New Project

post by: Ticana Zhu

With Dynasty of Summer, parts one and two well into their final phases, I wanted to share something else I’m working on. It’s a series, and I’m still playing around with a series title (Galaxy of Phoenix? The Silver River Phoenix? Division Seventeen?) I do know the first novel in the installment will likely be titled Falling from Orbit.

It’s sci-fi/fantasy, of course with a heavy dose of mythology. As per my style, only one character’s perspective will be seen (3rd person limited).

I did the prologue as a reverse of Dynasty of Summer: Part One (perspective-wise). DoS’ prologue is in 3rd person limited, but the novel is a 1st person memoir.
I have the first draft of this 400 paged novel nearly done. I’ve been told its emotionally entrenching; with many gut punches. But… I guess that’s just how I write.

The prologue for Falling from Orbit is reminiscent of Dynasty of Summer: Part One. That book starts off with Summer hearing her mother’s stories as well. After that, except for my writing style, not much is the same at all. I’m sorry to my readers who were expecting something similar (I do have off shoots of Dynasty of Summer planned- possibly a prequel)

Well, here it is!
Novel: Falling from Orbit


When I was little, one of my favorite things was falling asleep to my mother’s stories. A good friend of hers from university collected folktales from the around the world. Her favorite story, and subsequently mine, told of a love between mythical creatures.

            Before humans appeared on earth, the veil between the worlds was thin. Ancient creatures often crossed to where we now live. My mother showed me illustrations of them. I remember seeing the pixiu first, when I was age four. The little lion-headed creature was told to bring good fortune. Next was the dragon—one I was already familiar with. The sacred tortoise brought long life, and the qilin or kirin was a fast-moving, horned deer. They were the messengers of sages.

            It wasn’t until I was six years did my mother find a decent photo of a phoenix. She didn’t care for the drawings of them with rainbow-colored tails. “They’re look like glorified pheasants,” she’d purse her lips. “This speaks to their true essence,” she cooed one day, opening an old book found at a sale.

            An enormous bird dancing in flame arched its graceful neck. Its beak sat slightly ajar, as if singing. My mother smiled, speculating, “Its swan song.”

            As our favorite story goes, in ancient times before humans, the phoenixes and dragons were symbiotic. Each would find a single partner. The dragons guarded the phoenixes when they returned to their egg state. Often times in volcanoes. I liked the idea. Being little, I didn’t understand the dangers of lava, and thought erupting volcanoes to be beautiful. Perfectly suited for exquisite firebirds.

            “Dragons were like reptiles,” my mother explained. “When they traversed the coldest places of the universe, they would often freeze in place. The warmth of a firebird companion kept them moving; alive.” The thought made me cozy.

            My mother had studied astronomy. On clear nights, we’d look to the constellations. Together, we’d imagine a dragon and phoenix pair prancing from on to another. When shooting stars punctuated the sky, we fancied them to be kirins delivering messages.

Though the magnificent creatures could travel anywhere they wished and through many realms, the earth was a favorite place for them to nest. When humans started to appear, their ways thickened the veil between realms. Many of the creatures left. Only phoenixes in their egg phase and their dragon counterparts remained behind.

            The humans were intrigued by these creatures, particularly the phoenixes. They saw how the firebirds never died. After they burst into flames, they would return to an egg to be reborn. The humans wished to harvest the eggs in search for immortality. They came to clashes with the dragons. They invented weapons to slay them. One by one, they were eradicating the noble creatures from the earth.

Unfortunately, each time the humans opened a phoenix egg, they only discovered ashes. This did not deter their search. They were convinced they only need find an egg at the right stage to be harvested.

            “Then came a time when only the last dragon and phoenix egg remained.”

            I always sniffled at this part, trying my hardest not to cry.

            “This last pair did not know of the travesty committed against their kind,” my mother’s voice would grow soft. “They had nested on a remote island, far in the ocean. When a human ship arrived, the dragon introduced himself.” My mother would make her voice gruff, “My name is Tian Long—sky dragon.” She’d puff a breath and pretend to stroke whiskers. “My sleeping partner is Feng Huang,” she said the Mandarin name for phoenix.

            Despite sadness, I’d giggle at her impression.

            “The humans made no effort to befriend the dragon.” She said they tricked him away and tried to steal the egg. “He discovered their treachery and returned to the island. A battle followed, lasting many years.” My mother made a long face and I felt my spirit droop as I knew the noble beast was eventually slayed.

