For novelists with an architect’s mind and a gardener’s soul.

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Photo by Karolina Grabowska — Own Work

In 2019, I decided to embark on a journey I’d fantasized over for years: writing a novel. It was an aspiration of mine since high school, and one that I’d planned for and studied over the following decade— watching vlogs and reading books on how to construct plots, pace stories, edit, revise, and so on. But one February morning when I was barricaded in my New Jersey townhouse by a mountain of snow, I decided to act on my dream. …


Explanations and reflections from a former Smoky Mountain local

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View from the Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina — Own Work

Over the years, I’ve brought many friends back to the county where I grew up. These people came from a variety of backgrounds — different regions, countries, native languages, ethnicities— but one consistent thread between the experiences has been their surprise at the local dialect.

See, I’m originally from a region of the United States known as the Great Smoky Mountains. It comprises the highlands of southern Appalachia, split between western North Carolina and eastern Tennessee. The mountains are, in a word: beautiful, a nature lover's wonderland. Millions of people flock…


And when it’s okay to use them in your works of fiction.

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Image by Kaito Kikuchi — Own Work

Spoiler warnings: Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Avatar: The Last Airbender, A Song of Ice and Fire/Game of Thrones, Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, Bright

In 2017, Netflix released the feature-length film Bright to a response that I could only describe as a siege of boos and rotten tomatoes. IndieWire film critic David Ehrlich opened his review by labeling Bright as the “worst movie of 2017.” …


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It’s common knowledge that textbooks are useful for giving you a foundation in a second language, but following their directions to a tee will make you sound like a robot. As someone who has taught ESL on the side, I’ve definitely cringed at textbooks’ weird grammatical structures that native speakers never use (e.g., “with whom am I speaking?”). Likewise, I’ve had native Mandarin-speaking friends gently correct my Chinese many times over. This is just one of the many challenges of tackling a new language.

Luckily for Chinese learners, there are some easy practices you can adopt to instantly make your…


A few tips for those self-studying the language.

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I decided to learn Japanese for the same reason many people study a new language: a relationship. My partner is Japanese, and while he and his family speak English fluently, I felt like I should learn their native language. The decision didn’t seem too farfetched for me. I’m one-hundred-percent a language nerd and already knew how to speak Mandarin Chinese, which shares its characters with Japanese. “How hard could it be?” I naively wondered as I purchased a textbook.

The answer was: very. After memorizing the two syllabaries, I was confronted with…


How do you call your partner or friends?

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Image by Kaito Kikuchi — Own Work

I recently watched a video from YouTubers Rachel and Jun that discussed the use of pet names for your significant other in Japanese. Rachel, who is American, discussed how common it is to hear terms of endearment in the United States, while Jun said that in Japanese, there are no words like “sweety,” “honey,” “baby,” “boo,” etcetera; instead, affection is often communicated implicitly or through modifications of a person’s name.

This made me think about nicknames broadly, both in my native language of English and the two languages I have recently studied…


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Growing up, I never saw my parents fight. Not even once. There were a couple of times they’d grumble and growl at one another, but that was usually because it was past Mom’s bedtime or Dad was hungry. And until I reached adulthood, I thought their relationship was entirely typical.

That was until I started dating.

It was then when I was introduced to a wide spectrum of communication styles and behaviors, some of which were entirely alien to me. I remember the first time an ex and I fought, I felt shellshocked. In a situation where someone was suddenly…


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A rural road in Oita Prefecture, Japan— Own Work

The story of a people, why we’ve denied their identity, and why it matters for today.

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San Vitale, Ravenna, Italy, by Petar Milošević — Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

Rome is one of the most globally-discussed civilizations in history. Stories such as the Punic Wars with Carthage or Caesar’s assassination have been repeatedly dramatized and mythologized for centuries, whether by TV producers or William Shakespeare. Even after the state had collapsed, there were many Eurasian and American societies that appropriated Roman institutions, conventions, and aesthetics. Think of the neoclassical architecture in Washington D.C. and Paris (e.g., Union Station or the Arc de Triomphe), or the use of Latin in the American justice system…


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Image of Chinatown, Yokohama, Japan — Public Domain

I wasn’t expecting to fall for a language, but Mandarin Chinese swept me off my feet. What started as a mild curiosity to converse with some of my friends turned into a journey that took me to Taipei three separate times. I’ve spent tens-of-thousands of hours studying the language and the more I learned, the more enthralled I became. Mandarin Chinese is special. After all, there’s no other living language that has a three-thousand-year-old, pictographic writing system.

Even still, I hear from other English speakers that Mandarin seems unapproachable if not studied from a young age. The U.S. government’s School…

Blake Anderson

San Diego-based writer. Interested in urban planning, languages, cultures, travel, history, and fiction.

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