Recharge and rest

Sometimes all you need or want is a recharge. And honestly, I’ve been hoping for one for a long time. (Insert comment about politics today here.)

On the plus side, I think this weekend was the best one I’ve had in a long time. We took a three day weekend as a household and while he had plans about going out, they ended up not coming to fruition… and honestly, that was okay. I’ve done some chores that really needed to be done (including financials) and otherwise spent the time mostly focused on hobbies that I usually don’t. And as much as I enjoy writing, it is a very mentally involved sort of hobby. I can’t chat with friends, or listen to podcasts, or watch something while I’m trying to write. To be honest, I can’t even really listen to music that has lyrics anymore; it has to be instrumentals or silence.

And I’ll be honest, my writing has definitely been sluggish lately. I feel pretty certain it’s directly correlated to my anxiety about the world in general (I’m the daughter of South Korean immigrants, which I think says a lot right there). There’s a lot of really awful things going on, and while I am trying to participate, educate, and help out where I can, I have definitely been hitting my saturation point faster and faster… but without actually being able to stop doing my best to keep up.

That sort of thing isn’t really sustainable. I haven’t been reading or consuming anything new in terms of fiction except for a mobile game, and that only counts for a little. My batteries there feel pretty empty, hence the need for a recharge.

I haven’t really stopped feeling anxious and nervous about the world at large. I have a number of friends who are finding solace in nihilistic black humor, which only really ends up making me feel worse. And I don’t blame them for it, because everyone does need to cope in their own ways, but it’s certainly not helping me to feel anything more positive.

But this weekend I did manage to disengage some. Not entirely, but no longer obsessively pouring over headlines and fretting about the consequences. I’m not going to say that I won’t go back to it, because I suspect I will, and will continue to do so until there’s some greater sense of sanity restored to the world.

(And I like to believe there will be. At my core I think I am a positive cynic, so even when I’m grouchy about things, I believe they’ll trend upwards. Or at least I deeply want to, even when everything else is frightening.)

Taking this weekend to recharge myself, to relax and do some other things, has felt really good. It’s one of those common sense, terribly obvious things — taking a break is good for you! Doing other things that you enjoy, that aren’t part of your daily routine, can be really refreshing! Amazing.

So to that note, I’m not going to say it’s a hiatus from the usual, exactly. It’s not like I don’t want to keep working on my writing. Even if this blog is one small blip on the wide face of the internet, I’d like to keep going with this. And there are definitely still a lot of stories I have left that I want to do something with; my to-write list is kind of embarrassingly long.

However, I haven’t really been reading a lot lately, and I’m feeling that. So I’m going to take the rest of June — and probably July as well, in all honesty — to try and take a step back and just work on consuming new things, rather than just try to output all the time. I’ll still be doing weekly short stories and these blog entries; I’ll continue doing my daily writing on the backend, even if it’s nothing but freewrites and journals to myself.

Right now, though, I’d like to try reading more stuff — audiobooks are good (especially for work), fictional podcasts are also good, but also there’s that whole sale that Less Than Three is doing ([brief shill] my books are here! [/brief shill]) that I am planning on taking advantage of.

I’d take recommendations if people have them, too! I’m hoping that by doing some more reading for the next month and a half, and maybe learning to how to handle things better.

With luck, I’ll be able to fully recharge by August.

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Pride Sale Shill!

And now, a shill: My publisher, Less Than Three Press, is having a 20% Sale through the month of June celebrate Pride! That’s a sale on top of any preorder sales they’re doing, so it’s a pretty sweet sale right now! ヽ(〃・ω・)ノ And of course I’ve got some books available there for the interested.

Most of my stuff takes a fairytale bent, so if you’re interested, there’s:

Ravenhearth (m/m), where Bluebeard is the Beast but there’s a whole lot less death and dismemberment and discouraging demises.

Simon’s Cat (m/m), which is Puss in Boots with a catboy and brief appearances from other animal people, because I enjoy kemonomimi things.

Hold Fast the Knight (f/f/m), in which a would-be knight goes to save a prince and finds himself saved by a princess.

Forward the Hunt (m/m), where the young son of immigrants goes on a dragon hunt and lands on… just not necessarily in the way that he imagined.

A lot of hard work goes into all of the books at Less Than Three, though, so I would highly recommend people go peruse the whole library of what they’ve got for sale! And of course, I’d highly appreciate any interest or signal-boosting. (For anyone who does tumblr, I also have post here for reblogging.)

Now that the main shill is out of the way, here’s where I mention why it would mean an extra lot to me right now if anyone is interested, or could spread the word about this pride sale. Prepare yourselves:

My partner has an extremely bad back (while she is mobile, she does require a cane for anything outside of the house), and our bed (ten years old! not bad for an IKEA bed!) broke a couple of weeks ago. Which was uncomfortable but doable for me, but increasingly intolerable for my poor partner. So we had to order a new bedframe, and we’re looking into a new mattress, one that will be in general better for her back.

Neither of those things are cheap! We both have steady dayjobs, so we are working on saving up for it, but it would be nice to get it sooner. So any sales I make for the next… rest of the year will be going into this mattress fund. (In my tumblr post I said “this month” but really, mattresses are expensive and I anticipate it taking much longer.)

Please don’t feel obligated, either; I am definitely prepared and working on paying as much of the mattress as I can myself! But any extra that I can make through selling my books would be incredibly appreciated. Even signal boosting would be great, since I’m not really the best at advertising and outreach. But for this! For the sake of the partner who has always been so loving and supportive of me, I’d like to try!

Okay, that’s the end of that shilling. Thank you to everyone who has read this far, haha. (And of course, even more of a thank you to anyone who takes the time to look or signal boost; it honestly does mean a lot!)

For the most part, things have otherwise been the same and steady for me. Political woes have been weighing pretty heavily on me (which I am sure is the same for most people), but on the everyday level I’ve been muddling through. I’m working on my health (both mental and physical), working on cleaning up our home (I have so many craft supplies now, rediscovered after we cleaned our bedroom) and doing more with those crafts. My idle ambitions of opening an etsy shop this year are coming closer to fruition — my deadline for myself is my birthday month, October. We’ll see if I can manage it before then! (It’d be nice, but also, I’m not holding my breath with everything else that has to get done right now.)

