Wednesday, December 26, 2018

2018 Reading Challenge: The Stats

I read 38 books this year and as per blog tradition--and frankly, the entire reason I keep track of my reading habits at all--is so I can do stats at the end of the year!

So first, from Goodreads:

I read 3 more books compared to 2017 and 1339 more pages this year than last.

Of 38 total books:

25 were fiction (65.79%)

Of the 25 fiction:

8 were contemporary romance
2 were historical romance
2 were historical steampunk romance
2 were historical/contemporary time slip novels
1 was alternative historical fiction
4 were fantasy; two of these were supernatural
3 were children's novels
1 was an epistolary novel
1 was literary historical fiction
1 was contemporary fiction
1 was contemporary women's fiction

Of the not fiction (34.21%):

1 was a cookbook
2 were travel memoirs
1 was about the creation of Hamilton the musical
1 was a short poetry book
4 were history
1 was a psychology book about introverts
1 was a human sexuality book about asexuality
1 autobiography
1 was a collection of short vignettes and short stories of awesome women

Of the total 38:

28 were written solely by women (73.38%)

2 were co-written by women with men

7 were written solely by men

1 was written by a man all about women

Out of 38 books:

19 were written by authors of color (50%)

20 books starred a non-white protagonist or main subject or were set in places other than Europe or North America

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Monday, December 10, 2018

Where's My Writing Been This Year?

So recently, I read a post by a writing acquaintance. She was a self-published author but she's one of the few self-published authors who got picked up by a publisher and now her series is being reissued in trade. She was talking about how she couldn't keep up with the quick release dates necessary for self-publishing success and how having a publisher means more distribution for her work. Which is great! I'm so happy for her!

But it made me think about what and where I've been with my writing, because if I thought I was unfocused last year, then this year's been worse. Granted, until I quit one of my jobs in September, I was exhausted and working bizarre hours and stressed out and depressed, which is not a good recipe for being creative, at least for me.

I've written and finished two short stories this year--one is in my files, waiting for a home, and the other entered into a contest. I'm tinkering with a third short story. I have the half-written, half-organized creative non-fiction project on my computer, though I'm not sure if I'll ever go back to that. I have the beginnings of a contemporary romance, one of my Broadway romance stories. I have plot bunnies.

I'm...not terribly interested in actually writing any of them, though. And that's fine. Writers go through cycles and phases and inspiration and wanting to hibernate and read rather than write. Maybe it's time to fill the inspiration cup rather than piece it together in a creative piece.

I've had the inkling for a few years now that as much as I dream of being a full-time author, I'm probably not actually cut out for that, at least not now. I've enjoyed self-publishing the little bit that I've done, but I'm a slow writer even when the writing's flowing, so "success"--whatever your definition of that is--is unlikely to catch me as a self-published author. And whatever, that's fine. I'll be thrilled when I actually finish an entire novel and self-publish that dang thing.

But I can't write and release a book every three months. And though I'd LOVE to be agented and published by a publisher, that's a fucking crapshoot and it comes with its own set of pressures and expectations.

So as usual, here I am going against received writing wisdom: I'm not writing everyday, I'm writing when I feel inspired to. I'm not writing for a daily word count or daily page count or writing for a specified amount of time each other; I'm writing for as long as I feel like writing, pausing and changing and mulling over where the characters can and should go next in their story. I'm trying not to obsess over story structure or the plot too much and just letting the characters lead me around their world. Because getting back to the basics of "I'm creating this character and they're doing things in a world I'm making up and omg, wouldn't that be cool if I wrote that into this story" is the magical bean of storywriting.

And maybe that sounds like creative writing is more of a hobby at the moment than a "serious" attempt at crafting a fictional story, but if that's what it is and that's what I can manage right now, then so be it.

Millennials are known for monetizing every hobby and interest we have because we've come of age in this recession-induced gig economy. I will finish a longer piece of writing that I'm mildly satisfied with again, at some point. And I'll probably decide to self-publish it because I'm impatient and the publishing industry takes too damn long. And maybe some people will buy it and review it and tell their friends. That'd be cool.

I mean, it'd also be cool if a few hundred people bought it and liked it and reviewed it and then told a few hundred of their friends and so on...

So clearly, my thoughts of world domination via story aren't completely gone :-)

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

IWSG December

It's the first Wednesday of December and time for the last IWSG post of the year 2018! The Insecure Writer's Support Groups posts of their writerly insecurities every first Wednesday of the month, founded by Alex J. Cavanagh. Check out the group here. 

This month's IWSG question is fun:

What are five objects we'd find in your writing space?

1. My laptop

Also the instrument of my greatest distractions, my laptop is where I write in spurts.

2. Notebooks

I like to jot down my story ideas by hand on paper, so I have notebooks for separate story ideas and a small one for carrying around with me and jotting down ideas on the go. They live on my nightstand, right beside the recliner in which I perch.

