2020 Writing Log, Part 32

– I posted the first two stories in Night of The Final Day, a collection of vignettes about how the characters in Majora’s Mask spend their final few hours before the moon falls.

– I edited Chapter 25, Chapter 26, and Chapter 27 of Malice.

– I’ve been continuing to chip away at Chapter 41, which isn’t even that long. I’m going to need to figure out a different approach if I want to finish this novel by the end of the year.

– I posted a review of Hiromi Kawakami’s newest short story collection in translation, People From My Neighborhood, on my book review blog. I also posted an abbreviated version on Goodreads.

– I posted another short autobio comic, which began as a set of thumbnails I made for the fundamental comics workshop exercise of drawing a memory from your childhood in five minutes across four panels. It feels nice to know that I’m capable of creating an entire comic page from scratch in a week.

– I finished editing and reformatting my Ghost Stories zine and reprinted the second edition, which is now up for sale on Etsy.

– I also printed two new stickers, some Halloween ghosts and an Animal Crossing themed Nintendo Switch.

– I went back to the stories in my Haunted Houses zine and edited them one more time. I think I might be able to put the zine into production this coming week. I’ve gotten some amazing gift art for earlier zines that I may be able to print in this one depending on how the formatting turns out.

– I put a lot of work into promoting the Legend of Haiku zine, and I also commissioned an artist I’ve admired for years to create a special illustration that will be printed as a sticker as a gift for contributors. I’ve already gotten some amazing submissions, and I’m really excited about how this project is turning out!

– I applied to be a virtual exhibitor at the Philly Zine Fest, and I wrote a short story to submit to their anthology. I’m also working on an illustration to accompany the story, and I’ve been experimenting with what I hope will be an interesting page layout for the submission.

( You can follow me on Patreon if you’d like to support my work! )

Voices Are Not Commodities

I Know I’m Late

So why do we keep doing this? Why do we, again and again, cross the line between critiquing books and making assumptions about author identities? How are we so aware of invisible marginalization as a hypothetical concept, but so utterly incapable of making space for it in our community?

Let me be perfectly clear: this isn’t how I wanted to come out. This doesn’t feel good or empowering, or even particularly safe. Honestly, I’m doing this because I’ve been scrutinized, subtweeted, mocked, lectured, and invalidated just about every single day for years, and I’m exhausted. And if you think I’m the only closeted or semi-closeted queer author feeling this pressure, you haven’t been paying attention.

And I’m one of the lucky ones! I’m a financially independent adult. I can’t be disowned. I come from a liberal family, I have an enormous network of queer friends and acquaintances, and my livelihood isn’t even remotely at risk. I’m hugely privileged in more ways than I can count. And this was still brutally hard for me. I can’t even imagine what it’s like for other closeted writers, and how unwelcome they must feel in this community.
As someone who was disowned by my family after being outed at fifteen, and as someone who was very recently forced to leave a stable job after disclosing a disability, my position on the matter is clear: Personal identity is complicated, and no one should be made to feel pressured to disclose sensitive personal information in a public venue. This is not social justice; it’s real violence performed against people in vulnerable positions.
Also relevant:

Fancy Dutch

Folk Magic: The Hex Signs of Pennsylvania

The artistic tradition of decorating barns with folk symbols began as early as the late 1700s and became even more popular as paint became less and less expensive. The original barn stars were found mostly in Berks County, and also in Lancaster, Montgomery, and Bucks counties, and pre-20th century examples can still be found there today. One of the earliest known examples, located two miles north of Lenhartsville, Pennsylvania, dates back to 1819, though the paint has faded and it’s only left the “ghost” of the design etched in the barn wood.

I think I started noticing people putting up mass-produced decals of stars on their suburban houses around 2005 or so, and when I moved to Pennsylvania I naively assumed that the stars I saw painted on barns driving west toward upstate New Jersey were homegrown versions of whatever that business was about, which I took to be a post-9/11 patriotic reference to the stars on the American flag.

