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. 


02 July 2020

Presenting Lirien of Ardeth

I am pleased to introduce to you the lead character of my current work in progress, Lirien of Ardeth, from Son of the Siren. 

Lirien, the Son of the Siren (c) 2020 Lauren Walsh

I commissioned the phenomenally talented Lauren Walsh to do his portrait as a birthday present to myself, and he is absolutely beautiful. 

Here's the quickie premise for Son of the Siren:
Lirien of Ardeth, bastard son of a king and a mythical siren, unleashes a forbidden power to save his father from the sea creature's clutches... but there is an even greater danger close by that threatens to possess him and destroy everything he loves.
This book is a love letter to fairy tales. I play with motifs, imagery, and concepts from multiple fairy tales, including The Little Mermaid, The Seven Swans, Beauty and the Beast, Donkeyskin, Sleeping Beauty, and other famous stories woven together in this fantastical tale of love, courage, and obsession. 

I'm currently on the second act of the draft and plan to submit this to agents upon completion. Wish me luck, and please look forward to this forthcoming work. 

And while you're here... SUPPORT THE ARTIST!

Lauren Walsh is on:
And one of her most recent projects was a cover for IDW Publishing -- Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Jenneka #2! How cool is that?!?

29 June 2020

Book Genre Tag: Fantasy

Blend of images by Shot by Cerqueira 
and Alice Alinari on Unsplash
Today's post is inspired by Paper Fury, an excellent book blog and one of the prettiest websites I've ever seen. If you love books and reading, you should check it out! You can also read author C.G.'s original book genre tag post here

When I went to Seton Hill University for their Writing Popular Fiction program, I formally declared two genres: fantasy and horror. These are my favorite genres to read, and while I haven't written straight horror yet, I do let horrific elements creep into the fantasy that I write. 

...But if I had to choose between two of my genre loves, I'd always shoot for fantasy first. It's the genre I've known the longest, staying with me from early childhood all the way up to the present, particularly in the form of fairy tales, myth, and epics. 

Watch me simultaneously idolize and lay waste to my absolute, all-time favorite genre. 



I greatly enjoyed John Connolly's The Book of Lost Things, which to me is a love letter to fairy tales and fantastic stories. The premise: 
'Once upon a time, there was a boy who lost his mother . . .' As twelve-year-old David takes refuge from his grief in the myths and fairytales so beloved of his dead mother, he finds the real world and the fantasy world begin to blend. That is when bad things start to happen. That is when the Crooked Man comes. And David is violently propelled into a land populated by heroes, wolves and monsters, his quest to find the legendary Book of Lost Things.
I remember reading this novel and thinking I absolutely wanted to write something like this, and in a way, my current WIP, Son of the Siren, is also seeking to honor multiple fairy tales and their motifs in a single volume. 

This story haunted me as I read it and I'll always love it. It's an engrossing, dark, beautiful story. 


N.K. Jemisin's The Inheritance Trilogy (consisting of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, The Broken Kingdoms, and The Kingdom of the Gods) just blew me away. It's all about those gods, especially *swoon* Nahadoth. The premise:
Yeine Darr is an outcast from the barbarian north. But when her mother dies under mysterious circumstances, she is summoned to the majestic city of Sky. There, to her shock, Yeine is named an heiress to the king. But the throne of the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is not easily won, and Yeine is thrust into a vicious power struggle.
This book changed how I looked at epic fantasy. I just got sick of that genre for many years -- probably at least a decade -- and I avoided anything that sounded like the stereotypical LOTR-tinged tome. I hadn't read anything that really spoke to me since college, and then when I was assigned to read The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms in graduate school years later, and my faith in the genre was completely renewed. I love these books. 


Photo by Louis Maniquet
on Unsplash
I am a sucker for The Journey and The Mentor. 

