This Vaccine Is Super Chill, Friends

I’ve been seeing here and there that the Covid-19 vaccine is a giant shot that really hurts and knocks you out afterwards, but none of that is true. It’s very chill and painless and stress-free.

I’m deathly afraid of needles, but this wasn’t a big deal, even for me. Just in case anyone has anxiety about this vaccine, I want to add my voice to the chorus of people saying that there’s nothing to worry about.

The needle isn’t big at all, and the shot takes literally a second. It’s not painful, just a tiny touch of ice on your shoulder. I experienced a slight fever and some wooziness during the afternoon and evening after the vaccine, but the symptoms were mild and had totally disappeared when I woke up the next morning. My arm was a bit sore the day after, but it wasn’t painful; it was just like the feeling you get after pushing your limits a little during a weightlifting session. There was no bruise at all.

Everyone in the impromptu clinic was very friendly and kept thanking me for showing up and being there. They took social distancing seriously without being weird about it or performing hygiene theater, which I appreciated. All of the doctors and nurses were bizarrely healthy-looking and attractive in the way that healthcare professionals often are when they’re not at the end of some horrible hellshift. I got a big glossy sticker and a little vaccine passport card at the end of the fifteen-minute observation period, and they are both very handsome.

As a nonbinary person, I’ve had a lot of trouble with the medical system in the past, but none of that nonsense applies to this situation. No one is going to force you to check a binary gender box or ask for your deadname or try to shame you about your identity or appearance or “gender-appropriate” weight; they just want to help you get vaccinated. Even if you have trauma associated with doctors and needles, you’ll be okay.

Overall, getting vaccinated was a pleasant experience. If nothing else, you can use it as an excuse to order a pizza and spend the rest of the day in bed playing video games, which is totally what I did.

The clinic I visited at UPenn was on the second-floor basketball court of the university gym, but I’ve been hearing about vaccine clinics that have been set up in mostly abandoned malls in New Jersey and elsewhere around the United States, and damn that sounds cool. I’ve added “visiting mostly abandoned malls in New Jersey” to the list of things I want to try once I’m fully vaccinated, and I’m looking forward to it. There are a lot of things I’m looking forward to doing, actually, and I’m relieved and happy to have taken this step forward to being able to enjoy them while living my best and most interesting post-pandemic life.

So no worries, friends. Even if your anxiety is as awful as mine, you’ll be fine.

You got this.

Ceres’s Story Arc

I’m going to start writing my query letter for The Demon King soon, so I’ve been thinking about how to describe the story, which has two parallel threads that unspool in alternating chapters. The eponymous “demon king” Balthazar (he’s not really a demon king) is the main point-of-view character, as it’s his actions that push the larger narrative forward, but the role of his “nemesis” Princess Ceres (she’s not really his nemesis) as a deuteragonist is equally important and will only become more important as the story progresses.  

Balthazar’s plot arc in the first novella is simple: he says he will go to a temple and find a magical artifact, and he goes to a temple and finds a magical artifact.

Meanwhile, what’s going on with Ceres is more complicated and can’t be succinctly summarized.

Ceres opens the story by sending a hero to fight Balthazar. This “hero” is actually a convict whom she has effectively exiled, and she intends for Balthazar to dispose of him. He does so, but not before the hero kills two people and injures a third.

Back in Whitespire, Ceres grants a private audience to a viscount from an outlying territory who essentially asks to stop paying taxes. Ceres dismisses him, but she allows herself to be seduced by his daughter, who wants the viscount to step down so that she can manage her family’s estate. While engaging in an openly sexual relationship with the viscount’s daughter, Ceres realizes that the viscount himself is being manipulated by a shadowy anti-monarchist political faction. In an attempt to provoke the members of the faction to reveal themselves, Ceres orders the head of her intelligence staff to direct a covert attack on the viscount’s estate.

Members of a separate anti-monarchist faction, fearing that they will be blamed for this attack, offer a scapegoat in the form of an advanced student of magic – a grad student, basically – who has been distributing seditious tracts. Ceres has actually discussed the matter beforehand with one of the leaders of the grad student’s faction, who is her close friend (and happens to be the author of the ongoing series of romance novels that Balthazar is addicted to). She therefore exiles the student, ostensibly to die at the hands of the demon king but actually to study with his friend Melchior, a wizard from a foreign kingdom who has strong anti-monarchist leanings of his own.

