What?! You have a next series already lined up when you haven’t officially debuted with a single book yet? I know most of you are thinking this but it is true. In fact, if I look at my commercial project list document (to be distinguished from my idea journal where anything goes although the distinction is pretty lost by now), I have a trilogy for which I know the core idea and already started a preliminary outline for book 1, another trilogy for which I had a one-liner synopsis of each book and at least two other series that I felt drawn to or a bit more well-formed than the state I call “trapped in the nebulous” which is basically just an idea.
Anyway, today’s post is about the trilogy for which there is already an outline for book 1. It’s my tentative next series because I operate like an artist which is to say completely on whims. The core idea of this trilogy is this: it is going to be about three women that immediately succeed each other within this same lineage; in other words, grandmother, mother and daughter. Furthermore, the grandmother and the daughter are going to be mirror images of each other where the mother is going to be the odd one out.
To be honest, this idea has evolved a lot from the beginning. At first, it was going to be the repercussion of a single deed that the grandmother’s done on the mother and the daughter. The story itself was essentially about this deed being told three times, from each of the three women’s perspectives. But well, as it happened, now the story still retained this aspect but the focus is very different. It’s much more about how individuals with different characters perceive and react to the same set of events.
Those who have followed my blog for a while might have noticed that I have a fascination for world building. So for this series, my mind has concocted a fantasy musical instrument that represents the dynamics between the grandmother, mother and daughter. I shall leave a bit of space for imagination before I have much more substantial progress on this series. The other aspect I will mention is that somehow my mind decided to thrust this into the Han dynasty and this will involve a fair bit of political intrigue at the Imperial Palace.
I’m now a little more than halfway through draft 0.5, the next draft was to be draft 0.8 before I left for my holidays but now I think there will be a draft 0.6 and then I don’t know how many drafts it will be until I feel I call something draft 1. When I started on this project, that is not how I envisioned things to be. I thought the iterations would mostly apply at the outlining stage. But I guess what I can take away from this is that every novel project is really different and so all I can do is keep learning and keep experimenting.
The other major update I have on it is that I decided to make the deadline for completing draft 0.5 the end of June this year as opposed to my birthday in October. After all, I did get up to the halfway mark in three months’ time so there is no point for me to give myself extra room to procrastinate.
Having said all of the above, I am a long way from debutting, especially given my ambition to finish three novels before debutting. But I am always moving forward and I’m content with this for now.
I don’t consider myself widely read in that I mainly read three genres (fantasy, mystery and historical fiction) and I only write in the genre of Chinese fantasy (actually I do have ideas pertaining to traditional fantasy but Chinese fantasy is what has my attention right now). In that sense, I think Chinese fantasy certainly encapsulates both the fantasy and historical fiction part of my reading diet.
Now, how does mystery figure into my writing? A few years ago, I would have told you that it doesn’t. But now I would say that it creeps into my outlining process. Those who has followed my blog for a while knows that my outlines are plot or at least events-centric so basically I have the tendency of adding something to the story (could be a minor character, could be an item, could be an event) that hangs there for a while. And it’s funny how I never spotted that before until I showed one of my writer friends that abandoned trial novel attempt and he actually commented that ‘hiding stuff from readers seems to be my style’.
Now, every writer is different. I know a writer who’s never read a murder mystery but is currently writing one (although it has a literary fiction bend and might yet be classified as one yet). How about you, my writer readers? Feel free to let me know in comments.
Wife to Emperor Wen, mother to Emperor Jing and grandmother to Emperor Wu of the Han dynasty (206 BC–220 AD)
A woman who has risen from a root of poverty to have influence across three different reigns
Notable life events:
Born into a poor family in the province of Qinghe in the year just before the founding of the Han dynasty. Her name was commonly thought of as being Yi Fong but might be just Yi or unknown
Recruited to the Imperial Court as a lady in waiting for Dowager Empress Lu at about the age of 13
Gifted as lady in waiting to her future husband at the age of 15 by mistake (she asked to be put on the list going to her home province but the one in charge of allocating ladies in waiting to different Lords forgot and put her on the wrong list)
Made Empress at the age of 18 on the basis of having birthed Emperor Jing’s eldest son (later Emperor Jing)
Transferred her belief in the Taoist philosophy to the Emperor across the three consecutive reigns that she personally experienced; her death marked the ushering in an era where Confucianism held supreme over all other schools of thought in Imperial China (at least as far as the Imperial Court is concerned).
Why is she remarkable:
She had heavy political influence across three different reigns and her reign marked the end of a ruling regime that was generous towards the populace as pertaining to the ‘action without intention’ and other principles of Taoism
Clearly, hers is a rags-to-riches story on an epic scale
Moonlake’s thoughts on her:
I don’t really like her or dislike her but I think she is a dynamic character and her actions create unconventional consequences For example, on the one hand, she meddled heavily in politics and was known for elevating those from her birth family which normally leads to corruption. Yet, the Taosim regime that she was instrumental in creating or at least encouraging was seen as inseparable from the prosperity of her husband and son’s reigns.
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.
If you are curious why I’m doing this series because you missed last week’s post, check it out here.
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.
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!
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.
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.
This is an update on my old post “What does Writing Mean to you?” that I wrote 3 years ago. Reading that old post again made me realise 2 things: 1) a lot of what I said still remain true: I see writing as freedom and self-expression and the intrinsic worth/quality of my work is important to me as opposed to commercial potentials; 2) I was a bit of a ‘tentative writer’ back then- unsure of whether I want to be published or not. But now I can confidently say that I do want to be a published author and I’m now working towards becoming one.
That was the broad picture and in this post I want to drill down a little bit into the type of writer I am and the type of author I hope to become:
I would want to focus on being a niche writer in Chinese fantasy which I define as fantasy set in fictional ancient China, starring ethnically Chinese characters. But I might dip into what I call traditional fantasy as well (basically epic/high magic/sword&sorcery fantasy).
I have a natural tendency to think up stories that best fit in a tight-fitting series ala LOTR style as opposed to what I call a standalone series in which books from the same series are only loosely related to each other. I plan to be publishing a complete series or at least blocks of 3 books all in one go (but don’t hold me fast to it yet *wink*).
I don’t plan to be an author producing high volumes every year because I don’t have the speed/level of skill to match and I also need as long as possible to produce something that matches my internal quality standard.
I’m heading towards the indie route because that I feel it gives me the most control and flexibility I can have as a writer. I think mindsets are changing towards indie work but I might as well set it down clearly here: that does not mean I will be producing work of lesser quality than if I went for traditional publishing. I will pay for professional accredited editing, book covers and other services as needed.
That’s it for this week. Next week, I will talk about books again.