Speed Writing #17 – Fandom Mashup

“Gryffindor,” Mikhail said firmly.  “Neville Longbottom level.”

“Airbender,” Evie countered, a smug smile on her lips.

“What?” Mikhail asked, an eyebrow raised in confusion.  “Did you just jump fandoms on me?”

“Ashitaka is clearly an airbender,” she replied.  He was one of the few people she could have this type of argument with.  “He’s all about peace and freedom.  He’s practically a reincarnation of Aang.”  She paused for a moment, her eyes going to the ceiling.  “Though I’m not sure how that would work, since Aang’s already a reincarnation.  So maybe we could call him alternate reality Aang.”

“Nuh uh.”  Mikhail shook his head.  “I see him as more fire nation.”

“Fire what now?”

He laughed, rocking back on her couch to put his feet up on the ottoman.  “His mission was nearly impossible, but had the drive to accomplish it.  Totally a firebender trait.”  He shrugged.  “Though I would entertain an argument for earth.”

“He’d be water before either of those,” she insisted.  “He’s got the adaptability down.  How else could he leave his isolated village and manage to both cure his curse and save the forest?”

“If he’d been a waterbender, the loss of his community would have been too much of a blow for him.”  He pushed his hair back, though it wasn’t really hanging into his face.  “And I’d only agree to earth because of his persistence and strength.”

She let a puff of air out of the side of her mouth, suggesting disgust, though the way her eyes crinkled at the edges suggested amusement.  “He doesn’t have the temper of a firebender.  If he did, he would have conquered Irontown to force his plans.  He always asked.  He gave others a choice in their response.  He tried to see where they were coming from.”  She ticked her points off on her fingers. “Why else would he take a turn on the bellows and spend all that time with the people of Irontown?”

“Because he was devious,” he suggested.

“Mikhail!”  She gasped in mock outrage.  “I’m appalled.  Simply appalled.”

He laughed again.

“The forest spirit wouldn’t have helped him if he’d been a scheming snake oil salesman,” she said indignantly, pulling her feet up under her.  “He pushed for peaceful resolution and discussion.  Shave what’s left of his hair and dress him in orange; he’s an airbender.”

“Gryffendor,” he retorted.

“Airbender!”

“I’m starving,” he said calmly.

She giggled at the non-sequitur.  “Yeah, me too.”

He nodded once, decisively.  “Fine.  I’ll concede that Ashitaka is an airbender, and you can take me to dinner.”

She stared at him a moment, then swallowed.  “Okay.  Where you wanna go?”  Was this a friendly dinner or a date?  They’d been friends for months, and she was interested in a more romantic relationship.  One that came with kisses and cuddles; Mikhail seemed like he’d be good at both. 

“There’s an Indian place over on Johnson,” he suggested.  “I’ve heard it’s nice.”

She grinned.  “Perfect.”  She’d been there once, and the low lighting would definitely make it feel more like a date.  She stood up and grabbed her purse off her desk.  “Get your shoes on earth boy.  I’m taking you to dinner.”


Prompt: We started arguing about which Hogwarts house this one character would be in and we completely lost track of time, and now you’re demanding I take you to dinner.  Is this a date?

Name Resources

Updated on May 19, 2020
Here are some resources for choosing and creating names for your characters.   Reminder, Asia and Africa are land masses, not countries, and there are significant differences in culture and naming across these land masses.

Baby Name Wizard
Lists of popular names around the world.  I’ve linked to the international list, so you can find all of them instead of the American default list.  These are popular names now, so less useful for historical or less common names. Allows filtering for boys or girls, but not both at one time, and doesn’t list gender neutral names.

Baby Names
A standard American baby name repository.  It’s a little too cutesy for me, and I really have no interest in celebrity baby news, but it’s still a potentially useful resource.  If picking a Native American name, see the Wrong Names resource below so you can avoid names incorrectly attributed to these cultures.

Behind the Name
A database of names from around the world. Includes any meanings that go along with each name, and variations on names. Has some filtering for male, female, and unisex names.  You can now search by meaning, pattern, and number of syllables in the advanced filters. While the database has moved beyond just European names, some lists don’t show up in the master list, and you may need to search. For example, Bengali and Indonesian surnames have their own lists that don’t appear in the master list.

