Dabbling in Art Nouveau

So, I didn’t write a new blog anything last week. I decided to use my day of publishing tasks as a writing marathon day to rest after a very physically intense week of cleaning and moving and walking in the spiderwebs … literally. This week, I’d like to share some art.

My most recent art adventures took me way back into the study of Art Nouveau. Why? I have no idea. Lol … I’ve never ever attempted to do anything in this style before, but for some reason I started listening to the music of the era and then studying the art. Maybe it’s because I had just ordered a pair of palazzo pants, and my mind always associates music, fashion, and art together as a historical and cultural bookmark. Palazzo pants, by the way, are similar to wide-leg and bell-bottom pants; they are a loose fit that widens toward the ankle. And they are usually made of light fabric that flows. I remember seeing pictures of Coco Channel wearing these pants in the 1920s. And they were first worn by women in the 1920s and 1930s as a socially acceptable alternative for women who wanted to wear pants. Of course, they were still controversial at that time because some people felt they were inappropriate attire for women in public places. So palazzo pants didn’t really catch on as fashion “thing” until the late 1960s and early 1970s. They came back into popularity again in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Personally, I associate them with the Women’s Rights movement. Why? Because my school’s dress code restricted girls to dresses at a time when more girls and women around me were wearing wide-legged, bell-bottomed pants. I so badly wanted to be able to wear pants to school. My legs froze on winter mornings waiting to go to school. Boys would stand below me on the stairs of the playground ladder or stairs inside the school to look up my skirts. And then one fateful day during P.E., my class was playing “Break-the-Chain” on an asphalt parking lot. And when I held on tight to avoid breaking the chain, I was dragged … on my bare knees … until they bled so bad I could barely walk. I remember being taken to the school nurse and having huge bandages wrapped around both knees and then hobbling to my desk to cry. And then I couldn’t walk by myself, ride my bike, or do anything else that active kids normally do because my knees were so messed up for a while. Just bending them would break the hardened scabs and make them bleed again. Pants might not have saved my knees. But I tend to believe ANYTHING would have been better than a dress! I feel like I have been at war with unfair dress codes, particularly for women and girls, ever since.

Anyway, before I knew it I had gone from browsing photos and illustrations of palazzo pants to jazz and dances of the 1920s. And then I moved straight into Art Nouveau. So, of course I had to try my hand at drawing something from that style myself. I decided to start with something simple, copying a bit of text and graphic design from one of the websites that I was reading about the topic. Art Nouveau was popular in Europe and America but was inspired by Japanese prints — namely the muted colours and wavy lines of those prints, but also a fascination with Japan in general from the late 1800’s through the early 1900’s. It is characterized by themes of nature, “whiplash” lines the curve back on themselves, muted and flat colours, and was in many ways a rebellion against the Realism art movement from that same period. It is so much harder than it looks! I had a lot of problems with whiplash lines, so if I want to continue learning about this art style — which I do — I just have to accept that I will need to be specific in how I practice it. But it’s fun to challenge myself in a study that I’ve never attempted to do before. And hopefully I will soon get the hang of it enough to produce something of my own, original design. For now, my sketchbook and I have a lot of “copying the masters” to do and learn from.

And if you were curious about the differences between Art Nouveau and Art Deco, they are not the same but often mistaken for one another. Both of them place an emphasis on modernity to some extent. But Art Nouveau often included elements of classicism and ancient arts, too — things like Roman columns, Greek gods and goddesses, and ancient Egyptian motifs. Art Deco followed on the heels of Art Nouveau in the late 1920s-1930s. And its traits are straight lines, geometric designs, and splashes of bold, extravagant colour. It is no coincidence that Art Deco is associated with luxury; it rose and fell with the economic boons and crashes of those decades. Art Deco probably would not have been what it was, however, without Art Nouveau’s emphasis on modern graphic design, particularly poster art and lettering. Maybe I’ll try my hand at Art Deco, too, eventually. Right now, I’m just following my muse. And my muse is definitely loving these navy, floral palazzo pants, enjoying some Earl Gray Blue Flower tea and listening to “The Charleston,” whilst contemplating what kind of Art Nouveau lesson to study next.

Return to the Moon Garden

“Wyrmhole” by Melody Daggerhart, copyright 2018

I promised a writing update last week, but got sick, so that blog post will happen today instead. I just finished another scene in the final book of the Elf Gate series, so now is a good time to talk about how it’s coming along.

What are some things that stand out about this book so far? Well, this one has a prologue, for starters. (Heh. See what I did there? Prologue? Starters? … Okay, nevermind.) Prologues used to be common in fantasy genre novels, but over the years they have became less appealing to the industry. Now, advice regarding prologues has generally turned into, “Don’t.” They’re seen as long-winded and unnecessary because you’re supposed to take your reader straight to the hook, and the first sentence bears the weight of the entire book’s success or failure. Three seconds to impress. But in some cases, prologues are still helpful, and I think that is the case for the final book in this series.

The previous book, The Teufling, took place in the human realms, so readers have no knowledge of what happened in the fae realms during that time. All you know is they find the castle under siege at the end. While the question of what happened can’t be fully answered in a prologue, it can show the reader a glimpse of what lead to that. And that is important because it’s the first plot to be resolved in book 7. And it will have to be resolved right away for the characters to advance their other missions any further. And how it is resolved matters because it will affect character relationships. That’s all I can say without giving away too much. Just know that there is a prologue to catch you up to speed on what happened after Távaló, Ren, and Eirik returned with the Crystal Maiden to Reznetha’ir at Bloodstone before proceeding with Trizryn and Aija’s discovery of the castle under siege.

