Chris Ing submitted Heart and Soul Fist to the SPFBO 6. It’s a rollercoaster of a book with a well-developed Spirit world, and a seventeen year old protagonist who will steal your heart. I read the book over the weekend and found it to be charming. Jane Choi, the main character, and her family belong to a clan of warriors who protect our world from Spirit creatures. The book is a lot of fun and I recommend it to anyone who enjoys fantasy with an Asian flavor or portal fantasy adventures. While it is a YA book, it’s suitable for all ages. It’s well plotted, clean, and well written.
Chris took the time to give me an interview. Read it below.
Chris Ing is an author who lives in Southern California. He also does a Star Wars podcast and a bunch of other fun storytelling things, which can all be found at silzeromedia.com. Follow him on twitter @ingdaydreams.
Welcome to my lair, Chris. Tell me about a great book you’ve read recently!
Men Without Women by Haruki Murakami. It’s a short story collection using the title as a theme. Murakami is a Japanese surrealist author, and I think he’s a bit of an acquired taste, but his work always makes me feel a bit strange and unsettled – sort of a melancholy feeling. There’s one story in particular about a man who is running from the grief of his divorce and the spirit of a tree tries to protect him that really stuck with me. He’s the only author who gives me this strange feeling, and I always look forward to his latest works.
He also has a book called What I talk about when I talk about running which is sort of a writing advice book, and also definitely not a writing advice book. He talks about his life, why he writes, his dedication to running, and how it all connects together.
If you enjoy reading a book and saying to yourself “I don’t know if I understand it, but I feel really moved by it” then Murakami’s works are for you!
What’s your favorite song?
I don’t have one. Actually, being asked to pick my “favorite” anything makes me uncomfortable because I think stuff is very situational for me. I mean, it’s situational for everyone, but for some reason I can never pick favorite anything (except ice cream – chocolate peanut butter).
My bachelor’s degree is in music performance, so music is a huge influence in my writing process. When I’m working on a book, I build a playlist that is associated with it and I listen to it constantly until the book is done.
Right now, the song that plays the most is “Life Will Change” which is from the Persona 5 soundtrack. I also alternate that with some of Logic’s new album No Pressure.
Okay, time to escalate things: you get to travel to any book’s setting and world but you have to choose only one. Where do you go?
I don’t know if I would want to live in most of the places I like to read about! They’re too dangerous. And let’s be honest, I would never be the hero in the story – I’d be the toiling farm worker.
I wouldn’t mind living in the Shire. I could deal with hobbit gossip and giving out birthday presents to my friends on my own birthday if it meant living in that idyllic countryside and eating all day. Or Redwall, I could live at the Abbey as a quiet monk mouse with, again, lots of tasty food.
How do you like to work? (In silence, with music? Do you prefer to type or to hand-write? Are you an architect or a gardener? A plotter or a pantser? D’you write in your underwear, or underwater in scuba gear?)
Tell me about your writing method!
Okay, that’s not an answer. But it sort of is. Like most writers, I’ve read all the advice books and tried all the outline methods and all the software, and my process is always evolving.
I used to be a 100% pantser who just sat down and pounded out the book until I got stuck. And then when I got stuck, I would think about it, realize I had made a structural mistake early in the book, and then start over. This is terribly inefficient. If I have any major “talents” as a writer it’s that I can get into the flow state pretty easily and that I type 120 WPM.
Still, writing 35,000 words and then having to scrap it is not a good use of time, so I’ve sought out a balance of strict outlining (which I find stifling and boring) and just 100% pantsing it. This is what I’m using now, and it seems to be working. Each “phase” is not in order, I just do each whenever.
Big Structure: I figure out the themes, influences, major characters, and big plot points. I do this by hand in my writing notebook. It’s usually a mess of words and arrows and circles and colors, but it helps get the concepts “solid.” I do this by hand because it forces me to slow down.
Characters: If I’m making a new important character that didn’t show up fully-formed in my head, I use a Character Sheet that I modified from Manga in Theory and Practice by Hirohiko Araki (the creator of Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure). It’s an interesting sheet because it makes you think about stuff like their favorite fashion brands and scents, which is definitely not something I usually think about. I type this into a file in Scrivener.
Scene Development: I take daily walks in the morning, sometimes at night. If I want to work out a scene, I will put on music that I think fits that scene and think through that scene over and over again, trying different variations, snippets of dialogue, etc. Usually I do this for the “big” scenes so that when I get to them, I’m ready. Sometimes I’ll start writing it and it will do something completely different, which is fine, but since I thought through them, I feel confident that what I’m doing is good, since I’ve already tested other versions.
