Chinese Lore- A Selection of Mythical Flora (4)

Tiao Grass

Physical Description:

A plant that looks like sunflower with red flowers and yellow fruits. Its fruits look like babies’ tongues.

Special Properties:

Consuming its fruits can make increase your willpower, making you less susceptible to deceit and temptations.


Ghost Grass

Physical Description:

A grass that looks like the oil sunflower, with a red stem that stands tall and straight.

Special Properties:

Consuming this grass will make you forget all your worries and anxieties.


Gang Grass

Physical Description:

A plant shaped like sunflowers with red stems, white flowers and grape-like fruits.

Special Properties:

Consuming the fruits will improve your intelligence.


Di Xiu

Physical Description:

A tree shaped like populus whose branches fork into five splits, bears yellow flowers and black fruits.

Special Properties:

Consuming it will prevent you from getting angry.

Moonlake’s Writing Updates- June 2021

From the second last week of May, I had actually moved into new territory. That is, I had put aside my WIP and gone into outlining my tentative next project. So I’m currently outlining book 1 or the grandma’s story. 

I think I mentioned it before but somehow I decided that it will fit right into a particular reign of a Han dynasty Emperor with all of the associated background. So this is a research intensive writing project which I haven’t attempted for a while (I did loads of Mongolian research for the novel series-would-be starring Genghis Khan and his first wife). And this time around, I quite like it, especially when after research, historical events turned out to fall so nicely within the space of my story. 

So, while I would never put my work under Historical Fantasy, I don’t think, I think this series would be somewhat in the spirit of Guy Kavriel’s Under Heaven and River of Stars, which are based on the Tang and Song dynasties but starring completely fictional or inspired-by-historical-figures-but-adapted-as-I-saw-fit protagonists. Also in that it would feature a single historical event in a broad sketch way but not necessarily down to the actual details (actually, I could not really say to the extent to which Under Heaven/River of Stars stay true to the important historical event that it fictionalised but as an ethnic Chinese, I can attest to the big gist of it staying the same, I get the feel that parts of it were being revised to fit the stories). At least that’s how I envision it for book 1. For book 2, I expect I might move back out to even less historical realms. But then, I don’t really know since I haven’t outlined it yet. And no, I’m not going to outline book 2 and 3 while book 1 is still to be written. That was the hard lesson I learnt through the Mongolian project- never take on multiple books at the same time even if they are for the same series. It’s a fast road to schizophrenia and project burnout. 

I’m giving this project the whole of June and then in July, it’s back to my WIP with fresh eyes. 

Outside the Starfish drift through the channel

Yet another Wild Writing piece based on a jump-off line from the poem Starfish, actually part of a line. I personally like it, because it pushed me into the lyrical realm, which is a realm that I like to visit but I’m not convinced is my natural place. But there is this central imagery that I keep coming back and around that really anchors this piece and then it goes off to something else, somewhere else. Actually, the whole piece reads like a poem, see for yourselves: 

Outside the starfish drift through the channel. The channel? Where am I? 

Outside the starfish drift through the channel. Where are they going? 

Outside the starfish drift through the channel? Where to? Where from? Where?

Outside the starfish drift through the channel! How do I know? How do you know? 

Outside the starfish drift through the channel. Drift through the channel. Drift. Drifting. Drift away. 

Outside the starfish drift through the channel and away, away to dreams, away to far, far away. 

Outside the starfish drift through the channel. Through the channel, the channel of light, the channel of phosphorescence. 

Outside the starfish drift through the channel, leisurely swimming, swimming out to sea. 

Outside the starfish drift, drift through the channel. Buoyed by nothing. Nothing. Just drifting. Drift. 

Drift. Outside the starfish drift.  Outside the starfish drift out to sea. 

Drift. Life is a drift. We all drift. We all drift in life. 

Drift. Where are you drifting to next? Where am I drifting to? Will we see each other again? Will we see starfish outside again? 

Drift. Starfish drift. So do we. Does that make us the same? The saem as starfish? Will I like being a starfish? Will you?

Drift. Outside the starfish drift through the channel, just drift, is there ever an end to its drifting? Is there ever an end to ours?

