

This is an ambiguously worded question. If it means I read my own writing while I write, yes, I do it all the time and I can't help myself. If it means I read someone else's fiction while I write, no, I don't do it because I can't concentrate. 

Which authors or styles do you try to emulate in your writing?

I don't want to emulate other authors! I want to write like ME!

Would you want your books to be made into a TV show or movie?  

I think The Name and the Key could be a good TV series on Netflix or HBO or Showtime or a similar streaming network, while Son of the Siren would be a dream come true if it was made into an anime.

How do you plan your writing?

I usually write by the seat of my pants but I wanted to change things with Son of the Siren because my productivity when I impulse-write is awful. I used Notebook a.i. for worldbuilding and The Novel Factory software to construct the outline, premise, and story skeleton. It was the first time EVER I was able to fully plot a book before writing it, and I am so pleased with this change in me. Productivity has shot up!

Do you write on a computer or on paper? What program, or what type or paper/pen?

I write on my PC in Microsoft Word. But when it comes to research or note-taking, I will write in a standard lined notebook or yellow legal pad and I'll use a mechanical pencil with 0.5 lead (0.7 can suck it. Fight me!) 
Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash

Is there a specific category or genre your writings generally fall into? Which?

My fiction definitely qualifies as fantasy. I also want to write horror but for now I just include scary things in my fantasy. I wouldn't go so far as to call it dark fantasy, though, because I still like happily ever afters in my stories.

Would any characters from one of your works go well with your others?

I think Andresh from The Name and the Key would be a great older brother figure to Lirien from Son of the Siren. Lirien could use that kind of support and love from a male figure who isn't a disappointment.

Do you write multiple works at the same time?

Images from Google Image Search
Nope. My brain can't handle it.

What color scheme is your current work in progress?

Whaaaat? Ok...I guess it's dark blue, teal blue, and rust orange because these are the colors I picture Lirien wearing from Son of the Siren. It's the colors I think would go best with his hair (dark indigo) and eyes (sunset orange).  I looked at a bunch of photos of tropical fish to determine how he and other sirens should look, so that's why his coloring is a bit...unusual.

Do you create aesthetics for your writing, ie. on pinterest or tumblr? If so, what’s the board or tag?

I have several, but I'll link to the one for The Name and the Key and Son of the Siren.

Do you listen to music when you write?

Yes. Scores to film, TV, video games, and animation, mostly.

Do you make playlists for your works in progress, characters, or scenes? 

Yes! If there's a scene with a lot of dialogue, anime scores work really well because most songs are a minute or so in length.

Do you prefer first or third person? Why? 

I wrote The Name and the Key in first person because it felt natural to, while Son of the Siren is in third person because it's definitely a fairy tale that requires a storyteller narrative voice. If I had to choose between the two, third person is the top choice.

How do you defeat writers’ block?

By working on other art projects related to the one I'm writing, whether it's making mood boards on Pinterest, drawing pictures of the characters, designing costumes, etc. I'll also watch movies set in the time period or in a world like the one I'm writing in, and that'll inspire me, too. Playlists also help!

How often do you write?

It's all over the place. I can conclusively say NOT everyday. 

The original image comes from USL Newsletter
Have you ever done NaNoWriMo?

Multiple times, and I have failed every time. I can't handle that kind of pressure. 

What’s your inspiration for writing?

I try to write the stories I want to read. 

Which style/era of writing do you most fit in with?

I think I have a lot of carryover habits from 19th century writing. I don't address the reader in my sentences or break the fourth wall when it comes to writing fiction, but I do favor long sentences, semicolons, and asides. I try not to overdo it but sometimes I can't help myself!

What’s your favorite part about writing?

Naming and character creation! I can't get enough of both. 

06 May 2020

#52writing cards: Prompts from Shaun Levin's Writing Maps - no. 7

A version of this prompt appears on the Write Around the House Writing Map illustrations by Stephen Longwill.
I. Full-Length Mirror

I have only two mirrors in my house in Japan! I have a self-standing mirror made of wood that the previous occupant gave to me so I can do a full-body check of my appearance before heading out the door. I keep this in my closet and then pull it out when I need it just to save on space (Japanese apartments run a little on the smaller side).

I do a lot of cosplay fittings in front of this mirror. Cosplay (dressing up as a character from books, comics, games, movies, television, anime, or manga) is one of my hobbies. I started getting into it around 2012, long after I stopped doing theater, because it still gives me a chance to step into a character, but on my own terms. I don't make a costume entirely from scratch -- I don't have a sewing machine or that kind of skill. What I do is take preexisting pieces and add to them, or alter them, into the character I wish to portray. There's no real rhyme or reason to the characters I select to cosplay except that the qualification is to be a cool outfit that I can figure out how to make.