Breaking Writer’s Block: It doesn’t happen to me that much anymore, but if it does, I go back to the notebook and write myself questions by hand and try to answer them. Usually I’m having some sort of emotional reaction to what I’m writing (disgust, boredom, etc.) so writing the questions helps me understand why I’m feeling that way, and then I can fix it.
Actual Writing: So this is the newest addition to my method and it’s super strange but here goes:
- In Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure Part 7, there’s a super power based on the Golden Ratio, which is based on the Fibonacci Sequence (1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, etc.) It is the most “beautiful pattern in nature.” So I got curious and asked myself what would happen if I wrote in that pattern in terms of word count.
- For the sequel to Heart and Soul Fist, I decided on using the structure from Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles, which is a set of connected short stories. I knew I wanted them to be no longer than 7,000 words each, so I divided that into a Fibonnaci break down: 350 + 350 + 700 + 1050 + 1750 + 2800 = 7,000.
- I then make a folder in Scrivener for the chapter and add a document called OUTLINE, then a document labelled each of those numbers.
- In the OUTLINE, I use two brief structure outlines I took from two places.
- WANT, CONFLICT, EMOTIONAL CHANGE. This is pretty common and is close to the Vonnegut advice of “every character has to want something, even if it’s just a glass of water”, but this specific set up comes from the Self Publishing Formula’s “How to Write a Bestseller” course. I put those three things in and fill them out in a brief sentence.
- KISHOTENKETSU. This is the Japanese word for it, but it’s a 4 part structure common in a lot of East Asian traditional writing. Ki = Set up, Sho = Development, Ten = Twist, Ketsu = Resolution.
- From the outset, this looks like a basic plot arc structure (Exposition, Conflict, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action, Resolution) but there’s a very specific use for “Ten.”
- In a lot of East Asian writing, the “Ten” is when you introduce a somewhat non-related portion of the story to use as a comparison to what’s going on in the main story. It’s kind of a metaphor, I guess. It’s hard to explain, but if you look it up you can find a lot of examples of how the “ten” is used. I don’t use it exactly the same way, but since my current series is based on the existence of a Spirit World, I tend to use this part as the “how do spirits play into this scene”.
- I make a header for each (Ki, Sho, Ten, Ketsu) and fill out each in a brief sentence.
- I then start writing. Each of the numbered sections is my word limit for that section. When I get to the first 350ish words, I stop, move on to the next section.
- I sort of use these as scene markers, but not always. Usually 350 words is enough to set up the scene, so I try to finish the set up in that first 350. It prevents me from dragging on too long.
- Even if it’s in the middle of a sequence, I still go to the next section. When it’s all glued back together, it still flows fine.
- I write and fill in each section until the chapter or story is done. Sometimes that means the last section doesn’t use up all of its allotted words, but that’s fine.
- Since book 2 was connected short stories, I sometimes used almost all of the 7,000 words. But I also started writing book 3, which is back to a standard chapter format, and 7,000 words is a little too long for a chapter. Book 3’s chapter folders have OUTLINE, 350, 350, 700, 1050 = 2450, which is about the usual length of a chapter. Sometimes the 1050 runs over.
- The benefit of writing like this is that you feel really accomplished early (350 words is pretty short) so you’re constantly switching to the next document. By the time you’ve done the 700 word one, you’re in the groove and you can keep going. When I was writing book 2, I would usually do the whole 7,000 in one sitting.
- It’s also easier to look back at what you wrote in previous since the text pieces are chunked up.
- See, I told you it was strange.
What/Who are your most significant fantasy influences?
I really like Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files series, I feel like that has been pretty influential in how I structure books, abilities, etc. I went through most of them on audiobook (I’m a major audiobook consumer) and the performance by James Marsters really brings the whole thing to life.
I’m also majorly influenced by Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra. I’m bi-racial (well, tri, I guess: English, Korean, and Chinese) and seeing this execution of Asian influences without having to rely on Asian mythology was amazing. You can see a lot of ATLA and LOK in Heart and Soul Fist. The characters even directly reference it.
Other animated things I love are the movies by Studio Ghibli (Howl’s Moving Castle, Whisper of the Heart, Nausicaa and the Valley of the Wind, Spirited Away, and Kiki’s Delivery Service are my favorite). I’m also majorly influenced by The Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi, though I think the inspirations I take are mostly from the complexity of character interactions rather than what the story actually does.
