Hollow Knight is a Metroidvania-style adventure game set in the forgotten underground kingdom of Hallownest. The kingdom fell to ruin after a viral blight infected its citizens, transforming them into mindless husks. As a knight in the form of a small beetle wielding a nail, you venture below the surface through a secret entrance in an old well to challenge the mysteries of Hallownest.

The old underground roads are long abandoned, and there are no helpful signs to guide the player through the maze of passages. The necessity of careful exploration as you find your own path forward is one of the primary appeals of Hollow Knight, but it’s easy to lose your way and fall victim to the undead husks or become trapped in the dilapidated infrastructure.

The tiny protagonist’s journey through Hallownest is lonely, but the ruins of the old kingdom are far from empty. Where there were once cities and markets and train stations, dense vegetation now breaks through the paving stones and covers crumbling structures in blankets of flowering plants. Nowhere is this postapocalyptic explosion of nature more apparent than an area called Greenpath, where small birdlike creatures flutter through the underbrush while giant dragonflies glide in lazy circles above bubbling pools of acid water.

Hollow Knight’s soundtrack, written and digitally performed by the Australian composer Christopher Larkin, captures both the loneliness and wonder of the kingdom of Hallownest. I find the background music for Greenpath especially atmospheric and evocative. It begins with bright and gentle strings that suggest the twinkling of fresh dew and the whisper of wind over moss. Soft and airy notes from a flute and xylophone join the song to create a melody reminiscent of the rustling of leaves as you scuttle through the bushes. 

The environmental music in Hollow Knight is adaptive, meaning that it changes according to gameplay. Some of the more challenging sections of Greenpath necessitate precisely timed jumps over deadly beds of tangled thorns, and the song crescendos into string chords as staccato as your character’s footsteps as you rush through the beautiful yet menacing jungle. You feel as though you’re truly exploring overgrown ruins, brushing aside vines as you navigate the twisting stone corridors.

The quietly elegiac environmental songs of the Hollow Knight soundtrack are oddly relaxing and make excellent ambient background music. If you’re in the mood for something more upbeat, the boss fight battle songs are fantastic as well. You can listen to the complete album on Spotify and YouTube, and (this link) will take you directly to the song “Greenpath” on Bandcamp. 

. . . . . . . . . . . .

This essay was published in the “Playlist” issue of the West Philly Dog Bowl Zine, which debuted at the Philly Comics Expo this past weekend. You can download a free digital version of the zine via their Linktree site (here).

A Reverse Little Mermaid Story

Both of my parents look like characters who belong in a fairy tale from northern Europe. They look like they would be at home in the forest baking pies and chopping wood, like they could easily survive a harsh winter and stand their ground against a hungry wolf.

Growing up in the United States, however, I had no interest in dark forests and long winter nights. The fairy tale that spoke to me was “The Little Mermaid.” As someone who wasn’t a boy but definitely wasn’t a girl, I felt as though I belonged both on land and in water, and I was haunted by the feeling of not having a voice.

By the time I got to college, I understood what it meant to be nonbinary, and I thought I had a solution. Like a fish, I would be androgynous. As long as I maintained the shape of a child, I would be able to wear clothing associated with either gender, and perhaps pass as both. It quickly became clear that this sort of neoteny wasn’t a solution at all when I graduated and started working. Unless I devoted hours to training and disciplining my body every day, I would have to become an adult, and then I would look like my parents. In other words, I would carry my weight in a way that gendered me.

People my age might have been able to look past my body and accept my self-presentation while we were in the comfortable cocoon of a university campus, but the workplace was a different world. Being hit with gendered pronouns and expectations that didn’t fit me turned my job search into a painful gauntlet of body dysmorphia, and this continued into my early career. To add insult to injury, I was forced to go into debt in order to replace my professional wardrobe as my body underwent a transformation that I was powerless to fight. Between my economic precarity and the omnipresent sense that I didn’t belong in my own body, I felt like a monster.

Many people in their twenties struggle to find their place in the world, no matter their shape or gender, but this process can be especially difficult for people whose bodies don’t conform to the dictates of neoliberal capitalism, which holds that each individual is entirely responsible for their own success. Even liberal-leaning workplaces can be filled with constant reminders of an ideology that holds that “fit” and “attractive” people are more self-disciplined and thus more worthy of respect and professional success. This is a toxic cultural soup to have to swim through, and it affected my self-perception in strange ways that I didn’t fully understand when I was younger.