3. Mug

Usually filled with either tea or water.

4. Books

Said recliner is wedged next to a bookshelf, where my ever-expanding book collection is. I don't re-read my books as much as I used to, but they are shelved right next to me and I can grab one quickly if I need to look something up.

5. Lin-Manuel Miranda candle

On my desk, less than a foot away from my recliner, there's a lot of junk. But the Lin-Manuel Miranda candle is not junk, though I've never lit it. A friend bought it. I look at my Lin candle and and remember how much writing he gets done. My life is significantly less chaotic that his, so I can very well not play CandyCrush this one time and get some writing down.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Interview with House of Falling Embers author Krystal Jane Ruin!

My friend Krystal Jane Ruin released her fourth book on October 1st and I finally finished reading it a few days ago! As per tradition, I asked her a few questions about the story!

House of Falling Embers is available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Google Play, and other online retailers!

Once upon a time there was a witch. She was a kind witch, but that didn’t matter. The people were afraid, and fear often turns to hatred.
When Artemis was thirteen, her best friend Aris was swallowed by the crumbling house they found in the woods. Like a coward, she abandoned him to the horror within.
She moved away. She tried to forget. But when she finds herself back in her old neighborhood after college, the ghosts—and her guilt—are waiting. A charred figure stalks her dreams, and someone, or something, haunts her from the trees.
Going back into the woods might be the only way to save her sanity.
Because nine years later, the house is still there. Still waiting. Still restless.
On with the interview!
1. Can I gush about the cover and how well it goes with the story? So great! How did the cover come together? 
Thank you! It was a bit of journey. I knew I wanted trees on the cover, but there are so many things you can do with trees and running amok online was driving me crazy. I finally just sketched some concepts and went with one of those. The easiest decision to make was with the font. I’m really into fonts and such, and I loved the idea of doing a textured and gradient effect with the title. 

I definitely wanted everything to be purple, but in my initial email with the designer, I completely forgot to mention it, so my first two mock-ups came back with just purple font. The colors on the first mock-up were too warm, which made the forest, house, and book title kind of blur together. She did cooler hues on the second concept, and there was also a person on that cover, but it gave the book a ghost-thriller vibe that didn’t work for this story. She suggested then that we make everything purple, like a mind-reader, and I was totally up for that, of course! 

2. So, most of Artemis' storyline seemed to be based in, like, reality--I mean, the book is 

fantasy, but she has work problems and relationship problems, just like all of us do. 
How did you find writing those more mundane parts for you? 

I actually really liked it. I don’t often get carried away with the more contemporary aspects of a 
story. I think the familiar setting contributed to that, because I didn’t do it on purpose. But I got 
to use a different set of writing muscles, and it was definitely more fun for me than I would have
thought before diving into it. I feel like I often forget to round out my stories with more normal 
and every day kind of things. So, it makes sense that my brain would pop out something more 
rooted in reality than usual. 

3. You love fairytales! Was this based on one?

It was! I didn’t quite stick to my original idea, but it’s definitely Hansel & Gretel inspired.
Originally, it was set in olden times, and Artemis was a seamstress apprentice and engaged to
a grain farmer. She temporarily moves back in with her parents to plan her wedding, and while
there, she’s literally and emotionally haunted by the past. So, the concept mostly held up, but
while it sat in a drawer, it turned into a more modern kind of beast. 

4. I wanted more Greta and her story---where did she come from? Is there any chance you'd tell 
more of her tale?

I love Greta! Artemis, Aris, and Greta all have fairytale equivalents, so they were the first
people to sprout up with the idea. When I was still in the brainstorming process, Greta was
going to be in the story a bit more, but once I started writing, things took a turn, as things are
prone to do.   

It’s not likely I’ll go back and write some kind prequel with her. My brain is very cluttered, and
I’ve yet to finish any kind of sequel or companion story to anything. But I love the thought of it,
and I don’t ever like to rule anything out, because I never know what my brain is going to latch

Thanks for having me over! Interviews are so fun. ^_^

You can find Krystal at her website, The Narcissistic Rose. 

Thursday, November 15, 2018

NYC from different perspectives

I've been noodling around with story ideas in the past week, including finally getting some actual word count words down on my Broadway romance idea, the first of four stories. It's...not going to be done any time soon, guys.

But thinking of that story world again is bringing me back around to one of the core components of the stories--the setting, my hometown, New York City.

Today we are having our first snow of this autumn/winter. It was supposed to be slushy sleet but no, it's definitely sticking-to-the-ground snow. Also, you may have heard that Stan Lee of Marvel Comics died a few day ago. Stan Lee was born in Manhattan and grew up in the Bronx. He set many of the Marvel comics in New York. You can read about some of them here.

Peter Parker aka Spiderman is supposed to be from Queens!

