On Purple Prose

Hiroyuki Katou & Keisuke Gotou

One of the most common pieces of advice you’ll get as a writer is not to write purple prose and it’s almost uniformly the thing editors will par away when confronted with in a manuscript. What is purple prose? From Wordsmith: “An overly ornate piece of writing. Two synonyms of the term are ‘purple passage’ and ‘purple patch’. The idea comes from Latin pannus purpureus (purple patch), a phrase used by the poet Horace in his Ars Poetica (The Art of Poetry) to suggest a patch of royal fabric on an ordinary cloth, a brilliant piece of writing in an overall dull work. Purple was the color of choice by the royalty as the purple dye was the rarest and hence most expensive.” The connotations in the origins of the term aren’t as negative as I expected. True, there is an imbalance suggested here, a lack of cohesion, and a measure of pretension; but there’s also a sense of reaching for the fantastic and unattainable, an exhibition of something rare and treasured.

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End of Year Wrap Up

Like last year, 2021 passed too quickly. It felt like nothing happened except an atemporal creative depression and misanthropic mania. So I’m trying something new and compiling a little end-of-year wrap-up to reflect. I still didn’t do as much as I like but there were some nice surprises and creative developments this year.

One of the highlights was releasing Graveneye, my first graphic novel as a writer instead of artist/writer! I got to collaborate with an artist I really admire, Anna Bowles, and the artwork she did for this story continues to amaze me. I feel so lucky to have created this story with her and can’t wait to work with Anna more! She brought such an impressive visual vocabulary and technical knowledge to our comic and it still astounds me as I re-read it all the little details she’s managed to carefully intertwine in each panel. I’ve done a lot of interviews and podcasts talking about the book but my favorite might be the one here at Off Panel with David Harper.

We also got some incredible blurbs, one from Paul Tremblay who said of the book, “GRAVENEYE is a lush, blood, gothic feast. A Kaleidoscopic mix of desire, hunger and revenge. Home is where the transformed heart is.” And one from Garth Ennis (!!!) who said “An expert blend of writing and art weaves a wonderful, macabre spell.” We’ve also gotten tons of lovely reviews which really thrills me; when people connect to our story on a macro and micro level, it’s truly a wonderful feeling as an artist and person. I was stressed about launching a second (!!!) book during the pandemic but thankfully it’s debut has gone okay.

I was also nominated for my first Eisner Award in the Best Publication for Teens and my received 3rd Ignatz nomination in the Outstanding Graphic Novel category for my graphic novel A Map to the Sun.

I was pretty bummed debuting Maps last year during the pandemic because that meant not only did I not get to do a proper IRL book tour but that shops were very conservative ordering it and my publisher was conservative in marketing it. It’s sales did below-average/okay and I was feeling pretty bitter about how it might just disappear from the the public eye before anyone could even read it. So getting these two nominations and bringing it to the fore of the comics reading scene was a real boost to my morale!

I also ran my first Kickstarter with my friend and co-editor Cassie for an illustrated horror anthology! Altogether we have 26 pieces of short fiction with accompanying originals illustrations for each. We also commissioned some beautiful cover art from Angie Wang with typography by my favorite graphic designer, Darius Ou.

This project was spawned during a conversation with a bunch of PoC authors in March about feeling barred from the general horror fiction scene and, feeling cooped up and manic, I roped in Cassie, planned the campaign, and launched it in August. I was shocked it was a success and now I’m really excited to see what other projects I can bring to life with a more direct line to people who like my work or my taste in other’s work. I’m closing pre-orders for the print edition of the anthology the first week of January so if you’d still like a copy, grab it here ASAP! Otherwise, it will be available digitally next Fall.

Outside of comics, I’ve been writing prose quite a bit. The sci-fi novel I wrote in 2020 is currently on submission to publishers and I published 4 stories to Dark Matter Magazine, Fireside Magazine, Buckman Journal, one piece of flash fiction at Dread Machine, and one piece of non-fiction at Apex Magazine. You can find links to all my available writing here.

This year I sold new short fiction to Dark Matter Magazine, Uncanny Magazine, Analog Magazine and Bamboo Ridge to debut next year.

Another rewarding development was being involved in helping others manifest their stories in the medium of their choice. I was invited to be apart of a BIPOC writer mentoring initiative run by Ancestral Futures which was really fun and personally enlightening! Along with other a few other mentoring opportunities, I’ve started freelance developmental editing for fiction writers, comic writers, and cartoonists. I’m hoping to pick up more mentoring and editing work next year and make it a regular part of creative practice. You can find more information on that here if you’re interested!