I began to see my body as something that needed to be hidden away, preferably sealed within a cave or locked inside a basement. Comics and movies with strong elements of body horror resonated with me, the gorier and more offensive the better. Body positivity was nothing more than a set of empty platitudes in the face of the unpleasantness of my lived experience, and pulp horror was the only way I could process what I was going through. When I played video games, I would see myself in the monsters that attacked my avatar. It felt good to hunt and kill these monsters, and to hate the fantastic evil they represented instead of the mundane evil of my colleagues, who made tasteless jokes about diets and using the “wrong” bathroom.  

I rediscovered H.P. Lovecraft late one night after a particularly grueling day at work. I had never been impressed by Lovecraft’s stories of purloined indigenous relics cursing the gentry of rural New England, but I was in the mood for mindless escapism, so I started reading The Shadow over Innsmouth. Although Lovecraft would disavow his racism toward the end of his short life, his xenophobia is on full display in this novella, whose protagonist discovers the “horror” of his mixed-species ancestry while on an architectural tour of New England. At the end of the story, when he is no longer able to conceal his piscine heritage, he decides to embrace his heritage and join the others of his kind under the sea.

For many of Lovecraft’s readers, the narrator’s decision to forsake the last remnants of his humanity inspires a sense of dread, but it filled me with awe and wonder. Lovecraft’s narrator had always felt strange and different, and he had initially been struck with intense anxiety and fear when he realized his genetic destiny. The ending of the story didn’t seem tragic to me, however. After escaping from the confines of human society, the scholarly young man was finally able to see the antiquities that fascinated him with his own exophthalmic eyes. How cool was that?

And was I any different, really? Would I be able to come to terms with my difference and enter a magical city under the waves, like the Little Mermaid in reverse?

It took a few years, but I eventually made peace with my body – the way it’s shaped, the way it moves, and the power it gives me to survive in a world filled with wolves and winters. Still, I had to fight for my pride and self-confidence, and these battles weren’t always pleasant or empowering. It’s impossible to describe the liminal state of transformation when I was neither a person nor a fish, trapped somewhere between human and monster, but perhaps a modern fairy tale can attempt to do it justice. After all, there’s a certain charm to Lovecraft’s young scholar who discovers a world he never imaged, just as there’s an immense appeal in the ancient sea witch who teaches the teenage mermaid just how highly her voice is valued.

As a nonbinary person navigating a world that insists on categorizing everything according to normative standards of gender-appropriate “attractiveness,” I never stopped feeling like a monster, but I’ve learned to embrace my monstrosity. I may not be a prince or a princess, or even an androgynous little mermaid, but that’s for the best. All things considered, I rather enjoy being a sharp-toothed sea creature with many voices and a capacity for dramatic metamorphosis.

2021 Writing Log, Part Twelve

The last time I updated my writing log was in the middle of August. During the past month and a half, I’ve created a great deal of writing that I’m not able to share yet. This is partially because I’ve gotten a lot of rejections recently. This is disheartening, of course, but that’s just how it goes. Thankfully, not every shot I’ve taken has been a miss, and I’m going to be able to share some of what I’ve been working on soon. In the meantime…

– I published a zine called Regrowth based on a comic I drew earlier this year. You can download a digital version from Gumroad (here), and there’s a physical version listed (here) on Etsy that includes a vinyl sticker. I printed this minicomic hoping to debut it at the DC Zinefest, but I was waitlisted. I’m not going to lie, I was really looking forward to the event this year, and I cried when I got the news. Still, I’m really proud of how this zine turned out!

– Speaking of comics, I collaborated with LunaArtGallery on a short Legend of Zelda fancomic! You can check it out (here). I’ve been daydreaming about this comic for more than a year, and it’s wonderful to see it exist in the world, especially as drawn by such a brilliant and talented artist.

– I’m excited to have a story called “Mount Hiei” included in White Enso’s 100 Ghost Stories project. “Mount Hiei” is about two young monks at the end of the Heian Period who discover the horrible secret of what Enryaku Temple’s duty to “protect the nation” entails. (Hint: Lovecraft would be proud.) You can read the story online (here).