Of the eight main characters in my stories, two are Queens natives, one was born in Brooklyn and raised in the suburbs on Long Island, and one was born and raised in New Jersey, the state New Yorkers make fun of. Some of the characters have recent immigrant roots while others have more distant migration in their backgrounds--and because it's contemporary and theater and based in New York, these characters are diverse (to the point where my best friend was like, "He's half what and half what? Did you pick those two ethnicities out of a hat?")

The other four characters are a mix of visitors and transplanted residents.

I've read very little fiction set in New York--but I've seen New York portrayed on TV and in movies.

And it either makes me cringe (ugh, the accents; I swear, not all of us sound like that) or just shake my head in New Yorker fact checking ("That is not anywhere near that. How'd they get there so fast? How come the subway isn't delayed? Where's the cat in this bodega? How can she afford this apartment in that neighborhood? Why is everyone on this show white?")

I feel like people who move here--excluding immigrants for a second, although immigration is a huge part of New York's past, present, and future--tend to come with "ooh, this place is bright and shiny!" or with "Ugh, this place is overcrowded, dirty, unfriendly, loud, and too expensive" attitudes. Both points of view are valid. Then there are the rich people who stick to their rich people enclaves, but I don't know any, so we won't talk about them.

Broadway is part of the bright and shiny of New York City, but Broadway actors experience the graft that artists anywhere experience--with the added pressure that New York City is expensive and theater is, like all creative careers, hard to get into.

You may have heard that Amazon is splitting its second headquarters between northern Virginia and Long Island City, which is a Queens neighborhood right on the East River. When I was a kid, Long Island City was pretty industrial--a lot of warehouses--though it always had its residential areas. In the last five, ten years, Long Island City has really boomed as people are priced out of Manhattan and even parts of Brooklyn. Now that Amazon looks like it's coming to Queens, there's real anxiety that the prices and rents in Long Island City and Astoria will become ridiculous and that that'll ripple on down the subway line further into Queens.

Gentrification is real in New York and just like in RENT, the first gentrifiers of a neighborhood are often artsy types. And then the tech and finance bros follow. And then new buildings start going up. Then prices go up. Then small stores start closing or turning over, unable to afford jacked up rent.

This is why New Yorkers do a lot of, "Oh, wait. Didn't that used to be...?" when pointing at stores or buildings.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

IWSG November

It's IWSG time again! The Insecure Writer's Support Group posts every first Wednesday of the month. Our co-hosts for November are:

And the IWSG question this month is: Ellen @ The Cynical Sailor,Ann V. Friend, JQ Rose, and Elizabeth Seckman!

How has your creativity in life evolved since you began writing?

In short...I started writing as a kid, so I don't really remember much of life without writing. I used to draw a lot with crayons as a child--houses, anatomically incorrect people, but though I liked the different colors, I was mostly drawing things and making up stories about whatever was going on in my picture. 

And while I like other creative endeavors--I grew up in a city full of museums and theaters--I can't sing, dance, act, paint well or really even like talking to other people, so writing is my creative outlet. 

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

A Contest Submission

It's been a long time since I've entered anything I've written into a writing contest, but I submitted a short story "Lady Beatrice's Ball" to the Insecure Writer's Support Group Anthology Contest today.

For the past few years, the IWSG has run an anthology contest, where stories are submitted and short-listed and the winners are published in an anthology.

Check out the contest here. This year's genre was Young Adult romance and the theme was masquerade.

I haven't written very much Young Adult--and I read it very, very rarely--but I had a character from a story that crashed and burned a few years ago who worked for that age range. So, yay!

I always find it hard to write romance in shorter pieces. Wait, who am I kidding? Romance, as much as I read it and enjoy it, is hard for me to write in any length, but especially shorter. I tend to find romance short stories and novellas kind of unsatisfying because the romance plot has to be truncated.

Anyway....we'll see how this goes!

"Lady Beatrice's Ball" is literally the second piece of creative writing I've managed to finish this year, so that in itself is wonderful. It would not have been possible without my betas T. Drecker and Krystal Jane Ruin. Thank you ladies!

Monday, October 15, 2018

Dueling, Or: Men Are Stupid

I am a pretty deep Hamilfan, y'know? I saw Hamilton in 2015 (still bragging), I watched the PBS Hamilton documentary twice, I'm currently reading the annotated Hamilton: The Revolution book on my Phone's Kindle app.

My nieces have recently gotten into Hamilton, but not because of me. Niece #1, aged 10, got to see Hamilton on Broadway with her aunt for her birthday. When the nieces went to visit friends this summer, said friends' children listened obsessively to the Hamilton cast album in their car. They came back knowing the songs and being excited about Hamilton's story, like so many others.

Their parents even took them to Weehawken, a New Jersey town across the Hudson from Manhattan, where Hamilton and Burr's fateful duel happened in 1804.

