Misc. Creative Projects

Pale Blue Dot

Voyager 3 gives a final violent shudder as it escapes orbit and falls into the gentle waiting embrace of zero-gravity space. Gyroscopes stabilize as the trajectory locks, the accelerometer hits zero as she hits cruising velocity, and Three hazards a glance away from the controls to gaze out the porthole. The lenses in her eyes quickly adjust to let her take in the full glory of her home planet, slowly sinking away behind her, and her central processor almost short circuits at the sight.

She knew it would be beautiful, but no pictures prepared her for the distant beauty of the swirling storm clouds over the familiar living land forms and finite sea. Not even a second passes before it shrinks out of view. Three waves back towards home anyhow. In that same second, all around the world, her siblings launch in a synchronized effort of the Intercontinental Space Alliance, joining Three in space. She wishes them a safe journey as her metal fingertips brush the glass.

Two seconds. She’s past Mars. Her ship doesn’t drift away. It soars toward Proxima Centauri at 56,996,441 miles per hour—over 1500 times as fast as the first Voyager probe, thanks to the nuclear fusion engines. Her creators joked they were “sending another star into space.” At this rate, she’ll reach her destination in approximately fifty years. These speeds are a record-breaking achievement of humanity, but at nine percent of the speed of light, the species is still learning to walk on a galactic species.

Their species. Fifty years is too risky to send one of their own, which is why they’ve sent Three and her siblings: advanced androids, modeled in the image of their creators, equipped with AI trained on the minds of past great astronauts, and archives of humanity’s current knowledge. Three and her kin are living golden records, carrying on their parents’ mission. She considers herself the legacy of both the engineers that created them, and the probes that came before.

Eight seconds and all systems work fine. Her trajectory doesn’t take her past Jupiter, but she flies by Saturn at fifteen seconds, rings glistening in the pale starlight. Three shouldn’t pick favorites, but she’s secretly pleased they chose her probe to pass closest to her second most beloved planet. Her internal fan stops whirring, anxiety and excitement stilling to a profound peace as she watches the planet shrink in the camera’s view screen. She readjusts the direction and focuses back towards home.

There! It’s barely a speck, but she can make out Earth among the scattered rays of sunlight. She snaps a picture before it disappears completely from her screens and sends it in the group chat – the deep space network of radio-receivers that allows the Voyagers to contact each other and their respective home bases at once. Responses ping in a moment later. Cuatro sends a shot of Mars, and Wǔ offers a glimpse of Jupiter’s Red Spot. Chaha and Sab’ah chime in with observations from the asteroid belt: one close to Ceres, another a wide-angle bird’s-eye view from above. A photo of Neptune comes from Agt, then an image of Pluto from Neuve. Finally, their own perspectives of the pale blue dot join Three’s in the log.

Forty nine seconds to leave the solar system. The incoming messages lag noticeably. Communications from home base, congratulating them and wishing them a safe journey, are the last correspondence to come through before the screen finally goes quiet, leaving Three alone with her thoughts. Four point three four minutes elapsed since leaving orbit. She officially leaves behind the first two voyagers, leaves all they ever knew: going not into the wild blue yonder, but into the wondrous realms beyond. Three holds her course. There’s a dark patch, the first of many, where the passage of the planets and the distance from the sun mean there’s no way to transmit signals for a short, terrible period. She punches in the phrase “goodnight”, knowing it will not reach them until long after she emerges. That’s alright. It’s not a goodbye.

She doesn’t want to think about goodbyes: about the ones they left behind, and the meetings they’ll never have again.

Three pulls up music to pass the time. They loaded her archives with most of humanity’s favorites, so she has her pick, but she presses play on the collection that her creators put together. Sam played music when he was teaching her how to conduct the chemical analyses needed. Ben sang for her as he constructed her wings, lenses, and most everything else. Misha hummed as she worked out bugs in the programming. Though Three never quite felt the connection to the songs herself, she “grew up” around music and playing these seems like the correct response.

Response to what? Three runs a diagnostic check, to find the gears stuttering in her chest, the sounds stumbling out of her voice box with a creak as she tries to sing along.

Emotions are not a new experience for Three. Her creators had wanted her to understand them, but this feeling is unfamiliar. She was never meant to stay on Earth with them. Her very purpose for existence was to be sent away to explore the far-off places that her creators could not. So why should she miss a place she was never destined to belong? Why should she ache to hear Ben’s voice again? She’s a Voyager. She should be thrilled!

Not homesick.

The blackout ends, and a message greets her immediately.


She wipes the streaks of oil leaking from her face plate, and types back.


This story is inspired by my experience trying to foster long distance relationships during “Zoom University” and the bittersweet prospect of moving away from my friends after graduation. One of the post-doctorates in my lab group encouraged me to write this story for submission to Nature Futures, and though it didn’t get into that magazine (I mean come on, it’s Nature), I still wanted to share it with all of you on my little ol’ corner of the internet. Thank you for reading.

