Daruma (Personal Writing) Update: This weekend I am participating in a five day long retreat for writing my current work in progress. I can’t say I will get much done because of work and family, but tomorrow looks to be a lot more productive.
Japanese mythology and Yokai have been an interest of mine for many years. I’ve done a lot of research finding out about the myriad creatures that inhabit Japanese folklore. I’ve also written several magazine articles, short stories, and an unpublished novel utilizing Yokai and Japanese mythology.
So now is the time for the next step: another novel with one of my favourite creatures from Japanese mythology: Yurei (Japanese ghosts). Yokai and other creatures have come across at times as cute and cuddly creatures. Not so Yurei. Yurei have never been portrayed as cute. Look at the Ring or the Grudge (Ringu and Ju-On). ‘Kawaii’ is not the term I would use for these vengeful spirits.
But I didn’t want to rehash Ringu or Ju-On. I want to create my own thing. So I decided on a couple things to make the novel stand out amongst the crowd of English language novels set in Japan.
First, it’s not set in Japan. It’s set in Oyashima, an entirely fictional setting. Oyashima is an ancient name for Japan that has no ties to it’s current name. I am trying to figure out the name of the city I plan on using.
Second, one of the main characters will be a Real Estate Agent who sells stigmatized properties (properties in which people have died in them by murder, suicide, or natural causes) and exorcises ghosts as a side gig. He is haunted by everything he has seen.
Finally, it’s set in the future: a future where climate change has ravaged the country forcing the government to build giant sea walls to keep the water out.
If that sounds interesting to you, keep following my website for more. I am already 20,000 words into the novel, but had to go back and re-jig the outline just a bit as the Real Estate Agent character wasn’t jelling and I think I figured out what to do with him. So that 20,000 words probably won’t increase much over the next month as I straighten out the outline and scene list. As soon as that is done, though, it’ll be full steam ahead.
The 2021 When Words Collide Writers’ and Readers’ Festival is over for another year, and what a festival it was. It was, because of some pandemic which shall remain nameless, online again this year. The scramble to get Zoom Hosts lined up at the last minute was frantic, but somehow, Randy made it work. And indeed it turned out fantastic. Big shout out to everyone who volunteered as a Zoom Host or otherwise. It was a huge job. Without the volunteers, this festival would never get off the ground.
So, during the WWC, I got to be part of a panel entitled “Moments of Joy.” It was to launch Laksa Media’s newest anthology entitled Seasons Between Us where my story (written under the pseudonym C.J. Cheung) entitled “Clear Water” appeared. Check it out and let me know what you think.
Anyway, as typical for a Laksa Media launch, it was not a typical book launch. Each author who was present gave us their moment of joy. Here’s mine:
“I thought about this a lot, but I couldn’t come up with just one thing, one moment that I could point to and say “that is the moment of Joy” I wish to talk about. I could talk about my wedding day, a truly joyous day tinged with the sadness of my father’s passing less than a month earlier. I could talk about the birth of my sons, now both teenagers, and the feelings I had on that day. But for me, moments are ephemeral. They don’t last. They are fleeting.
Instead I chose to look at the journey: my journey as a writer, as an artist.
Of course, I didn’t start out as an artist.
When I was young, I was told I couldn’t become one. At that time, I wanted to pursue a career in acting, but everyone told me that was not the route I could go. I couldn’t earn a living as an actor. I was good, but there weren’t any roles for Chinese actors. So I chose to take my art underground: I did some theatre at University. I played role playing games. I LARPed. I went to law school (not only to please my parents, but because the thought of becoming a litigator and getting up in Court enthralled me. Of course, reality was much different than the fantasy and I soon realized the passion wasn’t there. I needed to live the life I wanted.
My father’s passing became my opportunity. It meant I had to relocate to Alberta. It meant I had to restart my life. And this time, I was determined to live as an artist. By this time, I had started writing. It wasn’t good, but I thought this was where I could go with my art and to my surprise, I found that people liked what they read.