And I'm up to the "Ten Duel Commandments" chapter in the Hamilton book. And it's been a while since I've ranted about something historical.

It's long been my estimation that dueling is incredibly stupid. I know it had its own code--first there was the offense or insult, then the challenge, then the appointing of seconds, then those seconds negotiating for a retraction or apology or whatever so that these men wouldn't have to stand ten paces apart and shoot at each other, etc. etc.

If an apology was not forthcoming, the men and their seconds arranged to meet at the crack of dawn in their apppointed dueling grounds (the Bois de Boulogne, if in Paris, for example. Or Weehawken).

Duels were supposed to restore one's honor (or was it supposed to satisfy testosterone and unnaturally ruffled feathers?). There is something romantic about a man defending a woman's honor by dueling another dude who may have insulted her reputation. You know where this kind of thing is romantic?

In fiction.

Duels began in medieval times with swords. (Swords are far cooler than pistols, methinks) Noblemen with disputes would do combat with each other because they didn't have the communication skills to talk it out like rational human beings. Louis XIII of France outlawed dueling and his son Louis XIV also tried to wipe out dueling in France, but the tradition continued.

By the eighteenth into the turn of the nineteenth century, dueling was firmly a gun thing. Men of a certain class owned dueling pistols.

The Hamilton-Burr dueling pistols, owned by JP MorganChase

Dueling was popular in the United States, which is how Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr ended up in a field in New Jersey shooting at each other. Mind you, Alexander Hamilton's son Philip had died because of a duel three years earlier--on the same dueling grounds, by the way--even though dueling was illegal in New York and New Jersey. But New Jersey was lax in enforcing their anti-dueling laws.

Burr shot Hamilton. Hamilton died the next day.

Hamilton monument in Weehawken, NJ. The boulder is where Hamilton
supposedly laid his head down after he was shot.

You'd think the Vice President shooting the former Treasury Secretary would've put dueling in the kibosh, but nope. Dueling became popular in the South and in the Wild West.

Notably, it was usually aristocratic men participating in duello, though in the United States, men of all classes dueled. The duello code was well known, the protocol known. I don't know what the general public's attitude toward dueling was--some of them seemed to think it was barbaric, stupid, wasteful, and against religious teachings over time.

The practice died out by the end of the nineteenth century--the American Civil War and the toll it cast on the country did dueling in here and by World War One, dueling was done in Europe.

Also: women did duel, but it was rare. Apparently, Catherine the Great got into a duel with a cousin when she was a teenager and was a second for female duelists in Russia several times.

No matter how much dueling was about defending one's honor--and a person'a honor meant a lot in the olden days--women probably saw it for the violent, ridiculous ritual it was: a ritual that often resulted in death and for what? A dispute that could either be swept under the rug or discussed by human beings with analytical communication skills who were emotionally mature enough to acknowledge that you can't solve everything every little slight with your pistols?

As a historical fiction reader, a duel in a book is a dramatic, tense incident. There is a flair to it. In real life? In real life, it seems needless. And frankly, I'm not surprised that dueling was mostly the provenance of wealthy men.

Duels Between Women
How Duels Work

Monday, October 8, 2018

An Update On My Writing Projects

Oh. Em. Gee.

An update on, like, actual writing projects? Whut? Now, admittedly, 2018 has not been my most prolific writing year. Working two jobs for most of the year and being in the midst of a career change is not conducive to a ton of time or inspiration.

Short Stories:

So far this year, I have completed a short story--a horror spec fic thing that I have yet to decide what to do with. It's based on an old Japanese myth about grandparents being taken into the mountains and woods during times of hardship and left to die from exposure to lighten the load of the family.

I'm in the middle of a true rip to shreds on a different short story that I'm going to enter into a contest.

My Broadway romance novel outline is still going. I'm almost done with it, but I can't get over the hump and I'm wondering if it means that I should just jump into a full draft already.

After the Broadway romance #1, there are three other planned stories in this potential series that I also want to outline.

Plot Bunnies:

I have two. They have both reached note taking levels in separate notebooks. One is a historical steampunk idea which would take a lot of research because it wants to be set in Japan in the 1890s.

The other is a dual timeline time slip idea, set between contemporary times and the early twentieth century.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

IWSG: October

Welcome to October's Insecure Writer's Support Group. We post our writerly insecurities to the world every first Wednesday of the month. Check out the group here.

This month's IWSG question:

How do major life events affect your writing? Has writing ever helped you through something?

To generalize--writing has helped me through some really dark times. I've written to pull myself back from the edges of the cliff. I write to alleviate anxiety. But during major life events--I find that maybe I have a harder time writing? Because major life events tend to keep a person busy and/or distracted from more inner life pursuits. 