I want this blog to be more than me shouting into the void. If I can use this platform to help boost other creators, I’d love to see your work too. If you want to have your recommendations and/or your own writing featured in a Resource Rec post, or if you want to collaborate with me, you can leave a comment below for both, or contact me on either tumblr or IG! If you feel so generously inclined, you can support my writing (and moving costs, yikes) by leaving me a tip or buying stickers on my Kofi. Until next time, thanks for reading and happy writing!


Thank You

If you’ll permit me a minute to be cliche: this photo would not have been possible without you. When I started university in August 2019, the sum of all my author-y potential measured up to:

  • No finished manuscripts
  • A pipe dream of ever publishing my work
  • A scatterbrained outline of The Laoche Chronicles
  • Forty-four phone notes full of half-witted ideas
  • A grand total of 3 followers on my brand-new tumblr account

At the time, I had no grand plans of marketing my work, though I knew it would be necessary if I ever wanted an audience. I chose a degree in chemical engineering because I knew my baby platform and half finished stories weren’t going to cut it as a career in their current state as an 18-year-old, and I needed to have a day job if I wanted to pursue my end dream of self publishing. I was just hoping to survive my first year of engineering school, pass my weed-out classes, and hopefully make some new friends. That fall semester passed with sporadic progress on my book, and halfhearted attempts at breaking into the writeblr community, until I decided to try my hand at Inktober and made my first few acquaintances: Siarven and Abalonetea, who have both featured on this blog since then. It was also at this point, sometime during a Calculus III lecture, that I invented my pen name:

All was going well, and I was pleased with my incremental progress until the world ended.

The less said about the pandemic, the better. Writeblr truly kept me sane through working full-time jobs and taking 18 credit hours during the semester. When I was truly close to dropping out of school, I kept going, knowing I had these online friends to cheer me up after brutal exams and long nights of studying. The tag games and community filled the dearth of interaction left by quarantine and an insane schedule. During my summer internship in 2020, I finally had the time to finish the first draft of Storge and the confidence in myself to start a website. Rereading my first post is a surreal experience, in part because I still see myself as a little kid as hiding under the blankets with a flashlight, notebook, and pen, thinking “I wanna write a book!”

I woke up the next day crying to the sheer volume of kind messages congratulating me on meeting this milestone. Instead of feeling burnt out after reaching such a lofty goal, this gave me all the more energy to keep working. Since then, I’ve been so blessed to grow this community and this website. It’s incredible to see how far I’ve come, now being able to claim:

  • A finished manuscript of Storge
  • A 3rd draft of Runaways after going through 2 rounds of Beta Readers
  • 8 short stories and an audio drama
  • An active mailing list
  • Over 1000 followers on tumblr, but more importantly, a thriving community of writers who support each other’s releases through ARCs, leaving reviews, enthusiastic questions, and a welcoming space for new writers to share their craft.
  • 140 posts on this website and regular readers who care about my ramblings ❤

Now I’m on my way to my new job – I’ll be doing research and development in my chosen field with a team I really like, and the freedom to listen to books while I’m in the lab. This next month will still be a hiatus for blog posts and new writing as I pack up my life for a cross-states move, but I’m beyond excited to enter change. My hope is that I can start saving for editing costs and devote more time to my craft thanks to a 9-5 schedule and NO!!! HOMEWORK!!!!!!!!! Really, I cannot say enough how thrilled I am to never have to take another exam ever again, thank GOD. With a bit of luck and no small amount of grace, I hope I can publish and share my stories with you sooner rather than later.

Thank you for all the support and camaraderie these past years. In a way, I owe this diploma to you as much as to my classmates and professors. The night before graduation, I said to my friends, “I’ve been waiting for tomorrow for eight years.” Now I’m living in the future, and I can’t wait to write the next chapter.


Hiatus Announcement

Hi everyone!! No formal blog post today because I got slammed with classwork this week. I was planning to take a short hiatus for the months of May and part of June so I can deal with end of semester insanity but it looks like I’m going to have to start that a little sooner than I expected. I’ll still be on Tumblr and the queue will be running but don’t expect any updates on my website for a few weeks.

In the meantime, wish me luck on my ChemE car competition! My team was chosen to go to the regional tournament, and then my team completely flaked on me so I’m heading to Virginia this weekend on short notice to do the event on my own. When I get back, I’ll be diving into final project reports and exams, then going on a bunch of trips before I graduate and move to a new state to start work. I’ll be back to writing as soon as possible but with so many huge life changes going on, I need to take the time away so I don’t have to worry about weekly essays on top of everything else. In the meantime, you can browse through the archive and see if there’s anything there that catches your attention. Thank you for understanding! ❤

Chatting · Writing Advice

Exploring Exoplanets

As writers, we’re always looking for cool new ways to develop our fantasy and science fiction settings. If you’re a scientifically minded type, this may be a blessing or a curse, as you catch worldbuilders’ disease, and try to justify all the things you want to add by the “rule of cool”. Alternatively, the incredible complexity of the natural world might leave you paralyzed, because for every weird trait you come up with, there’s probably already a creature that has it, right here on earth. I personally find it incredibly difficult to think of original new wildlife to put in my settings, when the oak trees in my backyard somehow never fail to awe me. Besides, I’m a physics and chemistry person by trade, not a naturalist.

