Labour of an Empress by Christine Ku & Robert K Peterson Sr.

“Gnats

Giant gnats in stately robes

calling Me to this and that

Buzzing

sapping my will

‘Lady, You Must….’

‘But the Flood…..’

‘The coffers are nearly……!’

‘You must judge…..’

I slam the doors shut

The roar of the fire

The Smells of the Forge

The Gnats hammer at the doors

‘Lady….’

‘Lady….’

Nothing will clear my head

Nothing will calm my body

I shake in frustration and rage

I see it!

My old friend

Worn and Mighty

I touch the Hammer softly,

Caress the head

Finally I grasp the wood!”

The Empress strides with purpose to the anvil, sparing barely a glance for the scribe frantically scribbling down her newly composed poem in a far corner. She feels suffused by nervous energy and adrenaline at the same time. Her fingers grasp and then twist around each other like vines. The discomfort makes her look down towards her hands. The feeling grows but isn’t physical pain, not yet. She ignores it.

Two sparrow-sized birds fly into her field of vision. The colour of a forge fire roaring in vitality and triumph, they fly heedless of each other. Yet, it is as if they are conspiring to create an unearthly dance of grace. She watches the sight mesmerized until she is handed a leather apron to put over the simple chemise she is wearing. Still in a daze but she manages to tie up the knots at her back in seconds. That recalls to her the Craft Master’s identity.

Greeting her ex-craft-master, now partner, with a simple nod, the Empress lifts up Temper- her hammer and faithful companion. It is lighter than most smithing hammers but otherwise plain. Out of habit, she runs her fingers over the emblem carved on the bottom of the handle. Instead of the royal insignia, she had ordered that a small circle containing the Celestial Smith Throft’s symbol – a hammer lying on an anvil- be carved there. The ire that had built up around her like a woolen coat during morning Court unweaves itself into threads of vapour and evaporates. Ah, the joy of immersing oneself in a craft of the moment, of the infinitesimal present!

Her partner informs her, “The Magus Nightingales have been fed the necessary ingredients. Pending the final ritual, they are ready to be released.” He is a master swordsmith in his own right but here in the forge he has no name, neither has she. Names and titles matter naught, not in this sacred place. They wait in reverent silence.

The doors open with nary a creak. The court mage enters with a dignified amble, punctuated by solid thunks from his mage staff. He raises his arms with lassitude. The birds that had previously been circling the room lazily or randomly alighting on various tools heed to him as a flock. The mage begins intoning an enchantment. The birds squawk as one but then fall strangely silent. When the mage finishes, the birds become immobile and yet strangely suspended in the air. Like puppets hanging on invisible threads. Finishing his work, the mage fastens his gaze on the Empress. “Beauty comes not from entrapment but from liberation. Freedom comes not from immersion but from transcendance.” Not waiting for a response, he turns his back and leaves.

The Empress’s mouth forms into a pout, in puzzlement of the mage’s parting words. But she shrugs it off. Naught is more pressing than her work ! And exhilarating!

CLANG. The rhythm of Temper’s fall fills her soul with joy. Wait! Just now, the way the metal quivered when Temper strikes it feels wrong. That completely shatters her Craft Master mindset. What have I done wrong? Am I doomed to fail, despite toiling day and night? Am I not worthy of a Craft Master’s integrity, the honour of crafting a masterpiece? No! No, that cannot be! She shakes her head furiously. Perspiration flies out in an arc from her forehead.

She feels a firm hand on her shoulder. The reassuring familiar weight calms her. She glances up at her partner while her hands continue their work. “Wrong quiver,” she told him.

He shakes his head. I don’t know either. “Ylarn nei ceth warchna.” That means going with one’s impulse in smith tongue.

She once again takes in the awe that is the Magus Nightingales, to fill her heart with the promise of both her purpose and her task.

Her eyes lock onto the white crystalline powder glittering within one of the many bowls on the work table. It came from a vein of dark iron underneath the Cavern of Koth. There she found a type of rock of a light sulphurous colour that she had never seen on any other mineral veins. And the powder didn’t come from grinding, the rock naturally dissolves with time it seems. She didn’t have an inkling of how she would eventually use this powder but now she knows. It belongs with this sword that she’s forging now.

She sprinkles the powder onto the quivering metal. The metal quiets, then it starts chiming with Temper’s song. She breathes a sigh of relief.

