Writing Echoes

Delijah's Writing Blog

Tag Archives: The Shikigami of Blood

My board and a (quite late) mid-year update

There are a bunch of things on the board in front of my writing station, behind my computer screen. Some postcards, seals, visiting cards and the so-called Japan kit, which includes member and discount cards for several places in Tokyo, along with my passport and the commuter’s pass. There is my organ donor card, and the postcard I wrote to myself from Tokyo Tower.

There are also some notes to myself, my screen resolution for making walpapers, a fosilissed shark tooth, and a silly pictures with friends at a concert line. And things related to writing.

There is a rusty Welsh pound that I found on a dry streambed in Tokyo, and I’m waiting for it to tell me its story (not its history, which was probably a random British person throwing a coin into a body of water for luck, which they do sometimes). But there is a story there, and sometimes I look at the coin and wonder. It will come.

There is a Tengu ex machina note, just because. The term ocurred to me while working through The Last Yōkai War of Edo. It’s like the Deus ex machina, but… with tengu. I went back and corrected the whole thing, but I left the note, as a reminder.

There is also a reference to Setsubun, a Japanese festival for luck. It conjures luck and chases the oni away. But I don’t mind the oni. As a matter of fact, I like writing yōkai, so my note reads は外!も内、 福は内! Oni wa soto mo uchi! Fuku wa uchi! It means, let the oni in too, not only the good luck.

Finally there is a small note, right in my line of sight, that reminds me that in 2016 I have to focus on writing Shourai, the Hyakki Yagyō verse and the Shikigami verse. There is a tick mark next to the Hyakki Yagyō line. That is because I have worked a lot on that this year. The original idea was only writing these three verses, along with the blog articles and finishing Atlantis in January for the climate fiction contest (Atlantis did not get anywhere in there though, unfortunately). The note has little laughing signs around as I deviated from this plan…

A little over a fourth of what I’ve written this year till now has been Hyakki Yagyō. Not only the main work I had to do, also a few short stories that will need some revision to fit in to the main timeline. That makes about 66,700 words on this verse.

Shourai has taken almost 33,000 words, which does not feel that much, but it almost 13% of the written material this year and 10.5% of the written total. I’m nearly done with the arc, I’ve decided. I’ve chosen an ending point, and now I have to backtrack and fill in the gaps (and actually write the last chapter), break down chapters and so on. there is a lot of green in the planning now. But editing this is going to require a lot of effort. I’m kind of toying with the idea of finishing all the writing before the year is over… but we’ll get to how I can’t keep to decisions later…

There are around 24,000 new words on the final Shikigami book. All the main points are planned and addressed, but the small, driving story is what I’m lacking. Although the character is important and I like him bunches, it is difficult to factor his POV in to have him drive the story. I need around 25,000 words more on this book, and again, it’s difficult to juggle how, even if I do want this finished this year.

So this is what I was supposed to write this year, fiction wise. Blogging and articles are factored in, as I need to improve non-fiction writing skills. All in all, there is 61% of planned writing actually being done. The problem thus lies on the 39% that I was not supposed to have been writing, mainly Body and Soul, weird urban fantasy, The Studio, which tried to be a gothic ghost story, and One shot kill, a retake on the story my writer from Untitled was working on. These and a couple of short stories almost account for 100,000 words! And there is still NaNoWriMo to come, which probably will be something completely random decided on a whim in October anyway… At the moment I’m pushing to lock down One shot kill after it got slumped for two months and hope to be done within the month.

That’s it, I’m officially declaring 2017 an editing and rewriting year. I should have done it this year, but then on a whim I decided to go for 366,000 words in total I’m on track for that goal, too – generally with new material, except for the revision of The Last Yōkai War of Edo, which was quite a rewrite of most of it anyway.

Have some pretty graphs to look at:

aug162016_stats

aug162016_stats (1)

P.S.: I’ve taken down the Archives page, because I was not keeping up with it anyway. You may now search using tags and / or categories and I’ll make sure to keep a good tag system current.