The “Fantasy” that first inspired me to write a book when I was 15 (spoiler alert: it was bad) was the video game Final Fantasy 7. A lot of video game worlds are inspiring to me, particularly Persona 4, Persona 5, Bastion, the Ace Attorney: Phoenix Wright series, and Borderlands.
And I have to mention Star Wars. Star Wars and I have had a complicated relationship in the last few years, but it was massively influential as a kid. I read a ton of the EU novels. I may not love everything that has been done with Star Wars, but I will still love pieces of it dearly.
Basically I’m a giant nerd.
What’s the most (and/or least) helpful piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?
The two pieces I live by these days are both things I read on Twitter, and I sadly don’t remember who said them. But here they are:
“Before anyone was a full-time writer, they were a stolen time writer.” I have a lot going on (4 kids, ages 8, 6, 4, and 1 and a full time job) and so I have to remind myself to “steal” time throughout the day to get it done. It also helps me not beat myself up if a day goes by and I wasn’t writing.
“Basically your brain is a computer inside meat, and the better you take care of the meat, the better the computer works.” This basically just reminds me to go on regular walks and manage my health and stress. It really does improve my creative output.
Can you tell me a little something about your current work(s) in progress?
Right now I’m editing the sequel to Heart and Soul Fist called Spirits of Summer, and I’m writing the third book which I think is going to be called Spirit Thief, but it might change. These are the continuing adventures of Jane Choi, a 18 year old girl who has to balance her family, her love life, school, and keeping balance between the mortal and spirit worlds.
Spirits of Summer picks up where Heart and Soul Fist left off, with Jane trying to navigate her new role in the spirit world and her new relationship with her boyfriend. It’s basically her summer between her junior and senior year of high school.
In Spirit Thief, the spirit world gets a little close to home, and she has a moral dilemma of how she should use her power and struggles even more than ever to balance her life.
How do you motivate yourself on days when you don’t want to write?
Motivation usually isn’t the problem, so much as time is. There are just days that the leftover time of the day isn’t usable because I’m tired from everything else.
But, if I do run into a low motivation day, I usually just force myself to open the laptop. I have one specifically for writing (because it’s old and too slow to do anything else!) or play some of the playlist associated with the book.
On real low motivation days, I use memento mori: remember that you are mortal, and remember that you will die. I don’t want to leave any regrets of not writing when I had the chance.
Who are your favourite characters in literature or pop culture? And do you have a favourite type of character you enjoy writing?
Peter Parker is one of my favorites. Any story where he struggles to balance being Spider-Man and Peter Parker is amazing, because it’s fantastical but also relatable. It’s heartbreaking to watch him have to pick doing the right thing over and over again, often to his own personal loss, but it’s also very inspiring. He’s my favorite version of the “superhero” because of the intentional choices and sacrifices he has to make.
As for my favorite to write, I’m not really sure. I tend to write a lot of female protagonists, not really sure why. Like Peter Parker, I like writing characters that are struggling with their decisions, and characters who are super-competent at one thing, but are kind of a mess at everything else.
Tell me about a book that’s excellent, but underappreciated or obscure.
The Messenger, sometimes called I am the Messenger, by Marcus Zusak. I reread this book every year or so, and it’s one of the best things I’ve ever read. Zusak is way more famous for The Book Thief, which is also an amazing book, but The Messenger was something I needed to read when I was in my twenties. It’s about a guy named Ed, who is 19 and lives in Australia (where Zusak is from), who has a dead end life. One day, he accidentally stops a bank robbery, and then starts getting mysterious card with “missions” on them. Ed finds himself trying to fix problems of total strangers, and as a result expands his social group, improves his relationships with his friends and mother, and becomes a happier and better person. The ending has a massive twist, which I won’t reveal, and even though it made me mad the first time, I’ve since come to appreciate it.
Finally, would you be so kind as to dazzle me with an elevator pitch?
Heart and Soul Fist is about a teenaged girl named Jane Choi, who goes to high school but is also in a secret spirit fighting clan. The clan is kind of “old school” and decides to offer her up as a potential bride to Andrew, a boy her age that is supposed to be the next Guardian of the Two Worlds. Jane hates the whole thing, but goes to please her clan, and ends up liking Andrew. While she’s figuring out her feelings for him, she also finds that evil spirits are trying to eat him, and she’s forced to protect him. Now she has to date Andrew, save Andrew, and figure out the true intentions of the other girl offered to Andrew, who is a literal pop star.
Why should readers check out your work?
Readers should check out my work if they like stories with a light tone, characters you fall in love with, fun action sequences, and watching people grow up and figure themselves out.