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. 

Author interview with Scott Oden

Moonlake: Hi, Scott. I read all of the chapters of Twilight of the Gods (TOG) on your blog over the Christmas break and it’s funny. I started wondering about Njall from book 1 who I wasn’t really interested in throughout A Gathering of Ravens (GOR). And the epilogue of GOR also gave me an expectation that Etain is going to make a recurrence. But from TOG, I’m getting the sense that neither of these two would reappear. 

So without giving away spoilers for book 2 since I fully intend to read it once it comes out, I’m wondering how standalone is each book of this series from all the others?

Scott: Each book is fully standalone, with the only recurring character being Grimnir, himself.  He’s functionally immortal, so except for violence he can live forever. Too bad he really loves violence 🙂

200 years separate A Gathering of Ravens and Twilight of the Gods; 130-ish years between Twilight and the proposed third book, The Doom of Odin.

Moonlake: But what about the loose ends in book 1 (Griminir’s revenge and the other characters in GOR besides Griminir)? Are they going to be short stories one day or readers just have to make a guess themselves or perhaps they would be alluded to indirectly in TOG or book 3, The Doom of Odin?

Scott: I don’t think I left any loose ends in the first book (at least, none I’m aware of).  There’s an epilogue that briefly details what happened to Etain and some of the others. The historical figures resume their historical paths, and Grimnir goes on his way.  That said, he does mention a few of the characters on Twilight of the Gods, and there is one surprise in there for folks who’ve read AGoR. A rather BIG surprise 🙂

Moonlake: Okay, we will quickly turn to another question before we give away any actual spoilers. So I’m personally a die-hard fan of LOTR. But despite that, I was never interested in Tolkien’s orcs. But after reading GOR, I would actually like a peek into your kaunar society that I don’t think we are going to see in the Griminir series or are we?

Scott: In Twilight of the Gods, there’s a fairly long section from Grimnir’s POV, detailing a bit about their society — where they dwelled, various roles, his father, and a good bit about his Mom.  I also included a bit about the other heads of kaunar clans.

Moonlake: Cool but I was hoping for a prequel. So if you were to write one, in what ways are you going to present the kaunar society and the other lore-rich aspect of the world? And would the prequel be about a younger Grimnir? 

Scott: I would love to do a Silmarillion-esque story of how the kaunar came to be . . . who the Nine Fathers were before they were taken and turned from dvergar to kaunar; the story of their fight with the AEsir and their flight to our world.  I think that would make an awesome companion piece to the series.

Moonlake: I would so love to read that one day. And now, here comes the tough question. What do you think is the overarching element on all of your work spanning between historical fiction and fantasy that readers would be drawn to if they only read one of the genres? And what would be the attraction for someone who never reads either genre?

Scott: I think the draw for people from both genres, and for those new to both, would be the world-building — the ability to relate the ancient/medieval world in such a way as NOT to alienate the modern reader.  I pride myself on being able to evoke time and place, on conjuring a dead society from dust and research so as to make it interesting to lay readers and acurrate enough for some deep readers and scholars. This sounds like an arrogant boast, but it’s the one constant piece of praise that spans all of my novels.

Moonlake: Yes, that’s why I’m drawn- the immersion factor. That and I’m a sucker for lore, as most predominant fantasy readers are.

Now, the final question: can we get a sneak peek into The Doom of Odin without any spoilers being given? And actually I realise this might be tough question #2 or the tough question *mischievous wink* 

Scott: I don’t have anything in a state to share beyond the rough of the jacket copy.  Here it is:

[To save space, I’m going to redirect you all to Scott’s own teaser post on his own blog]

Moonlake: Sounds right up my alley. Epic fantasy is actually my main staple and this sounds like my level of epic-ness. So that concludes our interview. And as of the time when this interview is out on my blog, the Twilight of Gods is out already. So if it interests you, be sure to grab and leave a review if you please. I’m sure to grab a copy and read it this year. As it was, it’s already on my TBR list this year, as my blog followers would attest.

Thank you, Scott, for your time. And best wishes.

Scott: Thank you for the interest!  I hope you enjoy Twilight of the Gods 🙂

Moonlake:I’m a cautious reader and I already sneak peeked what you put up on your blog so I’m pretty sure I would 🙂

Gaming and writing

I am someone with selective taste and that extends to the number of genres I read as well as my hobbies. I’ve previously blogged about jigsaw puzzles, I constantly blog about reading and today I’m going to talk about my gaming hobby and how it figures into my writing. 

Firstly, I do two different types of gaming: PC gaming which are mostly hidden objects but sometimes include match 3 and time management games. I was very into roleplaying games but I had given up the PC variety because they were too time consuming. Nowadays, I only play in roleplaying games of the dice-rolling variety (ala Dungeon and Dragons or Steve Jackson & Ian Livingstone plot-your-own-advenutre/gaming books for those who don’t know what I’m talking about) and that is confined to one weekend session every week. 

So how does gaming figure into my writing? Well, it:

  • Fills up my creative well by exposing me to ideas about character, plot, elements of magic etc. 
  • Similar to the above, I do need a little pure leisure time for a balanced life and gaming fills that spot 
  • For the roleplaying game, I have hopes that it would eventually feedback into improving one of my shortcomings as a writer which is in characterisation. I often have difficulty getting into my characters and my weekly session gives me an opportunity to become another character for 4 hours every week so I’m hoping that eventually I will be able to apply such role-playing skills in getting closer into my characters so that I can write about them. 

What other hobbies do my writer followers have that figure into your writings? I would be interested to hear about them in comments. 

Chinese Lore- A selection of Mythical Flora (2)

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.

Face Tree

Physical Description:

A tree with branches that sprout peach-like fruits with human faces

 Lore:

Another lifeform classified as Yao (see Lore section for Shadow Wood)


Leaning Mulberry

Physical Description:

Made up of two large mulberry trees that lean towards and support each other.

Lore:

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])


Construction Wood

Physical Description:

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

Lore:

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.


Yan Wood

Physical Description:

A tree that bears apple-like fruits that are edible once its skin turns red. 


Zhu Yu

Physical Description:

A lump of grass with similar shape to Chinese leek or Chinse chives that sprouts a few flowers of indigo colour

 Special Properties:

It will fill the stomach but only when pulled freshly from the soil.

Tales of Inspiration (2)

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. 

Moonlake’s Fascination with the Fantasy Genre

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. 

The Oriental Fantasy Reading Year- Infinitely Extended

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? 

Chinese Lore- A selection of Mythical Flora (1)

Shadow Wood

Physical Description:

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.

Special Properties:

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)

Lore:

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”.

Translation Quirk:

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)

Physical Description:

An egg-shaped moss of a golden colour

Special Properties:

It will glow when put in water.

Lore:

A gift from a foreign country to China during the Jin Dynasty (the Dynasty straight after the Period of the Three Kingdoms)

Ivy Bloom

Physical Description:

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.

World Building: Constellation

I’ve previously listed constellations under Worldbuilding- Moonlake’s Favourite Elements. Today I want to show two snippets of my writing where constellations feature prominently. 

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. 

~ Snippet from The Return of the White Deer [mentioned in Moonlake’s Work pile (3)]

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)