My family is pretty much snowed in for a few days—nearly business as usual in the pandemic, since we wouldn’t be going out much anyway. And with telecommuting, no more snow days for me for work. But with the long weekend, I’ve been chipping away at various works in progress.
I recently received a couple acceptances that at first glance couldn’t seem more different: one a poem, one a short story; one a light fantasy, the other dark/horror. But both from deeply personal spaces, with some thematic connections. More to come on that.
My flash story “Riddle Hatch” features a sphinx egg, a strong aunt, and her curious nephew. You can read it now at Page & Spine’s Outta This World page.
I wrote this during a quick writing exercise at the PDX Writers retreat I attended before COVID-19. Our retreat leader, Jennifer Springsteen, produced three items from a bag and passed them around: a metallic tool, an egg-shaped stone, and a sculpture of a person in a despondent position. Then we had 15 minutes to incorporate all three into a piece. It was a great challenge for me to get out of my own way, throw words down, and try to wrap everything up quickly. I completed the rough draft in the nick of time.
When I wrote this story, my workplace at the time had hired a bunch of new people within a few months. The email announcements kept popping up, and I took the pattern of their structure and decided to write a story based on it. Once I had a few details in place, I researched job titles, qualifications, work histories, etc. I enjoy unexpected story structures, from Sofia Samatar’s “Walkdog” posing as a school assignment, to the creepy message boards of Candle Cove. I’d already written a tale, “Little Seed,” as diary entries, so this time it was great fun trying to create narrative out of an email or two.
I don’t typically write year-end recap posts, but finally getting through 2020 seems a good excuse to celebrate wins, however large or small.
I set a personal record for new fiction wordcount published—not raw story count, mind, but new words of story out in the world—helped along by “Desert Locks” since I write so short
I also set personal records this year for reprints (which included a mixofanthologiesandpodcasts), new poetry drafts and publications, and fiction submissions—yeah, not to mention rejections (which one of my writer friends always points out means at least I’m putting in the work)
I co-taught my first writing workshop and got to use some of my day-job skills in the service of bringing others’ writing into the world (and best of all, my collaborator and I received positive feedback in the participant evaluations)
After years of attending cons, this was to be my first foray into being a panelist—and as fate would have it, my first experience would be virtual Worldcon, with some amazing professionals spread across the world whose work I greatly admire
I placed in an international poetry contest and participated in my first ever virtual reading (which was also my first poetry reading since college)
I received invaluable mentorship, friendship, accountability, and other support from my network
But the biggest writing highlight for me this year was that I received fan mail!!! All the uncertainty, rejections, misunderstandings, and other hazards of the writing life… For me, they’re worth it if it gives my work a chance to resonate with readers. If I’ve been able to provide anyone a touch of hope or adventure or understanding or respite, that’s the biggest win of all.
I have a poem appearing in Rhizome Press’s new, intriguingly titled anthology Extreme Sonnets. My Petrarchan sonnet “To the Hillslope” first appeared in the Santa Clara Review, and I’m so pleased it’s available to readers again, this time in the company of so many other explorations of the form.
I still remember workshopping this poem in one of my classes. The final line originally referred to a lee, but I ended up reworking that to a plain. I had to change the whole final stanza to accommodate the new rhyme scheme, but I think it was worth it. The word “plain” has some thematic importance that “lee” never did.
I have to admit, my final publication in this poetry series at Sidequest is about two games I’ve never actually played.1 This poem came about when I was thinking of a blog post I’d read called “The Power of Video Games: The Crushing Despair and Subtle Horror of Ecco the Dolphin.” My mind combined that information with what I’ve read about the Portal games, and I ended up comparing their villainesses.
I’m sure somewhere in the mix was a strange longing for the normalcy of something so simple as grocery shopping. I wrote this during the initial COVID-19 shutdown earlier this year, when setting foot in a store meant—still means—I might be endangering myself and/or others.
1 Yes, I know I’m missing out in not having played Ecco the Dolphin or the Portal games … yet.
My next poem up at Sidequest, “Oregon Trail Triolet,” is exactly what it says on the tin. I’d been wanting to write a triolet for a while, although the prospect of repeating refrains in such a short line count intimidated me. But I went for it.
Last Christmas, one of my sisters gave me a handheld The Oregon Trail game. Growing up in Oregon, I’d always thought it was cool having a whole game where the goal was to get…here! So, last winter I stayed up way too late reliving those moments from my youth of stocking up on goods, wondering what calamities might befall my covered wagon, and especially coming up with punny tombstone ideas, because I’m goofy like that. One thing I’d forgotten was how hypnotic the digital hunt could be—I was feeling guilty about that, so I decided to write a poem where the animals aren’t so defenseless.
My poem “The Deku Butler’s Son” is up now at Sidequest. I based this one on The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, one of my all-time favorite video games. One aspect I love about the game is you advance by helping others, but for my poem I wanted to write about a part that frequently appears in lists of the darkest moments in the Zelda franchise. It’s a detail that infuriates and haunts me still and proves how withholding one piece of an otherwise happy ending can produce an effect ranging from irksome to devastating: the Deku Butler’s son. He’s one character you cannot save. By the end of the game, you’re equipped with all the means to heal him—if you could only reach him.
I should add that I composed “The Deku Butler’s Son” during recent incidents in the U.S. drawing greater attention to systemic racism, and I also thought of the immigrant experience within my family tree (no Deku plant pun intended there). It got me thinking that Link lives that experience, that of an immigrant, in Majora’s Mask—and through him, so do we. We enter a new land stripped of our identity and undervalued. We have to find our way, educate ourselves, befriend allies, earn trust and respect. Taking things a step further, eventually in the game we experience the privilege of being able to “pass” as different identities. I descended from four grandparents born in four different countries (Ecuador, Peru, Germany, and the U.S.), so I think about that privilege a lot.
At one point while drafting this poem, I jotted a question to myself: “give closure or be tragic?” In retrospect, that’s probably a false dichotomy. After all, the conclusion to Majora’s Mask does both.