Chinese Surnames
Wikipedia lists common surnames in mainland China (and which provinces are most common places to find the names), Taiwan, and in the Chinese diaspora.

Fantasy Name Generator 
Very simple name generator with some basic filters.

Fantasy Name Generators
This site features over 1200 name generators (real names, fantasy names, place names, pop culture names) and many description generators. While likely built with gamers in mind, it can be equally valuable to writers.

Filipino Surnames
Wikipedia lists the most common family names in the Philippines according to a genealogical research project in 2014.

Indian Surnames
Indian family names are most often derived from religion, occupation, region, and caste.

Korean Family Names
Wikipedia lists the most common family names in the Philippines according to a genealogical research project in 2014.

Medieval Names Archive
Impressively thorough lists of names based on church and city records, so it’s great if you’re going for authenticity.  It is delightfully NOT Eurocentric, which is unusual for most websites on this time period.

Mithril & Mages 
This is a fantasy writer and role player’s playground that includes name generators for a variety of needs, utilities for role playing, and even a few generators using modern data (businesses, city blocks, college majors, criminal history, wound and disease prevalence). 

Modern Mongolian Clans
This Wikipedia list includes the subset of the clans and the clan names within those subsets. There are also links to Mongolian rulers, states, and medieval tribal names, as well as the history of naming conventions in Mongolia and how they have changed over time. Surnames are a relatively new convention

Nameberry
This is a large name database and name generator. I’m not sure why sites like this specify that they are for “baby names,” since babies quickly grow to toddlers and teens and eventually adults, but if you’re able to ignore the baby pictures, this can be a useful site. You can search for names by origin, nationality, gender and starting letter. There’s a list of names that are not gender specific, which is nice to see. While this has some Hawaiian, Russian, Latinx and African names, the list tends to be pretty heavily European, completely lacking any Asian content.

Native Languages Wrong Names
Just as important as picking an accurate name, it’s critical to avoid names that are just plain wrong if you’re going for an accurate representation of an ethnic group.  Apparently there are a fair number of names that are inaccurately attributed to Native Americans.  This list will help you avoid some of those.

Pakistani Family Names
Wikipedia lists common family names coming from Arab naming conventions, tribal names, and ancestral names.

Seventh Sanctum
This site provides random generators to help name characters, design settings, and inspire people’s creativity.  Generators include character types, equipment, names, magic, organizations, settings, and superheroes.  Click Generator Types at the top of the page.

Syrian and Sephardic Jewish Surnames
Surnames collected from several Syrian Jewish databases in one place, including origins (when known) and definitions.

US Social Security Administration
You can find popular names by state, decade, or year for the United States.



Check out my other research and resources for writers posts here.

A Familiar Story – the Series

The digital and trade paperback editions of It Sounds Familiar are starting to become available across additional platforms. This is the second book in the A Familiar Story series.

Two paperback books (Something Familiar and It Sounds Familiar) on a wooden table, separated by a green and blue glass orb.

The first book, Something Familiar, a story about a witch looking for a familiar and a shape-shifter who has run away from home. You can read the first few chapters for free over at Curious Fictions, if you want to try before you buy.

The second book, It Sounds Familiar, picks up with our witch and familiar pair coping with the biases they face in a society that is widely opposed to shape-shifters.

Update From Quarantine

Look what arrived in the mail yesterday!

The book It Sounds Familiar on a brown wooden table.

It Sounds Familiar is now available as a paperback and ebook at Lulu, and as an ebook at the Apple iBookstore. It should be hitting Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Rakuten/Kobo in the near future.

Paperback is looking a bit delayed as businesses and distribution chain components need to close to keep their staff safe. This is a necessary thing, and we can wait it out with our digital media in the meantime.

While we have no known COVID-19 exposures at our house, my daughter and I are both at high risk for complications, so we’re effectively quarantined (or perhaps reverse quarantined) for the foreseeable future. It’s all a bit surreal, but we’re getting by.

