More Writing Updates

Two blog posts in one year? What is the world coming to? Seriously though, I just wanted to give an update on all the writing projects I mentioned last time with some newer announcements, as well!

First of all, you can now pre-order a copy of Ab(solutely Normal) and Transmogrify!

Quick reminder, Ab(solutely Normal) is a YA anthology of short stories that smash mental health stereotypes, as the tagline says. My story is called “Peculiar Falls” and is about a socially anxious vampire who has to overcome his fear of people to save his town. It was really fun and cathartic to write. Also, the anthology comes out April 11, which is a pretty great birthday present for this Aries!

Transmogrify! is a YA anthology of fantasy stories featuring trans and nonbinary protagonists. My story is called “The Hallow King” and is about a trans boy who summons the spirit of Halloween to get revenge on his transphobic teachers. It turned out to be more of a horror story than I expected but I guess that’s what happens when you write about angry teenagers and Halloween. The anthology comes out May 16 just in time for Pride Month!

Ok, now for the new announcements! My flash fiction story “The Yellow House” is in the December Issue of On Spec Magazine (#122 VOL 32 NO 4). It’s the story of a little girl, her beloved house, and what happens when her parents try to convince her to leave it. You can order a print or digital copy on their website.

I’m also excited to announce that I’ll have a story in yet another YA anthology, this one coming out in 2024. It’s called Queer Beasties and is edited by the brilliant Rob Costello. Since the theme is queer monsters, my story is a queer retelling of Beauty and the Beast! See below for the official announcement.

Last but not least, my novel is steadily coming along. As of writing this, I’m at 49,234 words and nearly finished with Part 2. I’m hoping to finish Part 3 next year and then clean it up so I can send it out! I’m still not really sure if it’s middle grade or young adult but hopefully that will become clearer once I have the whole thing written.

That’s all for now! I hope everyone is having a good descent into the darkness before the return of the light, otherwise known as the winter holidays.


Project Updates

Okay, so it looks I’m continuing the pattern of only posting every couple of years, lolsob. In my defense, a lot has happened in my life during the past few years and, more obviously, in the world at large. Anyway, I’m overdue for an update, especially since I have lots of exciting writing news to share!

First of all, I had my very first short story publication! When I lost my job at the start of the pandemic I threw myself into working on short stories because it felt like the only thing I could control and I was really struggling with focusing on longer projects. It took me about a year and a half of relentlessly sending out various submissions, but I finally got the “yes, we’ll take this” that I had been hoping for, and now you can read my story “Maggoty Meg Flies Up the Mountain” at Cosmic Roots and Eldritch Shores. They even did a cool witchy illustration for it!

In other exciting news, I’m going to have a story in two really exciting YA anthologies coming out in 2023. (Ab)solutely Normal is an anthology of #OwnVoices mental health fiction and Transmogrify! is an anthology of #OwnVoices trans fantasy stories.

I’m back to working on my novel now, but it’s slow going and I’ve had to step away from it several times to work on these other projects. But I’m still hoping I can finish a draft sometime this year. Fingers crossed! That’s all the updates for now. Hopefully more to come soon!


Around and Around and Around We Go

I’ve been trying to figure out how to write this blog post for about 3 1/2 years. At first I kept putting it off because I thought that one of these days I would come up with a solution to some of the problems I’ve been wrestling with and then I would finally know how to write this post. But at this point I’ve resigned myself to the fact that there’s never really going to be a solution. So I figured I might as well just write this and send it out into the world to see if it resonates with anyone else.

In January of 2017, a couple of weeks before Trump’s inauguration, I ended up in the hospital for 3 days and, honestly, my life has been pretty chaotic since then (to be fair, it was pretty chaotic before then, too, but I love the symmetry of that image). The chaos in the outside world has mirrored the chaos in my own life. And every time I think I’ve finally found my footing and can take a breath, settle into a routine, let go of panic, the floor crumbles underneath me right on schedule.

Since that hospital stay I’ve had months long battles with my insurance company over name/gender changes and medication coverage, top surgery (a good thing, but still major surgery with a long recovery) and a year of intense post-surgery nerve pain afterwards (not such a good thing). I’ve had to navigate changing insurance companies after Blue Cross left California (when they sent me the letter announcing they were leaving, my brain completely blocked it out, I had no memory of receiving anything, which is the only time that’s ever happened to me in my life). I’ve had to deal with changing the name and gender on my driver’s license twice because they lost my paperwork, and I’ve had multiple issues with my car. I’ve gone through several jobs, at times working two jobs at once (which is challenging even when not dealing with chronic illness) and I’ve dropped out of two different study programs (one in Waldorf education and one in library and information technology). I’ve also had to take care of a cat with serious health issues ending in her sudden death last year. I am probably forgetting something.

