Ballad of the Wind Fish

Ballad of the Wind Fish is a bittersweet narrative minicomic that uses the 1993 Game Boy game The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening as a stage to explore the connections between childhood fantasies, nostalgia, and escapism.

The comic is twelve pages long, with one panel per page. I created it for the #Linktober drawing challenge on Instagram during October 2019, but it’s still very near and dear to my heart. Although the comic is ostensibly about Link’s Awakening, it’s really more of a meta exploration of a certain glitch in the original release of the game, as well as a meditation on being a child of the 1990s. I formatted it into a zine and created two pieces of polished art to use for the cover. It’s my hope that this short comic fills the reader with warm memories and sunny summertime vibes.

You can download a free digital copy from Gumroad:
https://gum.co/windfishzine

If you like, you can buy a physical copy on Etsy:
https://www.etsy.com/listing/1035486197/ballad-of-the-wind-fish-zelda-minicomic

The zine is 4.75” square, or roughly the size of a Nintendo DS game case. It’s professionally printed in vibrant full color, and it comes with a 3” circular vinyl sticker depicting the eponymous Wind Fish.

If you’d rather not bother with any of that, you can read the comic as I originally posted it on Tumblr (here).

2021 Writing Log, Part Nine

– I posted Chapter 45 of Malice, a Modern AU Legend of Zelda fanfic based on Breath of the Wild. As you can see from the accompanying illustration created by DiamondWerewolf, it’s dramatic! It took me about two months to finish and polish the chapter, and I’m happy to be able to share it. Only two more chapters to go, and this novel will be finished!

– I published a short minicomic zine called Ballad of the Wind Fish. It’s ostensibly about Link’s Awakening, but it’s really more of a meta exploration of a certain glitch in the original 1993 release of the game, as well as a meditation on nostalgia. You can download it for free from Gumroad (here), and I’m working on getting print copies into my hands soon.

Fated, a Legend of Zelda fanzine I contributed a short story to, has opened pre-orders! The zine sold more than 150 physical copies in the first 24 hours, which was wild. Fated is a big, beautiful, and super high-quality zine with a lot of gorgeous merch, and you can grab a copy (here). You can also check out their Twitter account (here) for previews.

– I’m starting to reconsider the validity of my zines both as publications and as art objects. I think I probably deserve to have a stronger sense of self-confidence, so I submitted two of my original short fiction zines to the Broken Pencil Zine Contest. I’m not thinking about this contest as something I’ll win or lose, but rather as a cool opportunity to share my zines with people who might be interested in reading them. Submitting gets you a subscription to the magazine, which is a wonderful bonus.

– Meanwhile, I’ve been submitting original stories to a lot of venues, and I’ve been getting a lot of rejections. It’s been tough – really tough, actually! – but what can you do.

– What I can do, actually, is support people whose work is a little more niche and doesn’t fall into neat publishing categories. I’d like to start posting short reviews of minicomic zines and small-press comics on this blog, and I’ve already posted my first review of Julia Gfrörer’s short Gothic horror graphic novel Vision. I was blown away by how much I love this book, which I’ve read from cover to cover three times since it arrived earlier this week. It’s brilliant work.

– Speaking of supporting good work, I posted a lengthy review on my Japanese fiction book review blog (here) of Eto Mori’s YA novel Colorful, which is going to be released in English translation by Counterpoint on July 20. This novel has been hugely popular in East Asia since it was first published in 1998, and I think it’s difficult to exaggerate the number of people who have been moved by its message of tolerance and self-acceptance. The translator is a superstar, and I’m overjoyed that the novel is finally available in English. Or, at least, it will be soon! You can find a list of pre-order links on Penguin’s website (here).  

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

Vision

In nineteenth-century London, Eleanor lives in her deceased parents’ house with her brother Robert and his wife Cora, who is bedridden with a vague illness. Eleanor was previously engaged, but her fiancé died after enlisting in military service. Having become an unmarried woman of a certain age, Eleanor spends her days caring for her sister-in-law. At night, however, she engages in sexual fantasies in front of her mirror, which she imagines as speaking to her in the voice of an unseen lover.

