2020 Writing Log, Part 29

– In my last writing log, I said that I submitted “Mount Hiei” to Strange Horizons. What actually happened was that I got the story ready to submit to them as soon as their weekly submission period opened on Monday at noon. When I submitted the story, the automated system told me that I could only submit one story at a time. It turns out that “Don’t Order the Fish,” which I submitted at the beginning of June, was still “under review.” I therefore withdrew that submission and tried to submit “Mount Hiei,” only to be told that I would have to wait seven days before submitting a new story. So I took the opportunity to edit “Mount Hiei” again. I was able to submit it successfully this week, thank goodness.

– I finished my story for the Press Start fanfic exchange.

– I wrote a fake episode of The Magnus Archives podcast, which I posted on AO3.

– I edited Chapter 13, Chapter 14, and Chapter 15 of Malice. Chapter 14, which was actually the first chapter I wrote, was particularly rough, but it’s (a little) better now.

– I’m writing a review of Yoshiko Okuyama’s monograph Reframing Disability in Manga for Journal of Japanese Studies. The book is really good!

Red Circle kindly send me a review copy of One Love Chigusa, a cyberpunk novella written by a male author in the 1980s. I’m dutifully writing a review, but I’m having a lot of trouble with the overt misogyny. This isn’t something I’m being sensitive about; rather, it’s right there on the page, front and center. One might even go so far as to say that misogyny is the guiding theme of the book. It’s gross and upsetting, and I’m at a loss for what to do about the review.

– I finally picked up my Legend of Zelda essay! After taking a long break, it feels good to work on academic writing again.

– I resumed my Korok hunt in my Wii U copy of the Breath of the Wild. I completely lost the narrative thread of Evoland 2, which I started playing at the beginning of the year, so I started a new game and somehow managed to log fifteen hours into it during the past week. It’s nice to take breaks from writing every once in a while.

– I started a Tokyo photography blog for self-care purposes. It’s nothing special, just me reposting images from the official websites of various stores and locations, but it’s a nice way to ease myself into work every morning.

– I set up a creator account on Patreon (here), but I’m still figuring out what to do with it. I’m thinking about posting new art every Sunday morning and links to new writing every Wednesday morning. Everything I create will always be freely available, both on Patreon and elsewhere, but this might be a good way for me to present everything I do in one feed while (maybe! hopefully!!) picking up a tiny bit of extra income that I can put toward a professional graphics tablet, which I’ve been wanting to buy for years now.

Fun Times on Etsy

During the past 24 hours, I’ve received three separate Etsy orders (each for one inexpensive item) that appear to be from spambots. The email addresses associated with the accounts are strings of random characters, as are the mailing addresses they provided.

I canceled and refunded each order with a short message to the “buyer” stating that I can’t mail anything to a nonexistent address. I also blocked the users for good measure. I then sent a support request to Etsy for each order to report the account and notify them of suspicious activity.

I feel like I’ve done my due diligence, but I couldn’t find any other accounts of sellers receiving orders from spambots. What I did find were reports of all sorts of other scams and misbehavior on the platform.

Based on an hour of research, most of which was spent browsing through various forums, I learned that there are two main types of scams targeted at sellers. The first involves the sale of small items (generally crafting supplies, such as individual beads) for the purpose of stealing the tracking numbers. In other words, the buyer will use the tracking number you provided to “ship” an order they received and have no intention of fulfilling. The second involves high-quantity sales shipping to freight distributors (generally in Florida or California), which will forward the merchandise to another merchant who will then resell it. “Scams” might not be the right word for these transactions, which seem to be associated with overseas merchants from a certain country, but there’s still something fishy going on.

I also learned that the knitting community on Etsy has a lot of drama. It’s apparently not uncommon for someone to buy a digital pattern and then offer it for sale at a cheaper price on their own store, for instance. It’s also not unheard of for someone to make something directly from a pattern they bought and then sell it at a premium without contacting or crediting the original artist. On top of that, there are people who will spend actual money to hurt another seller by purchasing a lot of inexpensive items and then using those orders to bomb the store with bad reviews and formal complaints. Even crazier, some people will order a ridiculous quantity of a custom-made listing (which generally don’t have inventory limits), knowing that the seller will cancel the order and that they will be able to use the cancellation as an excuse to report the store to Etsy.

