31 January 2020

#52writingcards: Prompts from Shaun Levin's Writing Maps - no. 1

A version of this prompt appears on the Write Around the House Writing Map
illustrated by Stephen Longwill.

I.

The bed I'm sleeping on isn't what you'd call a bed. When I first moved to Japan, I didn't have one. The person who lived before me left futons for me to sleep on, but they kicked up my allergies, and they were worn down to the point all of the soft cushioning pooled at the bottom of the mattress - like when you pick up a water balloon, and the knotted part is long and loose while the water stretches the balloon downward from the weight.

For a month I slept on the wooden floor of my apartment with just a couple pillows and one of the loose, stretched-out pseudo-futons. I had to wait for my first paycheck and then I looked into buying beds. But my apartment is small, and I didn't like the idea of my main room looking like a bedroom, so I purchased three light gray sectional pieces to form a couch long enough to fit my body (I'm 178cm), and you could flip the backs down to make a bed. 

By itself, the couch bed isn't comfortable, so over the years I've ordered more futon mattresses and stacked them on top of each other. I have to sleep on three in order to be able to sleep without strain (and I need three pillows, too!). During the day (when I'm not lazy) I fold the mattresses into the standard S-curve you see with the futons at the ryokan, shove them in my storage closet, and my bed reverts back to a couch. 

I don't share it with anyone, and wouldn't be able to, anyway. It can barely fit me as it is!

If there is anything that I'd change about it, I'd find a better way to keep the sections from coming apart. It's literally velcro strips you place underneath each piece along the separations to form it into a "couch." Individually each piece is like a baby sofa or glorified armchair. 

This all sounds terrible, doesn't it? I promise it looks really good as a couch!

II. 

I'm sitting on my bed right now as I type this, and it's facing the entryway to the apartment. I can see everything from here, all the rooms and open spaces, but all I can take in right now is the mountain of absolute crap I've accumulated over the years and how in periods of exhaustion and seasonal depression, I've not cleaned a fucking thing. Clothes on the floor. Papers, folders, office supplies. Empty cans and bottles. Piles of dishes in the sink. There's a path I use to get to the door and to my bed, and the rest of the floor is covered. It's... really bad. No one can enter my home. 

When my mental health dips, my standard of living dips, too. 

III. 

I'm a stomach sleeper. This is not the healthiest way to sleep, but I found after years of analyzing my sleep habits - bad nightmares, scary hypnagogic hallucinations, waking up and still seeing stuff from my dreams for a few seconds - through process of elimination, I learned I tend to see freaky stuff if I fall asleep lying on my back and my side, but never on my stomach. I have no explanation for this. 

Because I sleep this way, you'd think I wouldn't be able to see the sunlight streaming in my apartment. For whatever reason, even though I shift in my sleep and reposition my head through the night, whenever I wake up, my head is always turned to the right...where my window is. Even though I have double layers of curtains, the light pierces it and blinds me in the morning. The light falls directly on me and sometimes in the morning it is welcome, but most of the time, it isn't, because I just want to keep sleeping.

My most recent memories of waking are not exciting...whenever I deal with my winter blahs I struggle with needing lots of sleep and feeling tired all the time. The past week I've been going to bed at 9:00, then earlier and earlier...and still can't bring myself to wake up in the mornings. If I'm not resetting the alarm to go off later, I'm sleeping completely through it. I've had too many close calls with work coming in right when my shift starts (which is late) or 2-5 minutes after (really late). I've been taking my nighttime medicine earlier to try and reset my internal clock to "early to bed, early to rise"...but the rising part just isn't happening. 

IV. 

Most of my life's been spent in twin beds. From childhood through the teenage years and even into the start of college, I had the same bed. Then my grandparents were redoing one of their rooms in their house and I inherited their full-size bed (actually it might even be a queen - it's been years since I've slept in it). It's got a cute, country or shabby chic style to it, with a wooden headboard and matching footboard with little open hearts in the middle. 

I slept in twin beds in college, because our dormitory rooms were tiny and we had to sleep in bunk beds. Then my senior year I got to move out of the dorm and into the college apartments, which still only had twin beds. 

Over my travels to other countries, in hostels and inexpensive hotels, there were more and more twin beds, because I wanted to save money. And since coming to Japan, I've occasionally stayed in a capsule hotel to get the cheapest deal. Unfortunately, it's not comfortable enough for me so I don't do this very often. 

