Moonlake’s Book Discoveries- March 2020

I’ve been slacking off in reading published books due partially to the ease of phone reading on the train but also due to some weird conflict between fantasy reading and writing that’s unique to me. Besides the completed reads, I also tried to read The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu but decided I would have a second try this year. I also did not finish the Dragonbone Chair and the associated trilogy as I had intended. I don’t yet have plans to have another go at it in the immediate term. But I do think it’s worth returning to eventually. 

Anyway, below is what I’ve read between July 2019 to now:

Death at the Wychebourne Follies by Amy Myers

I didn’t guess the culprit so that’s good. Otherwise, a little on the cozy side which is not really my thing but overall, solid work.

The Secret of Chimneys by Agatha Christie

This is my 2nd Battle and I still like it a fair bit, not as well as I like my first but it’s still got an interesting lead and I didn’t guess the ending which is always what I’m looking for.

Dreamers’ Pool by Juliet Marrilier 

I almost thought I picked up the wrong genre (romantic fantasy or fantasy romance) again. But actually, while it is a fantasy where romance figures heavily into the main plot, I am relieved and pleasantly surprised that it went beyond that. In fact, this is the ‘perfect’ book of light reading for me featuring magic and mystery and a strong female main character that I can relate to.

The Chinese influence in my Writing

Aside from the about page, I don’t think I’ve properly introduced myself so let’s do this here up front. I’m a Chinese who migrated to Australia at the age of 12 after I completed primary school. Because I came from Hong Kong, I lean towards modern values (at least in gender roles and such) but I also lean towards the conservative at the same time (I have all these conceptions about proper behaviour for women like not swearing, not that I judge others on them, just that I don’t do that myself and I prefer women not doing them). I also love ancient Chinese literature: the lyrical prose of Chinese poetry, classics like the Dream of the Red Chamber and just in general the magic of the Chinese language which encompass idioms, folklore etc. 

Now onto the meat of this post: in what forms do the Chinese influence in my writing occur? Well, one obvious answer is in my chosen sub-genre of Chinese fantasy. As a Chinese who loves fantasy, I write in the genre that I love to read and bring my ethnical identity into the genre. So that includes creating an entire world of fictional ancient China with fantasy elements, borrowing heavily from folklore and real history but ‘subverting’ them with my imagination as well as attempting to capture the essence and nuances of living as a Chinese in Chinese society. 

Then, there are less obvious influences. One example, which I detected long after it happened, was during that abandoned attempt at novelling aka the Genghis Khan and wife story. From the get go, each chapter of that story takes the format of being driven by exactly two events when I outline it. The two events might or might not be interrelated but there are always two for each chapter. That wasn’t something I did intentionally, just the way my mind told me to structure it in. Then one day years down the track, like last year when I was outlining my WIP and taking an online writing course on outlining, it suddenly hit me that this 2-event chapters style was actually the influence of Chinese classics: essentially the ones I had read all had chapter headings that were in the couplet format. For those who don’t know, couplets are basically 2 phrases each of 5 or 7 Chinese characters and the words or characters in each part of the couplet are supposed to have correspondence to each other. A well-known example of a couplet is “Distance tests a horse’s strength, time reveals a person’s heart.” where the correspondences are distance to time, tests to reveals etc. I’ve now migrated away from this format but I was quite surprised that my Chinese reading managed to creep into my writing that way. 

My fellow writer followers, how has your self-identify cropped up in your writing? Let me know in comments. For my reader followers, hope that you found this post interesting. 

Moonlake’s writing updates (9)

I felt like short and snappy today so let’s do this in Q&A format. 

Where are you at overall? 

I’ve finished draft 0.6. 

What’s that- draft 0.6?

It’s the second iteration of my decimal drafts, I started with draft 0.5. 

What’s with the decimal drafts?

It’s a thing to get rid of my perfectionism, telling myself that I’m doing a draft that’s not even draft 1 yet. 

What’s coming up?

I’m currently doing a bit of structural work on my story, taking the whole of March for that at least. In the short term, I will focus on draft 0.8 and then draft 1. Not sure if there will be a draft 0.9 in between. 

The time horizon for these drafts? 

Definitely draft 0.8 done by end of this year. And then draft 1 done by end of next year. 

What other longer plans? 