It turns out that what’s going on is a lot more interesting. I really enjoyed reading this article, and I got a hearty chuckle out of the expression “Fancy Dutch,” as in: “Barn stars and hex signs are used by the more secular ‘Fancy Dutch’ community of Pennsylvania Germans, which exists alongside the Amish and Mennonites.”

I’ve been reading a manga called ねこと私とドイッチュランド (Meine Katze und ich in Deutschland), which collects a series of autobiographical comic essays written and drawn by a Japanese woman who recently moved to Germany. I think that, perhaps because Japanese people don’t feel the weight of historical baggage regarding Germany in the same way that many Europeans and Americans do, the artist is completely open and earnest about her uncomplicated love and fascination with German culture. I’m not used to hearing people talk about “German culture” as such, and I’m beginning to realize that a lot of what passes for “generic white people culture” in the United States, from apple pie to chocolate Easter bunnies, is actually distinctly German.

There are a lot of things that most Americans don’t learn about in school regarding their own culture and history, and this infamously includes the culture and history of oppressed and marginalized groups. There’s clearly a lot to be said about this that I’m in no position to say, but I think it’s ironic that the political pressure to create and commodify a monolithic ontological category of Whiteness has resulted in the occlusion of the specific cultures and histories of multiple groups of white people as well.

A Short Hike

A Short Hike was released for Nintendo Switch about three weeks ago, and my only regret is that I waited so long to download it.

You play as an anthropomorphic bird named Claire who’s spending the weekend on holiday visiting her Aunt May in Hawk Peak Provincial Park, and your goal is to climb to the top of the mountain so that you can get reception on your phone. Since you’re a bird, you can jump down and glide whenever and wherever you feel the need. You can also fly for short periods of time, and you can collect Golden Feather upgrades to extend your flying time. There’s no combat, no danger, and no puzzles to solve. Although you’re free to go anywhere you like, the main climbing trail is clearly marked. If you get lost, you can just jump down and glide to an earlier point on the trail. It’s all very relaxing, and the soundtrack is adaptive, meaning that the music changes depending on the altitude and weather.

Because the game is so overtly referential, I don’t think it’s lazy to call it a cross between Animal Crossing and Night in the Woods. Some of the (completely optional) mechanics, such as fishing and digging up X marks on the ground, are pure Animal Crossing, as are the character designs. The dialogue never gets grim or dark, but it’s a little weirder and less performatively wholesome than Animal Crossing. The writing is unobtrusive but clever, and Claire has a lot in common with Mae from Night in the Woods.

Meanwhile, the exploration elements are very Legend of Zelda, and the game looks a lot like Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks, from the cell shading to the head-to-body proportions to the 3D modeling of the landscape. There’s an option to increase the frame rate and make the graphics less pixelated, but the Nintendo DS style visual atmosphere is lovely even if you don’t harbor any particular nostalgia for that era of gaming.

If you go straight up and down the mountain, the game takes maybe half an hour to play, but you can easily spend another half hour going off on side trails and having conversations with the various people you meet during your climb. I imagine that you could spend even more time with the game if you wanted to find every Golden Feather and record every species of fish in your journal, but the game’s menu screen isn’t set up in a way that makes you feel compelled to do so.

I’ve read a few reviews that criticized A Short Hike for being too, well, short, but I don’t think that’s a problem. I am no stranger to the task of collecting all 900 forest sprite poos or evolving all 900+ species of battle monsters or getting all of my fantasy fighters to Level 99, but I also love being surprised and delighted by short, self-contained, and immensely satisfying small-studio games.

I’m not sure how I feel about Nintendo asking $20 for this game, which is a bit expensive for its category, but honestly that seems like a reasonable price to pay for the experience of a solid hour of uninterrupted joy.

Kiss Me First

Kiss Me First is a novel from 2013 that feels like it was written specifically for me and my set of interests, and I enjoyed it immensely. The story’s genre is technically “psychological thriller,” but it’s really about a sheltered 23-year-old shut-in with Asperger’s slowly making friends and learning to find her place in the world.

