Moonlake’s Book Discoveries- June 2019

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.

Moonlake’s Writing Updates (8)

I am someone who is always more cautious about sharing bad news but the truth is that I’ve been a bit lost over these 2 months for my novel. Technically I’m not that lost but I haven’t been adding word counts on a daily basis and I haven’t been doing work for the novel on a day-to-day basis. Part of it is a change of routine- I just started a new job in May. Part of it is disconnection from the WIP in the form of not knowing enough about character and the underlying world. Then a major part is I think attributable to lethargy/procrastination combined with a lack of accountability- I brought back a decoder from overseas and suddenly TV is worth watching again. Then there are days where I can work on my novel but because I had not set goals as consistently as when I was working on a draft, I would put things off until it was sleep time and then I just went to sleep without having anything for the novel. This also coincided with a period where I skipped out on doing my daily achievements. And in fact, this lethargy is the reason why there was no blog post last week- I was composing a post for 2 weeks and then I just ‘forgot’ about it amidst continuously putting it off. And no, it’s not this current post, you will see that other one at a future time.

Anyway, I have ‘emerged from the dark’ now and I have a new deadline- to finish draft 0.6 by the end of this year. By the way, I did finish my draft 0.5, even way before the deadline. But it was more of a ‘let it go’ as opposed to achievement since I really had only half of the scenes fully written. Still, I had learnt to appreciate smallness so I just accepted it and moved forward albeit being disappointed. And now I am moving forward to yet another goal.

Persistence is the key. Till next time.

Tales of Inspiration (1)

“Where do you get your inspiration from?” That seems to be a FAQ for writers. So I thought I would answer it here by describing how each of my story ideas came to me. It would also be a good way for me and my future readers to acquaint ourselves so they get a glimpse of what they will be getting into.

But first of all, let me briefly recap my personal answer to where do I get inspiration from. Actually, it’s not actually my personal answer, more like an answer I read that I felt personally clicked with me. Essentially, it has 2 components: 1) external impetus: information and ideas you gather from books, TV, personal experience etc.; 2) the internal processing of your mind where you modify and/or combine the ideas you gather from outside sources

I think I’ve mentioned this before but my first recent attempt at novelling was actually this mock fan-fic based on an online novel that was abandoned half way and therefore I never got to see its ending. The writing wasn’t great (in fact it was quite amateurish) but I was quite into the story – it was novel in how it introduced an ‘ethnically Chinese’ protagonist into a fantasy setting based on Islam society in a desert. Also, I can see some deep themes and was rather overcome by emotion in certain bits of the story. So when I first decided to dip my toes into novel writing, I thought why not start with this story because then I could save a fair amount of time with the planning by keeping everything the same as the online novel. Now that plan quickly unravelled as I started to want to fix plot inconsistencies etc.

And yet, all was not wasted since I later came up with a prequel that was quite distinct from the original- it has completely different characters because it’s set generations back and the overall society also had a large difference. However, I became and am still uncertain over the ethical and legal considerations over actually publishing the prequel since I was still borrowing elements of the world from the original work and plus I was also rather stuck when I wrote up the outline for it so I decided to not to pursue the project. Still, I think it’s a good illustration of how inspiration works under the external impetus+internal processing system. In this case, the external impetus was clearly that abandoned online novel that I read while my internal processing came up with another related but totally different story idea.

That’s it for today. Let me know if you have thoughts on what I’ve shared before. I’m not sure what to blog about for next week yet but I’m trying to keep the content of my blog balanced so the next post of this series would be sometime next month.

Meta Fiction: Shuang Gu Sword (Double Branched Sword)

Author’s notes: this sub borrows heavily from actual Chinese history and folklore (at least, so far as the legend section goes but a fair bit was just the author adapting real history to her own use).

Appearance:

It is a set of two short swords (housed within the same scabbard) that weigh approximately the same but one (the female sword) is shorter than the other (the male sword) by a few Chinese inches*. Neither of these swords are ornately decorated but to a trained eye they show superb craftsmanship.

