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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The Writer as God?: Or Satoshi Kon’s Opus Messed Me Up

I have officially placed a moratorium on buying books. They are everywhere: stacked on the floor in towers, overrunning my nightstand in unruly piles, occupying the spare room like sad, sleepless orphans. The shelves are creaking under the combined weight of so many unread tomes.

…Buuuuut this hasn’t stopped me from dragging Chebk to the library on my ongoing quest to find something to read that won’t trigger my depression or anxiety. Thankfully, with a little help from Battle Royale, this recent trip proved successful. I’ve gotten through N.K. Jemisin’s The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms (first in the Inheritance Trilogy; I highly recommend this volume so far. It is a balm after my extended time reviewing the Divergent trilogy). I also borrowed Satoshi Kon’s final and “incomplete” manga, entitled Opus.

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I first got into Kon’s work on a trip to the Big Island, during which my girlfriend brought along a collection of his movies for downtime and also because I’d somehow committed to writing a paper on them for one of my graduate classes. You may know some of his animated movies: Perfect Blue, Millennium Actress, Tokyo Godfathers, Paranoia Agent, and Paprika, to name a few. Prior to his directorial work in anime, however, he was mainly a manga artist.

Some things on Kon’s work upfront: Probably not the best things to watch or contemplate when you’re in a bad state, (probably). They’re all mindfucks because Kon is fascinated by taking apart both realities and illusions and blending them into crazy shit. Example:


Opus
is no different. It follows the story of manga artist, Chikara Nagai, as he wraps up his long-running manga series, Resonance, by killing off one of his main characters. The night before the big deadline, after inking the final death, Nagai is inexplicably drawn into the literal pages of Resonance when his characters rebel at impending deaths, the limits of controlled reality, and, of course, the masked manga villain dogging their every step.

The best part about all of this is watching the meta discussions of a writer and his characters unfold. Once his main characters become aware that they are fictional creations in a fictional world, they begin to refer to Nagai as “God.” They question whether or not they have free will with Nagai at the helm — made more interesting because this becomes a break from their predestined storyline as they yell at him, which Nagai sees as proof of their own free will. They beg to live, all the while knowing that if they go back and change their storylines their current “world” will collapse because it veers too far from what has already been published. Most importantly, they question their God, asking why their lives have been filled with such pain and suffering, only to come to the conclusion that, if it is all for the sake of a manga, then they have been hurt so egregiously for “entertainment.”

As an author who is all too willing to examine broken characters and even to sacrifice them for the sake of a storyline, this all hit home in the best of ways.

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6 Tips for Continuing your Novel

One of the main problems I’ve been running into when writing my novel is staying motivated enough to write it. Here are a few things that I do to keep me interested.

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1. Re-read the beginning: When I get stuck far enough into the novel, there is a good chance that I’ve forgotten the minute details that I had written in to the beginning. Re-reading it from the beginning is a great way for me to remember some things that I had intended to address and maybe hadn’t gotten to and things that I need to remember to keep in (forgotten swords anywhere? or bags?). Also, there tend to be small hints that I write in for the future that I forget about; things that I foreshadowed then completely forgot about or even unintentional foreshadowing that I catch after re-reading. With the new insight you gain from writing forward and knowing what is coming next, sometimes you can see what will happen next if you had been stuck previously.

This doesn’t work for some authors who, when they read the beginning, get stuck so be cautious of what kind of writer you are.

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Writing Environments

Lately Chebk and I have been taking it easy on the blogging front to work on some of our independent projects. Some of Chebk’s are still under-wraps — though suffice to say she is gearing up for Hawaii’s first sci-fi/fantasy convention, Comiccon Honolulu — alongside her usual writing endeavors. Meanwhile I am basically writing full-time…which is not to say successfully.

I have never been one for ritualized writing. While I am a creature of habit, I don’t need to write at a specific time, in absolute silence, with northern light, and a certain mug with the same brand of tea every day. Thinking about making all those stars align day after day would drive me to defeat.

Probably not an acceptable ritual.
Probably not an acceptable ritual.

And yet, after a slew of rough sessions (feeling stagnant, distracted, unproductive), I began looking for tips to not feeling quite so bad at the end of each writing day. I’m not sure what I’m going to do with the knowledge that a lot of authors wrote while lying down in bed (George Orwell, Mark Twain, Edith Wharton, Winston Churchill, and Marcel Proust ) because I’m 100% sure all I would do is sleep, or that Victor Hugo ate two eggs raw and then stood in a front of a mirror for hours writing. I’m not sure whether the raw eggs or the mirror deters me more.