Ceres has grown fond of the viscount’s daughter, and she doesn’t want her or her father to become pawns of court politics in the way that the grad student did. She therefore engineers a minor scandal involving the viscount, which serves as the excuse the daughter needs to transfer power away from her father.

At the end of the first story arc, the viscount and his daughter leave the castle alive and unharmed. Ceres hasn’t been able to figure out who was manipulating the viscount at court, but she’s content to have secured an ally in the viscount’s daughter, who will almost certainly manage her family’s estate better than her father.

All’s well that ends well, but the reader is left with the dangling thread of why Ceres is so amenable to the idea of deposing herself from her own throne. In addition, how does she know Balthazar, and why is she so friendly with him? There’s also the matter of Ceres having sent Balthazar a “hero” that he was given no choice but to murder. Balthazar alludes to the fact that this isn’t the first time Ceres has done this, which is even more disturbing.

At the beginning of the second story arc, probably at the end of the second chapter, Ceres is going to address this matter directly and reflect the main theme of the story back on Balthazar by saying that these “heroes” have a choice. What she means is that no one is forcing them to attack the people they see as their enemies, but this raises the question of whether Ceres is giving Balthazar a choice in how he handles the circumstances she has created. This digs even deeper into the story’s theme by suggesting that some choices aren’t so simple, and that people suffer when they try to deal with making these choices on their own.

Also I intend for Ceres to make a lot of jokes about oral sex in her second story arc.

This summary is much more complicated than the story itself, hopefully. Ceres is not an unreliable viewpoint character, and none of these plot elements are supposed to be confusing or mysterious to the reader.

In the end, the goal of all this political intrigue is to set up Ceres’s kingdom as a battleground while establishing that it is primarily a battleground of relationships and feelings.

If Balthazar is a means to look at high fantasy heroic quest narratives from a different perspective, then Ceres is my take on the traditional “pure-hearted princess” trope. Ceres is in her early thirties, and I don’t think a princess can survive that long in a position of near-absolute power without being extremely clever and at least a little evil.

The above illustration of Ceres was created by the stylish and magical Fernanda V. (@artesiants on Instagram and on Twitter + @artesiant on Tumblr), who draws bold and fashionable designs of witchy characters. The prompt I gave her was “an elven princess who is beautiful and ethereal but delights in destroying her enemies,” and I love how she’s mixed diaphanous skirts and delicate jewelry with a lightly armored Amazonian halter that leaves Ceres’s arms free and ready to handle any conflict that comes her way.

It’s so interesting to see how various artists interpret this character, and every illustration of her makes me even more committed to telling her story despite the occasionally stress-inducing intricacies of its twists and turns.

2021 Writing Log, Part 6

– I presented a paper titled “Link Is Not Silent: Queer Disability Positivity in Breath of the Wild Fancomics” at this year’s (online) meeting of the Association for Asian Studies. My paper was part of a panel called “Representations of Disability in Japanese Videogames,” and I was honored to have my work included with that of Rachael Hutchinson, Mimi Okabe, and Ben Whaley, all of whom are luminaries in the field. Perhaps it’s weird to say this about a panel at an academic conference, but we had a lot of fun, and I really enjoyed the lively discussion during and after the broadcast.

– My review of Yoshiko Okuyama’s monograph Reframing Disability in Manga is up on the Pacific Affairs website (here). This insightful and highly accessible book offers both fascinating case studies and thorough discussions of social and legal contexts. The author’s emphasis on positivity, as well as her candidness regarding her own positionality, provides a nice window into Disability Studies, and the textual format of the book facilitates its accessibility to a diversity of readers, including readers outside the field of Japan Studies. I highly recommend it to anyone who’s interested for a number of reasons, but it would probably be better just to say “please check out my short review” rather than try to summarize them here.

– I published, promoted, and mailed out copies of The Legend of Haiku, a Legend of Zelda fanzine that I’ve been working on editing and formatting for a few months now. This was a huge project, and it was an incredible experience to work with so many talented poets and artists. You can read more about the zine and find links to download a free copy on the blog post I made about it (here).