Writing itself has honestly been kind of slow; I do think that it’s more difficult for me to focus on writing when the world is swirling through so much chaos right now. Instead, I’ve been focusing on crafts — there’s something very satisfying to making a tangible object, and I would call it equal, though different, to the satisfaction of finishing a story. It’s just that right now, I am more geared towards wanting the tangible at this moment in time.

Otherwise, I’m still muddling through. In spite of everything, I’m still here; I want to make the most of it.

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Serial story style

I’ve been thinking for a long time now (slightly encouraged by doing a weekly story) about how much I would really like to try writing a serial story.

To step back a little, American superhero comics never super interested me as a kid. One of the counselors at my daycare as an elementary kid was big into Marvel, and he had trading cards that he’d let us look at. I remember that was my closest moment of fascination with the franchise as a whole, because wow! Look at all these drawn characters — cartoons, I thought, because I was seven and didn’t know better — but with decidedly unchildlike stories and personalities. It was the sort of thing that combined the heft of the fantasy novels I was getting into with the cartoons that I still loved.

Of course, Americomics being Americomics and Marvel being Marvel — and this being the infancy of the internet — it was incredibly daunting and confusing for a preteen to even think of trying to collect things. Neither of my parents were interested, I obviously had limited funds, and my interest fizzled for lack of anything new to fuel it with. When I discovered manga in seventh grade, I was at least more independent, doing chores for an allowance and able to make my own purchases.

And while I don’t want to get into an argument of which is “better,” because that’s not a debate I’m prepared for and oh boy do both sides have legit pros and cons, the thing that I, personally, liked better about manga was ease and (relative) coherency of storylines. –By which I basically mean I didn’t have to track down titles through five different authors and seven different artists and various subtitles; a manga, for the most part, is at most a two-person team (with assistants, of course) — and more often it’s a single person’s story. Limited people are involved in the process of the creation, development, and writing.

(I have to confess, even in this heyday of the internet, with multiple good friends into both comics and the MCU, I’m STILL often incredibly confused about what’s what, and where.)

To bring it back around, manga introduced me to the idea of a serial story much more than my young childhood two-second flirtation with Marvel did. I was familiar with the concept of penny dreadfuls (or, more accurately, I was familiar with Charles Dickens and his writing), but that wasn’t really a thing that seemed to happen anymore. There was no reading one chapter a week and then waiting to see what the next chapter would bring.

(I guess that’s what TV sitcoms and dramas are, but while I did have shows I watched regularly, I liked the idea of writing better. Written things I could take with me to school and consume at my own time and pace; TV, I had to be there at the right time or else hope to catch a rerun later down the line.)

Manga, on the other hand, was a serial thing. There’d be a new chapter once a week, or once a month, or once a quarter, or whatever — the whole story rarely came out at once. Even in slice of life series, there’d be something new for the same characters to do in the next installment, written by the same writer and done by the same artist. I liked that midpoint between consistency and difference.

Drawn art, however, isn’t a medium I ever pursued. In middle school through my early college years, I did doodle; I drew a lot of very earnest but very bad anime knockoff art, but it wasn’t something I took seriously. Even now, the art I do is mixed media based, not drawing.

Writing was my focus, then as now. I didn’t know how to approach and artist to set up a collaboration, so at the time I convinced myself it wasn’t meant to be. Text-based writers didn’t get to do serial stories.

But over the years, especially with the blossoming of the internet, that’s definitely changed. I’ve seen other people pull it off; I’ve seen concepts of such things rise and fall — but even in falling, it existed. It was a done thing, a precedent set. Writing a serial story was something even I could do, if I put my mind to it. That’s an epiphany I keep having and forgetting. Though right now, in my time of trying to sort out what I want to be doing with my writing, the idea has a lot of appeal. I’ve even got a few ideas kicking around, though nothing solid yet. And I also admit a part of me that wants to time it “correctly” — the beginning of a month, a quarter, a year.

I’d like to think it’s not going to take me an actual year to get something sketched out, but here’s thinking. Here’s hoping.

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Schedule shifting

This weekend brings one of (if not the absolute) my favorite events of the year: the University District Street Fair. So of course I’ve been mostly anticipating that instead of doing anything very productive. In my defense, I ALSO spent spent most of this week writing out to-do lists and game plans for myself, to try and get back on track with that. I find the practice very soothing, even if I don’t necessarily follow through on it. There’s something nice about laying things out in actual words, even if, again, putting them into practice doesn’t always work out exactly the way as originally planned.

But of course the fair itself has dominated most of my excitement this weekend, and we ended up spending nearly the entire day out — I was gone longer than I am during the week for the day job, but I came home much more excited and interested to work on things than I have in… a while, really.

Of course a lot of that energy is directed towards other art projects, rather than my writing, but I have also gotten some ideas for writing, and some experiences I’d like to be able to fold in, at some point.

I love open-air markets, and I’m glad that I live close to such a large permanent one (Pike Place Market, in downtown Seattle); I’ve loved them in fiction since I was a child growing up in the suburbs. I’d always wanted to experience them, and a more cynical adult might worry that I was romanticizing them, the magic hasn’t yet worn off for me. I’m perfectly content to wander around for hours even when I have no spending money, just to see what’s there. Yesterday we hit up multiple jewelry stands, some clothing stalls, various candle sellers, (of course) lots of food, wood-carvers and wood-turners, face painters and chariacture artists, street performers, leather workers… and there were a few more esoteric artists whose stuff I couldn’t rightly put into a single bucket, but I know parts of the internet would love.

An excellent Saturday, all in all. I don’t feel reset, exactly, in where I am mentally — the world keeps turning and things are still incredibly stressful and scary — but I do feel a swing towards the optimistic. At least for now. Surely that too will pass. But it’ll also swing back again, and I want to learn to be better prepared for those moments.

For writing, there are definitely projects I am interested in picking up. Some of it is more of “picking it BACK up” and some of it is brand new, but I am hoping, at least, for better progress. Last week’s exercise in writing out my game plans, and laying for myself the things I want to do, was a nice one.

I used to resent the idea of trying to schedule my free time — it’s free time, after all! If I want to take a day to gallivant around the local market, or go to a special event, then I should be able to! Who cares about all the rest!

Except that’s not always how things work out. I’ve become more aware of it as I’ve gotten older. If I define “free time” as “the time when I am not at the office,” there’s still a lot of things that have to get done, one way or another. I still have to make dinner (and with the lifestyle changes I’ve been working on, it’s far better and healthier for me to cook more than it is to eat out — less expensive too, haha), I still have to do my part of cleaning, I still have to take care of the cat… once all that is rolled into the picture, having a schedule is more of a relief than anything else.

