The Demon King Reboot

Around this time last year, I finished an original fantasy novella called The Demon King. I serialized it on AO3, posting each chapter as I wrote it with a minimum of editing. This year I’ve been slowly editing the story into a legitimate novel. The process has been a lot of fun, but I’ve had to make some major changes.

I originally planned to serialize The Demon King in five arcs. The outline of the story was structured for each arc to focus on one character while providing the reader with one major revelation. I wanted there to be something resembling a punchline at the end of every scene, so I wrote the story as a comedy centered on character interactions. In other words, I saw The Demon King as something like an ongoing prose webcomic illuminated with occasional illustrations. AO3 isn’t a good platform for a project like this, however, and it was impossible to build an audience. I therefore closed the story at the end of the first arc.

In the original version of the story, I deliberately left room for the plot to spool out across later installments. In order to write a proper novel, however, I need to make the structure more streamlined and compact.

My strategy has been to simplify the plot in order to focus on the most important themes and character development arcs. The easiest way to go about this has been to remove half of the cast from the story. This was relatively painless, as I’m sure these characters will return in another project.

Another efficient way to simplify the story has been to make certain aspects of the plot clear from the beginning. A major component of this was to drop the conceit of the main characters going by multiple names. In the first draft, the eponymous demon king called himself “Balthazar” because he thought it sounded like a wizard name, and the characters closely associated with Balthazar humored him by using wizard names of their own. I decided to cut the plot points relevant to Balthazar using a fake name; so, in the current draft of the story, he goes by his real name, Ananth.

Ananth uses time magic, which needs to be clear from the beginning. The extent of the time travel will only be revealed gradually, but it will make my job infinitely easier if the reader sees Ananth using time magic in the very first chapter. Not only does this explain a number of aspects of his character that would otherwise be needlessly mysterious, but it also creates a compelling sense of mystery by providing opportunities for the reader to understand that Ananth is in fact very bad at using magic. Given that his only real talent is a basic ability to manipulate time, how did he become so powerful? Where (or when) did he come from, and what are his intentions?

While Ananth’s character has changed significantly, his foil Ceres hasn’t changed much at all. Ceres is her real name, and she’s not hiding anything by being catty and manipulative; that’s just her personality. The one significant edit I made is that Ceres is no longer a princess, but a queen. Then again, this isn’t much more than a matter of using the “find and replace” function to switch a few words, as Ceres was always a queen in my heart.

In any case, I’ve succeeded in compacting the story outline from fifty chapters into a solid thirty, and I’ve managed to finish the first ten. I enjoyed serializing fanfic novels on AO3 because of the constant stream of positive feedback and encouragement, so the major challenge of writing an original novel has been working in relative isolation. It was difficult to get started on revising this project, and it’s been slow going. Still, now that I know the shape of the story, I have a better sense of working toward an achievable goal.

The illustration above is by @Lunie_junk on Twitter, who also shares her work on DeviantArt (here) and on her Patreon page (here). I love Lunie’s Legend of Zelda and Final Fantasy art, and I’m a huge fan of her soft pastel style and colorful fantasy illustrations. She takes character commissions on a regular basis, and I recommend checking her out on her Carrd page (here) if you’re interested. I adore the story illustration Lunie created for me, and I really enjoyed working with her!

Writing While ADHD

I won’t lie. Writing while ADHD is a challenge! There are many benefits to ADHD, such as the ability to think quickly and generate galaxies of original ideas, as well as an enhanced capacity for hyperfocus and flow. It’s always good to remember that ADHD isn’t an “illness,” but rather a less common type of brain wiring. Still, ADHD can make the act of sitting down and putting words on the page trickier than it is for people with other types of brains. What I’ve learned from more than a decade of writing while ADHD is that we simply have to work with it, not against it.  

This post is divided into three segments that address specific ADHD concerns: the necessity of minimizing distractions, the efficacy of establishing a routine, and tricks for overcoming executive function disorder. All of this advice applies to people without ADHD, but it’s critical to those of us whose heads are buzzing with ideas yet who find it difficult to write.

Minimizing Distractions

Virginia Woolf famously established the necessity of a room of one’s own. Writing is a solitary activity, and it’s important to minimize distractions so you can hear yourself think. Unfortunately, avoiding distractions is difficult for many people with ADHD, and it can sometimes be necessary to take extra steps to create a comfortable work environment.