Couches at friends' houses or in hotel rooms where there weren't enough beds have been a thing; even sleeping on the floor without bedding, which totally sucks. Then tatami and futons on the floor in Japan, too, which has never been comfy enough for me - and I have a tendency to have an allergic reaction to futons a lot. 

When I do get a full size or queen bed when I stay at a hotel, it feels so luxurious to me! If I ever get a chance to sleep in a king bed or larger, I'll probably be overwhelmed at the spaciousness. 

V. 

I don't know much about the bed I was born in - it was a hospital bed in Flushing, Queens, and I came out five minutes after my brother. I *think* I was a breech baby, but I'm not sure because it's been forever since I heard the story and honestly, I could be blending or inventing memories at this point, as humans often do. I'm sure the hospital bed was a mess, as most hospital beds would be given all the messiness that comes with birth. 

VI. 

Dad died in his bed in Flushing September 7,  2010. He died too soon. I was not living with him; I was living by myself in Columbus, Ohio, and Mom called me in the evening, far later than usual, to tell me very plainly, "Dad has died." 

My sister was the one who found him. I will never understand how devastating that could have been for her see him that way. If I remember the story correctly, their cat Tiger was curled up in bed next to him. 

Tiger died not long after. 


29 January 2020

My Favorite Things - Speculative Chic

Over at Speculative Chic, we've got one of the funnest guest columns around. Every Monday we invite top-notch writers in sci fi, fantasy, and horror to share with us what their genre loves are. Since its inception (it's been with the site from the very beginning!), we've featured debut authors, up-and-comers, writers from large presses and small; and then we've had major guests like Seanan McGuire, Ann Aguirre, Kij Johnson, Seressia Glass, Lou Anders, Jeff Strand, Christopher Golden, Carrie Vaughn, and more!

I felt extremely flattered that I got to add my own post to the list of awesome writers. As (at the time) a brand-new contributor, I got to share my own favorite things with the world. Here's a sneak preview -- the wonderful introduction our editor-in-chief (editor-in-chic!) Shara White wrote:
They might not be raindrops on roses or whiskers on kittens, but that doesn’t mean that we love them any less. Welcome back to My Favorite Things, the weekly column where we grab someone in speculative circles to gab about the greatest in geek. This week we sit down with one of our newest Content Editors, Kristina Elyse Butke! What does she love when she’s not stalking our contributors with a metaphorical red pen? Spoiler alert: a manga that extends well beyond its source material, a must-have for cosplayers, a handy-dandy tool for writers, getting out of the uncanny valley, and reading familiar stories from a different point of view. Aren’t you curious? Read on for more!
I discuss anime, manga, television, books, cosplay, and writing, woohoo! You can read it all here!

27 January 2020

Roundtable Roundup: Jan. - Dec. 2019

I've mentioned a huge chunk of my blogging is devoted to an awesome site I'm proud to work for, Speculative Chic. I joined spring of 2018 and primarily work as a content editor, but I also contribute to articles, too!

I have a lot of fun whenever we do the Roundtables, a monthly post where we gather our contributors to talk about a specific topic in fantasy, sci fi, and horror. You can expect books, movies, TV, video games, anime, manga, and comics to pop up in any given conversation, as we explore a wide variety of media on our site.

Here are my Roundtable contributions for 2019!

January 2019 - That First Spark
[...] it’s the first of the year. What’s the first thing that you remember that set you on the path to becoming the magnificent speculative fiction fan that you are today? What was the earliest piece of speculative fiction that sparked that special something in your brain? Join us now as we reminisce!
My first introduction to my genre of choice, fantasy, started at a very young age with fairy tales! I discuss Shelley Duvall's Faerie Tale Theatre, Jim Henson's The Storyteller, and Nippon Animation's Grimm's Fairy Tale Classics. Read more here.

February 2019 -  Black History and Future Month
In honor of Black History Month, and this month’s book club selection, How Long ‘Til Black Future Month?, we’re taking a look at the Black creators and performers who inspire us and lead the way towards the future. Who is your favorite? Maybe they made the cut! Read on for more!
For this post I discuss N.K. Jemisin's The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms and Tade Thompson's The Murders of Molly Southborne. Each book served as my first introduction to each author, and they blew me away. I will follow each author forever and read ALL THEIR THINGS. Read more here.