When it comes to The Journey, I'm not talking about the Hero's Journey specifically, although that makes plotting a story easier. I'm talking about any time a character has to leave their familiar home and venture out into a new, weird, exciting world -- the more fantastical, the better. Maybe it's because I love travelling. Maybe it's because our world is beautiful, diverse, and exciting, and I love seeing that represented in fiction...only with speculative fic, there are no limitations to the types of worlds we can build. Whatever the reason, whenever characters depart the small space they've always known in exchange for a wide one with unlimited possibilities, I fall in love with this trope again and again. 

Going hand and hand with the Journey is the Mentor, and these two often crop up together because the Mentor is usually, though not always, someone the protagonist meets on their journey. Dispenser of helpful information? Check! Imparter of wisdom? Check! Benevolent educator? Check! Doorway to self-actualization? Check! In real life, I've always valued my mentors, most of whom are teachers or role models in the field in which I write. If you've got someone you can look up to and coach you along the way, the long and winding road isn't so lonely, and you learn from them (and learn more about yourself) in the process. I love wise and kind characters who are there to give the protagonist some info and a gentle push. 


Photo by Javier Peñas
on Unsplash
The Generic Fantasy Opening™ gets on my nerves. Because I don’t want to name and shame, and because I see this in countless books anyway, I’m just going to make up something to show you what I mean. 
The cloaked stranger, carrying on his back the sins of twenty-odd summers, one for every cursed year he walked this earth, peered at the dark shadows looming in the forest, feigning disinterest as he silently clutched his jeweled dagger. The corpulent ebony shades reached out to him like wafting tendrils; the branches of the ancient trees clawed upward like crooked fingers; the air hummed with electricity, and the wind whispered, destiny.
I swear, like 80% of the fantasy I’ve seen starts out this way. It takes a lot to get me to keep reading if the book sounds like this. I need a lot of convincing to continue on.

…This is the snobbiest thing about me when it comes to the genre. 😅😭


I remember being unimpressed with Neil Gaiman's The Ocean at the End of the Lane. 


Lori M. Lee's Forest of Souls. 


Doorstopper books or series with multiple volumes intimidate me. The one and only series like that that I've gotten through is Harry Potter, and nothing since then. This means I avoid stuff like Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series; Terry Brooks's Shannara books; and George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series. I just don't want to devote the time and energy to processing these works. 


Photo by Steve Halama
on Unsplash
I feel like I really need to read a lot more romance. I realized that in my own stories, I always have some sort of romantic element, but I have only read a tiny handful of actual full-blown romance novels. I'd probably stick with historical or fantasy; maybe some paranormal thrown in. But I feel like if I want to write convincing love, compelling relationships, and sexy times, I need to read from the masters and get a handle on readers' expectations from the genre. 


Science fiction intimidates me quite a bit, especially hard science fiction. I like elements that involve robots, androids, aliens, and far-off galaxies, but the minute science fiction gets all technical, weighed down by jargon, exposition, and explanation, I check out. I've read some sci fi, but I feel like the science should be a backdrop to a compelling story with equally compelling characters. The moment the science takes center stage, my eyes glaze over. I also think a lot of stuff goes over my head, a feeling that never went away ever since middle school science classes. 


Readers, what is your favorite genre? What works delight or intimidate you? Let me know in the comments!

27 June 2020

#52writing cards: Prompts from Shaun Levin's Writing Maps - no. 10

A version of this prompt appears on the How to Turn Food into Words Writing Map illustrated by Dilly Boase.

I.  Kitchen Utensil Collective

Our owner is a terrible cook and avoids it when possible. Every time a rare meal is properly prepared, we go into battle with the cookware and appliances. The casualties are numerous. No surface goes unscathed -- oil, grease, and sauces leave their remains for the unfortunate survivors to clean up after they've long gone. Mountains of plates and pans and pots pile high in the sink -- will they be washed today, or will they be left to soak in a perpetual postponing of the inevitable? 