This situation might continue indefinitely were it not for the romantic attentions of a certain Doctor Bishop, who treats Eleanor’s cataracts and prescribes Laudanum to calm Cora’s nerves. Bishop is affectionate and well-meaning, but Eleanor is a quiet storm of resentment and repressed sexuality whose veneer of quiet virtue and good sense is one the verge of cracking.

Vision is a brilliantly written and gorgeously drawn graphic novella that explores the subtleties of how trapped and lonely people isolate themselves while simultaneously seeking connection, but it’s also a sharp and disturbing story about sex and death. The death is understated and phantasmal, while Eleanor’s sexuality and desire is on open display. Each of the erotic scenes is mirrored by a grotesque reflection, such as when the imagery of Eleanor’s self-pleasure with a candle is reflected in an extended scene depicting her eye surgery. Julia Gfrörer’s linework is delicate yet expressive, granting her characters warmth and personality while occasionally portraying them as eerily inhuman.

Eleanor’s story becomes stranger as various small mysteries and imbalances accumulate into an ever more fragmented portrait of a haunted household. The climax is shocking but perhaps not unexpected, and far more questions are raised than could ever be answered. The absence of clear explanations and justifications is part of the appeal of the narrative conclusion, however, while gradual shifts in the ink style contribute to an encroaching sense of dread – and curiosity.

Vision was published by Fantagraphics Books in September 2020. You can read more about the book on the press’s website (here), and you can order a copy from the Julia Gfrörer’s store on Etsy via its listing (here). Gfrörer’s two previous graphic novel publications with Fantagraphics, as well as her zines, are also listed on Etsy, and each is as creepy and fascinating as the next.

Re: #PitMad for Social Media Introverts

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that I think a lot of people…

…especially people born in the 1980s and 1990s, who had this sort of neoliberal ideology drilled into them at every single step of education and employment…

…may have the impression that creative success operates according to a meritocracy, meaning that the quality of the work you create will speak for itself.

As someone with a PhD in Comparative Literature, and as someone with a decent number of creative friends who watches creative economies play out in real time on social media, I just don’t think that’s the case. Instead, I think success is primarily based on three factors:

(1) Money
(2) Connections
(3) Luck

Or, to be more specific:

(1) Having wealthy parents
(2) Belonging to a strong and supportive network
(3) Being at exactly the right place at exactly the right time

You can’t control money or luck; and, for the most part, you can’t really control your network of connections either. Still, much more than inherited wealth and serendipity, you can take the initiative to support your friends and ask your friends to support you in turn. If anyone is successful outside of a literal PR campaign, it’s because of their friends. This isn’t just about mutual aid; it’s also about generating an aura of belonging to an interesting and special group that other people want to join, if only by association.

As I wrote in my previous post, it can be exhausting to be around people who are constantly hustling, and it can be a headache to be the person trying to hustle, but creative success happens because it’s organized. You have to ask people for help and support, especially at the beginning of your career, and you have to be willing to give it in turn. I think this actually benefits introverted people, as it’s the group that will collectively perform the bulk of the necessary emotional labor, while at the same time providing greater rewards to each individual for investing their limited emotional energy.

To be honest, I think the same principle should apply even to nonprofessional work like fanfiction. Like, I may not have the time and energy to read your 150k-word fanfic novel about a game I’ve never played or a show I’ve never watched, and I may not be interested in reading the porn you wrote about characters I don’t ship or that I’m not familiar with, but I will still leave kudos on AO3 because I want to support you and your work.

I used to do this all the time – meaning that I would leave kudos on my friends’ work when they posted stories for fandoms I didn’t know anything about or characters and ships that I wasn’t interested in – but I stopped because I received very little support in return. It takes all of fifteen seconds to click on a story and leave kudos, but a lot of people in fandom just aren’t willing to do this for some reason. I mean, we’re all familiar with stories that have hundreds and thousands of kudos, but the vast majority of stories on AO3 barely have any kudos at all, even when they’re written by authors with an established following.