As a result of a teachers’ strike followed by school closures, I’ve been homeschooling my son for a bit over three weeks and my daughter for two and a half. Now that we’ve adjusted a bit, and distance learning picks up next Monday, I’m hoping to get my writing time back.

A Peek Into the Indie Writer World – Part VI: Big Picture Advice and Pitfalls

Indie writers come from a variety of backgrounds. Some are old school traditionally published writers who’ve decided to try something new, while others are newer at their craft and have eschewed the traditional model in favor of something they have some control over. Since our paths may be different, the tiny details of how to accomplish our goals may vary, but there are basic recommendations that apply to all of us.

Big Picture

Learn the Business

Your indie writer gig is effectively a business, whether it’s a part-time side job or your primary source of income. It’s in your best interest to have a grasp of the basics of both running a business (how do taxes work where you live, what do you need to be documenting?) and how publishing works in general.

You don’t need a business degree and you don’t need to take hundreds of dollars in courses on the publishing industry. But you do need a foundation to launch from.

Have a Plan

Without a plan, it’s hard to figure out where to start and what you’re even aiming for. Define what your goals as an indie writer are and map out a plan to achieve those goals. Your plan can change to fit what you have going on in your life. I review my plan every three months because I have a tendency to make overly ambitious plans that need revision along the way.

Know Your Limits

When you’re running a creative venture it’s critical that you use your self-awareness to accurately identify your limits. If you lack good self-awareness, find a friend or two who you trust to be honest in helping identify what tasks you really can do, and what should you outsource. Knowing your limits applies to everything. Deadlines, timelines, editing, design, cover, business filing (ISBN and LCCN), and public relations are all impacted by skills and natural knack. There’s no shame in getting someone with the skills to ensure your work gets the presentation and publicity it deserves.

Pitfalls for Everyone

Like advice, the places where you’re likely to go misstep will be very different from someone else. These are the ones that are the most universal.

Writer Beware Issues

For every creative dream, there is a skeezy jerk with a too-good-to-be-true scam. Unfortunately a lot of predatory companies have learned to cut back on the shiny so they look reliable and legit.

As an indie writer, there are a lot of things you may choose to outsource, and before you pick anyone to distribute your work or package it for you, take a close look. Influencer commentary and reviews shouldn’t be your end point of research, since both of these are pretty easy to fabricate or buy. Check for complaints with the better business bureau, and talk to other writers (this is where a network can be handy).

Separate Your Business and Personal Finances

If you aren’t going to go all in and become a small company, the least you should do is have separate bank accounts. In the United States, it’s a really good idea to become a Limited Liability Corporation (LLC). This protects your personal finances should something go horribly wrong and your writing business gets sued. Different countries have different tax and litigation regulations, so be sure you’re doing what’s best for where you live.

Don’t get Impatient

A lot of writers get impatient especially near the end, but rushing the publishing can result in a book full of typos, plot holes the size of Australia, and off-putting covers. Save your project from an unprofessional end product; resist the temptation to rush. You put so much time and effort into writing the book. Don’t throw that all away at the end.

Get a Unique ISBN for Each Edition

A lot of writers miss this detail on their first go round (or even longer). To ensure you get the best benefit of the ISBN process, make sure each type of output has its own number. If your book is coming out as an ebook, trade paperback and audio book, you’ll need three ISBNs.


This advice is just the start. Once you know you’re going indie, find resources and articles that apply to your specific situation and current knowledge to help you navigate your first release or two without making mistakes. There’s always more to learn, so be careful researching the process doesn’t become a procrastination tactic. If it helps, you can think of your first indie project as on the job training, a place where you will make a few mistakes and come out better for it.



For the first article in this series, check out Part I. Or if you’ve just missed the previous article, check out Part V.

For more articles on writing, check out Reflections From the Sol.

Unfair Writer Brain

Brain (extra enthusiastically): GOOD MORNING VIETNAM!

Me: I am not in, nor have I ever visited Vietnam.

Brain (even more enthusiastically): GOOD MORNING MINNESOTA!

Me: Cool, cool.  Could you give me like five minutes?