It is often a truth in life that moments of sadness can lead to moments of joy. And my moment of Joy isn’t really a moment. It’s a life. Make no mistake, writing is hard and there are days it is difficult and I feel unmotivated. But this is where I want to be – what I want to be doing. The journey continues and I’m grateful to share this journey with all of you.”
So, to commemorate my future journey, I presented my Daruma Doll (pictured above) to the audience.
Anyone who knows what a Daruma Doll is, knows why the eye on it has been dotted. You see, in Japanese lore, each Daruma doll has the spirit of a Kami inside it. By dotting one eye, I have asked to make a request. If, over the next year I struggle and endeavour to make that wish come true, the Daruma Doll will grant that request. Well, I publicly announced what that request is at one of the panels entitled “Moments of Joy” (this was the Laksa Media launch of Seasons Between Us wherein my story, Clear Waters appears).
So my request? To finish drafting and revising my third novel (at the very least – there might be more – including a novel with certain Jiangshi in them) by the time the next WWC rolls around. A tall order I know, but if I get it completed, I will complete the Daruma Doll’s ritual and dot the other eye thereby granting the Kami of the Daruma Doll full sight. I can then set the Kami free (how you ask? Well that is a story for another time).
The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) just announced it’s Phase IV lineup. I wouldn’t normally talk about it, but I’m really excited for one of their projects (okay, I like most of the movie ones – but this one, I’m really excited for): Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.
I’ll admit that I was never all that excited about martial arts movies or comics as a kid and I pretty well stayed away from them. I didn’t get the appeal of Bruce Lee, didn’t start watching Jackie Chan until I was well into my 20s, and the likes of Shang Chi, Master of Kung Fu just didn’t interest me.
So why now? Well, first, it’s the MCU. They’ve earned my money and respect. They’ve put my childhood on the big screen and I like almost everything they put up on it. So I have a lot of confidence that this movie will be done right. And the casting is off to a great start. Simu Liu will star as Shang Chi and the movie co-stars Awkwafina and Tony freakin’ Leung as the Mandarin. The REAL Mandarin. Not that fake one from Iron Man 3.
And second, it’s another movie with Asian actors on screen in leading roles. And that’s my jam. Stories set in Asia with Asian characters. Of course I’m excited. I write this stuff.
Can’t wait. I’ll keep you posted. February 12, 2021 can’t get here soon enough.
The writing never ends. This past few weeks, I’ve been mentoring several writers online. It’s something I never thought I would do, but joining a few Facebook groups dedicated to writing and helping other writers has opened up the opportunity.
I am starting my outline for a novel. It is still in the planning stages and I’ll have more for you when I get something more solid. Right now, all I can say is that it involves Yokai. And steampunk.
Speaking of Yokai, I got yet another idea for a story. I don’t know if it is a short story or a longer piece, but I cannot see it becoming a novel. It has been on my mind lately, so I thought I’d share it with you. My main character exorcises apartments and other places haunted by Yūrei, Japanese ghosts. Doesn’t sound too original, does it? The twist is that he is a real estate agent who specializes in cleaning and then flipping “stigmatized” properties – properties that have have dead bodies found in them. How the people died is irrelevant. It could be murder, suicide, or natural causes. Whatever the cause, he cleans them out. Sound gruesome? Yeah, I thought so too. Yet I can’t get it out of my head. I’ll let you know when I finish it.
Schedule for When Words Collide
When Words Collide is only a few weeks away and oh, man do I have a busy schedule. If you wish to find me, here is a list of panels I’ll be on during the festival:
The Stories We Hide (Friday 5 PM – Fireside ) Join the editors and authors of this year’s Enigma Front anthology. I am one of the authors in this year’s anthology. My story is entitled “I Travelled the World Between.”
How to Write for Roleplay Game Companies (Friday 9 PM – Canmore ) Which are the A-list RPG companies you want to write for? What makes one better than the others? What are they looking for? How familiar do you need to be with their worlds and rules? Must you stick to their Bible, or can you bring in your own creative ideas?