The point is, I was already exhausted. And then the pandemic hit and I lost my job, the job that I had spent YEARS trying to get because it was a part time job that actually paid enough that I could barely qualify for an insurance subsidy. I lost that job with no explanation, in the middle of a pandemic, during record unemployment, at a time when working outside the home is particularly unsafe (especially for someone on immune suppressants and living with a diabetic). And I’m in a better position than most people. I live with my parents so I don’t have to worry about paying rent. I’m on unemployment. I am probably going to be fine. But I don’t know what to do with the fact that I spent YEARS working towards this goal only for it to go up in smoke through no fault of my own. I don’t know how to deal with the fact that I spent so much time and energy chasing stability only for everything to blow up so spectacularly in my face.

And those are just the many upheavals in my own life. Alongside that has been the never ending litany of disasters that is the Trump presidency. There are the myriad ways in which this administration has targeted trans people and the myriad ways they’ve tried to do away with the ACA and the protections that came with it, like making sure those of us with pre-existing conditions can even get health insurance. There have been the ever-increasing wildfires in California, worrying about friends and family losing their houses and their lives, worrying about my parents’ house and our own lives. The ever-growing threat of climate change. And those are only the things that affect me personally.

Back in that long ago January of 2017, before I ended up in the hospital, I had this naive idea that I would spend the next four years of this presidency DOING something to stop all these terrible things from happening, to stop climate change, to stop Trump, to stop them taking away the things I was so close to achieving (transition! cheaper health insurance!). But then I ended up in the hospital and there was always some emergency to navigate. I’ve felt like a hamster on an endless wheel spinning between trying to take care of my health/navigate the medical industry (its own part time job), trying to get a better job/more financial independence, trying to have a writing career, and trying to do some form of activism even if it’s just writing letters to representatives or signing petitions. None of it ever feels like it’s enough.

And the result is that no matter what I’m doing I always feel like I’m doing the wrong thing. If I’m trying to get a better job I feel like I should be writing, if I’m writing I feel like I should be volunteering, if I’m writing letters to representatives I feel like I should be doing something like yoga to manage my pain, if I’m doing yoga I feel like I should be job searching. On and on. Only it’s worse because whenever I’m doing one thing there’s at least three other options clamoring for my attention. It’s paralyzing and it makes it so that half the time I don’t do anything because I don’t even know what to prioritize.

In the past, well meaning friends have suggested that I just do a little bit of everything, but that approach always leaves me feeling stretched thin like I’m trying to juggle twenty balls in the air and dropping them all on my head. Others have stressed the importance of self care, but self care in a state of emergency often feels like a luxury. If you’re standing on the beach in front of an oncoming tidal wave you don’t stop to practice self care. You get the hell off of that beach.

Now with the pandemic in full swing I feel even more overwhelmed. Do I drop everything and focus on finding another job? What would that even look like in the age of COVID 19 when all the things I have experience in (education, libraries) feel incredibly unsafe? Do I try learning new skills or take whatever I can get? Do I focus even harder on taking care of my body in case I get sick? Do I take this opportunity to write more now that it isn’t safe to leave the house and hope that that eventually leads to some extra income? Do I try to volunteer for an organization that’s helping people through this disaster if I can find a safe way to help?

The truth is I have felt enormously guilty over the past few years that I’m not doing more to fight back against all the awful things happening in the world and at the same time I’ve felt trapped by my body and my lack of independence. It seems like an enormous privilege to have the support of my parents and a roof over my head, but I also don’t want to spend the rest of my life financially dependent on them. And mixed up with everything else is the fear that every time I put off writing I’m putting off any hope of my writing dreams coming true for something that may very well fall apart like my other jobs have. After all, writing, like any art, so often happens in the cracks of a person’s life. We have to make that time happen or it doesn’t happen at all. We have to prioritize it.

A part of me feels like if the world is falling apart I might as well just do whatever I want to do (since trying to be practical has worked out so well for me 😒). But another part of me thinks about the people who are dying because of this administration, because of racism, because of climate change, a tsunami that’s already bearing down on us, and thinks, “How can I possibly sit here in my house reading books and writing? What good does that do anyone?!” And yet another part of me worries that in order to be truly helpful I’d have to become something I’m not. I have friends who are lawyers and activists, for example, impressive people who actually accomplish things! But I don’t know how to do the things they do and I’m not sure I even want to. I want to be what I am, which is a creative person. I just don’t know how to be that and be of use in a world that feels like it’s falling apart.