*The male sword is about 0.9m long in modern terms while the female one is about 0.8m in length

Legends:

Crafting

The Shuang Gu Jian is well-known as the weapon of Liu Bei, lord of the Shu Kingdom during the Period of the Three Kingdoms. The story of its crafting is not really known except for the speculation that it was crafted by a local smith as a special gift to Liu Bei for freeing the region Han Zhong from the rule of the villainous Cao Cao, lord of the Wei Kingdom. It was recently put forth as a theory that this set of weapons was actually the long lost set of swords Gan Jiang and Mo Xie crafted by and named after the famous swordsmith couple in the era of the Spring and Autumn Warring States and somehow recovered by Liu Bei. Neither version could be proved (or for that matter disproved) since this legendary set of swords had long been lost.

Ownership History

After Liu Bei passed away, the Shuang Gu Sword went to his eldest son and successor Liu Shan. Later when Liu Shan surrendered to the Wei court, he gifted the weapon to Cao Cao as a tribute. It was said that this greatly pleased Cao Cao, who subsequently kept the weapon of his strongest opponent lovingly among his personal collection of trophies.

Upon his succession, Cao Pi- surviving eldest son of Cao Cao, attempted to kill his younger brother Cao Zhi, who had been his chief rival in terms of contending to be the crown prince. The sequence of events from this attempt that culminated in the forming of the Seven-steps Verse is already well-known. In addition, one text recorded (via oblique references) that after this unsuccessful attempt, Cao Pi gifted the Shuang Gu Sword to Cao Zhi. It was conjectured that such an action was done in mockery on the part of Cao Pi, using their father and his chief rival as analogies for himself and his younger brother respectively.

And from this point on, the whereabouts of the Shuang Gu Sword passed out of official records but periodically, rumours would surface of an extraordinary pair of swords that is similar to the Shuang Gu Sword. In each of these tales, this pair of swords confers a totally different yet similarly spectacular ability to its owner.

Amongst them, the most dramatic relates to that of the legendary Xue Cheng Yue in the era known as the Northern Song period, the leader of the rebels in the Northern part of the Dragon Empire that was held by the Jurchen invaders at that time (who adopted this particular name to declare his intentions of taking over the mantle of responsibility for repelling the Jurchen invaders from the patriotic general Yue Fei). However, it is hard to ascertain whether Xue Cheng Yue was an actual person that existed or merely a mythical figure that came about from the populace’s laments over the demise of the tragic hero Yue Fei at the hands of the villain Qin Hui. Consequently, there are two schools of thoughts divided on their belief regarding the authenticity of the ‘subsequent sightings’ of the Shuang Gu Sword. One firmly believes that the Shuang Gu Sword did surface from time to time and moreover that it is one of the remarkable weapons made from wishsteel that allowed it to adapt its properties to its owner. Meanwhile, the other stream maintains that these other weapons were in all probability simply replicas. As for the reported special properties, it was thought that they were merely embellishments that were wont to occur in these local legend/folklore type stories.

Special Properties

According to the Romance of the Three Kingdoms, the Shuang Gu Sword is a loyal weapon, much as its master Liu Bei. Allegedly, it would fly out of the grasp of Cao Cao of its own accord whenever he attempted to hold either of the blades in his hands. Nothing so dramatic was mentioned when this weapon was in possession of either Liu Shan or Cao Zhi. This was taken to be a sign that the Shuang Gu Sword did not find either worthwhile masters for itself even though they were not as repellent to the sword as the most heated foe of its rightful master.

Of the ‘subsequent sightings’ of the Shuang Gu Sword, most accounts did not delve into exactly what the special boons this legendary weapon gave to their owners. Where a property was mentioned, different versions arose. For example, in the Northern part of the Dragon Empire, it was passed down in legends that Xue Chen Yue held a set of blades that were bloodthirsty- it was said that the more blood they were fed, the more voracious their appetites grew, such that they would seek out bodies to cut down of their own accords. In the Southern, though, most believe that either he wielded a pair of swords that gave him the ability to make his troops invisible or move like the wind in combat.