Plan your creative career 2018 part one: Why and how to plan

“Plan” is an ironically vague term. You can plan to stop by Target on your way home, and you can plan a detailed, day-by-day, hour-by-hour itinerary for a trip. Same word, completely different results.

I think this is what makes business planning such a confusing and sometimes frustrating experience for a lot of people. As a freelancer, what I plan to do and what I’m actually able to achieve are often very different things: I can say that I want to be publish five articles a month, but that’s contingent on whether I can get anyone to bite on my pitches or not, or on what other work I get over the course of the month. When I fall behind (which happens more often than I care to admit), it feels like planning is just an exercise in frustration. It feels like it makes more sense for me to not plan, to just go where life and work take me. If that’s what ends up happening anyway, why frustrate myself with goals that may never come to fruition.

The thing, though, is that any smarmy business magazine will tell you that planning is crucial for business success. And if you’re a freelancer, creative or not, you’re running a business.

(In some ways, the term “freelancer” is kinda subversive because it makes it seem like work is more of a side gig or hobby. If you’re freelancing full-time, you’re an entrepreneur.)

The question, then, becomes what to plan. As I’ve said, having hard benchmarks to meet can end up making you feel frustrated and even angry with yourself. They can be really discouraging if you’re not getting to where you thought you’d be. At the same time, you can’t plan for every contingency. Life happens, and sometimes it can derail you. Hard. That’s not anyone’s fault, but it does undermine the process. So what should you plan, and to what extent?

I can’t say what you should do. I’m not your mom. But I can tell you what I do! My planning process has evolved a lot since I started freelancing in May 2016, and here’s what I’ve learned so far:

Break up the year in a way that makes sense for your work.

I’ve found that planning month-to-month just doesn’t work for me as a writer. Pitching is a long process that involves a lot of rejection. If you pitch a piece, wait two weeks to hear back, follow up, then wait another two weeks only to be rejected, then you’ve already spent a month on just that one pitch and have nothing to show for it. (Keep in mind that simultaneous submissions are a big no-no in the magazine/digital media world). Publishing takes even longer – you can submit an article, and not see it in print (or get paid for it) for two or three months.

For me, what works best is to plan quarterly. It’s much more realistic for me to write 15 pieces over three months than it is to write five pieces in one month. Ultimately, it’s the same amount of work, but it gives me the wiggle room I need to focus on achieving my goals instead of feeling frustrated at a perceived lack of accomplishment.

You may be asking, why three months? Why not four or six? I will say that sometimes I’ll give myself an extra month to achieve a certain goal, but overall, I find that three months is a sweet spot planning-wise. It’s long enough to give you a reasonable amount of time to accomplish something tangible, but it’s short enough that you’ll still remember what your goals were from start to end. If you’re planning every six months, what can end up happening is that you get to your six month mark only to find that you’ve forgotten half of what you’d set out to do, and now you’re so off track it’s hard to muster up the motivation to recalibrate yourself. Three months is the Goldilocks of planning times.

Plan for opportunities, not idealizations

What I’ve discovered is that planning pushes you to take steps that will ultimately open up new opportunities that will help you achieve your goals. If I want to take on one new client every quarter, planning gives me the opportunity to sit with myself and think, ‘What do I need to do to be able to achieve that goal?’ Networking is probably going to be on that list, so I plan to attend three networking events each month, for example. Instead of getting tunnel vision staring at my new client goal and then beating myself up when it doesn’t pan out, I’m pushing myself to create the opportunities that will get me there. Even if I don’t meet my goal, I’ll have almost certainly gained something for having stuck to my action plan.

Adjust, adjust, adjust

When I create my task list for each month, I reference my quarterly goals. Then, at the end of the quarter, I sit and take stock of what goals were achieved and in what time frame. Sometimes, I’ll find that I’m still working towards a goal – I’m making progress, but I haven’t gotten there yet. Other times, I find that I’ve completely fallen off the wagon with regards to one goal. Maybe I started out the quarter strong, but since then it’s taken a backseat compared to other goals. That evaluation helps me figure out how to organize and manage my time, and it helps me readjust my expectations to match reality. Perhaps more importantly, though, is that it helps me really think about what my priorities are. If one goal has been completely forgotten, maybe I need to set it aside for a while and zero-in on what I’ve gravitated towards over the course of those few months.

