I usually run my Remarkable Women in ancient China (RWAC) series this month but I didn’t want a break in between the Mythical Flora series so I decided to move back the RWAC post to next month.
A tree with branches that sprout peach-like fruits with human faces
Another lifeform classified as Yao (see Lore section for Shadow Wood)
Made up of two large mulberry trees that lean towards and support each other.
The place where Xi He’s chariot containing one of Three Legged Crows rose to the sky from (see Three Legged Crow entry in [7438|Good Omen Chinese Mythical Lifeforms])
A tree without any off-shoots, with interweaving branches and roots at the top and bottom respectively. Its leaves are like nets and of an indigo colour. Its branches are violet and much like old-fashioned TV antennas found on rooftops*. Its flowers are black, its fruits yellow and olive-shaped. The whole tree has a shape akin to a cow. Its barks peel off easily.
*The actual text makes the comparison to a certain type of tree but I can’t find the English translation for this specific type of tree so I just substitute it with what the tree reminds me of upon finding out what the tree mentioned actually looks like
It was said that these trees grow on the shore of what is now known as the Black River that flows past the Gan Su province and Inner Mongolia. According to legends, Construction Wood was used by Huang Ti to construct a ladder that connects Heaven to the mortal realm that deities use to ascend to Heaven.
A tree that bears apple-like fruits that are edible once its skin turns red.
A lump of grass with similar shape to Chinese leek or Chinse chives that sprouts a few flowers of indigo colour
It will fill the stomach but only when pulled freshly from the soil.
Today I’m going to talk about the inspiration behind my novella A Thread of A Chance and how the external impetus+internal processing framework discussed in the first post of this series works in giving birth to this particular story.
The external impetus actually comes in two parts: the first is the anthology series I was part of and now closed the door on which had set themes for each issue. The theme for the very first issue was shapeshifters and that’s the keyword that partially gave birth to A Thread of A Chance. The second part of the external impetus was a single term from this Hong Kong kungfu TV drama I had watched: The One that Escaped. That’s it: those 2 terms combined gave birth to A Thread of A Chance.
Now the internal processing part. Actually, I think I’ve mentioned this before but I don’t have a thing for the shapeshifter term at all. Like I actually thought it was lame even though I was the one who came up with the term (ironic, right? Basically, I came up with the term cos that was the term that seemed to be the common thing between all of the stories going into that issue 1 of the anthology. I’m a practical person so that was the practical term that I came up with). So how does my mind deal with this? Well, it thought outside the box and ta ta, I came up with a constellation that is a shapeshifter and named such. What about that term from the kungfu drama? Somehow my mind tagged it to the end of the ancient Chinese phrase that says “Fifty great paths, The Heaven creates Forty Nine” which meant there was always an element of change (I think, I came to Australia when I was 12 so while I have a strong interest in ancient literature, I’m not 100% confident that my understanding is always correct when it came to such archaic terms). Then my mind took it further and combined it yet again with this idea I had of geomancers (people who practice feng shui, that Chinese practice of placing objects in certain spots around your home/work space to enhance luck) as mages and gave it the new phrase with the tag-on term a new meaning: that it was about “a thread of a chance”, the whole term being a direct translation out of Chinese.
And that’s it for today. If you feel like this story of the inspiration source behind A Thread of A Chance is interesting, let me know in the comments.
Fantasy is my main staple in terms of reading and I only write fantasy. Why this fascination with fantasy, you ask? And what’s so fascinating about fantasy?
My answer for the why is simple: this is just the genre that I’m most drawn to. Now, if I drill down to the underlying causes (as I am wont to do, I have a philosophical streak in me as you can probably tell if you’ve read about my personal reflection spell), there are two types of attraction for me. The first is a form of escapism from mundane reality. I’m a routine person and excitement doesn’t happen that often in my life and when it does, I don’t always like it. So in a way, reading fantasy is the best of both worlds for me, allowing me to experience excitement and adventure from a safe distance. The second is that I like stories with deep themes, that help me reflect on life, on one should view things, on how one should behave or react to particular situations, on what to believe in etc. So fantasy, or I should say epic fantasy really since I predominantly read epic and occasionally mix it up with sword&sorcery, just happens to be one genre abounding in stories with deep themes.