Granted, I was in the middle of the editing process for Pearl when my grandfather died--and I think while writing it didn't help me cope with his decline, going through the self publishing process for the first time was something I could research and concentrate on at that time. 

Also, now that it's October...

An anthology I was lucky enough to be published in last October will on sale for 99 cents for the entire month!

Kindle         Nook

What happens in the dark will come to light.

Full Dark is a collection of eleven short works with impressive depth and range. Twisted tales of ghosts, villains, and the paranormal await you—mystery, heinous fantasy, and pure suspense. Acclaimed and award-winning authors as well as a few talented newcomers have joined forces to be your guide. Venture into the dark if you dare.

Just A Matter Of Time by Loni Townsend
Forerunner by David Powers King
Taking Care Of You by Carrie Butler
The Apartment by Lisa Buie-Collard
The Caricature by Nick Wilford
Shifting Sands by Elizabeth Seckman
Shadows Falling On Rainbows by Celeste Holloway
Meringue, Murder or Marzipan by Tonja Drecker
Haunted Lake by Michelle Athy
Soul Coin by Laura Rich
Retribution by Melissa Maygrove

FULL DARK is a benefit anthology. 100% of the proceeds will be donated to the Gary Sinise Foundation, an organization that does many wonderful things for our country's active military, its veterans, and the countless first responders who sacrifice so much to keep us safe.

Monday, October 1, 2018

23andme results!

As a quick refresher, when I blogged about my Ancestry DNA results, they were originally:

This week, Ancestry sent me an email and a refined result. Those were:

I hadn't gotten my 23andme results on Saturday, when the Ancestry update came through, but they were ready on Sunday!

Now, to be clear, I have been raised and identify as half Irish and half Japanese and all of these results bear that out. Now, in the original Ancestry results, there were tiny amounts of other kinds of European (which are now gone from the updated results): Scandinavian, Iberian, British. History tells us that Vikings, Normans, English, Spanish and of course, Celts, all ended up in Ireland and I thought, "Oh, cool! So there's little amounts of all those groups in my DNA!"

There may be trace amounts of Scandinavian, English, Scottish and maybe some Spanish there, based on 23andme's Broadly European bits.

But the Asian side! I'm so excited that it shows not only the Japanese DNA (but that there's some Korean DNA, too. That's not a big surprise, considering ancient Japanese people came over from the Korean peninsula.When I decided to do 23andme, it was largely because Ancestry didn't show a specific country on my Asian side, even if I knew it was Japan. My mom and I were curious about whether there were other ethnicities besides Japanese in our background.

I expected some Chinese or maybe even some Southeastern Asian, but I guess not. Also, I guess I some share really ancient ancestry from, like, Siberia or Manchuria and those genes also manifest in Native Americans!

23andme also shows you an ancestry timeline:

The timeline tells you how recently you may have had an ancestor who descended from a single group of people. I was super interested that the timeline thinks I had an 100% Korean ancestor born somewhere between 1750 and 1840, which corresponds to Japan's Edo period. There was some isolationist stuff going on then but the region my family comes from was where the Dutch had their island trading post and it's pretty close to Korea and China. 

Also, I have 232 Neanderthal variants, which is 90% less than most 23andme customers. Guys, I have a Neanderthal variant associated with my height.

I'm 4'10", so....were Neanderthals short?

23andme also tells you about your haplogroup--in my case, being a female, my maternal haplogroup only. If I wanted to know about my paternal haplogroup, I'd have to get my dad, an uncle or pay a male cousin on my dad's side to take the test lol

A haplogroup is a genetic population group who share a distant common ancestor on either the maternal or paternal side. Women can only trace their mitochondrial DNA back. Men can trace both mitochondrial and paternal lines back because they have Y chromosones which they inherit from their fathers. 

My maternal haplogroup is B4b1a1, which traces back to a woman who lived 3,500 years ago. She was from modern day China or Vietnam and the B4 haplogroups are common in East Asia. 

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Reading Challenge: 30 Books Read!

I have reached 30 out of 35 books read in this year's self-imposed reading challenge. As usual, here are the books and links to my reviews below!

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Ancestry updates

So, random Ancestry update here:

I received an email that one of my uncles and my cousin, I think, took an Ancestry test. (Well, Ancestry actually said, "Hey, you have close relatives on this thing now!") At the same time, Ancestry DNA said it had an update for me based on their tests becoming more refined:

Guys, they updated the Asian side!

And I guess I'm not part Finnish or Iberian or it's a really trace amount.

Still waiting on the 23andme results!

To read part one of this series, check it out here: Ancestry and WeGene

Saturday, September 15, 2018

My Fave Broadway Moments

My friends and I went to see Pretty Woman: The Musical on Friday night, which isn't the point of this post because just twenty-four hours later, I've forgotten the vast majority of the music--still, the performances were amazing. Orfeh nearly sang the roof off. Andy Karl was charming, though my friends and I missed his cheekiness from Groundhog Day last year. And Samantha Barks, in her Broadway debut, was definitely a star.