NaNoWriMo 2013 (2): After

The last 1500 or so words of NaNo this year have been dragging and slow. Yes, I am closing NaNo today, even if I have a couple of days left. This is the first year since 2009 that I only work on one story, and I guess I could even start something else right now and keep counting, but I don’t really feel up to such a thing. It would be just for two days and I have a couple of open things that need attention. I particularly want to go back to Kokeshi although truth be told right now I draw a blank regarding that one. But I am blaming on sleep deprivation XD

I have finished The Shikigami of Blood , clocking in at 86175 words according to the word processor, a few more according to the NaNoWriMo validation scheme. The timeline I had reworked previously this year has worked 99.99% well. I found two inconsistencies, both of them in The Shikigami of Night (book 5), and one of them was a note of “move this scene!!” right now, just after that comment I have another one reading “why did I want to move this, it fits awesomely for Blood. The other one was Azusa popping in Osaka when she was still in Beppu, but that can easily be cut away.

Writing-wise, here we have the stats for this year (like every year, click for bigger):
nano13endg

And here the comparison with the previous attempts:
nano13comp

Not bad for running on a few months-old timeline and without October work on it XD (never mind being ill and miserable for most of the month). It is the second most productive NaNo, wordcount-wise, but not story-wise, and not only because I only worked on one novel. Here’s a list of tasks that arise now:

  1. Life is going to need at least three more chapters after this (one of them was written in Power, but I’ll get to Power later on) and a complete change of the epilogue.
  2. Chance should get another couple of chapters too, towards the end, to cover the New Years party
  3. Power is going to be completely rewritten. While that part I had clear before, now I have an idea about how to get around to doing it
  4. Night and Trust will get minor adaptations. Especially Night needs a few POV changes
  5. All five previous books need a rework on the scene separation

Throughout Blood I took a complete re-evaluation of the Shirota Kyoko character, and I have found that I have enjoyed writing her – although a few times I feel I have been a bit repetitive on her thoughts, but it is a first draft, that should be polished later on. Her decisions towards her personal life surprised me, but I find now that they make sense, according to how her character has developed. It also helped explain Kwang Ho and their dynamics.

nano13winbanner I have really enjoyed revisiting the scenes that have a lot of different point of views – the rescue in Tokyo, the hospital scenes in Hiroshima and Osaka. Once again Kazuki has been the easiest character to write, but some others were very difficult to get in – like Hiro, who gets a lot of phone time, but little actual… being there.

Finally, character-wise, there is Terazuma. He will carry the responsibility of the second part of Power, as he will be the voice of the stranger, the newcomer. His background working for a more traditional yakuza family should work to underline how the Shirota manor and the Osaka Shikigami are “unique”. He should also provide explanations of the mechanics of the gang on a wider level than we had till now. You know why? Because good secretaries should be ruling the world.

All in all, finishing Blood has given me a huge feeling of “OMG so much work to do!!” rather than one of “OMG done, yay!!!” Story of my life XD

Osaka Shikigami Scenery

The Osaka Shikigami world is rooted in, quite obviously, Osaka. When I was there I took quite a few pictures of the area, and while a lot of them were recognisable landmarks, other were chosen specifically for writing reference. Here are a few of both. If some of the descriptions may look vague, it’s because saying more would end up in a spoiler:

First, this is how non-descript Osaka looks like. These are photographs of random suburbs taken from train stations, away from the touristic places:

This is the harbour area. I did write a yakuza fight in the docks’ warehouses, thus the first pic. The second… well, when I was there I knew that something had happened there but I still don’t know what (though I have my suspicions). It will have to do with Book 6 or with the revised Book 4 version:

The entertainment districts: Namba (難波) / Dōtonbori (道頓堀) on the first picture, and Shin Sekai (新世界) on second picture, showing the Tsūtenkaku Tower (通天閣) and Billy Ken, “The God of Things as They Should Be). If there is something that caught my attention about Osaka is the huge amount of wiring that goes over it, no matter where:

In the traditional Osaka side we have The Temple of the Four Heavenly Kings (Shitennō-ji, 四天王寺), which is a Buddhist temple with an attached graveyard, and many smaller shrines around. It is some sort of spiritual compound:

Finally, this is Osaka Castle, which has not really been featured, but shall be. Cause I’m the author and I say so XD Furthermore, the Las Vegas Samurai Casino featured in The Shikigami of Chance was remodelled to look like the main tower.