My girlfriend suggested I try experimenting with different writing environments to see if anything proved more or less helpful. Here’s what happened:

  • Home (Productivity: 7.5/10)
    My usual haunting grounds. I start after I eat breakfast, around 8 or 9 AM, write until lunch (30 min. break) and then continue until anywhere between 4 and 6 PM.
    Where: Dining room table.
    Requirements: Water. Music in background (usually 8tracks; great music site).

    Didn't have a picture of home. Have an MS paint version.
    Didn’t have a picture of home. Have an MS paint version.

    Pros: Maximum comfort (i.e. no anxiety). Easy access to bathroom and food. Free wi-fi.
    Cons: Occasional interruptions to help my father around the house. Easy distractions. Cabin fever because I write here so often.

    Thoughts: Maybe I need to start standing when I write at home. I get too comfortable.

  • Chebk’s house (Productivity: 7/10)

    Not gonna lie, I write here a lot. Time ranges from two to, like, twelve hours.
    Where: Main dining room table.
    Requirements: Water. Chebk’s presence.

    Chebk and co. Don't mind the convention stuff scattered everywhere.
    Chebk and co. Don’t mind the convention stuff scattered everywhere.

    Pros: Chebk keeps me on task. Someone to bounce ideas off of. Easy access to bathroom and sometimes food.
    Cons: Constantly intruding on Chebk’s space.

    Thoughts: I need to keep myself on task instead of using Chebk.

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Writing Diversely: LGBTQAI Characters

Hey, readers! In the second installment of OKPotato’s Guide to Writing Diversely we will be discussing representations of LGBTQAI characters in media. You can find the first part on Character and Culture here. (Note: I personally identify as a lesbian, but that does not make me an expert in the subject by any means. I have pulled from other resources for some parts of this post and welcome any corrections or comments.)

I guess the first thing to start with is deconstructing that terrifying acronym. LGBTQAI is a catch-all for minority sexualities:

  • Lesbian: Romantic, physical, or emotional attraction between female-identified people.
  • Gay: Romantic, physical, or emotional attraction between male-identified people.
  • Bisexual: Romantic, physical, or emotional attraction for both male and female-identified people.
  • Transgender: A person whose gender identity or gender expression does not match one’s birth sex.
  • Queer (or Questioning): The former is an umbrella term for anyone who does not fit heteronormativity or the gender binary (including pansexual, polyamorous, etc.) The latter is for anyone who may be unsure of their current sexuality.
  • Asexual: A spectrum of sexuality defined by lack of sexual attraction (may also include romantic attraction). Includes demisexuals, gray asexuals, etc.
  • Intersexual: Physical sex characteristics that are not categorized as exclusively male or exclusively female.
Black and white illustrations by Christian Robinson from Queer: The Ultimate LGBT Guide for Teens, © 2011 Zest Books. Source.
Black and white illustrations by Christian Robinson from Queer: The Ultimate LGBT Guide for Teens, © 2011 Zest Books. Source.

Whew. But don’t be intimidated! As with writing culturally-diverse characters, it’s a good rule of thumb not to make a queer character’s entire existence and plotline about their sexuality. However, it doesn’t mean that you should treat them entirely like a straight character save for the gender of their romantic interest. Living as a queer person involves not only casual and overt homophobia (e.g. everything from too-long glances when you walk down the street with your partner, to being called “sir” or “ma’am” despite or because of your gender presentation, to outright bullying and violence), but also shifts in all interpersonal relationships as friends, family, coworkers, and others become aware of a character’s sexuality.

As with any other minority character whose diversity you may not be familiar with, research is generally a good idea. Unfortunately, a lot of LGBTQAI media out there is fraught with tropes writers should generally avoid. These stereotypes are often used as an easy way out of exploring the complexities of queer lives, or to use for humor to a heteronormative audience. Understanding the spectrum of human sexuality (and its fluidity) will take a lot more space than I can cover in one post, but here are some bad queer tropes that are way too overplayed:

  • Tragic Gays in Love: Though I’m sure this can be applied across the sexuality spectrum, it happens the most in gay or lesbian love stories. Generally, the plot follows the same progression: Unexpected queer love blossoms; one or both parties resist (futilely); opposition from family or society; the break-up; attempts at reconciliation only for the death of one partner to follow. We end on the heartbreak of the remaining partner. How strong, we are left to think; if only society were not so cruel.

    brokeback
    Yes, society is cruel and that is a good message to send to heteronormative societies who have no idea what queer people go through on a daily basis. However, killing off LGBTQAI characters does nothing but reinforce images of violence against queer characters, while also impeding any actual queer relationships from continuing by the end of the story.