– I submitted a short story called “Mount Hiei” to Fantasy Magazine. “Mount Hiei” is a story about two young monks apprenticed at Enryaku Temple who discover something awful inside the mountains north of Kyoto, and it’s a Ken Asamatsu style Lovecraftian twist on Japanese folklore very loosely based on the childhood of two characters from the medieval war epic The Tales of the Heike. I think this heterogeny of influence might be a hard sell because it’s a difficult sort of “diversity” to get behind, but I’m still submitting the story to big-name magazines because I’ve been working on it for years and would like to share it with people. It’s actually really good, if I do say so myself.

– I submitted another short story called “Don’t Eat the Fish” to Frost Zone Zine. The zine (which is actually a professionally edited print magazine that’s also published as a digital edition) has a distinct editorial voice that privileges the sort of quiet and literary dark fiction I’m interested in, and I hope this story will be a good fit for the publication.

– I submitted a piece of flash fiction to the online magazine Burnt Breakfast. I really admire the format of Burnt Breakfast, which pairs fiction and poetry with striking images in a way that facilitates appreciation of creative work on social media. I’ve been following them on their Instagram account, and it’s been a lot of fun to get occasional bits of strange and interesting flash fiction in my feed.   

– I submitted an illustration titled “Ruins and Regrowth” to another online magazine called Analogies & Allegories, which is also active on social media. I follow their Instagram account and love their aesthetic, and the “Regrowth” theme of the next issue spoke to me, especially because I wasn’t quite ready to stop exploring this theme after my “Different” comic (posted here) about trauma and recovery. This is the first illustration I’ve formally submitted to a publication that’s not a zine, and I’m a little nervous. Even if I’m rejected, though, the art still exists, and I can still post it on my personal accounts.

– I posted my first listing for original art on Etsy. It was an ACEO card with ink and Copic marker fan art of the character Sensei from the dark fantasy manga Girl from the Other Side, which is one of the weirdest and saddest yet most wholesome stories I’ve ever had the pleasure to read. A friend bought it along with a copy of the Legend of Haiku zine, and I’m incredibly grateful for their kindness. This is my first art sale, and it’s a big step forward for me! I’m currently working on two more ACEO cards that I hope to post listings for soon, and I’m curious to see whether there will be any interest.

– Now that I’m taking steps away from a purely academic career, I decided to post an alternative CV in the form of a page called “Creative Work” (here) on this blog. Considering that I only started submitting my stories and comics to various venues about six months ago, I feel like I’ve accomplished a lot.

( You can follow me on Patreon if you’d like to support my work! )

We Should Improve Society Somewhat

This is my take on the viral Matt Bors comic. Someone actually said this to me about two years ago, and since then their comment has been living in my head rent-free. With this comic I hereby evict that unpleasantness and release it back into the wild.

I started drawing this comic earlier this year and finished it just to get it out of my drafts folder. In the time since I completed the line art, I made a firm decision to limit the negativity I post on social media. To be honest, most of the experiences that have had a major impact on my life during the past several years have been negative, but I’m not sure there’s any real use or meaning in representing them directly through autobiographical essays and comics. Instead, I’ve found much more satisfaction and catharsis in constructing analogies through the medium of fiction.

Also, I think there are a not insignificant number of people in the world (including the “yet you have a job” person) who tend to latch onto negativity to make bad-faith arguments about topics that could benefit from more nuance. Now that I’m at a stage of my life where I’m considering working on more collaborative projects, I’d prefer to keep that sort of interpersonal drama to a minimum. Thankfully, I’m in a better place now than I was when I started drawing this comic, and I hope the person who wrote this in response to one of my essays is in a better place too.

Still – fuck capitalism.

The Legend of Haiku

The Legend of Haiku celebrates the natural environments and quiet moments of the games in the Legend of Zelda series. This 46-page zine collects the work of 28 poets and artists from around the world who have pooled their talents to create a gentle adventure into a beautiful green world filled with mystery and discovery.

🌿 You can download a free digital copy on Gumroad (here).
🌿 There are a handful of physical copies available on Etsy (here).
🌿 You can download the digital zine directly from Google Drive (here).

This project was a journey. I had initially planned to release the zine in November shortly after the end of the submission period, but I received such an incredible diversity of submissions from such a large number of people that I found myself at a loss regarding the best way to move forward. In addition, the pandemic resulted in severe delays with the United States Postal Service, and I actually had to close my store on Etsy because nothing was getting where it was supposed to go. I therefore had to put the project on hiatus for three months, and I was only able to resume work in March.  

