What I Want to See More of in Fantasy

I love fantasy stories. It’s the genre I was almost exclusively raised on, from The Chronicles of Narnia to Harry Potter and beyond.

However, as I’ve gotten older and read more widely, I’ve developed a problem with the fantasy genre. No, it’s not the ever-present tropes or the derivative material, though that’s certainly made many stories stale. No, my biggest issue is with something else.

It’s the world-building itself.

This isn’t a list of what not to do in world-building, because I feel like conversations in that vein leave so much out of the broader picture. If I just say “don’t make a derivative European fantasy world”, that does nothing to point you in the right direction.

Here is what I want to see more of in fantasy:
Varied Medical Systems

Is it just potions? A wave of a magic wand and, bam, you’re cured? If so, I would advise taking a deeper look into developing your medical system. Is it tied to religion or purely science based? What is the basis of the medical system, and why? How did people gather their medical knowledge, or is it completely disorganized? Who gets medical care at all?

Significant Religious Systems

Religion plays a big part in our world, impacting politics, culture, and so on. However, this is rarely something I see in fantasy stories. If religion is acknowledged at all, it’s a relatively universal system with little diversity between nations. That would be akin to pretending only one religion (let’s say Christianity, for example) existed out in the world, and that there was only one sect of it, no less. Think of how different our world would look without that one religion.

Unless you want a neat and tidy and bland world, do something different. Create disagreements, create schisms and religious texts for followers to dispute over, create opposing beliefs, and so on.

Monotheism, polytheism, dualism, deism, pantheism, etc. The list goes on and on.
Different Governmental Structures

Look, I get it. Monarchies are cool. I certainly use them a lot in my stories, but there is SO much more out there, especially if you’re building an entire fantasy world from the ground up. There are democracies, oligarchies, stratocracies, crowned republics, and so forth. Is it realistic for a world to only have monarchs? How would different countries interact with each other, like for instance a parliamentary system engaging with a despot nation?

Mixed Gender Dynamics

While biological sexes are distinct, gender is very different. It’s a social construct. The roles and rules our society has made up surrounding them are just that. Made up. That’s not to say that they’re useless (which is a whole different discussion outside the scope of this blog), but it does mean that they’re mutable. And why should every society have the same way of looking at men and women, especially in fantasy?

Show me societies where childrearing is of prime importance, where men are the primary healers and teachers, where women have roles in governance and business. There are examples of these things in our own world, so why not in fantasy?

Above is a Mosuo woman of Yunnan, China, one of the world’s few remaining matriarchal societies.
Diverse Source Cultures

Look, there’s a lot more inspiration out there than just Medieval Europe. I promise. Many people draw inspiration from other pre-existing cultures for their works, and there’s more than enough material out there. Ancient Sumer (where my upcoming novella The Stolen Sun takes place), Korea’s Chosun dynasty, Mesoamerican Aztecs, Gupta period India, Ethopia’s Axumite empire, and so on. Spin the globe, pick a spot, and research that area. It’s a big world out there.

Our world isn’t a bland monolith. Don’t let your story be one.

 

Some people may feel bogged down with all of these questions, or that these details are boring. Thinking that way is missing the point.

Thinking about these things when world-building can generate a wealth of story ideas, add flavor and richness to your plots, and set it apart from other stories. It will only serve to distinguish and enrich your creation. I can’t tell you how few stories I’ve read that have variety in any of these aspects.

And wouldn’t it be nice to be original?

If you’d like to stay up to date with my writings or be notified once The Stolen Sun comes out, you can sign up for my email list in the box below. (I won’t bombard you with emails, just send you an update or article about once a month.)


 

Until next time!

 

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Why I Tried to Stop Writing

It’s true. I tried to stop writing.

This might come as a shock to some, as it well should. I’ve been writing consistently for over a decade and a half, so why would I try to sabotage myself? Why would I derail myself from something I’ve so long considered a dream? Simple. I was tired of trying to find balance.