“Bird.” The Empress motions to one of the servants in the forge. He casually plucks a nightingale out of the air and places it on the searing metal where she indicates.The Empress brings Temper down on it. It disappears into the still shapeless metal.

The metal begins to squirm. The Empress nearly drops Temper. This has never happened before! Could it be the powder? No no no, it felt right and besides, didn’t the metal agree with her decision? She bites her lips. I will not fail! “Quicken the process.” she orders.

Obediently, each of the servants seizes up a bird in either hand and lines up so that the nightingales can be hammered into the sword as fast as she deems right.

“Now

The Hammer betrays,

The metal betrays,

My comfort deserts me

My peace shatters

The rhythm of the beats

off this living metal

Tires me

Sweat burns my eyes

Doubts assail my mind

A girl of small frame again

Sitting on the high throne

Mere puppet to politics

Entrapped and thwarted

Wallowing in own incompetence

escaping to the forge

solace and comfort found

Self reforged

NO, no more yielding

In this forge, here and now

The Will is Ultimate

I Will!”

The force of the Empress’ will subdues the metal. She is drenched in sweat, her arms have become lead. A servant scurries forward to mop her brow, what he would have done minutes ago for her father and any other Lord. But that is not her way. She doesn’t like to be disturbed when she’s working. The craft is everything. And she made that her decreed.

The last bird is placed on the anvil. As she is about to hammer it into the nearly forged sword, it shakes off the state of thrall and flutters back into the air. The nineteen other Magus Nightingales erupt from the sword as one, each trailing a thread of hot metal back to the anvil. In an instant, everything around her changes.

She is no longer in her palace but rather a familiar sylvan glade with just Temper, her anvil and the sword lying atop it. The Nightingales are fanning out in front of her, flicking their tails of liquid fire in menace, still tethered to the incomplete sword.

This glade is where the Nightingales were caught! A deer looks at her and runs off. The magic of the glade keeps her rooted in place, just like the single time she stumbled upon it. To her, this glade was the epitome of beauty. The greatest sight here was that of the Nightingales unconsciously dancing as a group. It was a liberating beauty that shook her core. There and then she resolved to embark on crafting a masterpiece to prove herself- a sword of freedom and beauty representing this glade.

The thought brings her eyes back down to the nearly completed sword. Her labour of joy and love starts wavering on the anvil as its very form is about to become undone, becoming nothing. She narrows her eyes, vexed. She strikes the sword and its form becomes a little bit more solid.

The birds swoop in, lashing her with their tails of searing heat. Her leather apron and blouse cling to her skin by bare strips now and her flesh sizzles here and there. Yet, her will is stronger than her pain. She continues to hammer! Nineteen pinpricks of light flash and she finds herself in another place again.

The Empress is now standing in some nether hell. Steps away from her, a cluster of demons attacks another of their kind, swarming mercilessly, rending it into bloody shreds with their impossibly long claws. The victim does not bleed like a mortal creature. Instead, the slashes on its body shed an unearthly light of blood-red hue that shines through the wounds.

Amidst the fray, one of the attackers who has dropped his guard is jumped from behind and given the same treatment as the original target. Soon, this snowballs into a fatal brawl for all. Total chaos, that is the only term that the Empress can think of to describe such a sight.

The entire tableau of mayhem freezes. One of the demons has spotted her! As one, they pounce. But such is their chaotic nature that they end up getting in each other’s ways. A demon’s talon scores her left arm, tearing a long gash that runs up to her elbows. A scream is ripped from her throat. She continues to hammer. The world flashes in colors of deepest blue and purple, transporting her again.

Back in the room where Court is held, somehow. On a throne too high for her, forcing her to dangle her feet uncomfortably off the ground. She feels hemmed in, even the air here is heavy enough to press her down. Courtiers and nobles talk over each other, outwardly to vie for her attention but it’s only a facade for the incessant bickering among her fragmented court.

“What kind of Lady……”

“Most unbecoming….”

“…she’s that bored she should take a lover.”

The gnats gnaw away at her. This court of insects!

It was never truly hers to begin with, she reflects bitterly. Nor does she truly want it, what has she ever reaped from it except inaptitude and belittlement? She feels the weight of Temper resting reassuredly in her hands; a warmth diffuses outwards from her palms and loosens her rigid muscles. That reminds her: she’s got work to do still and she can’t bear all these droning voices.

