I both love and hate worldbuilding. I love the feeling of creating a unique system in which whatever I decide is law. I hate how the fact that you can’t be lazy about it. I just want to dive into the story already! Can’t I just make the world up as I go?

…no. No I can’t. As I have discovered after many, many, many attempts to do so.

As much as I love writing by the seat of your pants, if you’re doing it in any kind of fantasy universe, it’s unsustainable if you want to end up with a coherent plot and a rich world. That takes planning, often involving poorly-drawn maps, myriad attempts at naming species/places/languages/everything in existence, mental debates over biology and linguistics and hierarchy, and a lot of, yes, boredom.

I’m sure there are people out there who adore every aspect of worldbuilding, but I get bored pretty quickly once I have a basic grasp on the system. But I try my best not to give into temptation and just start writing, because I know that will just result in frustration down the road, when I realize I didn’t know quite enough about [feudalism/reptile biology/thermodynamics/whatever] to make any of it make sense. And if I fudge my way through it, it just looks sloppy when I go back to it.

I just finished N. K. Jemisin’s The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms and started the second book, and she has really made me see what you can do with worldbuilding done right. It’s so obvious that she knows her world intimately from politics to ecology, and it shines through not in long tedious description but in small details that make the narrative glimmer. As I worldbuild for my current project, I’m trying to keep that in mind.

PS: My current project is about goblins 🌟


Book Review: The Abyss Surrounds Us

Just last week I posted my 2018 Reading Resolutions, and here I am, one down already! In a stroke of luck my university library had The Abyss Surrounds Us by Emily Skrutskie, which immediately drew me to it with promises of lesbian pirates raising sea monsters. On all three of those counts, I was not disappointed.

To get right into the plot, protagonist Cas was raised into the industry of Reckoner training: sea monsters that protect ships in a post-apocalyptic world where pirates target cargo crossing the NeoPacific Ccean. On her first solo mission, Cas’ reckoner is killed and she is taken hostage in order to raise a Reckoner pup which the pirate captain Santa Elena has mysteriously secured. Over the subsequent months, Cas must come to terms with the facts that she is falling for her watchdog/pirate-captain-in-training Swift, raising a true monster to kill those she once worked to protect, and perhaps becoming something of a monster herself.

Cas’ slow acceptance of what she creates–a man-eater–and what she becomes–a killer–is one of the best parts of this book. There are several moments in which Cas, astride Bao, her killer Reckoner, realizes she and her monster are the most dangerous things in the ocean…and she loves it. In a different book this would scare Cas into stronger moral (re)action, but in this case, she embraces it.

It’s not just that Cas comes to realize there’s a gray area between what she has always seen as good/evil. She does this. But there is also a distinct awareness on her part that piracy is nevertheless horrific, and what she is doing is horrific, and with that realization in mind she continues on instead of backing away. This, more than anything, is what sets this book apart in my eyes.

That said, she doesn’t try very hard to cling on to her previous worldview or life, and this disrupted the narrative for me a bit. Cas doesn’t seem to have any ties to her family and past life on land. They seem to have no bearing on her conscience beyond lip service. I would have been more convinced if there was a little more agonizing over the morality of her actions, or at least something in her background to explain the ease with which she accepts her about-face into piratic murder.

While this ambiguity did push me away from the story at some points, little details brought me back in. Descriptions of Cas training Bao were rich and immersive, perhaps the most so in the book. Cas’ and Swift’s relationship, which was shallo at first, quickly endeared me to it. The element I most appreciated and loved was their constant, mutual agreement of “equal footing”. Neither pursued a romantic relationship while Cas was still Swift’s captive charge, though both acknowledged romantic feelings. Fantastically done and touching.

In all, The Abyss Surrounds Us promised monsters, pirates, and romance, and delivered all three, along with an intriguing descent into gray morality. My eyes will be open for the sequel.

(P.S. from HQ: on my tumblr I am doing a giveaway of awesome swag I got at YALLFest, so if you’re interested check it out here!)

2018 Reading Resolutions

Last year I completed 3/5 of my 2017 Writing Resolutions, which I think is pretty impressive, and 4/5 of my 2017 to-read list. All in all, I’m calling it a success, considering the overall apocalyptic nature of 2017 (good riddance). Without further ado, here are the five books I am DETERMINED to read in 2018! If you can spot the theme of this year’s list and mention it in the comments, you get a prize (hint: it’s not subtle).

  1. Release by Patrick Ness

According to Patrick Ness, by whom I was seriously impacted at YALLFest, this book is a combination of Mrs. Dalloway and Judy Blume’s Forever. For that reason, this reading resolution is actually 3 books in 1, because I will be reading those two to before I read Release. I am very excited for them all.



2. The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers

I actually have this book, and it was recommended to me by one of my favorite people in the world, a very incredible religious studies professor who enjoys, like me, religion and science fiction in any and all combinations. It looks like a great story with a great cast.




3. Not Your Sidekick by C. B. Lee

I NEED TO READ THIS BOOK SO BADLY. I see it all over tumblr, and have since it came out–it’s been on my “to read asap” list since before it was published. This is the year it happens.





4. The Abyss Surrounds Us by Emily Skrutskie

Pacific-Rim-type monsters? Pirate queens?? Monster raising??? All of the above but queer???? Count me in.





5. History Is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera


So, confession, this is the one from last year’s list that I didn’t manage to read–none of my libraries had it. But I already ordered it and should have it read by the end of the month. I swear! (This time for real!)


