Random Reference: Magic: The Gathering

It’s Friday night and you’re sitting across the table from a dude, looking them directly in the eyes and you shuffle your cards one more time for good luck. You place your prized deck on the table and slide it carefully over to the dude who cuts the deck and hands it back. The first few cards of your sixty-card deck are drawn and you fiddle with your twenty-sided die till you are staring at the biggest number on it. You are playing Magic: The Gathering.

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When writing, random knowledge that I have gathered over the years has a way of popping up. I find that it has a way of making my stories more realistic when I can put in information that I know, but may not be common knowledge. So we’re continuing a series here on OKPotato where we will talk about random references that you might learn something new from and be inspired to write into your stories. (Please let us know if any of these random references make it to your stories in the comments below!) See the previous installment on Hypothermia here

Created by Richard Garfield and first published by Wizards of the Coast in 1993, Magic: The Gathering was the first trading card game to be produced. Many have spawned in it’s wake, but as the original and one of the best known, it continues to thrive to this day.

The game play is a battle between players called “planeswalkers” who cast spells using mana to win. There are three ways to win: To reduce your opponent’s life from 20 to zero or lower, to “mill” or cause opposing players to draw or dispose of all the cards in their deck, or for all opponents to forfeit the game.

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Psych 101 – Anthropological and Social Differences

Psychology as we learn it in America is very interesting and very different from many other places in the world. As mentioned previously:

A lot of media has improved in the way mental illnesses have been portrayed, but there are still overwhelming stigmas and stereotypes that are pervasive in everyday life. In this series, I consult our friend, a doctoral student who goes by Sanjiv, on her field of Psychology as it pertains to literature and character creation.

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We have gone over a few different things such as Major Depressive Disorder and Eating Disorders on this series, but so far we’ve been focusing specifically on American Psycopathology. In this post I want to talk about a few interesting facts about American Psychology as a system of research and diagnoses and then present a few of the differing views that can be taken when approaching the issue of mental health in diverse populations.

American psychopathology is outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), currently on its fifth version. Before we talk about its international and cross-cultural applications, it’s important to note that even within mainstream American psychology, the DSM and its current definitions (criteria) for aspects of mental health are hotly debated. In recent years, the issue of the applicability of our diagnostic categories and therapeutic techniques to minority populations in America has gained increasing attention.

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Uchinanchuu: The Okinawan Festival + OKP

Here on OKP, we occasionally discuss our namesake and Okinawan background, (most recently with a guest post from Hoshi highlighting a recipe for Haupia Beni Imo Pie), but the past few days have been an impetus for a much bigger post.

Every Labor Day weekend, the Hawaii United Okinawan Association hosts their annual Okinawan Festival in Honolulu. This year was their 33rd year of celebrating uchinanchu (native Okinawan) culture with food, exhibitions, dance, and other performances. It also marks the first time OKP has had a chance to discuss the festival and what it means to us (well, me).

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Up until about high school, the only thing I associated with my Okinawan heritage was people poking fun at the fact that I had visibly thicker arm hair than most. I still don’t know what’s up with this association, but it probably has something to do with Othering indigenous Okinawans from mainland Japanese genetics. I got used to hiding my arms and legs. I let myself be drawn to the more easily accessible Japanese culture that belonged to so many of my other peers.

Part of this lay in the fact that I didn’t even know what Okinawan culture entailed. I ate certain foods, but I think that was par for the course. It wasn’t like the dolls my family put out for Girls’ Day, the koinobori carp flags Dad let fly from the roof for Boys’ Day, or the ozoni we ate for New Year’s, among so many other little Japanese traditions that were made so commonplace in my life.

L: Hina Matsuri or Girls' Day dolls and R: Koinobori, carp flags, flown for Children's Day (previously Boy's Day).
L: Hina Matsuri or Girls’ Day dolls and
R: Koinobori, carp flags, flown for Children’s Day (previously Boy’s Day).