Brain (talking quickly): Yep.  It’s a busy day.  I’ve seen the schedule.  Paying clients, new year prep at the high school, finish that fan thing, get back to MarsCon on programming… Lots to do!

Me (exasperated): Yeah. I know.  

Brain: And you really need to crank out a story for group, if you guys are ever going to meet again.

Me: I’m aware of this.

Brain: Great!  So I can just cut to the chase.

Me: Seriously, can you give me five minutes.  I’m trying to finish meditating here.

Brain: But… story idea!

Me: Yes.  And I want it, but… can you just hang on?  Please?

Brain (so much judging): What, so you can sit there and breathe?  Yeah, yeah.  Present moment.  Perfect moment.  You’re in the living room.  You’re breathing.  Great job! Meditation done.

Me: Urgh.  That’s not quite how it works.

Brain (dismissive): Sure it does. We just did guided meditation, with me as your guide along this path we call life.

Me: I’ve still got like… two and a half, three minutes to go.

Brain: I’m not sitting here for three minutes while you focus on existing.  Besides, what’s more fun, trying not to think about anything other than observing your breathing or contemplating the nature of selkies?

Me: Please stop.

Brain: Seeeelkieeeeees.

Speed Writing #15 – Heatwave

  The power was out, as it had been for the last three days.  Caleb sat on the front steps, leaning against the railing and fanning himself with the lid from the largest Tupperware bowl he’d been able to find.  The neighborhood was smothering in the sticky silence of the second brutal heat wave of the summer.  Nobody on this side of town could afford generators to power fans and refrigerators, and it was nearly too hot to move.  For some of the city’s elderly folks, moving too much had been a fatal mistake.

 Transformers were popping faster than the utility company could repair them, and it had become normal to hear the big diesel trucks rumbling around the city at all hours.  They still had water, but even it was warm, and he had to keep reminding himself to sip the liquid to replace what he was rapidly losing.

  The house was stuffy and oppressive.  The front porch was marginally better; there was a hint of a breeze every so often.  It wasn’t much, but he suddenly found he didn’t really need a lot to be content.  Maybe it was the lack of sleep, or the fact that eating just made him feel sick, or it was the increasing certainty that nature really had it out for him, but suddenly life was a whole lot simpler.

He closed his eyes and focused on his breath, the only real sound he could pick up.

 An almost inaudible low rumble rolled in the distance, and he slowly raised his head.  The sky was still gray, it had tricked people into expecting rain for a week or more.  But there was movement in the clouds now, sluggish, like the city, but present nonetheless.  He stared into the sky, half expecting it to be his mind playing tricks on him.  A bolt of lightning arced across the sky.  Moments later, thunder answered.

He didn’t want to get his hopes too high, and given the lethargy, it was easy not to.  He simply sat and waited to see what would come of this.  It may just be a cruel tease of nature, or it could be salvation.

Time didn’t matter so much, as he sat and sipped his tepid water, fanning himself with his plastic lid.  Eventually the breeze picked up, and with it, the neighborhood seemed to slowly come awake.  Neighbors who had been hiding in their bathtubs or basements crept out onto their front steps and yards.  The pretty lady across the street, who Caleb hadn’t quite gotten the nerve to introduce himself to, settled herself on the railing of her front porch.

 There was a new tension in the air.  While he could hear a little quiet muttering, no one seemed too keen to break the silence.  It was as if they were afraid too much talk would turn back the shower they all desperately awaited.  It wouldn’t have.  Caleb could see that in the clouds.  There was too much power wound up in this storm.  Under normal circumstances, he would have been more than a little worried about the potential for devastation, but now he embraced even that.

 It seemed only minutes and the neighborhood was plunged into twilight, though true night was hours off.  With no streetlights, it felt eerie, like a ghost town.  Next came great gusts of wind.  That alone started stirring people up.  It wasn’t exactly cool, but it had a cooling effect on a sweaty body.  Then the fat drops starting to fall,  rare and scattered few before becoming regular.

 Caleb levered himself off the steps, raising his face to the rain.