This is part of why I prefer to plan quarterly as well – it’s hard to figure out priorities and work trends over the course of one month. Three months gives you a much better picture of what your work life actually looks like, while at the same time being short enough so that you can consistently assess yourself and stay on track.

Ultimately, how and what you plan is up to you, but hopefully my approach will help you brainstorm one of your own. In Planning Your Creative Career Part 2, I’ll be discussing my planning system in more detail, showing you the tools I use and how I use them. In the meantime, check out these new year planning tips and these writing goals (which can totally be adjusted to whatever you do as a creative).

Get crackin’ on your creative career in 2018

It’s hard to believe that it’s already December. It’s true what they say: time flies when you’re having fun, and I’ve been having a ton of fun with Creative Quibble this last year. But December, for me, is a time to buckle down and get serious about what I’ve accomplished in the last year and what I want to accomplish in the year ahead. It helps that my birthday is in January, so the new year always feels like a new start and a chance to redefine my goals as I get older and, ideally, wiser.

Last week, I was interviewed by Rikki Ayers of the Own Up Grown Up podcast about being a freelance writer and teacher on Skillshare. The episode focused on the business aspect of freelance writing: the challenges and the opportunities that come with going your own way. Listen to the episode here.

For the rest of the month, I want to capitalize and build on that episode to zero in on building a creative career, and specifically building a plan for the new year that will help propel that career. So if you’re in the throes of creating that kind of career, or if you’re considering making that shift, stick around! I have plenty of ideas that I can’t wait to share with you, but in the meantime, feel free to share your own advice in the comments!

Here’s to making 2018 the best and most productive year yet!

15 writing resources to keep you going through NaNoWriMo 2017

That time of year is upon us once again, fellow writers – National Novel Writing Month. While some of you may know that I have never attempted NaNoWriMo myself, I am an avid fan and follower of the influx of writing inspiration and advice the month invariably brings.

1. Fiction Writing Tips by Kris Noel

Author Kris Noel is an on-and-off Tumblr user, but come NaNoWriMo she floods feeds worldwide with all kinds of helpful tips on how to actually buckle down and crank that novel out.

2. Writrs

This blog runs prompts all year round, but it focuses on what aspiring writers need to keep them creative and inspired in November.

3. Fuck Yeah Character Development

Characters are pretty much the most important part of any written work, so if you ever find yourself struggling with that aspect, this site provides all kinds of brainstorming questions, as well as insight into how to write characters of different ethnicities, backgrounds, and experiences.

4. It’s a Writer Thing

You are not alone! The lovely folks at It’s a Writer Thing have plenty of support and advice to offer if you’re struggling with an aspect of your story, whether it’s scene, dialogue, character – no matter how small it is, you can find someone or something that can help you here.

5. Sacha Black

While author Sacha Black’s website isn’t dedicated specifically to NaNoWriMo, it is dedicated to her own journey as a writer and the experience that comes with it. She also offers writer resources and interviews other writers for their perspectives.

6. The Spinning Pen

This site is dedicated to YA authors, but the advice and insight available on the writing and publishing processes are useful to any writer.

7. Shannon Thompson

Shannon Thompson is another author whose blog is focused more on her own work and what’s relevant to her in the writing world, but I continue to find her experience incredibly useful and encouraging. Thompson is a YA author, so if that’s your genre you may find her writing experiences particularly relatable.

8. Cecile’s Writers

This blog is an offshoot of Cecile’s Writers magazine, a publication dedicated to intercultural voices. Their blog is a great way to get insight on the industry from a diverse set of writers.

9. Eye of the Writer

If you need a little humor as you sit chained to your disk, your digits slowly numbing from hours of typing, Eye of the Writer is the place to be. The style is hilarious and the advice is excellent.

10. The Muffin

The Muffin is WOW! Women on Writing’s official blog. They’ve been online since 2006, so there’s no shortage of advice for women looking to break into the business and keep themselves motivated through the month.

11. Creative Writing Contests

This is a more of an “after” resource, but if you’re focused on publication and want to give your novel its best chance, this website has an endless list of competitions, grants, and literary magazine issues that can help you focus your plot and give you a prize to keep your eye on.

12. World Building Question of the Day

Every day, this Tumblr blog gives you something to think about as you create the world your story exists in.

13. And World Building Too

This website I especially like because it provides visual inspiration to help you think about what your world looks like.