    Examples in books: The Picture of Dorian Gray, The Golden Compass, The Book of Lost Things, Sword of Truth, The Bell Jar, the Divergent trilogy (to be discussed later on this blog’s hate-read of the series, pt.1 and pt.2 thus far).

    Examples in movies: Brokeback Mountain, A Single Man, Boys Don’t Cry, Lost and Delirious, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, etc.

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Writing Diversely: Character + Culture

Greetings, readers. Let’s get right down to it: Where are all the culturally diverse, quality characters across media? One of the biggest problems with diversity in media is representation of various races in meaningful ways. The “standard” hero story still focuses on the White (Straight) Male Protagonist and the “standard” romance on the White Heterosexual Couple. Mainstream audiences are used to People of Color in movies about overcoming racial hardships and little else (e.g. 12 Years A Slave, Selma, and 42), or exotified cultural mysticism (e.g. 47 Ronin, Last Samurai, etc.)  which is not to say that these are not good movies or good representation, only that PoC are still not acceptable in broader stories and roles. Those visionaries trying to bring racial representation to the forefront definitely exist, but there is still a problem getting the viewers and producers to support what the Powers That Be still deem “a risk.”

No Asians allowed in this cartoon about Asian cultures. Via Colorlines.
No Asians allowed in this cartoon about Asian cultures. Via Colorlines.

While representation or lack thereof is easy to spot in movies and television due to visuals, the whitewashing of casts in literature is equally problematic. So, let’s say you’re a writer who wants to ensure you have a culturally diverse cast or main character. Where should you begin?

Well, let’s start with the definite DON’Ts:

  • Do NOT make a character’s race their main focal point (unless it drives their arc/story) or a justification for their existence, even (or especially) for background characters. In other words, if you ask someone to describe your character to you and they can’t go very far past, “They’re black/Asian/Mexican/whatever,” then you’re doing something wrong. Ideally your PoC characters should be allowed the same amount of complexity as any other main character. Don’t get hung up on making sure they are [insert culture here] enough.

    Good Example: Ari and Dante in Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe (read my review here). Their Mexican heritage is mentioned and important to establish both their physical appearance and their family background. Their diversity (as queer people of color) informs their conflict but is not as all-caps descriptors of who each character is. They are Ari and Dante, but they are also Mexican and LGBTQ.

    Bad Example: Some characters that can’t be described very far past their race: Long Duk Dong from Sixteen Candles and Mickey Rooney’s yellowface character in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Think that no longer happens any more? Try BBC Sherlock’s The Blind Banker episode and its China Doll/Lotus Blossom Soo Lin, the Dragon Lady boss of a Chinese smuggling ring, and Orientalism everywhere.

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    Literally every time we see Soo Lin she is surrounded by tea pots.

    soolin3
    Exhibit B.
  • Do NOT base your knowledge or representation of a culture off of already existing stereotypes or tropes. This goes hand-in-hand with the above DON’T. If your diversity decisions are based on thoughts like, “This character is going to be smart and shy, so it’s easiest to write them as Asian,” or “I want this character to be a gang leader, so he’s going to be black,” you may need to start reframing or rethinking how you will diversify your cast, lest you fall into the Fake Diversity cast. Your Asian character can be smart and shy, but hopefully that won’t be the only thing your reader will take away from your story about them. Just like any other character, you want to move away from 2-D simplicity.

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Write Like: Chebk

If you’ve ever exchanged your writing with someone to critique, chances you’ve gotten some pretty succinct replies along the lines of “I liked it!” or “It was okay…” It’s usually a little more difficult to get feedback on what could be changed (and to what effect) and what just didn’t work for them. On top of all that, getting a beta reader’s perspective on what works in your overall style and technique. Although it’s been almost a year since Chebk and I began writing together, despite many, many critiques and edits, we have never formally analyzed each other’s writing.

Before you scroll past: This is not an ego boost. (Sadly.) Eventually Chebk and I want to start looking at author’s techniques and styles and how beginner (or not beginner) writers can apply it to their own work. Before we get in too deep with that we thought we would start with ourselves. Sacrificial potatoes.

My kind of sacrifice.
My kind of sacrifice.

Thus, again, the prompt, via Sanjiv, is: Write a light horror-romance about a socially-anxious monk. You can read both pieces here. I will be referencing direct quotes from the text in the analysis if you don’t want to look at the link. But: You can also still submit your own flash fiction for the prompt here.

Mono no Aware by Chebk

Plot: One of the more difficult things in a writing group is merging what you know of the planning stages with the drafts and end product. In this case, I was privvy to Chebk’s plot planning from the beginning, focusing on the live mummification of a Buddhist monk. Reading it through as though I did not have that knowledge makes it slightly different though:

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