“Silence,” she shouts. All in the room obey but the nightingales, flying chaotically with all the majesty she wishes to capture. She looks up upon the Court in satisfaction. Two men whose faces have been worn down by time- one still with a lustrous mane of chestnut but one already gray-haired, stand in the fore front, facing off from each other in their respective gestures of confrontation and yet frozen in an identical gape. Behind them stand their lackeys, also in shock.

“I am no longer the clueless child that can be pulled on strings hither and thither. The puppet masters of yonder years are merely tired old men!” She declares, waving around wildly. “This hammer is the perfection of craft,” raising Temper above her head she continues, “and with it, a masterpiece awaits!”

I was never inept here in Court. Just as she must grasp Temper firmly to ply her craft, so must she grasp her birthright to become mistress rather than prey to the unfeeling wheel of politics. The air suddenly feels as welcoming as that in her forge, she can smell the faint perfume of jasmine wafting in from the royal garden. She smiles, content. She continues working at her masterpiece, arms moving as if reinvigorated by magic. She feels the birds pulling her rapidly into the sky, a swirl of clouds and landscapes, for a moment she feels as if she is everywhere in her empire.

Standing high on a cloud, she can see the panorama of her entire kingdom. The breathtaking view of the contours of the land in its raw beauty and grandness embraces her with open arms. Entranced, she stares at a plain of whiteness stretching to the north as far as she can see. She is surprised to find that the view in front of her opens up as if she is steadily moving closer to it. She sees a crystalline realm. Tall oaken guardians draped in white armor reach out their regal limbs towards each other and link up in impregnable formation. Snow squirrels like fluffy fur-balls skip from branch to branch among the oak-guardians; a single fur-ball, smaller than all the rest, suddenly lose balance and fall down into the snow-carpet, proceeding to happily roll back and forth on the ground. Amused, she lets out an especially girlish giggle that surprises herself. She hasn’t heard it in years, she thought she could no longer make it.

An impulse comes over her to look at another scene. Her gaze roams to the easterly direction. There stands a set of mountain range firm and proud, standing aloof and yet enfolding and safeguarding all under its shadow. She sweeps her eyes across the entire landscape and finds that it is indeed the tallest. Strangely, here it is summer. The slopes are lush with greens. The view again opens up, she can even pick out clusters of a few late blooms that add pastels and deep blues and violets to the mix of colours. She does not see any movements but there is a vibrant beauty here that moves her. She browses several more locations, drifting at will. Everywhere she turns to, she finds beauty. Each unique and equally moving.

She hears a flap of wings. Instead of the nineteen nightingales, she sees a flawless bird the colour of newborn snow. She stares in awe at its head, adorned with feathers that fan out in exactly the colors of the rainbow. The right and left most feather erupt from the rest like red and violet horns, emphasizing its majesty rather than being heralds of wars. It would not attack her, that she knows in her heart. Rather, it holds its head high on its graceful neck and looks down upon her with its earnest gaze. “I understand now.” she shouts in epiphany. The Phoenix nods. She reaches out her bare hands to grasp the trail of metal that is the Phoenix’s foot-long graceful tail and swiftly gathers it into a lump. She sees her hands wreathed by the molten metal but they are not searing to the touch as they should have been but rather cool and comforting. It is the gift of the Phoenix to her, to seal their pact. She hammers it into the blade. A flash and she is back in her forge.

The last nightingale stands motionless on the blade, its gaze searing into her. She gives it a nod and then hammers it into her masterpiece. Immediately, a sheath of white flame, hotter than any mortal fire, settles over the blade. She plunges the blade into water. It is magnificent! So light, so balanced, so beautiful. It rips free of her grasp and turns into the Phoenix she just saw moment ago. It soars out of the palace from the section of the wall burned through by the flames that bathe the length of its body.

“Lady, shall I…”

The Empress motions the servant to silence. Together with her craft partner, the two of them pad to the window and watch it fly away.

“I look

at these hands

An empress’ hands

A Smith’s hands

I did it

I created beauty,

out of beauty

My labour

In the afternoon sun

its majesty is wonderous

A Supreme Blade

A magnificent creature

My arms ache

My flesh is seared

sweat envelops me

My Soul enraptured”

A single tear falls down the empress’ cheek as she slowly walks away from the window.

The Closing of a Chapter

Happy New Year!