Along the way, I read a few horror stories about art and crafting commissions gone horribly awry. With two truly bizarre exceptions, every commission I’ve done has been as smooth as silk, and I was shocked by the behavior I read about. To summarize, many people seem to expect that, because they’ve paid the initial commission fee, an artist must devote endless hours to making a long series of requested changes to their work. People also seem to expect that, after this work is done, they can reject the finished piece and ask for a full refund.

In the cases involving individual people (as opposed to overseas businesses), the story generally included a lengthy lead-up in which the buyer raised all sorts of red flags in their conversations with the seller. I think there’s a lot of pressure on people selling their creative work to be “nice” and “accommodating,” and I think this pressure influences them to tolerate strange interactions with people who make them uncomfortable.

The take-away point from all of this is not that Etsy is broken (which is a different conversation altogether), but rather that setting clear boundaries is good professional behavior. The standard American customer service mentality that “the customer is always right” only makes sense as a social contract if both parties enter into it in good faith. If the customer is unbalanced, however, that level of accommodation is toxic, and sellers – especially young women selling their creative work – need to feel empowered to cut off communication and step away from bad transactions.

Legend of Haiku Zine

I’ve been spending a lot of time this past week sitting on my couch and riding out waves of bad feelings (this is the world we live in right now, what can you do) while hunting for Korok seeds in Breath of the Wild. I just finished a second completionist run on the Switch version, and I didn’t want to delete everything and start a new game, so I dug my Wii U out of my closet and picked up where I left off in that version of the game in 2017. Along the way, I’ve been coming up with all sorts of silly haiku, like this:

a star fragment falls
as the lone hero watches
from a mountaintop

Haiku are a lot of fun and relatively stress-free, so I think it might be cool to make a Legend of Zelda-themed haiku zine. I put together a similar project for the class I taught about The Wind Waker in Spring 2019, so I already have the basic format set up and ready to go. If I were doing this by myself, I’d probably write something like 26 haiku and make three small illustrations (along with the cover page, front colophon, and back bio section) for a total of 32 pages (plus another four for the front and back covers). If I did the interior pages in black and white and used the same small format I used for the class zine, it wouldn’t be expensive to print.

I don’t have much of a following on social media, but it might be interesting to open the zine to contributions. I don’t have the time or energy to put together a big project, so this would be a super casual “email me your haiku and I’ll send you a copy of the zine” sort of deal, as well as a no-pressure “post your work whenever and wherever you like” sort of approach. I might also open artist submissions, with the encouragement that anyone of any skill level is welcome to contribute. I’d use Gumroad to host a free digital copy of the zine once it’s finished, and I might use Etsy to open preorders for at-cost physical copies of the zine (to be printed in addition to the contributor copies) if there’s any interest.

I’d post the announcement on October 1 and close submissions on November 30. I’d try to put the zine together a bit at a time so that I could send it to the printer during the first week of December, and I could spend the rest of the month getting everything ready to go before mailing out the physical zines during the first week of January.

If I were going to open submissions, what I’d need to do in advance would be to:

– find and commission a cover artist
– put together an information sheet
– create a graphic to use for the information sheet
– plan a series of three additional images to use for promotion
– create an account on Tumblr
– create an account on Twitter
– create an account on Gmail

And of course I’d have to write my own contributions in advance so that I don’t get stressed out.

I’ll take the rest of the month of August to see how I feel, and then I’ll make a decision in September.

Live Your Best Life

I ended my post about theme park fandom with a question concerning how someone gets a job as a theme park journalist. I don’t have any serious interest in theme parks, so what I really want to know is how to get paid for doing what you love. It was mostly rhetorical… but also sort of an actual question.

Do you have to have your own YouTube channel? I am not telegenic and hate the sound of my own voice, but maybe it’s something to consider.

The talk I gave at Otakon last Saturday wasn’t great. I mean, it wasn’t bad. I’m going to say that it was a solid 6/10 performance.

This was mainly because of the platform. The way we had it set up, I couldn’t see the audience (which was virtual anyway), I couldn’t see the chat, I couldn’t see the producers, and I had no way to communicate with anyone. I didn’t even know if video was enabled while I was presenting. Basically, I was sitting at my desk and talking to a dead screen for half an hour, which was super awkward. Afterwards, I could barely hear the questions I was given, even with my laptop’s speakers set at maximum volume. There was no way to gauge reactions, which meant that any sort of humor (including even the most basic crowd work) was impossible. I was so nervous!