14. I Suck At Writing

This is a great resource for writers looking for help with productivity and creating clean, professional copy.

15. Silly OC Prompts

Another blog focused on character creation and development, this provides daily questions that will give you a much clearer focus on who your characters really are.

There you have it folks! What are some of the resources you rely on to motivate you through NaNoWriMo? Share in the comments!

Putting a hand on pop culture: An interview with Daryl Muncaster of Creature Creation

You know what’s cool? Things. Physical things. You can touch them, activating a sense that’s really crucial to the human experience.

I think this why people like to sculpt things, or why we as a human species invented sculpting. The sensation of running your hand over material, carving it – that’s something special. And that’s what artist Daryl Muncaster does for a living.

I found Muncaster on Facebook and then Instagram (he goes by creature.creation), where he displays the sculptures he makes of pop culture icons like The Joker, Groot, Batman, and Hellboy.

Photo courtesy Daryl Muncaster

Needless to say as a pop culture weirdness junkie, I was immediately fascinated. Muncaster was nice enough to share some of his experiences as a working artist and the inspiration behind his unique pieces.

How did you get into sculpture? Where did you learn?

As I kid I always played around with bluetack, making little sculptures of creatures and animals. I later had a play around with more traditional pottery in my college years. It wasn’t until university, studying Fine Art, when I really decided to move away from my painting and focus on sculpture. I pretty much sculpted day and night until I’d taught myself the basics, and continue to teach myself with each new sculpture now!

When people think of sculpture, they usually think of Venus or other Ancient Greek museum-based work. What inspired you to do

Photo courtesy Daryl Muncaster

pop culture icons?

Strangely enough, my favorite sculptors are Christo and Jeanne-Claude. They are mostly known for the wrapping of famous landmarks and buildings, transforming them into some amazing visual art. The sculptures they create have nothing technically to do with my own, but I’ve always admired their ability to take something already existing and change the way we view it.

How do you approach a work? Walk us through your process.

My own creature designs started from a project I set myself in University. I researched folklore and mythical creatures from cultures all over the world and collected text from each of them. I’d read the descriptions of alleged sightings and stories, then sculpt what I envisioned from them. This is a process I still use when coming up with a creature.

You make accessories too, how do you get all that detail on something so small?

Most of what I do is learning by doing. Whether it’s a commission I’m taking, or a project I’ve started myself. Each project has it’s own challenges that are part of the fun to figure out and overcome!

What’s your favorite piece you’ve worked on so far?

I really enjoyed working on my mythical creatures and folklore sculpts. I set them all up as a sort of museum for a show, some in glass cages, some wall mounted. I also made masks so that the viewers became part of the exhibition, it was a lot of fun!

What are you working on now? Any cool projects you can tell us about?

Well, I’ve really been wanting to take some of my sculptures to a convention for the first time. I’ve been working on lots of fan art style works based on characters I love. I suppose this is all one big project for me, with the end goal being a convention stand.

What’s your advice to those looking to pursue this kind of art professionally?

I’m very new to selling my sculptures but I can say that the best thing I did was start a social media page. In my case Instagram seems to be working for me. I started it almost a year ago now, and it’s allowed me to keep an online portfolio as well as attract people that want to buy my work. This pushed me to start my little Etsy shop. In short, make something and post it somewhere! The chances are, if you like it, others will too. It might take some time for them to find you but it needs to be there for them to find.

The Apocalypse has been rescheduled: A review of “Good Omens”

It’s old news now, but Amazon is making a television show of “Good Omens,” the Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett novel on nuclear Apocalypse and what happens when the Antichrist decides he’d rather have an idyllic British country childhood instead.

Good Omens

I originally read “Good Omens” years ago when I was on the tail end of a Terry Pratchett binge-athon. I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about a non-Discworld offering, as I’d read “The Nation” a year or so before and hadn’t enjoyed it nearly as much, but “Good Omens” came highly recommended and with a back cover covered in praise as opposed to a description of the plot, which I normally abhor but will admit is generally a good sign.

Spoilers ahead!

The story goes thusly: the Apocalypse is upon us, and the demons of Hell have enlisted a Satanistic order to pose as nurses in order to bring Lucifer’s spawn to the world and give him to an important American family. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your point of view), there’s a bit of a miscommunication and the spawn of Satan ends up with an ordinary British family that lives in a small country town.