Leila, the first-person narrator, is completely alone after her mother dies of MS. She doesn’t know her father, her grandmother hates her, she never went to college, she doesn’t have any friends from school, and she works a part-time tech job remotely from her bedroom in a small apartment above a restaurant. She spends most of her time online, playing World of Warcraft and posting on a thinly disguised version of the RationalWiki forums called, appropriately enough, Red Pill.

Eventually she comes to the attention of the founder of Red Pill, a man named Adrian. He essentially grooms her into accepting the job of impersonating a 30-something-year-old woman named Tess online so that the real Tess, who has paid him for this service, can go off and commit suicide without arousing suspicion.

Leila takes the job very seriously. Although she insists on seeing Tess as nothing more than a client, it’s clear to the reader that Tess is becoming her friend, and that she and Tess come to care about each other quite a great deal. It also becomes clear to the reader (although not so much to Leila) that Adrian is a narcissistic sociopath. Along the way, Leila ends up inadvertently catfishing Tess’s old boyfriend Connor, who falls in love with the persona she’s created. Again, the reader understands that this man is creepy, but Leila doesn’t. She also takes on a boarder in order to help pay the rent while she devotes herself to writing what amounts to real person fanfic about Tess, and this character ends up becoming a nonjudgmental moral center who helps Leila understand the potential of the world outside the confines of “rationalism.”

The novel’s main mystery is what happened to Tess, and I think that’s sufficiently addressed. The conclusion of the story is very satisfying, and everything fits together neatly without any surprise clues only coming to light at the end. In addition, the consequences of Tess’s online behavior are dealt with honestly and realistically, which was refreshing. What I personally found interesting about the story, however, was how Leila gradually opens up to the people she interacts with and finally starts to develop meaningful relationships.

I have something of a strange fascination not with catfishing, necessarily, but with the difficulties and nuances of existing as a person online. The question of “could you find out so much about someone that you can successfully pass as them online” is intriguing, and the author digs deep into the mechanics of how this would (or wouldn’t) work.

If nothing else, it was fun to read a novel set mostly online that isn’t burdened with an older person’s bizarre approximation of how younger people speak to one another. This is a bit off topic, but this is one of the main reasons why I have a lot of trouble reading contemporary YA novels: I cannot deal with tone-deaf text exchanges, especially when two characters are supposed to be friendly or flirting. I can’t really explain why this is so grating, except to shake my head and mutter that no one actually speaks in Lolcat.

2020 Writing Log, Part 31

– I edited Chapter 21, Chapter 22, Chapter 23, and Chapter 24 of Malice. I’m definitely emotionally invested in the story now, and I very much wish someone else would finish it for me.

– DarkAcey on Twitter (and on AO3) created a gift illustration for Chapter 23, and it’s amazing! I was blown away by this artwork, not to mention incredibly inspired. It’s such a life goal for me to be able to do something like this for other fic writers one day.

– Newly filled with motivation, I started writing Chapter 41. It’s going to take a while, and I’m (probably) not going to post it until the rest of the chapters are finished, but it feels nice to make progress instead of letting the story fade away.

– I edited my piece for the Press Start Exchange fanfic exchange one more time before posting it. It’s going to be a few weeks before it goes live, and I imagine I’ll return to it again before then.

– I posted a review of One Love Chigusa on my book review blog. The less said about this misogynistic mess, the better. It’s a shame that, of all the excellent work put out by the press, this is the book they decided to promote.

– I edited and updated the pages on the book review blog. This was tedious and took forever, but it’s good to do every year or so. I usually handle this in May, but better late than never.

– I created an icon and an announcement post for the Legend of Haiku zine, which I’m going to post later this weekend on social media. I’m starting to get nervous, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed that everything will be okay.

ETA: The zine announcement post is now up on Twitter, Tumblr, and Instagram!

– I posted a (very) short autobio comic for the first time in more than a year. I’ve gotten better at time-saving techniques, and I’d like to try to post more comics from now on, even if they’re not so great. The only way to get better at something is by doing it, right?

