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Tag Archives: The Shikigami of Trust

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

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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.

NaNoWriMo 2011: Before and After. Part 2: After


It is the evening of December 1st (though the blog tells you it’s December 2nd, I blame it on internetlessness at home) and I’m home sleepily snugglinng my slanket, and NaNoWriMo 2011 is over. Once again, lack of internet shows in the updated wordcount on the Nano page, so I’ll show you a few screenshots of my spreadsheet. The final count at 00:00 today was 107153 words, which is up to date my highest NaNo count. Comparison (click for bigger):

I plan NaNo in advance with a nice little outline that usually is not that little and is at times blatantly ignored. Although the idea is to write 1667 words a day, my ‘need to’ count is 1500-words for weekdays and 2500 words during weekend days. Apparently I am not too good at following guidelines, as the next spreadsheet shows XD

First and second columns are really straightforward, day of the week and date; the third is the Office of Letters and Light’s official wordcount; the fourth is the cumulative wordcount that I need in my 1500/2500 scheme (column five); column six is the actual cumulative wordcount and column seven is the daily wordcount. Finally the eight column is ‘words missing to 50k’. I apparently went a bit overboard though XD The graphs to the right are my cumulative count (green) vs the OLL cumulative (pink) on the first row, along with sector percentage to the upper leftmost (halwfay through the month is in red for missing, green for done), and my actual cumulative vs my own cumulative count on the bottom left.

The first 19 days I focused on my planned novel, The Shikigami of Trust, of the Osaka Guardians series. It ended up having two extra chapters and did not come out completely as expected, but most of the time I had fun with it. It was however about 9000 words longer than expected, two extra chapters and a ‘cumulative extra of about 3k (you know the drill, click for big):

The structure of the Osaka Guardians series tries to be the same for all books: Prologue (1000 words), Chapter 0 (2000 words), a number of regular chapters (about 20, each 3000 words) and an Epilogue (1000 words); the Prologue and the middle chapter show the same scene from different points of view. What made Trust special this time was it was the first time since forever that I had a strong female character taking up the co-protagonist role (I just made to wordcount the post, see what NaNo does to you? XD) and the absolute first time of an heterosexual NC17 scene – time for discoverings XD. It flowed up rather well, even during the scenes that were not planned. The average daily wordcount was close to 4000, but of course it is very biased by the weekend days and the first-day burst, and the total word count is 74238 pending a long process of editing.

I was not planning to continue writing, NaNo-wise, and I had nothing in store after Trust; however, just for the hell of it, I started Undeliverable, in the Retriever universe, with nothing but a couple of very basic ideas, and started developing them on the go. A few words to 33k, I’d say I’m halfway the story (actually, Undeliverable’s word count is a bit higher after adding some snippets I had previously written following random ideas, but those don’t count for NaNo, the final real count for it today is 35275). No clue of what is going to happen with it, but I want to finish it, eventually, although not at the same rhythm (2992 words per day, on average).

The total daily average has been 3572 words, higher during Trust than during U/D, which makes sense considering that the former was planned and the later is being thought of ‘on the go’. I have missed the Interent quite a bit during the writing process, in order to check facts as I was writing, especially travelling distances, but that’s what’s editing is for. All in all, NaNo’2011 went rather well and kept me distracted during long dark evenings with bad weather, but now I can do other things, after all, I’ve just gotten myself Kaplan and Dubro’s Yakuza. Japan’s Criminal Underworld and tomorrow (today XD) I got a few upcoming train hours. I will pack up a pen and post-its…

NaNoWriMo 2011: Before and After. Part 1: Before

NaNoWriMo, NaNo, National Novel Writing Month [link] is an annual challenge run by the non-profit organization Office of Letters and Light [link] which consists in writing 50000 words of one same story during the month of November. Considering that 50000 words is what defines a ‘novella’, the goal is basically, write a book in one month. Take that.

These are the mechanics: there is a webpage, with wordcounting gadgets and forums and you get your profile page and describe yourself, talk about your novel and update your wordcount every day during November. Usually a few times a day, too. When the month is ending, you’re invited to validate, i.e. copypaste your manuscript for the inner engine of the webpage to count. If by the 30th of November this validation says you have your 50000 words… you’ve won. Now you can claim your prize, a shiny pdf that says you’re a winner and on which you can write your name. Exciting, right, it’s such a valuable prize anybody would kill to own one.

