Storytelling and STEM

This article is a little different from my usual fare. Between school and last week’s post, I wanted to talk about the practical side of being a creative writer while studying and working in engineering. Most of us aren’t full-time writers, so I’m hoping some of this applies to other people. At least, I hope it provides an interesting insight into why I’ve made certain choices with this blog. This also serves as an answer to some questions I’ve gotten on Tumblr about this topic, so I hope you enjoy!

How I balance my writing with my career choice:

I started posting my writing online on Tumblr the summer before I started uni. I considered how I wanted to present myself in both aspects of my life. It was my first venture into any social media, so I set up accounts using my real name to connect with professionals from my school. I also didn’t want my engineering professors, admissions councilors, or potential recruiters to google my name, find my “fantasy adventure nonsense,” and get confused. Or worse, dismiss me as being too flighty or inconsistent to succeed in the engineering field. I also wanted to maintain a certain level of privacy. If my writing attracted negative attention, I would have the safety of anonymity.

A year, a manuscript, and a community later, I started this website. Hi! I’m Etta Grace. Welcome!

How I balance studies with writing

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Why the World Needs Storytellers

Let me tell you a true story…

I enrolled in my university with enough transfer credit to wreck my normal first-year course schedule, but a low enough score on the Chem AP test that I had to retake the general/intro chem course, which was a brilliant start to my chemical engineering educational career. After much pestering of the department offices, I registered for a few advanced courses, loopholed my way into starting a business minor a year early (though that’s a story for another day), and arrived for orientation feeling slightly rattled by the fact I’d already broken a bunch of rules before the semester even started.

One of my regularly-scheduled classes was Intro to Engineering – basically a crash course in the different programs offered that let you meet the faculty and explore the labs. It was in this class I met Professor G. After a week or two of working with him, I knew I had my heart set on chemE, and I asked him about getting involved in the department research. Yes, as a stupid undergrad first-year that was retaking genchem. I truly expected the faculty to laugh in my face, but Prof G listened to my request with an indulgent smile, said that I could totally join one of the teams, and asked me what field interested me.

I bluescreened. I didn’t think I’d get this far, and I fumbled for an answer besides, “uhhhh. Cool chemistry stuff?”

Professor G took pity on my ignorant embarrassed self and started asking follow up questions about my interests, clubs, what events I had done in Science Olympiad during high school, genuinely trying to help me find something to focus on, and encouraging my curiosity. In my fluster, I let slip that I like writing, and prayed he’d let it slide and go back to quizzing me on hydrogen fuel cells.

He zoned in on that like a missile. “What do you like to write?”

“Oh… fiction. Fantasy novels. Nothing useful to research.”

“You’re a storyteller!”

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August Goals Recap

Hello, my friends, I hope you all are doing well. School has begun for me, and I cannot tell you how excited I am to be back on campus. The first week was spent so busy meeting up with friends (some I’m only meeting in person for the first time!), organizing club activities, and starting a research project, in addition to all my classes. I’m doing my best to schedule writing time in the mornings, before my 9am classes, and was able to more or less stick to that plan! We’ll see how long it lasts, especially once homework starts piling on, but for now I’m pleased to have a dedicated hour. It’s not much, but maintaining the creative momentum is half the battle when it comes to keeping a habit, and having the dedicated hour of escape from my other responsibilities will help me stay balanced through the semester, so I have high hopes!

I also said in my last recap that I found another way of tracking writing progress that I would be using going forward. Well… I ended up not using it as much as I thought I would, but I still somehow managed to finish more words than I did in July! I’m going to continue experimenting with the chart, but I think it works better when my attention is split between a bunch of things, rather than doing a sprint, as you’ll see in the goals breakdown. So what did I work on?

Won by 3.5 points – 8/9!

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Magic Practice

This scene is from Storge’s second draft, in chapter 9. The Laine family is hiding after Luca and Grace revealed their powers during The Arena Attack, which you can read here. 1100 words, no content warnings. I hope you enjoy this look into my magic system!


“Luca, what in all of Laoche’s Lands do you think you’re doing?” Grace asked, flinging open the door of the apartment. Luca jumped, dropping a metal knot with a clatter.