Anyway, this is a long and messy post but these are some of the things I’ve been wrestling with for years. Do you have the same struggles, reader? How have you figured out how to prioritize in these chaotic times? If you’re also a creative person, how are you finding the time and energy to create? And do you struggle with guilt too? I’d like to think I’m not the only one going through this.


Still Alive

Wow, so first of all I can’t believe I haven’t posted here in six whole years! A lot has happened since then, as you can probably tell by the name and pronoun change. I think most of the people who follow this blog know me IRL, but just in case, surprise! I’m one of those terrifying transgenders taking over the country. I’m not really sure how much I want to talk about gender stuff here (mostly because my feelings about gender are complicated and confusing even to myself), but suffice to say I’m cool with he or they pronouns and my name is Jonathan now. Thanks for your support and understanding.

I’m hoping to post here a little more regularly now that I’m stuck at home (I lost my job in April), but I am also trying to make time for writing more poetry and fiction so, as always, I need to figure out how to balance those two things without hurting my hands (I have chronic pain so can’t do a lot of typing and sitting at the computer without flareups). I’ve been wanting to do a blog series on the dreaded Writer’s Block for awhile because I have a lot of thoughts about that, and I think it would be fun to do some short reviews of books that I’m reading to recommend to others, even though I’m a little terrified of my ability to write reviews.

If there’s anything in particular you want me to write about let me know in a comment. And I hope this blog post finds you all safe.


My Writing Process Blog Tour

My friend and fellow VCFAer (is that even a word?) Megan Hoak invited me to participate in the My Writing Process blog tour so here I am. You can read her post about her own writing process here. Whew! It’s been a long time. So without further ado…

What am I working on?

I’ve been working on a Secret Project for some time now. It took me awhile to realize that I wanted to write something weird and self indulgent and in order to do that I needed to keep it secret, even promise myself I wouldn’t publish it. Once I did that I found it was so much easier to just write without worrying what people would think of it, or if what I was writing was publishable, or even if it made any sense/worked as a story. I could just write for the pleasure of it, so that’s been wonderful. As for the story itself, I’ve been describing it to people as a bit like Alice and Wonderland if Alice was a teenager and Wonderland was an Underworld. It is creepy and weird and magical and probably the most “me” thing I have ever written. Which is also why it is terrifying and secret. For now.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Well, it’s a portal fantasy and as far as I can tell not a lot of portal fantasies are being written for YA audiences. That seems to mostly happen in middle grade books. Why is that? Also, the magic/fantasy elements are less straightforward. I see a lot of fantasy books with vampires or werewolves or ghosts or witches or insert magical creature here________. I wanted to be more subtle about defining the magical creatures. Although, really, there’s nothing subtle about them or the magic.

Why do I write what I do?

You might as well ask someone why they breathe the way they do. I always loved stories with magic best. Fairy tales, ghost stories, fantasy. And especially portal fantasies. I was in love with the Wizard of Oz as a kid even though I wanted the complete opposite of what Dorothy wanted. She wanted to go home. I wanted to go to Oz. But aside from love, my brain thrives on metaphor and symbolism and you’d be hard-pressed to find anything more metaphorical or symbolic than fantasy literature. As for why I write for younger audiences (mostly) I guess it’s because I grew up reading kids books and never stopped. Also, my protagonists always seemed to be teenagers. Go figure.

How does your writing process work?

That’s a bit hard to define because I’ve experimented with so many writing processes over the years, especially in my MFA program. But the process for writing this book has basically been to write about 250 words a day (sometimes more) and try not to fiddle too much. It’s helped to write a lot of the scenes out of order, more or less as the ideas strike me and to occasionally dip into backstory. It also helps to write in small chunks because when I get stuck and don’t know where I’m going I can just spend 250 words describing the scenery 😉 I’m trying to get as much written as I can before I go back and start changing things and filling in gaps. The result is an incomprehensible mess, but I think it’s made writing more fun for me because I can just skip to the parts I’m excited or curious about.

Next week

Next week two more fabulous writers will be posting about their writing process on their own blogs. Go check them out on April 21st!

Laura is a writer, artist, photographer, and world traveler who passionately pursues the full expression and experience of life. She recently received her MA in Sustainable International Development from Brandeis University, where she focused on the intersections of tourism and community development.