I’m definitely not blaming the producers, who did excellent work given the timeframe and limitations, and I’m doing my best not to blame myself. This was the first time I’ve ever given a virtual talk, after all. I spent a good two and a half hours editing the slideshow afterwards, and I also put together several pages of notes about what I can do differently in the future, including how to make humor work and how to be more engaging for an unseen virtual audience.

Still, I’ve been having these weird PTSD flashbacks to the talk during the past week. Like, I’ll randomly remember a word I stumbled over or a name I couldn’t remember off the top of my head or a typo in one of my slides, and I’ll experience an intense moment of physically palpable cringe. Then again, this sort of reaction is normal for a lot of people who give live performances of any kind. It’s difficult at first, but you gradually get used to it. I no longer have any problems with teaching or presenting in person, but this sort of virtual talk was an entirely new experience for me. Thankfully, now that I’ve done it once, it can only get better from here.

I’m wondering if I might be able to make short videos for my class this semester. A general rule of thumb is that, unless you’ve got a lot of text on each slide (which you really shouldn’t), you should spend about one minute on each slide of a presentation. If you’re reading aloud from an essay, one minute is about one double-spaced page. I can definitely make a five-slide presentation and write a five-page “script” to go with it every week. The problem would be recording, as I have exactly no equipment and zero experience in video editing. This would be the point pre-semester when it would be good to go to campus and ask a specialist for assistance and advice, but… you know.

So I guess I’d have to wing it, and maybe keep access to the videos limited to my students. If I’m going to do this, there’s no time like the present. Once I get the hang of it, maybe I can re-record everything and put it on YouTube…

Or not, actually. I mean, we’ll see, but I think it’s important to listen to what my anxiety is telling me. Right now, my anxiety is telling me that this isn’t a good time to teach myself to do something that I won’t enjoy and that won’t be rewarded with positive feedback or financial compensation.

What I actually enjoy is making slideshows, and I also enjoy making zines. Maybe, instead of trying to make videos that I will hate and (let’s be real) no one will watch, I could adapt my slideshows into zines. Printing isn’t that expensive, but it isn’t cheap either, so what I could do would be to make free PDF zines and then, once my finances are a bit more comfortable, print one or two that I think might attract interest. A zine based on my class session about urban legends might be good, for instance.

I don’t think making zines out of my lectures is going to win me fame and fortune, but you know what?

If your dream job doesn’t exist, perhaps you just have to make it yourself.

Theme Park Fandom

It’s Not ‘Weird’ to Be an Adult Woman Who Loves Disney

The trio say they don’t go to the parks to relive their youth, though. Smith, Puga, and Walker all have successful careers in creative industries and approach Disneyland like a city’s downtown rather than a family-friendly vacation resort. They’re not alone: With a rotating offering of seasonal Instagram-ready treats, celebrity chef partnerships, and a record for being the single largest employer of sommeliers, Disney’s Parks & Resorts have a lot to entice adults with money to spend. To Internet savvy, culturally involved guests like these three, Disneyland provides the same experiences they’d have elsewhere, only better.

When asked about the stigma attached to adult women visiting the parks, they shut it down. As these three see it, everyone’s a fan of something—why should enjoying a roller coaster through space in an intergalactic Tomorrowland be so different? “People are always going to judge no matter what,” says Walker. “You just have to sort of own what you love and be proud of that. Maybe they’ll never understand, but they’re missing out on something pretty special, and that’s okay. More for us in the long run.”

I’ve been slowly making my way through Rebecca Williams’s monograph Theme Park Fandom, and it’s one of the best academic books I’ve read in years. In the Introduction, Williams opens the discussion by referencing a cringe-inducing opinion piece written by a gross older man saying that adult fans of Disney are creepy, which was picked up by College Humor and adapted into an even more cringe-inducing video.