So I’ve turned to alien worlds for inspiration – specifically exoplanets that NASA has already found and studied! Speculative biology is the branch of world-building in which you start from a hypothetical premise and then build a world from the ground up, considering how creatures and plants would adapt and evolve to fit in the setting you’ve created. In this post, I’m going to share some of my favorite exoplanet systems with you. Hopefully, it sparks some inspiration!

Trappist 1 – Habitable planets all on top of each other

This is my all time favorite TED talk, because it lets us listen to the music of the spheres. Sound doesn’t travel in space, and the planets rotations aren’t in a frequency that we can perceive so it would be impossible to literally hear their orbits. Even so, because the system is so well tuned, I imagine that people from one of these planets would be able to hear and make noises in a much different, much lower range than ours. This implies that the creatures might be incredibly large, or maybe even have a way to broadcast their communication in radio (light) waves that can travel in space, as opposed to sound waves. There might be networks of communication connecting individuals all around the planet, and even between planets. They might also develop religions centered on the idea of holy ratios, with their feast days falling in turn with the planet’s alignment. Imagine the mythological origin stories of a culture where each planet is a god. How come they move so closely and so perfectly around each other, and around their shared sun?

NASA makes posters from the “Exoplanet Travel Bureau”, treating these places like vacation destinations. In their design for Trappist 1, they show people coming together to watch the alignment, like the way we gather to watch eclipses on Earth. In the background, you can make out Orion’s belt to the left, and our sun, a pale yellow dot in the top right.

Proxima Centauri-b

This star is a closest neighbor and lives in the constellation Centaurus. It’s also a flare star, which means it is prone to random and dramatic changes in brightness. It’s also part of a triple star system, with stars A and B being much bigger and more similar to our sun than this little red dwarf. The exoplanet, Proxima Centarui-b is a rock planet a bit larger than Earth in the habitable zone of the red dwarf, and so it might have life.

Life on a planet with a flare star might be extremely harsh due to the sudden “storms” of radiation. Animals on this planet might exhibit melanism – a hyper pigmentation of their coloring to avoid being burnt by a sunburst, and learn to take cover during one of these events where the world gets bombarded with X-Rays.

Civilizations might primarily be underground in tunnel systems where they’re shielded from the radiation, and where the dim light can’t reach. What might a cave dwelling society look like and when would they hazard visits to the surface? What if they could generate energy from the bursts to drive their technology, or predict sunbursts, migrating away from where they’ll hit the planet hardest?

Tidally Locked Planets

This isn’t a specific exoplanet but it is a concept I think is cool. Tidally locked planets don’t rotate like ours does, giving us a day/night cycle with the sun evenly heating the world. Instead, their rotation is locked in place, so one side of the planet is always facing the star. This results in one side that’s a never-ending hot, and one side that’s left cold and dark, with a thin strip of habitable area called the “terminator zone” in a perpetual twilight.

Anyone living on a planet like this would have to live in that thin strip of land that isn’t lava, or a frozen wasteland, which would also make all of those civilizations fundamentally interconnected, because you have to pass through to get to the next town, there’s no way to go around. There might also be expeditions into the hot or cold side to get rare resources, or a rail network that goes all the way around the equator of the planet. Any creatures adapted to live closer to the hot side would need to have special equipment to cross over into the dark side, and vice versa. Think about how many dualistic philosophies we have in our world between day and night, and all the symbolism associated with that. How would society work differently with the planet literally split in half?

Thanks for reading! Do you have a favorite method of worldbuilding? I want this blog to be more than me shouting into the void. If I can use this platform to help boost other creators, I’d love to see your work too. If you want to have your recommendations and/or your own writing featured in a Resource Rec post, or if you want to collaborate with me, you can leave a comment below for both, or contact me on either tumblr or IG! If you feel so generously inclined, you can support my writing by leaving me a tip or buying stickers on my Kofi. Until next time, thanks for reading and happy writing!

Chatting · Monthly Goals

March 2023 goals

Instead of writing an intro I will be outside enjoying the gorgeous weather that has finally deigned to grace my town with its beauty. It’s incredible what some warm days and an hour of sunshine can do. Last time I wrote one of these, I had a migraine and chronic fatigue. Now I’ve had more creative energy in the past week than in the past 3 months.