Meanwhile, I have moved on to Chapter 1 and beyond, but I ended up removing chapter divisions from the previous draft. In revising this story, I changed so much about its timeline that chapter divisions this early felt pointless. So, with chapters ditched for now, I’m working with scene divisions only. This gives me the freedom to easily work with the various plot layers for diversity and multiple points of view. However, I decided to cut out a lot when it comes to showing what the antagonists are doing to make more room for showing what the protagonists are doing. This is hard for me because I love exploring why and how the antagonists do what they do, giving them a sort of “sympathy for the devil” spotlight. But I’m going to have to be very strict with myself on word count for this project because I’m literally combining two novels into one this time.

That’s right. One of the reasons Teufling took so long to publish is because when I finished the first draft, I kept going. I drafted the events at Bloodstone as a separate book because I needed those events solid in my mind to write the final book, even if that particular book never saw the light of day. (I considered possibly selling it separately as a stand-alone backstory later, or something.) And then while everything was fresh in my mind, I also drafted the final book. So, I wrote three novels in a year and a half (I think?), but then returned to Teufling to begin its revisions and publication process. Since then, the Bloodstone story (a.k.a. “Book 6B”) and “Book 7” drafts have been sitting in silence waiting their turns. So, what I’ve done is shredded the Bloodstone story down to a prologue and tucked the vital parts of the rest of it here and there in the final book of the series. It was a LOT of work! But hopefully it will pay off by bringing a satisfactory closure to everything.

I mentioned in previous updates that the magic system is being more narrowly defined in this book. So far, I haven’t done anything further with that, but it’s sitting on the shelf waiting for the right time to refine such details.

Today I worked on two scenes. The first involves Aija’s party returning to the Moon Garden Fortress and finding out what happened at Bloodstone. They weren’t expecting anything good, but the news is more dire than they thought. With Trizryn and Aija’s return, Chizrae decides it’s time to take action. The Moon Garden elves have always been a significant influence on the story’s outcome, but this time, Chizrae, in particular, is a cunning, pivotal character because of her history as Erys’s spy in the hunt for Kethrei over a century ago.

In the second scene I revised today, K’tía delivers Kethrei’s body to Elvolyn for cold storage until they can find answers to their questions about whether executing him will destroy Trizryn. Elvolyn is, of course, delighted to have a 500-year-old vampire on ice in her necromancy chamber. Trizryn, not so much. Especially after she reminds him that he agreed to submit to being studied in exchange for the enchantments Távaló shared free-of-charge earlier. Poor Triz. His former self puts him through hell, and now his fate is once more in the hands of a necromancer. Tsk, tsk …

I’ve revised more than two scenes, but that’s a sampling of some of the unresolved issues this book starts with.

I’ve also noticed something about my methodology over the years while writing these novels. And this might be something new writers need to hear. I tend to start as a “pantser” — anything goes! And that means more ideas than I know what to do with present themselves as I let the story write itself and follow along. But the closer I get to the end of the story, the more of a “plotter” I become. I’ve noticed this within each book individually and for the overall story arc of the series. So, this book is the most heavily outlined of all seven to make sure all plot threads receive proper closure for the entire series. And the previous book was more outlined than the one before it because I knew all of my plots and subplots would have to come to a close in the next and final book. In other words, each book in this series is more structured then that one that came before it. It’s as if my focus gets more rigid, preparing to hit the target of a comprehensive ending past the midpoint of the story arc. This is proof that you can have more than one writing style. Do what works for you. Do what works for your story. And do more than one method if that’s what works.

Anyway, my cast of characters have a lot to accomplish in this book. They have to resolve a war between dragons. They have to fix and learn how to use an ancient artifact that creates and destroys worlds. And they have to use that artifact to stabilize multiple dimensions. And finally, they’ll have to make a final decision about whether to save, seal, or destroy the elf gates because of what they really are. Fun stuff! ^_^ Stay tuned for updates!


My sketchbook patterns. Image Source: Mj Daggerhart, copyright 2021

If you’ve read this blog before today, you’ll notice it is officially under construction now. I may have to cut posts to bi-weekly or less to make time for this. But having worked on it for most of today, I wanted to do a quick update before moving on to other tasks.

I have a love-hate relationship with block web design. Yes, blocks are easier. But ease butts heads with my creativity when it comes to elements of design options. So, we’ll have to take it little-by-little to avoid frustration and turn it into the kind of project I want it to be.

It kind of reminds me of my sketchbook pattern blocks. Maybe I’m the only one who does this, but I block the pages of my sketchbook most of the time to save paper if the book is big. I like the option of having a large page, but most of the time the small block is all I need. This page above is a collection of pattern designs inspired and memorialized from items I liked but had to let go of in one way or another. The top rectangle was inspired by my favourite winter pajama pants. The design below that was based on a holiday card that I liked. And today, I added a hand-stitched design resembling one of my favourite pairs of summer pants that I had to say goodbye to.

These purple pants were long, loose, lightweight, and embroidered. They were made in India, and I always felt they captured some of the spirit of that country’s textile arts. I loved wearing them with white, breezy tank tops and T-shirts. And long after they stopped looking nice enough to wear out and about, I lounged in them at home until the embroidery picked and pulled out and the fabric bunched under the stitches. I bought these pants when I returned to the States after leaving Japan. It’s memorable because it was my first “American Mall” shopping experience after living in rural Aomori, and I was overwhelmed at all the clothing stores and options! I bought these pants and a sweater from a little shop that had a really global, tactile vibe — my favourite kind of shop to browse in.

The block design in the sketchbook doesn’t have to look exactly like the item I’m giving up. I just want a resemblance that I can draw from for inspiration when creating new designs of my own, as well as being able to track my own style by asking myself what I liked so much about it that I would keep it for so long and wear it until it is literally worn out! I made the first layer a little too pink, so I remixed some purples with more blue and did a second layer more true to colour.