Meanwhile, Crowley, a devil, and Aziraphale, an angel, are busy keeping an eye on the child they think is the Antichrist, each trying to persuade him towards their side. The result is that the real Antichrist has an incredibly ordinary childhood. Admittedly, he is a bit more charismatic than your average 11-year old, but still. Mostly he just rides his bike around, pulling pranks with the posse of children who are attracted to him.

Meanwhile meanwhile, there’s Anathema Device (I know), a young woman trying to stop the Apocalypse. How does she know it’s coming, you ask? Well, her ancestor was a seer, condemned witch, and author of “The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter,” the only truly accurate prophetic book written in history.

At least the Apocalypse will be funny…

So as you can see there’s a lot going on, as there would be when the Apocalypse is at hand. You’d think it would be stressful for the reader, but “Good Omens” is written in that quintessential Pratchett style – a humor that is derived from the idiosyncrasies of human beings and the ways that morphs their perspectives and priorities. Take Shadewell, a witch hunter whose morality is derived directly from his medieval predecessors – except for the part where he takes advantage of both Aziraphale and Crowley by pretending there are way more witch hunters in his organization so that they’ll pay him more.

(Why are Aziraphale and Crowley paying him at all? Apparently witch hunting is one of those things that is encouraged on both sides).

There’s a lot of Pratchett in “Good Omens.” I haven’t read anything by Neil Gaiman, so I obviously can’t comment on how his style influences the book. What I can say is that it reflects a recurring theme in Pratchett’s writing: humanity as being above the morality of Heaven and Hell. In the Discworld books, Pratchett repeatedly positions the complexity of the human experience against the black-and-white morality of traditional organized religion. He challenges the idea that God’s Will is always good and pure, and instead positions our own free will as being morally superior.

As a religious person myself, this theme is one that I have mixed feelings about. On the one hand, I believe that God has given us free will, and that morality is indeed complex. Indeed, I would say that God gives us free will so that we can tackle that complexity. But on the other hand, I do believe in the ultimate judgement of God, and that He is the arbiter of good and evil and right and wrong, whereas Pratchett would suggest that it is human beings who must take on that task.

So as you can see, for being a comedic romp through the Apocalypse, “Good Omens” is deceptively complex, and a book I would highly recommend. If you’re a fan of the Discworld, you’ll enjoy the patterns it takes from those books, but even if you’re not familiar with Pratchett’s work, I think it serves as a good introduction to his style.

With the television show coming out I’m hoping that style will translate, because it’s really one of the major selling points of “Good Omens” to me. These kind of adaptations are really hit or miss, and I feel like given that the book has a definite end maybe it would do better as a movie. I do have Amazon Prime so I might give it a shot – stay tuned!

Are you planning to watch the “Good Omens” adaptation? Let me know in the comments!

Interview with actress and director Asil Moussa on The Riveter!

As any conscientious reader (of which I assume there are MILLIONS) of this blog will know, I love me a good interview with a professional creative. As a writer, there is nothing more inspiring than seeing not just other writers, but artists, directors, musicians, and really all creative people, make it in the real world.

So many times we’re told that our passions are just a hobby. And when we’re struggling to get off the ground and make those passions viable sources of income, it can feel like we’re kidding ourselves about our ability to make it work. But there are plenty of people making the dream work every day, and actress and director Asil Moussa is one of them.

I interviewed Moussa for The Riveter, a magazine I’ve had the opportunity to write for a few times so far. She talked to me about her movie, The Card, and how she’s carving an acting career for herself as a Muslim woman:

It is 7:30 pm in Windsor, Canada, when Asil Moussa calls me for our interview, but she’s only just woken up.

Twenty-four-year-old Moussa, an actress, writer, and director, was at a film shoot until four that morning back in July, and came home in the zombie makeup she’d been shooting in.

“My mom was like wow, you look terrible!” she laughs.

When it comes to her looks, Moussa’s are perhaps the first thing a film audience will notice. A Muslim, Moussa wears the hijab, or headscarf, in public.

Way back in the boonies of this blog I interviewed director Logan Leistikow, and I think what both filmmakers have in common is the determination to make it work. Both were willing to trek out to Los Angeles for career-defining opportunities, and both have fully invested in their own projects as a way of bringing their vision to the big screen. I think it’s a lesson that not only aspiring filmmakers, but creatives of all types, can take to heart as they work their way towards their dreams.