In high school, however, everything changed when a group of my friends, including Chebk, volunteered to host exchange students from Okinawa for a few weeks. I befriended some of the students in this time and, the following year, I went on a return exchange trip to Okinawa where I was hosted by a family for two weeks and toured the island with the rest of the Hawaii group. Chebk also went and, though I’m not sure we technically bonded, she did help me carry things and turned up in enough of my pictures to make it look OKP would one day be a thing.

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Why SF/F is EASY to Get Into

First, let’s start off by saying that Cheri is being magnanimous in the introduction of this two parter. (For Pt. 1 and Why Sci-Fi/Fantasy is Hard, click here.) Since her first forays into the genre, she, in her voracious reading ways, has since surpassed me in every aspect of SFF including classics and everything she ‘claimed’ was hard to get into.

It started with an innocent little argument. Cheri stated with gusto and importance that, “Sci-fi is hard to get into.” I replied, in my quick way, with a Socratic question to break down her argument.

“Why?” asked I.

And then she thought. And then we decided to do a series of posts about it. So I am here to explain the reasons why Sci-fi and Fantasy are the best things ever and are better than any other genre. Something that I am extremely passionate about.

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  1. Reading SFF is EASY because there is an oversimplification and over explaining of things.

Ah, the hated exposition is, for once, praised for exactly what it is: an infodump.

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Reading Sci-Fi/Fantasy is Hard (Pt. 1)

This is the first in a two-part collaborative post between Chebk and myself. Though we both currently write mostly Science Fiction/Fantasy stories, I have much less experience with the genres. I have been gravitating towards reading more SFF stories lately, but it is always an overwhelming struggle to find the right book and, even then, to finish the right books. Chebk and I briefly contemplated why this might be, which spawned this two-part post. I’ll be tackling how to deal with the difficulties of getting into SFF and Chebk will be introducing the aspects of the genre that are most accessible for new readers.

1. Reading SFF is hard because starting with the classics is DAUNTING.

But where to begin?
Image from io9.com
For those of you who have been following OKP for a while, I’ve talked a few times about my WIP novel, which is my official first foray into science fiction writing. This has proved A MISTAKE difficult many times over because of my lack of experience with the actual genre. I did a brief crash course prior to starting my novel, but mainly because I was also submitting the first quarter as my graduate thesis. (So many mistakes~)

My thesis committee was 2/3 hardcore science fiction readers, the type of professors who loved the genre so much they held multiple classes analyzing the different aspects and masters of the craft. They heaped a bunch of “classic” titles my way and set me loose into the world.

I am sure these books are classics for a reason. People love them. People revere them. And I am sorry but I cannot. Is it the info dumps? The same style of writing that prevents me from ever reading any Dostoyevsky book? The strangeness of the worlds and my lack of training in adapting to these genre conventions? The fact that most of the “classics” are male dominated, author- and character-wise? Probably all of the above.

Many new titles build on these foundations to add to the genre, and it can and will still take a while to adjust to the new tropes and expectations, but this isn’t mathematics or physics. You don’t need to start at the basics.

Tip for new readers: Don’t keep digging back into the annals of the genre to get into SFF if you find yourself putting down classic after classic, even if everyone keeps telling you to read Asimov’s Foundation series or Frank Herbert’s Dune. There are a lot of new titles that are excellent gateways that subvert old tropes and discuss current/ongoing real world issues that you may be able to relate to more. (So many Cold War metaphors back in the day…) My contemporary diversity picks include N.K. Jemisin, Kate Elliott, Daniel H. Wilson, Ken Liu, Ernest Cline, and Jacqueline Carey for accessible writing, plots, worlds, and characters.

However, if you are adamant at starting with some of the greats, I’d personally recommend Kurt Vonnegut’s Sirens of Titan, Olaf Stapledon’s Sirius, Madeline L’Engles Wrinkle in Time series, and anything by Jules Verne or Ursula LeGuin. Some of these are rooted more in reality than others, heavy on the pathos for easy emotional connections, with relatively small casts and linear plots, which makes it easier to follow.