Those of you who have followed my blog for a while would have known that I pulled out of an anthology series before and well, this is the closure post on that. After all, to move forward, we need to close the chapter on some of the stuff from the past holding us back, right? This is what I have in mind in this post where I am going to talk about my plans for the two pieces of my work that was published in that anthology.

In the short term, I am going to publish both pieces on my blog. I think that is also as far as I want to take the collaborative piece (note: I posted an excerpt of this piece’s start earlier. The story is called the Labour of an Empress and my co-author had fully ceded this piece to me to do as I see fit) to.  While I am pleasantly surprised by how much further the collaboration took my initial idea (an idea that I was not too excited about) to, I have no further ambition for it so I am content to leave it as-is and move onto other projects.

As for my solo piece A Thread of Chance which I had been turning to a novella, I might turn it into a novel series one day (I do have ideas simmering for that that I have taken down scattered notes on). But it won’t be any time very recent in the future. And for the novella, I was playing with the idea of publishing it on Amazon but now I no longer have the energy or enthusiasm to do so.

Stay tuned for next week when I release the Labour of an Empress up on the blog! It’s not quite a standard short story and I’m curious about what you all think.

Moonlake’s Book Discovery- Dec 2018

I was going to do another book discovery back in Oct but then I decided I wanted to save it for end of the year so that I can do book discoveries in Mar, Jun etc. as opposed to odd months like this year. It appeals to my sense for order.

Anyway, below is what I read from Aug to Dec this year.  I went back to my main staple of fantasy but I also engaged in a bunch of light reading due to my Oct holiday (which both precluded me from reading in Oct and brought in a light-reading Sept when I cleared away some of my Kindle stack)

Soldier’s Son trilogy by Robin Hobb

This is the first series of Hobb that I’ve read and it really impressed me. Not so much that I have become a die-hard fan of her as I am of LOTR or Feist’s Midkemian world but I do think Hobb is a high-calibre fantasy writer. In particular, I think this series showcases her skills in the following ways: 1) she shows me how small actions (sometimes miniscule) by a weak character and a well-told story can hold reader interest (or mine anyway); 2) I think she presents war in a different slant that I’m used to seeing in epic fantasy and I think her take on it. Overall, I recommend this to connoisseurs of epic fantasy who want to experience something a little different from LOTR vibed epic fantasy (I still love them but I do want variety once in a while).

Mini Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella

I talked about this book last week and overall, I like it (even though chicklit isn’t my usual genre and I have no intention of making it my usual nor following this series further). Still, I think it’s a book with substance while at the same time being very approachable in language and funny at times (I’m a serious-minded gal and often humour is lost on me, especially the type in this book. But I did think bits of it were funny in a hilarious way).

Night of the Lightbringer by Peter Tremayne

I was a bit distracted by the content touched on in this book- the aspect to do with Christianity (I do not have a religion myself). I mean that in a good way- it enlightens me about certain aspects of it in an academic sense, even though I also have a sneaking suspicion that I might have enjoyed the book more otherwise.

As for the book itself as a historical mystery, I think I like it well enough (or at least as well as most of the others from this series for which I’m a long-time follower. A couple are better but I this one isn’t subpar, just right on par, I think. Sometimes when I follow a long series, it does wear off on me and I find it hard to distinguish between when it’s the fault of the author’s execution or just the novelty starting to wear off). One complaint, however, is that the final reveal of the ‘Boss’ borders on being anti-climatic. In particular, that mars the fact that I was eagerly awaiting the last chapter for the reveal of the culprit before the ‘Boss’

Masque by W.R. Gingell

Beauty & Beast in a cozy murder mystery (well, it’s not technically cozy but the murder mystery somehow takes second place to fantasy so I personally felt it’s on the cozy side, I guess) is how I would describe this book in summary form. Overall, I found it a pleasant light read but other than that, I have nothing much to add. Recommended for fans of B&B.

Life for a Life by Andy Peloquin

The only reason I read this was due to my light-reading Sept. Otherwise, I’m not much of a short story reader and a short story really has to be above the average for me to like it. In terms of this short story, write-up is solid and pace is quick but otherwise it’s just an average story.

I also read 3 non-fiction this year, 2 of which having to do with being a writer. But I didn’t find any of them great so I decided to focus on fiction here. Till next time.