Inspired designs, not exact copy. Image Source: Mj Daggerhart, copyright 2021
Here’s another example from a summer pajama set that I had to throw away last year because the elastic wasn’t elastic anymore. Image source: Mj Daggerhart, 2021

As I redesign my blog, block-by-block like my collection of pattern designs, both of these activities forced me to focus on what I want to do next with this little enterprise. Maybe it’s the horrible state that the world is in right now, but I feel desperate for whimsey: floral patterns, handmade textiles, indie books, simple living … I want this blog to be more inclusive of whatever makes me happy. I’ve decided I want this blog to feel more like those familiar patterns and comfy, beloved clothes — small, personal, sentiments served with a cup of tea or coffee to get me through troubling times. As opposed to the original purpose of the site, which was to market my books and write about writing. I’ll still do those things because they are still very much WHO I am, rather than WHAT I do. But please forgive the stages of reconstruction along the way. (Btw, I’m finally making steady progress on book 7 of the Elf Gate Series, so maybe I can offer an update specific to that next time.) ^_^

I Am Creative

Chinese watercolours — image source, copyright 2020, Mj Daggerhart

What does it mean to be creative?

There are probably as many answers for that question as there are creative people in this world. But today, I came across one that I found … interesting … to say the least.

The latest development in my language-learning journey is that my studies seem to be gradually shifting toward writing to reinforce memory. I’ve always loved stories, of course. They motivate almost everything I do, including various kinds of creativity. But lately I’ve been compelled to copy the stories that make up my lessons in the various languages I study. Gap-fill sentences and vocab lists aren’t enough. I’m thirsty for context and broader meaning. So, all of my languages have been making these shifts in my notes, according to my skill level and resources. And for Japanese, I’ve made myself start doing a “yarukoto lisuto” … a to-do list. It’s not an exciting, fictional story, yet it is a story of how my daily activities look … or how they’re supposed to look … or how everything went wrong and I had to make up a Plan B as I went along. Language-learning-wise, the point is to make myself look up and become familiar with words that I actually need and use on a regular basis.

Today’s やることリスト has the date, weather, and everything I intend to do. (If you happen to be learning Japanese, too, note the use of the dictionary verb form for any actions taken. This is also good practice for using the object-verb syntax, which is backwards from the verb-object syntax of English and many other languages. So, instead of “write blog” I have to say, “blog write.”) I usually need extra space to fill in the unexpected or squeezed-in stuff … like calling a contractor to cut down the dead trees in my backyard that have suffered drought, beetles, and are now a wildfire hazard. (*cries*) Yes, that must be added to the list after I’ve written this blog.

Recently, I started adding some old, leftover rainbow smiley stickers to my daily lists. I turn them into doodles or write positive affirmations with them to make myself feel better or to find the courage to face difficult tasks. Today’s affirmation smiley was going to be, “I am creative.” Because I scheduled this blog, a big social media study about rebranding and marketing, and an art lesson as a break from all the physical and paperwork “ick” I’ve been under this week. It’s still work. But it’s a treat by comparison. However, I didn’t know the Japanese word for “creative.” … Google translate and Jisho to the rescue!

「私は創造的です。」・わたしはそうぞうてきです。・Watashi wa souzou-teki desu. … I am creative.

My to-do list did its job by forcing me to learn another new word based on meaning, context, and actual use. I copied “souzou-teki” in hiragana for the smiley sticker in my やることリスト. Then, I opened my notebook to do a kanji breakdown and study to help me remember it.

My method for kanji study is constantly evolving, but this is my current method. I write the new word in hiragana for pronunciation, along with its definition: creative. Then, I skip a line for writing the kanji underneath after I understand it better. I look up each kanji in the word, using the on-line dictionary Jisho. I carefully copy the stroke order in a large box so that I can see each stroke clearly. If necessary, I mark it with colours or notes to help me remember brushstroke order or strokes I might forget or confuse with a similiar kanji. Next, I look at the radical for categorization. And I copy the meaning of the character’s image or origins and its Japanese (kun) and Chinese (on) readings. Here’s where it starts to get interesting.

Today’s kanji study — image source, copyright 2021, Mj Daggerhart

The radicals in this word are knife, walk, and white. I conjured a mental image of a painter taking a palette knife or paintbrush (some kind of hand tool for creation) to some kind of blank canvas, paper, or wall. But consider the meanings of those symbols. A knife is a tool, yes, but it’s a tool more often related to wounds, injuries, and hurt. Perhaps the knife is a symbol of beginnings, too, because of how it begins the process of carving something to be made. Even the paintbrush starts with being cut. So does the stone well in which the sumi (ink) is added to water and softened. To make paper or canvases, the original item has to be cut, ground, crushed, stapled, and so on. When we make a tool, a useful item, a meal, anything, it begins with cutting, separating, ending the raw material in its natural form and then forcing it into the shape or purpose needed. Then we use those tools to give our ideas and visions physical form, such as how the second kanji is described. To make anything is to transform an idea into a physical or conceptual manifestation in reality for others to see its existence as we see it. And then, finally, the white or blank canvas is where we make our marks and creations. It’s where we paint our targets or goals and try to hit our ideas or visions with precision. Sometimes we succeed at hitting the object of our target. But other times, we miss. Precision takes practice. Any progress at all takes practice. And practice can sometimes be unpleasant or discouraging … until we see progress or precision taking shape from our efforts. But all of this takes a lot of effort and some discomfort. Perhaps this also adds to the idea that creative people have often suffered emotional trauma or that creativity can be used to heal stress and emotional wounds.

By the way, for the Japanese learners reading, Japanese nouns can sometimes be turned into adjectives by adding particles like -な. It’s kind of like how English can take a noun like “style” add “-ish” and create the adjective “stylish.” In this case, -的 (-teki) serves a similar purpose while also adding its own meaning (white) to this word.