Subgenres of Fantasy

If you thought from the title that this is going to be a Wikipedia-like post on the different sub-genres of fantasy, then unfortunately, that’s not what I’m going to write about today. Instead, I’m going to write about a potentially unpopular opinion I have about the sub-genres of fantasy. Which is that I’m not quite keen on it, as a reader. Actually, I’m not keen on subgenres. Full stop. But I’m not especially not keen on subgenres of fantasy, being that it’s my main staple. 

Now let me qualify this opinion a little bit, by saying that I fully see why sub-genres are useful on Amazon and such. I see that. It just doesn’t have much application for me, who predominantly reads borrowed books, which doesn’t go by sub-genres anyway. 

So, the reasons why I’m not keen on subgenres of fantasy:

  • I came from the old days where I can still tell people I read fantasy and stop at that. And I just miss the old days. 
  • Despite all my broadening horizon and curiousity/craft reads, let’s face it, I tend to have fairly fixated taste in reading anyway. My subgenres have remained epic fantasy, followed by sword&sorcery/high magic fantasy, with the occasional dabble in YA fantasy, historical fantasy and fantasy mystery (which, as far as I know, is not even an actual sub-genre. It’s something I made up to group a particular type of books that span over the two genres). 
  • This is a lesser reason but most of the time I have my own classification of books into sub-genres that might or might not coincide with the actual official definition. To be very honest, except for epic fantasy which I have a very clear concept in my head, what I group into the other sub-genres are basically my system of classification, not what the publishers or author put their book under on Amazon and other places. And sue me, but that’s how I remember a particular book by and refer to it if ever I talked about it with friends and other people I know about that book. 

Ta-ta for now and I hope I don’t get too much hate-mail in comments 😛

Self-Learning Updates

I’m still taking a two-pronged approach to this via reading and writing exercises. In terms of reading, I’m still taking down notes about my feelings to selected novels that I knew had made me feel something and I’m essentially typing up bullet point lists of where I’ve felt anything, what did I feel and what prompted the emotion. At first, I was only focusing on all the bits where I was moved to tears or slighter degrees of such but now I’m broadening to include smiles because else it becomes just a documentary of what touches me or saddens me and is a lop-sided exploration of my emotional reactions as a reader. The new update, however, is that I’m writing the Help by Kathryn Stockett now. Larry Brooks has devoted a whole chapter to analysing it in terms of the Three Act structure in his book Story Physics which I read last year. So the aim is to do my own analysis of the Help myself and then read Larry Brooks’ analysis. Btw, I’m not sure whether I should recommend his two non-fictions. I think he’s got some valid things to say but I’m hard-pressed to find what he talks about really that enlightening (I mean, I kinda like his conception of the story of six buckets of factors and his other model of the six core writing competencies and the criteria based approach he comes up to assess a story in execution). But he has this really preachy tone that annoys me so in retrospect, I’m not sure if it’s really worth it except that it fills up slots of time that I can categorise under writing-related. Not sure I’ve talked about this on the blog before but since end of last year or early this year, I started aiming for 6 hour writing-related days 5 times a week when I don’t have work at all or 4 hours on a part time work schedule. I got an unexpected long holiday break this year (only did some brief work in Jan and then end of April but I think pending a data request that will be fulfilled next week latest, I think I’m going back to a Mon-Fri part-time schedule) so that was my way of trying to capitalise on this unexpected bonus of free time available. 

On writing type of self-learning, there’s the novella to help me get into first-person and I’ve been supplementing it with another writing exercise which was focused on writing action scenes (which is another of my weak points). I’ve talked about Disney movie consumption binge, right? So basically I was just taking action scenes from these movies I watch every week (now I watch about 6 movies per week) and trying to write them up and I’ve mostly used first-person for these as well (except where the scene I was trying to capture involves too many character and then I’ve switched to omniscient). Now, meaning two days ago, I started a new writing exercise that I call empathy (I actually got the idea from Toni Morrison) where I ground the setting time to be ancient China (since I’m writing Chinese fantasy) and then I’m randomly coming up with a character daily based on 3 traits: gender, occupation and a single descriptor. The first day I did a decadent Emperor and then yesterday I did a sensitive female prostitute. 

