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

Archive for the ‘Research’ Category


I know it’s a few days late but I’ve surpassed the halfway point of NaNo. I believe I’m at about 28, 614 now; hopefully crossing 30K today.

Counting the words already written on this WiP before, I’m over 40K. I think this novel’s going to be around 70K, at least in the first draft. It will probably end up being somewhat longer after it’s all edited (assuming I get that far!) and do all the proper world building, etc.

Making up an entirely different world is so much harder than I imagined too. Trying to figure out the history, the religions of the world and the mechanics of what little magic exists here is beyond difficult. Maybe I should’ve stayed with historical fiction–then I could’ve just been up to my ears in cultural research instead. You know, something that already exists rather than making it up on my own.

So, props to fantasy writers today–you all are amazing. Of course, all writers are amazing but coming up with a new world? That takes some serious creative juice. I’m not quite sure I have what it takes but we’ll see. If not, I will always go back to historical, my beloved and recently neglected genre 🙂



The Meiji Era: The Perfect Setting

Samurai of the Satsuma clan, during the Boshin...

Image via Wikipedia

The Meiji Era lasted from 1868 to 1912. Until the arrival of Perry’s “Black Ships” in 1853, the country had been isolated from the world for 200 years. Once the country’s borders were forcibly opened, the country began to change rapidly.

The old feudal system was demolished by 1868, with supreme rule transferring over from the last Tokugawa shogun to Emperor Meiji.  Of course, there was some resentment from the samurai class, whose power was taken away during this time. The well-known movie, The Last Samurai (which is completely inaccurate with Tom Cruise’s character by the way) is set during this time and the last rebellion by the samurai in 1877.

It was a time of drastic change–in military, education and the general way of life. Some embraced the change, quickly adapting to the new Western clothing and ways, while many others still preferred the old way of life. By the 1890s,  a more conservative and ultra-national train of thought began to be adopted by many, with the rise of dozens of small ultra-nationalist (and often terrorist) groups. The main one, called the Dark Ocean Society, or the Genyosha, wished to expand Japan’s growing military power across the Asian continent. The roots of Japan’s ideology during World War II  can be traced back to this time.

With all of this upheaval in society, what better time to choose for a novel, right? Especially one where the MC is part of both cultures. I did this purposefully, to try to examine on a small scale the whole East meets West conflict. And of course, once I did more research and discovered that the late 1880s/early 1890s was a time when terrorist groups really began to take hold of the country, I found my antagonist (well, one of them anyway.)

Later this week, I’ll examine the Dark Ocean Society in more detail whom I base my fictional terrorist group off of.

This is why I love writing historical fiction; there’s so many interesting tidbits that you find when researching. Of course, it can be challenging, but it’s always exciting when you find something that can really work into the plot of your book. 🙂

Background for The Scarlet Daughter

I’m sure some of you wonder why I chose to write and set The Scarlet Daughter  in 1890s Japan (the Meiji era in Japanese history). Why choose a time and place that’s fairly obscure to most of Western culture?

Well there are many reasons, so many that I’ll do a little “mini-series” on my blog about it. I’m sure it won’t be very interesting to many–especially if you aren’t a huge history fan–but I thought it might be something of interest to a few 🙂  The Meiji era is such an interesting time, when Japan truly transformed. And it’s a time when the country had to adjust to many new and very foreign ideas, something that didn’t always settle well with many who were used to the old ways. This is just a sampling of some of the conflicts that I try to examine in The Scarlet Daughter through Naomi’s character.

Of course, there’s much more–so much that I’m still researching and learning about it (just discovered another new tidbit today that may change Ryuji’s backstory slightly). Anyway, I’ll post more details about it come next week, in case you’re interested. If not, well that’s your loss 😛

Arranged Marriage

So…I’m trying to decide if I should add this new “twist” to my Scarlet Daughter  or not. The twist? An arranged marriage. Well, sort of.

First, a bit of background.

Arranged marriage was pretty much the way you got married in Japan. It was a family affair. You see, Japan was built on the concept of ie or the household. Your family generally consisted of three generations (grandparents, children, grandchildren) and the family head (the grandfather or father) would often be the one who decided who you’d marry. There were go-betweens too, sort of like matchmakers in the Chinese society, although I’ve yet to find out how big of a role they played and how similar it was (if at all) to the Chinese. Anyway, the concept of a love match was an individual affair–not community based–and was about as foreign to them as the idea of a community based society is to us. Marriage was for the benefit of the family and love came, if you were lucky, after time.

Now in Japan, pre-1898 (before the Meiji Civil Code) marriages were not really “legalized” meaning there wasn’t really a huge ceremony, court records, etc. There may have been a small private affair between families but that was it. At least from the research I’ve been able to find.