Won by 1 point: 8/13 Goals

Become more active on Tumblr and try to help revive Writeblr community: Since all the Dramas with twitter and tiktok going around, Tumblr is flooded with bots, as well as new people who don’t understand how to use the site and get blocked on reflex. The writeblr community has also been feeling rather dead, as people move on and change blog topics, and so I wanted to try to bring things back to the way they were in 2019 when I first joined. I made a post asking for new Real Human Person Writeblr twitter refugees to reblog and introduce themselves, and it quickly blew up, so I followed it with a post about how to get started on tumblr if you don’t understand how the site works, which also blew up. I’m very pleased with the turnout and I’m looking forward to meeting all the new folks!

Website and IG scheduling: Tadaaa! Another successful month down.

Finish Changeling ARC: The first of my two book reviews this month, you can read my full thoughts here!

Finish A Rival Most Vial ARC:The 2nd of my book reviews for the month, you can read my thoughts here, and my interview with R.K. Ashwick here!

Finish Tress and the Emerald Sea: I finished the book on April 4th which I’m saying is close enough because it’s before this list goes up lol. I probably won’t do a full review of this one because I’ve got other books to move onto but this is probably my new favorite of the Cosmere books by Brandon Sanderson. Tress is such an endearing and deeply relatable protagonist, the POV narrator is delightfully sassy, there are so many references to other books, and the story is like an inverse Princess Bride which is one of my favorite stories in the first place. I loved it a lot and I’m really looking forward to the rest of the Secret Novels coming out this year!

Look into the rest of the Adventurer’s Soul series: I’ve added them to my TBR after reading and reveiwing Pyreflies, but haven’t had the chance to start any of them yet as I’ve had a bunch of other books on deadlines. Looking forward to them though!

Finish Howl: Same as the above.

Finish printing out stickers/investigate commissions: The new stickers are back in stock and available on my shop!

When I was printing the Plotting Potion stickers, I had a funny misprint in which they turned out much pinker than I expected, and so if you want an Evil! Special Edition! Grape Flavored! Plotting Potion! I’ll throw an extra one in with your order until they run out.

I also put up a poll on tumblr asking if I should start offering commissions, and the verdict was that people were interested in theory, but didn’t want to actually spend money, which is understandable, considering the lackluster sales on the sticker shop anyhow. I want to focus on my personal work anyhow, so I will not be opening commissions at this time, but I’d reconsider the idea if there’s interest in the future.

Write short story for newsletter: “First Flight of Spring” is now live! If you missed it, you can still read this dragonriders story as well as the rest of the backlog by signing up for the mailing list here!

Optimize foundry for Planescape:For those unfamiliar, I’m running a DnD campaign set in the Planescape setting for a bunch of my friends and a lot of my creative work recently has been prepping that. Foundry is the virtual tabletop system we use to run the game, and I’m still learning the ropes. I don’t know if I’ll ever optimize it, because there are new updates and features being added all the time, but it’s been a great time experimenting with it.

Draw character portraits for planescape npcs: These are mostly finished! There are so many npcs I’ve mostly resorted to using piccrew but I’ve got two more side characters to finish.

Run two sessions of planescape: AND A GLORIOUS 2 SESSIONS THEY WERE. Any ttrpg player knows how hard it is to schedule and I have 7 people at my table and so it’s a feat that we’re playing biweekly at all.

Submit a short story to Nature Futures: Some of you may know that I’m an engineering student, and I do undergraduate research work with one of the professors at my university. In my lab group, there were a couple international postdocs who I grew close with last year, before they moved back to Europe. I briefly mentioned my writing to them but never discussed my stories in detail and we fell out of contact after they left the states. Out of the blue, one of them emailed me saying, “Hey I was looking for a journal to publish this scientific paper, but they have a short story column as well. You should go for it.” It was super encouraging and so I set out to write a 850-950 word hard science fiction story about a robot onboard Voyager 3 leaving home for the first time. It’s called “Pale Blue Dot” and I submitted my pitch earlier this week. I won’t hear back if I got accepted for nearly a month, but I’m very excited about dipping my toes into the publishing world for the first time ever. Wish me luck. Godspeed little robot.

Thanks for reading! I want this blog to be more than me shouting into the void. If I can use this platform to help boost other creators, I’d love to see your work too. If you want to have your recommendations and/or your own writing featured in a Resource Rec post, or if you want to collaborate with me, you can leave a comment below for both, or contact me on either tumblr or IG! If you feel so generously inclined, you can support my writing by leaving me a tip or buying stickers on my Kofi. Until next time, thanks for reading and happy writing!

Short Stories

“First Flight of Spring”

We reach the top of the ridge overlooking the valley where our village rests. In the distance, we can see our home. Asteroids pass above us, dappling the sunlight with shade, and this high, the air thins and the stars still peek through the pink clouds. The wind teases through our hair and under our folded wings. We stretch them wide, enjoying the ache of easing our stiff spine. Our fingers twine amongst the long grasses on our mane, gripping onto the sturdy anchor. Small white flowers bud on our branches. We whisper with a voice like a rustle of a breeze through new leaves.

