Moonlake as a person and random life update

Ever since the Corona virus lock-down I’ve been working at home and I have to admit that it’s testing my self-discipline (then again, it’s coinciding with the structural edit on my WIP that I realise I have to do and I have to admit that I’m procrastinating because I dread the amount of work I have to do). To be honest, I’m just very lethargic towards writing right now. Today, I completely ran out of ideas of what to write about and in my infinite boredom leading to FB surfing, I took a “which 2 animals summarise your two sides” quizz with the following results: 

You got: Eagle and Owl

You are intelligent and wise beyond your years. Your intelligence is vast, and you have common sense along with book smarts. Above all, you have perspective that always allows you to see the bigger picture.

And this inspired me to write about myself because this should be the easiest thing to write. And let me start off by saying the quizz result above is a relatively good fit for me on an intellectual/mental level. Relationship-wise, I’m loyal and guarded, tending to stick with a small social circle with a few who are very close to my heart but otherwise being very slow to warm up to new acquaintances (Internet excepted). My love life is non-existent as I’ve mentioned before. My medium/long term ambition is to debut with my first Chinese fantasy series and I’m currently working on book 1. 

And this is all I want to share today. See you all next week. 

Sidecast Fascination

Personally, I have got a fascination with sidecast, sometimes even more than the main characters. This is true whether I’m reading/writing a book or watching a TV series. But I will focus on books for this post since I exclusively watch Chinese TV (used to be Hong Kong TV cos that’s where I came from, now mainland Chinese because HK TV had become so crap, rant for another day) even though I live in Australia. 

Now, in terms of my sidecast fascination, I’ve realised that it seems to be predominantly with particular characters archetypes as opposed to specific characters (well, occasionally I like a few that doesn’t fall into the pattern below due to the writer’s skills, I presume). They are, in order of preference:

  1. grumpy female mentor figures (what I come to call auntly): Examples include Aunt Pol (Polgara) from David Eddings’ Belgariad and Malleorean and Rosethorn from the Circle Universe setting of Tamora Pierce. For my own work, I had an aunt/mentor figure that I was particularly fond of for that Genghis Khan novel that I abandoned. 
  2. The charming rogue trope: to be honest, I don’t like to read stories where the charming rogue is the protagonist. I don’t think I had ever really bonded to any rogue protagonist ever. But I definitely remember liking a couple of this well-used trope in fantasy, most notably Jimmy the Hand from the Riftwar and Serpentwar Saga by Raymond E. Feist and Silk from David Eddings’ Belgariad and Malleorean. For my own writing, I haven’t yet written a story featuring such a sidecast yet. 
  3. The quirky character: I like them as protagonists as well as sidecasts. I might be remiss but the only example I could remember is Nakor from Raymond E. Feist’s Riftwar, Serpentwar etc. 

Now, what about everyone else? Who are the most fascinating sidecasts you’ve read to date? Let me know in comments. 

Reflection on Moonlake as a Writer- April 2020

I’m going to do another Q&A today with myself. It’s been a while since I last did a reflection on myself as a writer so it’s time for a revisit. 

At what level do you assess yourself to be as a writer now?

Intermediate. 

Weren’t you calling yourself a beginning writer a few years ago? When did that change? 

Yes, well, I forgot exactly when that changed but within the last 2-3 years, I would say. 

What contributed to this change? 

A combination of self-confidence and knowledge. Self-confidence is hard to say anything about but knowledge… I’ve done the usual learning through doing but I’ve also gotten into online writing courses. I highly recommend UBC’s How to Write a Novel set of courses offered through the edX platform. I’ve just finished the last of this set of 3 courses in Feb. 

What are the 3 main lessons about writing you’ve learnt? 

  1. Every writing project is different. I used to believe that I can take a standard novel planning method across all projects but I’ve found that’s not even true. Take my WIP. Yes, I’ve kinda settled down on the default method or methods for outlining but it’s just different in so many other ways from other novels or short stories I’ve written or attempted to write. For example, I’ve had to move between outlining and drafting as opposed to having a clear divider between the two stages. For example, I’ve had to take detours and side tracks in order to get into scenes etc. 
  2. Find multiple points of entry to your work. This is what I learnt through one of UBC courses and I’ve never needed to do that so much as for my current novel. And it really helps. I used to think writing myself into a dead corner was a major problem for me but with this insight/advice, I can start to self-devise ways to tackle my WIP from a different angle. Some of the ways might not be the most efficient but I’ve still gained insights into the WIP from it and writing a novel is really a long game. You want to accumulate as many insights into your characters, your world etc. as possible and you never know which ones might blow your story right open later down the track. 
  3. The interplay between the external journey (the events in the story and its structure) and the internal journey (character growth and all that). This is important knowledge that I learnt through the UBC courses that I’ve never known before and couldn’t have picked up through learning by doing. Not only that, I’ve also picked up a whole set of tools to get these two elements right. 

And that’s all for today. 

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. 

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.