What I learnt from my Broadening Horizon Reads- 2018

Photo by Mian Rizwan on Pexels.com

My Broadening Horizon Reads this year are a YA vampire/werewolf fantasy and a chick lit. Both are genres I tend to stay away from and both are written in first person (the latter is more of coincidence than design though). Below are summaries of my main take-away from each of them:

Silence Fallen by Patricia Briggs

I think what it showed me as a writer is the power of the voice. It comes in two-folds: 1) it showed me one way of using voice creatively to go outside of conventions for a multiple narrative story; 2) it showed me how voice is a double-edged blade and that for novels which hinge on voice like I think this book does, reader empathy is 100% whether they bond with the voice (or not as in my case).

Mini Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella

Again, I think voice is an important part of this book. And while I found the heroine bimbotic for most of the book, I think what the voice in this book scores well on is that it does draw the readers into the heroine’s world. I also think the interspersion of letters and diary entries between chapters is a neat trick in strengthening a special aspect of the heroine or subverting/adding layers of depth to the heroine.

Above all, I think what I learnt from this exercise is to be more adventurous and go outside stereotypical impressions of specific genres once in a while. In both these novels, I found that they were better or rather I like them better than I had originally expected to (well, this is certainly true of Silence Fallen. I felt a bit misled by the back blurb for Mini Shopaholic for most of the book but then the ending did leave me sated and I actually prefer Mini Shopaholic relative to Silence Fallen). Sure, I wouldn’t like to do so all the time because I just like what I like but I am definitely convinced of the merit of introducing more variety to my reading ‘menu’.

Moonlake’s Writing updates (6)

So I had previously alluded to the fact that I’m working on a first draft (well, I’m calling it a 0.5 draft now, that gives me much more room to be rough and not use perfectionism as an excuse for procrastination). In this post, I thought I would elaborate a bit more on it. First, I had set the goal to finish the draft by my birthday next year which is in late Oct. Second, I’m glad to announce that I’ve already went over the 20% mark on it.

That’s pretty much all I have to share at the moment but I will also provide a sneak peek into the novel via the following elevator pitch that I came up with:

A fantasy story set in fictional ancient China. A young woman desperate to find her missing younger sister. A deserter out to find a new life and place for himself and his fellows. The convergence of their paths in the search for hope.

That’s it for now. Until next time.

Jigsaw Puzzles, Writing and Me

assorted puzzle game

So I just came back from my holidays and I wanted to write about something a little different from my usual focus: jigsaw puzzles. Actually, it was one of my childhood hobbies that I only recently picked back up. So what has it got to do with writing at all?

Well, jigsaw puzzles:

    Trained my intuition. That’s how I think of it anyway, so much when Mum asked me to explain how to go back about a jigsaw, I actually replied I used my intuition and that was too abstract an answer for her that she couldn’t understand what I meant. Anyway, so how is intuition useful for writing? Well, mostly the way I visualise a story is as different ideas (about characters, about a main situation, about the setting) all clicking together like pieces of jigsaw. But ideas are elusive creatures, you know. Sometimes I get divergent ideas on the same character or a particular point in the story. So I was hoping that the intuition I built up through jigsaws would transfer over when I outline stories. Then again, you can say I’m just making up an excuse for me to throw myself back into a favourite pastime 😛
    Taught me that I’m a person who does things purely because I enjoy the process. Yes, that’s right, jigsaws led me to such a self discovery and I think it’s a very important discovery. Shame that I don’t always keep it in mind! What this meant for me in terms of being a writer is that I need to be more mindful to keep the ‘play’ element of being a writer more prominent as I tackle each WIP. I’m quite self-disciplined in general. But the down-side of this is that writing often turns into a type of second job for me that is not much different from my FT job. And that’s not quite right because writing is actually my passion so while I need to persevere in it, I also need to loosen up in a sense so that I can also enjoy the process because that’s what feeds me as a person.

And let’s just keep it short and sweet today. Come back next week to hear about my writing update. Haven’t done one for a while now *rubs hand in anticipation*, aren’t you excited *wink*?