In front of my mirror I have tested out Jack Sparrow, Bellatrix Lestrange, and The Count(ess) of Monte Cristo. Two are from movies and one is from an anime. I hope I can try on future costumes in front of it soon. I'm currently working on Lucifer from Obey Me!, a cell phone otome game. They really made his demonic form look sharp and debonair and it looked simple enough for me to figure out. The event I was to wear it to -- Anime Japan 2020 -- was cancelled because of coronavirus. I can only hope it will resume in 2021, or I'll be heartbroken.

A quick perusal of my portrait in front of the full-length mirror: I'm not wearing makeup and my face is shiny; my hair is simultaneously frizzy and oily thanks to the humidity and heat; I'm wearing glasses because I ran out of contacts and my replacements are taking forever to arrive; and I realize I will never be able to wear the tank top I have on now in public in Japan because all you can see is cleavage (Japan is a conservative country when it comes to exposing your chest). I also can't stop appraising my very large gut because I've gained so much weight from being depressed for about nine months.

It's 12:14 pm in Japan right now and it's already 82 degrees, and I look sweaty and gross!

II. Washroom Mirror

My other mirror is in the shower/laundry room area right above my sink. It is quite large and I have to clean it all the time because I tend to have toothpaste spatter and soap spatter when I brush my teeth and wash my face. 😅

The sink is quite deep and wide, and there is a special attachment in the sink that allows you to "shower" whatever item you put in the sink. When I first got here I kept thinking it was for washing hair but now I think it's for spot treating clothing since my washing machine is right there.

I have never used this attachment except on accident when I've turned the handle the wrong way and sprayed myself in the face or hit the wall. The handles move in the opposite direction from back home so I can't tell you the amount of times I've blasted myself.

Besides washing my face and brushing my teeth, I'll do my hair here, whether it's blow-drying it or pinning it up or dyeing it because it's gone prematurely white. I'm lucky because the hair dye colors here have a wide variety of black and dark brown shades, so it's fun to make subtle changes. The only downside is that I always make a huge mess dyeing my hair and have obliterated so many towels when I've stepped out of the shower and there's a bit of washoff for the couple days after I've colored it.

Another thing I do in front of this mirror is pluck my eyebrows, so for my self-portrait assessment here, I'm going to talk about my eyebrows. They have always been big and bushy and for that I am so grateful because we've had thick eyebrows on trend for a few years now, yay! They are a pain in the butt to pluck (I always do it myself) but I'm never in danger of overplucking...

Except back in the late 90s and early 2000s, when pencil-thin eyebrows and fishhook eyebrows were all the rage. Yuck!

Anyway, today's eyebrows show some growth after I had plucked them two weeks ago, and the number one annoyance is how many white hairs have come in. They are too numerous to pluck and would cause some funky shapes -- like Swiss cheese eyebrows! -- so I've started to dye them when I color my hair.

III. I'm too lazy to do this last part, lol!

There was supposed to be an original story about a character looking into a mirror and then somebody watching them do it. Well...I wrote a scene like this in my graduate thesis, The Name and the Key, and I thought about including an excerpt of that scene but didn't have the book on hand to do so. And I'm once again spent mentally so I'm leaving off the most difficult part of this prompt...oops. 😅

03 May 2020

#52writing cards: Prompts from Shaun Levin's Writing Maps - no. 6

A version of this prompt appears on the Write Up You Street Writing Map illustrated by Andrew Carter.

Photo by Bérénice Blanc on Unsplash
Where I live in Kikuchi, I consider the neighborhood to be like a wonderland, full of trees that have branches jutting out at odd angles and round, trimmed puffs of bushes growing in perfect circles.  In Japan it's very common to reshape trees through pruning and refining, and this gives the trees in Japan a very characteristic shape, like you see with bonsai and Japanese black pine. The onsen (spa) and traditional Japanese inn (ryokan) next to me has a specific Alice-in-Wonderland tree that has the bushes trimmed so round and flat that I can picture the caterpillar from the story sitting on top of it like they were pillows, all the while smoking his hookah.