And it doesn’t have to be a brutal one. Myself, personally, I think I have a habit of going too hard when I try to set up something new. The harder the regiment, the easier it is to fail, so for now I’ve got myself on something gentle. I can ease up into something harder. I’ve heard writing creativity as compared to a muscle group: of course, the more one exercises it, the easier it is to use it as it should be. I was there once, and I’d like to be there again.

On the other hand, next week is Folk Life, which is another open air market with lots of artisan vendors, so we’re already talking about going to that, too. Life still has to happen, the good fun things as well as the mundane ordinary grind and the bad.

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Scheduling my schedule

Trying to get back on a schedule is hard.

For a while, I was doing very well with writing; it was easy to at least sit down and do maybe about 1.5K words every day with about half an hour of time. They might not have been the best words, but they were down, and I could come back to edit them later. It didn’t feel like a strain, but more like a comfortable part of my routine.

But over time, I’ve fallen off that schedule.

It’s not like any actual major event happened that knocked me off — I’d say it was more just the slow accumulation of other things coming up and smaller life changes that came together until I realized I was way off. I can blame part of it on larger anxieties. The world continues to be a terrifying and uncertain place, even if I can only do so much.

Of course there’s more to it than that. The front desk in my building now closes an hour earlier than it used to, so if I need to pick up packages I have to rush straight home, rather than take the extra hour to find somewhere to write. I’ve had to make some small but significant adjustments to my daily routine for my health as well, so I’m cooking more and more carefully and watching more of what I eat. A lot of pastries are now out of the picture, which means that coffee shops and tea houses are also out.

(What sort of artist am I, now? I can’t even go to a coffee shop anymore!)

So the end result is that now I don’t really have a consistent writing schedule, and while there are bigger things in the picture, I think that it’s not really helping my productivity. Honestly, there are more days than not where I don’t write anything new or creative fictionally, I just sort of dump a lot of freeform thoughts onto the computer and call it good. And while I think there’s still merit in that practice, it’s still pretty disheartening. I had goals for this year! And the year’s almost half over and I’m not really keeping up with it and — yeah. It’s tough.

So for the past two months or so, I’ve been giving myself a pass. Part of that is related to aforementioned health lifestyle changes; I need to get used to that, because that has to be a key part of my life and diet from now on. It doesn’t matter how much I write or otherwise create if my health goes downhill, and I would very much like to stay alive and healthy. I do think it’s getting easier, now; I have a better idea of when I get home from work and the sort of food I can make that’s still easy but keeps me in a relatively “safe” range for what I’m eating.

And now that I am getting the hang of things, I do need to focus on my productive schedule.

My friends like to tell me that they admire me for my discipline. I don’t really feel like I have much of it, especially in regards to my writing and falling of schedule with that. My finances have also been seesawing since I had to throw out a lot of my kitchen staples and buy ones that were compatible with the diet changes I needed to make. I think those are also beginning to even out, though, so… fingers crossed!

With those things squared away, I do want to get back on track with writing. I have figured out something that might be a workaround for how much better and easier I work when I’m not at my “home base,” so to speak. As soon as I come home and sit down at my desktop computer, it’s like everything else goes out the window. I’m “home,” I’m allowed to goof off… even if I haven’t done anything that I need or planned to do.

So hopefully that workaround does, in fact, work. Hopefully I can get back on the horse and get myself back to a more consistently productive schedule. There’s still a lot of things that I want to write and do, and I think I could honestly get those done! …I just need to pull myself back into focus, and be consistent about that. Once I can get that ball rolling, I hope that everything will, if not fall into place, be easier to nudge into the positions they need to be.

Wish me luck!

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Scene snapshots

This hasn’t been a great week for writing, in the strict sense of “sit down, write your actual coherent scenes and your characters interacting,” but it’s been really great for scene snapshots.

It’s not a technical term. The scene snapshot is what I call those moments where you’re doing something else — household chores, sitting on the bus, browsing the internet, listening to music — and you get the flash of a scene. Maybe it’s just a wide visual shot, like what happens in movies. Sometimes it’s a character, a face and/or a name. It could be two characters and a snip of dialogue or interaction. Once in a while it’s just a tagline, and I love those because I generally struggle a lot in trying to figure out a snappy way to summarize my stories. Occasionally they come connected with others, which is when I usually start trying to build something out of the pieces.

For me these scenes always quite vivid. It feels like I was dropped into something partway. Not even in medias res the way a story might be deliberately shaped, but like you walked into a movie or TV show partway through something.

These scenes are never connected directly to anything, not as they first appear. They just exist as they are, and it’s up to me to puzzle out a larger context or setting if I want to go forward. Who is the young man with a scarred face staring longingly up at the rainy gray sky? Why is that girl with a wolf’s hind legs so pleased with herself, tucked away in the back corner of a dark bar?

I don’t know yet.* But that’s part of the process. Maybe this is just how inspiration works.

* (Except I do for these examples, because these are two of the oldest characters I ever developed. I haven’t actually written their stories yet — but they’ve been kicking around in the back of my mind for nearly two decades now, waiting for the opportunity. Someday soon, I hope I can do something for them.)

On the other hand, there are a lot — a LOT — of these scene snapshots that come and go and I don’t try to pursue. Most are pretty self-indulgent to embarrassing degrees. And while fiction writing is an industry that generally expects you to pick a niche and stick with it if you mean to be successful, for me, at least, there’s also a desire for some self-indulgence as well — writing because you want to tell this story, because this is a topic that interests you, because this is something that you want to explore in the safety net of fiction.

But even then there are scene snapshots that I have to file away as “I’m not sure what to do with this,” or “I like it, but boy am I embarrassed to put this anywhere.” Some of them echo back to my teenage love of intense melodrama (the fantasy of the rest of the cast realizing how much they’ve wronged a good long-suffering friend, mmhmm) and some of them are just too esoteric for me to even want to figure out. There are certainly some writers who’ve made enviable careers of tapping into that love of melodrama! I just don’t think I could manage it. I’d be too embarrassed of my work, and that seems like a pretty poor way for a writer — or any kind of creator — to live.