So just on the topic of self-learning, what are everyone else doing? Let me know in comments. 

Maybe there is nothing going on

This piece below is still prompted by a line in the poem Starfish: Maybe there is nothing going on. 

Maybe there is nothing going on. Nothing. Nothing at all. Nothing except my imagination. Oh, I’ve always had imagination. When clouds flowed by in the sky, I could see shapes in them. I could conjure stories sometimes based on the cloud shapes. I loved stories. I devoured TV. Anything, not just cartoons. As a child, I had this hunger, to devour stories of any kind. But I thought in surprisingly black and white. No greys for me. No middle grounds. I knew what I didn’t want and I didn’t want these with determination. With stubbornness. With defiance. Still like that now. 

Maybe there is nothing going on. Is there? Is there anything going on with my life? Well, I hope there is. Don’t you? If nothing is going on, what are you doing? How are you living? Are you living or are you just existing? Sometimes I think that’s just semantics. Sometimes I think no, the two two are distinct. Like the sun and the moon. Like day and night. Are they distinct or two sides of the same coin? There I go again, I have a philosophical streak if you can’t tell already. 

Maybe there is nothing going on. Nothing going on.  Nothing going on.  Nothing going on. Wow, now you think I’m hiding something, don’t you? Am I? Now, I’m just being coy. Raising an eyebrow and saying, well? Now you tell what you think of that. What you think of me. Go on. Judge me. I give you full permission to. You know you want to. 

Typing this up and inadvertently re-reading this now, I only realised the end of this piece was quite passive aggressive. And the start of the third paragraph, that was just my mind going blank for a second and perhaps the frustration of that permeated the piece thereafter? Anyway, that’s the original raw piece. I did trim the first paragraph because that was basically from my WIP but the rest was all me or my subconscious mind.

Remarkable Women in Ancient China (9)- Li Qing Zhao

Who is she:

  • Probably the most famous female poet across ancient Chinese history (there had been a number of other women known for poetry such as Ban Zhao but they were all way before her times. I’m not sure but I think her poetry work survived the most).  

Notable Life Events:

  • Born in 1084 during the Song dynasty, to a family of scholar-officials i.e. high born
  • Married Zhao Ming Cheng at the age of 17 and had a happy relationship with him for the majority of the time (she had apparently written a poem to mock his cowardice when he fled a city that he was governing upon its being invaded by nomads) until his death in 1129
  • Briefly married for a second time but quickly divorced the second husband despite that meant she had to be jailed for two years in order to get the divorce (she was released after nine days because she was personally pardoned by the Emperor) 

Why is she remarkable:

  • The fact that her poetry stands out does speak a lot for her work since it was a very male-dominated field, needless to say. I mean, this was ancient China. Except for perhaps cloth-weaving and embroidery, every field was probably male-dominated. 
  • She was considered quite rebellious and not upholding the conventional conception of how a proper high-born woman should behave (by the Song dynasty, female repression was getting under way and being uneducated was being viewed as a virtue for women), given to enjoying wine (which tends to be a trait for Chinese poets), gambling and spending large amount of money on the hobbies of epigraphy and literature (which are shared hobbies with her first husband and might be why they had such cordial relationships) 

Moonlake’s thoughts on her: 

Li Qing Zhao strikes me as very modern actually. Or maybe she is just very well-born and knows what she wants and has all the resources at hand to achieve that exactly. I think I quite like her, actually. I get the sense that she is immensely proud and since I’m also immensely proud, I tend to appreciate that in a woman. 

English reference on her: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Li_Qingzhao

Adventures Abroad the Chen Xing- Chapter 4

“What’s going on?” I bumped into Estella as she was moving towards the bridge.

“No idea, either Guppy learned how to fly or the ship’s taking us somewhere important of its own will.” The Xing did that from time to time, we knew that. Side effect of the junkyard exercise. “Let’s get to the bridge and find out, if that kid’s an Astropath, then she’s going places.” Estella chuckled at her own joke. She punched the controls for the door to open and nothing happened. “This is new. Only other way onto the bridge is the air vents as I recall, think you can pull a grate open for us?”