Read my interview with Asil Moussa on The Riveter website and let me know what you think!

Hand-lettering 2: This time, with a brush!

A couple weeks ago (ish) I gave hand-lettering a try for the first time. Loyal and devoted readers (which I assume is all of you) will recall that I found it surprisingly difficult and was unsure that I would pursue it further. But it occurred to me – maybe it would be easier with paint?

LDRs, (loyal devoted readers, pass it on) will also recall that I am a big fan of Amy Tangerine, an artist who shares her work and skill via YouTube. Amy has a brush-lettering series, so I picked a few videos to try out.

Based off my previous experience, I was prepared for this to be difficult, and I ran into issues almost immediately. For one thing, it’s been a long time since I pulled out my watercolors, so I needed to use a lot more water than I expected to get an even brush stroke.

You can see where the brush clumps and skips from the dryness.

Then I overcompensated and added too much water, which diluted the color and spread the paint out so much that you couldn’t even tell which letter was which anymore. I scrapped that attempt and started over.

I also had to try out several different brushes before I found one that had enough length in the tip to create nice strokes while at the same time being short enough for me to control. I can’t really tell properly from the video, but I think the brush I use has a shorter tip than the one Amy uses.

As I suspected, I did find it easier than my previous attempt with markers, but I still had trouble with the upstrokes. Although it’s easier to get a thin line on the first attempt, if you try to go over it to get a better color saturation you end up making the line too thick.

Once again, I found caps easier than lowercase letters.
You see that capital N? The upstroke on the end was much thinner when I did it the first time, but it was too light and when I went over it I ruined it. Womp womp.

One thing I really like about Amy is that she encourages you to take your cue from your own natural handwriting, and that changed my approach to the process from last time. Instead of trying to copy her exactly, I made some adjustments in the style and I think that’s part of why I found this easier.

I think I might actually do this again! It was fun and I do think I improved more than I did the first time, probably because I’d had that previous practice.

Which do you prefer, hand-lettering with markers or brush-lettering with paint?

A beginner dives into hand-lettering

If you’re involved with the planner/bullet journal community at all, you’ve probably seen countless examples of hand-lettering using Tombow markers or other tools.

And if you’re anything like me, you’re obsessed.

This week I decided to continue arting by trying out hand-lettering, something I’ve always been curious about. I quite like my handwriting as it is, but when it comes to headers my go-to is caps. Sometimes I alternate caps and lowercase letters for (what I think is) a cute, quirky effect, but otherwise I’ve very limited in terms of variety. I thought hand lettering would shake things up for me a bit.

Some quick YouTube searching led me to this introductory video by freelance graphic designer Will Paterson.

This, I figured, would be ideal for me, because while I do not have any expensive Tombow markers (nor do I intend to purchase any in the near future; you’ll see why in a second), I do have cheapy Crayola markers. Mine aren’t exactly the kind Paterson has (his are short and fat, mine are short and skinny) but the basic premise is the same. I pulled out some colors and dove in.

Then I hit the bottom of the hand-lettering pool with a resounding thud.

Guys. Guys. This is much, much harder than it looks. Paterson gets into this a little the video, but it really does require a lot more dexterity and physical control than I anticipated. In particular, I found it very challenging to get real definition between the upstrokes and downstrokes. Particularly with letters like m and n, where there are repeated up and down patterns, it’s really hard to get any distinction between the ups and downs.

(Apologies for my terrible photography skills.)

You can see me struggling to create proper upstrokes and downstrokes here.
Trying out the alphabet and continuing to struggle…

It’s also an incredibly slow process because you really have to think about how you’re holding the pen, what angle the tip is at, how much pressure you need to apply to get it right; so many things that you don’t see at all when you watch people do this on YouTube.

I did find uppercase letters marginally easier to do than lowercase letters. I think possibly the increased space makes it easier to have that room to move the marker to the correct position for a different stroke.

You can see I’m doing a little better here.

I do think it got a little easier just in the hour and a half I spent practicing, but I honestly don’t know that I’m going to pursue this again. It’s a lot of work for a payoff that I’m not particularly invested in because as I said, I do like my handwriting as it is. I do think it’s a good exercise for anyone pursuing art more generally, because it really does promote control and deliberation in the creative process.