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Recipe: Beni-Imo Haupia Pie

Greetings, fellow mortals! Hoshi has returned from the land of Kalmikar, where she battles and heals furry beasts, and is excited to share yet another epic recipe with Cheri and Chebk’s wonderful readers. The recipe, courtesy of Miss Mochi, is based on a few things:

  1. This amazing blog’s namesake. (OKPotato = Okinawan Sweet Potatoes, as evidenced by the header.)
  2. The belief that one should continually expand their culinary experiences
  3. Hoshi’s ongoing premenstrual cramps

Among the many foods that Hawaii imports (read: everything), the Okinawan sweet potato, known as beni-imo in the Okinawan language, is commonly used in desserts and side dishes. In Hawaii, it is sometimes combined with coconut-flavored pudding (haupia in the Hawaiian language) to create an orgasmic dessert filled with happiness, rainbow-farting unicorns, and fairies. If you love sweet potato and/or coconut, I suggest you give this recipe a try! It’s somewhat laborious but is entirely worth it.

Photo courtesy of Miss Mochi.
Photo courtesy of Miss Mochi.

Miss Mochi’s recipe, below, yields enough pie for 13″ x 9″ or circular pie baking pans.

See ingredients, directions, and step-by-step pictures behind the cut!

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On Station Eleven, the Obon Festival, and the Art of Longing

To mark the end of August, I’ve been wanting to do a post on the obon season here in Hawaii. Obon is a traditionally Japanese Buddhist custom to honor one’s ancestors as they return to “visit.” Most Japanese people return to their hometowns to celebrate this occasion, which is marked by a bon odori, or basically a very large traditional Japanese dance.

As a third generation Japanese-Okinawan American, I know next to nothing about the actual Japanese festivities. Here in Hawaii, it’s a little different. For one thing, the season spans almost all summer, from the end of June to the end of August, as opposed to the few days in each Japanese region. Generally all of the Buddhist temples here host their own obon celebration, complete with food vendors, craft fairs, and, of course, bon dances. All summer, every weekend is another bon dance somewhere on the island.

Hometown bon dance. Photo by Cheri.
Hometown bon dance. Photo by Cheri.

Evidently, there is an actual story behind this occasion, which I only discovered this moment on Wikipedia: One of Buddha’s disciples somehow found out his deceased mother was suffering in the afterlife and was informed by Buddha that he could help her by making offerings to the Buddhist monks who had just completed their summer retreat. This allowed his mother’s release from her suffering and, in gratitude and relief, the disciple danced.

I still don’t know if obon season necessarily makes me feel closer to my ancestors. But, despite the fact that I’m really really bad at dancing, participating in the obon festivities always makes me feel grounded in my culture. Whether or not they struggle to participate in the dance movements, everyone is part of so many generations holding tight to all these traditions, even after all these years.

Which brings me to the fact that I’ve finally finished Emily St. John Mandel’s highly acclaimed Station Eleven, which is all about extreme nostalgia. I mentioned this title a few times in the last months, mostly because I’d picked it up in a moment of optimism about my reading abilities while coping with Issues. Unfortunately, the whole world-ending thing put me off for a bit because, well, Issues.

The story follows a handful of different narrative perspectives, both past and present, through the mutated epidemic that wipes out 99% of the world, the shaky years following, and all the way through Year 20, when the Traveling Symphony of musicians and Shakespearean actors continue to bring art and beauty to the surviving communities.

The crux of the main conflict comes in the form of a territorial prophet who believes the epidemic was God’s razing of the Earth, leaving only the worthy behind, along with those who will test the worthy one last time. (There always has to be one of those guys, right?) The Traveling Symphony runs afoul of him and things get creepy from there.