Remarkable Females in Ancient China (1)- Dugu Qieluo

If you are curious why I’m doing this series because you missed last week’s post, check it out here
qieluo

Who is she:

  • Wife to Yang Jian, founder of the Sui dynasty (581-618 AD) which was built on the demise of the Northern Zhou dynasty when Yang Jian made its last Emperor yield the throne to him
  • formally known as Empress Dugu in life or Empress Wenxian after death
  • The seventh daughter born to her parents- a general of Xianbei (a major nomadic group residing in what’s now eastern Mongolia, Inner Mongolia and Northeast China) ethnicity and a Chinese lady of noble birth

Notable life events:

  • Named Qieluo for tagara in Sanskrit which has a host of Buddhist connotations, most notably Valerian which is a herb used for incenses
  • Married Yang Jian at the age of 14
  • Dissuaded the Emperor Xuan of the Northern Zhou dynasty, husband to her eldest daughter, from making her commit suicide through “intensive begging and pleading, kowtowing and bleeding” (now that’s the perseverance of a mother!) 
  • Persuaded her husband to ascend to the throne when he was indecisive on whether to continue making the last Emperor of the Northern Zhou dynasty his puppet or ascending the throne himself
  • Instrumental in the deposing of her eldest son from the office of Crown Prince to be replaced by her second eldest, who became the second and last Emperor of the Sui Dynasty
  • Known for being jealous
    • Abolished all of the high ranking positions for royal concubines and drastically cut back on their numbers (She was the first Empress who was allowed to make decisions regarding the system regarding royal concubines, ahead of the Empress Wu of the Tang dynasty aka the only female Emperor of ancient China)
    • When they were both middle aged, she killed a palace slave of noble descent that her husband had bedded once, prompting him to ride away from the Imperial Palace in anger

Why is she remarkable:

  • It was well recorded that she was loved by her husband, which is far from the norm for most royal couples of ancient China. Furthermore, she
    • was the first Empress to give birth to all of his children (10 of them in total, 5 princes and princesses)
    • and her husband was the first and one of the two royal couples in ancient China ever recorded to live together daily as opposed to apart in separate palaces
    • was mourned intensely by her husband who later expressed a wish to be reunited with her after death when he became very sick just prior to his own death
  • She was the only Empress considered to be equal to her husband in status during his reign by court officials and maintained her influence on him throughout her life. This was opposed to many Empresses who gained power after the demise of their husbands and exerted or even usurped power from their own sons.

Moonlake’s thoughts on her:

I’m not normally drawn to Court women (Empresses and Dowager Empresses and the like)- those few I know are too ambitious and power-hungry for my taste (this could be the way they are portrayed but then again I have a general aversion in taste against anything related to Court intrigue and politics). But I think I admire Dugu Qieluo and in particular, I admire her known jealousy. Well, not for the sake of her jealousy per se, but to the extent that I feel that she’s authentic to her womanhood in that respect. Ancient China was a monogamistic society and I’ve grown up with the impression that women of that time mostly accept that as their due. I understand that- most people conform to societal norms, but on a deep-seated level, I think I am repulsed due to my feminist streak. Going back to Dugu Qieluo, it might be a trait gifted to her via her Xianbei lineage (apparently the Xianbei society had some matriarchal traits).

The other thing that made her stand out for me was that she didn’t have to seize power by force or trick at all (as I said above, I have no admiration for ambitious individuals in general, I don’t care what great deeds they have done), it just came about naturally for her.

*Note: I mainly used Chinese sources but there is an English Wiki on her: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dugu_Qieluo

Also, I’m going on holiday in November so there will be no blog posts during that time. But I will come back in December.

Remarkable Females in Ancient China- coming to you soon!

ancientChinesewomen

Yes, I’m creating yet another lot of quarterly serial posts both so I can more or less stick to it and it might dovetail into other related posts (still chewing over possibilities).

So essentially, this lot of new posts will feature remarkable female figures from ancient China that I compiled mostly from Chinese Wiki and other Web sources. And now you wonder what I mean by remarkable and why I’m doing this lot of new posts, don’t you?

Firstly, I can’t say I have a tight definition on remarkable- I’m mostly just looking up specific names that I came across that piqued my interest. However, I think it’s fair to say that if a female name has passed down through such a long time in history then that is remarkable in itself.

As to why I’m undertaking such a project, well, I’ve been noticing for a while that I have greater difficulty writing female characters compared to male characters despite my gender. In terms of my genre of Chinese fantasy, I found that I’m often boxed in by this idea that Chinese women in ancient times didn’t have much agency. And that obviously presents a major problem for fiction- a story of a protagonist without agency is going to be very dull to readers. So my solution is to do more research into this topic and dig out examples where women do have agency. Plus, I’ve found that I don’t much like researching for novels so this is my perfect excuse to do it on a consistent basis.