When I’m done studying new words or kanji from my to-do list, I use colour to code and embellish my notes because that also helps me remember. Now, I have a new word for describing myself and my interests that I can repeat throughout the day, storing it in my long-term memory. And there is a feeling of relief, acceptance, and pride that comes with it. … sou-zou-teki … そうーぞうーてき … 創造的.

私は創造的です。I am creative.

Now I can write my blog. Organize my marketing notes for better efficiency. Do my art lesson. Call the contractor about my trees. Study my other languages. Meal prep. Write the next scene in the next novel’s prologue. And do whatever else I need to get done today because my やることリスト is a constant reminder that I am the architect of my own life. It’s not easy. Sometimes it hurts. Sometimes … a lot! But I pick up that knife, walk to the blank canvas, and carve out a new day for myself in as many ways as I can and must to create a life I can live with.

May you appreciate and enjoy the power of creativity in your own to-do lists and lives today. 🙂

Ch-changes …

You’re all familiar with the song “Changes” by David Bowie, right? (If not, get thee to that link right away! I’ll wait.) It’s one of my favourite Bowie songs because, let’s face it, change is a complex subject to sing, write, or talk about. Sometimes it’s very difficult. Sometimes it’s refreshing. But always it’s inevitable. Change is the one constant you can count on in life, so the best thing you can do for yourself is to learn how to be wise about how you adapt to change.

I remember being afraid he would drown in the dog’s water bowl, so I kept it on the counter when he was around.

Six years ago, I brought a little black kitten home from the pet shop because he reached out to me when I walked by getting my guinea pig supplies. I’ve always taken in stray cats, and almost all of them have been black. So, when I saw this little guy as the one left behind from his litter, I had no choice but to adopt him. (Really. Those needle-like claws had to be pried out of my sweater, but by then the attachment was clear.) And as he escaped from his little box to climb all over and under the car seat (and me!) on the way home, I knew it was a sure sign that he would follow in the footsteps of his Bad Cat predecessors, even if I was still questioning my sanity while he stabbed and clung to my shoulder and neck. I named him 月森 (Tsukimori), which means “moon forest” in Japanese. This name was inspired by a favourite singer and the dark winter mornings I spent under the moon dusting the tons of snow off of my car and digging it out. As awful as it sounds to be outside at 4:30 AM digging a car out of knee-high snow, I loved that experience and often just paused to look up at the pre-dawn moon and stars to enjoy the peace and quiet of the new day.

Cardboard and Catnip Heaven

This year, for Tsuki’s 6th birthday, I got him a cardboard scratcher and filled an old sock with catnip. Then I turned one of his food boxes upside-down to give him a new cat-cave. I don’t bother with a lot of manufactured cat toys because we all know what they REALLY want is the trash they come in! And he played himself to sleep. :3 I don’t know how old the Bad Cat Ink blog is, but I know it was running in 2012, when I published my first book, The Changeling.

Omagurd! I haz praple! … Wow, that was a long time ago. LoL …

I have been going through a lot of changes this year. I’m in the final stages of downsizing in the process of moving house. I’ve changed my eating habits, so my health is changing for the better, though I was prompted to make those changes because it was changing for the worse. I got new glasses this week, and while I love how they look, my eyes are having a hard time with focusing through the new lenses. I know in time this change will be good, too. But right now, it’s combined with allergies and lack of sleep because of the heat, so it sucks. Right now, I want to do nothing but rest my eyes and sleep. But as I sat here with my wonderfully cold matcha smoothie, wondering what to write for today’s blog, I realized how much I dislike how it looks and feels after the last changes that WordPress enabled. I tried out a couple of their new themes, and neither of those did anything for me, to be honest. So, I feel like I need to take some time to just work on the blog’s aesthetics. But with all the other changes going on, when will I find the time?

Mmmm … matcha. One of my favourite flavours in the whole world for summer smoothies, ice cream, mochi, etc.

This blog is long overdue for a serious overhaul. So, I’m going to start experimenting. I’ve changed a lot since this blog started, so I feel like it needs to change with me. If you are a regular reader and have any ideas about what you would like to see more of here, please let me know by leaving a comment below. I love sharing information about literature and writing, language studies, and arts. I originally created this site for promotion of my novel series, and I still want and need that core. I’m even thinking of creating a mini-wiki for it. But as these inevitable changes alter the content of my life, I feel like my blog should reflect those. Or, if it can’t keep up, perhaps it is time to shut it down? Or perhaps there is a middle ground alternative.

Because I’m also tempted to go minimal with the blog and pick up the pace with Instagram and/or Pinterest instead. I had to say “no” to something, so I decided to let my Facebook account go for good. I keep trying to get interested in Twitter, but … I’m just not. It just doesn’t appeal to me. So, I’m not sure what action I’ll take toward reorganizing my other social media in general, but I need to change something. Otherwise, I still have more channels than I can keep up with. Especially during times of change. I feel more authentic in a blog than I do on something like Twitter. So … we’ll see.

Anyway, I just wanted to say that changes are coming! I’ll also toss out a reminder that this is the last week for the Smashwords Summer Sale. 🙂 Tomorrow (Saturday, July 31) is the last day. So, if you were interested in buying one or more books from the Elf Gate series, now is a good time to get them at 25% off. Many, many thanks to those of you who have already purchased in the past. Please remember to leave reviews if you like the books, so that other readers who might like them can find them, too.

And speaking of … Time to do some writing! Time to work on book 7, final book in the series. Or maybe I should rest my eyes with a short nap first. It’s been a long week. Happy weekend to you, wherever you are. ^_^

Life Really Is All About the Journey (… And So Are Language Learning and Writing)

お肺葉ございます!私は日本語を勉強する準備ができています。Good morning! I’m ready to study Japanese!