July 2019 - Speculative Pride
While June has come and gone, here at Speculative Chic we’re continuing Pride by bringing you the creators, creatives, and creations from the LGBTQIA+ community that we absolutely love. Just as there are many colors in the rainbow, there are many things that enrich our lives and bring us joy. Take a look!
July is the month I started helming Roundtables, and I've been running them since. For this post I discuss Margaret Killjoy's Danielle Cain series, featuring The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion and its follow-up, The Barrow Will Send What it May. Read more here.

September 2019 - Speculative Chic
In honor of the long-standing tradition that is the Vogue September Issue, we’re doing our own take for this month’s Roundtable! We’re talking the memorable fashions from science fiction, fantasy, and horror that truly wowed us. The speculative genre’s key question is “what if?” and costume designers ask the same question when it comes to bringing a world or character to life through clothing. [...] there’s a wide variety of styles out there, and all of them iconic. Come explore our favorites!
When it comes to movies, I talk about Ruth E. Carter's designs for Black Panther, with my favorite costumes belonging to M'Baku. From the world of gaming (and later anime!) I focus on Touken Ranbu, with my favorite clothing belonging to Mikazuki Munechika, designed by the artist Sata. Lastly, I discuss the luscious costumes from Crimson Peak, designed by Kate Hawley -- and I pretty much like all the leads' costumes! Read more here.

October 2019 - My Favorite Monster
Greetings, faithful servants! Slip into that trusty white lab coat; wash those hands before sliding on your latex gloves; and don’t forget the proper eyewear! Get ready for a jolt to your electrodes as we mash some monsters for this month’s Roundtable! We’ve invited Speculative Chic contributors to share our favorite beastly horrors with you. From sexy to scary, bad to beautiful, creative to classic, we have something for everyone in this graveyard smash!
In my contribution, I tackle monsters from movies, anime, and video games: The J├Âtunn from The Ritual, The Bear from Annihilation, The Amygdala from Bloodborne, and The Chimera of Orvien from Garo: The Animation. Read more here.


November 2019 - To Nano, or Not to Nano
It’s that time of year again — the annual event for writers where they attempt to complete a 50,000-word manuscript in 30 days: Nanowrimo!  [...] We’ve decided to tap into the expertise of our Speculative Chic contributors — all awesome authors in their own right — to give you a collective pep talk if you want to participate in Nanowrimo this year! And if you’re not feeling this event, no worries — we’ve got your back there, too!
I've been an epic failure at Nanowrimo for years, so I tend to be in the "Not to Nano" camp, but I still felt inclined to offer something helpful to writers, so I've got links to worksheets, book recommendations, and online worldbuilding software to help you plan your novel. Read more here.

November 2019 - Brown Paper Packages Tied Up With Strings: Holiday Wishlist 2019
For well over a hundred years, we’ve been encouraged to ask directly for the things we want, whether it’s through letters to Santa, shopping lists given to our family (do you remember the era of the Sears and JCPenney holiday catalogs?) and our favorite online stores’ “Add to Wishlist” feature. [...] I think it’s a safe assumption to make that when we create our lists, there’s the understanding it’s never meant to be a true shopping list [...] It’s a list of wishes, and wishes are the stuff of imagination and speculation. Dreaming it up is the fun part! It is in this same spirit we give your our Holiday Wishlist Roundtable for this year.
I deliberately asked for things I could never afford in the spirit of dreaming for unattainable things. I've got expensive movie tie-in makeup collections and many collections of enamel literary pins from The Literary Emporium.  Read more here.

December 2019 - Biggest Disappointments of 2019 
We got pumped; we ramped up; we were ready to go, and… well… then…Stuff happened. Or did not happen. Or did not happen how we wished them to. That’s the thing about disappointment — it’s our primary emotional response to expectations unmet — and boy, does it sting. What were we looking forward to that failed to deliver on its promise? There was quite a bit to choose from; 2019 was a busy year, after all, with sequels, returning seasons, new goodies, and the end of many franchises. There were a lot of hopes riding high this year…so what broke our hearts, and left us out in the rain?
There were tons of things that disappointed me in 2019 -- a big one being Game of Thrones -- but I wanted to avoid topics I felt like my fellow contributors were likely going to discuss, so I went a very specific route: I chose to dissect Billy Hargrove's character arc in season three of Stranger Things and why it was a mess. Read more here.