What was most interesting to me, however, was that, despite this prophet storyline, the much bigger and continuing conflict happens on a much more personal level for most of the characters: namely a longing for the past, a forgetting and remembrance alike, for everything from air-conditioning to electricity to iced lattes.

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Sub Genres: Silkpunk

Here is the second installment of our series: ‘Sub Genres.’ This one was more of a pet find because I read an online article (that can be found here) where Ken Liu, an author, came up with this new genre for his book, The Grace of Kings. It appealed to me because of the idea of delving into a different view of the world brought upon by different cultures.

Grace of Kings

What is Silkpunk?

Silkpunk is similar to steampunk in that it is a reimagining of history using a futuristic viewpoint while maintaining the aesthetic and sensibilities of a time long past. Unlike steampunk, rather than focusing on the western world, silkpunk focuses on ancient China and their wealth of technologies and resources.

Steampunk vs. Silkpunk

So where steampunk focuses on corsets, steam, and mechanisms and gadgets of steel, silkpunk focuses more on organic materials such as silk and bamboo and biomechanics using technologies that were already understood and put into practical usage – like the use of kites in military applications. Rather than the mechanical, they focus more on the biomechanical using human/animal/nature powered rather than coal/steam.

steampunk

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Cheri’s List Prompt – by Cheri

A while back I thought this would all be a good idea: Write a list. Pick a prompt. Write a story. I got as far as writing the list and deeply considering the consequences and then got distracted by a second wind in my novel-writing. Well, now that Chebk has posted her own list prompt story, it seems I must follow suit.

For the sake of competition, I have also used every prompt in my list, although I think Bradbury was an advocate of using single prompts in the beginning for creativity’s sake. (The hodgepodge of all these prompts resembles a lot of really bad stories I remember writing in early Creative Writing classes.) OH WELL. This story was a good exercise in free association and trying not to look back to edit too much.

You can all thank Chebk for forcing a “Positive Stories Only” rule on this prompt. There was also clearly a word count maximum rule. :(((((((((


The list: The graveyard in the middle of the city. The Ferris Wheel. The beach after the storm. The three girls on the bus. The paper plate. The prophet. The guava tree. The succulent garden. The demon.

The prophet and the demon stared up at the Ferris wheel. Around them, everything smelled of salt and sugar, the earthly sins of fried doughs and sharp slush of candied lemonade. Screams from the rollercoasters stretched across the sky. Children wailed and laughed and bellowed.

“Shall we?” asked the prophet, well-aware of what the demon was to answer. She was large with brown skin, huge hands, and shaggy hair dyed cotton candy pink for the occasion.

The demon ceased her teeth’s movements against her bleeding, black fingernails. Her mortal skin was a bloodless pale, a grey-white like stretched clay, eyes obsidian where there should have been whites beneath her thick black shades. In lieu of an answer, she held out her arm for the prophet’s sweaty grip. She knew the prophet would not have asked if she had not already seen the answer.

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Cheri’s List Prompt – By Chebk

Awhile ago, Cheri tried to stave off her writer’s block by reading some books and making some lists (precise details can be found here). Needless to say, I decided to jump into the torture and created a list of my own. It has taken a bit longer than expected, but I managed to complete the prompt. Unbeknownst to me, we did not need to use all the things in the list, but here is my attempt at breaking through writer’s block including EVERY PROMPT in my list:

The glasses. The balloon. The costume. The middle of the volcano fields. The dieselpunk. The underwater. The hot boy.

INTO THE FIELDS

Water drips off of his sculpted torso and glistens as it makes its way down to ripple through the pond. Isolated and surrounded by the silence of pre-dawn nature, he flips his black hair back, a void in space speckled with the droplets of a thousand stars, and spears me with his gaze. Dark tanned skin moves through the blue water until I see his hipbones peek above the shimmering reflection off the liquid surface. I hold my breath as he stops. His hands rise in front of him bearing black smoke and the smell of diesel. As the wind picks up and blows the cloud away, I see a glint of metal then —

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I wake up.

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