Since NaNo became a world-wide event, the web is populated with forums for ‘research’, motivation, procrastination and meeting other crazy people doing NaNo in your own area. Not only get to know them, actual real-life meetings are organized, and so-called ‘write ins’, ‘Kick-Off’ and ‘Thank God It’s Over’ parties are scheduled along the world to write together, celebrate the beginning and the end. In the US the Office of Letters and Light even organizes a fundraising and an all-night writing meeting. There are Facebook groups, Twitter trending parties, and a newsletter with ‘pep talks’ that I most of the time ignore. To be completely honest, this has become so big that there are quite a group of sponsors, and one of the perks is a professionally-printed copy of your novel. Others include free trials of writing software, and themed merchandise.

The mechanics are simple, you just write. You don’t worry about editing or finding the right synonym. The idea, however, is that the story has to be a new one. You’re not stopped from preparing for it nor making any kind of notes whatsoever, but the whole reasoning is that an old character, an old idea is too settled in one’s mind for the author to have the capacity to just let go and write. Once the first manuscript is churned out, you can edit in December. It is an honour system, nobody checks whether you type the same word 50000 times and claim your shiny pdf.

When I was first introduced to NaNo I did not really care much about it, because, sorry to sound pretentious, experience taught me that I could do it – in 2008 I had chunked a similar amount of daily words as it is required by the basic math behind NaNo. Fifty thousand words in 30 days, makes you need a daily word count of 1667 words per day if you aim for a regular wordcount. Well, I knew I could do it, I knew I was able to write 2000 words per day, so I did not feel like I needed to take up the challenge.

This year will be the third time I do NaNo, so yes, I ended up dragged into it. What NaNo has become for mean for me, is the excuse. The excuse to write away as long as I can until my fingers and my wrists ache from typing – I think I reached my own limit last year when I wrote 10003 words in a day, but that is digressing. NaNo is the excuse to just sit down and write, everyday, shouldering aside all those should-dos that I usually don’t let go of. For this one month, junk food is allowed and preferred to nice, slowly-cooked homemade food. Yay coke and chocolate.

In 2009 I wrote The Shikigami of Life’s draft 0, developing a seed of an idea I had played with for a while, and somewhere between that and November 2010, that one book had developed its own universe, and The Shikigami of Chance was planned. That year was a very bad year for me and writing became somewhat of a therapy – I often joke that I either shot people in the novel or I would start shooting people for real. The draft was done by the 16th, and I decided to go on and write whatever scenes I had decided on The Shikigami of Night. By the time I had to leave for a business trip on the 25th I had around 82000 words and maybe I wrote another 5000 before the month was over, but I was not back until December 1st so there was no record of them during NaNo.

Something that amuses me lots about NaNo is how it shows both the best and the worst of people. In the forums, people help out as much as leash at each other, mostly due to quitting and wordcount issues. It’s fun when the cheating accusations star flowing around – you know, that shiny pdf! This year I will see whether that is something that also happens in the write-ins.

I attended a Kick-off party this year for the first time. It was remarkable, but I am not a… party person. With my 2500 outline and four books as background I don’t really need 11 strangers to bounce ideas at me after reading a three-line synopsis, either. The dynamics were interesting indeed; I don’t think I had seen so many people interested in writing together in my whole life XD. I will try to attend a write-in and see how the atmosphere is in one of them.

As I mentioned before, I got a 2500-word outline. Working on the Osaka Guardians needs careful planning because it’s a very complex universe, very different from the feeling I had when working on Retriever (begin{shameless self promoting} btw, go vote for Retriever if you haven’t yet [link] \end{shameless self promoting}). In Retriever there was lots of room for improvisation, aside from a very basic timeline of key events, everything else was just ‘thrown in’ as it happened. The Osaka Guardians books merge into each other and share scenes, thus the events need to be very sequential in order to maintain consistency. I think that is something that helps during NaNo – that and the fact that I can type 54 wpm when I know what I need to write.

This year I face NaNo in a different country, without Internet at home, with a lot of mini problems piling up, and facing new dynamics – real life people and write-ins. And honestly, no clue how that is going to pan out, but let’s be honest: The Shikigami of Trust has Okonogi Azusa in it. And I know how the Okonogi act when given a book.

P.S.: I’ve decided not to go over the post in depth when I finish writing them. They feel more personal when I just write them out, so you’ll have to live with my random mistakes

P.S.S. There might be a “during” post, but don’t hold your hopes high XD, most probably we’ll head directly for the “after”.

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