II. Spatula

I had dreams and ambitions once. But alas, all I'm good for is pancakes and burgers. 

III. Fork

The silverware drawer gets crowded with my siblings and me, all stacked and ready to go. Why are there 87 of us, you ask? Could it be because our precious owner doesn't wash dishes fast enough and therefore relies on our abundance to get her through to the next meal? 

IV. Rolling Pin

Alas, I am unpurchased; a well of untapped potential, locked away at the store with my brethren. 

V.  Peeler

The only world I've ever known is the backs of raw carrots. 

VI. Grater

It gets lonely in the store after dark. I wish I could be with my friend, the rolling pin, who is likewise trapped under the weight of untapped potential. 

VII. Epilogue 

Author's Note: Ok, so I am not a cook. I hate cooking and I'm bad at it. I think it's a lot of effort that goes into something where the payoff lasts just a few moments. I also hate that I've generated a large mess (can you tell I hate to do dishes?) that means nothing if the food turns out to be subpar or downright awful. 

Maybe this explains why I have a poor relationship with food, too. If the cooking and preparation is a disaster for me, I don't enjoy what I've made. In general, I don't savor food or enjoy the experience of eating. Eating is an empty square on a checklist of a million things I have to do. Food is meant to be eaten and it's something I just get over with (like a chore) in order to move on to the next task.

This is probably why I'm so unhealthy. I eat way too many prepared and frozen foods just to avoid the hassle of cooking and cleanup. 

...Oh, and I don't own 87 forks. But I do think ten forks for someone living alone, who doesn't entertain others, is kind of a lot. 

26 June 2020

The Writing Genie

Photo by Louis Hansel @shotsoflouis on Unsplash

Here's a fun writing prompt that popped into my inbox today:
If only there were a writing genie. Over on The Write Life Facebook community, member Traci S. started a great discussion: “If you could have one wish from the writing genie about your writing, what would that be?!” We’d love to hear your writing wish! Join the community and chime in.
 -- From The Write Life email newsletter, 6/26/2020

I'm going to go ahead and rub the magic lamp and ask the writing genie to help me out with making a plot that I'll actually follow. 

It's not that I don't like the flexibility to change my mind or wander off; the problem is that I meander with no sense of direction and end up five days off course lost in the mountains when I should've followed the road through the woods to Grandmother's house. 

I tend to write based on feelings, and this lets a lot of stuff happen organically, like dialogue and characterization. But when I write based on a hunch or a vibe I get that propels me forward, as exciting as it can be, it often derails the coherent plot I've struggled to plan out. 

I haven't quite figured out how to create a plot outline that allows for safe offroad exploration. My outlines aren't super-detailed but they at least have a checklist of tings that should happen...but when I write in a state of free-for-all, it's so easy to miss the few things I do have to check off. 

Making a plot is hard enough for me, anyway. I come up with characters easily but I don't know what to have them do in between the items on my plot checklist, and that's where the wandering off happens. At best the story goes in a better direction than before, or there's some sort of wondrous epiphany or shiny new idea that propels me forward. At worst, the pacing gets all messed up and the story becomes mud. 

I'm working on Son of the Siren right now and it's the first time I properly plotted out a book. But now that I've started the middle section of the novel, all of a sudden I've created new characters and suddenly I have to give them something to do, and it doesn't fit my outline at all! If there is a way to take these new additions and bend them to fit my plot, I haven't figured this out yet. So I'm going to wish on the writing genie's lamp for help with sticking to my plot and not letting the book run away with itself...because I'd like to finish it soon! 

07 June 2020

Resources & Support for Black Lives and Allies

Photo by Vlad Tchompalov on Unsplash.

Black lives matter. 

Justice for victims. 

Police reform now. 


Know Your Rights

Important Organizations

Supporting Bail Funds for Protesters

Supporting Police Reform

Supporting Bookstores

Supporting Writers, Publishers, and Diverse Books

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.