I’m not personally a fan of Disney (or Marvel, or Star Wars), and I have no real desire to go to a theme park. (Maybe when Universal opens its Super Nintendo World attraction? But probably not, honestly.) Still, I don’t get why people think fans who go to theme parks are weird, aside from the obvious misogyny and homophobia. It sounds like the people who are into this sort of thing have a lot of fun, and they’re not hurting anyone. I mean, sure, Disney is a giant evil corporation, but we’re not going to get meaningful anti-trust legislation by harassing people on Instagram.

So I’m not planning on visiting Florida or California, but it’s been interesting to learn about the different subcultures surrounding the Disney and Universal theme parks, as well as how the fans participating in these subcultures have made use of social media to connect with each other while actually influencing the objects of their fandom at a surprisingly high corporate level.

I know “serious scholars” like to mock Fan Studies as an illegitimate subdiscipline of Media Studies, but I’m getting tired of “serious scholarship” about How Disney Is Anti-Feminist And Poisoning Our Children™. To me, it’s much more meaningful to learn about how this culture is created, who is creating it, and how it’s not just Rich White Men producing media that’s consumed passively. If nothing else, I feel that good scholarship should be like a documentary that shows you a part of the world you only vaguely knew existed and then explains how it influences its broader cultural context. Theme Park Fandom is really enjoyable to read, and it’s been helping me make sense of all sorts of aspects of contemporary American culture that I’ve always found a bit mystifying.

I’ve also been reading Carlye Wisel’s various bits of theme park journalism, and I’m a fan. I wonder, how does someone get a job like this?

2020 Writing Log, Part 28

– I edited “Don’t Order the Fish” again and submitted it to Eerie River’s It Came from the Sea anthology.

– I edited “Mount Hiei” again and submitted it to Strange Horizons.

– I edited my story about Tetra and Linebeck, It’s Free Real Estate, and posted it on Tumblr.

– I posted a review of Edogawa Ranpo’s 1927 mystery-horror novel Strange Tale of Panorama Island, as well as an abbreviated version on Goodreads.

– I gave a talk on “The Legend of Zelda and Japanese Religion” at Otakon Online, and I posted the slideshow for anyone to view and download.

– I wrote and submitted the syllabus for the “Japanese Science Fiction and Fantasy” class I’ll be teaching online in the fall and posted it here on my website.

This week was tough, but I did my best. I’m truly fortunate to be supported by the kindness of my friends, and somehow I was able to make it through.

It Never Happened

It Never Happened is my second zine of horror-themed flash fiction. It collects fifteen very short stories, as well as a spooky comic (that you can find here) by the artist Frankiesbugs.

This is the zine description:

This zine collects fifteen short stories about finding oneself in strange circumstances and adjusting to a new normal. Nothing that takes place in these stories actually happened, of course. Most of what transpires is a little creepy, but it’s important to remember that none of this is real. If you read these stories, you might not be real either, but don’t let that stop you.

I love autobio comics, and a lot of these stories came from my failed attempts to write comic scripts. What I realized during this process is that it’s very difficult for me to talk about myself. Although I obviously have no trouble sharing my opinions, I never know what to say when I try to describe my own life. All of the stories in this zine are based on real experiences; but, as the title suggests, none of this ever actually happened.

Or rather, that’s not entirely true. One of these stories is 100% factually accurate, but I’m not going to say which one.

If you’re interested, there are still a few copies of this zine (on Etsy).

2020 Writing Log, Part 27

– After reading through the first issue of 34 Orchard (and really enjoying it), I decided that “Mount Hiei” is probably a better fit for Strange Horizons. I also decided that “Don’t Order the Fish” is a much better fit for 34 Orchard, so I submitted it to them. I got a polite rejection email four days later. Which is cool! I already have another venue in mind, so I’ll go through the story one more time this week before sending it out again.

– I put “Mount Hiei” through another set of edits. I’d love to be able to send it to Strange Horizons during their weekly submission period on Monday afternoon, but we’ll see.

– The artist I’ve been working with to create a cover for my next zine sent me the finished piece. Not only is it a gorgeous illustration, but it’s also super spooky. I already have rough drafts of all the stories, and I think I’d like to start working on them again in August so that I can have the zine ready to go by October.

– I posted It’s Free Real Estate, a short story about Tetra roasting Linebeck that I wrote as a bonus prompt fill for the Multifandom Drabble fic exchange. I’m a big fan of the person who requested this, and writing it was a lot of fun.

