My journey through the world of writing and everything that lies in between…

Archive for the ‘culture’ Category

Legends and Myths

I’ve recently found that I’m becoming more and more fascinated by mythology. I think part of it has to do with what I’ve recently read (Silver Phoenix and Wings), and I’m one of those people that will obsessively research and read up on something of interest. Inevitably this leads to me coming up with a plethora of story ideas too 🙂

I find it very interesting how different parts of the world have their own myths, but what’s more intriguing  is how similar some of the myths are, especially in opposite corners of the world. For example, the common myth of fairies is present in many cultures, from Europe to Asia. It makes one wonder what sort of common phenomenon people attribute the existence of fairies to whether that’s ghosts or demons or something completely unknown to us. There’s just so much of our world that I believe we’ll never know or understand.

Anyway, since I have such an interest in Far Eastern cultures, I ended up finding a huge Wiki article on the legendary creatures of Japan. Some of the little creatures are quite comical, while others are beyond terrifying.

Some of the ones I’ve found particularly interesting:

Akaname – the spirit who licks the bathroom. It looks like a frog type critter. I don’t know about you, but as creepy as this sounds, I wouldn’t mind a critter cleaning my bathroom 😛

Bakezōri – a sandal spirit (specifically the zori sandals that are similar to flip flops). The Wiki article has a picture of a stature of it and it looks very similar to the cartoon character of Plankton from SpongeBob.

Gashadokuro – a giant skeleton, the spirit of the unburied dead. One word for this: FREAKY. It’s what nightmares are made of.

Hone-onna – a skeleton woman. She’s more of what is called an “energy vampire” or a succubus. She preys on men and drains their life from them in order to live. I’ll leave it up to your imagination on how exactly she does that.

Yuki-onna – the snow woman. One of the most intriguing in my opinion. She’s often seen in a snow storm and there are varying stories about her, from leading lost travellers astray and killing them with her icy breath to entering a mountain family’s household and killing them as they sleep (most of the time she has to be invited in, according to legends). But other legends depict her as a bit more human, although conflicted.

Anyway, I’m thinking that after my current book is done, I’ll be working on something concerned with mythology. I’ve already got a few short story ideas for some of these legendary spirits.

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Writing About a Different Culture

If you’ve even followed this blog for a little bit, you probably know that I’m writing a novel set in Japan in 1890, with an MC that’s half Japanese and half American. I simply love writing about other cultures, but I know for a fact I am probably writing the culture wrong. I know there are aspects of my story that need changing because I put my Western viewpoint on Eastern characters–a big no-no if the book is going to get any respect.

 I am at a disadvantage because of it and it does get overwhelming a lot of the time. I’m often asking myself,”why couldn’t you have just set this in a place where you know the culture?” But then the other part chimes in, saying “Because you LOVE this. You love the culture, even if it’s not your own.”

So I press onward, marking the places I know I’ll have to go back and research, hoping that there’s not too many changes needed (I am trying my best the first time to get as many aspects about the culture correct as possible). I am certain though, that if this gets published, there will be those readers/reviewers that criticize me, asking why this thoroughly Caucasian girl wrote about a culture completely different from her own. Simple answer: Because I love it.

 I don’t think we should be narrowed by our heritage in what we write. Obviously, we’ll know most about our own culture and feel most comfortable writing about that. If we are writing about one that’s different from ours, we have to be careful not to put our own cultural views on it. I am assuming the reason this isn’t done very often is because it can be a difficult process and because of the amount of research needed to portray the story accurately. But it’s worth it.

I’m always finding something new about the Japanese culture that I find so fascinating–especially how it was back in the 1890s! I guess my point after this rambling post is this: don’t be afraid to branch out and write about another culture. It can be daunting but very rewarding too. And don’t let other’s comments dissuade you either–prove them wrong 🙂

A New Release Tomorrow!

For those of you who like YA fantasy, Cindy Pon’s debut novel Silver Phoenix comes out tomorrow!