Another development was moving Salt & Honey, a podcast I co-host with my good friend Leslie Hung, over to Youtube! If you don’t know, Salt & Honey was a podcast where we discuss comics, movies, television, and storytelling. We wanted a visual element to our show since that’s a core aspect we often discuss, so moving to YT seemed like a good idea! We’ve also live streamed some of ours shows instead of pre-recording which has been really fun. You can subscribe to our Youtube or listen to our archive of almost 100 podcast episodes here!

Another exciting project I’ve signed on for that will span well into next year: I’m co-Programming Chair for the 2022 Flights of Foundry Literary Convention! My co-chair is the lovely Marissa James and we’ve already begun developing a solid little seed program to begin our venture! The con will be virtual and attendance will be free with an option to donate. I’m really excited to bring a lot of incredible creative people together for this con! Oh, and another thing I got to do with Dream Foundry this year was be a discussion leader for a comic book club! We read and talked weekly about Pichetshote’s comic Infidel which was enriching to chat about it.

Some other fun things of note: I did more first reading for the We the Indigenous reading series! At Kori Handwerker’s invitation, I gave a lecture on color over Zoom for Center for Cartoon Studies in Vermont. I got to voice a few lines in a Princess Mononoke dub organized by my amazing friend Sophia! I’m an LA Times Book Prize judge and have read over 100 graphic novels published this year! I paneled at the super-fun FIYAHcon and Nebulas Conference. I also was on a panel about Comparative Speculative Futures hosted by Brown University. I got to work in my first writer’s room (virtual of course) with Curtis Chen, Millie Ho, Jenn Reese and Monte Lin and created a season of ECHO PARK 2060. I started a virtual book club which has been going strong all year! My short story Mouth & Marsh, Silver & Song is getting translated into Spanish! My first year of being in a regular critique group went amazing and I also got to be apart of a cool indie writing workshop hosted by M Tellez. After a long time of not playing games, I played/got obsessed with SMT 3 and Persona 5. I watched all of Sopranos (like everyone else). I also really got into ceramics. I also wrote probably close to 300k words across some solo and collaborative writing projects!

Next year I’m hoping to do a few things like finish Prism Stalker Book 2, to be published by Dark Horse, which was leaked somehow lol. I’ve been struggling with doing comics this year but I’m slowly building back up my inking stamina and creative focus. I also have a new slice-of-life graphic novel that’s in the process of final negotiations with a publisher which I’m hoping gets announced soon! And then I have two proposals on submission with me as writer on both and two incredible artists attached. Fingers crossed they find homes soon!

On the far future side of things, some goals and future projects I want to try and tackle are Kickstarting and hosting my own version of Manben focused on North American cartoonists, work on my next novel, and try to get my foot in the door with games writing. I also want to try and organize a non-hierarchical comics workshop where working cartoonists can come together (maybe in person even) and work, critique each other and give lectures or lead craft discussions! Maybe even a prose workshop, too….we’ll see!

All in all, a surprisingly busy year? I was totally convinced when I started writing this post that I did nothing!. Anyway, I’m looking forward to 2022 and hopinghopinghoping we’ll be in a safer state where we can emerge from our pandemic cocoons!

Inspiration, Ideas, and What’s Worth Pursuing

The most common questions I get as an artist are “What inspires your work?,” “Where do you find your ideas?,” and “How do you know what ideas are worth developing?”

Inspiration is often described as something that happens to us, an element out of our control that suddenly erupts unbidden into our consciousness. At least, that’s how it felt when I was a child but only because everything I experienced in my youth was shocking in its novelty. I was struck by the unknown all around me. I used to associate inspiration with a state of ideational flow and the emotion of joy, excitement. A sort of creative high. A common misconception people have is that the experience of inspiration stays the same throughout one’s life. That inspiration is a thing that just hits us out of nowhere. But as adults, we begin to lose out on encountering new and surprising things because of sheer experience. So how does one get inspired?

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What Makes Good Dialogue?

Recently, I was talking with a mentee about what makes good dialogue and wanted to compile some more thoughts here. The most common goal I hear from writers is how to make their dialogue realistic or natural. But good dialogue isn’t always realistic or natural dialogue. These two terms get conflated a lot which can be misleading. If you listen to people in conversation, they often speak in cliches, overuse idioms, repeat themselves and skirt a lot of context that exists between the speakers (depending on how deep their relationship is). This can make for very bland reading, though, sometimes that blandness can be intentional and making that choice is what matters.