“Um.” He fumbled for the puzzle and tried to hide it behind his back, but she snatched the still-glowing object before he could pull it from her reach. It buzzed with the magic, warm to the touch, and she clamped her hands around it as if silencing a bell. The feeling transferred into her fingertips and arms, pins and needles that danced along her skin, a surge of life. Then it dissipated, and the metal cooled again.

“Enne noticed your practice,” she said, handing it back to him.

“Only Enne can hear the magic,” Luca protested.

“We don’t know that. Besides, Acheran feels magic with his wings. What’s stopping others from noticing too?”

Luca sighed. “There’s nothing else I can help with, and mom and dad won’t let me come find work with them. I’m bored out of my mind and I just thought…” He trailed off. He let his fingers idly dance over the puzzle’s edges, but didn’t release his power. “It was a stupid thought. I’m sorry. That could have put us in danger. I’ve worried Enne, haven’t I.”

“Annoyed, yes, worried, maybe. I don’t see any guards banging on the front door, do you?” Luca gave her a half-smile at that, and she sat cross-legged next to him. “What were you trying to do?”

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Author Interview: Quill & One Siren’s Soul

Today I’m pleased to introduce you to my great writing friends, and all time favorite people on writeblr! Quill is mostly a fantasy and sci-fi author, and shares excerpts from their WIPs in the universe of One Siren’s Soul – a fantastical adventure with pirates and sirens set in an alternate-universe, 1700s-era, Age of Sail Earth version of earth. It has a colorful cast of absolutely delightful characters, and one of the coolest magic systems I’ve ever seen, so I’m absolutely thrilled to share their work with you today!

Etta: Hello and welcome! First could you introduce yourself and talk a little about what you write?

Quill: Hello hello! It’s a lovely honour to be in this metaphorical interview room. You have wonderful virtual decor.
I’ve had more than a few names, but you can call me Quill! Half of the time, I almost couldn’t tell you what I write–most of my notebooks are filled with bits and bobs from all sorts of genres, writing exercises and random dream journaling that make not a lick of sense (sometimes not even to me). But of what I let see the light of day, my writing usually focuses on the fantasy or sci-fi genres, with worldbuilding that often begins as something simple enough and then that side of the brain that makes everything difficult kicks in and decides it should be super deep and complex. I definitely love to dabble in all sorts of things, but I have to say, something about that “magic is science and science is magic” aspect just holds me enraptured

Etta: Thank you for agreeing to do this! ahh the “magic is science and science is magic” approach to worldbuilding is my favorite and I’m so excited to hear your answers. Let’s start at the beginning, When you start developing a magic system, what’s your starting point?

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How I Make a Magic System

Today’s post is an in-depth break down of how I worldbuild the magic systems in my fantasy stories. I talked a little about Laoche’s magic in an earlier post about my process in general, which you can read here. But at request from @abalonetea (a good friend of mine who’s been on this blog a few times before, once in an interview, and once requesting a Trope Talk), I wanted to do a breakdown on how I come up with the idea for a magic system, how I develop it from the first concept, and how I go about breaking all the rules. I’m not going to pretend my method is the best or most efficient way to create a magic system, since it’s taken me nearly six years to piece together, but for what it’s worth, I hope you find this breakdown useful and interesting!

The Premise

I find it most easy to build out a magic system if you start from a really simple idea that you want to explore. I want to create the feeling that you could get lost in this world trying to discover all the different possibilities. For the sake of the story, I also think it’s best if the magic system supports the themes.

For Laoche, I wanted my characters to be learning about their world and uncovering new truths that shake up the status quo, and so I took an almost scientific approach to building the underlying mechanics. There’s so much about our own universe we cannot even imagine yet, and I want my readers to come away from my stories with a sense of curiosity, by following along with the characters as they chase answers. I needed to understand the physics of my fictional universe, so then I could decide how much of that would be hidden from the characters. There are hard and fast rules that dictate the way the world works, but the way individual characters apply their powers can lead to an infinite variety of effects.

Alternatively, Runaways takes place in our world, and the characters explore the hidden supernatural world. Much of the fantastical worldbuilding comes from folktales, mythology, and other stories that have inspired me over the years, and so I wanted a soft magic system that could account for so many different (possibly contradictory) tropes. I needed a system flexible enough to will all of these things into existence, something based on the pure stubborn belief that the impossible can happen. This is a world where stories have power, faith affects the fabric of reality, the placebo effect works, and heartfelt human tenacity saves the day.