December 2019 - Future Favorites: Our Most Anticipated Releases of 2020
There are lots of exciting things slated for 2020 release: the new Wonder Woman movie; the next Ghostbusters film; the long-awaited Black Widow stand-alone; the debut of new series Locke and Key… lots of major premieres and new seasons of returning favorites. But may we also suggest for you some other goodies that might be flying under your radar? Here are some of what the Speculative Chic gang are looking forward in the new year!
I chose something a little different: while it was released in 2019, Studio Trigger's anime film Promare is my choice for 2020. Because I live in Japan, guess what? Everything is in Japanese! But Promare's English dub cast was so reputedly wonderful that it is coming to Japan in 2020, which is a big deal! Read more here.

December 2019 - Resolution Wrap-Up 2019: How'd We Do?
Every year, we invite our contributors to challenge themselves with the Resolution Project — a special event where our writers sift through all things speculative and settle on something worthy of personal conquest. The sky’s the limit when it comes to choices, whether it’s knocking through a back catalog, revisiting a popular franchise, or embarking on something totally new; whether it’s playing video games, reading books, or blitzing through movies! [...] We’re happy to bring some contributors back for a final review of Resolution Project 2019!
For 2019 I declared I would cosplay at Anime Japan 2019 in Tokyo. The last convention I attended was back in America in 2016 before moving to Japan, and I missed the convention scene, but was also curious about how Japan did cons...and especially Japanese cosplay. The reputation is that cosplay is taken seriously and everything is amazing, so I felt like I needed to do something extravagant. Did I succeed? Read more here.

December 2019 - Resolution Project 2020
We march into 2020 totally brave and bold with some of our most ambitious Resolution Projects yet! Whether it’s knocking through a catalog of 15 to 20 books, blazing through seasons upon seasons of series both old and newly beloved, or cracking open the cookbooks and assembling a smorgasbord of speculative treats, we’ve got something for everyone to look forward to in this shiny new decade!
My 2019 resolution didn't require me to write very much -- one post for making my cosplay, and one post about wearing it to Anime Japan. But for 2020, I'm assuming a role that's closer to what our regular contributors do -- writing my own monthly post. For 2020 I'm knocking out two of Netflix's/Dreamworks Animation's major series in a massive rewatch and review: Voltron: Legendary Defender, which wrapped December 2018, and The Dragon Prince, currently airing season three and season four on the way. I'll post once a month, reviewing an entire season for each post. Read more about my declaration here.

Whew! That's a complete catalog of all the Roundtables I participated in for 2019. The tricky thing is that even though I am in charge of all them, I don't always have the free time to participate each month, so I've only included the Roundtables where I've done some actual writing. Now that we're in to 2020 I'll keep posting Roundtable Roundups, but space them out a bit more. Hope to see you check them out!

25 January 2020

Roundtable Roundup: Jun. - Nov. 2018

In my last post I mentioned most of my blogging was devoted to an awesome site I'm proud to work for, Speculative Chic. I joined spring of 2018 and primarily work as a content editor, but I also contribute to articles, too!

I have a lot of fun whenever we do the Roundtables, a monthly post where we gather our contributors to talk about a specific topic in fantasy, sci fi, and horror. You can expect books, movies, TV, video games, anime, manga, and comics to pop up in any given conversation, as we explore a wide variety of media on our site.

Here are my Roundtable contributions for 2018!

June 2018 - By the Cover
Let’s be honest: despite the adage, we are all guilty of occasionally judging books by the cover. We know we shouldn’t, but sometimes, we just can’t help ourselves. This month’s roundtable topic was suggested by Nicole Taft, bookseller par excellence. She sees a lot of book covers, and wanted to talk about books that we, as readers, picked up simply based on the cover. It’s so easy to be tempted, with such interesting covers floating around out there [...] 
I picked Molly Tanzer's Creatures of Will and Temper, which has one of the most beautiful Victorian-styled covers I've ever seenRead more here.

July 2018 - Our Guilty Pleasures
[...] We all know that there are things that one “shouldn’t” like in the vast world of speculative media. There are things that aren’t considered “good” for one reason or another. For example, there’s a cosmically popular vampire book / film series that is widely shunned in certain circles. But do we love it anyway? Maybe. Perhaps it’s something that we know we shouldn’t be doing, because we have better things that we know we could be doing with our times. Maybe reading back through my old Fear Street collection is not the best use of my time, but if it makes me happy…why should I feel guilty? [...]
I picked the anime series Diabolik Lovers as my guilty pleasure -- the most problematic anime I could think of, and yet I couldn't look away. Read more here.

