27 March 2021

It's Time for Another Writers #Ask

By Florencia Viadana on Unsplash

Today's Writers #Ask meme comes from tumblr user M. Kirin, a fellow author and artist. M. Kirin's blog is full of all sorts of juicy, helpful things for writers, so take a look!


01: When did you first start writing?

I was writing my own creative stories with original characters by age six or seven. That's the earliest I can remember. 

02: What was your favorite book growing up?

Books by R.L. Stine and Christopher Pike, the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark series, the Bad News Ballet Series...I guess I can also say Harry Potter although I didn't start reading them until I was 14.

03: Are you an avid reader?

I was, then for a long time I wasn't, and now I'm back to being an avid reader again, though it is with great difficulty. I just don't have the concentration I used to to plow through books like I did back in the day. 

04: Have you ever thrown a book across the room?

To hurt someone, yes, in a fit of childish violence. Like, I actually think I was a stupid kid throwing a book at another stupid kid. 

05: Did you take writing courses in school/college?

So, this is going to sound funny, but even though I have two English degrees, I only technically took a single writing course, Playwriting, as an undergrad, and didn't actually take the official Creative Writing class there at all. It wasn't until I was in graduate school that I took formal writing courses. Everything else was in literature.

I did participate in the Young Writers at Kenyon Workshop when I was in high school, so maybe that should count as writing courses. But for a long time I didn't take any and just did my own thing. 

Now I want to take writing courses all the time. Over the years I have purchased several online courses from different places like EdX and Coursera and even directly from authors themselves, but have yet to actually take them because of timing. But I want more certifications and notices of completion, dammit! I want to learn to write all the time. I don't think I can ever stop learning.

06: Have you read any writing-advice books?

Yes. I had to read them for graduate school; I've read them for my own personal enjoyment; and then I own a ton of them just because I think I can learn through some magical thinking osmosis (as in the very nature of them being on my shelves means I have acquired the knowledge therein, bwa ha ha). I like Jeff VanderMeer's Book Life and  Jeff Gerke's Plot Versus Character.

07: Have you ever been part of a critique group?

Not formally. When I was in graduate school we were assigned critique partners every semester and that's where I got my critique group experience. Since graduating I've not joined any critique groups because the name of that game is reciprocity...which is a great thing for nurturing writing relationships and getting eyes on your work, but you have to be able to devote the time and energy to other people's writing beyond your own because the whole process is an exchange. 

I can barely get my own writing done right now as it is, so I've not joined critique groups because I can't hold up my end of the bargain with reading and commenting on someone else's work. Kinda makes me feel like a jerk, but that's where I'm at. 

08: What’s the best piece of feedback you’ve ever gotten?

I've been told on several occasions that my writing is beautiful or my imagery is beautiful. 

09: What’s the worst piece of feedback you’ve ever gotten?

I've been told that I was wrong about something I did copious amounts of research on, where my research proved that I was right or at least what I was talking about was possible. 

This is the whole "Tiffany/Theophania" thing -- aka Jo Walton's "Tiffany Problem" -- where reality is apparently too unrealistic for people. 

10: What’s your biggest writer pet-peeve?

Well, right now it seems to be authors using first-person POV like it's third-person. I wrote about it at length here (scroll down to #5 on the list), but basically I've encountered several books where the character is speaking in first person but third-person narration takes over -- suddenly it is The Author's Voice© invading the text. I'm talking about complete changes in voice, syntax, vocabulary, diction, and an emphasis on describing things that aren't relative to a character's thoughts or feelings but are simply the Author doing Authorial Things. I highly recommend clicking on my link to get a better recap of my argument. 

11: What’s your favorite book cover?

I don't have a favorite, but here are some to give you an idea of what I like. 

12: Who is your favorite author?

I don't have one. I like to list a few: Juliet Marillier, Cecilia Dart-Thornton, Robin McKinley, N.K. Jemisin, Patricia McKillip, Ursula Le Guin, and more. 

13: What’s your favorite writing quote?

It's not a writing quote but it's still about being imaginative, and it's from Alice in Wonderland: "Some times I believe in as many as six impossible things before breakfast." 

14: What’s your favorite writing blog? 

Shameless self-promotion: I have several favorites, so I take all of their articles and compile them into a Flipboard, Writerlicious, which you can check out here. It has over 64,000 viewers and 13,000 subscribers.

15: What would you say has inspired you the most?

Fairy tales, more than anything! 