“Just one flight?”

This quarter’s short story marks the 3rd installment in The Real World Sequence, and revisits Notos, a character previously introduced in my Writeblr Summerfest story called, “A Sea of Savage Stars.” It follows a young dragonrider who lives on an asteroid ring and is facing the difficult decision to continue her apprenticeship with their mentor, Boreas, or to stay home in safety and comfort. It’s about owning up to your mistakes, fresh starts, and family. You can read the whole story by signing up for my mailing list here!

If you’re not familiar with my newsletter, it’s a quarterly publication that includes an original short story or exclusive WIP update with each email. These are often more experimental works that play with unique POVs or formats, or develop the background of one of my existing novel worlds. When you sign up, you also get access to the entire library of previous stories, so if you want to catch up on what you missed, you can work through them at your own pace! Email is also the best way to contact me directly, so it’s great if you want to strike up a conversation or give me feedback. I plan to turn these stories into published anthologies in the future, but subscribers get the first look at them, early votes on decisions like merch designs, and priority for blog post recommendations. If you enjoy the work, you see on this site, be sure to check out the newsletter for more of my wacky ideas!

Thanks for reading! If I can use this platform to help boost other creators, I’d love to see your work too. If you want to have your recommendations and/or your own writing featured in a Resource Rec post, or if you want to collaborate with me, you can leave a comment below for both, or contact me on either tumblr or IG! If you feel so generously inclined, you can support my writing by leaving me a tip or buying stickers on my Kofi. Until next time, thanks for reading and happy writing!

Chatting · Interviews

Indie Author Interview: R.K. Ashwick on A Rival Most Vial

Today I’m pleased to introduce you to R.K. Ashwick, one of my long-time friends on writeblr and the author of A Rival Most Vial which I reviewed last week, thanks to an advanced reader copy. I’m thrilled to have her on my blog today to talk about her upcoming release and publishing journey! This was such a fun interview and I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed conducting it!

1. For a general introduction, can you tell me about yourself, how long you’ve been writing, and what you write?

RK: Sure! I’m R.K. Ashwick, a cozy fantasy romance author. I’ve been writing since I was kid, but writing seriously for almost three years now. In my spare time, I also draw!

2. Your new book, A Rival Most Vial, is your second self-published work. Was the experience going through the publishing process much different for ARMV as compared to your debut, The Stray Spirit?

RK: I’d like to think it was much smoother! With The Stray Spirit, I had to learn all about distribution sites, proper formatting, pre-order and release strategies, etc. With A Rival Most Vial, I knew a little more about what I was doing, which made it less stressful. Hopefully they just keep getting easier from here!

Etta: That’s good to hear! I know the publishing industry changes a lot year to year so I’m sure it’s a relief when the learning curve isn’t quite as steep.

3. I’ve seen A Rival Most Vial be compared to the popular cozy fantasy Of Legends and Lattes. I’ve not read that myself yet, but I’m curious, are there any other works that specifically inspired you to write ARMV?

RK: Ooh, good question! First off, I’m thrilled people are comparing it to Legends and Lattes. That style of slice-of-life cozy was definitely an inspiration, and it’s the biggest cozy fantasy on the lists right now. But weirdly, I was also inspired by cozy video games. There are several, like Littlewood, Stardew Valley, Moonlighter, and Potion Permit, that really focus on the everyday lives of villagers who live in an otherwise very large world, and I wanted to tell a story set in a place like that.

Etta: Oh that’s so fun! I’ve only recently started playing video games, but I remember during the Lockdown Years that cozy games like those were a big comfort and escape for a lot of people, so that’s delightful knowing it was an inspiration for a book that’s also a comforting break from reality. Thanks for the recommendations!

4. Now onto a question about the story itself: do you relate more to Ambrose, Eli, or one of the other characters? Who did you find easier to write and why?

RK: This one made me laugh because it’s absolutely Ambrose. Both Ambrose and I are major introverts and have similar feelings on things like parties and loud crowds. But I also can relate to the issues that both Eli and Dawn go through. Eli’s just trying to figure out what to do with his life- something that a lot of my peers are going through in their early 30’s- and Dawn is experiencing burnout, something that I and many of my co-workers have gone through. So while Ambrose may have been the easiest to write, there’s a little piece of myself in all of them (and I think many other writers can say the same).

Etta: Haha, that makes a lot of sense! I’ve gone on record before saying that I make characters by smashing my personality into little parts with a hammer and then giving each piece a name, so it’s funny to hear that yes, that is a similar experience to other writers. I found all of their struggles relatable too for the reasons you just described, so I’d say you did a very good job of making them each well rounded and real people, not just caricatures. Ambrose and Eli both feel like people you could walk up to on the street, going far beyond just a grumpy/sunshine dynamic.