The divorce rate in Japan pre 1898 was also very high, the highest in the world at that time. This was because unions were essentially done on a “trial marriage” basis and since there was really no legal tie-ups and whatnot, divorces were as simple as the husband issuing a mikudarihan or “three-and-a-half lines” dissolving the union. Of course, it was only the husband who could issue it (although in some cases, the woman’s natal family would coerce him into making one) and it generally happened within two years. Mainly it was because the couple simply were incompatible with one another, although there were also instances where the husband simply grew tired of his wife, or she wasn’t producing an heir, etc.

A divorce at that time also didn’t carry with it a social stigma for the woman. One third of women remarried within less than a year of their divorce, showing that it wasn’t really as scandalous as it would’ve been in Western society.

Now, where am I going with all of this?

I was trying to decide if maybe I should put Naomi in one of these “trial marriages.” Of course, it would initially start out as a guise to hide her, although as the book progresses it may become more evident that it was her father’s plan from the beginning (although hidden from her and even her guardian, Ryuji, who would obviously be the arranged husband). Of course there would be the whole eventual falling in love between them, etc. but I’m unsure if I should do this simply because I’m afraid it could be a bit cliche. I guess I could try it…although I’m fairly certain it’s going to throw my crit group for a loop 😛

Anyway, do you think it’s something I should try? Perhaps I should resort to flipping a coin…

Victorian vs. Traditional Japanese Clothing

While writing my WiP The Scarlet Daughter, I have to research not only the Victorian clothing my MC is accustomed to wearing, but the traditional Japanese style of dress as well.

Naomi, my MC, has been raised in the Western section of Tokyo and therefore wears that style. Here’s some examples of what she might have worn:

Style of dress in 1889

This one here was 1889. As my book starts off in the very early part of 1890 and as my MC probably doesn’t wear the “latest and greatest” fashions, something like this on the left would be similar to what she’d wear. This may be slightly fancier than even what she’d have, but the style is close.

Here’s another from that year.  This is probably the simpler style that she and her mother would’ve worn. I’m not sure yet if she would’ve worn the small bustle in the back; some of the dresses had them “built in” although I have to research it more.

1889 style again

1889-1890 saw a transition in style. The bustle nearly disappeared and the waist got even smaller. A year or two later, the sleeves began to grow, what we might recognize as the “leg o’ mutton” sleeves. I think they look absolutely silly, but who’s to say 😛
Here’s a pattern/style from 1892, where the sleeves are starting to grow:

Just a slight increase in the sleeves. Notice the bustle in the back is nearly gone.

This would be about about two years after my book takes place. I have to say that part of the reason I didn’t set it in the mid 1890s had to do with the fashion. Of course that wasn’t the *only* reason, but it was an influential factor.

The height (literally and figuratively) of these sleeves reached its peak in the mid 1890s, probably around 1893-1895. Here are some pictures of the huge balloon sleeves.
Balloon…I mean, Leg o’ Mutton sleeves
The sleeve disappeared entirely by about 1905-1906. I suppose there are worse things than huge sleeves, for example the hoop skirts of the Civil War era. I think I’d much rather have a balloon sleeve than have to figure out how to sit and manuver in a huge hoop skirt.

 Now, even though we think of Japan as the land of the kimono, it’s evident that some of the “stylish” ladies of the country followed some of the Western influence. Here’s a picture from about 1887, showing two Japanese ladies dressed in the popular bustle style of the time. Notice though that the patterns are more vibrant and “busier” than what a Western woman would probably wear.

East meets West

Of course the majority of the population still wore kimono on a regular basis. But there are many different styles of kimono, depending on the season, the age and sex of the wearer, etc. For example, in spring, the colors would be more vibrant with patterns of the ever famous cherry blossom as well as other spring motifs. Winter would be more subdued and also have more layers.

Here’s what a young unmarried woman would typically wear:
These are probably a bit too modern, but the colors for an unmarried girl would be brighter, the sleeves, called furisode, would be longer, sometimes falling to just below the knee or above the ankle.

A married woman’s kimono would be plainer, but still beautiful in its own right. The sleeves, called tomisode, wouldn’t be as long either, falling no longer than the waist, as seen in this picture below.


While I like both of the patterns, I must say I’m fond of the plainer one. Perhaps it’s because I’m an old married woman 😛

Anyway, for men, here’s some of what they would wear, especially if they were of the old samurai class. I have to research and see if they still would’ve worn the hakama pants in the time and place my book takes place in, but for now I’m saying yes, at least for this draft.

Ryuji, one of Naomi’s guardians (and eventual love interest) would probably wear something similar, although I believe this is the “formal” wear (again, I have to research it):


So there you have it–the difference between East and West. Naomi gets to cross that line, dressing in both types of clothes throughout the novel. 🙂 So naturally that means more research for me…but it’s fun to see the differences.