Also, in all honesty, as satisfying as a scene snapshot of someone groveling for forgiveness after wronging someone else can be, I feel like it’d be incredibly irritating for anyone else to have to consume. Yesterday my roommates and I went to the mall, and in one particular store every single song was some variation of “I know I wronged you but please love me again,” which got old really fast.

If I’m going to flesh out one of these scene snapshots into something more, I want it to be something that I wouldn’t mind reading myself. I’d like to do justice to those little snapshots that come to me that feel like they want to be part of a bigger story. Even if I can’t do something like that right away — see those characters (and their related casts) I mentioned above — I at least have a framework kicking around. I’ve got something that I can come back to at a later date, ready and waiting.

At this particular moment I’m working mostly on doing a first-read edit pass of a thing I finished back in early 2016 or thereabouts, so I can’t really focus too hard on starting new things, but at least I’ll know that they’re ready, whenever I can get to them.

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VS Social Media

Social media is hard for me.

When you start trying writing on the pro side, submitting pieces and books and getting paid for them, you’re completely inundated with the advice. Get a Twitter, get a Facebook, get a blog and a mailing list and do everything you possibly can to get yourself out there and visible. It doesn’t matter if you’re shy or socially awkward or low energy or whatever; you are your only (free) means of PR, so you have to do it.

To be quite honest, I think I am failing at most of that. I am, in fact, that shy forgetful person who’d much rather put my energy into the actual writing and editing process rather than the PR side. I’m awkward, I’m quiet, I tend to get lost in my own head even when there’s conversation going on around me. As far as Being A Professional Writer Who Sells Her Work, I’m not doing so hot at putting myself out there.

I do have a Twitter, but I haven’t touched it in months; even on good days, it’s completely inundated with intense drama about either politics, civil/social issues, the environment, or some intersection between any of those.

And I absolutely don’t begrudge people tweeting (or retweeting) what they want, especially in their own space, it became too incredibly exhausting to me. I know there are ways around that! I’ve read advice there. Create lists, mute keywords, all that, but neither of those actually helped. Muting only seemed to work for a single tweet; my phone didn’t like the list viewing option.

Maybe those are just excuses. But in the end, I’ve just been on a general Twitter hiatus.

Case in point and small tangent, the news that came through about the peace talks between North and South Korea earlier this week is an incredibly personal topic to me. I still haven’t fully processed the news. Despite being born decade after the armistice, the war had multiple impacts on my life. I want to know more, but I don’t want to be inundated. I don’t want soundbites. I want time to think.

Back to the actual topic of social media, Twitter also goes at such a breakneck speed that I feel overwhelmed trying to keep up. Again, I know lists are meant to be the answer. “Set it up small, so you can read only select list regularly.” But that also feels like it defeats the purpose of social media. I want to participate in a community, if I’m going to be part of it. I don’t want to filter by actual people if I can avoid it.

So that’s on me. Maybe I’ve shot myself in the foot here. I can’t know, though I can hopefully come back and rebuild myself, and try to establish a better presence in the future.

Facebook has always felt skeevy and weird to me, even before all the scandals broke in the news. I can’t actually recall any of my friends talking about a positive interaction on Facebook — it’s always been family fights and passive-aggressiveness, or else friends of friends or strangers also coming in to pick fights about social justice. None of that has ever sounded appealing. Now with the news, it’s even more of a “no thank you” issue, so that’s also out.

Tumblr is… well. That’s a gigantic can of worms on its own. It’s worth its own standalone post, to be honest, though the rabbithole there goes so deep, and plenty of others have discussed the issues there. Purity wars, virtue signaling, people lashing out in extremes against any perceived flaw — I’ve both heard about it and seen it on tumblr.

But it’s on Twitter too. And Facebook. All social media platforms have this, which is an unfortunate fact. Right now I find tumblr the easiest to keep up with because it does let me curate my feed in a way Twitter so far has not, even though I’m another drop in the sea of many. The post queuing system is not great, but it does exist in a way that I can access and edit even on my phone.

I have hopes for Pillowfort, though activity over there has been so slow that my own activity dropped to nil in response. Again, that’s on me; that might be another instance of ruining things for myself. My hope is that it will eventually gain momentum; I’m keeping an eye on things just in case.

And then, of course, there’s this blog. I am proud of keeping up fairly steady updates on this (barring the week of health issues) since I started this up again. I’d honestly like to do more here, if only because this is much more my own space than other platforms. It’s less “social” than most social media, but it’s the closest I have to approaching the writing side that I’m more comfortable with. At this point, it’s just the sort of amorphous “more” that I haven’t yet defined, but hopefully soon.

Hopefully.

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The conflict is conflict

I am conflicted by conflict. (There’s a sentence for you.)

As a person in my daily life I am not fond of it. I don’t seek it out, and I don’t want to try encouraging it. As a writer I enjoy it, but that’s also a much more controlled situation for me. Even if I don’t have everything planned out, I am at least able to make adjustments. And if worst comes to worst there’s always fixing things in the revision process.

Yesterday, a small group of my friends got together to play a round of Fiasco. It’s a tabletop-style roleplaying game where the general gist is to come up with — to quote from the website:

“FIASCO is an award-winning, GM-less game for 3-5 players, designed to be played in a few hours with six-sided dice and no preparation. During a game you will engineer and play out stupid, disastrous situations, usually at the intersection of greed, fear, and lust. It’s like making your own Coen brothers movie, in about the same amount of time it’d take to watch one.”

This is the second time my friends have played it, and my conclusion has ultimately been that while it’s a lot of fun to watch, it’s not really the sort of game I want to play a lot in. If there’s something I’ve learned about myself, it’s that I don’t generally enjoy taking part in escalating drama, even in the safe situation of a game. And again, it’s not that it’s a bad game; far from it! It has been genuinely entertaining to watch, and my friends have been enjoying themselves immensely. It’s not a knock against the game, and it is hopefully not a knock against myself.

I suspect in part it’s because my stress levels have been high in general for a while now — I am a naturally high-strung person, really. I get excited and then I over-commit and then I exhaust myself. Or maybe I just get worn out even before we hit the commitment stage; whatever the reason, I get worn out pretty fast as a result.