I find when I come across mealy dialogue, it’s because of an over-dependence on realism or naturalism. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with striving for realism but it’s not always acknowledged that grasping for the “real”–whatever that is–from a singular author will still give evidence of biases, limited experience and particular cultural contexts in a distilled form. Your real is only your real, not everyone else’s even if others recognize aspects as familiar. Some writers try to graft realism into their work, which often means relying on stereotypes and cliches in order to widen the scope of their story and therefore make it feel more global, heterogenous, but that often comes off as fake and shallow. So why strive for this false state of consensus reality when what’s made in the tunnel of your own mind is much more interesting?

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What Makes A Good Story?

From Kannou Sensei by Yoshida Motoi

So far, in the last two months, I’ve read over 200 short story submissions ranging between 1000-6000 words which means I’ve been inundated with the same question: what makes a good story? Answering this question involves another set of subquestions and the difficult challenge of identifying 1) what are the interesting and engaging aspects of a story, 2) what is working against the story and, 3) what can we change to improve the story.

Good storytelling and good art is something I’ve been thinking about a lot but especially in the last two years. In 2020, Leslie Hung and I ran a season-long comics mentorship with three mentees who were preparing proposals for graphic novels in a variety of genres. We provided developmental support and critique during biweekly meetings for several months. I also attended CRIT, a high impact writing workshop which required written critique of our cohorts’ stories which was both extremely challenging and rewarding. This year, I was a part of the Ancestral Futures Mentorship program and got to mentor an extremely talented Gothic speculative fiction writer. Most recently, I Kickstarted a BIPOC illustrated short fiction anthology which I’m co-editing with Cassie Hart.

In these roles, I’ve had to find a clear, constructive vocabulary to be able to communicate the answers to those questions and have constructed a sort of three-prong diagnostic tool to help with that. The three aspects of story (which can range from flash to short stories to novels) that I think about most often are style, movement, and insight. These three aspects are dials you can throttle back or crank up, not values per se. This could be a post-procedural tool for a story you feel is complete and needs refinement or a calibrator you can turn to during the writing stage.

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The Nature of a Natural Future

I got to write a non-fiction piece for the Indigenous Futurist issue of Apex Magazine! And an excerpt:

When we think of the future, what does mainstream media show us? On the side of the dystopic: behemoth brutalist architecture bathed in glaring neon billboards, holographic advertisements flashing through steam and smoke. Roaming drones and militarized robots. On the utopic: hermetically-sealed structures just as goliath but perhaps designed with a more open, translucent façade. Glass and steel intertwined with trees and ferns to suggest eco-civilized harmony; pristine white interior design with the occasional pop of green from an austere, well-placed bonsai. In these fictional hyper-Anthropocene futures, we grapple with our anthropocentric anxieties: resource scarcity, severe deprivation, and economic quality of life.

But where is nature, the very literal bedrock of our future, in all of these imaginings? In our global culture of capitalism and consumerism, nature has been reduced to a commodity and the futures explored by our most revered storytellers maintain this status quo of leaving the land out of the future. How can we disentangle capitalism, nature, and our narcissistic vision of the future? How is the concept of progress corrupted by imperialist capitalism? And what does a future look like with nature at the fore instead of our own “standard of living”?

You can read the full article here.

Art, Harm and Semiotics

(Yet another little collection of tweets from awhile back, just so I can archive and mull over it again later.)

People who cleave to the belief that ‘immoral’ art/fiction can do mind-altering harm often use the same line of reasoning to conclude that consuming ‘moral’ art/fiction makes you a morally better or more empathetic person. It’s a seductively easy and romantic binary to agree with and one that is fundamentally wrong. There’s a lot of elements at play with buying into that idea; art & stories are so often peddled as ‘empathy machines’. Disgust and offense and generally feeling bad are easy to categorize as ‘immoral’ so I understand the inclination.

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On Structure, Protagonists, and Conflict

Did I forget I had this blog? Maybe. Am I tired of trying to find decent newsletter platforms that aren’t a pain to use and allow discussion but aren’t funding bigots? Yes. So I’m back to this ancient WordPress site, to hopefully renew its use within a regular writing practice. I write a lot for myself but it never enters a state where it’s polished enough to share which is why most of my thoughts go half-baked on Twitter. But I’d like to get back to trying to write essays and express myself on a critical and theoretical level again. For now, here’s some thoughts I want to revisit. (Yes, originally they were tweets. Baby steps.)

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