Besides deep themes, I also often find the fantasy setting, or more specifically the lore, fascinating. In this way, Lord of the Rings remains my firm all-time favourite and I’ve stuck with Raymond E. Feist for too long than I should. Don’t get me wrong, I still think he’s an outstanding writer for his earlier Midkemian series. But… I’ll rant about it another day. I’m fascinated with lore because this is how the child in me who believes in magic and adventure lives still. Actually, I have never believed in magic as a child but I definitely believed in adventures. My fascination with lore, though, seems to be inexplicably tangled up with magic for reasons not quite clear to me. Perhaps without magic, I don’t feel like the setting is actually a fantasy setting and it doesn’t provide as good an escape from reality? I cannot say for sure.
And that’s it, why and what I find fascinating about fantasy. What about you? Let me know in comments.
So last year I said it was to be my Oriental Reading Year. But plans change. I don’t know why that is but fantasy reading and writing seems to be conflicting enterprises for me. Like, reading fantasy would have adverse influences on my writing. I didn’t notice that before but perhaps that is because before I’ve never invested so much time into a single writing project.
Therefore, given this, I am going to draw out my Oriential Fantasy reading year to, well, infinity as the title indicates. I also think I would cut back on my Goodreads goals every year from 20 to 10 and reserve 4 spots for fantasy every year and 2 spots for the broadening horizon reads. The other half of the quotas would probably go towards mystery which I read faster.
Things might change but tentative on my reading list for this year are:
A few Agatha Christie/James Patterson for light reading
The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu: I actually attempted to read this last year but didn’t finish it because I was pulled out by the characters having non-Chinese names despite being clearly inspired by Chinese history but I wanted to give it another go because I was just interested to see how the story mirrors the actual history
The Twilight of Gods by Scott Oden: This is book 2 of a standalone series starring an “orc” protagonist Griminir, I reviewed book 1 as part of my book discoveries last year and after reading the sneak peek chapters on the author’s blog, I’m ready to follow Griminir’s further adventures.
Dreamer’s Pool by Juliet Marillier- I didn’t like her prose when I read her short story collection but I figured that might be the difference between short story and novel (I don’t like short stories as a rule, well, compared to novels that is). I also found the blurb interesting and it’s fantasy/mystery (I think I’ve mentioned this before but I’ve always liked cross-genre books that mix two or more of my 3 main reading genres: fantasy, mystery and historical fiction (strictly in that order).
Operation: Jaguar by Lyman Rate- this is to be one of my planned broadening horizon reads for 2020, it’s military fiction, a genre I had never read before.
Desecration by J.F. Penn- this is my other planned broadening horizon for this year. It’s a religious thriller, which is a sub-genre within the mystery/thriller genre that I had never known before.
I am still missing one fantasy for this year. I would prefer a standalone. Any suggestions?
A tree distinguishable because in the day-time, each of its leaves has one hundred of the Chinese character that means “shadow” on it while at night its flowers will shine like stars. This tree will only bear fruit every 10 000 years. Its fruits are as large as a melon, with a green skin and black seeds.
Consuming the fruit of this tree will cause the body to become lighter (could also be interpreted as a bonus to speed and jumping abilities)
Reputedly one of the fauna or flora that have taken on sentience (or at least become different in some way) from being ancient and/or having absorbed (or possibly developed on their own) a certain amount of “essence” of nature. In Chinese, such life forms are referred to as “Yao Jing” where Yao refers to anything and everything out of the common and Jing can be translated to “essence”.
At first, I thought each leave of the Shadow Wood has 100 shadows rather than having 100 Chinese characters of the word “shadow” on it. In Chinese, usually a word is composed of at least 2 characters. For the term “shadow”, it is far more common for it to be represented by 2 Chinese characters, the first already meaning “shadow” on its own and the second one meaning “son” on its own but when used in combination with other characters is really more of a “space filler”. In addition, the character that means “son” and the character that means “word” in Chinese are quite similar in form.