The easiest way to make a quiet space is to stay away from the internet. This is just as obvious as it is problematic, as it negates many of the tools used by other writers, such as Discord-based writing sprints, music channels on YouTube, and online countdown timers. This also means that you can’t do research as you’re writing, meaning that you’ll have to set up a system of annotations to return to later. Nevertheless, the internet is kryptonite for people with ADHD, and it’s best to limit access while you’re writing and editing.

In addition, it goes without saying that your phone should be nowhere near your hand. If you have pressing business or emails that need to be taken care of, promise yourself that you’ll handle it after you finish writing. Many people with ADHD are excellent multitaskers, but writing demands focus.

ADHD gives us intense powers of concentration once we’re able to focus on one task, so it’s important that this concentration isn’t misdirected. Because of our brain chemistry, people with ADHD tend to gravitate toward the most high-stimulation activities available, so we need to be extra careful to create a quiet physical and mental space free of distractions.

To summarize: Be kind to your ADHD brain by putting away your phone and staying off the internet while you’re writing.

Establishing a Routine

Many writing guides stress the importance of establishing a routine. Putting your butt in the chair can be difficult for everyone, but it’s especially difficult for people with ADHD, many of whom find it almost impossible to concentrate if we’re not feeling motivated. This is why it’s crucial for those of us with ADHD to put extra effort into training ourselves to get into an appropriate headspace to write.

Having a quiet environment free of distractions helps immensely, as does having a set time of day for writing. If you use medication, it’s helpful to sync your writing time to your medication schedule. It also helps to schedule your writing in accordance to the natural flow of your mood and energy. While some writers are capable of carving out small blocks of writing time during their daily schedules, this isn’t a feasible strategy for most people with ADHD. Instead of fitting writing into a pre-existing schedule, many of us have to rearrange our commitments to work and education in order to solidify a routine for writing.  

The process of establishing a routine tends to take longer for people with ADHD. Some days might be painful, especially at first. Because we can’t choose how our brains are going to function on any given day, it’s important to be patient and kind to ourselves in order to keep the routine going. If you can only write for twenty minutes during your designated time before getting distracted, consider it twenty minutes well spent. If you can only write for five minutes, that’s okay too. People with ADHD tend to be susceptible to burnout, so it’s important to give yourself time to adjust to a new routine and not to push yourself if you’re not feeling it.

The important thing is to stick to your routine, no matter what. It will take time – three or four months at minimum – but you’ll train your brain to appreciate the routine instead of resisting it. With practice, this routine will help you trigger your ADHD superpowers of concentration when you need them. Knowing with certainty that you’ll be able to access a state of flow is the key the what is perhaps the tallest hurdle for writers with ADHD: overcoming executive function disorder.

To summarize: While paying attention to the natural fluctuations of your focus and energy, set aside a specific time to write every day, and be kind to yourself if some sessions aren’t as productive as others.

Overcoming Executive Function Disorder

Let’s say you have a fantastic idea, and you can’t wait to start writing. You’ve written any number of stories or essays before, not to mention school assignments and social media posts. Even though you acknowledge that writing is work, it’s work you love doing…

…and yet somehow you just can’t bring yourself to do it. It’s like there’s an invisible force field around the project, and no amount of good intentions (or pressing deadlines) will help you get past it. You’ve settled into a writing routine, and you’ve minimized the distractions around your writing space, but you still can’t get started.

This is when it helps to be sneaky. You have to trick yourself into opening the document and putting your fingers on the keyboard. The easiest way to do this is to shift the goalposts of what you count as a successful writing session. Maybe you can’t write a page. So what? You can write a sentence instead. So what if you can’t write a sentence? You can write a short list of sentence fragments. It’s all good. If you can’t focus today, there’s always tomorrow.

Once you get started, you’ll usually end up tricking yourself into meeting your original goal, which is fantastic! Sometimes it’s just not working, and there’s no helping it. And that’s okay! You don’t have to play by the same rules as other writers. If you end up with just a sentence, you’re doing great. (True story: Some of my most successful publications were written at a pace of one sentence every day.)