The Building Blocks

For the sake of simplicity, I’m going to focus on Laoche for this example. The first step once I came up with my premise was to answer the question of “Well, how does this work?” At this point in the process, I’d already started drafting Storge, and so I knew I needed my magic system to work with the story I’d constructed, without introducing any plot holes or breaking internal consistency. I already had four types of magic in the ways Luca can store the energy, Enne can amplify it, Grace can silence it, and most Atilan could convert it into different spells. (or 5, if you count generation as it’s own category). I also knew that in the Laoche Chronicles, there are instances of all the different types of magic existing in superposition, so I needed to understand what made that state possible.

Since I already knew what I wanted these types to do when used by a human, my next step was to define what these four types of magic are on the most basic physical levels, how they can switch, and how the lines between them can be broken. Then I needed to figure out how that power interacts with the natural world: can other species do magic besides humans? What about plants? What effects do the different types have on gravity, and time? I started exploring how people learn magic, what if feels like to use it, how different people end up with different types of magic.

I was surprised as I put everything together just how many potential plot holes I was able to stitch together! This is also the point where I took my brain dump documents and started to fit in all of my whacky ideas that go, “OH WOULDN’T IT BE COOL IF…” Once I had a framework to build around, I could connect all the dots and come up with explanations that made sense. Thinking about the implications also led me to a bunch of neat “what ifs?” that have been filed away for future reference – little tidbits of canon that may or may not ever make it into the story, but serve to make the world feel more real.

The Restrictions

To keep myself from getting carried away or introducing more holes, I also wanted to define exactly what nonnegotiable rules exist: what’s the most overpowered magic could theoretically be, what are the limitations, and consequences? For the sake of storytelling, I wanted death and time travel to be an absolute no. You can heal mortal wounds, or slow and speed up time slightly, but there’s no chance of resurrecting someone who’s already gone, communing with the dead, or actually stopping/traveling through time. This eliminates a significant chunk of possible plot-holes, and gives clear stakes for my characters to face.

Besides those few limitations, most of the restrictions come from the consequences of trying to do magic. Since magic is treated like a natural part of the world, I’ve also established that it’s an amoral insentient thing to be treated carefully. Like fire or radiation or water, it can be extremely powerful, either beneficially or harmfully if you don’t know what you’re doing with it. Character’s abilities are restricted by how much they’ve practiced and studied, if magic is available for them to use, and if they have the energy and ability to cast properly. There are also societal restrictions, such as the Atilan/Debilan divide in Maaren, where one could do magic, but it comes with political, religious, or inter-personal ramifications.

The combination of possibilities and restrictions gives me a LOT of room to play with, and as long as no one character has inconsistent powers, most of my system should work without loopholes! I have both the flexibility and the framework to add new details as needed, and an internal logic that both my characters and readers can follow.

That was a fairly high overview of the process so If you’d like more information on how I learned this, you can check out my resource rec post (specifically Hello Future Me’s book “On Writing and Worldbuilding” and Brandon Sanderson’s writing lectures!). Happy writing!

Lessons Learned from a Year of Blogging

Storytime: It’s August 3rd, I’ve just wrapped up a month-in-review, which means the next item on my to-do list is to start writing and queuing blog posts, Instagram photos, and tumblr links for the rest of the month. As is my customary routine. I open the WordPress dashboard and realize, “Oh hey, I’ve put up 50 posts on a near-weekly basis, that’s kind of neat!” I file this information aside in the “cool facts” portion of my brain, and go to open a new post, before doing an abrupt about-face as realization dawns on me in a sky-shattering Eureka moment. I madly scroll down my list, half-disbelieving as the date under my first post confirms that I’ve reached my 1-year anniversary of keeping this website, and I nearly missed it.

I reached one year how did that happen???? Honestly I’m still in some denial that I’ve made it this far, and in shock at what this blog has become since this first tentative post. I’ve learned so much over this past year, and changed so much as a person, so I wanted to share some of my biggest take-aways today. If there are any other aspiring authors reading this, I hope this serves as some degree of motivation and advice for you. To whoever is reading this, thank you for your support. I never thought I’d make it, and this milestone is exciting beyond my wildest dreams.