( You can follow me on Patreon if you’d like to support my work! )

2020 Writing Log, Part 30

– I edited Chapter 16, Chapter 17, Chapter 18, Chapter 19, and Chapter 20 of Malice. Is it weird to say that I got emotionally invested in my own story? I wish someone else were writing it so that I could read it all the way to the end without having to finish it myself.

– I finally edited the last chapter of The Legend of the Princess. This is something I’ve been meaning to do for the past year, but I wasn’t able to work up the courage until earlier this week. I was in a constant process of editing the chapters of this story during 2018 as I tried to keep the threads of the plot connected while posting the story to various venues, but I was in such a dark place when I wrote the last chapter that I just posted it and walked away. Coming back to it now, I was afraid that it would be garbage, but it’s kind of good, actually.

– Here’s what happened: I was going through TV Tropes to look for examples of a trope I really enjoy and came across a page someone wrote for Legend of the Princess. That’s wild, right?

– I edited my story about The Magnus Archives and posted it on Tumblr.

– I edited my story for the Press Start fanfic exchange. It’s not bad, all things considered. Although it won’t go live until September, I’d like to go over it again this week and post it next weekend.

– I edited the stories in my Haunted Houses zine, which I hope to be able to send to the printer by the end of September. I also started thinking about graphics to use for the bookmark and sticker I want to make to go with it. Maybe something (like this) would be good?

– Before I get started on the page layouts for Haunted Houses, I think I’d actually like to create another reprint of Ghost Stories from scratch so that it looks a bit more professional. I’ve already gotten started, and I hope to finish it up by next weekend.

– I started work on the graphic I’m going to use for the announcement post of the Legend of Haiku zine, and I contacted the artist I’d like to make the cover illustration. This is someone I’ve wanted to commission for a while now, and I was so excited when they agreed to work with me on this project! I also set up an email address, but I don’t think I want to create accounts on Twitter and Tumblr. Although I’m definitely going to invite contributions, I’d prefer to keep this project small and relatively stress-free.

. . . . . . . . . . . .


Last night I was thinking about what I’ve accomplished this summer: I’ve written two original short stories, five short fanfic stories, seven chapters of my current neverending novel, four book reviews, and a collection of fifteen flash fiction pieces for a new zine. I’ve also been doing a whole lot of editing. I guess I’ve been working on visual art as well, and I’ve gone from posting an average of one new piece a week on my art account to posting twice a week. I’m not sure if this is a lot or not enough; but, if nothing else, at least I can say that I did my best during a truly strange and difficult time.

( You can follow me on Patreon if you’d like to support my work! )

Fall 2020 Teaching Log, Part One: I Love Japanese Fantasy

This fall I’m teaching a class called “Japanese Science Fiction and Fantasy.”

This class isn’t about science fiction so much as it is about fantasy, horror, and speculative fiction.

I haven’t encountered a lot of writing in English about Japanese fantasy, unfortunately, and this is a shame. Meanwhile, there’s an overwhelming amount of writing in English on Japanese science fiction. In addition, there are so many translations of Japanese science fiction coming out each year that I don’t even bother to keep up with them anymore.

So why the disparity? I’m going to go out on a limb and say that it’s a gender thing. This isn’t to imply that women don’t read and write science fiction, but rather that subcultures surrounding science fiction were overwhelmingly dominated by men from the 1940s to the 1990s. When there were women in these cultures – and this is something Joanna Russ has argued much better than I can – their work tended to be downplayed and disregarded in various ways. They were “just fans,” they were writing “silly romance,” they were writing “for children,” they were writing “disposable comics,” they “weren’t serious writers,” and so on.

So science fiction became a legitimate subject of academic inquiry, while fantasy largely escaped critical consideration. After all, intelligent and important men read and write science fiction, while fantasy is self-indulgent frivolity for the ladies. Or, I should say, I’ve personally encountered that sort of attitude frequently enough to think that it’s deeper than the misguided opinion of any one individual.

My main goal for this semester is to use this class as an excuse to do as much research as I can in both English and Japanese to see what’s out there on Japanese fantasy. Hopefully I might eventually be able to make a few small contributions of my own to the literature.

I’m looking forward to getting started!