I did so. Estella held out her hands to give me a boost up and I took the help. I started to pull myself in when something offered to do my work for me by wrapping around my hand. I declined its offer. “There is something in the vent. It tries to grab me.” I warned Estella.

“Must of picked up some kind of scavenger from that trash pile.” Estella replied, “It’s probably hungry, might of been chewing on the power cables too, which is why the door won’t work.” 

A muted echo of a commotion came from some faraway parts of the ship. 

“We could lure it out with some food, or crawl in there with knives and try to kill it?” Estella’s voice came from below me. “I’m not real eager to get into a knife fight in an air vent.”

I jumped back down onto the ground. 

“Sounds like whatever it is, it’s not happy.” Estella remarked. 

“Where is Aurora, do you know?” Aurora could well take care of herself but I was not liking the idea of people unaccounted for on the ship. 

“In the garden with Guppy, she didn’t want the kid running off in the night so was bunking in there.” Estella told me. “I’ll go fetch her, see if she can get this door open.”

I stopped her, told her my thinking and we decided to get H squared and then all meet at the garden. 

At the Engineering quarter, I shook H squared awake. “There is something in the vent. We are going to meet up with Aurora and Guppy in the garden and talk about what to do with it.”

H squared shook his head and rubbed at his eyes, then followed along docilely. Outside the garden, the hammock was still hung across the door way, but no sign of Aurora and Guppy. 

I turned around to look at the other two. “Crap, they are not here.”

Aurora backed herself out of the overhead vent at that point. “Some thing made of vines and ship parts took Guppy!” She told us, “My knife didn’t do much against it but I sprayed them with glow fruit juice.”

“Vines and ship parts? That’s a new one on me.” Estella started turning a security guard glance on the plants in the garden. 

H squared looked like someone just devoured his child. Aurora looked at him with a grim nod. “Yeah, I’m not happy about it either.”

“Something almost grabbed me up there but I didn’t quite see what it is. Do you think it comes with the alien bit perhaps?” I filled her in on what transpired before. 

“Maybe?” Estella shrugged. “The garden looks normal to me, so it must be something else, something we picked up from that trash pile that got into the vents and sprouted.”

“This way!” Aurora called out as she headed for the nearest hatch, “It was dragging Guppy in this direction.” I followed right on her heels.

H-squared mumbled something about Engineering. The party split at this point: me and Estella off to find Guppy while Aurora went with H squared to shut off vents in specific sections of the Xing so we could contain the plant encroachment.

I headed over to the hatch that Aurora was aiming for.  Seeing the vent in the bulkhead near it, I tried to shield Estella in case something sneaked out of it. 

“Same as before, I go up first and warn you if the thing tries its grabbing trick again.” I told Estella as we arrived below the vent. The vines stood out clearly, outlined in glowing juice as Aurora said. Guppy’s panicked eyes also looked out on me. 

Estella nodded in response to me. “If it grabs you and you can pull the vine out I can snip it off.” She lifted up a set of pruning scissors for emphasis. 

I reached up, tucked on a vine and passed it behind for Estella to snip off. But it was slippery and I couldn’t quite get a grip on it. Giving up the useless tussle, I took aim at one of vines not directly entangled with Guppy.

“See if you can lure it into trying to grab you.” Estella said over my back. “Then I can snip the vines while you pull back.”

One vine drooped at my shot and flopped around aimlessly. I hurriedly grabbed it and passed it behind to Estella. The vine started squirming in my hand frantically and finally slipped out of my grasp. It retreated back into the vent and scuttled away from us. 

“Keep tracking it, I’m going to go fetch some weed killer, trying to do this the hard way doesn’t seem to be working.” Estella told me. 

“Okay. Look out for vents on the way so it doesn’t sneak out at you.”

