Moonlake’s Book Discovery- Dec 2018

I was going to do another book discovery back in Oct but then I decided I wanted to save it for end of the year so that I can do book discoveries in Mar, Jun etc. as opposed to odd months like this year. It appeals to my sense for order.

Anyway, below is what I read from Aug to Dec this year.  I went back to my main staple of fantasy but I also engaged in a bunch of light reading due to my Oct holiday (which both precluded me from reading in Oct and brought in a light-reading Sept when I cleared away some of my Kindle stack)

Soldier’s Son trilogy by Robin Hobb

This is the first series of Hobb that I’ve read and it really impressed me. Not so much that I have become a die-hard fan of her as I am of LOTR or Feist’s Midkemian world but I do think Hobb is a high-calibre fantasy writer. In particular, I think this series showcases her skills in the following ways: 1) she shows me how small actions (sometimes miniscule) by a weak character and a well-told story can hold reader interest (or mine anyway); 2) I think she presents war in a different slant that I’m used to seeing in epic fantasy and I think her take on it. Overall, I recommend this to connoisseurs of epic fantasy who want to experience something a little different from LOTR vibed epic fantasy (I still love them but I do want variety once in a while).

Mini Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella

I talked about this book last week and overall, I like it (even though chicklit isn’t my usual genre and I have no intention of making it my usual nor following this series further). Still, I think it’s a book with substance while at the same time being very approachable in language and funny at times (I’m a serious-minded gal and often humour is lost on me, especially the type in this book. But I did think bits of it were funny in a hilarious way).

Night of the Lightbringer by Peter Tremayne

I was a bit distracted by the content touched on in this book- the aspect to do with Christianity (I do not have a religion myself). I mean that in a good way- it enlightens me about certain aspects of it in an academic sense, even though I also have a sneaking suspicion that I might have enjoyed the book more otherwise.

As for the book itself as a historical mystery, I think I like it well enough (or at least as well as most of the others from this series for which I’m a long-time follower. A couple are better but I this one isn’t subpar, just right on par, I think. Sometimes when I follow a long series, it does wear off on me and I find it hard to distinguish between when it’s the fault of the author’s execution or just the novelty starting to wear off). One complaint, however, is that the final reveal of the ‘Boss’ borders on being anti-climatic. In particular, that mars the fact that I was eagerly awaiting the last chapter for the reveal of the culprit before the ‘Boss’

Masque by W.R. Gingell

Beauty & Beast in a cozy murder mystery (well, it’s not technically cozy but the murder mystery somehow takes second place to fantasy so I personally felt it’s on the cozy side, I guess) is how I would describe this book in summary form. Overall, I found it a pleasant light read but other than that, I have nothing much to add. Recommended for fans of B&B.

Life for a Life by Andy Peloquin

The only reason I read this was due to my light-reading Sept. Otherwise, I’m not much of a short story reader and a short story really has to be above the average for me to like it. In terms of this short story, write-up is solid and pace is quick but otherwise it’s just an average story.

I also read 3 non-fiction this year, 2 of which having to do with being a writer. But I didn’t find any of them great so I decided to focus on fiction here. Till next time.

What I learnt from my Broadening Horizon Reads- 2018

Photo by Mian Rizwan on Pexels.com

My Broadening Horizon Reads this year are a YA vampire/werewolf fantasy and a chick lit. Both are genres I tend to stay away from and both are written in first person (the latter is more of coincidence than design though). Below are summaries of my main take-away from each of them:

Silence Fallen by Patricia Briggs

I think what it showed me as a writer is the power of the voice. It comes in two-folds: 1) it showed me one way of using voice creatively to go outside of conventions for a multiple narrative story; 2) it showed me how voice is a double-edged blade and that for novels which hinge on voice like I think this book does, reader empathy is 100% whether they bond with the voice (or not as in my case).

Mini Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella

Again, I think voice is an important part of this book. And while I found the heroine bimbotic for most of the book, I think what the voice in this book scores well on is that it does draw the readers into the heroine’s world. I also think the interspersion of letters and diary entries between chapters is a neat trick in strengthening a special aspect of the heroine or subverting/adding layers of depth to the heroine.

Above all, I think what I learnt from this exercise is to be more adventurous and go outside stereotypical impressions of specific genres once in a while. In both these novels, I found that they were better or rather I like them better than I had originally expected to (well, this is certainly true of Silence Fallen. I felt a bit misled by the back blurb for Mini Shopaholic for most of the book but then the ending did leave me sated and I actually prefer Mini Shopaholic relative to Silence Fallen). Sure, I wouldn’t like to do so all the time because I just like what I like but I am definitely convinced of the merit of introducing more variety to my reading ‘menu’.

