The scene: a bunch of anthropology students in a van on the way to Asheville.

Professor: “I thought we could stop by the anarchist book store. What do you think?”

All students in tandem: “YEAHHH!”

I can’t think of a more fun group of people to go to Asheville with than my experimental ethnography class. We spent a day and a half going to both Black Mountain College campuses, the Western Regional Archives, and the Black Mountain College Museum in order to really get into the play we’re performing. But we still had time to visit Firestorm Books and Coffee, a really neat place that you should definitely visit if you’re in Asheville. It’s the kind of bookstore where all the queer books are on display in the window, and is an altogether refreshing place to be in. Everyone had a collective heyday. I picked up a lovely copy of Queer: A Graphic History.

Our trip was filled with strange coincidences and resonances, the most bizarre of which I shall share. It starts in my junior year of high school, when I made a collage, and then a painting of the collage. I consider this piece a breakthrough, when I stopped messing around with art and started getting serious. It’s technically rough, but my conceptual basis was doing a 180. This is one section of the painting–notice the two-headed snake (it’s hard to miss):


The story continues six years later, yesterday, at Firestorm Books. One of my classmates has picked up the zine “Birds of a Feather: Flights of the Anarcho-Surrealist Imagination” by Ron Sakolsky. One of the pages catches my eye as my class mate flips through the book. I seize it from her and splutter incoherently.

IMG_2387          `IMG_2386

The very same snake. Rather unbelievable, no? I’m still coming to terms with it. My professor told me it means something, and I’m inclined to agree. The same motif appearing in my life six years apart–though in The Book of the Dead (my current project) there’s a two-headed snake as well, the god Nehebkau. So maybe it’s not that strange.

Resonances like these seem improbable and ridiculous, and require a certain suspension of disbelief when read about. But maybe they happen more than we think.


Sweet (on) Polly Oliver

So I just read the book Bloody Jack for no other reason than that it was on my to-read list and I wanted something short and sweet. It ticked of a lot of boxes of what I like to read about, primarily pirates and girls disguising themselves as boys to become pirates/sailors. It was a good book, written in a dialect but done well so that it drew you in instead of disengaging you.

However, it did bring to mind exactly what disappoints me about these narratives so often (these narratives being: girl disguises self as boy to accomplish goals). It’s that every. single. time. her disguise is blown when she falls in love with a boy/a boy falls in love with her and she “has” to reveal herself to prevent serious awkwardness on his part.

Number one, it’s heteronormative and usually comes with the implicit assumption that if the girl doesn’t reveal her “true” gender, and instead lets her love interest believe he’s interested in a guy, she’s the guilty party. If you’re wondering about the name for this post, it’s actually the name of this trope. Find out more here.

Number two, it places potential embarrassment on the part of the boy above an often life-threatening situation for the girl. Who’s the protagonist here, again?

Number three, it messes with her objectives–suddenly keeping her secret is no longer her prime directive, it’s shacking up with the guy. Her goals, which were so important that she disguised herself for (potentially) years, fall by the wayside in a way that breaks my suspension of disbelieve every time.

I’m not wringing Bloody Jack out here specifically–it’s a good book. But it happened to catalyze a lot of my frustration around girl-disguised-as-boy narratives. There’s so many interesting ways to take a plot like that, but inevitably they all end the same. It’s one of my goals to write one of those more interesting ones at some point.

If you know any books that take this trope in more interesting ways, please send them my way in the comments! I’d love to hear them (and, better yet, read them).

The Ruse of Medusa

This semester, departments and classes across my university are devoting themselves to creating a website and producing projects and artistic works to commemorate Black Mountain College, an alternative university which ran for less than 20 years near Asheville, NC. My part in this initiative? Helping to put on The Ruse of Medusa, a surrealist play by Eric Satie performed for the first time in English at Black Mountain, the cast a host of the most famous Black Mountain teachers. It’s a surrealist play that doesn’t make much sense at first pass, and only slightly more at second, but that’s the nature of the thing.