Delayed gratification isn’t something that most people with ADHD are equipped to handle, so another useful trick to getting around executive function disorder is to treat yourself before you start writing, not as a promised reward. Go ahead and eat a piece of chocolate or drink a cup of fancy tea as soon as you sit down. Physical motion often helps ADHD people focus, and a pantheon of respected writers have said that they do their best work after taking a walk. The brains of people with ADHD aren’t wired to get serotonin from the expectation of a reward, so it helps to treat the opportunity to sit down and write as part of an integrated ritual of self-care.

To summarize: If you find it difficult to start working, shift your expectations of what you need to achieve – and maybe treat yourself before you start writing.

Again, most of this advice applies to almost everyone. Our brains operate along multiple spectrums of how we process the world, and ADHD doesn’t manifest in the same ways or the same degree for everyone. That being said, it’s important to remember that issues that may not be a concern for other writers may be a barrier to an ADHD writer. Creating a distraction-free space and establishing a set routine is extremely helpful to those of us writing while ADHD, as is learning how to treat writing as a reward to be enjoyed instead of a task to be completed.

This post is concerned with the broad strokes of general practice, but it would be interesting to hear the specifics of other writers’ experiences. What are your strategies for keeping your ideas and research organized? How do you stay on track with larger projects? While you’re in a period in when your brain isn’t cooperating and your writing progress is incremental, how do you deal with the anxiety of not being as productive as your peers? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

. . . . . . . . . . .

This post originally appeared on Get Your Words Out, a community of writers aiming to maintain healthy creative habits and writing productivity. Membership to the community opens at the beginning of the calendar year, and its content is limited to members who maintain their writing pledges, but the GYWO Twitter account is accessible to everyone and posts encouragement, prompts, and writing resources at a steady but manageable pace.

The Legend We Create

The courageous hero loves the wise princess, but they are bound by their fate and must put their feelings aside for the sake of a world floating above the ruins of an ancient kingdom.

…or so the legend goes, but some storytellers have a slightly different interpretation.

The Legend We Create is a tale of mutual pining and second-chance romance on the Great Sea, as well as a meditation on how each new generation heals the wounds of history by telling their own narratives about the past. You can read this short story on AO3 (here).

This story was published in Fated: A Zelink Zine. You check out the work of the other contributors on the zine’s Twitter account (here).

On the Internet, No One Knows You’re (Not) Kris

I recently participated in the annual Yuletide fic exchange for small fandoms. More than a thousand people contribute their work to this exchange, in which each participant is anonymously matched with someone who requests a story for one of the fandoms they’ve offered to write for. The person with whom I was matched asked for fic about Deltarune, and they requested “existential horror about free will and the ethics of a player guiding characters with self-awareness.” I’m always up for existential horror, and the recipient’s description of how they view the player-character Kris really vibed with me: “A Weird Kid who’s kinda lonely but not quite knowing how to make friends/not liking many of their options in town before the game starts.”

This prompt inspired me to write a story called “On the Internet No One Knows You’re (Not) Kris,” which is an exploration of Kris’s character within a narrative meta-analysis of the game. You can find it on AO3 (here).

The person who requested the story confessed that they’ve spent countless hours diving down the rabbit hole of Deltarune theories, so I took a plunge into the internet theory maze as well. The game subtly implies that Kris isn’t in full control of their body or personality, and that what’s manipulating them is their SOUL, the red heart that represents them during battle sequences. Many Deltarune theories try to answer the question of who (or what) is controlling Kris’s SOUL. There’s also the issue of what connection Deltarune might have to Undertale, as the two games share the same metaphysics and many of the same characters.

This ended up being my favorite Deltarune theory:
https://theamazingsallyhogan.tumblr.com/post/663249972697907200/great-big-massive-spoilers-under-the-cut-part-1

What this theory posits is that Kris has made a devil’s bargain with their SOUL, exchanging their free will for the power to rescue a childhood friend who mysteriously vanished a few years before the game begins. Although this theory doesn’t explain everything that’s going on in Deltarune – which, after all, has only released its first two chapters – the essay shines light on the characters’ backstory, which is only very briefly alluded to in the game itself.