September 2018 - Let's Get Musical
Music is everywhere! Our favorite moments in movies, video games, and television almost always have some kind of musical accompaniment. From the hauntingly beautiful “Light of the Seven” which accompanied a crucial scene in season six of Game of Thrones (no spoilers at the link) to the plethora of musical tidbits from the highway scene in the first Deadpool (seriously, Salt-n-Pepa, Juice Newton, followed by the amazing electronic score from Junkie XL), we are spoiled for choice in amazing musical moments. [...]
One of the most diverse musical scores in terms of style and mood comes from Yutaka Yamada, who composed the music to Tokyo Ghoul. With plenty of audio links for you to sample, read more here.

November 2018 - What Brought You Joy (2018 Edition)
Without getting in too deep, the last few years have been tough on a lot of us for a variety of reasons. Many things haven’t exactly gone the way that we would like them to. People are even throwing around the term “the darkest timeline” in reference to the way the world is going. When we find something that makes us happy, no matter how small, we ought to embrace it. It was with this in mind that I proposed to our contributors the same question that we answered last year at around this time: What brought you joy? [...]
I talk about My Hero Academia, The Dragon Prince, and Voltron: Legendary Defender. Read more here.

I was just getting started with Speculative Chic this year, so I was dipping my toes in the water while learning the ropes as an editor. As I continued on, I contributed far more to Roundtables in 2019, especially when I started my role with putting them together. Stay tuned for the next post Roundtable Roundup, coming soon!

23 January 2020

Trying to Serve Two Masters

Acknowledging for the billionth time, I have let my personal site fall by the wayside, and I'm so embarrassed about this. For a very long period, I had trouble making the effort to post frequently, either due to real-life obligations taking up my concentration, or good old-fashioned laziness kicking in.

The good news is that in 2019 and so far into 2020, my writing has kicked up considerably! But...not here. I've been busy editing and writing for Speculative Chic!

When I joined the team in the spring of 2018, I came on solely as a content editor, tackling articles that, while under the umbrella of science fiction, fantasy, and horror, couldn't be classified as TV, movies, or books. This meant I edited articles covering anything from podcasts to conventions and random stuff in between. Later we did some reshuffling and instead of editing articles by topic, I was assigned specific authors to work with. Now, I'm working with five writers, with three of them submitting articles monthly or more frequently.

I have never been an editor for a publication before, with regular deadlines, clear-cut duties, and working with talented authors. While I worked as a proofreader for a handful of episodes of Skip Beat! and briefly on a game demo, I consider Speculative Chic my initiation into the big leagues as a legitimate editor (while occasionally writing my own articles!).

I made a lot of mistakes in the beginning and have continually learned so much about the professional world of writing and editing. I admire everyone I've worked with and am so impressed with our writers, too (many of them have published genre bestsellers and have won prestigious awards). Our stellar list of contributors, ever-growing, can be found here.

In 2019 I was pleased to take the helm of managing two regular columns in addition to my editing duties. I handle the Weekly Roundup, our summary of all the articles we've posted for the week. This is a substantial change in my writing routine, to produce new content every week. Whew! I also helm our monthly Roundtables, coming up with topics and herding our writers' opinions -- and I often contribute to them myself. I've also participated in our Resolution Projects, where contributors make a goal related to the speculative genre and writing reviews or feedback on it, whether it's reading certain works or authors, knocking through a TV series, revisiting a film franchise, and more. And next month I'll actually be hosting the Speculative Chic Book Club, where I'll lead the discussion of Jeremy C. Shipp's The Atrocities.

At the time of writing this post, I have written 53 articles for Speculative Chic since joining. I have participated in more articles without authoring them directly, but I'm not sure how many. In comparison, for this site and in the same timeframe, I've written...8. Yikes.

I very much want to get back into the groove of writing on here. I flirted briefly with the creation of a regular series, Tumble on Tuesdays, but then...Tumblr keeps emptying out, and I admit I don't get on so much, so I'm wondering if that's even a thing to pursue. I'm just not sure.

For now, I think I'll be doing posts based on writing prompts just to get back into the swing of things, and eventually I hope to have updates on actual publications of mine and my process of writing novels. If you're looking for book or convention or film reviews, I'm probably going to give those to Speculative Chic since that's more of what we do!

Over the next couple of days I'm going to do posts linking to my work at Speculative Chic to catch you up on what I've been writing, and will link to my upcoming articles in future posts here. Hooray for cross-promotion!

If you're still on this journey with me, I thank you so much for reading and for your support.

Happy 2020!

Clock image by Icons8 Team and fountain pen image by Art Losovsky, courtesy of Unsplash.