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

Posts tagged ‘Research’

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 😛

Halfway Point Reached!

Officially reached the halfway point on this current draft of mine (see status bar on the right!). It’s still really rough and going back and reading some of it, I see a lot of places where I need to put in a little more description about the culture and what not. Like the whole wedding scene for example. That scene is essentially blank right now as I have to look up how rural weddings were done, if there was anything besides just a simple sake sharing ceremony.

Also I know there’s an entire section I need to delete–like a few thousand words worth–because nothing happens and the plot stalls. So average that out along with the stuff that needs added and well, I’m still probably around the 40K mark. I also know I’m near the halfway point because the next chapter is where my “turning point” occurs and things start to change…

Well, that’s the plan anyway. I’m glad I got this far; trying my best to get this draft done by vacation in September although it would be nice to get it done much sooner. After it’s done, I will embark on the monumental task of research–finding books and hopefully contacting other experts in Japanese history to help me get cultural aspects correct. Then it’s editing time! I don’t think I’ll be able to enter the Golden Heart this year, but I will still try.

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.


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!

Research Time: Round 1

Since I have the bulk of my summary done and all my character bios completed well ahead of my self-imposed deadline, I decided in the two months before NaNo, I’ll do as much research as possible. I won’t get it all done–not even close–but at least I can do basic research about the culture, at least the everyday life of a farmer.

So far, I’ve done some research on the area where I’m setting the story. The village is going to be based after Shirakawa-go and Gokayama, remote villages in Gifu and Toyama prefectures. The area is very unique among Japan, most renown for their gassho-zurkuri type houses (named such because the steep angle of the roof is similar to praying hands). The houses were large and often held extended families up to 30 or 40 people. (For the purpose of my story though, there will only be around 9 or 10 in the house and they’ll be minor characters).

The culture of the area is unique too because the villages were so remote and often cut off from the world because of the heavy snowfall during the winter. It was this way even up to the 1970s when the main roads were developed. It’s often said this is one of the last remaining places in Japan to go “undiscovered”.

Perfect setting then for my book. A place cut off from the rest of the world and a place where winter is especially brutal. What better place for my Yuki-onna to live? 🙂

Here’s a picture of the types of houses that are in the area:


There used to be hundreds of these scattered throughout the Shogawa river valley. Unfortunately many succumbed to old age and modern progression, especially when the dam and man-made lake Miboro were developed. I’ve read that some of the houses were dismantled and moved in order to prevent their destruction. Thank goodness for that!

There’s still a good number of these houses in the area, and quite a few allow visitors to spend a night. There’s also a few houses turned museums too. Ah, to travel there…that would be a dream!

Here’s a panoramic view of the village of Shirakawa-go:


I’ve even found videos on YouTube of tourists traveling here as well as a few good ones of the house interiors (one is in Japanese and I can’t understand it, but the visuals are great).

Sometimes I just love research 🙂

First chapter DONE

Well, the first chapter of my rough draft anyway 🙂 I’ve submitted it for critique with my online critique group as well as my local group. I’ve already gotten two back and made some changes–mainly with the passive voice issue. For some reason, I tend to slip into writing with passive voice, which is a big no-no. It’s definitely my weakness and I’m need to be vigilant in watching how I write. It’s what I call the lazy writer’s way out 😛

Now I need to go and develop my character bios more and figure out the rest of the storyline. I have a general summary done; I just need to fine tune some of it. I think I know how my next chapter’s going to start too.

And I’m going to need to do a lot more research…especially on the lives of an average person in a Japanese village in the 1400s. Not exactly easy info to find 😛

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?

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.

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