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.

Cat Catch animated GIF

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.

Angry Nerd animated GIF

Continue reading


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.


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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.


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 —


I wake up.

Continue reading

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.

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:

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.

Continue reading

August Update

Hey, readers. Just a brief update on the coming month: Chebk will finally be revealing her top secret Comiccon Honolulu project and its fruition, as well as looking into Ken Liu’s “silkpunk” genre discussion.

To be revealed...
To be revealed…

As for me, I’m challenging myself to a book per 1-2 weeks, so I’ll be starting up my reviews again this month, beginning with either Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven or a few Cuban-translated sci-fi books I picked up today, Agustin de Rojas’ A Legend of the Future and Yoss’s A Planet for Rent.

Look at these rad books!
Look at these rad books!

We’ll also be welcoming back guest writer, Hoshi, at the end of the month and collaborating on a follow-up to our List Prompt post.

Please bear with OKP as we try to get back into the swing of writing, reading, and getting through life. By now, you may have noticed that we have shed our Young Adult genre-only focus and have expanded more fully into general media representation and discussions on culture. So: Welcome to new readers and followers and thank you to old friends!

Happy August!

PS. You can also follow us on Twitter (@cherichebk) for more updates. 🙂

Battle Royale: Culture, Writing, & Representation

TW: Brief mentions of suicide

A few posts back, I wrote about my difficulties in finding something to read with my current state of mind. That problem persists, sort of. New books are still gathering dust on the shelves. But I have found refuge in some of my old favorites. (I reread Richard Adams’ Watership Down at least once a year, and that’s a soothing one for anyone out there also trying to stay away from darker material.) Except, for some reason, in my foray into lighter fare, I have somehow stumbled back into Koushun Takami’s infamous Battle Royale.

Spoiler alert: The book is full of blood, murder, suicide, oppression, and tears.

I think, a few sleep-addled nights ago, I decided that this book would somehow be uplifting. What a reflection of the war of chemicals in my brain! Life is a battle; now, fight! This is not a train of thought I recommend for the general public, but — so far — it’s actually going surprisingly well.

I love this cover because of the gun design between the two students. But what a weird quote from Stephen King.

For those not in the know, Battle Royale is the first and only novel written by Takami, a Japanese author, in the late ‘90s. The book was both wildly popular and deeply controversial in both Japan and then America following its English translation and the book’s subsequent film. (Note: The movie only skims the surface of the book, but I know it’s most people’s intro to the pop culture context.) I read this in high school and it blew my mind. This is maybe my second reread since then and it is still an emotional minefield.

Since Suzanne Collin’s Hunger Game trilogy there have been a lot of references to Battle Royale as some people claim Collins ripped off Takami, citing myriad similarities between the books (or the films). Battle Royale follows 42 high school students participating in one of fifty yearly Programs designed by the government, supposedly for military experiments. The students are taken to a remote location, armed with menial supplies and grab-bag weapons, and told to kill each other until only one survivor remains.

To add fuel to the fear, each student is fitted with a collar that not only tracks their location but can be triggered to explode if they are caught in a forbidden zone (six new zones on the grid of the map they are given), if they try to remove the collar, or if they otherwise piss off the Program staff. If no one dies within 24 hours, everyone’s collars explode.

By now you should be wondering: “But, Cheri, this is the darkest shit ever. Why are you doing this to yourself? You just bared your soul to us and said you couldn’t handle the darkness anymore. You wanted prancing Austenesque fare with which to gallop off into the sun. Why the lies?”

This is true, dear readers. I have been giving it a lot of thought and this fluke may be due to one of two things: 1) All these characters are struggling in different ways because they want to live. That’s a brilliant model for my brain to latch onto. Granted, some of the characters are of the more murderous mindset of wanting to live, but the main characters fight with idealism, morality, trying to understand their government, corruption, complacency, and what it means to be alive. The loftier philosophies all boil down to this one very primal emotion, which my brain apparently is open to processing.

It’s either that or, 2) I’ve also been thinking about this potential blog post concerning Takami’s writing and its connection to Chebk’s post on Cultural Views and my post on Culture + Writing.

Continue reading