Which I suspect ties at least partially into something I’ve talked about before, both in this blog and just with friends in general: I am so tired and sour about this prevailing notion that a “darker” story is somehow the “better” one. Stories where characters are ground down and broken, where everything is bleak or things just keep going wrong and keep going wrong, or stories where things are bitter and unresolved — these all certainly have their merits and fans! I’m not trying to say that they’re all bad. I just continue to be… not resently, precisely, but perhaps low-key irritated at the attitude that the opposite is somehow boring or trite.

Yes, a story requires conflict. It’s not much of a story if it’s just some happy little scene — but it’s not really much of a story if it’s just a bleak crushing one, either. To me, there has to be some sort of movement, whether forward into the positive or backwards into the negative, to distinguish writing a scene for the sake of the imagery one wishes to convey.

But forward motion in a positive setting doesn’t need to be a boring thing. A happy character with a good life is not somehow inherently a worse protagonist — it’s just a matter of personal taste. It’s so easy to assign objective value based on one’s subjective tastes. I’ve done it; even being aware, I’ll continue to do it. It’s not any less true for being a subjective opinion*, after all; for me, personally, things I like in fiction are good and things I dislike are bad. There’s always going to be that conflict, and the defensiveness that comes when one’s own point of view is disparaged. Thankfully my friends have never actively tried to make it its own conflict (haha), and for that I’m grateful.

(* I want to clarify, even if it’s unnecessary, that this is all about things in fiction only. Obviously there’s a lot of stuff in fiction that skirts into real life issues as well, the bad and the uncomfortable. There is a difference, I think, between fiction that uses ugly and horrible real life things to tell a story, and a story that uses those things to get off, and to encourage others to get off. That line might be thinner for some than others and it’s all subjective, but still an important distinction.)

What it all ultimately boiled down to is the fact that I enjoyed being the audience to the disastrous “movie” my friends created yesterday (involving demon penguins rising up from a fault line in the Antarctic and the douchebag bro becoming the Penguin God and– well, it was pretty spectacular), I’m not sure I would want to participate much myself.

But for anyone who would be into that, I do recommend giving Fiasco a try.

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Thoughts on good-byes*

(Just to clarify, I’m not going anywhere. The good-byes are more abstract, for me.)

I’ve been thinking about good-byes a lot lately.

Not just in a sad sense, though obviously there’s a huge element of that at play most of the time. Even temporary good-byes are sad.

(Full disclose, my girlfriend has been out of town this weekend, and while I wouldn’t say we’re completely codependant, she is also one of my best friends, so things at our household have been kind of quiet for the weekend.)

So maybe it’s a little bit of that. Maybe it’s because I’ve had One Last Time from Hamilton stuck in my head off and on since we got to see it live. It could be because they’re ramping up to do a new adaptation of a show I have a lot of fondness for, in spite of its weaknesses and faults.

(That would be the anime Dangan Ronpa 3, which my friends who are fans of the franchise as a whole tell me fell down a lot with regards to its story and messaging compared to the first two, which were video games. And I can admittedly also see where some of the cracks exist, though as someone brand-new — if not unspoiled — I think I had a better time with it than most of them, to be honest. The point is, spoiler block, I had three favorite characters, two of whom died and the last one is grimly obligated, through both the narrative and his own need for atonement, to live on and bear their burden.)

We could go both deeper and wider and look at a picture of the world as a whole. Things are pretty grim! As much as I felt better coming into 2018 a lot of that has faltered or soured. I’ve almost completely given up on Twitter because there’s so much news on my feed. And I don’t begrudge that of the people I follow; this is our shared world, and it’s important to know what’s going on. Everyone has their own comfort levels and desire for engagement, and for me, I hit that limit a while ago.

So there’s another one of life’s small good-byes: to Twitter. I’d like to go back eventually, though I’m admittedly daunted by the idea. For now, at least, I’ve mostly bowed out there.

I should note that while I am terribly anxious about a lot of this — hence the issue with my Twitter — I am not interested in bowing out permanently. I’d hazard a lot of my anxiety is because I’d like very much to keep on keeping on, though I worry about what the wider world landscape will look like as one does.

Good-byes have been on my mind. Those that come deliberately planned, the ones that happen entirely by accident, and the ones that come so slowly and drawn out that you don’t even realize it happened until it’s long over. Even with the short-term ones there can be a bittersweetness that’s hard to shake. It lingers. Like any sort of grief, there’s an ebb and flow. Things flare up and they fade, but they never quite go away. And maybe that’s part of why it’s been on my mind.

It’s a strange feeling too, because I’m not really one for the bittersweet or the angsty. When it comes to fiction, I don’t mind a harrowing or unhappy story so long as it has its brighter moments and a happy ending. The continuing attitude that the only “worthy” or “realistic” stories are the ones where things are grim and dark and struggling is anathema to me.

Of course there are definitely good and worthy stories along those lines. There are some I’ve enjoyed! (I mean, I’m also a fan of the horror genre, and there’s not a whole lot of “overall lighthearted” to go around.) But as an overall trend and preference when I am consuming new media, I want to look for things that are happier in tone.

Maybe it’s true that harder stories are more realistic, but that doesn’t mean I have to want to consume more of it in my fictional media. I want the version of the story where the good-byes become hello-agains; I want to see the story where instead of being crushed by grim obligation, the characters live on because there’s something better that exists within sight — a goal that can be worked for, instead of some ever-distant impossible ideal. I want more sweet than bitter in all things.

But that doesn’t mean I’m not thinking about it.

The good-byes stay with you.

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Cherry tree thoughts

(Or maybe I should call it cherrypicking? Sorry. Sorry.)

I’ve been thinking a lot about fairytales again.

Weird as it sounds, I’d blame the weather for it. Spring is a time of transition in my mind. Maybe it is for the collective unconscious of the world — I would assume so, given everything, though I haven’t done enough reading in this category to be certain.

Here in my part of the pacific northwest, it’s been seesawing between jacket-wearing cold (the low 30sF) to light cardigan weather (mid 60sF) and undulating between gray rainy overcast and bright clear sun. In spite this, there are cherry blossoms in bloom all over the place. Around every other corner is a tree that looks innocuous and staid for most of the year, but right now — for this rolling one-month period — they’re covered in delicate little pink to white blossoms. There are places around my dayjob office where the sidewalks are carpeted with tiny petals. The trees outside my condo window, while not blossoming, are covered in tiny persistent pale green leaf buds.

Flowering fruit trees are some of my favorites, just to look at them, though I always find myself thinking about the stories that are connected to them. (All of this is Asian in nature, though I do know the story about the Virgin Mary wishing for cherries while she was pregnant.)