Having said that, seeing the show--my first since seeing Moulin Rouge! in July--got me back to thinking of my Broadway romance series idea. And it made me recall a lot of special theater moments I've been lucky to experience:

-that time I won a lottery ticket for Rent, during the time Anthony Rapp and Adam Pascal--the original Mark and Roger--were back in the show for a limited run--and my friend and I got to sit front row center
-Watching Audra McDonald tap dance in Shuffle Along while she was very pregnant
-Bandstand, the end of "Right This Way." Corey Cott taking a breath and singing the very end of the song even higher (and he'd been pretty high already)
-All of Groundhog Day, but especially Andy Karl's facial expressions
-Sebastian Stan's abs in Picnic
-Aaron Tveit's "Roxanne" growl
-Corey Cott, again, singing the "This Is Life" reprise to Laura Osnes
-Once On This Island: Lea Salonga was just down the aisle from me, singing.
- How gorgeous "Falling Slowly" was in Once
-Hamilton. That is all.
-David Cook in Kinky Boots. I geeked out on this in this post. 

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Ancestry and WeGene

Several years ago, in a fit of insomnia, I bought an DNA test.

I appointed myself the family historian a decade ago and I've done a decent job for a hobbyist of tracing my Irish roots back to County Mayo (the Japanese side is a bit more elusive). But a couple of years ago, I'd hit a wall in my family research. DNA testing for ethnic origins was the new thing, so I decided to give it a shot. I knew that it was new and still-developing and that those sorts of tests were reputedly not accurate and/or not remotely helpful for races other than white. Plus, of course, the way they compare my DNA to people who currently live in the countries isn't totally reflective of human migration and mating.

The results:

These are my primary ethnicity estimates, which are correct as far as I know: my mother is Japanese, my dad is Irish-American. Three of my dad's grandparents were born in Ireland and immigrated to America; one of his grandmothers was born in New Jersey to Irish immigrant parents. 

I'd figured with Irish history being what it was that my Irish side was likely quite mixed in a northern European kinda way. 

But my God, seriously--50% East Asian? That's still all Ancestry can give me in terms of that side of my family, by the way. Do you know how big East Asia is?! 

East Asia, from Wikipedia.
The Connacht, Ireland/North Connacht subheadings--which, yes, is the Irish region my family comes from--was added a couple of years after I'd turned in my original DNA test. It's a very specific region to highlight from DNA, I think, when they can't even differentiate between various ethnicities on the world's largest continent. 

These are my "low confidence regions"--places my DNA might trace to, but in small amounts:

So, there are parts of this that make sense and parts I have questions about. The Iberian peninsula--Spain and Portgual-- kind of makes sense; there was some Spanish migration to Ireland, but equally, the Basque region is Celtic, which Ireland also is I part Spanish or just part Celtic? How was that 7% determined?

Finland? How....? Britain and Scandinavia make sense in a colonization and Vikings-in-Ireland kind of way. I don't even know about that Asia South thing. I guess it's on my white side, but how, I have no idea.

I'm not totally sure how recently or distantly Ancestry tests your DNA for--is it eight generations? Ten generations? What branches of the family tree are these trace regions showing up in? I have no idea. What the test did do was connect me on Ancestry to a bunch of people ranging from second cousins (and in fact, I've been able to find out through my family tree research how I'm related to second and third cousins) all the way out to 4th-6th cousins, where I have no idea who the common ancestor is because Irish Catholic records don't go that far back.

This Ancestry test remained a point of bemusement for the whole family for several years. It's not like being supposedly 1% of something has affected the way I identify myself, after all.

Since I've done the Ancestry test, a number of other DNA testing companies have sprung up. 23andme is the other big company offering DNA ancestry tests. Having already done one--and having become more aware of the way these companies make money off your DNA and other issues--I didn't want to take another one, especially if the company wasn't offering a decent reference population for Asians. But my mom's friend's daughter--also half Japanese, half European--took a 23andme test and got interesting (and accurately Asian) results. 

Then I started watching YouTube videos of people taking the 23andme test and not only learning their ethnic origins, but also being able to trace their haplogroups and getting a timeline of when these various ethnicities came into their family gene pool, so to speak. 

I was like, "That'd be cool to know my maternal haplogroup. And ooh, timeline! I might find out where that Finnish DNA freaking came from! Or, you know, anything about the Asian side."

23andme was having a sale, so I bought one, spit in a tube, and sent it off. 

And while I was waiting for the 23andme test to get to me, I found out about a Chinese site called WeGene where you can upload your info from Ancestry or 23andme and if you're Asian, WeGene can help break down those admixture tests by various Chinese and other Asian ethnic and regional groups, which is super cool.