Helen Kemp Zax. In July 2013 Helen received her MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts, where she won the Critical Thesis prize for “Learning to Feel: Practicing Empathy in Coming-of-Age Novels.” Several of her haiku and poems have been published, and a number of her poems have won awards. She has taught writing at all levels, from elementary to post-graduate. She lives with her husband Leonard and their crazy Australian shepherd, Huckleberry Finn, in Washington, DC, where she spends her days walking Huck in the woods, writing poetry, and working on hernovel—a mystery narrative/verse mash-up called MISSING.


All Hallows Write Poems

Okay, so I meant to write more than three poems, but after the third my brain turned to mush! What can I say? Anyway, here they are! These were all written last night, in candlelight, while listening to eerie music. I hope you enjoy them and that they are creepy enough for you 🙂 (Note: I tried to get these poems single spaced, but WordPress is defying me for some reason. Maybe it does not appreciate poetry? If you have any formatting advice please let me know.)


1. Widdershins

Turn counterclock and bury the mushrooms

under your heel. They laced the milkmaid’s

hair with thistle thorns, just for mistaking

an elf for a sparrow. They will break your bones

for whistling twice and if you dance with them

you’ll never grow old, but die

centipede by centipede, until merriment

becomes a foul jaunt and the amanita

begins to speak of deadlier things

than colored lights and fiddles that play themselves.

So walk wisely, friend, and careful

your direction. One misstep, there will be

a cold corpse planted in the fields come sunrise.


2. I couldn’t think of a title for this one (help!)

She knows the language of the knucklebone,

the willow switch, the vocabulary

of swampweed and the mud that swallows.

She can bind you with a single black thread,

see the shrouded faces that peer out of mirrors

when your eyes are half shut.

She has pricked her finger for every absent

moon, tasted nightshade and hemlock

and found them wanting.

When she dreams the clouds tremble

and cover the stars.

Give her bread and she’ll boil you

in a stew of your own making.

Spit on her and she’ll cut your shadow

from your skin until you’re stretched

thin as space. Best to leave her to her candied

houses and stay away from crossroads

in the dead of night. Best to let

witches be witches, and think

no more of poisonous delights.


3. The Dead

I have seen the faces of the dead in their glass cases,

mouths like tunnels and eyes that could eat planets.

I have heard them begging in the twilit hours,

murmurs like moth wings in the dark,

felt their cold fingers, wet and wandering.

They hollow me out.

If I follow them down to the cellar

will they leave me sleeping with the cobwebs

and the silt? Will they shut my eyes with heavy

coins and cradle me in their muddy beds?

That’s all I have, folks! I hope you were sufficiently creeped out 😉 And be sure to check out the other All Hallows Write stories. Happy Day of the Dead!



All Hallows Write

I realize that I have not posted here in a million years, but my life has been pretty chaotic lately and I’ve been trying to save my writing time for more creative pursuits. That said, I wanted to pop back over here to announce that I will be participating in All Hallows Write this year on October 31!

You can find out all the details on the website, but the short version is that I will be staying up all night on Halloween (well, probably not all night. I have a doctor’s appointment the next day) writing terrifying poetry, which I will then post on this, my blog, on November 1st! So stay tuned for witches, ghouls and other startling creatures. And if you wish to participate, as well, be sure to email Jeff at AllHallowsWrite [at]


In Which I Run Into A Wall And Rethink Some Things

Since I started my experiment I’ve managed to get about 50 pages written (remember these are 50 hand-written pages), but I also ran into some trouble. One of my workshop leaders at Vermont College of Fine Arts, A. M. Jenkins, said that a novel is like a picture frame, but you as the author have to know everything that’s going on outside of the frame. Well, after 50 pages I discovered I have no idea what’s going on inside or outside of the frame.

One difficulty is that I have no idea what timeperiod I’m in. Parts of it seem to be in the 16th century, other parts are in the 18th century, and there may even be some earlier time periods stuck in there somewhere. I’m realizing I have a very tenuous grasp of history. I also decided to include some characters of various ethnicities around the Mediterranean, which just made me realize how little I know about the Mediterranean and its various cultures and history in general.

I’ve been reading an enormous tome of Mediterranean history, which is nothing if not daunting, and trying to decide how much research is necessary, whether I should start with research or start with writing and research later, etc. etc. Thankfully, I had a very helpful conversation with fellow Secret Gardener, L. Marie, in which she reminded me that I’m writing fantasy and can make things up.

So this brought about an interesting internal debate. Am I writing historical fantasy? Am I writing about an alternate universe Mediterranean? Or am I writing a Mediterranean-inspired fantasy? After some angsting, I’m leaning towards a Mediterranean-inspired fantasy. I think I will still have to read about the history and culture for inspiration, but I’m going to make things up because that’s what I’m best at.