Welcome to my current “office/art studio/dining room” language study setup. Every morning I begin my day with meditation, feeding my cat, and a cup of coffee/tea/water. Then, I either read a chapter in whatever book is currently on my table, or I do a language study for about an hour (an hour and a half if I have to practice the other writing systems).

Lately, my morning studies have been devoted to Japanese, and I’ve been going back to basics with kanji because in the past I learned a lot of Japanese vocabulary and dialog through beginner hiragana books and conversation/listening comprehension. That means that despite learning around 350 kanji before leaving the country, I never really got to study how kanji works as a system. I understood brush strokes and the idea behind compounds. But most of what I learned was just repeated a lot in my daily life … like the word “止まる” written on the stop signs. So radicals that help with formation and classification, kun and on readings which are native Japanese sounds as opposed to the original Chinese sounds for the characters, and the subtle ways that kanji can be used to shift the meaning of a word weren’t as applicable to my daily experiences.

私の毎日リストです。My daily list.

My current study method, therefore, begins with transferring my calendar schedule to a to-do list for the day, like it always has, but in Japanese. I am forcing myself to use what I’ve learned and the repetition helps me remember better. But this time, I’m taking the time to look up any kanji I don’t know and copy it into my notebook. Then, I look it up in Jisho and break it down to the details. I love how much more this adds to my understanding of the kanji itself and how kanji in general works. So, I also started doing this for the kanji that I already know — even the most basic ones. It’s kind of like learning to see with new eyes again. I guess it’s like what the zen masters would call “初心” (“shoshin”) … “beginner’s mind.”

A mind-blowing realization of what it means to study.

This is what today’s kanji breakdown looked like. So, SO basic at a time when I’m hungry for more advanced vocabulary! But after staring at it for a minute, I thought of Steve Kauffman’s video comparing entrepreneurship and language learning, which I watched last night. In the video, he talks about how you usually start both alone. Then you struggle with both to stay in for the long haul and keep them going despite lack noticeable progress and temptation to give up. But with persistence you will inevitably see progress. Success means different things to different people. It might look different for everyone. But that is the basic nature of endeavors like these.

I looked again at my kanji notes: “endeavor” was one of the meanings for “勉” (ben) in the word “勉強” (benkyou), which means to study. Other meanings include exertion, encourage, strive, make effort, and diligent. The second kanji in the word is “強” (kyou), which means “strong.” It is based on the bow radical because you have to have strength to draw a bow. You have to aim with accuracy to hit your target. And that takes a lot of practice — a strong, diligent effort toward whatever endeavor you are striving toward. In other words, it’s hard work. So, it helps if your head and heart are in it, as much as your physical capacity to keep going. This is what it takes to truly learn a language or run a business. It’s also what it takes to write stories, especially long stories like novels … or to simply persist over a long period of time to complete something.

I’ve been studying several languages off and on since I was a teenager in high school, but my fluency has always been low because I kept telling myself, “I’ll do more when I have more time.” And other than taking a French minor in college and living in Japan, it wasn’t until last year that I decided, “If not now, when?” And I made the deliberate decision to make language learning a daily part of my life for the rest of my life. And I gave myself permission to pick whatever languages interested me, regardless of whether they would be a practical investment of my time and energy or not. Making these decisions have changed me and made me feel like I’ve “come home” somehow. (And if you know me, you know my dilemmas when it comes to the concept of “home.”)

Finnish? Yes, Finnish. Why would I study Finnish? It’s not likely I’ll ever NEED to know Finnish. … But that’s not the point. I’m studying it because I love how it sounds, it looks fun, and I want to learn more about Finland and its culture. And that’s the best reason to study any language — simply because you WANT to!

Today, while looking at this breakdown of “勉強,” I realized that I’ve been working on my novel series for just as long and in the same manner. I spent roughly the first half of my life designing the characters, setting, plot, dialog, etc., constantly revising and experimenting in my spare time. Then, when I finally got the chance to write full time, I decided, “If not now, when?” So, I devoted the next almost-10 years (so far) to publishing it. Had I not loved the labor, there’s no way I could have stayed with a writing project that long!

But I will be honest and admit that since I’ve lost the opportunity to write full time, I’m struggling to finish the final book in the series due to all the other stuff on my mind. For some reason, my brain can’t juggle problem solving and creativity on the same day. So, once I enter problem-solving mode, creative mode shuts down. And vice-versa. It has gotten so bad that I’ve questioned whether I shouldn’t just quit and unpublish the entire series. But just when I was seriously considering throwing in the towel and walking away completely because I am out of time, I got an idea about how to improve my outline. It will require a prologue, which I know is “unfashionable” in the modern publishing world. But I have to be able to reference what was going on in Reznetha’ir’s realms during Trizryn and Aija’s absence before I can address what they find (or rather, what they don’t find) when they return. Once I saw a light at the end of that tunnel, I shredded my previous outline and moved the first draft’s scenes around in a completely different order (again).

I’m basically combining two books — one that I wrote on the side as parallel action in the fae realms that was happening while half the team was in the human realms, and one that I wrote as the final book in the series. Originally, I intended to break the parallel events into short stories to offer as freebies or soft sales, after publishing the series finale. But now I have a ton of material to cut. It’s a lot more work! But if the story will be better for it, I’m willing to put in the extra work for this endeavor. Now, I have the first two scenes written, and they flowed with relative ease (for now). And I feel like I can breathe again where finishing my series is concerned.