I made sure to see her nod in agreement before climbing back up to the vent and following after a clear trail of glowing juice. Some time passed and a blast of cold air punched me in the face. I assumed that was Aurora and H squared. I shivered but forged on. I had gone past the garden but not quite reaching Engineering when I saw the juice thinning out. Thinking better over handling the creature alone, I retreated back to the vent near the hatch. Estella was already back from the garden. 

We spoke over the intercom and met up with Aurora and H squared in a corridor between the garden and Engineering. Cold air was seeping out of one of the vents. “I got the atmo controls set to freezing, should slow it down for now,” Aurora held up a buzz saw. “It’s somewhere in this area, probably a storage closet.”

“It didn’t seem to be fungus based so it probably started growing somewhere with plenty of light, cargo storage, or a passenger cabin with clean windows is my guess.” Estella patted the sprayer she had in her hands. “Killer Weed Killer, should take care of the problem.”

Aurora looked over at me at that point, eyeing Estella’s hedge clippers. “You want the saw or the hedge clippers?”

I shrugged to indicate my indifference. Estella handed me the hedge clippers. “All yours, I got the dressing, let’s go make ourselves a salad!”

“That stuff won’t hurt Guppy, will it?” Aurora asked Estella, gesturing to the sprayer.

“It might wash some of the dirt off her, and make her smell like chemicals until she showers, but as long as she doesn’t drink it she’ll be okay.” 

Aurora got a new idea based on that assurance and we all sprayed ourselves. Except it didn’t cling and just dripped off. 

“It’s the cold air, keeps it from foaming properly, should still work fine against the plant.” Estella remarked. 

We went along the corridor checking each room along the way, with Aurora in the lead. It took several tries until we arrived at the one that was stuck. I went up, put my shoulder against it and it crashed open, with me rolling inside. 

A huge mass of vines and metal parts lay inside on the ground, all twisted around each other and pulsating to a strange beat. I picked myself off the ground just in time to dodge a vine that reached out to grab me. Behind me, I could hear Aurora’s buzz saw and Estella’s spray busy at work. I set to work with the hedge clippers. The vines fell to the floor and twitched a couple of times before becoming still. 

“It really doesn’t like the cold!” Aurora announced triumphantly and the vines erupted everywhere. They tried to wrap around me but I dodged their slow motion attack. 

“Masscare time!” I said, seeing the green light for a laser field projection popping up on my bow-gun. Bits of vine flew everywhere, as well as gobs of greenish goo. The thing screeched in an inhuman way. The few remaining vines that weren’t busy with Estella swivelled around to me as if I had just become a homing beacon for them. 

“I think you hit it somewhere delicate!” Aurora yelled over the screech. 

“Oops, my apologies.” I said insincerely, fending off the vines with mincing steps here and there. 

“Poof!” The writhing mass exploded outward in chunks and splatters of green. It sprayed the entire left side of my body. I looked at the other two girls. Aurora seemed to have caught most of it on one arm whereas Estella wore the goo like a coat of paint. I assumed the explosion was her work. 

“I need a shower.” Estella sighed in relief. Instinctively, I brushed the goo off me but got a handful instead. Urgh. 

“That’s it! I’m going to gut whoever did this to me!” A high-pitched voice came out of a mass of flopping vine-parts. 

“We already gutted it for ya kid, we’re wearing its inner bits.” Estella struggled in vain to pull the sticky sap from her hair.

“Anyone hurt?” Aurora asked as she set to freeing Guppy. “We don’t need that thing causing some kind of nasty fungus infection.”

“Nope, except for my nose, which wants to retreat back into my face if it can.” I told her. 

“Just a few bruises, nothing a hot meal and bath won’t take care of.” Estella added and then looked around the garden. “I’m damned curious where this came from, if it’s something we brought on board or picked up by accident.”

“I’m more curious how it knew to use parts of the ship to make itself stronger, most plants are pretty dumb, not crafters.” Aurora said in a dreamy voice. I kept silent, unlike the too curious duo. 

“Good question, but the mess in here makes it impossible to tell when it started off as.” Estella shook her head. “Hopefully you and Hue can figure out where it started from what ship parts it used.” She came around to me, congratulating me on my good shots and put her arm around me. 