And that’s a damn shame, because the emerging writers who contribute to fandom as they discover and refine their voices deserve so much more support and positive feedback than they’re receiving.

I guess the moral of the story is that successful creative people are people who not only support their friends, but ask their friends to support them in turn. This can be awkward, especially for shy and introverted writers, but it’s definitely worth it!

#PitMad for Social Media Introverts

I participated in the #PitMad event on Twitter yesterday. You can read more about it (here), but basically, the goal is to pitch your ready-to-submit novel in a single tweet. If an agent or publisher is interested, they will like the tweet, signalling that you should feel free to get in touch with them. Many agency representatives will also comment directly on the pitch tweet, asking you to send a set of materials to an email address.

In theory, this is an interesting way to get yourself and your work out there, especially if you don’t live on the East Coast and run outside of traditional publishing circles.

In practice, Twitter is still Twitter, and #PitMad is a popularity contest.

Tweets generally gain traction because people “like” them (by which I mean that people click on the heart button), which causes them to appear on other people’s timelines, as well as on the feed for any hashtags you’ve used. Once a tweet accumulates a certain number of likes, that’s when people start retweeting and commenting.

Because the rules of #PitMad say that you can’t like a pitch tweet if you’re not an agent or publisher, however, the tweet needs to receive other types of engagement in order to appear on the tag and on people’s timelines.

For people who aren’t on the Horrible Birdsite, I should probably clarify that Twitter doesn’t show users a chronological feed of content, and that its algorithm doesn’t display the tweets of the people you follow unless it deems them noteworthy. Someone’s tweet can be noteworthy either because you’ve made an effort to go onto their individual page and “like” everything they post, or because the tweet has already gotten enough attention from other sources. Otherwise, the tweet is invisible, and it most certainly doesn’t appear on the tags.

So, in order for #PitMad to work, you have to make plans in advance for people to comment on and retweet your pitch tweet. These markers of engagement will render your tweet visible and will also push it far enough up the tag for agents and publishers to actually see it.

If you have friends in the literary community, or just friends in general, you’re going to need to convince enough of them to shill for you that your tweet passes the minimum threshold of algorithmic engagement to start getting attention organically.

And there is no shame in this! This is what friends and colleagues are for, to help and support each other and work together toward your shared and mutual success.

But what happens if you’re a shy and introverted person like me? Which is to say, what if you are deeply afraid of ever causing trouble for anyone or creating awkwardness by asking for help?

This may seem like an unreasonable thing to be worried about, since “Even if you delete it later, could you please retweet and comment on my #PitMad tweet” isn’t that big of a favor, especially if it results in someone you know getting a publishing deal and thanking you in the acknowledgments of their book.

My own experience, however, was that I lost almost ten followers on Twitter during #PitMad yesterday. In other words, a handful of people who followed me got so upset and offended that I’m trying to pitch an original project that they didn’t just mute me, but they actually went through an additional sequence of button presses to unfollow me. And that’s tough to handle, especially since my pitch tweet didn’t actually go anywhere. I think it’s fair to say that this experience didn’t inspire me with a sense of self-confidence.

I know there might be people out there reading this and thinking, “Well, maybe your pitch just wasn’t that good.” And you know what? Maybe! But this isn’t about whether any given pitch is actually good or not; it’s about how Twitter functions as a platform.

Essentially, if you’re not comfortable enough on Twitter to already have the sort of following that you can reach out to, both broadly and at an individual level, in order to get people to shill for you and engage with your #PitMad tweet, then you’re going to have a disappointing experience.

If you are comfortable with this level of interaction on Twitter, then you’re going to need at least a hundred retweets and two or three dozen comments (including your own replies) in order for your pitch tweet to start gathering steam. Based on what I saw ysterday, publishers and agents started to be interested in tweets that had at least three hundred retweets and fifty or sixty comments. Again, this is just based on what I saw, but the people who were able to pull this off tended to have at least 2,500 followers.