16: How do you feel about movies based on books?

I am always going to think the book is better because of how immersive books are. And nothing can beat the images you come up with in your own brain as you read. However, I do enjoy movies based on books and love to see how they interpret the things I love. Of course there have been bad adaptations, and sometimes I’ve watched them before reading the books. Some of them have been so bad that they turned me off from ever wanting to read the source material (I’m looking at you, The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones).

17: Would you like your books to be turned into TV shows, movies, video games, or none?

I definitely want a TV series, but in particular an animated TV series done in anime style. The Name and the Key could be live action, too, but Son of the Siren I think would particularly thrive with animation. I would love it if Kyoto Animation or Studio Mir did it.

If a Hollywood Studio was like “we’d rather make a movie than a TV show,” I would not tell them no. And if a company was like, “we’d like to make a video game” I would not say no, although I think the books would be better as visual novels than playable games.

18: How do you feel about love triangles?

Not a fan.

19: Do you prefer writing on a computer or longhand?

I’ve answered this question multiple times, and my responses keep evolving slightly. I tend to use longhand in a notebook for research and type the drafts directly into Word. I do not rough draft by hand. But now, I’ve taken to writing dialogues with myself directly in my notebooks where I try to work out some issues with the book. It comes across like, “I need X to happen,” and me responding to myself with, “You could try A, B, and C, but here’s what works and doesn’t work with each,” and I write it all out. I’ve filled two notebooks so far with this method. I’m basically thinking on paper.

20: What’s your favorite writing program?

I bought The Novel Factory software within the past year to help with plotting and I loved playing with it. While I have since changed my plot, I still found it very helpful just trying to hammer something out in advance.

I also like Notebook.ai for worldbuilding and Angela He’s Live Portrait Maker smartphone application (Girls and Guys) for initial character creation.

21: Do you outline?

Usually, no, although I did make one with Novel Factory that seemed good enough for a while until I changed everything while in the process of writing.

22: Do you start with characters or plot?

I start with characters. The easiest thing is coming up with people and the hardest part is giving them stuff to do.

23: What’s your favorite & least favorite part of making characters?

  • Favorite: giving them names and coming up with their appearance
  • Least favorite: deciding how they should speak (I don't dislike this, it's just hard sometimes)

24: What’s your favorite & least favorite part of plotting?

  • Favorite: Choosing plot points that push characters to change or question who they are
  • Least Favorite: Everything in between that

25: What advice would you give to young writers?

Don’t try to do what everyone else is doing. There’s a lot of advice out there (and hey, here’s mine!) that says you should do X, Y, and Z to be a writer, and if you can’t fit yourself into that mold, you shouldn’t feel bad about it. You do you and be kind to yourself along the way (this is advice I need to follow, too!)

26: Which do you enjoy reading the most: physical, eBook, or both?

There’s been an ebb and flow with this. I prefer physical books because I think they are beautiful, but since coming to Japan, I’ve acquired a lot of books that I will eventually have to get rid of before returning to the USA, so I’ve basically done something very impractical by loading up on hardcovers and paperbacks while here. 

I started buying eBook versions of everything so I could “take home” these books easily, and I am reading YA now entirely in eBook form. And I love that you can highlight words and it’ll bring up the dictionary or wiki on the word or phrase. So at the moment, eBooks are very practical and are an easy way to grow my library and make it portable. Plus, some of the books that have been around rereleased versions with absolutely beautiful updated eBook covers that makes me glad I purchased electronic versions. 

27: Which is your favorite genre to write?

Fantasy. And I’ve pretty much decided now that it’s going to be YA fantasy.

28: Which do you find hardest: the beginning, the middle, or the end?

So, for most of these #asks I’ve always said the beginning and generally this is true, but I have to tell you that I’m in the middle of Son of the Siren and it is a slog, partially because I still don’t 100% know what I’m doing. I’ve consulted Midpoint Magic by H.R. D’Costa to try to jumpstart my brain in how to navigate this. I think going forward I have to amend my answer and say the middle of the novel is now the hardest for me.

29: Which do you find easiest: writing or editing?

Editing. I’m pretty good with developmental edits. I’d like to say I’m good with proofreading and line edits, and I would say so when I’m looking at someone else’s work, but when it comes to my own I tend to miss mistakes more often. 

30: Have you ever written fan-fiction?

Yes. I wrote fan fiction before it was a thing. Back in high school I wrote some Harry Potter spoofs and stories…and mind you, this is back when the books were coming out for the first time and you had to wait in between volumes. So, we’re talking the late 90s, early 2000s. 