Living in a Multi-Cultural World (Saturday 11 AM – Bonavista ) We live in a world made up of peoples of diverse races, ethnicities, and cultures. Yet, as readers and writers, we often forget that we live in such a world. Panellists will discuss their experiences living as an ethnic minority in North America. Panellists may also have suggestions on further reading, favourite authors, and tips on writing characters who are persons of colour. Come with your questions and an open mind.
East and West: How Our Mindset Changes the Way We Tell Stories (Sunday 10 AM – Parkland ) If you’ve read manga, watched K-drama, or enjoyed a Kurosawa film, you may have noticed eastern storytelling often differs from western. Why aren’t the protagonists protag-ing? Why aren’t characters standing up for themselves? Why are there more than three acts? Join us to explore Asian storytelling, an ancient structure with millions of fans, as we discuss style differences, cultural shaping of art, and how you can use these tools to make your own work stronger.
#ownvoices: How Diversity is Taking the Writing World by Storm (Sunday 2 PM – Canmore ) #ownvoices is a movement that encourages diverse writers to include the lived experiences of their community in their stories. Why has this trend taken off, and why is it good for the literary world?
The Japanese Emperor Akihito is abdicating the throne at the end of this month and the Heisei era will come to an end and a new era, the Reiwa era, will begin under the new Emperor, the Crown Prince Naruhito. Translated, the kanji for Reiwa can be read to mean ‘beautiful harmony’ (according to the Japanese Foreign Ministry) which in my mind, is a great followup to the Heisei era (translated as the ‘achieving peace’ era).
And ever since the announcement was made, the name of the era has sparked conversation about the choice of name.
For instance, it is the first era name to be taken from a Japanese poem, and not a Chinese work of literature. Just in case you were curious, its taken from a poem about plum blossoms that appear in Man’yoshu, the oldest existing collection of Japanese poetry.
Second, although the translation sounds harmonious enough, the first character also means ‘order’ or ‘command.’ Sounds way more ominous and brings back memories of Japan in its more militaristic and authoritarian time (which is probably why the Japanese Foreign Ministry released the official translation above).
And finally, there’s Reiwa, the real estate company in Australia which not only shares its name with the new era, but has received a lot of undue attention and site visits. Might they receive an uptick in business as well?
It’s an interesting choice of name. But beyond that, how is this change of era going to affect my life and yours? Will there be earthquakes and tsunamis? Immense celebration? Maybe in Japan, but in the rest of the world, time will continue its inexorable march forward and only note the passing of the Heisei era with a shrug.
So why should anyone not living near Tokyo care about the passing of an era? It’s a naming convention that fewer and fewer people in Japan even use (aside from official documents, most people just use the Gregorian calendar now. Anyone who uses a Japanrail pass will know what I’m talking about).
Well, I can’t speak for you, but in the short term, it interested me. Maybe its because my ancestors hail from just outside Kyoto. Maybe its my curiosity as a writer that draws me into finding out more about Japan’s era naming conventions. Maybe I could use era names in my stories?
Whatever the case, it made me curious enough to go searching for details about how Japan names its eras. Here is a bit of what I found and how I might use this information as a writer.
This type of era naming convention is known as the Nengo (or Gengo) system. It is yet another foreign artifact brought into Japan from China after migrating its way from other south-east Asian countries. In pre-modern times, how the Japanese named their eras depended a lot on the whims of the Emperor at the time. Sometimes an Emperor would just declare a new era to give his reign a ‘fresh start.’ Sometimes, a new era would be named in the wake of a natural disaster like a tsunami. In modern times, a new era name is chosen only when a new Emperor rises to the throne: “one reign, one era name.” And the names are decided by the government, not by the Emperor.
And how would I use this knowledge as a writer? The answer is probably obvious: it is another setting detail that can give authenticity to your story or novel.
If you write historical fiction set in Japan, especially before the adoption of the Gregorian calendar in 1873, it behooves you to find out what era your story is set. Even if you never mention it in the story, you should know (someone, somewhere is likely to ask).