To emphasize this once again, #PitMad is a Twitter popularity contest.

And being on Twitter isn’t that easy. Some people take to the platform naturally, of course, but it can be difficult to gain and retain followers, even if you have a brand and a niche and the time and energy to produce a constant stream of content. It’s been a struggle for me personally, especially as someone who’s become very sensitive to the general ambiance of outrage, hot takes, and assorted unpleasantness that feeds Twitter’s engagement algorithms. It’s important to be able to curate your online experience, but Twitter is infamously bad about showing you things that are specifically designed to upset you. Even if you surround yourself with friends and allies, and even if you’re diligent about blocking and muting, Twitter can be a mental health nightmare.

So I guess I have two recommendations.

First, if you’re going to participate in #PitMad, you need to plan for it in advance, and you need to be aggressive in signing on friends and colleagues to boost your pitch. In all honesty, this is probably good practice for promoting your published work.

That being said, a lot of people – especially other writers – tend not to like it if they feel that you’re cultivating their friendship or goodwill for the sole purpose of promoting yourself, and being around someone who is constantly hustling can be exhausting. If you’re the sort of person who is naturally extroverted and crowd-pleasing, and if you don’t mind certain quieter people drifting away from you, then you probably have a ton of followers on Twitter already.

And this isn’t to say that people like this don’t write and publish amazing and fantastic books! I also don’t want to suggest that “fake it till you make it” isn’t a legitimate strategy. Really, go out there and live your best life, but be aware that participating in #PitMad requires planning and prepwork.

Second, if you’re more introverted and tend to keep the time you spend on social media limited, then #PitMad can be a good way to strengthen the ties you have with your writer friends while hopefully making a few new friends along the way.

Still, because of how Twitter works (and doesn’t work) as a platform, the event has the potential to be a disappointing experience that punches you right in the self-esteem, and you might be better off connecting with potential agents and publishers on a more personal level.

In any case, all of the pitches I saw yesterday were excellent. If nothing else, it was a lot of fun to read through the hashtag, and I would happily sit down and spend time with every single one of those books in the making.

2021 Writing Log, Part Eight

– I posted Chapter 44 of Malice, a Breath of the Wild Modern AU fanfic. In this chapter, I restated and emphasized the themes and conflicts associated with Zelda’s character so that the reader will understand the decisions she’s going to make in the closing chapters. You can find the story on AO3 (here).

– I posted a review of Aoko Matsuda’s short suspense novel The Cat in the Coffin, which is about a young housekeeper’s intense relationship with her sexy employer’s uncanny daughter. I’ve been a fan of this book since it was first published in English translation in 2009, and I’m happy that I finally had a chance to write a review. You can find it on my Japanese fiction book review blog (here).

– My short story “At the Edge of the Garden” was published in 3 Moon Magazine. I was inspired by the theme of their seventh issue, “Growing Malcontent,” and the concept for the story jumped into my head fully formed. “At the Edge of the Garden” is about watching a place that should be familiar and comforting grow wild and strange. This is one of my favorite imaginative spaces to explore, so it’s fitting that it’s the theme of my first piece of formally published creative fiction. The editors at 3 Moon Magazine were wonderful to work with, and the magazine itself is beautiful and powerful and just the right amount of creepy. You can download all of the issues for free on their website (here).

– I submitted an original short story called “The Fish” to Boneyard Soup, a new horror magazine (here) with an interesting sense of style. I’m starting to get the sense that this story, which is primarily about the intersections between body image and economic precarity, is probably going to be a hard sell for a horror magazine, and I’m considering submitting it to more “literary” venues that are open to genre-crossing work. Although I’m expecting a hard rejection from Boneyard Soup, I’m very interested in the magazine, especially its short nonfiction articles. I also appreciate that its stories are illustrated, and I’m thinking that it might be worthwhile to send a query to serve as an illustrator myself.  