If you write, do you have to research your world’s costumes? Is it fun? Challenging? Or just annoying? I’d be interested to hear from you in the comments.


Before the Silk Road

In a remote Chinese desert, scientists have unearthed Caucasian mummies that are thousands of years old. Where did they come from?

China’s Secret Mummies

This program definitely appealed to my love of history. What was really interesting about this was the fact that a previously unnoticed group of people settled in the Tarim Basin of China, along the far western edge, around 3000 years ago. It had always been assumed that East and West had little to no contact with one another this long ago…but the mummies prove otherwise.

If you don’t want to watch the show, this Wikipedia article about the Tarim mummies pretty much sums it up.

The Generations Project

It probably wouldn’t come as a surprise to you that I absolutely love anything related to genealogy.

I haven’t really started research on my own yet–I’ve been following my parents’ trail, when they did a lot of family history research about twenty years ago. Phil and I went up this past weekend and I spent a few hours going through the steamer trunk from the “old country” which had tons of photos and other family memorabilia (from a 70+ year old scrapbook of my great-grandmother’s, to my grandmother’s baby book and other little things).  I even got to see a picture of the infamous Frank Whetzell the man who was a moonshiner/bootlegger in rural Alabama and often caused a great deal of strife for local law enforcement and his wife, Aley, until he disappeared.

I saw other pictures too, of my mom’s side of the family, and of them in the “old country” in the tiny village of Hažlín, Slovakia (which still only has no more than 2000 people living there). There isn’t much on my mom’s side of the family since most of her relatives came over fairly recently, her mother’s side a little more than 100 years ago and her father’s side only about 80 years ago. Dad’s side is pretty well established here, some parts of his family going back to the early 1600s and the French Huguenots.

Anyway, it seems the genealogy fervor has caught on in the media as well. I’ve been watching on PBS the show “Faces of America” where celebrities’ families are examined (from cellist Yo-Yo Ma, to Kristi Yamaguchi, to Meryl Streep and Mario Batali). Another show is coming on NBC called “Who Do You Think You Are” where family histories of Lisa Kudrow, Sarah Jessica Parker and others are examined.

But I think the best show I’ve seen so far examines everyday Joes like me. It’s on BYU, but it’s also online. It’s called The Generations Project. I’ve been considering trying to apply for the show, even though I know it’s highly unlikely I’ll be chosen 😛 But now comes trying to figure out which story would be compelling enough to have researched on television. I don’t know if I will try it or not, but it’s tempting.

Anyway do you have any interesting family legends that you’d like to research further?


Library Changes…

A bit of a rant here. I just found out my local library eliminated their online interlibrary loan service–which is how I got about 75% of my research books for my novel.

All of this is obviously due to budget shortfalls, but it still stinks. I have to go the traditional route now, which is a bit of a process as I have to go to the library and pay .50 to initiate it. But I suppose it’s better than nothing…although I’ve been spoiled by the previous system.

I wish I could just buy these books instead of renewing them five times, taking them back to the library, then re-checking them out again. However, I cannot afford to get most of them for my own library; I’ve wanted to, but because many of them are out of print and limited availability, they often go for a ridiculous sum of money–like a couple hundred dollars–and no research book  is worth that.

However, I have found out that the county over still has their free interlibrary loan service–for the time being–and since I live close to the county line anyway, I guess I’ll be frequenting that library more often–even though it’s a little out of the way. Better than nothing, I suppose. And I guess I shouldn’t complain since I’m sure many other writers have a harder time getting research materials too, depending on where they live. I guess I’m a bit spoiled 😛

Still…it figures this has to happen just when I’m about to get into the massive researching phase of my writing process too. 😛

Oh, Happy Day! For a History Geek Anyway

As many of you know (especially those of you writing historicals), finding information for the time and place for our novel’s setting can be quite a challenge. This can be even more difficult if you choose a more obscure culture and the language barrier can often be a factor.

I don’t know how many books I’ve found on Amazon or other sites that I get excited over because of the immense amount of answers that could possibly be found between the pages. And then I find out that the libraries around here don’t supply it–even through interlibrary loan. 😦

Well that’s not so bad, right? I could always purchase it from Amazon since it’s there.

Wrong! Especially when the book is out of print and rare and the only sellers that have it charge a ridiculous amount ($200 or more seems to be the norm…).

Well, for once, one of the books that I longed for, I managed to find on interlibrary loan. I didn’t get my hopes too high because there have been times where the book is available but for some odd reason the library doesn’t send it or it’s “not supplied” (despite being shown available).