I also have written dirty Dramatical Murder fanfic and an unfinished Darker than Black fanfic. 

I have never posted my fanfiction online. It’s too personal to me and I don’t feel comfortable sharing it. 

31: Have you ever been published?

Yes. Small stuff when I was in junior and senior high school not worth mentioning (and also not in existence anymore), plus some poetry I wrote after grad school that was published by Synaeresis Magazine, Ex Fic, and First Class Literary. I’ve been too busy working on the novels to write and submit smaller works, so my last publication was years ago. 

32: How do you feel about friends and close relatives reading your work?

I wish more of my friends read my stuff, but I don’t expect them to, and the few that have are already are smart, creative people in their own right, so any attention they’ve given has been like a treasure to me. 

My family reads what I write, and they’re all readers and critical, so I don’t feel like there is a bias there just because I’m a sister or daughter. I appreciate that they are willing to read my work. 

33: Are you interested in having your work published?

Yes. I want people to read what I write. I write for others just as much as I write for myself. I am interested in self-publishing but I can’t afford to do it to my standards, and there’s something prestigious and amazing about traditional publishing (plus, money flows to the author, not the other way around), so that’s what I’d like to do first – go through a publishing house. 

34: Describe your writing space.

I have two here in Japan. I have my massive writing nook which consists of a fancy desk made of metal and plate glass, with shelves holding manga and gemstones and little statues and figures from shrines, plus books on the writing craft and custom artwork of characters from my books. 

The desk is a little low (that is often the way of it when it comes to furniture here) and brushes against the top of my legs, so when it gets too uncomfortable, I will whip out a tray table and write from my couch bed on my laptop. 

35: What’s your favorite time of day for writing?

Evenings. My brain is at its best then

36: Do you listen to music when you write?

I usually do, but Son of the Siren has been different. I haven’t listened to music or made a playlist for it because the novel has lots of music in it that I must make up myself – song lyrics, descriptions of melody and singing, etc. Because I’m inventing my own music, I have not listened to anything while I write so that way I have a clear frame of mind. 

Not that there aren’t influences creeping into the work – I have a couple English folk songs whose syllable patterns have swayed the lyrics to a certain degree – but the tunes I’ve come up with on my own. 

37: What’s your oldest WIP?

It’s going to be The Name and the Key because I’ve decided to completely rewrite it from the ground up. Although I finished in 2013, I plan on rebooting it to get rid of the cultural appropriation in it (I came to this conclusion on my own; I lifted too much from Roma culture and ended up perpetuating stereotypes despite my efforts). This has been put on hold, but it’s still an ongoing project, so I reckon right now, it’s all 11-year old WIP because it was started in 2010. 

38: What’s your current WIP?

Son of the Siren. It started out as a graphic novel in 2013; was shelved for a long time because the project was too ambitious for me; then rewritten and replotted (and characters renamed, which is rare for me!) to be a novel starting in 2018. 

It’s influenced by three fairytales: Donkey Skin, the Little Mermaid, and The Six Swans (and its variants). Here's the rough premise:

Lirien is a half-human, half-siren Prince who calls on the power of the siren song to rescue his father the King, but the absolute worst person imaginable hears it and is bewitched by it – the Queen, who will stop at nothing to possess Lirien. Using forbidden magic to force Lirien’s love, the Queen’s spell backfires, stealing Lirien’s voice, and turning his siblings into wild animals. He has three years to break the spell to recover his voice and his family, or else they will be lost forever.  

39: What’s the weirdest story idea you’ve ever had?

A musical set in the 18th century in a gothic South with characters like Marie Tourniquette and Doc Carrion, filled with reanimated corpses throwing balls and falling in love with the living, among other things. It never got off the ground, and it’s probably best, because the concept was problematic for a variety of reasons I won’t go into here. 

40: Which is your favorite original character, and why?

Andresh, who is charming as all get out. Just a sexy magician, basically, who is fun to write. And everybody seems to love him. 

41: What do you do when characters don’t follow the outline?

I let them do their thing and try to follow them down the rabbit hole. 

42: Do you enjoy making your characters suffer?

Yes and no. I like giving them challenges that test who they are and bring about emotional moments, and sometimes those challenges bring about suffering. But I don’t smack my hands together and laugh evilly when something awful happens to them. A lot of times I feel kind of bad for putting them through the wringer. 