I’ve been interested in Korean language and culture ever since I lived in Japan, but I’m only just now making the time to study the grammar. That’s okay. Language learning is like putting a puzzle together one piece at a time. Once the obvious pieces are in place, curiosity might make you want to see how the less obvious, more difficult pieces fit into the big picture. To me, language learning is just like turning the pages to follow the plot in a good book. (Besides the fact that languages are then used to actually create books. Heh.) 😉

Just like with language learning or building your own business (which is kind of what self-publishing is at its core), the more you write, the better your writing gets. You make a lot of mistakes, especially in the beginning. The process will likely be raw, slow, and discouraging. But if you love the process, any progress you make will be its own reward. Eventually, you will gain some measure of fluency in the language you study. You can’t help but gain experience running a business, even if it fails. And this is why I think the best writing advice I’ve ever heard is to keep writing until you reach the end. Stops and blocks are undoubtedly discouraging. Keep going anyway until you reach a conclusion. You can always edit later. Problem solving and creation are completely different skills.

I’ve known this word “勉強” for almost 20 years, and study is something I’ve been doing my whole life. But what it means to study is just now hitting me like a ton of bricks. “To study” means to appreciate, understand, strive with, and love the endeavor. It’s about the relationship you form with the target of your study. And that relationship determines whether or not you will refuse to give up when it gets difficult. It doesn’t matter if you’re new to the endeavor, or have been striving at it for years. What matters is the relationship that keeps you coming back to that thing that persists in your heart. That relationship is a process. Life is a process. The process, or journey, is what matters because we all end up at the same destination in the end.

Whatever your passion is, study it well. Now, not later. No one is guaranteed tomorrow. Endeavor in the process with as much strength as you are able so that, succeed or fail, you will never regret the investment of time and energy.

Art Journal Day

Sundays are art journal therapy days. ^_^

I haven’t done an art post in a while, and today I was working in my art journal as a form of stress relief, so I thought I’d share.

So, what’s going on here?

Well, last year I bought an art therapy activities e-book from art therapist, You Tube personality and blogger Thirsty for Art. And I was so busy that I didn’t get to use it much. So, when I finished the book revisions, I started setting aside Sundays and the pages leftover from my smashbook to do the activities and journal reflections from the art therapy book. This one involved making a box with collected items and then reflecting upon the items collected. It’s aimed at loosening perfectionism. But I’m not so sure perfectionism is a struggle for me as much as overwhelm. And I really don’t have table or shelf space for any more containers. So, I hijacked this exercise to mold it into something more suited to what I was feeling today. But keeping to the theme of collections, I chose to do a collage and pay attention to why I picked the items that I did.

Materials: tissue paper, construction paper, washi tape, Mod Podge, collected magazine images, scrapbook stickers, gouache.

I won’t go into personal details about what this page means to me, but it was interesting to question what I collected and why. The overall vibe could be summed up as “seeking comfort” I think. And that made me consider other collections I have. And collections belonging to family and friends, and wondering why they collect what they do. Perhaps all collections boil down to “seeking comfort” in one way or another. I collect dragons and gargoyles, so that doesn’t sound very comforting. But having these creatures throughout my house might be my way of saying, “I’m not afraid of monsters. I face them every day.” And taking inventory of what frightens you and what doesn’t is also a way of coping with discomfort. I’m not afraid of dragons and gargoyles, but I don’t trust people. Not anymore. I’d rather keep company with dragons and gargoyles than someone who betrays my trust. I collect books — lots of books! Books are always there to answer my questions, help me solve problems, inspire my imagination, and offer an escape. They’re almost like old friends. I can rely on books to be there for me when I need them. So, isn’t that also seeking comfort?

For the past few years I have had to dive deeply into why I collect what I do because I’ve been having to part with most of those collections as part of the downsizing process. It’s very personal and interesting to see what comes up when I’m honest with myself about it.

This particular activity was also a bit nostalgic. I don’t do collage very often, but I collect scraps of art supplies thinking “that might look nice in a collage” or “that might come in handy for a project.” I don’t hoard, mind you. I’m very organized, and I have limited space, so I’m very selective about what stays in my collection. But for whatever reason, I’ve never been drawn to collage as an art form until recently.

When I was about 8 years old, a relative gifted me with some Mod Podge, and I didn’t know what it was for. I didn’t know what to do with it. It came in a box with a bunch of pretty replicas of paintings and photos and an instruction booklet … but I was 8. So, I was clueless. That box sat in my closet for years untouched. If someone older had sat down with me to show me how to use it, maybe I would have picked up an interest earlier. But eventually the bottle leaked and dried inside the box over all the art prints and ruined everything. I remember thinking it was a shame, but I just didn’t know enough to realize what a loss it was.

So, that bottle of Mod Podge in the photo is kind of like an achievement badge on my end. 🙂 I get it now. I know what it’s for and how to use it — finally! LoL … So, using it for the first time today, took me back to the mind of that 8 year-old child, and I was grateful to be spending time with her, showing her how to use it. Because they say that as an adult, you can offer yourself the love that you needed when you were young. This is very true and good to know when overwhelm leads to paralysis, driving us to seek comfort.

What do you collect? And why? In what way does it bring you comfort?

Writer’s Block vs. Lack of Motivation

What is the difference between writer’s block and lack of motivation? I think it’s that writer’s block can strike even when you want to write, whereas not feeling motivated to write will almost always lead to some form of writer’s block. I rarely suffer writer’s block because I’m very easily inspired to write … most of the time. But lately, I have been struggling with a lack of motivation. I show up and do the work, but I can tell writer’s block is creeping closer to my peripheral vision.

My lack of motivation is a complex combination of things. I hate summer heat, and we’ve had temperatures as high as 114 F/ 46 C lately. Wildfires are burning all around us, so I spend every summer now with one eye on the mountains, trying to discern haze from smoke, and one eye on fire maps to see how close or far the current ones are. (To the south, a newly contained fire that burned 13,000 acres. To the north, a newly started fire that has already claimed 9,000 acres.) The trees in my yard are dead or dying from drought, and I’m just hoping they don’t snap or ignite before I can call someone to take them down. And all of this leads to a constant low-level hum of anxiety in my brain and body.