When I initially graduated from college, I decided I was going to stop writing.

Not forever, but the plan was to stop writing for one year as I pursued different passions, traveled, and ‘discovered’ myself (whatever that means). Because writing hurt. Writing was difficult. It required getting up early or staying up late, it meant forgoing social events and spending whatever free-time I found outside of work/school to research and outline, it meant tearing your work apart for the thousandth time in pursuit of something better. It’s hard work, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to do it anymore. At first I was in high school, then college, then in the working world, always caught up as I tried to balance my academic/work life and my literary aspirations.

So I swore off the balancing act. It required too much time, too large a part of myself, and, to be entirely honest, it stung to be confronted with the very realistic thought that this would likely never be my career.

So I tried to give up. With the amount of time I invested into writing, surely I could invest that time into something else I’d more realistically attain, right?

At the time, I was set to move to China, where I’d no doubt be as busy as ever working and studying and exploring, so it would be a good time to leave my writing days behind. Or so I thought.

I’ve already talked on this some, but my time in China was not what I thought it’d be. When I felt isolated and insignificant, I gave in and let myself write a bit. When I had a toiling day at work or an encounter with yet another harassing or ogling person, I set aside some time to write. And when I was laid up in bed, unable to go much of anywhere or do much of anything, you know what I could do? I could still write.

I had tried to be done with writing, but clearly it wasn’t done with me. Even when my health left me, even when my wanderlust and verve left me, my stories were still by my side.

And so I fell back into my love of all things literary. Even on the days that I was feeling fine and could walk about and explore, I still set aside time in the wee hours of the night to write and edit and outline. It started with those small bits at first, until I was writing and editing more per week than I had been the whole month before that, on and on. Sometimes writers joke that they didn’t chose to write, but rather that they simply can’t stop. I understand that on a whole new level now.

Over this past year, my attitude around writing has experienced a dramatic shift. At the beginning of it, I’d actively stopped myself from writing. I didn’t post about it much, if at all. I tried to put my current projects on the back-burner. Jump forward to now, and I’m editing nearly 900 words a day, reading daily, and so forth. I’m on track to be well into my fourth book’s, THE IMMORTAL, second round of edits by the end of this year, and have outlined about 2 and a half books this year thus far.

Yes, finding balance and sacrificing time outside of work to write is hard. But as I’ve found, it is so, so worth it. And I’ll never make the mistake of thinking it isn’t ever again.

"Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand." -- George Orwell

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Why I Had to Leave China

Image of a small American flag. In the background is the ocean.

So, I had to leave China.

I’m back in the United States, and for good now.

This is much earlier than I’d originally planned–the plan had been to stay for a year then reevaluate whether I wanted to stay on for another year–, but I had to come back for health reasons that just couldn’t wait any longer.

Simply put, I became very, very ill over in China, and due to my rapidly degrading condition, my doctors all recommended that I come back to the States for treatment ASAP. It was a slow decline that gradually snowballed out of control. First it was difficult for me to eat certain foods, then I would need to rest more than other people or take the odd painkiller here and there, until suddenly I couldn’t eat at all, I couldn’t walk around for more than five minutes at a time, and was in such pain I couldn’t sleep for stretches of days. The only way I was able to endure teaching during those last few days was by using my breaks to cry in a secluded corner and/or discreetly find a place to vomit.

I resisted and persisted until my body quite literally couldn’t function any more. My work wanted me to tough it out, and I felt intense loyalty to my students and coworkers. My doctors however informed me that, if I didn’t leave now, things could get worse, to where my life may be in real jeopardy. At the time they even felt one of my organs might need to come out, (which it still might; they’re keeping an eye on it if/until things worsen again), which, frankly, scared me straight. On top of my pre-existing health issues, there was a very real possibility that I was putting myself in harm’s way.