            I still repeat the next part of the story to myself, well into adulthood. “When Feng Huang emerged, she discovered her partner gone. Her heart was broken because those two had loved each other dearly for many millennia.”

There was a time when I was little, I believed if the dragon was strong enough not to be slayed, they’d still be together… that if we could defy death, we’d never suffer heartbreak.

            It wasn’t until I was ten did my mother tell me the ending. “Feng Huang searched the world for a way to leave the realm of the humans. She prayed on thin hope Tian Long secretly had an ability like hers—and had a way to reemerge somewhere in the universe.”

            When Feng Huang discovered the veil of the realms had become solid, she sang one last song—her swan song. Flying over the oceans, she ripped her heart from her chest. As she did, it burned away. The rest of her fell as ashes.

The phoenix had left the realm of the humans the only way she could.

            A sage had been watching from shore. She described the phoenix’s final blaze as a rose in the sky.

            My last name is Tian—sky. My mother named me Rose.

Powerful Women

post by: Ava Reiss

I’ve been reflecting on an experience I had vending. Some of you might now, this has been a promotional year for me. I’ve been setting up tables at local events to get my book and artwork out there. I’m also editing and writing, of course, but with lots of planned breaks for said events.

I met a lot of people while at the Cleveland Oktoberfest. Lots of interesting people. One woman in particular stood out. She claimed she liked my art, but told me, “There’s not enough pain. You should draw more pain. All I see are powerful women. The men are dwarfed in your images. (sic)” 

What I think she meant was, “Humans love commiseration. Draw something people can relate to.”

Of course, I suspect she’d been drinking for a while… I could hardly get a word in.

She then proceeded to tell me about how she once, not long ago, purposely dated an abusive former detective just to get inside the head of someone who could be like that. 

At that point, it didn’t matter that I could hardly get a word in. I was speechless.

I don’t like to share personal details about myself. I’m a private person. But I will share that when I was young and naive, I’ve found myself with an abusive person or two. There were some dark times. Why anyone would voluntarily want to experience that, is beyond me. Yes, sometimes it takes us a little while to learn and identify bad patterns and choices that we make. We can’t immediately recognize our poor decisions. Sometimes we want too much to see the good in people. And sometimes we’re complicit- too much of an enabler towards the abuser. Of course, I’m only speaking for myself. I can’t speak for anyone else and their experiences.

However, once we do see the patterns, we can start making good decisions.

I’m not sure what I felt towards the woman’s words at the time. She walked away briskly. In the weeks to follow, the conversation visits me every now and then. Sometimes I feel frustrated. She was clearly more than a few years older than me. And I’d hoped mistakes like the ones I’d made would be long past someone like that. But I’m not here to judge her decisions, or where she is in life. I don’t know her. I’m merely processing information presented in a way that’s relevant to me. It’s none of my business, true, but if someone is making the decision to be with an abuser, my instinct is to worry. Perhaps I’m projecting too much. Perhaps projection is another pattern I need to break.

Or perhaps I feel that way because of the mousetrap moral. If one of us is threatened, all of us are. (see here for a version of the short story:

Perhaps if I didn’t feel concerned, I’d be complicit. Perhaps if I didn’t feel a bit outraged, I’d be silently letting another abuser go undetected.

I write and illustrate strong women because I believe that’s what lies inside everyone. Yes, men too! – slight tangent here: In a book I once read (I believe it’s Women and Desire by Polly Young-Eisendrath, but I could be totally wrong! It’s been years), it stated that knights slaying dragons were an allegory. It was about slaying the male ego (dragon) to rescue the maiden. The maiden was the feminine, receptive nature in every person- including men.

It’s true, some of my female characters are gun-blazing, bad-a** operatives that take on the toughest, secret missions their planet has to offer. But I also write about the passively powerful. 

Meliora from Fall of Ima is a young lady who doesn’t fall apart in the face of troubling decisions. And when she is upset, she isn’t afraid to cry, embracing her emotions. She allows herself to be vulnerable, and to seek counsel when she needs it. She is strong in the way she is sure of herself, her identity, even when faced with situations where she doubts her capabilities.

I believe there are different kinds of strong. To determine them starts with one healthy decision at a time. Though I write about plenty of pain in my novels, I feel I’d much rather illustrate the powerful moments of the soul.

This is not a sponsored post. Tune in November 19th for our next post, by Ticana Zhu.