– “Sparkle,” a piece of flash fiction that’s exactly fifty words long, was published in the “Dollar Store” issue of Blink Ink. You can read story (here), and you can check out Blink Ink on their website (here). It’s a cool little zine, and it’s not expensive at all to subscribe. A subscription includes a few bonus zines featuring themed microfiction, which is a genre I didn’t know I needed in my life. You’d think fifty-word stories would be a gimmick, but this style of writing is nothing short of amazing.  

– I contributed a short illustrated essay to the first issue of the West Philly Zine titled “How to Board the West Philly Ghost Bus.” Although the piece is structured like an essay, I actually made everything up and thoroughly enjoyed myself in the process. The zine is currently analog-only, but I posted my piece (here). I also contributed an illustrated essay to the second issue of the zine, which is going to be debuting at the Philly Comics Expo this Saturday, October 2.

– I reviewed Misumi Kubo’s linked short story collection So We Look to the Sky on my Japanese fiction book review blog (here). So We Look to the Sky is a raunchy soap opera sex comedy that reviewers have been tripping over themselves to describe as “delicate” and “sensitive” and “pressingly real,” which is wild. I hope those reviewers are okay.

– I reviewed Katriona Chapman’s graphic novel Breakwater (here) for the website Women Write about Comics. This book is genuinely “delicate” and “sensitive” and “pressingly real,” especially in its treatment of mental illness. I don’t spoil the ending in the review, but basically, the thirty-something protagonist ends up friend-dumping a coworker because she doesn’t feel equipped to deal with the behaviors induced by his bipolar disorder. I really respect the artist, because “you can’t save everyone” is a difficult story to tell.  

– I’ve been hard at work on an essay for Return to the Planet, an upcoming zine about the original 1997 release of Final Fantasy VII. One of the many things that’s cool and interesting about this zine is that it’s going to include nonfiction as well as art and fanfic. I got a chance to read through everyone’s first drafts for the first progress report check-in, and the contributors are all brilliant. It’s a lot of pressure to perform at such a high standard, but I’m doing my best! The zine is going to start spotlighting contributors soon, and you can follow along on Twitter (here).

– I wrote one short story and two pieces of flash fiction for Goddess Reborn, an upcoming zine celebrating the female (and nonbinary!) characters in the Legend of Zelda series. I have never wanted to be a part of a zine so badly, and I’m so honored to have been accepted as a contributor. Honestly, I cried an entire fairy fountain of big happy tears when I got the acceptance email. We’re only three weeks in, but the work that everyone has put into this project is awe-inspiring. Although the zine’s social media accounts are currently in a quiet phase as the mod and contributors work hard behind the scenes to get everything set up, you can follow Goddess Reborn on Twitter (here).

– While I was filled with Zelda fandom energy, I wrote two short Legend of Zelda horror stories for Halloween. The first is about the Castle Town Ghost Shop in Ocarina of Time, and the second is about a minor character in Breath of the Wild named Magda, who is affectionately known as Flowerblight Ganon. The Ghost Shop story already has a gorgeous illustration from Frankiesbugs, who is my hands-down favorite Legend of Zelda horror artist, and I hope to have a nice Hollywood horror movie style illustration for the Flowerblight story as well. I’m really looking forward to sharing these two stories closer to Halloween!

– Speaking of Halloween, the original Halloween-themed horror anthology Midnight Gathering is just about ready to open pre-orders. The aesthetic of this zine, which is formatted like a glossy print magazine, is colorful and spooky and everything you ever wanted from Halloween, and I’m really proud of the “creepy old lady” story I contributed. Midnight Gathering showcases an incredible range of up-and-coming talent, from professional writers and artists to college students. The zine has been spotlighting contributors during the past three weeks, and you can follow them on Twitter (here) to check out a few previews and be notified when pre-orders open.  

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

Regrowth Minicomic

Regrowth is a short comic is about how trauma isn’t just something that one overcomes on the road to personal character development, but rather a significantly transformative experience with lingering aftereffects. I wanted to illustrate how difficult it is to cope with trauma, but how it’s also an opportunity to grow and change.

You can download a free digital version of the zine from Gumroad (here), and it’s (here) on Etsy if you’d like a physical copy.