Moonlake’s Writing updates (6)

So I had previously alluded to the fact that I’m working on a first draft (well, I’m calling it a 0.5 draft now, that gives me much more room to be rough and not use perfectionism as an excuse for procrastination). In this post, I thought I would elaborate a bit more on it. First, I had set the goal to finish the draft by my birthday next year which is in late Oct. Second, I’m glad to announce that I’ve already went over the 20% mark on it.

That’s pretty much all I have to share at the moment but I will also provide a sneak peek into the novel via the following elevator pitch that I came up with:

A fantasy story set in fictional ancient China. A young woman desperate to find her missing younger sister. A deserter out to find a new life and place for himself and his fellows. The convergence of their paths in the search for hope.

That’s it for now. Until next time.

Jigsaw Puzzles, Writing and Me

assorted puzzle game

So I just came back from my holidays and I wanted to write about something a little different from my usual focus: jigsaw puzzles. Actually, it was one of my childhood hobbies that I only recently picked back up. So what has it got to do with writing at all?

Well, jigsaw puzzles:

    Trained my intuition. That’s how I think of it anyway, so much when Mum asked me to explain how to go back about a jigsaw, I actually replied I used my intuition and that was too abstract an answer for her that she couldn’t understand what I meant. Anyway, so how is intuition useful for writing? Well, mostly the way I visualise a story is as different ideas (about characters, about a main situation, about the setting) all clicking together like pieces of jigsaw. But ideas are elusive creatures, you know. Sometimes I get divergent ideas on the same character or a particular point in the story. So I was hoping that the intuition I built up through jigsaws would transfer over when I outline stories. Then again, you can say I’m just making up an excuse for me to throw myself back into a favourite pastime 😛
    Taught me that I’m a person who does things purely because I enjoy the process. Yes, that’s right, jigsaws led me to such a self discovery and I think it’s a very important discovery. Shame that I don’t always keep it in mind! What this meant for me in terms of being a writer is that I need to be more mindful to keep the ‘play’ element of being a writer more prominent as I tackle each WIP. I’m quite self-disciplined in general. But the down-side of this is that writing often turns into a type of second job for me that is not much different from my FT job. And that’s not quite right because writing is actually my passion so while I need to persevere in it, I also need to loosen up in a sense so that I can also enjoy the process because that’s what feeds me as a person.

And let’s just keep it short and sweet today. Come back next week to hear about my writing update. Haven’t done one for a while now *rubs hand in anticipation*, aren’t you excited *wink*?

Remarkable Females in Ancient China (1)- Dugu Qieluo

If you are curious why I’m doing this series because you missed last week’s post, check it out here
qieluo

Who is she:

  • Wife to Yang Jian, founder of the Sui dynasty (581-618 AD) which was built on the demise of the Northern Zhou dynasty when Yang Jian made its last Emperor yield the throne to him
  • formally known as Empress Dugu in life or Empress Wenxian after death
  • The seventh daughter born to her parents- a general of Xianbei (a major nomadic group residing in what’s now eastern Mongolia, Inner Mongolia and Northeast China) ethnicity and a Chinese lady of noble birth

Notable life events:

  • Named Qieluo for tagara in Sanskrit which has a host of Buddhist connotations, most notably Valerian which is a herb used for incenses
  • Married Yang Jian at the age of 14
  • Dissuaded the Emperor Xuan of the Northern Zhou dynasty, husband to her eldest daughter, from making her commit suicide through “intensive begging and pleading, kowtowing and bleeding” (now that’s the perseverance of a mother!) 
  • Persuaded her husband to ascend to the throne when he was indecisive on whether to continue making the last Emperor of the Northern Zhou dynasty his puppet or ascending the throne himself
  • Instrumental in the deposing of her eldest son from the office of Crown Prince to be replaced by her second eldest, who became the second and last Emperor of the Sui Dynasty
  • Known for being jealous
    • Abolished all of the high ranking positions for royal concubines and drastically cut back on their numbers (She was the first Empress who was allowed to make decisions regarding the system regarding royal concubines, ahead of the Empress Wu of the Tang dynasty aka the only female Emperor of ancient China)
    • When they were both middle aged, she killed a palace slave of noble descent that her husband had bedded once, prompting him to ride away from the Imperial Palace in anger

Why is she remarkable:

  • It was well recorded that she was loved by her husband, which is far from the norm for most royal couples of ancient China. Furthermore, she
    • was the first Empress to give birth to all of his children (10 of them in total, 5 princes and princesses)
    • and her husband was the first and one of the two royal couples in ancient China ever recorded to live together daily as opposed to apart in separate palaces
    • was mourned intensely by her husband who later expressed a wish to be reunited with her after death when he became very sick just prior to his own death
  • She was the only Empress considered to be equal to her husband in status during his reign by court officials and maintained her influence on him throughout her life. This was opposed to many Empresses who gained power after the demise of their husbands and exerted or even usurped power from their own sons.