I spent four hours yesterday in a workshop wherein fifteen anthropology majors tried to learn anything about theater. And it must have worked at least a bit, because by the end we had a host of brilliant ideas, a timeline, and a whole lot of enthusiasm. I’ve heard enthusiasm can make up for a lot, so fingers crossed.

All this to say that group bonding is important when doing a creative work, together or individually. We’ve been discussing the play in class for weeks, but the excitement and inspiration only came when we all got together and played games and brainstormed. It’s so much easier to get energized and inspired when you have other people around you wanting to be inspired. Ideas feed off each other, and we should strive not to be competitive but collaborative.

Writing Prompt: The Replacement

I have nothing interesting to talk about this week beyond my renewed obsession with knitting, so here’s a writing prompt that I did today with my writing group, from the excellent Deep Water Prompts. I posted another of their prompts I did here last year, though I usually do them weekly. Enjoy!

They took away my grandmother and sent in a replacement. She wanted something from me that I could not let her have. How did I know she was a replacement? It was in the way she talked, always recycling phrases, sentences. Ever since they swapped her I never heard her speak an original word. The same “rise and shine, dearie” in the morning, the same “sweet dreams, my sweet,” at bedtime. Her inflections never altered, nor the facial expressions which accompanied them.

My mom explained it away as getting old, but I saw further. I caught her snooping in my room, time and time again. A ninety-year old, however malevolent, could only be so stealthy. The first time I found her rustling through my sock drawer I asked what she was doing. With a smile I’d never seen my grandmother wear, she spit out the same “just tidying up, dearie” that she’d said last year, when we caught her in mom’s closet looking for Christmas presents.

Now when I catch her I say nothing, just stare her down ’til she leaves, those eyes–not my grandmother’s–glinting at me with concealed wrath.

I began locking my door from the inside before I left, but she somehow had the key. I bought a padlock and came home to find it cut clean through, lying on the ground. After that I lay string across the lock before I left every day, and after school find it fallen to the floor, a sure sign she’d been looking.

In a way, it was reassuring. So long as she kept searching my room, she didn’t suspect it was in my brother’s.

Was it cruel to have endangered him by hiding it among his action figures? Perhaps. But I couldn’t leave it somewhere easier for her to find, and I absolutely couldn’t hide it outside the house. They needed a fake grandmother to even begin to search inside. Outside, it would be easy pickings.

But my fake grandmother still had to conform to her predecessor’s life, and so could not refuse when mom took her to her doctor’s appointment. It was then that I made my move.

I entered my brother’s room, ignoring his outrage at the intrusion, and opened the drawer stuffed to the brim with his superhero toys. Before he could start throwing things at me, I snatched what I had hidden a week before and left. There was only one safe place I could take the thing now they had an an agent in my home, and that was a place I had sworn never to return to.

I grit my teeth, swallowed my pride, and descended into the cellar.

My First Novel

I wrote my first “novel”, entitled Absolute, in middle school. It’s 26,000 words and rather obviously based on the Maximum Ride series, featuring a group of kids whose parents are mad scientists engaged in illegal genetic experiments. One day they successfully manage to clone a wooly mammoth calf, on which they will be performing untold hideous experiments. Cue the kids stealing the mammoth and leading their nefarious parents on a wild cross-country chase. At a distance it doesn’t sound half bad, but the illusion ends once you get closer.

Some highlights include:

  • knocking people out with car doors
  • being so bad at driving you’re actually excellent
  • stealing away in cargo planes
  • surprisingly accurate care of a wooly mammoth calf
  • secret passages inside walls
  • children who are good at pick-pocketing
  • a radio star called Gravy Lester
  • the acronym KOES: Kids of Evil Scientists

…and more excellent plot devices by yours truly, age 13. However, I didn’t write this post to bash my middle-school writing. Absolute was a stepping stone to where I am now. And in the grand scheme of things, The Book of the Dead is a stepping stone to where I’ll be in ten more years. It’s important to not be too harsh on where you were as well, as where you are now. Everything is valuable. Everything is improvement. And to be honest, I’m still invested in that cheesy story about genius kids stealing a mammoth. Maybe I’ll take it somewhere someday.


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 🌟

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!