I wonder if some of my fear and anxiety about this is an unconscious belief that making things up isn’t as legitimate. History seems so much more, well, serious and intellectual. Not like making things up for fun! Of course, I also don’t want to fall into the trap of perpetuating cultural stereotypes and hurting people. I still haven’t decided whether choosing the route of a Mediterranean-inspired fantasy isn’t at its heart an act of cowardice on my part. But it does feel safer.

What about you, readers? Do you write historical fantasy, alternate universes, or culturally-inspired fantasy? Do you do research and how much? And do you start with research or wait till after you’ve written the first draft or write and research in tandem?


In Which I Reveal My Plans For The Summer

I disappeared again! I apologize. I’ve been dealing with some ongoing health issues and I’m still getting used to the logistics of living in a new place. Anyway, I’ve decided to buckle down this summer and write through an entire draft of my new WIP, The Island of the Moon. BUT this is also going to be an experiment for me because I’m going to try to free write the entire draft by hand. I have a binder and a bunch of looseleaf papers so I can move things around. And I’m going to make a collage for the cover because that’s how writers procrastinate.

Why do I want to free write the draft by hand? Partly because typing hurts my hands and arms and partly because I want to stop myself from fussing with language, which usually happens when I type. I want to use the binder instead of a notebook because then I can move scenes around, draft out of order, throw things out if I want to, rewrite scenes. Basically I want to give myself as much flexibility and freedom as I can. Why free writing? Because drafts intimidate me. A draft is serious business. Free writing is exploration. Once I finish the draft I have some voice recognition software I can use to type it out without hurting my hands.

I’ve never tried this before so I have no idea if it will work, but I’m excited about it. I’m also going to focus on research as much as I can. So I’ll be reading books about Spain, the Mediterranean Sea and its history and culture, myths and legends of the ocean, and whatever else comes up. One resource I’m really excited about is the website It’s the website for radio and television in Spain and they have a lot of documentaries and shows you can watch for free. I’m definitely going to take advantage of that.

I’ll try to keep checking in to give you an update on my progress and I might also post any interesting historical or mythological tidbits I come across. My deadline is October 1 so I have about five months. Please feel free to nag me incessantly.

Darrell Kastin

The Conjurer & Other Azorean Tales

My dad (Darrell Kastin) has a new short story collection that came out this past December and lots of exciting things have been in the works so I thought I would share them with you 🙂

The collection is called The Conjurer & Other Azorean Tales (you can order it here) and it is filled with magic, poetry, humor and saudade. Here’s the official description:

Etched from the fertile volcanic soil and the sea and mists surrounding the Azorean islands, the characters who inhabit these stories merge realism with magic. Like the nine Muses, each island has its own special attributes. Whether searching for love, power or meaning, these characters are subject to the whims of Fate and Fortune. Here the commonplace present confronts forces both natural and supernatural. Taking place in the Azorean microcosm, they come to represent a far larger and wider sphere, depicting the foibles and idiosyncrasies of humanity the world over.

If you’re curious to know more about the Azores and my dad’s relationship with the islands you can read this article he wrote on the RTP blog, “The Other Realm, Writing about the Azores“. Here’s a little snippet:

We no longer think of mysteries pervading the landscape. They’ve all been chased away by skyscrapers and television, by computers, automobiles, and cell phones. For example, people no longer go off in search of mysterious islands of Gold or Women, remote havens that went by many names, but which can be summed up by The Fortunate Islands. Islands that rose and sank, elusive, just out of reach, fading into the mists from which they appeared.

We think the only mysteries left are in space, or perhaps in the deepest trenches of the oceans, not in our own backyards. But there are other places, realms in which things can’t be readily explained away as fancy or delusions. And the Azores is a place that lends itself to mystery.

You can also check out these two interviews: “Beauty of the Azores inspires collection of short stories” and “Darrell Kastin: His allure of the Azores and his work in progress– Interview“.

If you’re curious to read one of the short stories check out “Constança’s War with the Elements“.

Also, my dad’s going to be at a couple of events in the next few months. He’ll be at the LAEF XXXVII Annual Conference, March 22-23, CA State University Stanislaus (in Turlock). He’ll be participating in the workshop led by Frank Sousa to discuss Portuguese-American authors writing in English.

And July 25-27 he’ll be at Butler University in Indianapolis, Indiana, to attend the international conference Exploring the Portuguese Diaspora in InterDisciplinary and Comparative Perspectives.

And finally, if you want to keep up with events and updates and that sort of thing, “like” his new facebook author page!