But what if you don’t write historical fiction? What if you write high fantasy set in a Japanese-like setting? Or a future Japan (You can ask yourself if the population even uses it anymore and establish how many of their traditions they keep)? This is another way to give your world an air of authenticity. It’s also one more detail you can use to immerse your reader into your world. Just be aware of the many reasons Emperors in the past have used to name their eras.
And if you don’t write either of the above? Or even stories set in Asia? Well, I would be remiss in not telling you that the Nengo system of era naming is unique to Japan or even China. Other cultures in south-east Asia and the Middle East have utilized similar calendars in very similar manners. And we haven’t even touched upon the lunar calendar yet. Let your imagination run wild.
Now this is not the only piece of detail you need to give your story an air of authenticity, but it certainly is a detail you can use. It’s only the beginning. Time. It’s a small detail, but a good one to establish your world by.
So, yeah. The world won’t come to an end on May 1 when the Reiwa era begins, but in the worlds of my imagination, it is likely to set them on fire.
What do you think? Is this style of keeping time useful to you as a writer? Does it spark any ideas that you can use in future stories. Drop me a line and let me know. I’d really like to hear from you.
Personal Appearance Update
Normally, this would be in my monthly update Breathe In, Breathe Out, but this is coming up before then and I wanted to announce where I’m going to be during the month of April:
U of C Student Cafe – April 13 at 2:00 pm at Shelf Life Books. I will be reading from one of my short stories and celebrating the accomplishments of the students in the University of Calgary’s Continuing Education Creative Writing Certificate program. I would love to see you all there.
Calgary Comic Expo – April 25 – 28 at Calgary Stampede Park – I will be at the IFWA Table located in Artists Alley (in the Big Four Building). Come by and say hi. I will also be appearing on as a panelist in the Author’s Journey Panel which will take place on Saturday, April 27 at 3:45 p.m. in the Palomino Room. Join me and four other authors in discussing what the author’s journey is all about.
Happy New Year to you all. Welcome to the Year of the Pig (I know, I know. It was a few days ago. But I thought I should give you good wishes and fortune anyway).
And welcome to my Blog. The Blog will be published once a month on the 8th day of every month. If I get ambitious enough, I’ll try and do it twice a month, but for now, the blog will be once a month. With each entry, I plan on talking about culture – specifically Chinese and Japanese culture and folklore told from my perspective – that is of a Canadian author of Chinese and Japanese heritage. So join me on the 8th day of each and every month for more content.
So, on to the first one:
According to legend, once a year in the third month of spring, carp swim from the sea and gather at the foot of a falls. Many carp swim upstream against the river’s strong current, but few are capable or brave enough to make it to the pool. Even fewer are able to make the final leap over the waterfall. If a carp makes the jump, it is transformed into a powerful dragon, an auspicious symbol of great and benevolent, magical power. The symbol of the carp jumping over the Dragon’s Gate. “More generally, the expression is used to communicate that if a person works hard and diligently, success will one day be achieved.” 
For a visual representation of this tale, just look at my banner art created by the incomparable Stephanie Pui-Mun Law. I chose this piece because its a representation of who I am. Period.
First, the most obvious. I was born under the sign of Pisces and during the Year of the Dragon. But more importantly, as a writer and author, it’s the story of my life. Writing is a struggle for me. Time, especially time to write, is a scarcity, and the speed at which I write is slow. So anything I finish, is like magic for me. As I mature as a writer, it has become a bit easier, but not by much. But I eke out writing time where I can get it (as I write this, it is early in the morning while I’m on vacation while my family sleeps. Best time for me).
So when do I become a dragon? When will I say that I have leapt the dragon’s gate and become a being of auspicious power? I don’t know if I’ll ever get there. I’d like to say when I can support myself and my family with my writing, but with my circumstances, I’m not even close to this goal. I’ve published short stories and have been nominated for an Aurora Award, so I like to think I’m well on my way. Follow me and we’ll take that journey together.
And I think I’m capable and brave enough to eventually make that leap.