Silver Phoenix
Silver Phoenix

I’m not normally a huge fantasy fan, but this one definitely got my attention! It sounds like a thrilling read and you better believe I will be heading to B&N after work tomorrow to see if it’s come in yet 🙂

Of course, another reason I’m drawn to the story is because of the culture. Even though it’s fantasy, it’s based on ancient China. I have a passion for Asian cultures, whether it’s Chinese, Japanese, Korean…

Perhaps it’s just my passion for world cultures in general 😛 I’m always looking for books that are set in a period and culture distant from my American/European setting and heritage  (although I’m in love with those too!). I suppose it’s pretty much anything with a historical flavor and recently, those with a little fantasy in them too.
But I’m super excited about ones like Silver Phoenix, since my own novel is set in in the Far East. There aren’t many out there like this one and it’s thrilling to see more Asian themed books on the market. It gives me hope that there may be a market for mine, should it ever reach publishable quality.
Anyway, head on over to Cindy’s site and watch her book trailer (I linked it up in the beginning of the post). I keep watching it over and over again!
Thanks to Jeannie who alerted me to the early release of the novel. Here’s hoping that we’ll be seeing her own novel soon (another that I’d definitely be purchasing).

Travel Back in Time

I was doing a bit of research on the town much of my book takes place in and every time I look for info on it, I’m overcome by the desire to actually travel there.

It’s easy to see why the town of Kakunodate has captured my imagination. I have such a clear picture in my head of what it would have been like for my MC to come there, a small village then, after living in busy Tokyo her entire life. It would have been like stepping back in time, to a place of living history, much like it would be now more than a hundred years after my book is set.

I long to go there and do research and take my own pictures. Alas, traveling to Japan from Ohio is not exactly cheap.

Maybe someday. 🙂 For now, I’ll be content looking at my array of online pictures.

Pieces Falling Into Place

Don’t you love it when pieces of your story begin to fall into place? Especially if you’re doing historical fiction and you find something that just would be a great fit into your storyline?

Where does this come from, you ask? Well, after my initial idea was found to be quite inaccurate  (see Pitfalls of Historical Fiction entry for more details), I decided to try and make a decision on the path of my novel by doing a little research.

And I think I’m going with path #1.

I know most in the comments were leaning towards #2 but Kaiyo is so firmly established in my head as half Japanese and American that I feel that changing her appearance would essentially be changing her entire character. I really tried to picture her in the second option, but I just couldn’t see her without some other aspect of her personality changing with it. (That and Kaiyo pretty much began to throw a tantrum at me trying to “change” her. Gotta love these tempermental characters.)

So I went looking for something that would make #1 plausible and came across something. Instead of a politician, her father would be the head of a zaibatsu, or a business conglomerate of the time, often family run and operated (See the Wikipedia entry on Zaibatsu here). An example of a zaibatsu is the modern day company  Mitsubishi. They first developed in 1870 as a shipping firm. Of course they eventually expanded into coal mining, shipbuilding, banking, real estate and eventually the auto manufacturer (as well as many other industries today). They were also the same company that developed the Mitsubishi Zero of World War II as well as other famous Japanese bombers.

Anyway, enough of the history lesson. 😛 This information makes it more plausible for my character’s parents to meet. If Kaiyo’s father is the head (or at least someone close to the head of the company) in a similar fictional zaibatsu (loosely based after Mitsubishi) that was a shipping firm, it’s more likely that they would interact and work with American entrepreneurs coming in to “modernize” the country in the late 1860s and 1870s, thus providing an opportunity for her American mother to be introduced to him. Though mixed relationships were still uncommon (especially for an American woman and Japanese man) I do know that the possibility of such is historically accurate as I read about a real, though unnamed, married couple in Clara’s Diary: An American Girl in Meiji Japan.

Also, by 1890, the zaibatsu had significant influence on politics as they would often give substantial amounts of money to the party they supported. This could play a role in the antagonist’s arrival (a member of the terrorist organization Genyosha) and the reasoning behind using Kaiyo as leverage and blackmail. Books and film have portrayed these organizations as often involved in shady dealings and have connections to the yakuza (which would also tie into the novel, although at this point in history the yakuza were still mainly involved in gambling and street peddling).