Moonlake’s thoughts on her:

I’m not normally drawn to Court women (Empresses and Dowager Empresses and the like)- those few I know are too ambitious and power-hungry for my taste (this could be the way they are portrayed but then again I have a general aversion in taste against anything related to Court intrigue and politics). But I think I admire Dugu Qieluo and in particular, I admire her known jealousy. Well, not for the sake of her jealousy per se, but to the extent that I feel that she’s authentic to her womanhood in that respect. Ancient China was a monogamistic society and I’ve grown up with the impression that women of that time mostly accept that as their due. I understand that- most people conform to societal norms, but on a deep-seated level, I think I am repulsed due to my feminist streak. Going back to Dugu Qieluo, it might be a trait gifted to her via her Xianbei lineage (apparently the Xianbei society had some matriarchal traits).

The other thing that made her stand out for me was that she didn’t have to seize power by force or trick at all (as I said above, I have no admiration for ambitious individuals in general, I don’t care what great deeds they have done), it just came about naturally for her.

*Note: I mainly used Chinese sources but there is an English Wiki on her: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dugu_Qieluo

Also, I’m going on holiday in November so there will be no blog posts during that time. But I will come back in December.

Remarkable Females in Ancient China- coming to you soon!

ancientChinesewomen

Yes, I’m creating yet another lot of quarterly serial posts both so I can more or less stick to it and it might dovetail into other related posts (still chewing over possibilities).

So essentially, this lot of new posts will feature remarkable female figures from ancient China that I compiled mostly from Chinese Wiki and other Web sources. And now you wonder what I mean by remarkable and why I’m doing this lot of new posts, don’t you?

Firstly, I can’t say I have a tight definition on remarkable- I’m mostly just looking up specific names that I came across that piqued my interest. However, I think it’s fair to say that if a female name has passed down through such a long time in history then that is remarkable in itself.

As to why I’m undertaking such a project, well, I’ve been noticing for a while that I have greater difficulty writing female characters compared to male characters despite my gender. In terms of my genre of Chinese fantasy, I found that I’m often boxed in by this idea that Chinese women in ancient times didn’t have much agency. And that obviously presents a major problem for fiction- a story of a protagonist without agency is going to be very dull to readers. So my solution is to do more research into this topic and dig out examples where women do have agency. Plus, I’ve found that I don’t much like researching for novels so this is my perfect excuse to do it on a consistent basis.

Stay tuned next week for the first episode of this brand new series!

Reflections on My Outlining Odyssey

beige analog gauge

Every now and then I like to reflect on things and that time has rolled in again.

But first, a bit of context for those of you who hasn’t read previous posts: I started outlining my WIP in Dec 2016 and was originally planning to finish outlining at the end of this year. I deliberately decided to experiment with a more comprehensive outlining process to address the issue of writing myself into dead corners. But now there is a minor change of plans and I’ve already gone ahead into draft 1. Still, I think I should be able to claim that it was an outlining odyssey that I had undertaken (and I just like the sound of the word odyssey so bite me :P)

So what were the main take-aways from this journey that lasted 1 year and a half?

  • I’m happy with the general process now which mainly involves iterations on the traditional outline (just paragraph summaries of your scenes, you can put anything there, mine tend to be event summaries with bits of dialogue)- I think it allows me to produce outlines that are the tightest I’ve ever written so far
  • I use an Excel tool to supplement the traditional outline and it usually invites in my inner critic so bad that I can only use it in small doses every day. I think it’s a needed tool and gives me important insight but not sure if it’s worth the time inefficiency. Maybe move to the editing phase, not sure.
  • In between iterations, I have some natural cooling periods and I decided to use time more efficiently and invest them into collaborative short story ventures (think I might have mentioned this)
  • Micro goal setting is definitely a valuable accountability tool. If I just have a big goal and no micro goals then it’s very easy to get off tracks for months and not do anything writing related

That’s it for this week. Next week, I will talk about the idea of a new serial post that I am considering. Stay tuned.

Moonlake’s Book Discoveries- July 2018

photography of a smiling woman

Silence Fallen by Patricia Briggs
So I’m not that much of a YA reader and I don’t tend to read urban fantasy at all but I picked up this book to do structural analysis for a writing course. I also consider this book as one of my Broadening Horizon reads this year. That aside, it’s not as horrible as I thought it could be but neither am I charmed. The pace is quick and the plot contains some twists but other than that, I’m not really taken with it. The heroine is okay but I can develop no bonds to her. I did note that the author suggested that the books be read in order and perhaps my problem of bonding is an artifact of me just picking up a Mercy book so late in the ordering of the series. However, I also think that the problem of this book lies in that Mercy the protagonist hasn’t grown one bit by the end of this book and in a way that made me feel like there is no point in me having read this book.