They’re tied to life and death — there’s the most prevalent one about how Japan views them as a symbol of the briefness and fragility of life, and the association with both fallen samurai and kamikaze pilots. Several stories talk about spirits that inhabit cherry trees, whether naturally being the spirit of said tree, or being a ghost that has taken up residence within it. A Japanese story that has reached some degree of urban legend status postulates that the pink color of the cherry blossoms come from blood spilled on its roots. (Some variations go as far as to state that a corpse is buried underneath a particularly red-blooming cherry tree.)

There’s a definite association with femininity and romance. You’d be hard-pressed to find a shoujo manga series that doesn’t utilize cherry blossoms to some degree throughout. Why not? They are lovely even in the middle of an urban landscape. I have friends who go to view the cherry blossoms at the university every year, and when as a student I saw plenty of couples canoodling, not to mention a decent handful of wedding pictures being taken. Not everyone knows the stories or the symbolism, and that’s fine. They’re still beautiful.

But the route I take home from work goes through parts of the International District that stand further removed from the downtown core. It takes me away from the former Amazon building and the big brand grocery store, where the shopfronts are weathered and worn down rather than glossy and bright. More cherry trees grow in this area, planted in street medians, along sidewalks, and in tucked-away little urban parks.

Most of these bloom very dark pink.

Not all of them, of course. There’s still plenty that are a more ethereal pink, that faint saturation point that tips between white and some other color. But compared to the trees I find on my walking breaks, I see a lot more darker pink trees.

Now, I’m not a gardener. My mom is. If one asked, she could talk a lot more about the composition of the soil, or the health or species of the tree. Maybe she’d know why this happens. It could be that they’re a completely different species of cherry tree. All I can tell through the window is the color, and the magnitude of petals on the sidewalk and street. Maybe the soil is different six uphill blocks away from my office. It could be differing amounts of light, or that people are pouring (or placing) different things on the roots of these trees. Honestly, it could just be idiosyncrasies in the tree’s own genetic makeup, the way that most living things aren’t exact copies of their fellows, even under the same growing conditions.

There are dozens of reasons why this could happen. But me, I keep finding myself looking out the window as we slowly roll by these trees and wondering, how many bodies? How deep down? If the color stays true year after year, does the supply need refreshing? Do the people under the trees simply fade away, absorbed into the tree’s life entirely? Or could it be that they maintain their own independence — as much as one can, at least, being a ghost and tied to a specific tree?

I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately.

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Oops

Just a quick update to say I’m not dead!

I’ve definitely been having some on-again off-again health things (and the attendant anxiety that comes with said health things), but I do actually believe it’s all under control at this point. Hopefully for real things are back on track now. (Knock on wood.)

Last week I didn’t have much of an excuse; it was Sakuracon weekend and I had a bunch of friends from out of town visiting. We were pretty busy the whole time, so it was only after some decompressing and getting back to my regular schedule that I realized — aha, I have been slacking off here.

Anyway, I honestly don’t have much to update in general; I’ve spent most of the past couple of weeks trying to make the lifestyle changes I need for my health and getting used to that as the new normal. I’ve been dealing with a couple of other unrelated issues as well, but it all ties down to “I haven’t done a lot of writing and I’m terribly sorry about that.”

More excitingly, my publisher, Less Than Three Press, turns nine this month! They’re having a big ol giveaway and everything for it! There’s a raffle where you could win a kindle (two of these available), nine e-books of your choice (two of these), or a $9 gift certificate (nine of these), with an entry for every book you buy this month.

Which means (drumroll shilling), if you’re interested, why not check out my books? Everything’s on sale for 29% off, which is a pretty nice discount, I’d say.

For the curious (or the lazy), you could always check out:

Ravenhearth (m/m), which was my first novella, and which I have always in my heart thought of as “Beauty in the Beast meets Bluebeard.” A young orphan wants to learn magic and is willing to become the companion of the mysterious Keeper at Ravenhearth Castle in order to learn. Not everything is as it seems.

Simon’s Cat, (m/m) which is Puss in Boots, but with a catboy. Because listen, catboys.

• I also contributed a short story, “The Fox-Bride,” (f/f) to Fairytales Slashed, volume 8. A girl saves a fox, who in turn gives her a hand when she needs to help her ailing brother. I like foxes and I like fairytales; it worked out pretty well.

Hold Fast the Knight (f/f/m), which is a short novella about a young man who very much wants to be a Knight Of The Kingdom, with all the prestige and honor it brings. He’s told that he might have a chance if he rescues the kingdom’s prince from an evil witch, but quickly learns that everything he’s heard so far might, in fact, not be the real story. He adjusts accordingly.

Forward The Hunt (m/m), which just came out at the end of February! Super exciting!! It’s the story of Haruki, a young man who’d like very much to fully and properly be considered one of the citizens of Salfea, the city-kingdom where he grew up. But as the son of immigrants with very conflicting beliefs to the rest of the city, he’s always had a hard time with that. With the advent his first yearly Great Hunt as an orphan, though, he just might have a chance… you know, if he can resist the dragon he finds.

So yeah, if you’re interested, please check it out! And anyone else you might encounter there — LT3 has a lot of great stuff available, so you’re pretty certain to find something there that you’ll like. (ノ^ヮ^)ノ*:・゚✧

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Another quick update

For various reasons, this has to be a quick entry. (Well, quick as I can usually make things — which, when unedited, is not very.) Most of this is related to health; I went to the doctor for a general physical for the first time in [embarrassed mumble] years, and the doctor has been vague about the results, which of course means I am catastrophizing in my mind. Paired with a couple of other emotional blowouts, this whole week has been a wash in terms of me trying to think of anything at all, whether to write about for a blog entry or to write about in general.

(Also: seasonal allergies. They’ve been pretty bad this past week.)

I’ve been trying hard, mostly, to get myself back into the habit of things. I’ve had multiple friends tell me that they’ve always seen me as a person of routine, which honestly I’m pretty glad for. It’s not like I can see how this could be bad for someone who craves adventure and excitement and lots of upheaval, but I’m not that person. I was very aptly named. Terra likes to put down her roots and follow patterns for good habits.