– Speaking of which, the illustration that I submitted to Analogies & Allegories was accepted for publication! This magazine has a lovely aesthetic, and I submitted the piece to them just because I wanted to express appreciation for the theme of their most recent issue, “Rejuvenation.” You can access a digital version of the magazine (here), and the editors were kind enough to allow me to share my illustration via Twitter (here).       

– I edited, reformatted, and reprinted It Never Happened, a collection of strange and creepy flash fiction. I relisted it on Etsy (here). I also edited Ghost Stories again and sent the third edition of the zine to the printer. If all goes well, I should be able to relist this title next weekend. It’s a bit embarrassing that it took me five months, but I’m happy that all of my zines are finally back in print.

– Along those lines, I set up a page (here) that has short summaries of all my zines, as well as links to where you can find them.

– I sold my third piece of original art on Etsy! This is so, so cool. If you’re curious, you can find the listing (here).

– And finally! I’ve recently been replaying the 2017 story exploration game Night in the Woods, whose depopulated and mostly abandoned Rust Belt setting feels very relevant to the summer of 2021, when people are beginning to go outside and take stock of neglected public spaces that have been transformed by evictions and business closures. I’ve been interested in the pandemic-related work published in Entropy, which is one of my favorite online magazines, so I decided to submit a short essay about Night in the Woods to their indie games editor. He got back to me right away with excellent feedback, and the essay was just published (here).

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

Radiant Princess of Dawn

Gin and cranberry juice is a healthy way to start a magical day.

Ceres is my take on magical video game princesses, and it is my headcanon that all of these ladies are consummate day drinkers. I think you’d probably have to be in order to summon the emotional fortitude to deal with the shenanigans of heroes and villains on top of the everyday business of running a moderately large kingdom.

Words of Wisdom

Ask Polly: How Am I Supposed to Make Friends in My Late 20s?
https://www.thecut.com/2014/08/ask-polly-how-do-i-make-friends-in-my-late-20s.html

So the first thing you have to do is accept that, despite appearances, you’re not all that different than most people your age. The mid- to late-20s are often an apex of friendless desperation. To make matters worse, people feel very self-conscious about their friendlessness at that age, as if everything should’ve fallen into place a long time ago. Considering how often urban, career-focused Americans move around and turn their lives upside down in their 20s, you’d think most of us would know better.

This is a long essay, but every single word is golden.

I’ve been seeing a lot of posts on Tumblr recently (like this one) setting 25 as an arbitrary cut-off age for tolerance of bad behavior. The underlying message seems to be that, by 25 years old, you should have your shit together and shouldn’t be messing around in fandom.

Dangerous and toxic behavior shouldn’t be tolerated or excused at any age, of course. Saying that young people (or neurodiverse people, or differently abled people) have no control over their behavior is basically saying that they’re subhuman animals with no capacity for rational judgment, which is both offensive and untrue. Putting that aside.

The idea that you have to have your shit together by the time you’re 25 years old is wild. I feel like 25 is actually the age when a lot of people’s shit starts to fall apart, honestly.

While you’re in high school and college, you have a structured set of milestones and multiple ready-made groups of peers. For the first few years out of school, you likely still have structured career goals and probably still keep in touch with many of your friends. By the time you hit 25, however, things start to get weird. A lot of your friends are pairing off and getting married, and some are even buying houses and having kids, which can create subtle conflicts and a lot of pressure. You’re probably also, for the first time in your life, surrounded by people who aren’t your age and don’t share your values and life experiences. Your relationship with your family will probably change as you start being expected to pay for expensive things you formerly took for granted (like insurance) while you begin to take on a larger burden of financial and emotional support. After working in entry-level positions for a few years, you might be considering a career change. You might have even been fired. You might make a terrible life decision and apply to grad school. You might move to another city, or to the suburbs, or to a different timezone.