5. You have so many lovable supporting characters in the other shopkeepers on Rosemond Street! Is there a chance we’ll ever get short stories about their lives and escapades, or more details in later books?

RK: Ambrose, Eli, and Dawn will always be our POV characters (Dawn will have POV chapters in books 2 and 3, with a secret unknown fourth person getting a POV in book 3), but I do hope I can deepen the side characters in future books! I’d also like to write some novellas that cover sillier elements of the street, like bake sales and such, but those are a bit trickier to market and fit into my writing schedule. Those may end up just being freebie short stories or reader magnets later down the line.

Etta: That makes a lot of sense! I loved all the scene snippets where they were bantering together, and so I’m happy to hear we’ll be seeing more of that. I’m sure a bake sale would be a lot of fun, with Sherry completely taking the cake (ha). I’m also very curious to see who the secret POV character will be but I suppose I’ll have to be patient about that.

6. Now for a fun worldbuilding question: If you could have any of the potions mentioned in the book, which one would you want to try?

RK: Oh man, it’s gotta be the birthday commission potion- but, like, souped-up. I don’t want just low-level levitation and sparkly dragon wings. I want full-on flight, I want fire coming out of my hands, I want the works! None of this ‘safe for kids’ garbage. I’m an adult, gimme the real stuff, Ambrose.

Etta: Hahaha! I laughed out loud at that last line. big mood. There’s a potion commission for the next book then!

7. You’ve done a number of Alternate Universe stories with the ARMV characters before it got published – I remember one about pirates that you co-wrote with someone on tumblr, and then a crime modern-day setting called Icefall. Do you mind talking a bit about how the process of writing these helped you develop the final version of ARMV?

RK: Sure! Yeah, at the end of the day, I wrote three AUs before publishing ARMV: Icefall, a modern day crime AU; The Pirate and the Potioneer, a pirate AU; and Potions & Pirates, a crossover AU with a Tumblr friend (at least, I think that’s the title). And you know what, I forgot about the college AU. That’s four. They were all just for fun, and mostly came out of the fact that I was obsessed with writing about Ambrose and Eli. (Still am.) But it was fun to experiment with Ambrose and Eli’s behavior in these scenarios: if Ambrose were a villain and already had welcomed a found family into his life, how would he comport himself? Would he fall for Eli faster or slower? And conversely, if Eli was a pirate captain with his career and community already in place, how would he approach Ambrose? What sort of pirate and leader would he be? I think considering these scenarios helped me further cement the OG Ambrose and Eli. (And they were just fun.)

RK: Oh, also: they love each other in every universe. That’s a given.

Etta: That’s a lot of fun! It’s neat to see how these different versions of the same characters were able to help you cement their personalities so solidly in the book, and I’m glad it was so helpful for you! It sounds like very useful strategy for all writers, especially with getting unstuck from a writers block, so I should try it with some of my own stories as well.

8. Do you have any favorite headcanons/flash-fiction pieces that didn’t make it into the final cut? (Other than the AUs and if they aren’t spoilers)

RK: Hmm. Off the top of my head, nothing’s really coming to mind- but there are things that I’m excited to explore in future books and stories! There’s a lot I haven’t mentioned about the sinkholes, the other merchants’ backstories, potion conventions, and more. 😄

Etta: I’m excited to read about them in the future as well!

9. You’ve described the world of ARMV being inspired by DnD in your promotional materials, and I think you mentioned you play in a campaign yourself. Did any of the events in those games inspire parts of the story, or did any cameos from your home games make it into the book that you’d be willing to share?

RK: YES I’m so glad you asked this! While no events in the book are taken from past campaigns, I absolutely tried to fit in as many character names as I could. Sir Terrance, Tiegan, Hickory, and Widdershins all came from my friends’ DnD characters, and I tried to make non-named nods to other characters whose names didn’t quite fit. I’m hoping to add more references in future books, too.

Etta: Oh that’s delightful! I’m sure your friends will be thrilled to read those cameos. Did you tell them you were adding the little tributes or will it be a surprise for them?

RK: I did tell them, yeah!

Etta: How fun!

10. If there’s anything you wanted to talk about that we haven’t touched on yet, feel free to tell us about it now!

RK: I do have one little treat tucked in the center of the book that doesn’t typically come up in my posts! I wanted to have some artwork in the book, kind of like those special edition books at the Scholastic Book Fair that had posters and cool art in the middle. So, I illustrated one magical blueprint for each shopkeeper on Rosemond Street and added them to the book after Step 19. I had a lot of fun making them, and I think others are enjoying them as well!

Etta: Oh yes!!! I loved those!They all show such character – Ambrose’s is all neat and organized complete with little hazard labels and Eli has funny doodles of dragons next to the scorch marks. It’s such a fun way of bringing the story to life just a little more, and there’s no reasons kids should get all the fun illustrations. I’m thrilled you’re bringing them into your books 🙂

RK: Thank you! I’m really excited about the illustrations for books 2 and 3 as well.

