Writing Echoes

Delijah's Writing Blog

Tag Archives: The Shikigami of Life

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.

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 ^^

Warning!

This is my new “continuity error” flag. It is a bit of a self joke, and actually has nothing much to do with Koreans, just with one Korean in particular. Here’s the story: halfway through The Shikigami of Life, back when it was only a standalone, I came up with the idea that my Strong Female Character’s bedroom was off-limits to any men. It was a fun and easy way to convey her authority, so I wrote it into the book.

Cool? Cool.

Not cool.

Because a few chapters before that I had already written her Korean bodyguard standing inside that bedroom. Whoops.

Big whoops. Especially when it escapes you on the first edit. And on the second edit. And on the third. And seems to be an insignificant detail, and your beta reader does not catch it. And you print the whole thing. And send it off to friends (who never noticed either, by the way. I’m good at hiding continuity errors?). And suddenly you’re looking up an unrelated scene for the next book and the Korean in the bedroom punches you in the eye.

Moral of the story? Be alert and beware of Koreans in the bedroom.

Unless of course you’re into Koreans and want to welcome them in your bedroom. But that is another tale.

The Shikigami of Life Excerpt

Shikigami (式神) are a kind of spirit, found in Japanese Mythology summoned to serve a practitioner of onmyōdō, much like a western familiar. Shikigami cannot be seen by most people, but according to the Heian period onmyōji who were said to control them, shikigami often looked something like a child-sized oni demon. Although invisible, shikigami supposedly could, at the onmyōji’s command, take a variety of human or animal forms, possess or bewitch people, and even cause bodily harm or death. (from Wikipedia [link]).

I am not completely sure where the whole idea for Life came from. I think the yakuza idea was hanging out in my brain since I read 絆 KIZUNA~恋のから騒ぎ~ (Kizuna: Koi no Kara Sawagi / Kizuna: Bonds of Love [link]). Even if they’re not the main focus, the relationship between Masa and Kai is… interesting XD. I do know that the main spark came from a fanfic I wrote, my brain wrapping itself around the backstory of the unimportant supporting characters, which were only there to… make that one fic rounder. And then the ball started rolling. Life was the longest story I wrote in one go, ever XD At that time it was not even supposed to be a series either… Oh, and about why “Shikigami” of all things… I can’t tell for the life of me… and I cannot even blame it on an Okonogi, since none of them were planned at this stage!

Title: The Shikigami of Life, Osaka Guardians, Book 1

Synopsis: Any fool can tell the truth, but it requires a man of some sense to know how to lie well (Samuel Butler). Ohmura Naoe is a man of sense, a yakuza in a yakuza building. He lives the biggest of all lies: Raised and trained by the Osaka Shikigami, he was sent to Tokyo to undermine the Sun Alliance’s foundations, and not even death is going to stop him.

Written: NaNoWriMo 2009

Draft 0 Length: 63507 words

Available: Prologue and Chapter 1

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).

Dogs: Ima, Taki, Bri

I decided to write about dogs because I’ve realized they have somehow hijacked a few plot twists. Thus, here’s to their dog’s lives, some rant.

Bri, the Rottweiler (Retriever)

Bri is Aaron’s puppy, a 10-week old Rottweiler. I wanted a reportedly-aggressive dog for this, and I actually ran a completely biased and statistically insignificant poll through people I knew about what breed they considered more aggressive, a Doberman or a Rottweiler. Lately the pitbull breed has been gathering some evil reputation, but Rottweilers and Dobermans? Nightmare material for many. The point is that when I got tired of asking, Rottweilers had been marked as the most aggressive and dangerous dog.

Behold the blood-thirsty beast, and its adult version:

 

The American Kennel Club [link] describes the Rottweiler as a compact medium-large robust and powerful dog, with a characteristic black and brown coat. The Rottweiler’s normal temperament is calm, intelligent, self-confident and courageous, with an inherent desire to protect home (which makes it a good guardian dog). When introduced to strangers it comes across as aloof, but it is highly adaptable and has a strong willingness to work.