X by Sue Grafton
So I was really fond of Kinsey up till R maybe? And then it felt like Kinsey had fallen flat. But halfway through this book, I was like “Kinsey old girl, you finally came back!” And that’s what really excited me about this book.

I know the ending to this book is controversial (as a writer myself, I probably wouldn’t have wanted to write such an ending for technical reasons). All I can say that it worked for me and that’s solely because I am very fond of Kinsey.

Y is for Yesterday by Sue Grafton
I think this is the most complex story of the Alphabet series so far (which is ending in the next book!), with three parallel plots. To be honest, during a particular point, I thought one of the plot lines occurring in the past was redundant and felt bored but my perception was completely overturned only a few chapters later. So kudos to Grafton for embarking on this ambitious project and for it turning out so well.

1st to Die by James Patterson
So I came to this from the Women’s Murder Club hidden object games (which I liked) and Alex Cross. I like the concept of a women’s murder club before I even venture into this series but this story’s written in a sub-par way in my books. So we just get the page-turning, fast-pace that is Patterson’s wont for the case itself but the problem is that this story is much more complex that that and when all the other elements are in a hit-and-miss state, I seriously cannot say that this story is written solidly.

Mostly, the other 3 women besides Lindsay feel flat and I even have trouble bonding with Lindsay given that one key action she did just felt like a dumb move to me. Some of the chapters that aren’t about the case but about character and relationships are complete window dressing and leave me feeling awkward about their sub-parness. I’m also underwhelmed by the fact that the prologue of the book started off with a hook and then the concluding chapters and the epilogue acted like a major anti-climax to the hook in the prologue. In fact, I just feel like the last few chapters and the epilogue is basically all needless theatrics that Patterson was forced to put in to justify the hook he put into the prologue for lack of a better approach. I think I’m going to stick with the Alex Cross series instead of this.

Now, what have you all been reading? Let me know in the comments.

Moonlake’s Broadening Horizon Reads

sunset ship boat sea
This is a new commitment that I came up with this year, in hopes of advancing my writer’s craft. Specifically, it involves reserving 2 of my annual 20 reading slots for: 1) a book completely outside my usual genres of fantasy, mystery, historical fiction and any possible combos of the 3; 2) a book within my usual genres but with elements outside my usual taste.

As of writing, I’ve already done both this year but I will save them for July and Oct Book Discoveries. In this post, I want to showcase my tentative list for my Broadening Horizon Reads (BHRs) for the next 4 years:

Outside usual genre:

  • Literary fiction: Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell/Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeline Thien
  • Military fiction: Operation: Jaguar by Lyman Rate
  • Sci-fi: Leviathan wakes by James S. A. Corey
  • Horror: Stephen King’s Carrie/The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters

Within usual genre but outside usual taste:

  • Religious thriller: Desecration by J.F. Penn (religious thriller) [I downloaded this as a permafree a while ago from visiting her Creative Penn website with lots of helpful resources for writers and I got curious about her fiction but I have an aversion to ebook reading so it’s been sitting on my PC collecting dust. Now, I finally have a valid reason to bring it back up to see sunlight]
  • Psychological thriller: Tana French [A friend recommended her as his favourite author, I will just randomly pick a title since I never read mysteries in order. Never harmed my understanding since they are mostly standalones]
  • YA translated work: The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón [I assumed this is fantasy but after googling it, I’m not sure but the same friend who recommended Tana French recommended this. I tend to not enjoy YA relative to adult even though I do read Tamora Pierce. I have a feeling I’m almost done with her, though, except for her Beka Cooper series which I’ve read book 2. I liked it so I think I will go back and read the whole series. But my local library doesn’t have a physical copy, only epubs, so it’s been pushed back way down on my reading list]
  • Fantasy/adventure/classic starring animal protagonists: Watership Down by Richard Adams [ditto above on how I came by it]

Keep throwing me suggestions if you like and come back next week for my July Book Discoveries.

Fiction writer with Aphantasia: So What?

so-what-1462746_960_720

So nothing, I reply.

What are you talking about, Moonlake?

Well, let’s me go back to the start. One of my FB writer friends pointed me to this article: https://www.facebook.com/blake/posts/10156834777480504

Briefly, the article talks about the condition called aphantasia which is basically an inability to visualise things in your mind. And guess what? I’ve got this condition, I’m a fiction writer with aphantasia. So what’s the big deal? Nothing, I just never knew this condition existed before and many don’t. So this is a FYI post essentially. Plus, I don’t think I had it as severe as the author of the article. Sure, I can’t ‘see thing’ in my mind and I’m often not taken with prose that is very ‘graphic’ but certainly, the joys of reading isn’t down to appreciating concepts only. I appreciate the beauty of language and prose. Just as I enjoy reading fiction, I can write it fine and I am working to be a published fiction writer. And so, everything’s fine. 

And oh, don’t run away just yet.  I’m also talking about my reading plans today.