Golden Ivy Moss (aka Nightglow Moss)
An egg-shaped moss of a golden colour
It will glow when put in water.
A gift from a foreign country to China during the Jin Dynasty (the Dynasty straight after the Period of the Three Kingdoms)
A spinach-like plant, whose flowers can take on five different colour depending on the time of the day. In particular, its flowers are purple in the morning, green at noon, yellow in the afternoons, indigo near sunset and red at night.
The New Moon shone pale against the backdrop of black velvet that was the sky. In contrast, various constellations competed intensely in a race to outshine each other. In the centre of the Celestial River, the Two Hares bounded ahead of the stalking Fox whilst continuously throwing furtive glances behind and inevitably faltering a little in their steps. At such times, the eerily lit eyes of the Fox would shine forth somewhat brighter, heralding the great leap it was about to make in order to close in with its preys. But then, the Two Hares would unerringly find their footing again and adeptly swerve to the side such that the Perpetual Chase would begin anew. Behind the Fox strode the Hunter, who spent the Steppe and Blood Moons hunting the Fallow Deer prancing merrily above the Fox while chasing after the Wilful Maiden for the other half of the year. Just now, the Maiden was tossing her hair and laughing, keeping most of her gaze on the Perpetual Chase above her but periodically teasing and enticing the Hunter to follow on her heels. She seemed like a wholly different person from the kneeling figure who spent most of the time with her entire face cupped within her hand and only occasionally looking up to show a tear-streaked face- the Weeping Maiden as she was at such times. Bortai did not care for her in either form. She much preferred her sister, the Silent Maiden who had all of her attention fixed on interacting with the Dying Rack. Although she was not as ethereally beautiful as her sister, the sense of absorption in her own realm that she showed stroke a chord deep within Bortai.
I waited expectantly on the appointed night, the same as I’ve waited for the past three years. There is a voice telling me to look up but I dare not. Niang had drilled into me that it isn’t right for us common people to gaze upon the transformation of the Shapeshifter. It does not like mortal eyes peeking at it while it is turning from a happy carp swimming within the Celestial River back to its true form. And we common people have to obey rather than tempting immortals to throw their wraths at us. An interminable time would pass while I fought with the itch within my heart that grew as Niang kept her stern scrutiny of me to ensure that I would keep my head down. When she gave me her verbal permission to look up again, I never failed to gasp at the true form of the Shapeshifter. Which was daunting and yet eerily magnificent too. Yet, my heart would scream its dissatisfaction, at being cheated of the chance to watch the entire transformation as it progresses. In that first year, when I settled with the Old Man within the Imperial Palace, he said the words that I had dreamed of Niang saying in the past three years when I lowered my chin instinctively, “Look up, Xun Zhen, watch the splendour of the Transformation as it occurs.” And I did. First, the Carp shed some of the scales on its body as glittering pinpricks of starlight. Then it swished its tail and stretched and transformed itself all at the same time, unbelievably fast. It was every bit as breathtaking as I would imagine it to be and more.
~ Snippet from A Thread of Chance (navigate to Moonlake’s Writing to read it as a complete novella, it’s rough but a complete story nevertheless)
As promised, I will start off this year with a post summarising my take-away from the personal reflection spell I alluded to in my last blog post last year.
But firstly, let me describe what happened that brought it on. Well, the main culprit was this mainland Chinese dating show that I stumbled upon that I could watch like TV drama (I’ve always like watching TV drama due to the fact that it’s something I can follow over a period of time, I like immersion in a story, same reason why I prefer series to a standalone book). I got a bit addicted to watching it to be honest. At the same time, my WIP has an anti-romance/romance plot that I was trying to figure out and I was majorly blocked because I had always been single.