Stay tuned next week for the first episode of this brand new series!

Reflections on My Outlining Odyssey

beige analog gauge

Every now and then I like to reflect on things and that time has rolled in again.

But first, a bit of context for those of you who hasn’t read previous posts: I started outlining my WIP in Dec 2016 and was originally planning to finish outlining at the end of this year. I deliberately decided to experiment with a more comprehensive outlining process to address the issue of writing myself into dead corners. But now there is a minor change of plans and I’ve already gone ahead into draft 1. Still, I think I should be able to claim that it was an outlining odyssey that I had undertaken (and I just like the sound of the word odyssey so bite me :P)

So what were the main take-aways from this journey that lasted 1 year and a half?

  • I’m happy with the general process now which mainly involves iterations on the traditional outline (just paragraph summaries of your scenes, you can put anything there, mine tend to be event summaries with bits of dialogue)- I think it allows me to produce outlines that are the tightest I’ve ever written so far
  • I use an Excel tool to supplement the traditional outline and it usually invites in my inner critic so bad that I can only use it in small doses every day. I think it’s a needed tool and gives me important insight but not sure if it’s worth the time inefficiency. Maybe move to the editing phase, not sure.
  • In between iterations, I have some natural cooling periods and I decided to use time more efficiently and invest them into collaborative short story ventures (think I might have mentioned this)
  • Micro goal setting is definitely a valuable accountability tool. If I just have a big goal and no micro goals then it’s very easy to get off tracks for months and not do anything writing related

That’s it for this week. Next week, I will talk about the idea of a new serial post that I am considering. Stay tuned.

Moonlake’s Book Discoveries- July 2018

photography of a smiling woman

Silence Fallen by Patricia Briggs
So I’m not that much of a YA reader and I don’t tend to read urban fantasy at all but I picked up this book to do structural analysis for a writing course. I also consider this book as one of my Broadening Horizon reads this year. That aside, it’s not as horrible as I thought it could be but neither am I charmed. The pace is quick and the plot contains some twists but other than that, I’m not really taken with it. The heroine is okay but I can develop no bonds to her. I did note that the author suggested that the books be read in order and perhaps my problem of bonding is an artifact of me just picking up a Mercy book so late in the ordering of the series. However, I also think that the problem of this book lies in that Mercy the protagonist hasn’t grown one bit by the end of this book and in a way that made me feel like there is no point in me having read this book.

X by Sue Grafton
So I was really fond of Kinsey up till R maybe? And then it felt like Kinsey had fallen flat. But halfway through this book, I was like “Kinsey old girl, you finally came back!” And that’s what really excited me about this book.

I know the ending to this book is controversial (as a writer myself, I probably wouldn’t have wanted to write such an ending for technical reasons). All I can say that it worked for me and that’s solely because I am very fond of Kinsey.

Y is for Yesterday by Sue Grafton
I think this is the most complex story of the Alphabet series so far (which is ending in the next book!), with three parallel plots. To be honest, during a particular point, I thought one of the plot lines occurring in the past was redundant and felt bored but my perception was completely overturned only a few chapters later. So kudos to Grafton for embarking on this ambitious project and for it turning out so well.

1st to Die by James Patterson
So I came to this from the Women’s Murder Club hidden object games (which I liked) and Alex Cross. I like the concept of a women’s murder club before I even venture into this series but this story’s written in a sub-par way in my books. So we just get the page-turning, fast-pace that is Patterson’s wont for the case itself but the problem is that this story is much more complex that that and when all the other elements are in a hit-and-miss state, I seriously cannot say that this story is written solidly.

Mostly, the other 3 women besides Lindsay feel flat and I even have trouble bonding with Lindsay given that one key action she did just felt like a dumb move to me. Some of the chapters that aren’t about the case but about character and relationships are complete window dressing and leave me feeling awkward about their sub-parness. I’m also underwhelmed by the fact that the prologue of the book started off with a hook and then the concluding chapters and the epilogue acted like a major anti-climax to the hook in the prologue. In fact, I just feel like the last few chapters and the epilogue is basically all needless theatrics that Patterson was forced to put in to justify the hook he put into the prologue for lack of a better approach. I think I’m going to stick with the Alex Cross series instead of this.

Now, what have you all been reading? Let me know in the comments.