43: Have you ever killed a main character?

No. But I’m not averse to it anymore. I thought I would be, and for a long time I was, but now I think there’s a possibility there I hadn’t considered before. But I think it would be very hard to pull off.

44: What’s the weirdest character concept you’ve ever come up with?

In the fay realm in Son of the Siren (named Elythia), I have a vampiric walking-stick creature named Berach who wants to eat my lead character. He’s only there for a few paragraphs, but picturing him in my head was pretty funny and weird. 

45: What’s your favorite character name?

I’m really partial to the name Lirien. It’s inspired by Lir/Llyr/Ler, Celtic gods affiliated with the sea. 

46: Describe your perfect writing space.

I like the setup I have in Japan, but it would be perfect if the table was higher off the ground so I have room for my legs, and a really plush office chair. 

47: If you could steal one character from another author and make then yours, who would it be and why?

I really like Nathaniel Thorn in A Sorcery of Thorns by Margaret Rogerson. He’s just a lot of fun. I don’t think I’d “make him mine” as in steal him, because I don’t know what I’d put him in, but if it meant I could hang out with him and go on adventures, I would. There’s something about charming magicians that really gets my heart racing.  

48: If you could write the next book of any series, which one would it be, and what would you make the book about?

I’d continue the Folk of the Air series by Holly Black and fix a lot of stuff with Cardan and Jude. I had a whole ramble typed out here about why it was problematic, but I deleted it because it got a little snarky. Let’s just say I’ve never loved and hated a series before like I have this one. 

49: If you could write a collaboration with another author, who would it be and what would you write about?

I have answered a question like this before and flirted with the idea of collaboration, but if I truly think about it, I really don’t want to collaborate with anyone. I’m too slow, too picky, too stubborn, and too selfish. 

50: If you could live in any fictional world, which would it be?

I have to give another shout out to Margaret Rogerson. I liked the world of An Enchantment of Ravens very much. Or I could see myself living in Erith from Cecilia Dart-Thornton’s Bitterbynde trilogy

24 March 2021

Why I'm Trying to Go Traditional

    Update, July 24, 2021: I wrote a counterpoint to this article, all about self-publishing! Read it here.

  • ✧・゚: *✧・゚:*    *:・゚✧*:・゚✧


As I work on Son of the Siren, I figure I'd take a moment to talk about my eventual goal with the work: traditional publishing. I've thought long and hard about this and I've come to this conclusion for several reasons that narrow down to one huge reason.

The whopper: as much as I want to self-publish, I literally cannot afford to invest in it. I keep a file on my computer called "The Price of Indie" and log in expenses regularly to give me a rough idea of how much things cost, and while I haven't priced everything I need to, we're talking a least a couple thousand dollars, which I definitely do not have.

I know there are cheaper ways to go about getting things like covers, editing, formatting, graphics for ads, etc., but I have very high standards and I'm pretty set in my ways with who I want to work with and what type of things I want. To give you an example, if I want developmental edits on an 80,000 word manuscript, one of the quotes I've gotten is $695. For commercially licensed custom art commissions for covers, I've seen quotes at $500. So... just two things I want costs almost $1200.

Again, I'm aware that I can get it cheaper, but I've seen what cheaper has to offer and I'm unimpressed.

This is one of the reasons why traditional publishing is so appealing to me. Money flows to the author, not the other way around.

This infographic (used with permission) from QueryLetter.com breaks down the pros and cons of traditional publishing quite well:

The pros that appeal most to me:

  • Print distribution -- I want to see my books on the shelves in stores
  • Professional team -- I don't have to pay for the editors and designers who work on the book
  • No upfront costs -- I can't afford to invest in self-publishing so this is preferred
Now, self-publishing has always appealed to me largely because I'm a huge control freak, and if I am traditionally published I give up that control, which is something I have to learn to cope with (mostly I'm thinking about book covers and keeping the original titles of my manuscripts). I'm not altogether worried about letting someone else design a book cover, though, because I do believe we are in a Golden Age of beautiful book design.

I mean, take a look at some of these covers!

What about you, dear readers? If you are a writer interested in publishing, what route do you wish to take? Feel free to let me know in the comments!

14 March 2021

I hit 50% of the book!

Photo by Jason Leung on Unsplash
Just a quick post to give you an update on Son of the Siren.  In a recent post, I shared that I cut 78 pages of writing (not sure how many words that was). 

