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

Posts tagged ‘culture’

International Fiction

So, I’ve been thinking about this lately and I wonder: why is it that publishers shy away from books set in other cultures?

I know it’s not a completely closed market. There are some books out there with settings different from your typical America and England settings, but I don’t know of too many.  I’ve also heard it’s difficult to get any interest in it because of the locale of the book. But it’s not impossible, as my good writer friend Jeannie Lin has proven with the sale of her historical romance set in China.

Is it because it’s a small number of readers? I somewhat doubt that because most everyone I talk to says they would love to read a book set in another place besides the usual American and Regency England setting. I could be wrong though since I’m not in the book industry at all.

If it is because of the lack of interest–well, why? I know people like what’s comfortable and what not, but doesn’t that get boring after awhile? 😛 Perhaps it’s my unsettled nature in reading. I have what I like to call “Reader’s A.D.D.” meaning I’m constantly looking for something different. Sure, I tend to stay in my comfort zone of historicals, though I am willing to read a good contemporary story as well as fantasy, YA and maybe a mystery. But I love looking for a different time, a different place…

Perhaps it’s the part of me that longs to travel, or the history geek in me, that loves learning about as many different cultures as possible. The only way I can do that is by reading, and well, when most of the books out there are about the same culture and history that I’ve learned about my entire life, I get bored. 😛 Don’t get me wrong–I still love me a good Regency romance  or Victorian era book in America. But sometimes I want MORE.

I think that’s why I write about cultures completely different from my own. I’m not finding it out on the market so I have to create one 🙂 I’ve got stories planned for all different parts of the world. Obviously I have passion for Asian cultures a little more than others, yet I’m still open to reading and writing about other ones too. In fact the novel I worked on in college took place in the Middle East during the time of Christ. I’ve also worked on one set in Egypt (although it never got very far) and part of me really wants to write something set in India. I’m just all over the world, aren’t I?

Anyway, feel free to leave me your opinions in the comments. I’d really like to know what you honestly think–I won’t hold it against you 🙂

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Developing a Vivid Story World

Bringing a world to life. That’s our job as writers–not only must we convey the actual story and develop 3-D characters, we must also bring to life our story’s world: whether that’s a contemporary or historical setting, set around the corner or on the other side of the world, or in a different realm entirely. You have to know about the clothes, technology, food, entertainment…these are all things that help breathe life into a book.

 Culture plays a huge part in developing our characters. I know I have to be incredibly diligent in being accurate to the Japanese culture instead of putting my own Western spin on it. It’s a different frame of mind that I have to be in to write that way. It’s so easy to slip back in to my 21st century Western worldview and it’s something I always have to be vigilent against.

 But this applies to any setting out side of our own, whether it’s a different time, place or a combination of both. We have to take off the 21st century goggles and accept certain aspects of a culture even if that means it calls for racial segregation or discrimination, or subjugation of women. We can’t put our worldview in a time or place where it doesn’t really belong. This is one the biggest issues I will find when I read a historical novel–someone who is “politically correct” in a time or place when that just wasn’t part of life.

This isn’t as much of a problem if you are writing a fantasy, but you have to know the ideals and mindset of the world. Readers are very quick at picking up contradictions. You also have to make sure the reader knows how the world is organized. I don’t often read fantasy, except for chapter segments I’m critiquing for my critique group. One of the biggest problems that I find (and that other members find too) is not knowing enough about the actual workings of the world. Sometimes as writers we often forget that the reader doesn’t have the all-access pass 🙂 This is why I can never write straight fantasy–I’m not creative enough to develop an entire world from scratch!

For me, much of my research, is done through books and online. Finding books can be frustrating when the library doesn’t have it (or it takes a month for the book to ship from another library…).

But then there’s the Internet 🙂 While I have to be careful to double check anything I read online, I’ve still found it helpful especially in the area of travel. I’m a very visual person, so I’ve been able to travel to Japan through pictures and videos and able to see areas that I have in my book virtually.  Of course it doesn’t beat actually traveling there, knowing the language and spending time amongst the people, but for now, it’s the best I have. Perhaps someday I’ll even learn enough Japanese to be able to read all the documents I’ve been missing out on 😛

Of course, it’s easy to want to put in your book all the hours of painstaking research. But you want to be careful not to overwhelm readers. It can be a tricky balancing game. Too much and the readers will get bored; too little and the world will feel like nothing more than a cheap cardboard cut out on a third rate stage.

How do you go about creating your story’s world?

Character Name Hunt

I’ve been actively hunting for names for the characters in LotS (ha, I love the shortened version of my book’s title :P). I’m one of those writers that has to find names that are symbolic for the characters, too, so it makes it even harder than just searching for names.

Oh, and the names are Japanese, so the hunting has been even harder. It’s not like searching for a name in English where despite the spelling, it generally means the same thing. For example, in English,  my sister’s name, Caitlynn, can be spelled many different ways: Caitlyn, Caitlin, Kaitlyn, Kaitlin, Katelyn etc. But the variants are all based off the Irish or Welsh version of Catherine, which means “pure.”

 However, from what I’ve found, Japanese names may sound and be spelled the same in English, but it could be totally different Japanese, depending on what kanji is used in the spelling of the name.

For example, one of the names I’m considering for my MC:

Spelled “Miyuki” in English. However, it can mean anything from “beautiful snow” with the kanji 美幸 to “deep snow” with the kanji 深雪, to “beautiful fortune” or “beautiful happiness” with the kanji 美幸. That’s not counting the hiragana and katakana spellings. And even these may be wrong; I can’t read Japanese so these characters can be completely off.

Anyway, I’ve decided to try and not focus too much on the techinical aspects and just focus on the English spellings, at least for now.

Here are some of the possibilities for my MC, the legendary Yuki-onna. I’m giving her a human name, for much of the book she’s going to be human:

Chiyoko (child of a thousand generations, child of forever). This one could be interesting since she spands at least three centuries.
Kasumi (mist) I like the way this one sounds, but mist is appropriate in some ways because as the Yuki-onna, she’s not made of much more than that.
Mayumi (beauty, wonderful). Just because I like the name 🙂 And the fact that as a human, she’s renown for her beauty.
Miyuki–silence of deep snow/beautiful snow/deep snow . This one is fairly obvious; I’m leaning towards this one the most because of the “snow” aspect, and it’s more elegent than just plain Yuki.
 
I’m also in the process of picking out names for the minor characters, but I’m not as concerned about the meanings for them. The only one that’s close to certain will be her husband Minokichi, whose name is taken directly from the myth in Hearn’s Kwaiden, which I’m using as inspiration for the second half of my novel. Even then, I’m not 100% certain on keeping the name, but we’ll see.

Do you put a lot of work into finding the perfect names for your characters? How do you go about it? If your characters are set in a different culture, how do you overcome the hurdles of the language barrier?

As always, I love to read your comments! And I don’t mind hearing any constructive criticism on the names I’ve chosen here, too 🙂

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.

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).

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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