The only point of comparison that matters is past-you: As I’ve become more invested in the indie-author space, learning more about how to create an effective author’s platform, and taking the steps toward self publishing, I’ve also been comparing myself to the successful authors I’m learning from. These writers have multiple books out, thousands of followers, and make a living wage off their full-time author career, and I asked myself, “I’ve been working so hard, why am I not at that level?” That’s not a fair question to ask. I’m an unpublished 20 year old uni student, obviously I’m not going to have that kind of platform yet. But I will eventually, if I keep working hard.

Follow your interests: External validation matters less when you’re intrinsically motivated. It is easy to get caught up in the statistics and feel beholden to creating content that will get the most hits, but if you’re not enjoying the process, then what’s the point? If I write about what I love, keeping this blog won’t feel like a chore, and I’ll be able to maintain consistency which is ultimately more honest than following a quick trend.

Follow your interests: Other people can tell when you care, and that means they care more about reading what you have to say. I never expected anyone to care about my Count of Monte Cristo posts, but those have some of the farthest reach! My personal writing is unpublished and I figured only a few close friends would care, but I’m floored by the number of views my excerpts get when I put them up. Who cares about the way I outline? 50 of you, apparently! Moral of the story: Don’t be afraid to share your passions.

Quality > Quantity: I want to put content into the world that’s going to be useful, motivational, and entertaining. If I’m going to spend my time on this project, I want it to matter to someone, not just be mindlessly consumed and then discarded. By putting in the effort, I create articles that I can redirect people back to because I’m confident they still contain solid information. I might not write as prolifically as other bloggers, but even my old posts still get a few hits a day because they’re just as relevant.

Planning -> Consistency: At one point this past year, I was taking 18 credits of chemical engineering and business classes through zoom university, working 20 hours a week at a lab, and still putting out posts on the weekly. I won’t pretend that I wasn’t crazy or losing tons of sleep, but I can say that I would not have been able to maintain that posting schedule if I had to come up with new ideas every week. Knowing what came next meant that I could add it to my to-do list like any other assignment I knew was coming up soon, and it felt like something that could be accomplished and not an extra I’d get to if I had the chance. Even a simple schedule is better than nothing.

Education beats intimidation: I didn’t know anything about web design, blogging, the publishing industry, or author business when I started this. As I’ve done that research, the fear of the unknown was replaced by an understanding of the next steps to take, and even if the amount of work is still intimidating, I know that’s something I can tackle one step at a time. Educate yourself about what scares you. It might still be scary as hell but at least you’ll have the weapon of knowledge to use against it.

Spend your time on what matters most now: I don’t plan to publish for another few years. My stories are not ready to release yet and I want to graduate and have a financially stable job before I go all-in on the self-publishing project. I would be wasting my time on researching Amazon ads and trying to network with authors to get speaking engagements. Will I try both of these things eventually? Probably. But for now, I’m going to focus on what’s attainable: finishing my books, and keeping this blog running in the meantime.

So I find myself writing this in complete disbelief. I’ve wanted to be an author my whole life; as a little kid I hid under the blankets with a flashlight, notebook, and pen, thinking “I wanna write a book!”

Everyone does that, right?

Everyone has big dreams and big plans. But here I am, tentatively holding the half-finished 2nd draft of my manuscript, the almost-finished first draft of a new story, a blog of 50 posts, and countless more ideas, taking the next step towards putting the wildest of my literary endeavors out into the world for real. This is it, guys. I’m going legit. I’m really doing this whole “I’m going to be an author!” thing. I’ve got a website now.

Real Authors have websites, right?

I have slightly more of an idea where to start with this, but I figure a next step, no matter how unsure, is a next step nonetheless. I hope my humble corner of the internet will turn into something more, and I hope I’ll be able to bring you along on the journey.

So let’s take the next step together, shall we?

