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)

Writing Plan

I’m briefly back but I am not officially coming back to the blogging world until next year. Before I go into my writing plan, I thought I would briefly go back what’s been happening in my blogging absence. 

So long story short is that I’ve been caught up in a personal reflection spell in July- I am a bit of a philosophical person so personal reflections happen in short bursts for me quite frequently. But the July one is another beast altogether- it’s actually a prolonged period in which I’ve been staying up sleepless after I woke up in the middle of the night and I was remembering things from way back. Like childhood and teenagehood… I will blog about this first thing when I officially come back to blogging next year. Just know that it took up my attention from July until like September when I finally got back to my WIP. 

As for my writing plan, I’m going to aim for finishing a rough draft by the end of this year which means having all the material ready to cobble together a draft 0.6. I had ended up deciding to switch from third person point of view to first person in an attempt to get closer to my main characters. But I still intend to write in third person for the actual book so therefore I will need to do extra work: turn the first person writing back into third again for the parts of the books that I was able to progress with the switch of perspective. That will occur over February most likely since I will be taking the last of the University of British Columbia’s How to Write a Novel online courses on editing (I had previously completed their Outlining and First Draft courses, I think they are really good value). 

So that’s it for now. See you all in two months. 

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.

Remarkable Women in Ancient China (3)- Ban Zhao

Who is she:

  • The first female historian in Chinese history, a renowned politician and poet
  • Author of the influential text “Lessons for Women” that is inextricably linked to female suppression

Notable life events:

  • Born into the prestigious Ban family (which was reputedly the descendants of a famous philosopher in the Warring State Period) as the daughter of Ban Biao, one of the most influential scholar of his time. She had two elder brothers: the eldest Ban Gu who was also a historian and the renowned Ban Zhao who turned from a scholar into a general and was instrumental in securing China’s western border. Note that the Zhaos in the two siblings’ names were actually different Chinese characters- the Zhao in her brother’s name meant surpass whereas hers meant bright
  • Married at the age of 14 to Cao Shi Shou from the same province, widowed early and chose to remain widowed throughout her life
  • Instrumental in getting permission from the Emperor to allow Ban Zhao to retire from his post at the western border and return to their homeland. Unfortunately, he died soon after arrival such that the two of them never got to see each other again
  • Invited by the Emperor to finish the historical text that her father started and her eldest brother Ban Gu left unfinished due to his untimely demise due to politics
  • Viewed as an instructor by the Empress and concubines of the Emperor and coming to be known as Cao Da Gu (roughly meaning Big Aunt Cao). In particular, only elderly women of high prestige and virtue at that time would be referred to as Da Gu
  • Authored the text “Lessons for Women” in her old age so that her female descendants would know how to properly behave when they were married

Why is she remarkable:

  • There were many renowned female poets and politicians throughout Chinese history. In comparison, female historians were much rarer. In fact, I couldn’t find any other mention of other female historians (that might be just the limit of Google but I also think even if there are others, female historians would still be less numerous compared to poets and politicians)
  • While she herself was a highly influential female figure outside the home, her “Lessons for Women” became one of the texts that later propagated the main tenets of female repression and led to a more subdued role of women in society

Moonlake’s thoughts on her:

I found it hard to conceptualise her as a person and so I can’t really hold an opinion about her. I’ve previously discussed a little my attitude on gender roles but in the case of Ban Zhao, I don’t think you can really fault her for the outcome that her book led to greater repression. Sure, it basically espoused the view that women should be obedient and weak but I think we need to put it into the context that she was happily married (note that she chose to remain widowed) in a society where marriages were predominantly arranged by parents and sometimes without any consultation with the one who was about to get married! So of course she could afford to be obedient and weak if her husband was treating her well and given that she wrote the book for her direct descendants, I think she probably assumed that all women could be happily married if they behaved like her.

Sneak Peek: My Tentative Next Series

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.  

Writing updates (7)

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.

Writing what I Read: A Brief Reflection

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.

Remarkable Women in Ancient China (2)- Empress Dou

Who is she:

  • 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.