– I decided to go ahead and post the individual segments of The Memory of Stone, my main submission for the Multifandom Drabble exchange, to Tumblr. I’ve been continuing to edit it as I go along, and I hope at least a few people have enjoyed the story.

– I edited Super Bowser Odyssey, my story about Peach pegging Bowser while he’s wearing a wedding dress. This story hasn’t gotten many kudos, comments, or bookmarks in the six months since I originally posted it, so I was afraid to return to it. What if it was embarrassingly awful? To my surprise, it was already well-edited and a lot of fun. There were no typos or instances of body shaming, just two nerds enjoying themselves while indulging in some kink. The fic is actually kind of wholesome, in its own way. I can’t for the life of me remember what possessed me to write this story, but I’m happy it’s a thing that exists in the world.

– I edited Chapter 11 and Chapter 12 of Malice.

– I talked with the Otakon digital production team to test out the platform we’ll be using for my talk next Saturday, and we had a good time. I also started putting together my notes and slideshow.

– Although my appointment at University of Pennsylvania doesn’t formally begin until August 1, I was able to set up my faculty profile page this week. I say that “I was able to” because all of the university support services (including nonessential employee processing) have been shut down, and I had to be devious and sneak in through a back door. I don’t want to go into the tedious details, so let it suffice to say that administrative assistants are powerful wizards who should be admired and respected.

– I managed to mail out all of the Etsy orders I received over the week, a lot of which were international. Whew! I ordered more of the items that are running low on stock, and I also added a new sticker based on this design.

It occurred to me this week that a lot of my “creative” work involves polishing content in order to send it out into the world with the hope that the right person will see it, enjoy it, and decide that I’m worth supporting. Although I put a fair amount of time and effort into promoting myself, I’ve come to accept that I have almost no control over how people interact with my work. The only thing I can do is keep putting out good content at a steady pace while keeping my fingers crossed that I’ll be able to find an audience one day. Until then, even if they’re not “the right person” capable of promoting my work on a larger scale, I’m extremely grateful for the writer and artist friends I’ve made.

It’s tough to keep putting myself out there, and I would never be able to do it without everyone’s kindness.

2020 Writing Log, Part 26

– I finished editing and rewriting “Mount Hiei.” I’m going to let it sit for a week before looking over it one more time and sending it off to an online magazine called 34 Orchard.

– I edited Chapter 40 of Malice and posted it on FFN.

– I also edited Chapter 9 of Malice, as well as Chapter 10. I had to make two retcons, which was a bit embarrassing, but better late than never!

– I’m extremely fortunate to have been able to work with the incredibly talented Mehkuno on an illustration for the fifth arc of Malice. This project was a lot of fun, and the finished piece is the perfect blend of a Hollywood movie poster and a late 2000s anime DVD cover. It’s gorgeous.

– I put my submission for the Multifandom Drabble fanfic exchange through another set of edits. I also edited Going to Seed, my Animal Crossing story.

– I saw one user’s set of prompts on the Multifandom Drabble gift spreadsheet and got really excited. I wasn’t able to get the prompt fills in by the deadline, but I’m happy to have gotten started on a (somewhat) longer story that I hope they’ll enjoy. I’m going to let another of their prompts sit for a bit and return to it in October, as I think it will be seasonally appropriate for Halloween.

– I sent copies of my zines to The Soapbox, a zine library that’s right in my neighborhood. Once everything is back to normal, I’m looking forward to visiting them in person, especially since they’re only a ten-minute walk from my apartment. It might even be worth applying to join their studio, because it would be nice to have a dedicated physical space for art and community.

– The Japanese embassy in Washington DC asked me to give a (virtual) talk about The Legend of Zelda and Japanese religion as one of their sponsored panels at this year’s Otakon , and of course I said yes. This week I put together a small packet of promotional materials to send to them while exchanging emails to work out the details. My talk about The Legend of Zelda and Japanese religion is titled, appropriately enough, “The Legend of Zelda and Japanese Religion.” I used to care a lot about clever titles when I was younger, but these days I’m much more interested in search engine optimization. Anyway, the talk is going to be based on a lecture I prepared for my giant “Japanese Culture in a Global World” class last fall, and I think it’s going to be a lot of fun.