July Goals Update

Hello hello again! I’m here again with a quick WIP update – I’ve been working really hard this month to crunch through as much writing as possible before school starts again in the fall, and I’m pretty pleased with how it’s turned out! I also wanted to share a new method I discovered to tracking progress, in addition to the monthly goals:

This little chart is something I found while watching through Bernadette Banner videos on Youtube, and something I decided to adapt to my own writing projects. It’s often super intimidating to look at a story and see just how much more there is to complete – I feel like I’ll never finish, and I’m just crawling towards the finish line without a way to physically see a progress bar. NaNoWriMo has nice built in trackers, but for me switching between projects, it doesn’t work too well. This graph let me break down each project into individual scenes, and it was so much more satisfying and motivating for my visual-learner brain to mark them off with pretty colors every couple days.

I’ll be using this again in August for sure, with a few alterations. Now that I’ve learned how many blocks = 10k words, I can make it more reasonable for one month of goals. I’m also going to leave the “other” column open to fill in as I complete fun extras. I noticed that I jumped around my TBR, and then didn’t mark off certain blocks because I read other books, so leaving that flexible will be able to more accurately reflect what I actually do!

Have you ever used one of these grids before? I’m sure there’s a name for it, but I haven’t seen it before. Do you think they would be useful to your own planning? Let me know what you think!

That being said, let’s get into the monthly goals, shall we?

Won by 3 points – 8/10

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Jack of Fables

Once upon a time, there was a boy named Jack…

Wait, do not walk away!
Don’t wander off to play!
You think you’ve heard this tale before?
You think this rhyme will be a bore?
Please give me but a fighting chance.
I bet two cents you’ll be entranced.

This poem tells the story of one eccentric fellow who lived a rather eventful life (and afterlife)! Jack of Fables is the name I’ve given to the character behind the stories of Jack in the Beanstalk, Jack the Giant Killer, Jack be Nimble, Stingy Jack, Jack and Jill went up a hill, Jack O’Lantern, and Jack Frost. His story has been sitting in my phone notes since 2015, and I’ve been itching for a chance to tell it ever since. It made the perfect candidate for a newsletter launch giveaway as a short story, but when I put pen to paper, I found that poetry fit better, and had a ton of fun writing this new rhyming version. A special thanks to my good friend Siarven for beta reading this!

I did this illustration as a “cover” and a teaser for the story! Can you find the symbols from each of the fables I mentioned in the last paragraph? If you haven’t signed up for my mailing list yet, here is the link to do so. Once you sign up and confirm subscription, the first email should be sent right away. I hope you enjoy reading!

Reading Rec: How to Market a Book by Ricardo Fayet

Hello dear readers! This month’s book review is a little different from my usual fare because I’m covering a non-fiction craft book. Following last week’s post, I was motivated to dig into some deeper research on marketing, and was pleased to stumble across this How-To guide from one of my favorite resources. Today I’ll be sharing some notes and major take-aways that I hadn’t already learned from my earlier research! Hopefully this will include some insightful new information

How to Market a Book: Overperform in a Crowded Market (Reedsy Marketing Guides Book 1)

This book is an incredibly detailed, thoughtful, and relevant look into the online publishing industry in 2021. It reiterates the fundamentals of building an author’s platform and offers advanced ideas for anyone who wants to take the business side of writing seriously. If you’re anything like me, you grew up with a lecture of “Writing isn’t a real career” and “you don’t want to be a starving artist, do you?” While it’s true that an extremely small number of authors become household names, there are countless other authors making a decent living off their craft and even working for themselves full time.

If this is your end goal, and you’re familiar with or at least willing to learn how to be a businessperson, then I highly recommend this book for you. If you’re not sure yet how much time and effort you want to put into your author’s platform, I still recommend this book, but specifically sections 1-3, which explain the fundamentals of how to make it in the publishing world. The language is very easy to understand, and it’s an excellent in-depth primer to get you thinking and planning for the future. Then, when you’re ready to tackle the advanced marketing and advertising sections of the book, you already have the reference material in your back pocket.

Additionally, the e-book is completely free. It’s roughly 60K words, but its an easy read and I got through it in about a week. The author, Ricardo Fayet is an expert in the industry and the co-founder of the company, Reedsy, which is how I found the book. Reedsy has proven to be one of the MOST valuable resources I’ve found in my researching endeavors, and I look forward to taking advantage of their free courses and other resources when I reach those points in my author’s journey.

So, without further ado, let’s get into the big ideas, shall we?

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