This book was actually sent. 😀

What book is it? It’s called Japan’s Folk Architecture and it has tons of info on the minka or traditional farm houses of the Japanese country side–including the unique gassho-zurkuri from the Takayama region (which is what the setting of my book is based upon). On Amazon the book sells for nearly $400. And I’ve gotten it for free, thanks to the library 🙂

While describing the houses of the region isn’t an incredibly important aspect of the book itself, it’s always good to have that info if needed.

 Now I don’t have to try and imagine what it looks like by piecing together images, videos and descriptions from elsewhere in my head.

I realize this shows my geeky side–how excited I get over a book used for research purposes 😛 But I’m incredibly happy–this definitely made my day!

Family Trees

I don’t know what started me on the genealogy kick, but the last few days I’ve been finding many interesting things about my family 🙂

My parents did a lot of family tree research when I was very young. I remember going with them to interview older relatives and playing with dolls or whatever else I had with me. Through their research, they found the unmarked graves of my great great grandmother’s children (on my mom’s side); one who died of diptheria at the turn of the 20th century and her quads (yes–she had the first recorded quads in Cleveland back in 1914 or so). The latter only lived a few days; if they had been born 50 or more years later, they probably would’ve survived. I’m just amazed she was able to give birth to FOUR babies naturally. And she was a smaller woman too.

My dad’s side of the family has its share of very interesting stories too. That side has its roots in the South, generally near the borders of Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama, specifically the region known as Sand Mountain (which is really a plateau but anyway…).  I definitely have hillbilly blood in my genes!

My great-great grandfather Frank Whetzel was a known moonshiner 😛 I’ve found a blog that gives the history of him, submitted by a distant relative. Much of what’s said there is a mix of documented happenings and family lore, but this much is true: He often gave the law enforcement a difficult time. His wife, Aley, often helped him out of his predicaments until he just up and left one day, never to be seen again.

It’s said that he went in search of work at a local town known for being a lumbering center. There were also rumors that a headless body was found along the railroad tracks between that town and where he lived…so who knows what happened to him.

Another relative, Frank’s grandfather and my great-great-great-great grandfather (supposedly) was John Burt Countiss, a captain for the Confederacy in the Civil War. The same blog has info about him–and much of this was stuff even my dad didn’t know!

We knew he was court martialed and cashiered for insubordination to his superiors (he was known to have a bit of a temper apparently). But he managed to get his rank back after distinguishing himself on the battlefield in Gettysburg. It makes me wonder what exactly he did that was so heroic, enough to earn his ranking back. That’s something we’ll never really know.

There is some confusion though around him, his wife and his brother. Just before his brother Benjamin died during the War (of disease), Benjamin made him promise that he’d look after his wife, Lucinda. John B. did that–he married her (and divorced the “tramp” of a wife he did have, :P). Now Lucinda is supposedly the mother of Martha (who was our moonshiner Frank’s mother) but the question is who was her father?

I’ve seen other family trees online compiled by various relatives that say she was Benjamin’s daughter and born in the 1850s. But it conflicts with what my dad had been told: he thought she was born during the war, or just after. So that’s something that needs further research. John Burt may or may not be my grandfather; it may have been Benjamin.

Either way, he’s a distant relative and it’s quite interesting to read about him 🙂

I’ve also found the cemetery in Alabama where John B, Lucinda, Martha and Aley are buried. It’s literally in the middle of nowehere, about 1 mile west of the Georgia border and 5 or 10 from the Tennessee border. I just Google mapped it and found out they actually have a street view of the road! It’s little more than a gravel road. I’m sensing a road trip there…

There’s a lot of other interesting things I’ve found too, specifically through Lucinda’s line, the Troxell family. There seems to be a rumor of her grandfather marrying a Cherokee princess named Cornblossom, but many people think it’s a myth.

I’m inclined to believe it too, since there’s no documentation anywhere of her existence and the fact the Cherokee have no record of her ever existing–let alone the fact that there’s no such thing as a princess among the Cherokee people. The daughter of a chief was simply another woman of the tribe and nothing else. Still, I wonder who exactly my distant grandmother was…perhaps someday I’ll find out.

More along the lines of the Troxell family…Lucinda’s grandfather fought in the Revolution (supposedly); his grandfather emigrated from the Alsace region of France, very close to the German border; even farther back the family came from Switzerland, but it’s said they moved there from Germany during the Reformation because of persecution. And the name was spelled “Trachsel.” Sounds German to me. And another rumor–the family is said to have descended from Hebrews in Asia Minor. 🙂

Who knows really, I’d have to do months or years of research. I already know that there’s a lot of great book material in my family history, specifically with Lucinda, Benjamin and John. 🙂

Do you have any interesting family stories to share?

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