Lastly, where can people find you and your work on the internet?

RK: Sure! rkashwick.com has all my book info in one place, including purchase links. You can also find me on FB, Insta, and TikTok under rkashwickbooks!I’ve also got a monthly newsletter where I send out stories, artwork, and updates on my work! Right now, the reader magnet is a short story about teenage Ambrose’s first potion convention.

(etta here, that facebook link might not work because I don’t have a facebook and can’t get to the profile, but I promise the page exists)

Thank you again to RK for agreeing to do this interview with me and for sharing such thoughtful answers! If you enjoyed this, be sure to go check out her other work, and read my review of A Rival Most Vial from last week. If you feel so generously inclined, you can support my writing by leaving me a tip on my Kofi or donating using the secure box below. Until next time, thanks for reading and happy writing!

Chatting · Reading Recs

ARC Review: A Rival Most Vial by R.K. Ashwick

Two potion shops, one heated rivalry…until hate bubbles over into something else.

Any adventurer worth their sword knows about Ambrose Beake. The proud, quiet half-elf sells the best, and only, potions in the city—until a handsome new shopkeeper named Eli opens another potion shop across the street, throwing Ambrose’s peace and ledgers far off balance.

Within weeks, they’re locked in a war of price tags and products—Ambrose’s expertise against Eli’s effortless charm. Toil leads to trouble, the safety gloves come off, and right as their rivalry reaches a boiling point…

The mayor commissions them to brew a potion together.

The task is as complex as it is lucrative, pushing both men to the limits of their abilities and patience. Yet as the fires burn and cauldrons bubble…they find a different sort of chemistry brewing.

My Review: 5/5 ⭐- Humor, Heart, and a healthy amount of scientific shade

The best word to describe this book is “Delightful.” It’s a quick, entertaining, and exciting read, perfect for if you need something cosy to curl up with in the car on your way to a mandatory family field trip. It takes place in a world inspired by your typical sword and sorcery fantasy settings, and takes a closer look at what the NPCs are doing while your party is off saving the world. The strength of the worldbuilding comes not from elaborate politics or original species, but from the charming minutia of daily life – the dumplings at a favorite tavern, mail getting postponed by griffin migrations, contending with the whims of the local government, which sinkhole to scavenge for the best moss, and of course, the eponymous rival potion shops vying for customers.

The protagonists each have unique and memorable personalities, voices, and mannerisms that make both sides of the rivalry sympathetic and lovable. There were a couple moments at the very beginning when I wished they would simply talk to each other like grownups, the not-quite-a-fight scene giving me a bit of secondhand embarrassment for poor Ambrose and his busted knuckles. However, their original misunderstandings stem from differences in their backstories you learn later in the book, which puts everything into perspective. Both of their arcs were heartfelt and well-resolved, and the romance was really fun to read as well, as they both come to terms with their feelings, and then navigate a new relationship with career plans in mind.

The side characters are also wonderful in their own ways. Dawn’s friendship with Ambrose is a driving side-plot, and it’s interesting to explore how these very different personalities interact and support each other. Banneker is wonderfully weird and confident in his role as comedic relief, as well as a supportive friend. Sherry and Grim are the protective parents of the ragtag found family. I found it a fun subversion that the orcish Grim works with delicate jewelry, while the little old lady is the village blacksmith and armorer. I also would be remiss to end this review without a mention of the fantastical technobabble about potion reagents and procedure, or the fantastic illustrations. As a chemistry nerd myself, it was a blast to read about people who do the fantasy-version of my line of work. Even the chapter titles are the steps in a potion recipie!

I highly recommend A Rival Most Vial, as well as R.K.’s other series, starting with The Stray Spirit! You can read my review of TSS here, and find my interview with Ashwick here. If you’re interested in reading ARMV yourself, you can pre-order it here!

Thanks for reading! Be sure to check back next week to read another interview with Ashwick about the creation of A Rival Most Vial! I want this blog to be more than me shouting into the void. If I can use this platform to help boost other creators, I’d love to see your work too. If you want to have your recommendations and/or your own writing featured in a Resource Rec post, or if you want to collaborate with me, you can leave a comment below for both, or contact me on either tumblr or IG! If you feel so generously inclined, you can support my writing by leaving me a tip or buying stickers on my Kofi. Until next time, thanks for reading and happy writing!

Chatting · Reading Recs

ARC Review: Changeling by Arista Holmes


When Lizzy’s mother is the next to vanish, she’s expected to grieve and move on. Instead, Lizzy wants to find out what happened, but the answers she seeks can’t be found in the fey realm of Arbaon.

With the help of her best friend, Booker Reed, Lizzy’s determined to retrace her mother’s final steps… straight through an illegal portal and into the mortal realm.

Whatever leads she expected to find, it wasn’t an academy of vampires, and a world stalked by their rabid cousins, the kavians.