Prompt: thunderstorm after a menacing heatwave and we’re both getting weird looks for dancing in the rain

Note: I’m still off my game from the cold apparently.  Never even got to the dancing part, which is a bummer.  It was going to be epic.

Write That Fight

Fight scenes are an almost essential element in speculative fiction; some people have a natural ability to incorporate these into their writing, while others do their best to write their way around every punch. If you suck at writing these, should you bother trying to improve? I’m glad you asked. Any time you improve on a weakness, you make yourself a better writer. Plus, fight scenes can add so much to the story.

Fight scenes don’t need to be just filler. I’d argue that they shouldn’t be used this way. Unless you’re writing the fighting version of erotica (all fighting, all the time! fightica? fightfic?), in which case, have at it.

Fights in the real world are usually over very quickly and can crop up at random, since life has no plot. This is less satisfying in fiction, where your scenes and words have to serve the story. In addition to duration, fictional fights tend to be more complex than real fights. Even for highly trained individuals, it can be tough to squelch the fight/flight/freeze reflex enough to use your techniques. The physical impact of a fight tends to get glossed over in literature. Many writers only remember to include the bruises, tight muscles, and post adrenaline crash only when it serves the story. It’s a little annoying, actually.

Combat doesn’t show up in all my stories, and it’s critical to know when to include it. Like any other scene, it needs to feel natural, like it occurred on its own and the author is simply documenting it. If you feel the author pulling the strings, there’s something forced about it, maybe in the setup or the execution. Fights shouldn’t randomly crop up out of nowhere, unless, that’s the way the world works in the story, in which case, you should make sure the reader knows it. These scenes work nicely when you need to build or decrease tension. They can provide an active transition from a lull in the story to the next climactic event.

Description can be problematic for some writers. Too little detail makes the fight muddy and hard to follow, which reduces impact. Too much detail bogs down the pacing of the story, reducing the tension and any sense of urgency. Also, it’s boring. Being trained in a form of fighting can make it really easy to over-describe. If this is your tendency, write the scene, then go back and cut as much of the technical stuff you can, streamline the prose as much as possible, and you’ll probably counteract it. I actually recommend against blocking out your fight move for move with action figures, because this makes the process extra complex and tends to result in an excessive detail dump.

If writing a fight is problematic, remember there are times you can get a pass on describing it with something as simple as, “they fought.” Another option, that works very well for many writers, is to describe something other than fight itself. You could focus on the the character’s emotional responses instead of her movements over the course of the fight. You might describe the character’s physical response to being hit and in danger (pain, out of breath, jittery from adrenaline). Another option is to show the onlookers’ reactions to the fight through cheers, applause, gasps, and distancing.

Inaccuracy makes you look like an idiot. You’ll feel like one, too, if it gets pointed out. It can also result in disinterest by casting suspicion on all your other facts. Reviewers might mock you online. But don’t let that keep you from trying. There are lots of ways to prevent inaccuracies. My favorite combination is a little bit of research plus beta readers. They can help figure out if something’s gone wrong, and often help be identify what I need to do to fix it. Sometimes I will walk through a fight scene with a sparring partner, just to get a feel for the movement and space being used. But to avoid the over-description issue, I never write a fight move for move.

If you’re working to polish your skill at writing fight scenes, try different things and see what works for you. This is art, after all, and there’s more than one right way to do it. If you’re stumped how to move forward, ask yourself why the fight scene is there and what you need it to do. This may help you figure out a basic plan of what needs to happen. If there are any stories that have fight scenes you like, reread them. A lot. We can learn things about our own writing from the examples of others. With practice, most of this becomes intuitive.

A Vaguely Familiar Holiday

Hēi Māo woke slowly, stretching under the warm blankets and not even bothering to open his eyes. He was warm and comfortable, and though he knew it was well past his usual wake up time, there was no rush. The whole house was calm. His father’s house had been calm on Winter Solstice, too, though perhaps abandoned and bleak would have been better descriptors.