Across the street from me is a row of sakura (trees with cherry blossoms) that grow from behind the torii gate leading to Kikuchi Shrine. As you journey up the stairs you'll encounter many trees that look familiar that I can't name, and then bamboo trees mixed together. The Sugihara shrine that's a small offshoot of Kikuchi Shrine is particularly mystical-looking, surrounded on three sides by the dark bamboo forest, and then the sudden drop off from the hill overlooking the district of Waifu.


I live in teacher housing, and we don't have gardens, but we almost do given the random, sizeable weeds and grasses that grow through our pavement. There is also a tree and a flowering bush on the side closest to the ryokan and they both grow into the teacher's area. I believe the bush grows azalea flowers, and they are bright magenta and lovely.

Photo by Jeffrey Hamilton on Unsplash

My corner of teacher housing has a big grass problem and this year, a monster dandelion weed growing about as high as my hip. The housing situation isn't one like back home in America -- we don't have a groundskeeper or landlord doing regular maintenance, so if I want my back "yard" to look a certain way, I have to do the work myself.

I personally wouldn't mind letting things grow wild, but in the hot months (which start in May in Kyushu!) the insects get particularly crazy. Houses are not insulated and bugs find their way in easily, so I prefer to get rid of all plant growth near the doors and windows of my house to help dissuade bugs from nesting and finding their way inside. In my neck of the woods, we have to worry about gokiburi (giant-ass flying cockroaches) and mukade (centipedes) and Huntsman spiders and Asian giant hornets -- all of which are nightmare fuel.

Flowers grow abundantly in Japan, though, and I am someone who takes great joy in looking at flowers. Every late spring I always put some (like blue clematis) in a planter and display them on the low concrete wall surrounding my back door. Unfortunately when the punishing summer hits, I don't water the plants as much as I should -- they need so much more water than the flowers from back home -- so I also happen to kill my babies every year, too. I am not a good plant mother.


Illustration of a Brownie by Arthur Rackham. Source.
Have you heard the myths of fairies who come in and clean your house if you leave them an offering? They come in and do it while you sleep. Brownies, or broonies, are the magical creatures of Great Britain who are household sprites.

They must have transplanted to Japan because the parks, sakura, and even the prince's tree enshrined in front of Kikuchi High School is perfectly maintained -- but I've never seen anyone do the work.

Japan in general is a clean and well-maintained country full of invisible helpers, it seems.

28 April 2020

#52writing cards: Prompts from Shaun Levin's Writing Maps - no. 5

A version of this prompt appears on the Write Through School Writing Map with illustrations by Steve Wiltshire.

I. Daisy 

Time/LIFE image sourced from Crumpled Envelope 
Miss Staple makes me think of Daddy's horse Roger because when she sits down at her desk sometimes she makes a snort sound and I don't know if it is the chalk dust that makes her do it or if she wants to be a horse (sometimes I want to be a horse) but I don't like it when she does it while she looks over our papers -- makes me think I did poorly and it's her way of laughing at me (if it isn't the chalk dust after all).

She doesn't know I'm looking at her now, good. I don't want to listen to Miss Staple. I want to go home and brush Roger's mane and pick the grass out of his hair. He's a happy horse who likes to roll around in our field and I think he's a horse who wants to be a puppy like I'm a girl who wants to be a horse. But only sometimes.

II. Billy

Miss Staple at it again. What is wrong with her? Does she have something stuck in her throat? I wonder what she eats that makes her do that. It's annoying. My sister Daisy says she's a horse or something. I don't see it. I think the chalk dust gets up her nose or she doesn't chew her food, but I don't know which one. Chalk dust doesn't make me sneeze and snort and cough. Hay does, though. That's why I can't help on the farm so much or play with Roger. I have to stay away a bit, and Daddy doesn't like that so much, but I can't help it, so he has me help Ma in the house to "make it even." I'm supposed to help Ma pluck a goose after school. That's something Daisy should be doing if you ask me. No, Miss Staple, nothing's wrong. I'm just thinking a bit. Sorry. I'll get back to work.

III. Peter

Billy's got a really big head and the back of it is like a porcupine. He's so dumb, sometimes I want to kick the back of his seat or hit him upside the head. But I have to stop. Miss Staple gave me a last warning and she'll talk to Pa if I don't calm myself down. I just wish this school day was over with.


Hmm...I was not feeling this particular exercise. My actual school pictures are back in America while I'm in Japan, and I didn't want to write about high school anyway...but for this particular prompt, it was like pulling blood from a stone. Not my best work, but you're going to see it anyway, just to show the first time you write it all out, things tend to suck. I hope you enjoyed my "meh" of a story!