Mini Review: Treasure Island

In January I swore to read five books this year no matter what, and despite having read 57 books this year I somehow only managed to read four of the ones on the list…but I consider it a minor miracle I made it through Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson, which was No. 2 on the list. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure it’s a real page-turner if you aren’t listening to the $2 audiobook version. Then it’s more like a sleep-inducer, leaving you constantly wondering, “oh, is another person speaking now, I didn’t notice because all the voices are identical” and “that’s the worst parrot impression I have ever heard.”

I tried not to let it impact my overall impression of the book, but that’s a hard thing to ask. That said, the book is foundational to all pirate adventure narratives today, and looking back with some distance from the narration I did enjoy it. Perhaps my favorite moment overall was when Jim’s mother wouldn’t hurry up and leave the inn because she was too honest to take more money than she was actually owed, so she took her sweet time counting out ancient coinage as pirates actively laid siege to their home.

I thought the point of view was much too distant and that it was kind of absurd that so many random people would just declare that Jim was living with them, or sailing to find treasure, and so on, without asking either Jim or his mother. Both of those things are products of the time it was written, which was in 1882. (Ultimately, I really only wanted to read the book so I could re-watch Treasure Planet cognizant of its narrative background.)

Overall thoughts: good book, but either read it or pay $25 for a quality audiobook

Writing Prompts Galore

Happy Christmas Eve for those who celebrate it, and apologies for the erratic update schedule lately–I’ve been in transit from North Carolina to Tennessee to Ohio and soon to reverse that process, and that kind of driving takes a lot out of you. Now I’m at my grandparents’ house for seasonal festivities, trying to squeeze in some thesis work while catching up with family and also becoming addicted to The Arcana game…oops.

Anyway it’s about time that I compile another author resource list! This time, prompts. It can be hard to write over the holidays when everything is crazy and you can’t seem to focus over the confusion of relatives you haven’t seen in a few months/years all trying to figure out how to act now they’re together again. Prompts cut through the BS of agonizing over what to write and get down to business. Here are some of my favorite prompt sites, and also ones that seem useful but I just haven’t used yet.

Deep Water Prompts always has unusual and thought-provoking prompts. This site has been my go-to for the last few months when I need to find a good prompt.

Writing Prompts generally has very quality, sometimes humorous options and updates regularly.

The Colormayfade generator has very specific prompts, down to randomized genres, settings, and themes.

Writing Exercises has a list of places to find different prompts, such as image, first line, and quick plot generators. Go crazy.

Awesome Writing Prompts doesn’t update anymore but the backlogs seem to have some interesting prompts.

The word “prompt” no longer sounds or looks real to me, so I guess that’s enough! Happy holidays and happy writing!

YALLFest Notes: Wrap-Up

This is my last of three posts reflecting on what I learned at YALLFest a few weeks ago. I’m sure I could go on for the foreseeable future, but I’m going to stop at three. I’m not focusing on one or two authors here, but overall takeaways from the weekend.

  1. YALLFest was a really radical place to be. I somehow managed to forget that last year, YALLFest proved to be a verbally acknowledged space for mourning and hope post-election. This year, every panel was on top of social issues, every author that spoke talked about changing the world through literature, and Libba Bray kicked off the end party by singing “Born this Way” with a rainbow flag cape. That pervasive sense of hope and, yes, activism and revolution through YA, was tangible and amazing. It made me think, yes, this is where I need to be, what I need to strive for.
  2.  Strong characters make strong stories, and weak characters break stories.
  3. From Soman Chainani: You have to be in love with your story. IN LOVE. That will hold it together when things get messy. Write with love and the honesty of your on experience of being.
  4. From Patrick Ness: Write the books you should have had. Write the books that you needed.
  5. From Cassandra Clare: extreme pain in a book can clear the way for great happiness.
  6. I can’t wait for YALLFest 2018.

⚔ Victories ⚔

I’m taking a brief break from my YALLFest reflections to report on two recent triumphs: finishing my NaNoWriMo novella and getting a piece published! (Also, apologies for the missed post last Saturday. Was traveling, eating, and binge-playing Pocket Camp.)

My goal for National Novel Writing Month was not, in fact, to write a novel, but a novella. 50,000 words just isn’t feasible with six classes and a thesis, but 500 words a day is. I overshot my goal by about 5,000 words but did manage to wrap the story up by November 30–huzzah! Its narrative quality is not overwhelming, but it’s something to work with.

Some surprises I encountered while writing:

  • I do not know my protag’s backstory past 4 years before the story happens…oops
  • I pulled a deus ex machina at the end by turning a character into an exiled demon prince (It’s not as middle-school-fantasy as it sounds though, because it’s a giant lizard)
  • My protag’s love interest is more bloodthirsty than anticipated
  • And the god is more bashful
  • Aforementioned god still, 20,000 words later, has no name (have been calling him ‘O’ in desperation)
  • It was heck of a lot of fun to write, and 500 words a day is so doable I’m going to keep doing it

Secondly, I’ve been published again!!! It’s my second piece to be published in my university’s literary magazine, a flash fiction piece like the first one. It’s called Descent, and details the strange descent of a submarine crew. I was honored to be asked to read it at the release party last night, and it was a blast, even though I messed up a couple of times.

All of these writing-related victories have left me despondent in the face of exam week, in which I must put aside major creative projects in favor of endless academic writing–which I still enjoy, but not when nine hundred essays are due in the same week.

submarine edit

Pictured above: either the crew of Descent navigating the deep sea or myself navigating through finals week. Both options equally perilous.