Has anyone tried hand-lettering before? What’s your advice for those looking to perfect it?

Writing, war, and Terrorist-ish: An interview with writer Shymala Dason

I’m going to be completely honest and say that I rarely read literary magazines. I have a hard time getting invested in short stories – in my experience, they’re either spectacular or…meh.

Shymala Dason’s “Terrorist-ish” definitely falls into the former category. Dason is an Indian-Malaysian American NASA consultant turned writer (we got one! woop!) and editor. “Terrorist-ish,” which was published by the Asian American Writer’s Workshop in 2015, is familiar in the sense that it covers those scary places where people of color are scrutinized, dug up and around and under. But it’s also completely different from anything I’ve ever read before – how many books have you read that have an Indian-Malaysian college dropout and accidental porn star as their main character.

Exactly.

I talked to Dason about how she found her way to writing, and what familiar-but-different stories she’s planning for the future:

1. You come from a heavily scientific background, and even worked for NASA! How did you make the transition into writing?

Courtesy of Shymala Dason

I’ve written for as long as I can remember, poetry, journal or memoir. The first more or less proper (though dreadfully bad) poem was when I was about eight. I began to play with fictionalizing with adolescent angst stuff in secondary school, and writing remained my sanity mechanism through math grad school and NASA. But always on the side. Then my father died, and I thought about all the dreams he had died without fulfilling. He was a young man during the Japanese Occupation of Malaya, and instead of going off to medical school he became an ambulance driver, and an Air Raid Warden, serving his family and community. Whereas all I was serving was my 401K, which isn’t all that noble. So I switched my focus. But I’m still not ‘transitioned’ in the sense that I’m not making my living from writing.

 

2. How does your scientific experience influence your writing, whether it’s subject matter or style?

There are two elements I think come from science. One is trying for a fuller picture rather than writing from my own particular perspective and idea. The other is in the method of writing, which is rather like putting together bits of code from a library to make a new program, or working in separate layers in PhotoShop and then merging them.

I always have random bits of text floating around – little bits of dialogue, descriptions of place or atmosphere or character, story sketches… And I put these together and shuffle them around until patterns emerge. That final process, though, is more poetry than science.

3. You’re a manuscript editor as well. How did you get into that, and how does it impact your own writing process?

I’ve been fortunate to have the bestselling historical novelist Beverly Swerling as a mentor for some years. Beverly is the literary half of Agent Research & Evaluation, and she also does critiques for selected clients. A few years into our relationship, I was able to make a useful suggestion for one of her books, “Bristol House” (I am mentioned in the acknowledgements!), and some time after that she got a request to critique a science fiction novel. She’s one of many literary people who don’t work with science fiction, but she remembered my science background and that my first couple of short story sales were to Marion Zimmer Bradley, so she referred that client to me. And then he referred another. It’s both exhilarating and frightening to put one’s hands into another person’s work. I’ve received good editorial advice, myself, and bad advice, so I’m very conscious of the responsibility to do it right. I don’t think editing impacts my own writing process. It’s more my writing process impacts the way I edit.

4. Your short story, “Terrorist-ish,” is about an undocumented immigrant with big dreams and a head for songs. What inspired the story?

I was running errands, driving in Columbia, MD one day not to long after 9/11, with the car radio on. First there was the news, which was full of arrests and alarms – wholesale detention of Arab students, and so on – and then when I surfed away from that I hit a Bollywood-Bhangra station which was reporting on the same news, but instead of NPR it was, “Yo, Badmash, be careful out there, yaar! They are simply rounding up people…” It was Hinglish, it was vulnerable, it was incredibly brave despite being afraid, upbeat in a Bhangra-rap sort of way, and the first sentences of “Terrorist-ish” popped into my head. The rhythm of that voice was irresistible. I pulled over in a DSW parking lot and jotted down the opening lines. I had to stretch pretty far back in memory to my high-school days to find people who spoke the way this character speaks to get the rest of the story, but if I’d used a normal voice, the story would just have been depressing.

The [main] character, like me, is Indian diaspora by way of Malaysia, from a community of people who’ve been in Malaysia for several generations. I’m Christian, I wrote the character as specifically Catholic (rather than Anglican/Episcopalian, as I am) so I could be more colorful in the Christian references, and not just joke about Mothers’ Unions but also about confession and penance and so on. All tongue-in-cheek, broad humor to balance the horror of an ordinary guy needing to worry that someone will decide he’s a terrorist.