This theory led me to create an illustration (here) based on the scene from Howl’s Moving Castle in which Howl makes a pact with the fallen star Calcifer, and I drew the comic above about how the ostensible villain of the second chapter of Deltarune might have a radically different view of the concept of free will. I also created an animated illustration (here) of the secondary villain Spamton, but I ultimately decided not to include it with the story. Spamton is bizarrely beloved in a certain corner of Deltarune fandom, but I think it’s probably safe to say that he’s an acquired taste. Still, I had a lot of fun writing Spamton’s dialog in my story. Despite spending far too long on the Deltarune wiki, I regret nothing.

An Unfound Door

The sacrificial princess Agnes spares the life of a demon from the blade of the hero who rescued her from certain demise, but was this the wisest decision? Upon returning to her decaying kingdom, she finds the beast waiting for her, now in the form of a man. He is determined to restore the ruins of his homeland to their former glory, but his ambition presages calamity. As Agnes follows her enemy through the shadows, she must shine light onto the mysteries of the past if she wishes to restore hope for the future.

This is my working description for An Unfound Door, the dark fantasy mystery novel that I’m currently writing. I borrowed the title from this passage in Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward, Angel, a coming-of-age story primarily set in an old and decrepit town: “Remembering speechlessly we seek the great forgotten language, the dark lane into heaven. A stone, a key, an unfound door. O lost and by the wind grieved ghost, come back again.”

The character illustrations are by Marianne Lalou, who is on Tumblr, on Twitter, and on Instagram. Lalou was able to take my amateur designs (that I posted here) and polish them into something magical. They’re one of my favorite fantasy illustrators and character designers, and it was an amazing experience to work with them!

Agnes and Zidan from An Unfound Door

An Unfound Door is a Gothic mystery set in a decaying castle. Agnes, the princess of Faloren, hopes to save her crumbling kingdom by recovering a long-lost relic, but she must find it before it’s discovered by Zidan, a foreign prince with mysterious motives. As their paths repeatedly cross in the twisting corridors and hidden passages, Agnes and Zidan realize that they must descend into the shadows of the past together if they hope to bring light to the future.

While I’ve been planning this story, I’ve also been working on character designs. This is what I’ve come up with…

Agnes is in her early twenties. Her palette is fairly monochromatic, making her look somewhat ghostly. She’s not used to interacting with people, and she’s aloof and serious to a fault. Her floral motif is the moonflower. I was aiming for something like a “dark academia” aesthetic.

Zidan is also in his early twenties. His palette is warm with accents in brighter colors. He’s charming and polite, but he’s too proud to conceal the sharp edges under his smooth exterior. His floral motif is the Chinese lantern flower. I was inspired by the work of the artist Emily Cheeseman in creating his design.

Carpe Noctem

Carpe Noctem: Vampires Through the Ages is an anthology of original art, comics, and historical fiction about vampires around the world. The backer campaign lasts until Saturday, December 11, and you can read about the project and order a copy of the book on Kickstarter (here). Carpe Noctem was fully funded in three days, and four stretch goals have been unlocked since then. You can check out contributor bios, merch illustrations, and previews of art and writing on the project’s Twitter account (here).

I’m contributing a short story about a Heian-period vampire titled “The Kumo Diary,” which follows a Meiji-era scholar’s assistant who discovers an old manuscript that she initially mistakes as a lost chapter from The Tale of Genji. Along with The Tale of Genji, I’ve drawn inspiration from Ryunosuke Akutagawa’s short story “Rashomon” and Fumiko Enchi’s eerie postwar novel Masks. In the excerpt above, you can see my homage to a fictional essay in Masks called “An Account of the Shrine in the Fields.” It was a lot of fun to write about Heian-period demonic women, and I also enjoyed doing research in order to put together the Meiji-period frame story. I’m very proud of the ending, and I hope readers will get a pleasant chill from the gradual transformation of the two narrators’ distinctive voices.

Carpe Noctem is scheduled to be published in August 2022. You can back the Kickstarter campaign to pre-order a copy of the anthology along with a collection of the dark and stylish merch created as a promotion. There’s a special NSFW zine and a bonus story told through a collection of physical documents that are exclusive to the Kickstarer campaign, so please check it out if you’re interested!

Flowerblight Ganon

I posted a short story on AO3 (here) about a minor character in Breath of the Wild named Magda, who is affectionately known by the fandom as “Flowerblight Ganon.”

In Breath of the Wild, Malice is a tangible substance that infests objects and locations controlled by Ganon, including the four Divine Beasts, Hyrule Castle, and the Akkala Citadel Ruins. It also infects the dragon spirit Lanayru who guards the Spring of Wisdom.