Or at least, I do most of the time. I’ve been pretty bad about it for longer than I care to admit. Some of it is in reaction to bad political climate and trying hard to stay involved without being so involved it wrecks me, some of it is the weather, and some of it is just, I think, sheer human laziness. You get used to a routine, then you think you can give yourself some slack, and then suddenly it’s ALL slack, no discipline.

And there is a part of me that does feel like, I should be allowed to do what I want (within reason, of course) with my life! Let me eat whatever I want, sleep when I want, and enjoy my free time away from my deskjob how I see fit!

But the sad truth is, if I do give in and just indulge in that, I end up feeling pretty bad. It’s not just mindlessly scrolling through social media feeds, or eating that second slice of pie — it’s the fact that I fall down on other habits that I feel make me a better and happier person. Going to bed at a regular time, even if it’s earlier than Teenaged Me ever enjoyed, or eating a lighter breakfast, or keeping up with my hobbies in an orderly fashion, rather than being scattered all over the place. My writing has slowed, and even my other hobbies are slower than I’d like. It feels silly because I have plenty of time after work, even accounting for daily chores, but it also feels like I’ve been in a pretty slow holding pattern.

My hope is that with the better weather (pollen and other allergens aside), I can take advantage of it to accomplish more things. I’ve never thought of myself as someone affected by SAD, but the longer I live up here in the Pacific Northwest, the more I suspect that even if I don’t get outright depressed, I DO feel a lot less energetic and willing to put in effort.

So that’s the goal going forward: to get back into the good routine habits, and to try and get those established by the time winter rolls around again, so that they’re at least ingrained. Cut out soda almost entirely (once in a while I hope is fine, but not as much as I have been), eat smaller portions, and generally be active more. With all that, hopefully I can pull back on health scares, and actually keep myself as a more balanced person.

(Of course, I anticipate it won’t go perfectly. I am certain there will be setbacks; mostly I hope that I can get myself back into the routine enough that I can have an easier time swinging back into it. I’m old enough that a lot of my bad habits are set, but hopefully young enough that changing them will work, even if it takes time and effort.)

And hopefully NEXT week, I can actually get back to less general rambling and more talking about fiction. I’ve been reading again lately! I’ve been looking at open submissions and thinking about my options! That’s even with all the other craft stuff I’ve been working on, so hopefully this is all a change for the better.

Onto next week!

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Another weekly catchup

So, in true vacation style, I only got a few of the things done that I meant to. In review, I’d say it was about 50% successful in terms of “getting non-dayjob stuff done at all.”

I managed to write every day! Which is pretty difficult when you’ve set up shop in the busiest spot of the house and your parents are eager to see and talk to you after having not seen you for a year. It wasn’t as much writing as I’d like (just my bare minimum per day, most days), and some of it was just trying to write an outline for another story, but I’ll take those as victories regardless.

However, I did get some progress done on bead and craft-related things, much to my mother’s amazement. (“They’re so small,” she said, as she watched me. “How can you tell where the holes are?”) I had to work with a limited palette, since there’s no way I could — or would even want to — cart my entire collection down for a weeklong trip, but I got a couple of pieces done. We also discovered a nice little store about 20 minutes away from where my parents live, with some incredibly good deals (I’m amazed at what I came away with), so that felt pretty good. Beadwork is something I can do while listening to podcasts or audio books, so it’s much easier for multitasking during a conversation.

And there were a lot of those. There’s nothing really like coming back to stay with your parents for a short while, after you’ve been away for a year. I could definitely see a lot of my worst habits reflected in them; I can only hope I have some better ones available as well. But that’s probably a topic for another day.

Coming home to Seattle didn’t really help much either, in terms of being a productive person. Friday I mostly spent trying to do small errands and recover from 6 solid hours of travel, and also comforting my cat, who spent half the day being aloof and annoyed, and the other half glued to me. I didn’t even cook! We delivered a care package to a friend and then went out to eat, and I have to admit, I enjoyed having that day to unwind. (I did do my writing to the bare minimum that day as well, as I worked on the writer’s reading edit for something that has been long finished.)

And then Saturday, yesterday, we had a cat health scare in the morning. My roommates had bought some flowers to celebrate my homecoming, because the cat had shown absolutely no interest in any other displays we’d had in the house… and then, Saturday morning, we catch him chewing on a plant that looks an awful lot like lilies.

Which of course are incredibly toxic to cats. The articles I found suggest that if they were day lilies (like we’d suspected), he would very likely be dead within a day or so.

So cue a flurry of phone calls to the local emergency vet (thankfully only a few blocks away, though all uphill) to rush him in. I signed papers and agreed to let them induce vomiting if they needed to, and then… the tech came out and assured me that they weren’t lilies, but a lookalike cousin. I started crying a little at that point, paid the bill (hooray for unexpected bills!) and then took him home. Other than being annoyed and yelling at us for it, he’s no worse for the wear.

I spent most of the day after that alternating between trying to focus on any sort of creative project and fussing over him. He enjoyed the attention up until the point he decided to sleep in the closet instead.

Then in the evening, we went to see Hamilton. Which I might write about later, because for all that it’s a fictionalized presentation of real historical events, and we’re in such tumultuous times in the USA right now… it was still an amazing performance, and it gave me a lot to think about in terms of the staging and the choreography; I loved how the set itself never super changed, just the pieces being utilized, the lighting (and colors of lighting), and the props. I already want to see it again, though the shows are sold out here for the rest of its run (and I mean, rightly so).

But now that I’m back in my proper city, in my adult home, I’m hoping to get back into the swing of things — more writing again, walking more, and otherwise trying to handle myself and things better. The weather’s getting nicer! I still have a lot of plans and ambitions!

And hopefully next week, I can start blogging about stuff that isn’t just mundane weekly catchup, haha.

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Home again, home again

You can, in fact, go home again.

(That’s where I am right now, in fact: my parents’ home, my childhood home, on the other side of the country from my usual home. My parents and I agreed a long time ago that trying to arrange traveling during the actual holidays was too much of a pain; and given that they live in Texas, it’s preferable for us to avoid the summer months, of which there are many.)

I only do this once a year, and every year, there are so many things that are the same — the old Walgreens that’s been there as long as I can remember, my favorite local-only sandwich chain, the wide streets that are still so cramped because of the constant, unending construction. The redbrick exterior of my childhood home looks untouched: there are some cosmetic changes to the yard, reflecting my mother’s whims with her gardening projects, but outside it looks exactly the same.

Inside, it’s a little different.