So, I caved. I gave in. I kissed my dreams of travel and completing my contract and collecting that sweet, sweet end-of-contract bonus goodbye, and left China. And I’m glad I did.

Yes, I only lived in China for about 6 months, half of what I originally intended. But I’m alive, and I’m recovering, and I’m beginning to find normalcy in my life once again.

Some people have asked me if I’ll return to finish my contract in China, but I won’t be. I simply can’t go back for so long again without putting my health at serious risk. The combination of environmental factors have too great an effect on my health, and to do so would be risky at best. That, plus I was largely treated like absolute garbage by at least 80% of the people I encountered there, from stalking to slurs  (“foreign devil” was my favorite) to people literally trying to steal pieces of my hair and/or grope me.

So I think it’s easy to understand why I’m not abundantly eager to return anytime soon.

I’m still upset that I was unable to leave on my own terms and my own timetable. But, all considered, I’m lucky I had a safety net I could fall into, and lucky I left in time. This entire ordeal has made me reconsider my goals in life, but right now my top priority is getting better. And I’ve been recovering slowly but surely.

If you’d like to be notified once I get everything back up and rolling, you can sign up for my email list in the box below. (I won’t bombard you with emails, just send you an update or article about once a month.)


I’ll keep everyone updated, but please be patient with me as I begin getting back into the swing of things. I’m happy to be back at it!
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My 2017 In Review

2017 has been a landmark year for me.

We’ve all seen the Best Nine posts on social media by now, those highlight reels for one’s digital world– but what about for our real lives? The things we’ve accomplished, seen, experienced? That’s what I want to share here, both to keep myself motivated and to share inspiration with others. Tell me in the comments below what you’ve accomplished this year!

First off, for the big achievements!

Graduated University

After countless 8 AMs, essay-writing frenzies, long hours both early and late, I graduated from The University of Texas at Austin with a Bachelors in International Security, and minors in Chinese Language and Asian Studies. I wasn’t much of a partier nor a sporting-event attendee, and to be honest, I don’t regret the way I spent my time. My college experience was a (sometimes brutally) tough one, but it made finally getting that diploma so much more worth it.

Landed My First Full-Time, Adult-World Job

Before I even walked the stage, I was fortunate enough to already have a job lined up! It helps to have known since age 11 what I wanted my first ‘adult’ job to be, and thus far I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. Yes, even the paperwork. (I love paperwork.)

Actual image of me at the office.

**(For the curious people out there, I’m currently an English teacher at a popular education chain throughout China, though I prefer not to disclose its name for privacy reasons.)

Moved to China

I can’t adequately describe what it’s like moving clear across the world. A place where you don’t fluently speak the language, where you know absolutely no one, where the food and the climate are the complete opposite of what you’ve grown up around, and so forth. Scary? Boy, scary doesn’t even begin to cover it.

But. It’s more than just scary.

It’s exciting, it’s validating, it grows your courage and your sense of self. It tests your limits. It brings out both the worst and the best in yourself–then lets you decide which to cultivate. Though I’ve had many a struggle since I’ve been here and essentially no one to lean on, I am thankful to be here, and can’t wait to see who I am at the end of my year abroad.

P.S. I do, however, sincerely miss salsa. And Cool Ranch Doritos.  

Finished the First Draft of my 4th Novel, The Immortal

With my No Angels trilogy wrapped up in 2016, 2017 was high time to begin another tale. I’ve had the idea for The Immortal for many years now, so to have the first draft officially penned is a big milestone. I know it’ll take a while to polish, but I’m enjoying the slower-pace of editing right now, savoring the process, watching the prose develop, and so on. Currently it’s at about 65,000 words, one of my shorter works, but trust me when I say it’s my favorite by far!