Plus, I’ve been struggling to ship, pack, donate, and sell the furnishings I’m letting go in my effort to downsize. So, when I sit down to write at night, I’m tired. This is why it took me 30 years to be in a position where I could work full-time on publishing my first book. I have no “spoons” left at the end of the day to spend on creative, critical thinking. I’m a morning energy person, but now my mornings belong to house maintenance and yard work in 90-100+ degree heat. Writing is back to being a before-bed afterthought. That’s the only time of day now that I can get an uninterrupted, 3-hr block for writing.

I have tried and failed several times to read my first draft of book 7 from beginning to end. But I get as far as midway through the first chapter and realize I don’t like where I was going with it. I started revising the scene but stopped because I also realized what I really wanted to do was revise the entire outline. I did manage to rearrange a few of my Scrivener index cards in the outline view and make notes to myself about what needs changing. These are necessary, standard steps in all rewrites. Especially considering I haven’t touched this first draft since I initially wrote it over three years ago. (I’ve spent my writing time since then publishing Teufling and revising books 1-5 with it.)

One way I considered getting momentum back was to revise my website and share some of my Elf Gate wiki here. Returning to world building may not directly advance the story, but it does help me immerse in this world with the characters that I’ve created.

Just this morning, I was reading another chapter in The Eye of the World from the Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan (because I always start my day with meditation, a cup of coffee, and one chapter of a good book … in that order), and I’m at that point where he describes the group’s journey through the Ways. And he talked about how it’s a collection of bridges and islands overlapping one another in total darkness so that most people would never be able to navigate safely to the other side. No one knows what’s behind the entrance on the other side because no one has returned from that direction. So, it was assumed that people who go that way end up wandering and lost forever.

Another similar border in recent fiction would be the fold from Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo. It is dark and dangerous to cross like the previous mention, but in this case it is a physical border that has been infested with dark magic. Therefore it also resembles any physical region that is blighted or dangerous in adventure stories, such as swamps with gases that put travelers to sleep or extreme mountain passes guarded by the dead.

These “realms between realms” are a type of fantasy trope that shows up in a lot of stories, old and new. And reading that passage called to mind the Veil in my Elf Gate books. My “islands” are stone circles. My “bridges” are ley lines. There was a tree depicted in the wall at the entrance, and my Veil is very loosely based on the imagery and mythology behind Yggdrasil, the Tree of Life that connects all worlds. But if the Veil is not kept in check, its mists ebb and flow like a tide and can seep into the worlds at its edges. It can drag whatever falls into its fog elsewhere, never to return. This is why the elf gates are so necessary; the gates, constrain the mists of the Veil. If a gate falls, the portal between worlds will be lost, but it could also displace parts of one reality with another. And when that happens, people, cities, and geographical regions could be dragged into another world and vice versa. And therein lies the main plot’s problem. If multiple gates fall and the land around them becomes displaced, various worlds could bleed into one another causing irreparable chaos.

But it wasn’t until I read about Robert Jordan’s Ways and thought about Leigh Bardugo’s fold, that I remembered how it felt to imagine the concepts behind my own Veil. Returning to my world-building wiki and rereading entries about my Veil might spark immersion again, thereby motivating me to write.

I don’t have writer’s block. Not yet. But let’s see if we can prevent that from happening by revisiting the mechanics of world-building. It won’t help with the anxiety and fatigue of fire season and moving house, but I’ve come too far to let brain fog beat me now.

Elf Gate Series in Smashwords Summer Sale

All of my books are on sale! ^_^

Today I updated my Smashwords author page because July 1 through July 31, 2021, ALL of my books will be discounted as part of the Smashwords Summer Sale.

As part of that update, I answered a new interview question.

Why should I buy your books?

The Elf Gate series is a long, deep story arc for readers who want to immerse in an epic-length tale of a dark fantasy nature. These books explore themes of revenge, redemption, personal growth, power grabs, and being true to oneself amid a variety of prejudices. From cults to civil war to time travel through alternate realities, these books take the reader through several relevant yet imaginative twists and turns as the characters face down demons figurative and literal. And as the characters find themselves in these sometimes funny, sometimes poignant situations, they must learn to overcome their fears and suspicions of one another to survive and work together as a team. This is a classic portal tale with classic fantasy elements like monsters, fae, and magic, but it bleeds into gas lamp fantasy, time travel, and contemporary settings. It was inspired by folklore and Gothic horror elements like vampires, werewolves, demons, and ghosts, but good and evil are not always what they seem and are often very complex.

If you are looking for a short, light, easy read, these books are not for you. But if you want something that combines adventure gaming with a mish-mash of settings and social commentary, I think you’ll enjoy them. :3

What do you think? Did I leave out your reasons for buying these books? Should I edit the interview to be more general? More niche?

This is the question you’re really answering when you publish book reviews. Why should someone else consider buying these books? If you already purchased any of these from Smashwords and enjoyed them, please leave a review so that other readers will know if these books are a good match for them.

Since I published book 6 in the series, The Teufling, last December, and I spent the first 5 months of this year revising every book in the series prior to that, now is the perfect time to replace any copies that need updating to a newer version or to get the whole set. There is one book still in the works, so I won’t box them until all 7 books are complete, but all individual books in the set will be discounted for this sale.

The No-Plan Plan

My Covid-19 vaccination kit.

I hadn’t planned on doing a blog post today. It’s not on my to-do list. But half the things on my list aren’t getting done, so … might as well be productive in other ways. 🙂 That’s right. We are going with the “No-Plan Plan” for now. I have spent the better part of the last two weeks of “vacation” attempting to decompress from the schedule of the first half of 2021, finish some neglected tasks, and organize my life for the second half of the year. But so far every schedule I’ve created has been thrown out, sometimes on the same day that I wrote it down or typed it. I give up. I realized that I was trying to schedule something I couldn’t control. And though my anxiety is on the rise because of that, I know that continuing to try to forecast the future in this case will only cause me more stress. So, I am literally taking one day at a time for now. Since I have no plan, I felt another “chat” would make a nice blog post.