This comic was written by me and drawn by LunaArtGallery, whose work can be found on Tumblr, on Instagram, and on Twitter. You can read their commentary on the piece on their Tumblr post (here).

Given that the universe of the Legend of Zelda games is characterized by its disparate timelines, I’d like to think that there’s at least one timeline in which Zelda and Ganondorf work out their differences peacefully instead of enacting the cycle of destruction brought about by a war between two ancient gods. Every game in the series is filled with abandoned ruins that Link explores but never questions, so it might be interesting for Zelda and Ganondorf to seek out the truth underlying the legends that have shaped their lives. This idea was inspired by the game Journey, which is about bearing witness to the mistakes of the past in a quest for atonement and enlightenment. If we ever get to play as Zelda, it would be lovely for her adventure to take her in a similarly compelling direction.

Mount Hiei

My story “Mount Hiei,” a dark fantasy about two young monks navigating the eerie twilight years of the Heian period, was just published in Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai, a special issue of the journal White Enso. The issue is currently ongoing and free to read online (here), and “Mount Hiei” is on (this page).

In this story, a ten-year-old boy becomes an apprentice monk on Mount Hiei, which houses a temple that has been tasked with protecting the nation. The boy grows accustomed to monastic life but never becomes comfortable with the statues of the monstrous Guardian King venerated by the other monks. When he discovers a secret door leading into the mountain, he comes to understand why the deity is depicted in such a frightening manner – as well as what “protecting the nation” actually entails.

Mount Hiei is a real place, as is Enryaku Temple, which serves as the setting of this historical horror story. To the best of my knowledge, the practical details of monastic life are accurate for the time period. I was inspired by the fiction of the Japanese author Ken Asamatsu, who applies a Lovecraftian sensibility to Japanese mythology and folklore, and I wrote this story from a place of admiration and respect for the medieval war epic The Tales of the Heike, on which it’s very loosely based.

By the way, the editors of White Enso are still looking for personal essays and original fiction for the 100 Ghost Stories Kaidankai project. Although they’re selective, they accept shorter and more casual pieces, and the submission process is very chill and relaxed. The editors are a pleasure to work with, and they’ll also create a podcast recording of your writing! If you’re interested, you can send your submission (here).

How to Board the West Philly Ghost Bus

(1)  It needs to be after dark.
(2)  You should be standing at a bus stop.
(3)  You need to be horribly, desperately lonely.
(4)  You can’t have a specific destination in mind.
(5)  You’ll see a bus with no route number on the display.
(6)  It will slow down but not stop, so you need to chase it.
(7)  You probably won’t catch it, but if you do…
(8)  The driver will let you on without asking you to pay.
(9)  You’ve made it this far. You might as well sit down.

I’ve recently found myself asking people I meet in West Philadelphia if they know any urban legends. Most of what I’ve heard are rumors about real people who have become local characters or stories about bodies being buried under public places. (Because Philadelphia is a relatively old city, the stories about buried bodies are mostly true!) A few people also told me about a ghostly SEPTA bus, which is famous enough to be mentioned a few times online.

According to the stories I’ve heard from university students and friendly strangers I’ve spoken with at local bars, the ghost SEPTA bus picks up people late at night, but only if they have nowhere to go and no one to miss them once they disappear onto the bus. 

There are actually a number of non-supernatural SEPTA buses that drive back along their routes through West Philly when they aren’t in service, and I occasionally see them pick up city maintenance workers and hospital staff late at night. What’s different about the ghost bus is what happens once you get on.

Apparently, there are three possibilities. The first is that the bus vanishes, and you’re never heard from again. The second is that you’re now trapped on the SEPTA bus along with the other desperate and unlucky souls who boarded before you. The third is that the bus travels back in time, albeit within a span limited to the history of the bus, and that you can signal the driver to stop when you’ve reached your desired destination in the past. 

The third possibility seems the most likely, as no one who has vanished or become trapped on the bus would be able to tell other people how this process works. Then again, it may be that a person who boards the mysterious SEPTA bus seems to vanish or sit in stasis from the perspective of someone who’s still in our timeline. There’s only one way to find out for sure…


“They’re for my niece,” he explained to the clerk who rang up the pair of earrings. He was too young to have a niece, and he wouldn’t have given her cheap dollar store earrings anyway, but oh how they sparkled when he clipped them to his ears later that night.