A foul odor was starting to build up around the remnant of the plant-metal hybrid. Some of the more solid pieces appeared to be liquifying. Aurora finally extracted Guppy from the tangled mess. A Guppy that was basically green with white eyes. 

“I think we better all go off to our rooms and have a shower. The stench is getting unbearable.” I said as I retreated from Estella.

Aurora gave Guppy a near crushing hug in relief. “I thought that thing had eaten you, I’m glad you’re safe!”

Guppy muffled something amidst the hug, her eyes flashing with anger. 

“She has a soft spot for strays.” Estella whispered to me. “I’ll be on the bridge after getting cleaned up, and see where we’re off to now, hopefully not too far since we still haven’t been paid fully for our work on the converter.”

I nodded and wandered off towards my own room for the shower. An extended shower during which I nearly scrubbed my own skin off and had to let be even though my nose wrinkled of its own accord at how refreshing I smelled. 

Craft/Curiousity Reads

So thanks to COVID and working at home, I’m actually already into the 9th book this year whereas last year I just reached my goal of 10 books. And because I’m stepping up my efforts to improve my writing craft and trying to leverage reading more for that end goal as opposed to pure leisure, I have now decided to add 2 spots for craft/curiousity reads. 

In fact, I have already built up a list of candidates and in brackets is the reason why I’m intrigued or what craft element I’m trying to study: 

  • The book thief (narrator is Death)
  • The Lovely Bones (mystery from the POV of the victim)
  • The Girl on the Train (unreliable narrator)
  • Gone girl (big reversal in the middle) 
  • The Virgin Suicides (written from first person plural)
  • The God of Small Things/The Gathering by Anne Enright  (past-present narrative)
  • The Bluest Eyes by Toni Morrison/Shipping News (omniscient) 
  • All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld (Reverse Chronology)
  • Catcher in the Rye/Room (voice-driven/child’s voice) 
  • Americana (uneven past-present narrative) 
  • The Fifth season by N. K. Jemisin (1st, 2nd and 3rd POVs)

Initially I was rather intrigued by the Book Thief but then I read the blurb and I worry about it being too much literary fiction. And I figured I wanted to give literary fiction a little bit of a rest after Cloud Atlas. Then I looked up the Lovely Bones because the premise is of course intriguing but well…. For some reason I was really worried about hype for particular books. Like I always looked a bit askance at books that suddenly got immensely popular and asked “Now, is this book going to fit my particular reading taste?”. I’ve somehow always thought of myself as having reading taste that doesn’t quite conform to everyone else’s even though my favourite novels (LOTR and Raymond E. Feist’s Riftwar and Serpentwar) were immensely popular in their own rights. Anyway, so I looked it up in my library and it only had a physical copy but I was more in the mood for an electronic copy so currently I’m reading Wych Elm by Tana French. I’ve heard good things about her and I’m about half way through the story right now. 

I think I will read either the Lovely Bones or the Girl on the Train and then Shipping News perhaps for my Craft/Curiousity reading spots this year. 

Chinese Lore- A Selection of Mythical Fauna (3)

Tiao Fish

Physical Description:

A fish that looks like a four-headed chicken with red feathers, six feet and three tails. Its call sounds like that of the magpie.

Special Properties:

Consuming its meat is a cure for anxiety.


Heng Gong Fish

Physical Description:

A 1.5-1.6m long fish that looks like a carp that is red throughout.

Special Properties:

Consuming its meat is a cure for illnesses created by evil or the supernatural.

Lore:

It lives in a frozen lake by day and becomes human at night. Its flesh cannot be penetrated by conventional weaponry nor can it be killed by boiling. However, it will die instantly if you cook it in a pot with two dark plums.


Huan

Physical Description:

A creature that looks like a wild cat except for only having one eye and three tails.

Special Properties:

Its call can beat that of one hundred other species of animals. Adopting it as a pet can protect against villainy. Consuming its meat is a cure for jaundice.


Ru Pi

Physical Description:

A fish that looks like an upside-down pot, with a bird’s head.

Special Properties:

Its call sounds like the sound of striking rock. It can spit out gems from its mouth.