Rebuilding the Shikigami Timeline

If there is something that I’ve been putting back is working on The Shikigami of Blood. Part of the reason is that I dreaded checking the timeline, because I knew that The Shikigami of Life ran on a totally different timeline than The Shikigami of Night and The Shikigami of Trust, and The Shikigami of Chance might be kind of… odd. Surprisingly enough, the correlation is much better than expected, with only three Koreans in the Room (continuity errors) [link] for relatively minor events that will be eventually rearranged.

Something else that was keeping me from doing this was that I had not decided on an efficient method to rearrange the timeline – I do have a file, but at the moment it is rather… chaotic. Yesterday I decided that I would try with cards. I went over Life, Chance, Night and Trust and used little cards to write down the main events and all the scenes that featured Shirota. I worked on Life first, then added the events on Night, and finally the ones that I know have to happen in Blood. Finally I fit in Trust. I think that while the idea of “year” that I have in my head won’t work, the relative course of events is coherent.

That’s good at least XD

The next logistic problem was what to do with them, and I eventually glued them to my faithful notebook, with space for notes, and then built a new timeline file.

In case you are curious there are 79 cards, covering from about halfway Chance to the end of Trust. Blood starts a little bit earlier than Night, which sets the kickstart of Life about 1/4 into it.

I have been thinking about making a graphic timeline, but the problem with that is that the length span of the books is different – while Life happens in just a few months, Chance takes over a year. I’ve tried some timelining software, but in the end, I think the cards idea has been the most efficient one – at least, it is the method that has finally seen the timeline merged and reorganised!

Just don’t hope for the cards to be even and neat… I go for pragmatics, not pretty! (Read as: yeaaah, with all my hand-bones problems I could not cut straight with a pair of scissors if my life depended on it XD)

The Shikigami of Life: Back to the drawing board

When in November 2009 I finished The Shikigami of Life, I had absolutely zero clue what I had gotten myself into, and what was going to come from it. Maybe by April 2010 I was worrying by the sheer amount of characters popping up, and by that summer I knew I was doomed – Okonogi Kazuki had come into existence.

I had not expected under any circumstances to develop a series out of a not seed that was barely researched at all and built from movie and manga references, with just a tiny bit of Wikipedia reading. In summer 2012, almost a hundred of yakuza-related articles and a couple of books later, I tackled the task of rechecking the manuscript once again and go through an extensive editing (12 hours in a plane without much else to do helped the efficiency a lot, as I mentioned here [link]).

As I was editing, I became aware of more problems than I had thought in the beginning. Maybe not problems for a standalone, but as part of the series, The Shikigami of Life seriously lacks rounding. Characters that are key in later books are barely mentioned if they are lucky, and others plain did not even exist when the first version was finished. Furthermore, there is a POV problem – about one fourth of the book has a POV which is not Nao or Takuma’s; this presents a problem against the structure present in other books.

This was not too obvious on the part of the book that happens in Tokyo, except for one or two scenes, but is huge in the Osaka part. For now, thus, my strategy has been cutting out everything that is not Takuma and Nao’s bare story. Some scenes work for The Shikigami of Life changing the point of view, and others I am planning to rewrite completely. A few others will be rewritten and placed in The Shikigami of Blood.

For now I think I’ve pointed out every continuity error, and while a few have only been flagged and not corrected yet, and reworked most of the one-sentencers into coherent paragraphs, though a few stay. About… 1% of them, to be honest XD. I’ve also added a helload of verbs and reworked fragments into coherent sentences.

On the other hand, there are more than a few scenes to be added. At least two with Okonogi, one with Kyuuwa. I am not sure about how to add more references to the twins, but that should be in too. The introduction of Ima shall be moved from The Shikigami of Power into The Shikigami of Life, effectively adding a chapter and pushing the ending back. The epilogue will be completely changed and what is written integrated in The Shikigami of Blood eventually.

I think the result will be a significantly different book, even if the main story remains the same, and will fit in much better with the general universe – unfortunately, when the universe started growing the original timeline had to change for coherence’s sake, along with several planning errors (never mind the Korean In The Room [link]). Research has been and is being included – not an explanation but as background, or used to scratch a few impossible scenes out.