If I learned anything from this process, it’s that most people are lovely and patient and kind. I was expecting to encounter more frustration, but everyone was very chill and nice.

I also learned that it’s good to take a big project like this in baby steps until I reach a sense of critical mass and can work for longer periods as I get a better sense of what needs to be done and how best to do it. I wasn’t prepared for the incredible response I got concerning this project, but I’m very grateful for the support of the contributors as I muddled my way through.

Thankfully, the zine turned out to be gorgeous, so it was all worth it in the end.  

I want to give a special shout-out to the cover artist, who goes by @flyingcucco on Twitter and @acro_bike on Instagram. Trina was an absolute pleasure to work with, and she put an extraordinary level of thought and attention into creating a design that captures the themes of the project. The full, unedited wrap-around cover illustration was awarded the honor of being a Daily Deviation on the portfolio hosting site DeviantArt, and I highly encourage you to check it out (here) if you’d like to read Trina’s concise but insightful artist statement.

The Demon King Editing Notes

Starting in April, I’m going to begin putting together a formal query letter for The Demon King. I’d like to participate in the #PitMad event on Twitter at the beginning of June, and I’d also like to finish up this portion of the project so that I can go ahead and get started on the next novella in the series.

If you’re interested, this is my fifty-word Twitter pitch:

The Demon King is a high fantasy adventure comedy about a garbage wizard named Balthazar who seeks to claim a magical relic sleeping within the castle of a powerful and devious princess. Until then, he would prefer to be left alone so he can read trashy romance novels in peace.

I’m going to put the first novella through another round of intense editing in May, but I just wrapped up the initial set of major edits. I’ve been fixing typos and other minor second-draft awkwardness, but I’ve also been thinking about tone and structure, as well as how I relate to the genre of fantasy in general.

Although this will change as the story progresses, the beginning of The Demon King is largely an episodic comedy that plays with tropes from epic fantasy novels and video games. Instead of exaggerating or subverting these tropes, I’m interested in looking at them from the perspective of rational adult characters who fit their assigned archetypes poorly at best.

Each chapter is prefaced by a short introductory section modeled on the sort of “lore” or “flavor text” that a player can unlock in a video game by defeating a certain number of enemies, collecting a certain number of items, and so on. This isn’t made explicitly clear in the first novella, but these intro sections are written by Balthazar, the eponymous Demon King, who is addicted to romance novels and secretly aspires to be a writer himself.

I’ve been putting a lot of work into crafting an appropriately epic language for these sections. What I’m aiming for is a needlessly fancy style that borders on purple prose without being actually poorly written or obnoxious. In addition, I’d like for readers who come back to these passages after they know more about the world of the story to able to see where Balthazar is being ironic, where he’s being sincere, and where he’s flat-out lying.

I had initially italicized these sections in italics, but I think we can all collectively agree that italics are difficult to read. I therefore reformatted the text to remove all the italics on the chapter intro sections. I might put them back in to demonstrate that these are excerpts from “found sources” and not part of the main body of narration, but I think the character-specific perspectives of the chapters are clear enough that third-person omniscient narration stands out strongly on its own.

I also decided is that everyone is going to be represented as speaking English. If the viewpoint character – usually Balthazar – can understand what someone is saying, it won’t be accented with italics. Perhaps other characters might comment on the fact that he understands speech they don’t, but I don’t want to play games with fantasy languages. Along the same lines, I deleted all mentions of fantasy language names. Nobody needs that.

One of my most hated of all sci-fi and fantasy tropes is when a story gluts itself on constructed terminology, especially in lieu of meaningful worldbuilding. I therefore tried to keep fantasy words at an absolute minimum. The crow people (called starags, after the Gaelic word for “crow”) have their own name because it would be silly to call them “crow people,” and the concept of a “gaesh” (a type of semi-telepathic soul bond that facilitates magic sharing) is something that I want to feel strange and alien to the reader, but I think that’s it.

I leaned into this by using common words for elements that are native to the story. For example, Balthazar is not a “demon” in the usual sense of the word, the “gargoyles” who appear about halfway through the story are actually bat people, the “artifact” Balthazar is seeking is something highly unusual and specific, and the creatures that Balthazar calls “dogs” and “horses” are not dogs and horses by a long shot.