What have I been up to in the 2 weeks since I finished the novel revisions and attempted to unplug for a bit? First and foremost, I got the first dose of my Covid-19 vaccine. And an emotional support pizza and sake. Because … pizza and sake. M’kay? 🙂 My nutritional shift toward plant-based foods is going well, but for some reason, I decided to let myself have a cheesy pizza on that day. I guess I needed an old comfort food but got right back “on-track” the day after because the biggest change I’ve noticed so far about dropping animal products is fewer reflux problems. In fact, hardly any reflux problems these days. So, I’m glad I’m dropping dairy from my normal grocery hauls now. My tummy feels so much better for it.

Between tasking and organizing, I made time to finish the 2020 Inktober challenge! Yes. Finally! It took me only 7 months. (Heh … insert embarrassed emoji here.) But it felt so good to get back to an art project again, no matter how small. My “rules” for Inktober are that I must use ink of some kind. I have to combine the word of the day with a Halloween/horror theme. And I cannot spend more than 30 minutes to an hour on it. I know there was a lot of controversy over this last Inktober challenge, but I’m not going to weigh in on that because I do it to challenge myself on subjects I don’t usually draw with materials I don’t normally use — nothing more. Anyway, this year, I found myself leaning into my copic markers more than the pen or sumi I’ve used in the past. So, I’m just pleased that I did finally finish the challenge, even if I couldn’t beat the deadline.

Finally done with Inktober 2020 … 7 months later! LoL … For the words: float, shoes, ominous, and crawl. I really like how my Grudge-inspired crawl turned out. And, yes, that is a doodle of Gene Simmons’s Demon boots. One of only two pairs of “scary shoes” that came to mind. I drew a blank on “ominous” but eventually decided on “Everything happens for a reason” philosophies because I’ve never liked how people say things like that to make me feel better when things don’t turn out like I hoped. Applying fate or destiny to the mix removes my free will. And not having free will, in my opinion, is a very, very bad thing. So predestination, to me, is the same as manipulation. So … I’m wary of where that way of thinking often leads.

The other thing I got back into ASAP was my language studies. But since I still have less time for that than before, I’ve had to do some research on how to set up a good pared-down schedule for myself. It’s the only thing in my life that has a definite schedule now, but I’m attempting to spend 10-15 minutes after breakfast reviewing “maintenance mode” languages (mostly the Germanic and Gaelic ones). This is so that I don’t forget anything that I’ve learned so far, even if I don’t have time to study new material. I’m using Duolingo, Drops, and Lingo Deer primarily for this.

Then, after lunch, I’ll give 30 minutes to actual study of new material for languages that I’m relatively new at or not yet good enough at to challenge myself beyond textbook-type lessons. For this, I’m rotating Chinese (beginner), Korean (still feel beginner-ish, though I’ve been learning it off and on for a few years now), and Spanish (Rosetta Stone tells me I’m intermediate, but I’m thinking … no).

And after dinner, I will set aside at least one hour to spend on my intermediate languages: French, Japanese, and … Spanish. I’ve had 6 years of intensive study/immersion with French and Japanese, so my goal there is to make myself use it (journals, lists, podcast/TV show comprehension, reading native content materials, etc.). I’m throwing Spanish into the rotation because Rosetta Stone said I was intermediate. So, we’ll see how that goes, but I’m definitely not able to do as much with it as the other two. I find myself relying heavily on my knowledge of French to pick apart Spanish. Which is good, but I’m just not as functional in Spanish as I think I need to be to call myself intermediate.

So, for example, today I did a short review of German in Duolingo. I started chapter 11 in my Talk to Me in Korean textbook and listened to that podcast. And after dinner, I will reread what I wrote in my Japanese journal yesterday and research corrections, then practice the new kanji and vocab that I had to look up in Jisho. Or, I might download the transcript to the podcast I listened to yesterday to see what details or new words I missed. … Or, I might just chill in front of “Demon Slayer” for a few episodes without the subtitles and how much I can catch on my own. 🙂

I’m studying Japanese, Korean, and Chinese together because of discoveries like the one above. (The English word “orange” is “orenji” in both Japanese and Korean. But in Chinese it is “chénzi” which sounds a lot like the other two, but not quite. Being familiar with one can help unlock the others. And I love seeing how those connections/parallels click!) I lived in Japan, and while there became interested in Korean, and then Chinese. But I didn’t start studying Korean until about 5 years ago (?). And then for some reason last year I just HAD to add Chinese to the line-up. So, I’m enjoying backing up to compare all three. I think this gives me a stronger foundational knowledge of each one to have to know how they are both similar and different, much the way English could be broken down into its Germanic, French, Latin, Greek, etc. loan words and structure. (Edit: LoL … I just noticed I spelled 「日本語」wrong. Must have been more tired than I thought when studying after lunch today!) ^_^

I am still taking a break from writing, at the moment, but my “No-Plan Plan” does include some writing seminars and time to play with new software. I bought Campfire back in November and haven’t been able to use it yet. And I updated my Scrivener just a few weeks ago. SO! Maybe I’ll have more to say about that next time, eh?

If there is anything in particular you would like me to address in the next blog, please drop me a note in the comments below. This blog was established primarily for writing discussions, book reviews, and anything relative to my novels. But I’m a bit like a ferret in reality, easily distracted by multiple interests. So, I want to open more pages for art and languages … maybe even foods (?) in the future. … What can I say? Some people are wonderfully focused, and some of us are more like paint thrown on white walls, splattering our rainbow colours everywhere. ^_^