As you can see, I’ve been working out on a printed copy, and this has just been the first step: identifying the problems and fixing writing style. The next step is move this to the digital files and start solving the big continuity no-gos.

However, editing hurts my brain XD”. It really does, concentration is hard and I usually lack creative relief. Unfortunately, I need to focus on editing on non-writing periods, else I neglect the editing process in favour of the writing process. I am, nevertheless, satisfied with the work I’ve been doing on The Shikigami of Life and I will come back to working on it ‘soon’ in relative terms, probably this year after NaNo ^^

About female characters in the Osaka Shikigami

I have just finished a book called A faint cold fear by Karin Slaughter [link]. I bought it in a book fair upon reading the back cover:

Sara Linton, medical examiner in the small town of Heartsdale, is called out to an apparent suicide on the local college campus. The mutilated body provides little in the way of clues – and the college authorities are eager to avoid a scandal – but for Sara and police chief Jeffrey Tolliver, things don’t add up.
 
Two more suspicious suicides follow, and a young woman is brutally attacked. For Sara, the violence strikes far too close to home. And as Jeffrey pursues the sadistic killer, he discovers that ex-police detective Lena Adams, now a security guard on campus, may be in possession of crucial information. But, bruised and angered by her expulsion from the force, Lena seems to be barely capable of protecting herself, let alone saving the next victim…

 
You can find the first few pages of the book here [link] provided by Random House. When I was reading the back cover I thought that Sara looked like a strong female character, an MI working hand to hand with the police chief, cool. Well, the book was an extreme disappointment. I did not like it at all. The style was rather plain, synonyms were lacking and pacing was kind of jumpy – a character ‘makes a discovery’ that you only get told about three or four pages later, when the character tells another one; in a not really flowy way.

However, what really irked me out was the way the author portrays her women. The main two women hold important, independent, even dangerous jobs, and by every account could be considered “strong, independent women”. Instead, even if they are able to perform that job, they crave for a man to rescue them whenever something goes wrong. Basically, they are strong and independent while everything is fine; when it is not they need a man to take over, protect and control them. An example: police chief is MI Sara’s ex-husband, he cheated on her, in her house; she divorced him and she’s still dying for his bones; never mind that he is a caveman that short of urinating around her to mark her as his, because he did her dishes once! And cooked! And omg that’s the best you can find in a man!! Example two: Lena, the ex-cop and rape victim who basically bangs the white supremacist because it’s ‘the right thing to do’.

I started thinking about the way women are portrayed in fiction, and how many times four patterns of women can be identified in a story

  • Tragic heroine, for romance plots. She tends to be weak, scared and needs a guy to do everything for her. She might come across as strong first but when push comes to shove she crumbles.
  • Compulsory love interest of macho male main character
  • Random unimportant character who could perfectly be a guy but is female because it’s politically correct
  • Mother/wife sacrificing her everything for her children/husband

These had me thinking about the female characters I write about, which are few, I own up. As a rule, I am not too fond of writing women. I am not completely sure of why, but I find good female characters hard to write. I like men more than women, what can I do… Anyway, I mostly thought about some females in the Osaka Shikigami universe. Here is a bit about them (be warned, this might be spoilery).

Tsubaki-sama: In her own way, Tsubaki-sama, manager of The Temple, is a very powerful woman. When she was young, she was a prostitute, and was raped at one time. Now that she is about 60, she has become a Madame. Her power comes from her ability to read men and assign to them the right whore for them. She can also ban (i.e. kick out) any yakuza out of her high-class brothel, that is another way she maintains her status. True that said status is granted by The Sun’s Council and thus is artificial, but it is there. Tsubaki-sama is perfectly conscious of the equilibrium between her power and her vulnerabilities, and both of them conflict within her. Within the brothel she protects her hired girls more than she cares to protect the private slaves, because she feels an acquired responsibility towards the former.