. . . . .

I wrote this 50-word story for the “Dollar Store” issue of a magazine called Blink Ink, which describes itself as “home to the finest in contemporary 50 word fiction.” Blink Ink is only available in print, and you can get a subscription on their website (here) if you’re interested.

Top Five Japanese Games Set in Fantasy America

5. Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch

Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch is a portal fantasy in which a young boy named Oliver travels to another world from his home in Motorville, a small town based on a suburb of Detroit that’s filled with classic 1950s Americana. The game’s characters and environments were designed by Studio Ghibli, so Motorville’s cars, houses, and grassy lawns surrounded by white-picket fences are infused with color and charm. Every character in the fantasy world of Ni No Kuni has a counterpart in “our” world, so Oliver is frequently tasked to returning to Motorville to help people by solving puzzles and fighting enemies. Through these transitions between Motorville and Ni No Kuni, Wrath of the White Witch suggests how a child’s imagination might create an entire sprawling fantasy world within a small American suburb.

4. Final Fantasy XV

According to its developers, Final Fantasy XV was partially inspired by a road trip down California’s famous Route 1 coastal highway. Not only can you take the wheel of a stylish convertible to enjoy the scenery of the American West, but you can also stop off at various diners to take in the Formica counters and shiny chrome jukeboxes while picking up recipes for burgers and fries slathered in ketchup. While the game’s landscapes reflect the beautiful natural environments of California, its inhabited areas reflect the state’s cultural diversity, and Eos is home to cities inspired by locations as far-ranging as Shinjuku and Havana.  

3. Pokémon Black and Pokémon White

Each of the mainline pairs of games in the Pokémon series is set in a region analogous to a location in the real world. Pokémon Black and Pokémon White take place in the Unova region, which is loosely modeled on New York. The center of Unova, the thriving Castelia City, is much larger than any city previously seen in the series. Castelia City is filled with skyscrapers and boasts a bustling harbor, as well as a festive boardwalk entertainment district in the nearby satellite city of Nimbasa. During their journey, the player can also get a taste of American-inspired desert highways and city-sized airports. In addition, the Unova Region marks a major landmark for the Pokémon series – this was the first pair of games in which characters could have darker skintones and Afro-textured hair.

2. Silent Hill 2

The setting of the iconic survival horror game Silent Hill 2 is Silent Hill, Maine. As a mid-sized resort town that sprang up around the scenic Toluca Lake, Silent Hill is lovingly modeled on small-town New England, with picturesque pine forests framing a charming central business district. Thick mist rises from the surface of the lake as the heat of the day cools in the evening, creating evocative vistas of telephone poles emerging from a sea of fog.

If you linger too long in Silent Hill, however, you may start to notice that the town isn’t doing too well – many of the stores in the strip malls are closed, the hospital and other public buildings are slouching into genteel decay, and odd graffiti has been scrawled on the tarps and fences surrounding abandoned construction sites. There is, of course, also an underground cult whose activities have linked the town to a hellish nightmare realm. As the game’s tagline reads, “Every town has its secrets,” and Silent Hill’s secrets are pure Stephen King.

1. Earthbound

One of the reasons why the quirky 16-bit RPG Earthbound has managed to secure such a strong hold on the imaginations of generations of gamers is the vibrancy of its setting in Eagleland. Your hero Ness, a boy destined to save the world with psychic powers and a baseball bat, grew up in a modest wood-frame house on the outskirts of the small town of Onett. Onett has a burger joint, an old-fashioned arcade, and a handsome public library, as well as wide streets and sidewalks large enough for Ness to navigate on his trusty bike.

Once he sets out from this pitch-perfect Steven Spielberg movie set, Ness travels around Eagleland to visit an outdoor market filled with hippies, an indoor mall filled with bored teenage employees, a seedy nightclub hosting the Blues Brothers, and a compact version of New York City that becomes a neon-lit wonderland after dark. Ness’s adventure even takes him to the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, the famous “Pink Palace” of Waikiki. Far from being a whirlwind tour of the United States, Earthbound offers players countless incentives to spend time in each town seeing the sights, talking to the locals, and discovering the stranger aspects of American life as seen through Japanese eyes.