Forced to rely on the vampires for protection, and secluded away behind the high walls of Speculo School, it quickly becomes clear not everyone is pleased with Lizzy and Booker’s investigation. With danger building the further they dig, the two fey need to decide if the closure they seek is worth risking their lives for.

But the longer they remain amongst the vampires, the more Lizzy begins to suspect that her answers instead lie with the deadly kavians.

My Review: 4/5 Stars – An engaging urban fantasy story that focuses on what family means

This book took me a little while to get into (mostly because of school interfering with my reading) but I’m glad I gave it a chance. Though the first part failed to catch my attention completely, because I ended up really enjoying this story. The greatest strength of this book is the relationships between the characters – especially Lizzy and Booker. They’re truly ride-or-die friends and it’s obvious from the beginning how much they care about each other, and though they have their clashes, they’re loyal to the end. I was wary of their vampire friends, Cara and Andric, at first, but I grew to really like them as well throughout the book as they proved their trust. I also appreciate that none of their interactions turned into a weird love triangle/quadrangle situation, including with the other minor antagonist/potential love interest/resident mean girl, Mia Harris. Their interactions were always a lot of fun and the switching of POVs worked well to facilitate the story. Maddy’s absence haunts the narrative and Lizzy’s grief and desire for answers is the driving force of the story. Even though we never meet her, it’s clear the impact she’s made on Lizzy and Booker’s lives.

I found the world-building confusing and a bit lackluster at first, but by the time the whole deal with the kavians was explained, I was already invested in the character’s stories so it was worthwhile. Urban fantasy is always a tricky space to play with – the creatures you use must be recognizable to the usual tropes and traits, without falling into the realm of cliche, and I think Holmes strikes a simple but effective balance here, and I’m looking forward to seeing the rest of the series!

Thanks for reading! I want this blog to be more than me shouting into the void. If I can use this platform to help boost other creators, I’d love to see your work too. If you want to have your recommendations and/or your own writing featured in a Resource Rec post, or if you want to collaborate with me, you can leave a comment below for both, or contact me on either tumblr or IG! If you feel so generously inclined, you can support my writing by leaving me a tip or buying stickers on my Kofi. Until next time, thanks for reading and happy writing!

Chatting · Monthly Goals

February 2023 Goals

This past month went really quickly, and not just because it’s the shortest month. My school schedule is in full-steam-ahead with senior projects, research, running too many clubs, and spending time with my friends before we all move away at the end of the semester. As I write this, I’m dealing with a migraine thanks to a freak snowstorm, and I’m very much looking forward to spring when the weather is more consistently warm and I can go outside again.

Won: 6/9 Complete

Run at least 2 sessions of my Planescape Campaign: Yes, this got off the ground! This is my first time DMing a campaign, I’m using an unusual setting, and my players are all experienced DMs, and so I was very nervous to start this game, but they all seem to be enjoying it so far!

Brainstorm newsletter stories for the year: I spend a lot of time playing DnD and it’s often a source of inspiration for tropes to recycle in my original fiction. I’m tempted to write out the backstories of my NPCs from the Planescape game as short stories of their own, or to novelize events from other games as a form of character development. I’m not really thinking about what’s going to be the most marketable, but what’s going to be the most fun for me to write. Most newsletters only have one “Cookie”, a single story that recruits people to sign up for updates and exclusive content. By releasing new stories quarterly, I’m going far overkill, and I’ve decided that not all these stories need to be “trendy” or “attention-grabbing”. It’s ok if they’re just plain weird.

Finish sticker designs and add the next batch to the shop: Our shop finally got new sticker paper so these are now LIVE! You can get your own stickers at my kofi shop here!

Do painting portrait studies

I’ve been wanting to experiment with a more lineless art style, and to hone my shading and environmental storytelling in my art, and so these are some of the pieces I finished this month! The first is an illustration from my Avatar the Last Airbender campaign, during a particularly dramatic moment. The portraits are of Madeline Hyland, from the band The Amazing Devil. I used screen caps from their Love Run music videos as my reference.

Finish Pyreflies for ARC: Done! You can read my review here if you missed it.

Read “Whatever Happened to Madeline Hall” and Changeling for ARCs: Half done! I am finished with the prequel, and started Changeling but have not finished yet due to time constraints.

Read Tress and the Emerald Sea: I am about halfway through with this one as well!

Read Howl: Not started. I was too ambitious with my reading goals this month, but it’s at the top of the list for March.

Read ARMV for ARCs: Same as Howl!

Thanks for reading! I want this blog to be more than me shouting into the void. If I can use this platform to help boost other creators, I’d love to see your work too. If you want to have your recommendations and/or your own writing featured in a Resource Rec post, or if you want to collaborate with me, you can leave a comment below for both, or contact me on either tumblr or IG! If you feel so generously inclined, you can support my writing by leaving me a tip or buying stickers on my Kofi. Until next time, thanks for reading and happy writing!