Shinohara Aya: Shinohara is sensitive, submissive and mostly sweet. She is Kamon Tsuyoshi’s private slave, and he keeps her in The Temple to prevent his backstabbing brother to find out that he is in love with her. Shinohara can be strong, even vengeful when her protective instincts are triggered, that is what happens when Kitsune hurts Takuma. I’ve always wondered how her life as Kamon’s wife would be…

Shirota Tomoko: On the outside, Shirota Tomoko was the perfect Japanese woman: quiet, obedient, a good daughter who accepted her ‘responsibility’ towards her family and married the man that her father had chosen for her. Then, during the wedding, she threatened to stab him if he ever cheated on her, and she would have done it without blinking. It was her honour at stake, but his too. Tomoko was the Saiko-Kommon head of her father’s gang and kept the role when the Osaka Shikigami was formed, thus working alongside her husband. She is the figure of the mother, who is willing to give anything for her child. Even if she married the Ice Dragon out of a gang deal, the two of them learnt to love each other deeply.

Okonogi Kazuko: She is the complete opposite from Tomoko, she is the yakuza woman, who is able to take the reigns with steel will. Kazuko can be harsh and unforgiving, she was brought up in the yakuza ways, and is perfectly conscious of how things work in the underworld. She can and will kill, either protecting her own or claiming revenge. However, she developed this huge soft spot called Okonogi Hisaki; she fell in love with him and was completely surprised when she did. I peg her for being the Matriarch, offering wisdom and guidance. She had awful pregnancies, being really sick during the three of them, and she used to kick her husband to the couch or out of the house.

Okonogi Azusa: The youngest Okonogi was designed to be a baby girl on the outside, loving pink and frills and wearing piggy tails and cute dresses. Originally this was done to generate a contrast between her older brother, Okonogi Kazuki, and her, she would be ‘smart’ and somewhat ‘posh’ and he would be the ‘blunt force barbarian’, with the balance figure of Okonogi Misako between them (having the best, or the worst, of both worlds). At least, that was the plan until I stumbled upon the existence of a Hello Kitty AK-15 rifle, a real one [link]. What started as a joke on Azusa and a gun quickly developed. By the time she was a full-fletched character, she was a complete different person from what I had originally planned. She kept the pink (for the record, I don’t like pink), and the frill (also for the record, I hate frill), and a bunch of details were added to her personality: she is a trained sniper – still trying to figure that out – and she has had crushes on every of the Ice Dragon taken-in children. Out of all my females she is the one who most actively wants to get married and have children – especially the having children part. Azusa can be spoiled and selfish sometimes, and oftentimes a bit manipulative, especially towards her lover, but when his life is torn apart, she is the one who holds the fort for him to give him time to recover.

Shirota Kyoko: Last but not least, the current Osaka Shikigami Kumicho. To be completely honest, when I started working the Osaka Shikigami structure I wanted a 100% out-of-the-norm Oyabun, so that left me two options: a gaijin (foreigner) or a woman. I have always hated the whole idea of ‘foreigner comes into society and suddenly he is the best living in that society than the natives’, thus it left me with the only option of a female. It was a rather easy decision to make and also a challenge, since as I mentioned before I am not too used to writing women. Shirota is probably the female character most featured in the Osaka Shikigami books, but most of the time she has been described from another character’s point of view, thus her real self can be confused with what others think of her. It’s fun how most of the males around her consider her completely unreachable, probably the only one who sees her as a human being is Okonogi Kazuki, then again he grew up with her and is almost her same age, not even Kwang Ho, her lover is completely conscious of her human nature; if Kazuko is the Matriarch and Tomoko is the Mother, Shirota is something like the High Priestess, probably. Since her point of view has been scarce until now (it’s reserved for Blood). Sometimes this very same unreachability is her weakness: waiting for Kwang Ho to make a move did not really work for her, and she had to take matters in her own hands, even if she would have liked for him to acknowledge his feelings first. She is sometimes a bit lonely, and that is why Kazuki randomly drops by to remind her that she is indeed not alone. Something that almost nobody knows is that Shirota Kyoko is infertile, thus unable to carry on the bloodline. This means that the next child raised to take over the Osaka Shikigami will most probably be one of Azusa’s kid, let’s hope he or she inherits the female part of the Okonogi genes…

From now on I will remind myself the fact that these characters are women and that being female is an inherent part of what they are. They don’t have to be superwomen, but they can be well-developed women ^^

Picture belongs to the public domain, “Ippitsusai Buncho ukiyo-e” [link]; A faint cold fear belongs to Karin Slaughter and the excerpt is provided by Random House (see links above).

Osaka Guardians Character Sheet