25 is an incredibly awkward age, and it takes time to figure out how to be an emotionally mature and self-sufficient adult. Some people are innately blessed with wisdom (and money, and a supportive family), but most of us need about ten years or so to get our shit together.

Again, I’m not excusing the behavior of anyone who is creepy or hateful online, but to suggest that 25 is the age when you should stop being in fandom and stop trying to make friends with people who share your interests doesn’t make sense. And “discrimination” is a strong word, but I really do feel like giving 25 as a cut-off point is ignoring the realities of a lot of people coming from marginalized communities who just don’t have the time or money or emotional energy to devote to their interests and hobbies (or to social media in general) until they’re a bit older.

I can totally understand why teenagers might not want to interact with older people online, and that’s fair. Still, I think it’s important to emphasize that there’s no deadline for meeting new people, exploring new interests, picking up new skills, and making mistakes as you gradually learn how to communicate and exist in society as an adult.

2021 Writing Log, Part Seven

– I posted Chapter 43 of Malice, a Modern AU Legend of Zelda fanfic novel based on Breath of the Wild. This chapter marks the beginning of the final story arc, and it’s accompanied by a gorgeous illustration by Mehkuno (who is on Twitter, on Instagram, and on Tumblr) that depicts Zelda, Link, and Ganondorf descending into the sewer tunnels underneath Hyrule’s central government office towers. You can find the chapter on AO3 (here).

– I submitted the final draft of my story “The Legend We Create” to Fated, a Legend of Zelda fanzine about the relationship between Zelda and Link. The zine is very close to entering its production stage, and its social media team is doing an amazing job promoting the project. You can follow along on Twitter (here).

– I submitted the final draft of my short story “Ms. Weaver’s Halloween Candy” to Midnight Gathering, a forthcoming anthology of original horror fiction and illustrations. I’ve gotten a chance to preview most of the work that will appear in the publication, and it’s bright and colorful and refreshingly different from the usual “horror” aesthetic of many small-press magazines and anthologies. I’ll post links to the project’s social media when it goes live closer to Halloween season, because it looks amazing.

– I finished the first draft of “The Kumo Diary,” the story I’m submitting to the Carpe Noctem zine of historical vampire fiction. I have to admit that I’m not actually all that into vampires, but I’ve been wanting to write a story about a Heian-period vampire for years now. I mean listen, Prince Genji somehow managed to survive his many anonymous encounters intact, but the only reason he wasn’t lured inside a creepy mansion and eaten was because he was lucky. In any case, I’m thrilled to have such an amazing opportunity to bring my self-indulgent dream of writing this story to its sordid fruition. The anthology is currently showcasing its contributing writers and artists, and you can follow along on Twitter (here).

– I applied to be a writer for the upcoming Breath of the Wild Fairytale Zine (on Twitter here). I’m really excited about this project, as well as the two pitches I submitted to them. The first is a retelling of the Minotaur myth with Zelda and Link cast in the roles of Ariadne and Theseus, but with a more gentle tone in line with the Hayao Miyazaki movies that inspired the world of Breath of the Wild. The second is a silly play on the Yamata no Oroshi myth from the Kojiki as told by the incorrigible Master Kohga, who will clearly be making the “legend” up as he goes along.

– I edited the horror-themed flash fiction stories in my Haunted Houses zine, made a few cosmetic edits to the layout, and printed a second edition. If you’re interested, you can grab a copy on Etsy (here).

– I also edited and reformatted my Haunted Haiku zine, which I relisted on Etsy (here). Although this zine was popular enough for a second print run, I allowed it to sell out because it was expensive to send via first-class mail. Now that I’m shipping everything with Media Mail (which is cheaper and faster than first class and allows me to use rigid mailers), the relatively larger size of the zine (in terms of its page count and perfect softcover binding) is no longer a problem.   

– I sold my second piece of original art on Etsy! This was the original Copic marker piece that I used as the base of the digital version (here), and the listing is (here) if you’re curious. I’m honored that someone would value my work enough to spend actual money on it, and I’m filled with gratitude and motivation.

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