While writing this story, I wondered if it were possible for Malice to infect regular people. If so, the woman who zealously guards the garden of flowers surrounding Hila Rao Shrine is as good of a candidate as anyone.

The story illustration is by Clara Kay, whose gorgeously monstrous horror art can be found on Twitter (here) and on Instagram (here). I really enjoyed working with Clara, and I also want to give a shout-out to her store (here), which has all sorts of cool Legend of Zelda merch!

I’d like to share a bit of the artist’s description of this piece, because it’s fascinating:

There’s a lot of symbolism packed into the flowers here. The petunias (pink) represent anger and resentment, the devil’s trumpet (the tall white one) represents power and caution, the spider lily (big spiny red one) represents death and reincarnation, and the carnation (white with red ring) is considered the ‘flower of the gods’ and represents admiration, passion, and love.

Carnations represent “passion and love” because they’re thought to be white flowers dyed red with blood, which is entirely appropriate for this story. “Flowerblight Ganon” is my first foray into botanical horror, and I don’t think it’s necessary to be familiar with Breath of the Wild to understand what’s going on. Magda is a regular woman enjoying gardening, quiet living, and occasional tea with friends in a dying postapocalyptic world, and if she lives her best life by indulging in murder every once in a while, then at least her flowers are well fertilized.

The Ghost Shop

I just posted a short story about the Poe Collector in Ocarina of Time on AO3. It’s a spooky fandom treat for Halloween, and you can read it (here).

This story is about what it might have been like to live in Hyrule after the castle fell to Ganondorf, and I really enjoyed exploring the postapocalyptic environment. The story is also about standing up to power and the abuse of authority, even when it won’t benefit you in any way. Grand acts of heroism are all well and good, but it’s also nice to be too weird to care about what people think of you.

The illustration is by Frankiesbugs, whose creepy-cute art you can find on Instagram (here) and on Tumblr (here). They actually created two color variations, the one with the Halloween-inspired palette that I posted above, and a more Film Noir style version that I posted along with the fic on AO3 – and that they posted on Tumblr (here). It was difficult to choose between such gorgeous and stylish pieces! If you’d like to get a better understanding of just how brilliant Frankiesbugs is, you can check out the concept sketch I sent them (here). This artist’s illustrations have been one of my primary inspirations in writing Legend of Zelda horror stories, and it’s always a pleasure to work with them. You can read some of the horror-themed comics we’ve created together (here) and (here).

Midnight Gathering Halloween Zine

I’m excited to announce that my short story “Ms. Weaver’s Halloween Candy” is going to appear in a Halloween-themed zine called Midnight Gathering.

“Ms. Weaver’s Halloween Candy” is a Stephen King style take on the trope of the creepy older woman, by which I mean that it’s more about character-driven family drama than it is about violence and shock value. The protagonist is a fourteen-year-old girl who’s trying to deal with a rough patch in her life by investigating a rumor that a woman in her neighborhood makes her Halloween candy out of cats, and she inadvertently discovers that what’s actually going on is much more sinister. As someone who tends to root for the villains, I did my best to portray everyone involved in the most sympathetic light possible while still imbuing the story with a sense of creeping dread, and I’m very proud of the ending.

I started becoming interested in the Minotaur myth in 2017 while exploring Hyrule Castle in Breath of the Wild, and this is the first original story I’ve written that references it. I’m the sort of writer who has to tell the same story in a dozen different ways before I feel like I understand it, so it’s something I’ll definitely return to in the future.

This is not my first piece of original fiction to be published, but it’s the first that’s going to appear in print (fingers crossed). Perhaps 35 is a bit old to be celebrating this, but whatever. I was publishing nonfiction during my twenties, and the paths people take through life aren’t set in stone. It does feel a bit strange to be the “old” person in the room on zine Discord servers, but it’s also quite nice to see my writing appear alongside the work of up-and-coming artists who contributed a plethora of unique and interesting illustrations to the publication.

You can check out Midnight Gathering on Twitter (here). They’re going to be posting previews of the art and writing appearing in the zine every day for the rest of October, so it’s a good Halloween vibe. If you’re interested in picking up a copy of the zine, which will be shipping in December, you can pre-order it (here).