Their reference population for Europeans must be tiny or non-existent because all the DNA that I know is Irish is showing up as French on WeGene. This is the WeGene breakdown of my Ancestry test:

I guess out of that 50% East Asian per Ancestry, I'm 44% Japanese! And I'm a tiny bit Chinese (not surprising), a tiny bit Cambodian (ooh, is that why my great-grandmother was supposedly tanned with wavy hair?), a wee bit Uzbek, and Sindhi, an ethnic group native to present day Pakistan. I mean, who knows if this is remotely true or not--except the 44% Japanese, of course, that's totes correct--but it's a lot more interesting than "50% East Asian."

But because it's based on my Ancestry results, I'm still not sure of a timeline or how long ago some of this DNA was--and if Irish is coming up as French on WeGene, who knows what else might be something different from the breakdown they're giving me?

Currently waiting on my 23andme results. I'll definitely post when I get those!

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

IWSG: September + House Of Falling Embers Cover Reveal!

It is the first Wednesday of September--also the first day of school here in New York City--and it's time for the Insecure Writer's Support Group! We post our writerly insecurities out to the world every first Wednesday!

Today's co-hosts are:  Toi Thomas, T. Powell Coltrin, M.J. Fifield, and Tara Tyler!

And the IWSG question of the month is:

What publishing path are you considering/did you take, and why? 

So, as soon as I began to learn more about self- and indie-publishing and saw some writing friends go in that direction, I was intrigued. I used to intern at a literary agency. I know how much literary agents have to wade through in terms of the slush pile everyday. I even did a cursory querying process on a manuscript just to have a small experience of querying under my belt. I knew the ms wasn't publication-ready though.

But when the first thing I had an urge to publish turned out to be a novella, I thought self publishing was the route to take. It didn't seem worth the time and energy to query agents in the trad lane for a 100-page novella. And I'll self-pub again, as soon as I have something ready to do so. 

But I like the idea of being a hybrid author, too. "Haunted Lake" was trad pubbed by a small publisher in an anthology and I enjoyed the experience. 

And now for my friend Krystal Jane Ruin's cover reveal!!

House of Falling Embers
Krystal Jane Ruin
Publication date: October 1st 2018
Genres: Adult, Paranormal, Retelling
Once upon a time there was a witch. She was a kind witch, but that didn’t matter. The people were afraid, and fear often turns to hatred.
When Artemis was thirteen, her best friend Aris was swallowed by the crumbling house they found in the woods. Like a coward, she abandoned him to the horror within.
She moved away. She tried to forget. But when she finds herself back in her old neighborhood after college, the ghosts—and her guilt—are waiting. A charred figure stalks her dreams, and someone, or something, haunts her from the trees.
Going back into the woods might be the only way to save her sanity.
Because nine years later, the house is still there. Still waiting. Still restless.

Author Bio:
Krystal is the author of supernatural and paranormal fiction, living in the Tennessee Valley with a collection of swords and daggers. When she's not hoarding stuffed pandas, hourglasses, and Hello Kitty replicas, she can be found in a YouTube hole or blogging about books, writing, and random things at


Friday, August 24, 2018

The Tenement Museum New York City

97 Orchard Street on the Lower East Side is a tenement building. It's a five-floor walk up with two ground level commercial spaces. It was built in 1863 and before its apartments were shuttered and sealed in 1941, 97 Orchard Street was home to 15,000 people over the decades, immigrants coming from Eastern Europe, Italy, Ireland, and other countries, who settled on the Lower East Side.

I'd been taken to the Tenement Museum once as a child, but hadn't been back since, but I went with some friends on one of the Tenement Museum's tours recently. If you're ever in New York City, I highly recommend going on one of their tours of 97 Orchard Street. The tours run about an hour.

It's one thing to learn about the waves of immigrants that have come through Ellis Island--perhaps, like me, you have ancestors who came through Ellis Island--and to know that yeah, New York City is a city of immigrants. And maybe you learned about how the Lower East Side was an extremely densely populated neighborhood in the late nineteenth century. Or maybe you learned about the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire.

97 Orchard Street is where some of those immigrants lived after arriving in America. With the anti-immigration rhetoric we've had to hear since the last presidential election, it's important to remember and acknowledge this country's immigrant roots.

You can't take pictures inside the building, so let me set the scene:

First of all, there are five floors with four apartments per floor. And these apartments are the size of my bedroom--there's a large window or two in the wall facing the front or back of the building. Each apartment has three rooms--a living room, kitchen, and a tiny bedroom. There are windows in the walls between each room and windows facing out to the hallway. Nowadays, New York City apartments have to legally have windows facing outside, but not back then.

There's also an airshaft in the building for ventilation and the apartments facing the shaft have windows there, facing each other.

Privacy was not a thing in tenement buildings.