Since that major cut in February, I have recouped those missing page counts and I checked my word count last night. I'm at 40,707 words. 

My goal for the book is to reach 80,000 words, so this means I finally crossed the halfway point of the book!

Years ago...like 2013 or 2014, Son of the Siren was conceptualized as a graphic novel. I made a cover and the first page for it, and it took forever, and I realized the project was way too ambitious for someone of my ability. 

But the story never went away. I made lots of changes to it over the years, but basically I wanted to do some fairy tale retellings, blurring them all together, and that concept stayed throughout the work. 

In 2018, I started writing an actual novel draft. 

It looks like based on my writing history (I'm only judging this based on the other book I've written, The Name and the Key, which was my graduate thesis) that honestly it takes me three years to write a book. This is far too slow for my liking, but it looks like until I get more practice doing so, this is how I roll. 

My goal is to complete this draft in full before I go back to America, so that means summer of 2022. This makes it four years of drafting, but I want this baby to be good. Not just good. Excellent. 

I want this book to be the one that nabs me an agent and opens the door for me to traditional publishing. 

I'm full of big hopes and dreams, and I'm so glad I finally reached the halfway point of my book's word count. 

I don't think it's the halfway point of the actual story, necessarily, but again, I'm not done yet, so it's hard to judge where this book will take me. 

Wish me luck!

07 March 2021

#52 writing cards: Prompts from Shaun Levin's Writing Maps - no. 15

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

I'm not following the rules to this exactly -- hooray for artistic license!

I. Memories of Bread

I have two memories of bread that involve theater productions I participated in while I was an undergrad in college.  These were the first memories that popped into my head as I read the prompt. 

The first one was when I did the musical The Baker's Wife, by Joseph Stein and Stephen Schwartz. I played Thérèse, which was not a part I enjoyed (she was an old lady spinster and kind of a jerk) but the music made the show a positive experience for me. (Seriously, "Meadowlark" is a beautiful song). 

Anyway, one of the big numbers is about bread. And for years and years whenever bread came up -- especially bakery bread -- the song lyrics would pop into my head (and they are probably wrong. This is almost a twenty-year-old memory):

Fresh warm bread
with a bit of butter spread
Sheer ambrosia!
What is as luscious
as a brioche is

When you're fed 
everyday on fresh, warm, bread
It's frightening how quick
You get addicted
Fresh warm bread!

And we got to eat real bread onstage. Yummy!

...Which brings me to my next memory, which also involves eating food onstage. I was in the chorus for Sweeney Todd and when we were singing the song about "More hot pies! More hot! More pies! MORE HOT PIES!" we couldn't eat actual meat pies on stage, so our director bought us Smucker's Uncrustables, which is peanut butter and jelly without -- you guessed it -- a crust, and it's in the shape of a little pocket pie. Those things are amazing; a perfect balance of peanut butter and jelly in a soft white bread crust. I ate SO MANY of them onstage and became addicted to them after the show was done!

II. Bread Symbolism/Religious Connotations

Considering I grew up in the Lutheran Church (although we all started out Catholic), that's where the symbolism of bread in the religious sense formed. Communion was a huge deal (and I took Catechism classes in order to prepare for my first Holy Communion), where we drank wine ("the blood of Christ") and ate bread ("the body of Christ") to do so in the remembrance of Jesus. I haven't really thought about bread religiously in any other way outside of what I grew up with. I consider myself mostly a Christian now with some other religious beliefs and practices mixed in that are decidedly not Christian, and I'm not sure if bread figures in symbolically to those other religions. The symbolism of the bread and wine at Communion is pretty much what has formed in my mind.  

III. My Favorite Sandwich 

I am perpetually a child and will never be able to give up peanut butter and jelly. The best peanut butter is JIF and I use Smucker's strawberry jam because there are some strawberry preserves in it that makes the sandwich taste so good! For a long time I used to cut my sandwiches into four squares and eat it that way, but since coming to Japan I have since evolved into cutting the sandwich into two triangles, probably because premade sandwiches here, like the kind you find at konbini, are always cut into triangles. 

A second runner up is the shredded chicken sandwich. This is something my family always made (like my Grandma or my aunt) for potluck dinners to celebrate major holidays together. There's something about the mushy texture of the chicken and the salt content of it that I really love. 

IV. Build a Story Around this Sandwich

Um...I'm not feeling this assignment so I'm going to pass. I'm happy enough just reliving the memories of good food, good bread, and good sandwiches. I hope you can think up some good food memories, too!