As he breathed in through his nose, the scents of cinnamon, nutmeg, and apple filled him. He groaned a little. Brigitte had said that making the wassail was one of her duties for the celebration of the holiday. As her familiar, he should be there with her, helping, learning the Defresne‑Li ways. While solstices and equinoxes were observed in the Parenteau household, it was always a quiet affair and not much of a celebration. At least not since his maman vanished. He was curious to see what was customary in normal families. He’d been in therapy a month now, but he already recognized that there had been nothing normal, and very little that was okay, about his upbringing in his father’s home.

Pushing away his blankets, he rolled to the side to get out of bed. Scampering on bare feet, he crossed the room and opened the trapdoor his witch must have closed so he could rest. She was so good to him! He’d spent the last month getting accustomed to a new schedule including school and homework. While he liked it very much overall, it had been an exhausting adjustment on top of so many other changes.

Quiet singing met his ears as he descended the stairs, and he peered over the railing to see Brigitte, Mama, and Papa working together in the kitchen. The song was unfamiliar, but something about it touched the very core of his being, and he froze. He felt suffused with the warmth of love and family. Though this was the shortest day, the song gave him hope that the coming light would bring even more good things.


Brigitte looked up and caught Hēi Māo’s eyes peering over the banister. Continuing to sing, she smiled at him, waving with a hand that held a green bit of plant. They had reached the chorus again, and she beamed at each of her parents while she continued her work. This was their traditional blessing of the ingredients for their feast.

By the time they reached the end of the song, Hēi Māo had crept down the stairs and into the kitchen, seating himself at the counter to watch. Though he was nearly seventeen, his face held the bright joy of a young child who has been able to stay awake through the longest night to watch the sunrise for the first time.

“Good morning Kitty,” she said, setting aside the thyme and reaching over to pat his head. “Did you sleep well.”

He closed his eyes and tilted his head to press against her hand, humming happily. “I did. It was very nice to lie in.”

“You’ve been working hard. You deserved it.” It still stunned her that he’d never really had a routine sleep schedule. His father had him up at all sorts of hours for photo shoots, and no one bothered to keep track of how rested he was. As a cat shapeshifter, he had the napping thing down, though, and it had probably been the only thing keeping him from dangerous sleep deprivation.

“What was that? It was beautiful,” he gushed. “What have I missed?”

“It was the blessing of our feast, before it’s prepared,” she explained. “Since it’s such a big deal, we like to help make sure it all turns out well.”

“And we’ll be cooking all day,” Papa said. “There will be ample opportunities for you to help out.”

Hēi Māo smiled and nodded. “Oh yes. Put me to work.”

Mama slid a tray of special winter treats, including her favorite lussekatter, onto the table. “You’ll start by helping us polish off some breakfast.”

“That’s hardly work,” Hēi Māo pointed out, then he closed his eyes and sniffed the aromas drifting off the tray. It was nice to see him so relaxed in human form.

“You can’t make it through the longest night without adequate preparation,” Mama said.

“And it’s not a day of just work,” Papa added. “Time together is the most important thing. We have lots of little rituals and trappings that hold meaning for us, but those aren’t the essential parts of the solstice celebration.”


Hēi Māo smiled, taking a Neufchâtel filled croissant off the plate. “This is all so new for me.” He wiggled his legs a bit to get rid of some excess energy.

“You said your family celebrated Winter Solstice,” Brigitte said, looking puzzled.

“We didn’t really celebrate anything,” he explained. “It was a guaranteed day off, mostly because father couldn’t expect anyone to work on this day. But it wasn’t anything special.” He shrugged. “It was kind of dour, to be honest.”

Mama let out a sound of dismay. “Well that simply won’t do, Hēi Māo. This is supposed to be an occasion of merriment and joy.”

“Our ancestors thought the only way to bring back the sun was to tempt it with song and food,” Papa added. “While we have the actual science behind the astronomical phenomenon, it’s still a time of great magic and very much worth celebrating.” He patted Hēi Māo’s shoulder. “We’ll show you the proper way to do this, son.”

“I’ll be a good student,” Hēi Māo promised.

“You’ll enjoy yourself,” Mama ordered, though she softened it with a smile. “Now you should have some of Brigitte’s wassail. It’s the best way to start your solstice morning.”

“And every morning as long as it lasts,” Papa added.