25 April 2020

Writers #Ask, No. 43 - 53

Photo by RetroSupply on Unsplash

All right, you've reached the end of the tunnel! I hammered through 53 writing questions in the epic Ask Game for writers on Tumblr from author R. Meisel. I divided them into four parts: 1-15, 16-31, 32-42, and now this last post for the finish. Thank you for sticking around and looking into the window of my writing life. Let's wrap this up!



Author Jennifer Loring was my crit partner in graduate school and she taught me so much about writing and was very, very kind and honest in her feedback. But there was one gem from her that was so good, I'll take it to my grave. It is in regards to this specific piece of writing from The Name and the Key: 
If there's no difference between Above and Below, and All and One are exactly the same, then anything is possible. 
Photo by S O C I A L . C U T on Unsplash
She described it as "the most beautiful description of magic" she'd ever heard. ❤️

Then there was some commentary from literary agent Suzie Townsend, who passed on The Name and the Key but kindly took the time to give me some advice on where it needed tightened up. From her partial reading she told me, "I really love your premise" and "the prose is lovely." This was my first agent submission, guys. I thought I was going to die of happiness when I heard this. It confirmed that I did have talent, and that although it didn't make the cut, I was close. It made things seem less impossible for me and showed me that if I take the advice given, I can make it. 

My mentors Tim Waggoner and Scott A. Johnson also gave me valuable feedback with The Name and the Key, and while they had a lot to say to fix it, once again I heard my writing described as "beautiful" and "very good" and a great deal of positive response to Andresh. I was also complimented on how quickly I made improvements between term writing projects, which made me really happy.

It may not seem that special, but simple words of encouragement or positive feedback can nestle in your heart and keep you company for years to come. When I feel down about writing, I will always remember these moments from these talented people and it helps me push through the dark times in writing.


Hooray! I get a chance to vent (and maybe be a little petty) about my absolute best and simultaneously worst workshop critique ever from Seton Hill...and it happened to be my very first one, so I was terrified. It came out really well, but there were moments that made me twitch because people tend to do pile-ons in workshops, even though they're meant to be safe spaces for feedback.

I submitted an excerpt of Stolen Fruit, my retelling of the Persephone myth that was intended to be a novella (this, by the way, is on a very long pause at the moment). Anyway, I was under the impression that the writing we submitted for the workshop were rough drafts, which meant mistakes were to be expected. So, I submitted a rough draft knowing that one of the sections was riddled with errors: where Charon, the Ferryman, sings opera in Italian (I have him as a Venetian gondola man in this version of the underworld). 

Guys. I do not know Italian. But I put Italian in the rough draft anyway, knowing I would have to come back and have it professionally checked later if I wanted to keep it. I thought it would be ok to have it like this in a rough draft, because ROUGH DRAFT. 

How did I come up with Italian? I wrote out the English, then I fed it into five different translators online, checking each translation against the other and looking up words online in the dictionaries as well. If there was zero consistency among the machine translations, I knew something was very wrong, so I would rewrite the English, refeed it into the translators, and once they matched each other, I put it in my manuscript. This took hours to do, by the way. I did not "search one and done." 

Photo by Mateus Campos Felipe on Unsplash
So low and behold, someone who actually knows Italian is at the workshop critique, and she lets me know that I accidentally used negation in a sentence when it should've been positive, and she asked me point-blank if I knew Italian, and I said no. I was so embarrassed I blurted out that I had used Google translate and you guys THIS WAS THE WRONG THING TO SAY BECAUSE PEOPLE ACTED LIKE I KICKED JESUS. I didn't properly explain my process, and I didn't have time to, because then came the heap of criticism. 

I was so nervous and embarrassed, I didn't defend myself. I did not mention how much work I had put into trying to find a translation - it seemed the people who piped up assumed I put five seconds into writing this part when I definitely hadn't. I also did not mention that because it was a rough draft, the Italian there was a placeholder and of course it would not be the same Italian for the final draft. I thought that would've been obvious to people, but instead, they treated like it I had set it in stone. People didn't back off of it until I mentioned I had a coworker who knew Italian and I would check it with him and people were like, "Yes, do that, because you can't use Google translate to write." 

WELL, DUH. I already knew all that.  

Why did you need this preamble? Because I need you to understand that apparently if you commit one faux pas at a critique workshop that makes people think you're stupid, they're going to think you're stupid for the rest of the workshop. So here's the actual bad feedback I got from the same session. 