5. Why did you choose the title “Terrorist-ish”?

It’s a spectacular title, isn’t it? I can say that without being immodest because I had several truly horrible ideas for the title – “Boy-type Illegal with Dark-Dark Skin” was one, so you can see titles are not my strong point – and Anelise Chen, who accepted the story for publication in “The Margins” (and was a spectacular editor), suggested this title, which was perfect since the story is about the post-9/11 paranoia where, suddenly, all Brown people, particular young Brown men, were suspected of being terrorists.

6. You have two upcoming novels, one on the Malaysian global diaspora and one about the Japanese occupation of Malaysia during World War II. What are the inspirations for these novels, and what issues will they touch on?

It all comes somehow from the Malaysian community. Probably half of the people I grew up with are now scattered around the world. So that’s the inspiration for the global diaspora story, as well as my short story collection. What drives the expats, what it’s like being strangers in a strange land and having no ground under your feet at all except the ground you create, and even then – as the present times are making clear – we are only welcome on sufferance that may change at any moment. And then there’s the strain in family bonds, the chasms between people who once ate out of the same dish and now, values shifting with time and movement and location, we look at each other, stay-at-homes at expats and vice versa, or from one generation to another, and everything is simultaneously as familiar as one’s own face, and yet totally strange.

The Japanese invasion of Kuala Lampur, 1942

As for the WWII novel, I wanted to tell the story of Malayans in WWII Malaya. Not British, not Japanese, but the local people. It’s their story. My father’s story, the story of that entire generation. One out of 25 Malayans died of the war. That’s a lot of dead. And for the rest, from 101 recipes for tapioca and water spinach so they didn’t starve, to a resistance as heroic as anything in France and against an Occupying force that decorated the streets with decapitated heads to maintain ‘discipline’, it seemed a story worth celebrating. I want to tell the survivors’ tale before time washes it away.

6. What do you hope to achieve with your writing?

I’ve never thought, “This is what I want to achieve.” It’s always, “These are the stories I have to tell, how do I tell them?”

I suppose all my writing is about disagreement and reconciliation, or hardship and reconciliation, even if it is reconciliation as the wartime generation had to do it, reconciling themselves to irreversible loss. I would like my work to contribute somewhat to reconciliation – between peoples, between generations, between expats and stay-at-homes.

Connected with that is the impulse that is making me write the WWII book. True reconciliation means nobody gets written out of the story. So, telling forgotten or overlooked stories is important to me.

You can find out more about Shymala Dason at her website, and read “Terrorist-ish” here.

Going to back to the basic basics: Illustration using shapes

Hobbies are an odd thing. They straddle the line between “things I do for fun” and “things I take seriously” to create an awkward, noncommittal space wherein one’s approach to said hobby can vary widely.

By which I mean to say, what?

No sorry, that’s Bertie Wooster. What I mean to say is that it has been a long while since I did any art. Since I arted, if you will. Finding myself aching for the feel of smooth sketch paper beneath my forearm and the weight of a colored pencil in my hand, I dug out my long dormant supplies and…

Paused.

It’s hard to find art tutorials on YouTube that don’t assume a much higher level of expertise than I currently possess. Plus they go too fast. So I opened a new tab and turned to Skillshare, an online learning platform, and found a class even I couldn’t mess up.

The class is called Start with a Shape – An Illustration Challenge, and is taught by Amarilys Henderson, an illustrator and painter based in Minnesota.

Essentially what Henderson teaches you is how to start with a basic shape and use it as a launching pad to make something more complex. She uses watercolors in the class, but I used color pencils and was very happy with the results.

First, I started with a triangle and made this weirdo (please excuse my poor photography skills):

What is it? Is it a gnome? A Borrower? An off-brand leprechaun? The point is that it has a triangle for a hat.

Then I did a circle and made this cactus, because cacti are in this season.

This I’m actually quite proud of. Not that I’m not proud of gnomey up there. But this in particular turned out better than I expected.

I also used a triangle to make a butterfly, and a circle to make a flower. I haven’t tried my hand at squares yet, but I have (awkward, noncommittal) plans to.

I have a premium Skillshare account because I teach classes there myself, but if you don’t have an account you can use this (affiliate) link to get two free months to try your hand at this class or any other.

What should I try my hand at next?