As the story continues, I think it’s going to be fun to play with the disconnect between what various characters take for granted as common knowledge, but I want this to remain comfortably in the realm of comedy and not venture into the territory of “who knows what secrets at what point in the story.” If anyone asks, you didn’t hear this from me, but plot is overrated. The plot of The Demon King is going to become more interesting and intricate as more layers of its story are revealed, but I want the reader to care about the characters before the plot ever becomes a concern.

That being said, there are major conflicts between the characters that have no easy resolutions, so I took care in my edits to make sure that each of the main characters states their goals clearly. Figuring out why these characters insist on pursuing these goals is the story’s primary source of forward momentum, so I’m doing my best to set up these mysteries while also providing ample clues and a healthy dose of foreshadowing.   

Hopefully the process of writing a query letter will help me clarify the themes and narrative structure so that I can continue to hone the story when I return to it in May for another set of edits.

For the time being, I’m hosting the first novella in The Demon King on AO3, and you can find it (here).

This post’s illustration of Balthazar is by the lovely @Lemonscribs on Instagram, who was kind enough to compare the character’s aesthetic of Katie O’Neill’s fantasy slice-of-life comic The Tea Dragon Society. What an apt observation, and what an incredible compliment!

Draw Me Like One of Your Anime Boyfriends

It is an anime truism that a villain is evil in direct proportion to how stylish and attractive they are.

We can therefore infer that Balthazar is neither good nor evil, as he is not particularly attractive and wears the high fantasy equivalent of a track suit jacket over pajamas.

Different

This comic is about how trauma isn’t just something that someone “overcomes” on the road to personal character development, but rather a significantly transformative experience with lingering aftereffects.

This comic is also about how significantly my art style has changed during the year after I left a traumatic workplace environment. It was an extremely difficult transition, but it’s important to create room to grow.

Memorabilia Zine


This is a preview of the short story I contributed to Memorabilia, a Legend of Zelda fanzine devoted to the archaeology and architecture of Breath of the Wild.

“A Noble Pursuit” is about Rhondson, the Gerudo tailor who moves to Tarrey Town, embarking on a husband hunt to the Akkala Citadel Ruins after Hudson goes missing. It’s a story about exploration and discovery, as well as different views of the past and hopes for the future that awaits Hyrule beyond “happily ever after.”

Pre-orders are open (here) until Sunday, March 14. This zine contains more than a hundred pages of brilliant writing and awe-inspiring art. It’s certain to be a treasure to anyone who enjoyed exploring the ruins and history of Breath of the Wild – and to anyone fascinated by the lore and environmental design in Creating a Champion.

You can check out more previews of the zine on its Twitter account, @MemorabiliaZine, and on its Tumblr account, @memorabiliazine.

Wizard Pants

Today is Monday, March 8. It’s supposed to get warm tomorrow, but it’s not there yet. It’s probably starting to be gorgeous in DC – this is the time of year when the plum trees bloom, and the cherries and dogwoods are right around the corner – but I am past the point in my life when I think it’s reasonable to pay $3k a month for a rent-controlled one-bedroom apartment. So now I live in West Philadelphia, which is beautiful in its own way, but it’s far enough north that there are still nasty piles of snow in the CVS parking lot.

This weekend my husband was a human slug that lumped around on the couch and rewatched old seasons of The Wire, and he was starting to get depressed from lack of sunlight. I wanted to take him on a field trip, but it’s Philadelphia. Where is there to go?

And then it hit me – Four Seasons Total Landscaping.

Four Seasons Total Landscaping is in northeast Philadelphia, a little up I-95 as it follows the Delaware River headed toward Trenton. Because it’s right on the river and right off the interstate, this used to be a manufacturing district, but now all the factories are closed and boarded shut. There’s no traffic, and everything is just sort of quietly rusting away. The roads are wide and obviously meant to accommodate tractor-trailer trucks, but they’re completely empty. Local rail lines cross above the roads on bridges, but they’re also rusting and falling down in places. It’s a little creepy and probably super dangerous.