Stolen Fruit takes place in an apple orchard, before Cora (a play on Kore, one of Persephone's names) is taken into the underworld by Hades. Cora stole three apples from the orchard and she kept them in her apron during her time in hell. If you know the myth about Persephone, Hades tricks her into eating a pomegranate and that keeps her trapped in the underworld with him. Since my story is a retelling of the Persephone myth, apples are a stand-in for pomegranates, and they are literally part of one of the twists in the story because I AM SUBVERTING A MYTH.

The Lady Who Speaks Italian asked me, "Why did you choose an apple instead of a pomegranate? It's a pomegranate in the myth."

I responded, "Pomegranate means 'apple.'"

And reader, she shook her head at me and told me, "No, no it doesn't." 

Again, I felt attacked and nervous and embarrassed so I didn't stick up for myself. But reader, I'm fucking right

Screenshot Source

I had done my research, but because I made *one* mistake I lost credibility in that workshop classroom and certain people decided I didn't know what I was talking about anymore. 

The only other rough feedback I got in that very same workshop was a complaint from a different author that she thought it was clichéd I had a skeleton ferryman in the underworld. I stuttered quietly, "It's..it's Charon." Mind you, I had Charon dressed up in Venetian carnival attire singing opera in Italian, rowing a gondola through the River Styx, and pulling his skin off like gloves to reveal his bones underneath, but...whatever (my mentor came to my defense for that one, thank goodness). 

Despite those snafus I still walked out of that workshop feeling like a million bucks because the rest of the feedback was overwhelmingly positive, but ouch, those moments.

Photo by Creaslim on Unsplash
Anyway, workshops are always squirmy experiences for me, because they are always immensely amazing, helpful, and awful...and because I'm always nervous during them, I screw them up. I actually botched feedback I gave to another writer, freaking award winner Stephanie Wytovich, and told her her work was "too literary" which was NOT what I meant but I garbled that so horribly I got the stinkeye and rebuttals from soooo many other writers for blurting that out. Luckily I was able to pull Stephanie aside after that workshop and apologize and try to reexplain what I meant. She said she understood what I was trying to say, but holy crap, INSERT FOOT IN MOUTH. 

And my last story didn't happen to me, but I witnessed it in another workshop in the same program. Did you know that when you call someone a "child," it can be a term of endearment for an adult? Well, in this workshop, the author wrote a dark fairytale with a bit of sexy times happening and the sexy monster force called his prey "child..." and the person critiquing it did not read it that way, thought it was literal, and pretty much reamed the author for something like pedophilia (she did not use that word, but she used strong words like "disgusting"). That was the most uncomfortable workshop I've ever sat in on, and when the author had a chance to rebut her, she did so in a very dignified, polite way, unlike the critiquer, who looked like a smokestack would blow out her ears. 

Workshops are weird, people. 


I want my books to be animated so freaking badly, but I think The Name and the Key could be live action (though I prefer it to be a big-budget television series as opposed to a movie).

The book that would be best as an anime is Son of the Siren. I always dreamed Kyoto Animation would do it (I like their character aesthetic) and I would cast Yoshimasa Hosoya as Lirien, because not only is he a good voice actor, but this man can sing:


Characters. They are my favorite part of writing, and the story comes from them.

Photo by Alice Alinari on Unsplash

Fantasy. This is what I've settled on writing for the rest of my life. Horror is my runner-up genre, but I haven't written straight horror yet. I just like to put horrific moments in my fiction.


The beginning! As much as I struggle with plot, and plot is so important to the middle of your manuscript especially, my main issue is with the beginning. I can't balance the pacing or exposition most of the time, and so usually once I wrap up my draft I have to actually go back and cut the first couple chapters, because it turns out my natural story start occurs later than it should. That's a pain in the butt to fix. 


So, I used to write musicals, and after I wrote Melancholia I came up with an idea to do some French/Southern Gothic "necrophilia musical" (my nickname for it). It was going to be reanimated corpses in love with each other wearing 18th century French fashions; it was going to have voodoo and dark magic and necromancy; and its lead characters were Doc Carrion and Marie Tourniquette. ...But then I swore off theater, so this idea, which is probably my weirdest, has remained an idea only. 



I don't think writing has changed me. I've changed my writing, and that has only come from embracing good health, stability, compassion, and maturity over the years. 

Photo by Riz Mooney on Unsplash

It is my life and who I am.


Don't give up, don't fight your process, and keep what has always worked for you.


Congratulations! You made it through AAALLLL the posts. Thank you so much for your kind attention and I hope you enjoyed this closer look at what I have done, what I do, and what I will do. ❤️