Then, I don’t know why but from some time in July I stopped being able to go back to sleep when I woke up in the middle of the night. Instead, my mind was somehow concocting mini-stories of how two particular guys on that dating show found their matches. And why these two men on the show stood out was because they made me feel I could potentially befriend them. This was special because:1) I am quite selective in who I want to befriend as a rule and 2) I had never wanted to befriend someone out of the blue in my 37 years of life (actually I was 36 when I had the personal reflection spell but I digress). I had known my best friend ever since we were both 14 but it was she who was perpetually taking the initiative in keeping in touch. From the start, she was the one pursuing my friendship and it was clear that she would be doing this and willing to do this for her whole life.
Anyway, I had no idea how it happened but I was really into the love stories I was concocting in my sleepless brain, so much that I was crying in bed. The form of crying where I had to blow my nose as well as wiping away at tears. And I don’t usually cry- somewhere during my teenagerhood I decided I would never cry again, ever (I only relaxed this after I started visiting a psychologist to sort out my phD fiasco and he told me that I shouldn’t have created this rule because it’s not healthy, much better to let the negative emotions flow out with your tears. Still, you are not going to catch me crying in public or admitting to it, at least.). So this is just a bunch of strong emotions that suddenly got sprung on me. And it didn’t help that the female characters in these two stories were too much me, too close to my core personality and values. So essentially, my personal reflection was triggered.
I suffered from a period of lack of concentration (due to sleep loss) and negative feelings as bad memories re-surfaced during the personal reflection phase. But the following are my overall takeaways from this experience:
I managed to clear some cobwebs to do with bad relationships. They were basically stuff about my biological father and cousin, both of whom I had decided to completely forget and remove from my world. But apparently my memory or heart was still harbouring something about them in a dark corner. So it was good that they got pulled out into the light again and I could examine them and truly lay them to rest or burn them out of my system.
It made me realise how precious my friendship with my best friend really is. So much that I was moved to tears thinking about her (and she’s the only one out of people I actually know in real life who could do that to me other than Mum). In addition, it provided a point of contrast for me to put into my perspective the relationship I had with my cousin who I grew up with and used to love like a brother. We had lived together under the same roof for more than half of our lives at one point but ultimately he chose to let our relationship just go. In retrospect, that made my love for him feel like an attempt on my part to force him to love me (that was never my intent: I had never even wanted him to love me in return. What I really thirsted for was just him as a play-mate. Me and him were both an only child so I was lonely. I had not always loved him even though I was very close to. Then I was 14, I was learning about inner circles in health, I realised I was so close to loving my cousin- literally one step away. For multiple reasons, I decided to take the plunge into loving him). Meanwhile, my best friend had a great desire to be BFF with me from the get go and had already given me a friendship that had lasted for more than half of our lives up to now.
I was forced into re-examining the role of romance in my life which I’m not sure I really appreciate but perhaps it’s just due. To be honest, this is one aspect that I’ve neglected for as long as I can remember. Like, ever since high school and until uni, I was of the attitude that I would never marry and never even date. Reason? My core personality contains being serious. That means if I ever allow romance into my life, I want to be serious about it, treat it with a serious attitude. Anyway, long story short is that I had convinced myself that if I never intend to marry, I should never date because that is not being serious enough about romance. Then I think I reconsidered and told one or two of my friends that I change my mind about romance that lasted maybe a couple years. But then I started doing a PhD and I’ve always had the attitude that I won’t date when I’m studying. So then things got back to square one. Then I had the career change crisis after the phD fallout, the rediscovery of fiction writing as my passion, the return to FT job, job change etc. As of currently, I’m juggling between a FT job and trying to write the first book of a debut set of 3 novels. So I’m feeling time constraints keenly and just don’t feel that I have the spare time for a boyfriend yet and truth be told, perhaps never. Or maybe after 50. Absolutely no idea to be honest.
I’m briefly back but I am not officially coming back to the blogging world until next year. Before I go into my writing plan, I thought I would briefly go back what’s been happening in my blogging absence.