So what’s the deal with the super-killing machine? A fit Rottweiler is all muscle, and has a big head. It is a strong dog and has a strong bite. Does it make it dangerous? Only when the owner is stupid and can’t take care of it and properly train it, I think, but no more dangerous than say… a German Shepherd, and let me tell you, a pissed-off German Shepherd biting hurts. But German Shepherds got Rin Tin Tin as ‘role model’, and Rottweilers are evil-guy dogs. I have seen terribly aggressive toy poodles , but a poodle bite is laughed of. If a huge Rottweiler bites can cause a lot of damage, and then the breed is spawn of the devil.

There were a few mean Rottweilers in Retriever, i.e. Rottweilers trained to attack and cause damage. I wanted Bri to exist because it is not the breed what makes the dog “evil”, because I believe there are few “evil” dogs (not zero, there are some lost cases, I am sure), but many stupid owners who make the dog aggressive out of training.

Ima, the black Labrador Retriever (Osaka Guardians)

 

Ima could have been a Labrador as much as he could have been a Belgian Shepherd, but in the end I decided on the “stereotypical” helping dog. According to the American Kennel Club [link] Labradors’ temperament is a trademark of the breed. They are gentle, outgoing, eager to please and non-aggressive; they are considered very intelligent and adaptable.

Labradors are the typical seeing-dogs for the blind, they are human-dogs (the same way there are dog-people XD), easy to train, hard-working and loyal. It is amazing seeing one of them ‘at work’. However there are many more things dogs can do. While checking for dog-therapy, I found the Psychiatric Service Dog Society (PSDS) [link], and the amount of things a dog can do for a person is… almost unbelievable. Dogs can be part of the therapy for major depression, bipolarity (manic phase), panic, anxiety, agoraphobia, social phobia, post traumatic stress disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, double personality and schizophrenia. Of course, it is not only Labradors that can do these tasks, but I know what Ima is up to…

… in the future, maybe, because right now he only cares about three things, tennis balls, shoes and his human… then again, caring for his human is the base of all the psychiatric rehab work, right? ^^

Taki, the Landseer Newfoundland (You & I)

I am not really sure whether the Landseer is a sub-breed (is it even called that?) of the Newfoundland or just a coat-color denomination. The standard Newfoundland has a solid-colored coat (usually dark), while the Landseer is white with black markings.

They are large dogs, and the AKC [link] describes them as sweet as their main trait. They are also gentle and capable of draft work, and apparently possess natural lifesaving abilities. I read somewhere that they are known for standing between kids and bodies of water if they don’t “judge” the human pup capable of handling themselves in the water.

They are very protective in an… unmoving way. They won’t jump and bite but… stand. Unmovable. Even if they are big dogs they can be kept in an apartment, they tend to become lazy and overweight if they don’t walk regularly though, and they drool and shed. Huge dog with huge mouths, lots of space to generate drool, and lots of coat to shed hair.

Taki is a bit bigger than the average Landseer, so he was a huge fluffball when he was a pup; the owner of the Kennel could not sell him and was going to kill him. Fortunately he got adopted. His mission at home is to turn both his owners crazy, and to remind one of them that food and sleep must come regularly. Aside from real psychological therapy, dogs can provide a huge time anchor, giving a person a routine.

He is a slow-motion dog, but he is terribly stubborn. When he sets his mind into anything, whether it is ‘food’, ‘sleep’, ‘walk’ or ‘you shall not pass’, he sets his body on it, and stares. He can either tug on sleeves or just stand in the way, with utter calmness.

I wanted Taki to be a huge dog from the beginning, but usually large dogs are high-energy dogs who need lots of exercise. I had not even heard of the Landseer variation until I started doing research on the topic; originally he was set to be a Sand Bernard, and I don’t really remember why I discarded that idea, maybe because of the energy thing.

Just out of curiosity… Taki’s best friend is a female cat called Princess Cleopatra. You can guess how spoliled she is.
 
 
Well, that was it. I actually wrote a long time ago about a mongrel in a short story, and the dog had more personality than its owner, but as I said it was long ago, and that story was lost one of the times I moved ^^”


All images used in this post are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license and have been obtained from Wikimedia Commons. Attribution: Landseer [link]; Rottweiler – Adult [link]; Rottweiler – Pup [link]; Labrador Retriever – Adult [link]; Labrador Retriever – Pup [link].

The Shikigami of Chance book copy

Osaka Guardians Character Sheet