Longer plan is of course is to finish the other books of this series (yes, it’s a series, still not of indeterminate length i.e. unsure how many books. Feeling more like it’s at least a trilogy now but still not 100% sure). And then once I have three books written, I can start looking at debutting. 

And that’s it for today, check back in next week when I talk about the Chinese influence in my writing. 

Remarkable Women in Ancient China (4)- Huang Yue Ying

Who is she:

  • Daughter (only child) of Huang Chen Yin, an influential scholar in Jingzhou which was a big region encapsulating what are now the Hubei and Hunan provinces as well as surrounding areas (it was a rich and flourishing region where scholars thrive which was quite rare in ancient China). The Huang family was well-connected in the political circles.   
  • Wife to Zhuge Liang, a famous military strategist in the Three Kingdoms period spanning the decline of the Han dynasty and the rise of the Jin dynasty 
  • Known for being ugly, with yellow hair and dark skin. In ancient China, white skin was a sign of beauty (actually, this is also true nowadays in general) and yellow hair was a sign of unhealthiness of the kidney which people believed meant the woman has difficulty conceiving. 

Notable life events:

  • Actually, she is a pretty obscure figure in actual history (they are not even sure of her actual name, this is one of the names they often attribute to her, there are several other variants) so not much is known of her besides what was written above. However, what is certain is that her match to Zhuge Liang was very much to his favour. Basically, her connections helped him to gain in depth knowledge of what was going on in the rest of China (not an easy feat given how large ancient China was and the cost of transportation etc.). Hence, Zhuge Liang could formulate his key military stratagem which helped Liu Bei, the founder of one of the Three Kingdoms, to rise to that position. 
  • Folklore, however, has two stories about her (and Zhuge Liang)
    • Zhuge Liang was reputedly the inventor of the Mu Niu Liu Ma (Wooden Cow Moving Horse), a set of carts for transporting grains during military expeditions in mountainous regions. The story went that Zhuge Liang created the first one upon the request of Huang Yue Ying, who was herself a talented craftsman of mechanical wooden puppets. Specifically, it was said that Zhuge Liang was very much interested in these puppets that his would-be wife made and tried to memorise them. Huang Yue Ying, in her turn, wanted to test whether Zhuge Liang’s memory was really extraordinary and therefore told him that she has three “Nos”: on the day of their marriage, she will not ride, nor ride in a carriage, nor ride in a boat. Now, this is quite a problem since it would be undignified for the bride to walk on the day of the marriage. But eventually Zhuge Liang came up with Mu Niu Liu Ma as the solution which was said to be basically a shelf or rack mounted atop a mill. And so the two of them got married with Huang Yue Ying riding the first Mu Niu Liu Ma. 
    • Modern depiction of Zhuge Liang always have him carry a feather fan in his hands and it was said that his wife gave it to him as a gift. There are two versions about why she gave such a gift to him: A) she had observed that Zhuge Liang had a tendency to display his emotions clearly through his facial expressions and she thought this would make him too easy to see through by others. Therefore, she gave him a feather fan so that he could hide his expressions behind it. B) it was said that rather than being ugly, Huang Yue Ying was actually very pretty as well as being learned not only in literature but also martial prowess. In particular, it was said that her martial instructor was renowned and gifted her a feather fan upon her graduation. The feather fan apparently had two characters written on it: Ming and Liang, both of which meant bright. Within these two characters were hidden many military strategies as well as strategies of how to administer a country. Furthermore, her instructor told her that the one whose name contained both the characters of Ming and Liang would be her ideal husband. And so it came to pass that Huang Yue Ying became married to Zhuge Liang whose courtesy name was Kong Ming. It was said that the feather fan was what Huang Yue Ying gave to Zhuge Liang as a wedding present.  

Why is she remarkable:

  • Not much beyond what was said already: to the everyday Chinese, she’s probably more of a synonym/archetype for ‘a ugly but good wife who really helps you’. There are other historical women who fit that mould but she is one of the more famous ones 
  • Again, I think I’ve covered why she’s important historically- through her marriage to Zhuge Liang and how that facilitates him and indirectly contribute to the events of the Three Kingdoms period

Moonlake’s thoughts on her:

Again I don’t have much of an opinion on her. If I go by the actual history, it seems nothing can be deduced about her personality at all. If we believe the folklore stories, then all I can say is  that I think she’s a learned woman with initiative.