Four Seasons Total Landscaping is on one of these big roads. As reported, it is indeed across the street from a crematorium and next door to an adult video store. The crematorium is surprisingly tasteful, and the adult video store was surprisingly busy on a Sunday afternoon. There was nothing much to see at Four Seasons Total Landscaping itself, save for an excessive amount of barbed wire on the chain-link fence in front of their parking lot and a sign out front that says they’re hiring.

The way I understand it, the Trump campaign choosing Four Seasons Total Landscaping as a venue was a characteristically stupid mistake, but this area of Philadelphia is also the only part of the city that consistently votes Republican. It’s about 85% “white,” but the majority of these people are either immigrants or the children of immigrants from Russia, Eastern Europe, and the former Soviet countries in Central Asia.

So, sitting in our car on the street outside Four Seasons Total Landscaping, we googled “Russian grocery store.” We struck gold with a place called NetCost Market, which is apparently the Eastern European equivalent of H-Mart (by which I mean large and a bit upscale but with mostly foreign brand-name products). They had a Halal butcher and a bunch of kosher food, and I have never seen such a prodigious gathering of meat and cheese and pickled fish in my entire life. They also had enormous displays of German chocolate and Northern European (mainly Russian) herbal tea, and it was all ridiculously inexpensive. We filled a shopping basket and walked out of the store having paid less than $40.

That’s not the story, though. The story is that there was a Dollar General in the same shopping center. I don’t know what Dollar General stores are like in the rest of the country, but in Philadelphia they’re all over the place and where you go to get paper goods (like toilet paper) when the neighborhood CVS or Rite Aid invariably doesn’t have any in stock. They’re super sad and depressing but also super cheap, and they’re like the Wild West in that you never know what fell off the back of a truck somewhere and is currently on sale.

Since the Dollar General was right there, and since we already had the car, I was like, “Listen, I know this is supposed to be a fun day out, but we’re almost out of paper towels.” So we went into the Dollar General, and…

They had wizard pants.

I don’t know how else to describe them – dark blue and black pants covered with various patterns depicting stars, planets, and constellations. Some were high fantasy European, and some were more geometric West African, but they were all fabulous. It might be a stretch to call these pants “tasteful,” but the prints were beautiful. The fabric wasn’t the sort of rough flannel normally used for pajama pants, but a light synthetic cotton like yoga pants, except it was loose and flowing instead of tight and “shaping.” Each pair was $8 even.

My first thought was “holy shit,” which was quickly followed by the realization that I could probably buy these in bulk and resell them on Etsy for an enormous markup. (Which I would never do because that’s too much trouble and lol what, am I going to use myself as a model.) And then I thought, But why is American athletic clothing and longuewear always so gray and boring? Why doesn’t everyone own at least one pair of wizard pants?

So I’m just standing there, right in the middle of the store, staring at these pants and having galaxy brain thoughts, and my husband comes up with the paper towels and is like, “Please hurry up and pick one so we can leave.”

And that’s how I got myself a snazzy pair of wizard pants. They are magical and I love them very much.

I have never seen wizard pants at any other Dollar General location, but I promise this is a real place. It’s the store in the shopping center with the NetCost Market at 2417 Welsh Road.

By the way, when I say that Dollar General is super depressing, what I mean is that it has a bare-bones interior with ghastly fluorescent lighting. The stores are always comically understaffed, so the shelves are in total disarray while there’s just one lonely person at the check-out counter. I used to work at Walmart, and to me Dollar General looks like it’s just a stockroom with no sales floor, by which I mean there’s no attempt to make the space pleasant and inviting. They also sell highly processed American junk food in bulk, which is depressing in a way that runs much deeper than the immediate shopping experience.

I suspect that some people will read what I wrote about Dollar General and jump to the conclusion that I think working-class people are depressing. I actually don’t have much money myself, and the point of my story is that traversing an urban landscape becomes much more interesting when you put stereotypes and generalizations aside in favor of thinking about the histories of specific communities and the daily experiences of the people who live there. I am not slumming it, or whatever, by going to the grocery store in a different neighborhood as a fun day out.

That being said.

These wizard pants transcend social and economic class. They also transcend time and space. They are fantastic and amazing. I don’t know where they came from or where they’re going, but it is a privilege and an honor to accompany them on their journey.

Anyway. I lived in Philadelphia on and off for seven or eight years before moving to DC, but I’m just now realizing that I don’t know the city very well. It will be nice to get out more once the weather gets warmer and we all get properly vaccinated.