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.
I recently found out one of my poems has received an honorable mention in the 2020 Helen Schaible International Sonnet Contest, in the Traditional Sonnet category. I’ll be reading my Shakespearean sonnet, “Kintsugi Master Pieces,” at the awards ceremony on Sunday, November 15, at 11am PST. It will be on Zoom, so I hope you can join us for a celebration of verse and voices. For more info. about accessing the event, visit https://www.poetsandpatrons.net/sonnet-contest.
As I’m trying to plan some Halloween fun for my kids to compensate for this year’s lack of trick-or-treating, I keep reminiscing about prior Halloweens. If the Ghost of Halloween Past were to visit me—to remind me of what we may someday get back to during a less “batty” year, surely, not to instill Dickensian remorse—I expect I’d see something of the following:
Touring the Winchester Mystery House in college, armed with a flashlight, my face painted like a cat thanks to an artistic friend.
Going with my husband, middle sister, and brother-in-law to watch the Oregon Symphony perform the score to The Nightmare Before Christmas while the film played on a screen over the orchestra.
The recent years of alternating between taking my kids trick-or-treating and handing out candy, plus seeing all the fun costumes roaming the neighborhood.
Sigh. I trust the Ghost of Halloween Future has plenty of fun in store.
Now for some good news, though still related to things dark and monstrous: I have a new poem up at Sidequest. “Nightmarens” came about when I was thinking about the bosses from the game NiGHTS: Into Dreams, and my mind filled with words describing them. I saw their carnival colors and their exaggerated body parts designed to incite fear, since they rule the domain of nightmares. But they’ve always been my favorite part of the game. I couldn’t think of them without fondness. For this poem, I purposely wanted to strain my voice outside of my comfort zone. I wanted dense prose, a strong style that could stand up to those titular characters.
I’ve been a fan of Tina Connolly for years, so I’m super excited that she’s narrated one of my stories for her podcast, Toasted Cake. “Exchange (A Coral Study)” is available to listen to now. This story, which first appeared in Factor Four Magazine, came about when a member of my writing group shared a challenge to incorporate 6 specific words in a story. I took some memories of visiting the Galápagos Islands and mixed it with my dad’s experience as an international student in college. I hope this tale helps show how an open mind can create a ripple effect.
In other news, my latest poem at Sidequest is up, a Spencerian sonnet about an old SEGA Genesis dungeon crawler called Shining in the Darkness. In the poem it may sound like I’m disparaging the game, but I’m actually very fond of it. I’ve always loved the storybook graphics, endless pathways forking at right angles, and over-the-top monsters. It’s just that the game’s title and premise of wandering through a maze set it up so beautifully for symbolism, I couldn’t resist.