My parents are older and it’s showing; they’ve made updates and changes to the interior to reflect some of that. A year and a half ago, they ripped up all the carpet that’s been in this house since it was made (nearly 30 years ago, whoosh) and replaced it all with hardwood. They installed a new sound system and remodeled their kitchen to update everything. My bedroom is stripped of a lot of what I left behind — there’s a handful of my old books, a couple of stickers I slapped onto the walls when I was 6, and a handful of clothes in the closet.

Even with all of that, the house still looks the same. Every time I walk in, it’s not like walking into a stranger’s home; I know where everything is. I know where Dad keeps the giant baggy of free toothbrushes accumulated from dentist visits; I know where Mom keeps the spare trash bags. I know how life goes in this house, where my parents live in their retirement, where I grew up.

But it also doesn’t really feel like “my home” in the same way. It is, but it isn’t. It’s a lot of house for two people — to be honest, it was a lot for three people, when I was growing up — but my parents have held on for various reasons. Initially, Mom wanted me to have a familiar place to come home to, when I was back from college. Then it became about the garden (it might have always, in some ways, been at least partly about the garden). Mom’s put so much work and money into it over the years, and it shows. It’s practically a sibling to me, in some ways. I know where the little walkways are, where she has the vegetables versus the flowering fruit trees; I know where the little stone Buddha is set and where she’s planted her roses.

I know where everything is; this is still a home to me, even if it is not my home anymore. There are spaces here for me, but they’re the ones left for me, whether by time, familiarity, or a deliberate attempt on my parents’ part.

(I love my parents, but by now it is quite apparent we’re very different in our tastes and preferences in life. I get a lot of the very bemused, “we support you but we don’t understand why you make your choices, and because we don’t understand we’ll be inadvertently pretty insensitive sometimes about the matter.”)

These are not spaces I made for myself. This isn’t the home where I choose to live. Austin is not “my” city, in the same way Seattle is; I’m not familiar with its roads and layouts. I barely know what downtown looks like, because my parents live out in the suburbs. I grew up detached from the city, even as I was considered part of it. People are friendly, but also do things like openly speculate about my race to my face like it’s any of their business, or speak to me slowly and over-enunciated, like they expect me to not understand what they’re saying. Walking through the airport, I am one of maybe ten Asian people period.

That’s not necessarily a fault of the city. People live where they live, whether by circumstance or choice, and Austin has been good to and for my parents, who continue to live comfortably in the home that they built.

But for me, I can go home again, but it’s not really home in some ways. I don’t live here, I just visit.

(For one thing, it’s actually pretty hard to get anything done, because my parents keep hovering even when I’m trying to focus and get things done and talking to/at me. I haven’t even been here for 24 hours and Dad’s made me watch 4 trailers and Mom keeps asking me about what I want to eat as soon as I’ve finished eating. Parents.

Wish me luck in making it through this week without getting into at least one fight.)

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Characterization serendipity

While chatting with my roommates last week, we ended up discussing the idea of character serendipity — which we defined as that moment when a character (or characters) in a story have a consistent and interesting arc and personality, and even if the worldbuilding and plot don’t live up to their promises, the(se) character(s) “reward” someone looking with a great and memorable personality. These are the characters that stick with you even if everything about their greater narrative is forgettable.

And obviously, everyone has a different set of standards for what makes a character memorable and what makes a story forgettable. That’s why serendipity, because it’s all chance and circumstance in the end. I have a friend who’s into strong, tough fighters with buried trauma and a soft spot for a chosen few… and bonus points if they’re missing (or lose) an eye or an arm. It actually happens more than you’d think.*

* The whole losing eyes and/or limbs thing seems to be more prevalent in Japanese media than US media, but we did watch Thor: Ragnarok last night, and there was definitely a point near the end where I laughed inappropriately due to a certain turn of events.

In our conversation, one of my roommates called making this happen partially instinct, which I liked and agreed with as a phrasing. It’s that sense that comes from our experiences with ourselves and others in our lives, and from other characters we’ve seen with story conclusions that have made meaningful sense to us as an audience. One develops a certain sense of what are “realistic” or “understandable” directions for a character to progress.

Again, everyone has a different idea of what makes a good or compelling character. There’s a whole battalion of female characters in big-name franchises who have suffered because their male writers felt that taking their arcs in a certain direction was right, only to create an awkward teenage-boy fantasy to be put into her place. I’ve seen a similar argument made about women writing m/m fiction. There is plenty of discourse on the subject, and I’d rather leave most of that to the people who’ve done their proper research.

The point is that most everyone does have a certain “feel” for how character arcs should go, or how pieces fit together. Writers make their careers, paid or otherwise, in refining that instinct for sharing; it’s their responsibility, so to speak, to keep a consistent traceable characterization throughout the course of a story. And as a writer, I’ve always tried my hardest to do that. Of course my success is variable, because there’s no such thing as a perfect writer or story, but I have at least tried to stay consistently true to the story I am trying to write.

On the flip side, as a reader, it can be quite rewarding to see a character have a nicely-released and fully fleshed out arc that comes together without needing explicit explanation. And for me, at least, a character with their own strong story can bolster or even outright save their larger framing canon.

I’ve definitely fallen prey to overthinking it, too, on both sides of the process. One of my worst habits as a writer is to have something so solidified in my head alone that I forget it hasn’t been translated, even subtly, to actual words. If a character’s arc is a mystery explained by their story, then it doesn’t help to leave out any of the key clues. And as a reader, I’ve definitely grabbed onto little throwaway bits and comments in order to justify why I would characterize someone the way that I do. Of course the character snapped, look at these scattershot hints here and here. Of course they’re in love, look at how they treat each other in this one particular scene. It’s the serendipity of the moment.

Sometimes that’s embarrassing (honestly it’s more when I do it on the writer’s side, and then my girlfriend has to gently remind me that people cannot, in fact, read my mind), but sometimes, it’s just fun. I’m not one for devil’s advocacy a lot of the time, but having a conversation (or two, or many) with someone who either is likeminded or at least open to the ideas you present can get a lot of fun conversation mileage. Why did this bright-eyed idealistic young man fall so hard and fast, but still manage to claw his way back to balanced sanity? Did this character who seemingly died as a villain actually have some sense of her sanity back before the end?

Maybe they’re not things explicitly explained within the context of the series itself, but as far as speculation goes, I am all for it.

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