 

With the bigger achievements of 2017 out of the way, here are my smaller (though still meaningful) accomplishments:

Made 12 YouTube Videos

I know what you’re thinking. “Okay, and that’s exciting why?” But here’s the thing: I’ve tried for years to gather the courage to post YouTube videos. I’ve probably made over 30 videos that I either never posted or posted-then-deleted, all because I was afraid. Afraid of getting embarrassed, of the quality not being good enough, and of 500 other things. But 2017 was the year I decided to say goodbye to those thoughts, because fear like that brings no value to our lives. You can check out my channel here, if you’re interested.

Improved My Photography and Video-Editing Skills

On some level, I feel like wanting to take beautiful pictures and videos goes hand-in-hand with travel. When’s the last time you saw something beautiful and didn’t want to share it with the world? However, it wasn’t until recently that I purchased a decent camera, and even then I was a complete beginner at how to use it. After enrolling in an online class on the lighting, composition, angles, etc. of photography, I’ve started to see steady improvement. I hope you have too!

Traveled to New Places

Traveling is something I hope to do every year, but that doesn’t mean I should take any of it for granted! I rang in 2017 with the love of my life in Denver, Colorado, and later we endured the heat of Las Vegas for a couple days of buffets, magic shows, and some good ol’ fashioned people-watching. A week and a half before I went to China, we went on one last trip together to our favorite US city, Seattle, Washington.

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From academics to adventure, 2017 has been a success, and I’m excited to see what 2018 has in store–both for me and for you.

Speaking of which, what did you do in 2017? Sit and really think about the lessons you learned, the people you met, and the things you saw, then comment them below.  ♥

 

 

 

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Masterlist of Chinese Language Learning Resources

I’ve studied eight foreign languages, and the one I’ve gotten the farthest with is Mandarin Chinese. I minored in it, figured out what did and didn’t work for me, and have found which language learning resources are truly top-notch. So, here are my recommendations for just that!

***The first time I name a new resource, I will bold it so that you don’t miss out!***

 

TEXTBOOKS

I’ve come across a lot of terrible language textbooks in my studies, but thankfully I’ve found some great ones for learning Mandarin. My favorites are the entire sequence of the Integrated Chinese books, and, once you’re through with those I’d move onto the Princeton Language Study books. Specifically, A Trip to China is the next one I’d recommend! 

 

APPS & WEBSITES

When online, I’dc recommend switching all your sites over to Chinese; Facebook, Youtube, the whole deal. Additionally, join sites like Youku and Weibo to connect with Chinese speakers and learn what’s current!

The biggest recommendation I have however, is to download the Zhongwen: Chinese-English dictionary plugin off the Google store (which is free!) or some other text-to-pinyin plugin. When you hover your cursor over a Chinese character, it will give you both the traditional and simplified characters, pinyin pronunciation, and definition. This helps leaps and bounds in learning new words and understanding what you’re reading.

As for apps, my favorites for studying Mandarin are Decipher, Pleco, Memrise, LearnwithOliver, and Lang-8.

The most basic Chinese language app out there is ever-popular dictionary app of Pleco. Pleco has everything you’d want in a dictionary, from flashcard functionality, to stroke order, to audio, to hand-writing, and so on. This is the number one thing I recommend to Chinese learners of every level.

Decipher is another great app, and very different from others out there. It has daily news articles in Chinese, where you can click on words you don’t understand and add them to flashcard decks, see the HSK ranking (汉语水平考试, essentially a difficulty or proficiency rating) of each article, etc.

Memrise is a convenient app that drills vocabulary and sentence-building, where you can also hear the words spoken for you. This is good for pronunciation, which is very, veryvery important for Chinese since it’s a tonal language. 

LearnWithOliver is a website, not an app, but it’s one of my favorite resources out there. They’ll email you words of the day tailored to your preferred difficulty level, have drills from multiple choice to sentence construction, reading segments, and so forth, and is all-over just a great resource. This is a high-quality and extremely under-rated gem for language learning, Chinese or not.

For practicing your writing, I have yet to find a site better than Lang-8. There you can write journal entries, and native speakers will correct them to sound more natural. Plus, you can make friends and language-practice buddies!