Oh, and the bathroom? At first, there were outhouses in the back. There was a German saloon downstairs, by the way, and those outhouses were for the patrons of the saloon and the building's residents. Later, bathrooms were added in the hallways, so you shared the bathroom with your neighbors.

We took the Sweatshop tour, which focused on two of the families who lived on the third floor of 97 Orchard: the Levines and the Rogoshevskis. They were both involved in the garment trade.

The Levines, Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe, moved into the building in 1892 with two children. Harris Levine ran a dressmaking factory from the living room, running the sewing machine himself and employing three people. Running a small garment workshop from your apartment was not unusual in that neighborhood. There were a high number of factories being run up and down that block from other immigrants also working in their apartments.

The only part of the building we're allowed to touch is the stair banister--wooden and original from 1863. That's almost an everyday item, right? A mother holding onto the banister as she gets her kids up and down the stairs to get to the outhouse. An adolescent coming home exhausted from their factory job, holding onto the banister to walk up to their apartment.

Also, the apartments had layers of wallpaper and paint on the walls--as new families moved in, they used precious money to make the place their own for a little while.

For more information, go to: Tenement Museum NYC 

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Crazy Rich Asians: Representation Matters

I went to see Crazy Rich Asians on Sunday. No matter what, I was going to actually put the effort in to get off my butt, put on pants, leave my house, ride the stuffy subway on a humid August day, buy a damn movie ticket, and go see this movie, even if I was a bit "meh" on the novel on which it is based.

I missed Allegiance when it was on Broadway and Miss Saigon (which, I mean, yay Asians on Broadway but anything based on Madame Butterfly ain't happening with me, yo). But let's be real, a studio-made popcorn summer film has a FAR bigger reach and implications than a Broadway show. So I fucking made the effort.

Crazy Rich Asians is the first Hollywood studio film starring an all-Asian cast in twenty-five years. TWENTY FIVE YEARS. I was seven years old when The Joy Luck Club came out. Or course, a lot's been made about Crazy Rich Asians being a big deal in terms of representation for Asian-Americans--and Asian-Americans and other Asians living outside of Asia specifically, because obvi, Asians living in Asia are like, "What representation problem?"

Then there's also been criticism that Crazy Rich Asians isn't representative enough of Asians because it doesn't show the diversity of Singapore (the setting) or the diversity of Asian cultures.

Of course it doesn't. Asia is a large continent and region, with so many ethnic groups and languages and cultures. One movie or TV show is not going to cover all of Asia, no matter what American restaurants think with their "Asian style salad."

(Seriously. What's an "Asian style" salad? And why does it have mandarin oranges in it?)

But having a Hollywood-made, all-Asian cast rom com showing Asians who:
-can speak perfect English
-aren't fleeing a war
-aren't samurais, geishas, prostitutes, gurus, or martial artists
-aren't math geniuses, tech geniuses, or science geeks

...but a movie with an Asian cast playing characters who are of all shades--funny, conniving, smart, snobby--just living, loving, marrying, living regular--if very heightened and wealthy--modern lives is a big deal. And it should be supported and Crazy Rich Asians is a needed icebreaker so more Asian-acted, Asian-written, Asian-directed, and Asian-produced movies can be made and released here in the western hemisphere.

Plus, Crazy Rich Asians was funnnn. I teared up twice during the movie and it almost made me believe in real life romance and love again. (I never lose belief in fictional romance and love, but real life...)

I've always wanted more diversity in movies, TV, and books--because for a dreamy quiet kid, those mediums helped shape my imagination, my knowledge of the world around me, my unconscious biases. And I've never really seen myself reflected in media--but luckily, I've grown up in a biracial family in a super diverse city with a diversity of friends and co-workers.

I've also been able to see plenty of Asian representation in the Japanese dramas my mom likes to watch--Long Vacation was a big one, because she watched that a lot when I was about 11 or 12--where it was a modern day love story between two Japanese people, in Japanese, in Japan. And not long ago, when Netflix expanded to Japan, Mom and I glommed through Atelier, a drama about a lingerie designer.

But there's something different about watching a miniseries filmed in Japan with a Japanese cast speaking Japanese meant for a Japanese audience and watching something starring Asian-Americans speaking English (and whatever Asian language they may or may not speak) in a movie or TV show meant for an American audience. Because I'm American and my primary language is English and I suck at math and I've been asked "where I'm from" and "do you speak English?" plenty of times in my life and apparently replying "Queens" in my undeniably perfect American English is not an adequate answer for some people.

Representation matters.

All of this adds up to needing more Asians in movies, books, and TV.

Oh, and in case you haven't heard: Jenny Han's YA romance To All the Boys I've Loved Before has been made into a Netflix film! I watched it last night and it was adorable. Thank you to Netflix for casting actual Asians to play the half-Korean Covey sisters!