So long story short is that I’ve been caught up in a personal reflection spell in July- I am a bit of a philosophical person so personal reflections happen in short bursts for me quite frequently. But the July one is another beast altogether- it’s actually a prolonged period in which I’ve been staying up sleepless after I woke up in the middle of the night and I was remembering things from way back. Like childhood and teenagehood… I will blog about this first thing when I officially come back to blogging next year. Just know that it took up my attention from July until like September when I finally got back to my WIP.
As for my writing plan, I’m going to aim for finishing a rough draft by the end of this year which means having all the material ready to cobble together a draft 0.6. I had ended up deciding to switch from third person point of view to first person in an attempt to get closer to my main characters. But I still intend to write in third person for the actual book so therefore I will need to do extra work: turn the first person writing back into third again for the parts of the books that I was able to progress with the switch of perspective. That will occur over February most likely since I will be taking the last of the University of British Columbia’s How to Write a Novel online courses on editing (I had previously completed their Outlining and First Draft courses, I think they are really good value).
Above is a slightly different definition of serendipity that I first came across and understood the term but let’s just say I think of it as life’s little surprises. I haven’t reported on any life surprises for a while and since one just happened recently, I thought I would blog about it. So I had been playing around with the idea of starting my author interview series again and it even went as far as me having decided the two author candidates that I was going to approach (both were my FB friends). And then voila, FB told me it’s the birthday of one of them, specifically an author that I discovered last year whose work I really appreciated, Scott Oden who wrote A Gathering of Ravens. So I said happy birthday to him and he replied, then I told him about the interview and he accepted. What luck is that!
So yes, the interviews are coming back but I am switching the focus. The last set of interviews were very much for fellow writers or more like aspiring writers. The new author interview series, however, would target readers. To that end, I’ve asked around at FB groups and while I’ve only received a few responses, they were very insightful and really helped me to home in on what type of questions I would need to be asking.
The interview will go up sometime this month so stay tuned for that if you are interested in historical fiction or fantasy.
I tried to read Ken Liu’s Dandelion Dynasty series but because the book was so thick I ended up delaying it to July when I would get a one week break. As of the time this is published, I am reading book 1 of Tad Williams’ Memory, Sorrow and Thorn quartet- The Dragonbone Chair. I rather enjoy it- the ‘old school’ feel and everything. I am moving slowly through it though so I expect this quartet would probably occupy my next quarter.
Death on Demand by Jim Kelley
To be honest, I should say that I am completely neutral about this book i.e. I neither like nor dislike it. That is not to say that I’m meh about this book, as is usually the case when I say that. Rather, I think it’s solidly written but somehow it just didn’t elicit a response from me, whether that’s on an intellectual, personal or emotional level.
It’s my first time reading a police procedural unless you count Patricia Cornwell’s Kay Scarpetta series but I think that was before the sub-genre of police procedural ever arose (or maybe I’m just ignorant). So perhaps my reaction is shaded by this. But overall, I think the plot is solid- the author had two main plots and they were woven together successfully in the end. There are also moments where I don’t know what’s going to happen next, a feature I always look to for the mystery genre (although I did guess one of the culprits early on). Perhaps it’s the characters who did not quite catch on for me or the pace (I mean, it’s not like a cozy mystery which I felt to be too slow but it’s not fast-paced either. It’s kinda like a light reading with shortish chapters where you can put down and pick up anytime. And well, I was looking for something to ease me back into reading after my long holiday when I picked it up but perhaps I was looking for something a little more fast-paced, something more similar to my own conventional conception of a murder mystery than this).
Merry Chirstmas, Alex Cross by James Patterson
In general, I think this book lives up to the JP formula of a fast-paced, light reading. Alex Cross continues to endear himself to me in the way he shows himself to be a man of high morality. However, this book also has mild doses of what I came to call ‘cheap dramatics’ that I came to expect of JP’s work. Nothing intolerable but I just personally never like books where I felt like the author was deliberately trying to ‘game’ reader reactions in a certain way.