HABITS

You want exposure to Mandarin EVERY. DAY. Wake up and, before you get out of bed, read a light news article in Chinese on your phone. As you’re commuting to work or school, listen to Chinese podcasts or music. Try to make friends and talk to people through WeChat and Lang-8 in your target language. Just make an effort!

The Great Hypnotist movie poster
The Great Hypnotist, a Chinese psychological thriller.

Watching dramas and movies is a great way to learn new vocabulary and colloquialisms; you can go use Netflix and YouTube, but a recent website I’ve discovered is AiQiYi, and it has almost every Chinese show you could ever want on it. (My favorite Chinese movie right now is The Great Hypnotist. It’s on Netflix, so check it out!) Great musical artists to listen to are Fang Da Tong, Zhou Jie Lun, and Qu Wanting, but there are many others as well.  Trying to copy what someone else is saying, whether in a movie or a song, will give you a more natural pronunciation, and also help you to achieve better fluency.

 

I hope these recommendations and tips help you on your language journey! If you’d like to stay up-to-date on my own studies, my move to China, or my other travels, you can subscribe to my mailing list or my YouTube channel, or follow me on my social media accounts via the sidebar. ✨

Until next time! 再见!

 

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How to Actually Accomplish Your New Year’s Resolutions

It’s finally 2017, and, having abandoned them in the past, you may or may not have set your New Year’s Resolutions. Here are my top five tips when setting and attempting to fulfill these ever-elusive goals.

New Year’s Resolutions are a big deal to me. I set about 12 a year, and usually accomplish 80% of those. Not too shabby! In order to come up with worthy goals and actually achieve them, here are my top five tips.

#1: Set Measurable Goals

Say you’re like millions of others and want to lose weight. What does that mean? Do you want to lose ten pounds, or three hundred? This is similar to those goals of people wanting to lose twenty pounds in a week; it’s unrealistic, unsustainable, and sets you up for failure from the get go. Have something you can measure day by day, and can actually track your progress on.

#2: Only Set Resolutions that Are Dependent on You

This is one that everybody falls into the trap of. For example, maybe you want to snag a promotion and make that a New Years Resolution. Now, I’m not one to stop others from aiming high–it’s a wonderful goal–but as far as a resolution, it’s not great. Why? Resolutions are something that you yourself resolve to do. And you’re not the one who ultimately decides if you get that promotion. Your boss does! What you can resolve to do instead is work your absolute hardest, put in good hours, volunteer for additional projects, and so forth.

#3: Break It Down Into Chunks

Part of the reason people don’t commit to big resolutions is because they seem so, well, big. But there are 12 months/52 weeks/365 days in a year. Women can create a person in that amount of time. Surely we can complete a goal of ours in that same window, right?

I like to break my goals down my month and week. For my current novel, THE IMMORTAL, I wanted to complete the first draft this year at about 70,000 words. That translates to about 5,800 words a month, and 1,350 a week. Knowing that, I have a plan of how many words to write a day. From there I simply have to put my butt in the chair and write. I frequently post monthly updates to my blog to keep myself accountable for what I’ve actually done.

#4: Choose Long-Term Interests

Listen, NY Resolutions are for an entire year. As we established above, that’s a lot of time. So if you’ve picked up a fleeting interests in, say, extreme ironing, don’t assume you’ll stay interested in it for the next 12 months.

#5: Don’t Share Your Plans, Share Your Progress

Heard the cliche ‘talk is cheap’? There’s a reason it’s so common. People love to talk about what they’re going to do, but rarely do it. Think of how many people say they’re going to write a book, yet have never sat down to write out a full outline, nonetheless an entire novel.

When we talk about our plans, we often overestimate what (if any) progress we’ve made on them. But if we let our actual progress speak for us, then both ourselves and others will take note.

 

I hope you found these tips helpful, and implement a few of them into your goal setting! What are your New Years Resolutions? Comment below!

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