I have to do more research on this, but I’m thinking that this makes things more realistic and accurate for my book without changing my character and trying to morph her appearance in my mind’s eye. Who knows, it may not work after all and I may be forced to go that route anyway, but for now I’m going to try and make this one work.

Making A Fictional World Come Alive

I’ve been working on editing my chapter for my critique session in a few weeks and realized there’s a great deal of research that will be involved in making this world–a remote village in Northern Japan in the 1890s–come alive.

Being a historical fiction writer, this is extremely important. Of course every story, whether set in another place or time or Main St., U.S.A. in the 21st century needs to clearly convey the world so the reader can sense it. But with historical fiction, the writer has to convey the time and place accurately. Historical fiction that is well done will make the reader feel as if he/she stepped into a time machine and was placed back in said time. They must see the world–smell it, touch it, feel it–for what it was. It’s crucial to the story.

This is where obscene amounts of research on my part are neeeded. More often than not, I find myself surprised at some of the facts I discover and many times I find myself “lost” in the research process. But the writer (and this is for myself as well as any writer) must be sure that the prose isn’t overly saturated with research. All too often I’ve read historical fiction pieces where the author went a little overboard in description, talking about some mundane fact for a page or two, which then interrupts the flow of the story.

It’s tempting as the writer to do this because we want the reader to see all of the awesome facts we’ve found. But it’s not necessary to let the reader know what exactly the roof tiles were made of in 17th century London unless for some odd reason it’s integral to the story (and I’ve yet to find a story where that’s the case!). So it’s important to maintain that balance–enough description and research that the reader can feel as if they are walking alongside your characters through the muddy streets of a medieval village or on a chaotic Civil War battlefield in the heat of the summer–yet not so decriptive that it feels like a history lecture (unless of course you’re writing non-fiction, but that’s completely different).

I know it can be difficult to find that balance. Personally, I know I struggle with not giving enough description, which can alienate the reader too. It’s a long and sometime arduous process (especially if your story takes place in another culture and research material is hard to find or in another language), but finding those little tidbits can help make your book something that readers turn to for escape.

The Insurmountable Task of Researching One’s Novel

I’ve discovered very early on that it’s incredibly challenging researching for a novel that takes place in a culture and in a place completely different from your own.

Since my book in set in Japan in the mid-Meiji era (1890), it’s posing to be a challenge. For one, as an American and “westerner” I’m not experienced in the Eastern culture, so I really have to immerse myself in books, videos and other sorts of research to put myself there and not make any major cultural gaffes.

And then there’s the language barrier…I don’t exactly speak Japanese (although I’m hoping to learn at some point). I know a few words and phrases; I know how people are addressed (-san, -chan, -sama, etc.). Still it’s difficult creating what I would think is semi-accurate dialogue.

And of course, it’s really hard setting my book in a real town that’s basically remained unchanged since that time and can only rely on pictures online and descriptions of it to put it in my book. Unfortunately, with limited income, I can’t really afford a two-week trip to Northern Japan to do the really great research I’m dying to do.

Oh and I can’t forget the whole aspect of involving the yakuza in my book. Finding detailed information on this has been frustrating at best. I’m thinking it has something to do with the fact that it’s still a bit of a taboo talking about this vast and incredibly complex “underworld.” I have found a few books and some information on the Web out there but not enough detail for the time period I’m needing. Most of the information comes from part of the Taisho period (1912-1926) and then a great deal during the Showa period (1926-1989). Mine takes place in 1890…I know it existed then–they’ve been around since the Edo period. And I also know it probably vaguely resembled the modern yakuza. All I can ever find for my time period is a page or two at most of info…

I’m not giving up though. I just have to find another way to go about it. And I will not sacrifice historical and cultural accuracy–books like that make me extremely annoyed as a reader; I do not want to put my readers in the same boat.

I suppose this is part of the fun of being an aspiring novelist!

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